After a short stop-over in Sydney we took a plane to Cairns to pick up the motorhome and head on East Coast road trip all the way down to Brisbane along the A1 more known as Bruce HWY. Through Queensland in 14 days was our plan.
Most travelers arriving in Cairns use it as a base for Great Barrier Reef or Daintree Rainforest excursions. Picking up a car or a campervan is another popular reason. Read here about motorhome renting experience.
First thing we did arriving in Cairns was packing away our warm clothes. October in Queensland hit us with 30+C temperatures.
DAY 1 - CAIRNS
Instead of rushing towards new adventures right away we decided to stay in Cairns a bit longer - to adjust and to have a slow start. It was a great decision - Cairns was touristy, but sunny warm and easygoing which was great for a start. Traveling with a kid you don't always want to stress yourself out and head straight away to the unknown.
We took our time to walk around, go for a lazy swim and stock on swimming essentials.
Things to do in Cairns:
- Cairns Esplanade Lagoon. We learnt very fast that in Australia even though the ocean is in front of you you shouldn't jump into it - stingers are no fun to catch. But for this reason there are outdoor swimming areas where one could swim, relax and stay safe. Esplanade in Cairns is one of them - a very nice green area right next to the ocean. Great for a lazy afternoon next to the water and for kids to swim. It's not as deep as a swimming pool, but it's a very nice opportunity for a dip free of charge.
- As I already wrote Cairns serves as a base for Daintree National Park and Great Barrier Reef excursions. If you don't have a lot of time and want to have a glimpse of both Cairns is a good place for organising these visits. Please keep in mind, that it's worth doing some research on the companies, since from what we heard Great Barrier Reed tour operators vary in service quality. We didn' do any of the tours, so I can't recommend anything here.
- Flying foxes. These might look spooky, but they are harmless. I have never seen as many of them as in Cairns. During the day you can find them hanging from the trees next to the City Library. During dusk they become active and fly around making squicky noise - impossible to miss.
Where to stay in Cairns:
- First night in Cairns we stayed in Coral Tree Inn Motel and were satisfied with money-service relation.
- For the second night we already had our motorhome and stayed right outside the city at a Ingenia Holidays Cairns Coconut which was a great start to getting accustomed to the motorhome life.
Food options: As our travel guide warned us there are no 'wow' eating options in Carins. The best we found were
- We found Bang & Grind cafe simply by enterring in Google 'best coffee in Cairns'. And it worked out well. Coffee and breakfast were yummy and the service as friendly as all australian service is.
- An Asian street food stall on the Abbot Street (the back entrance to the Night Market) serves tasty variety of asian dishes.
- Cairns is great if you plan to purchase beachware or clothes (all stores also offer a great choice of kids swimsuits and apparel).
- Beanhunter is a great app if you are looking for places with good coffee.
- Wikicamps is a great app for all things related with motorhome (from caravan parks to day time areas).
- Cairns is also a good place to organise yourself a sim-card. I used the one from Woolworths which came with data volume and free calls and it was cheap, easy and convinient.
- If you have enough time, don't visit Great Barrier Reef from Cairns - go north to Port Douglas!
DAY 2 - Atherton tableland to mission beach
Leaving Cairns behind on our way to Mission beach we made a de-tour and spent a day driving through Atherton Tableland. We took A52 all the way to Atherton and from there A25 towards Innisfail. A very scenic drive where at some point you are not sure anymore whether you are in England or in Australia. Green rolling hills, red earth and hoards of cows. Little charming colonial villages and huge trees. Outside temperature and gum trees put everything is place though.
Distance: 236 km
Things to do:
- Village hopping. Since we only had a day to spend we sticked to only one village - Yungaburra. Otherwise you can pick any of them - there are plenty along the way. Some are famous for dairy farms, some are located close to waterfalls. You can spend days in the area and you have time by all means do. Yungaburra was a good choice for two things: it has a platform where one can watch platypus in it's original environment and it is located in a close promixity to curtain fig trees. Many villages are famous for it's dairy products and some farms offer tours and have shops selling their own produce.
- Platypus watching. On the outsirts of Yungaburra there is a watching platform from which you can spot platypus. Best time for platypus watching is sunrise or sunset (as with most of the animals). But it is worth a try even if you are outside those times - we arrived at midday and after waiting for a while were lucky to see one.
- Curtain Fig Tree. There are more than one tree in the area, just watch for the signs, the paths are clearly marked. We didn't plan on visiting one, but I'm so glad we did. Amazing trees with incredible root system are worth a stop. We were also lucky to spot a tree kangaoo sitting on top of the fig tree. How cool is this?!
- Innisfail. Innisfail is worth a stop for it's brilliant art deco architecture.
- Cassowary Coast Region. As the name says the chances of spotting a cassowary here is high. On the way from Innisfail to Mission Beach there are quite some signs warning about these huge birds. We haven' seen any, but heard from many fellow travellers that they almost hit one. Be careful, cassowary's are not to joke with!
Food options: Since we arrived to Yungaburra by lunch time and all places were happily busy with serving food we decided to join instead of cooking inside the motorhome.
