We’re in Australia on a one year Working Holiday Visa and have spent the majority of that time living and working in the Northern Beaches of Sydney. Lucky for us July is the slowest time of the year for both of our jobs because it’s the dead of winter, so we had the opportunity to take the entire month off (and a couple weeks on either side) to explore more of God’s Country.
We recently returned from the 6 week road trip on the east coast and it was EPIC. During our journey we drove more than 6000 km (3728 mi) in our trusty Mitsubishi Mirage and camped in a new place almost every night (27 different locations in total). We found good waves for surfing, snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef, and came face to face with some of Australia’s incredible wildlife.
Based on our experience, I have compiled a list of the top six destinations on the Queensland coast that I think every road-tripper should see. Check it out!
NOOSA HEADS – NOOSAVILLE
Why We Love It: Noosa National Park is, in my opinion, unrivaled. It’s easy to spend an entire day (or more) on the coastal headland walking paths exploring numerous beaches, bays and coves. Some of which include Noosa Main Beach, Little Cove, Tea Tree Bay, Granite Bay, Alexandria Beach and Sunshine Beach. Three lookout points (Boiling Pot, Dolphin Point and Hell’s Gates) provide outstanding coastal views while Noosa Hill tracks offer wildlife spotting including koalas, echidnas and the ever present bush turkeys.
Click HERE for a map of the Noosa National Park Headland walking tracks.
Where We Stayed: We actually stayed in Noosaville twice, on the way north from Sydney and on our way back south. The first time we were lucky enough to stay in Verano Resort a holiday apartment rental, a gift from Jordan’s parents for my big 3-0 birthday. They are thoughtful and generous and we thoroughly enjoyed the fully loaded apartment and use of the pool and hot tub (not to mention dishwasher and clothes dryer – both hot commodities in Australia)!
On the way back down we stayed at the Noosa River Holiday Park, a beautiful waterfront location central to many amenities. The “river” has white sand banks lined with leisurely fisherman while stand up paddle boarders, slow rolling pontoons and fishing boats cruise the waterway. In the early evenings the lorikeets, cockatoos, kookaburras and a variety of other bird species fill the air with high pitch calls as they reconvene in the gum trees after a long day apart.
We Recommend: Don’t miss out on the Parkside Eumundi Markets on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Eumundi is a 15 minute drive west (on the way back to the A1 highway), so it’s a great stop to make on your way in or out of Noosa. The market features 170 stalls selling clothes, jewelry, housewares, skincare products, art, pet accessories and of course food and drink. Best of all numerous live, talented musicians play throughout the grounds.
Why We Love It: Amazing sunset seekers need look no further – this is the best location! We decided to take advantage of a little bit of sunlight and check out a view point before settling into camp for the night and were amazed by what we found atop Carlo Sandblow. To get there park at the reservoir at the top of Cooloola Drive and walk 10 minutes (600 meters) through the forest and you’ll come out at the crescent shaped sand dune with 360 degree views. The sun sets over the Great Sandy Straits casting a magnificent glow over Double Island Point, Fraser Island and the Inskip Peninsula.
The beach itself is also pretty magnificent. The water is surrounded by towering sand dunes (which you can board down) and is protected by nets to keep sharks and marine stingers (jelly fish) out. When there is swell, there are waves for surfing and year round the beach is open to 4WDs and fishermen.
Where We Stayed: The Rainbow Beach Holiday Village is a nice location situated across the street from the beach and strip of restaurants and shops that make up the town center. It didn’t have a kitchen facility or Wi-Fi, so the $39 per night seemed like a steep price to us.
We Recommend: If you have a 4WD, get a camping permit ahead of time and stay on or near the beach at a variety of simple campgrounds on the Inskip Peninsula. The fees are minimal, in addition to the amenities, but the atmosphere and views of Fraser Island are unmatched. Best of all, camp fires are permitted!
Stock up on supplies in Gympie before heading the 73.3 km (45.5 mi) east from the A1. Rainbow Beach has two small grocery stores, but the selection is limited and prices are above average.
AGNES WATER – SEVENTEEN SEVENTY
Why We Love It: Agnes Water is a quiet village and the gateway to Eurimbula National Park, Deepwater National Park, Seventeen Seventy and Lady Musgrave Island. The tiny village of Agnes Water consists of little more than an IGA, liquor store and a handful of small cafes and shops, but who needs more than that when you’re surrounded by practically deserted beach after deserted beach?
Just 8 km north of Agnes Water is the village Seventeen Seventy which is second place Captain Cook landed on the east coast of Australia in, you guessed it, 1770.
We Stayed: Our humble little tent found a home under a more than 100 year old, giant tree at Agnes Water Beach Holidays caravan park, which we thought was pretty cool. In addition to the site being waterfront, there is a right side point break just in front of the campground. If the surf was up, we may never have left!
We Recommend: Agnes Water is 54.9 km (34 miles) from the A1, so stock up on supplies in Miriam Vale or an even bigger town off the A1 before heading east.
Also there is permit (and some free) camping in the national parks, if you have a 4WD. We even found an amazing permit site next to where we stayed for a fraction of the price – $5 or so AUD per person! Amenities are limited toilets only, so you’ll need a full set up for cooking if you stay there or in the national parks.
Why We Love It: Airlie is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and also a young backpacker mecca. Driving out to Airlie from the A1 I was reminded of driving in Hawaii – surrounded by mountains (in this case, large hills), tropical birds, and lush rainforest. Green, green, green as far as the eye can see! Driving around the headland provides stunning view after stunning view of the water and islands. If you make it out there, check out the Airlie Creek Walking Track.
We Stayed: Camping in Airlie is surprisingly affordable! We stayed at family and backpacker friendly Seabreeze Tourist Park for $29 a night. The site is 1-2 km outside of the heart of Airlie, which is great if you’re looking to relax as Airlie is a party destination. The tranquil grounds back up against the rainforest, provide great amenities and you can enjoy a gorgeous walk along the waterfront all the way into town where you can party and then leave the noise behind.
We Recommend: While in the area, be sure to check out the sleepy little town of Bowen most commonly known for its produce. Drive 79.8 km (45.5 mi) through sugar cane fields and farmland to find golden sand beaches (even better than Airlie) and snorkel just off the beach. A visit to Horseshoe Bay is a must.
Why We Love It: The Great Barrier Reef! We did a lot of looking around at prices for going to the outer reef for a snorkel adventure and Cairns was the best bang for our buck. While in Port Douglas we were shocked to find that a two stop, all day snorkel trip was $225 standard, so we hopped online and found a trip for $99 with the Cairns Dive Centre (CDC). The CDC provided morning tea, lunch, two dive/snorkel locations, quality gear (mask, snorkel and wetsuit), friendly staff and on site photographers! In addition, we were on a smaller boat which meant we shared our snorkel space with approximately 20 people rather than the 80+ you go with if you book with the larger companies.
We Stayed: Cairns Holiday Park is a decent place to camp with friendly, helpful staff, full kitchen amenities and lots of other people doing exactly what you’re doing – going to the GBR then getting out of Cairns! There isn’t a lot of shade, so we tried to strategically place our tent under a tree which turned out to be inhabited by fruit bats and every bird species in the Cairns region. Needless to say our tent did not make it out of that situation unscathed.
We Recommend: Get in and get out. Cairns has a nightlife scene and caters to the party goers, but has un underlying seedy vibe. There are too many other nicer places to enjoy that region than in the actual city.
CAPE TRIBULATION – DAINTREE RAINFOREST
Why We Love It: The drive from Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation is one of the best the east coast of Australia has to offer. The A1 turns into the Captain Cook Highway and for hours you cruise along the coastline and through the intensely beautiful Daintree Rainforest. The tagline for the area is “Where the rainforest meets the reef” and it is absolutely true. In many ways, it reminded me of Costa Rica – it has the Tarzan and Jane appeal.
While there, you can spend hours or days exploring the rainforest and beaches by foot. Keep your eyes peeled for all kinds of wildlife including but not limited to salt water crocs, Cassowaries (which we did see in the wild!), snakes, tree frogs, spiders and a wide variety of bird species. For the faint of heart I will say, we did not actually see any crocs or snakes. For the most part, they don’t want to see you as much as you don’t want to see them.
We Stayed: We camped at the Jungle Lodge which was a great location for exploring the area on foot. Jungle Lodge and Ocean Safari are partner companies which means you can find accommodation and set up a trip to the Great Barrier Reef all in one stop.
We Recommend: Stock up on supplies in Mossman on your way up, there are only small convenience shops after that which are convenient, but pricey! Lastly, take your time and drive slowly through the Daintree Rainforest. Not only will you be able to enjoy the views more, you’ll be preserving the natural habitat and providing a safer environment for the wildlife.
We are currently settled back in Dee Why in a new apartment and back to work. We are filled with gratitude for the safety and protection we had throughout the trip and the opportunity to experience so much greatness. Thanks for the amazing adventure Australia! Clean clothes and a real bed never felt so good.
Stay tuned for the next installment of our recommendations for the Must Stop Destinations on the New South Wales Coast!