- We picked up the noisiest place - the Lake Eacham Hotel. Very simple with a lot of local food on display and huge portions (we shared). The building itself is very old, rusty and has seen better days, but this adds a colonial feeling to the whole village is is definetely worth a visit.
- Just opposite Lake Eacham Hotel the Whistle Stop Cafe serves coffee and deserts.
Where to stay:
- We stayed at the Dunk Island View Caravan Park and it was fine. Nothing fancy, but just across the street from the beach with a view on the Dunk Island.
- Atherton Tableland roads are quite curvy. It was a bit challenging to drive there with a motorhome, simply because it was our first ride. Road are in great condition though and if you have a smaller vehicle it's no problem at all.
- As I already mentioned watch out for cassowary's!
DAY 3 -mission beach to townsville
The part of Bruce Hwy between Mission Beach and Townsville was one of the prettiest along the way. First rainforest and later sugarcane fields which blended into the vast dry areas lining along the ocean were so good to pass by.
Distance: 230 km
Things to do:
- Five Mile Creek Swimming. Great place for a stop-over on the way to Townsville and for safe swimming too. We spent the afternoon there, cooked lunch and swam in the creek, which was great! Right next to the parking area there was a fruit stall where one can get local farmers produce - you just take what you need and place the money in the box. Great!
- Townsville. A nice city with some old art deco buidlings in the city center and vivid students scene. The long oceans promenade named the Strand is great for people watching and for long walks.
- Magnetic Island. If you have time by all means spend a day at Magnetic Island. It's forest hosts a big koala colony and it's a nice place to have shade and solitude. Diving operators also offer good diving options (especially for the ones who love wreck diving) from Magnetic Island. From what I heard Great Barrier Reef diving is way better from Magnetic Island than from Cairns or from Airlie Beach (but pss-t-t-t-).
- Gregory Street in Townsville has some cafes and restraurants to choose out of.
- Cafe Tide in Townsville serves great breakfasts and coffee.
Where to stay:
- Rowes Bay Beachfront Holiday Park was our choice.
day 4 - townsville to airlie beach
This part of the A1 goes through dry areas, gum tree forests and sugar cane fields.
Distance: 275 km
Things to do:
- Sugar Cane. Over here it's all about sugar cane. Factories and trains transporting the cane to them. Some actories also offer tours.
- Bowen. This town came as a surprise, since we never planned on visiting it. But I'm glad we decided to stop here for lunch. As soon as you enter the town you can't stop wondering how broad the streets are. It felt like we were lost in time - old cars parked along wooden beutiful houses and almost no people in sight. After a quick stop at the Visitors Center we learnt that Bowen was taken as a prototype of Darwin in the Australia movie (the one with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman). The city still lives under the aura of movie indusry and indeed many locals took part in crowd scenes filming. The only building from the movie which still can be found in the town is the police station - everything else was removed after the film crew went home.
Where to stay:
- We stayed at the Island Gateway Holiday Park and it was good for two reasons: a walkable distance to the town and to the jetty and the amount of parrots living on the premises.
DAY 5&6 - AIRlie beach
Travelers coming to Airlie Beach are coming for two reasons: Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands. All boats and a small airport serve for delivering people to these two main attractions. Locals from neighbouring towns come to Airlie Beach to party.
I didn't like the town - it felt like being on a tourists street in Bangkok with happy hour bars, low quality eateries and many agencies trying to sell you tours.
We didn't need anything to get organised, since we booked everything on-line, so one stroll through the town was more than enough to get an impression of what's going on.
Things to do:
- Great Barrier Reef Visit. There are plenty of agencies which serve tourists wishes - diving, snorkelling, helicopter tours, full day tour, half-day tour, staying overnight at an island - you name it. We chose the Whitsundays Cruises - simply because they had the best feedback and they are one of the biggest operators and were very content with the service. Whitsundays Cruises also have bigger boats, which was perfect for traveling with a kid.
- Whiteheaven Beach. Another place which attracts crowds, but still worth the visit. You can take a boat or fly there directly. We again stayed with Whitsundays Cruises and were happy with the result. We found Whiteheaven Beach quite wrecked - cyclone Debbie which took place in March 2017 did a lot of damage to the beach and to the neighbouring islands. So don't be surprised if you won't find it in a postcard view state. Have a look at this post about Whitehaven beach.
- Sailing Whitsundays. I wish we could have done that, but being on the road with a little one you have to set priorities. If you have time by all means board a catamaran which will take you at a slow pace along Whitsunday Islands. Usually it's a 2-3 days cruise and from what I've heard they are not to miss.
- Conway Conservation Park. Take a hike through the park. There are some routes there leading you to pretty viewpoints. You can get a map at your hotel or caravan park. We walked all the way up to "the Beak" and enjoyed some good views over the area.
- If you are traveling with kids go for a half-day Whiteheaven Beach tour. The sun strong with and there is almost no shade.
- I suggest self-catering at the Airlie Beach. Didn't see or hear anything positive about the food options in the town.
- As I already mentioned earlier - best option to see the Great Barrier Reef is from Port Douglas up north. Don't keep you expectations high at Airlie Beach, just saying.
- If you book tours with Cruise Whitsundays you don't need to bring your own stinger suit - they will provide you with one.
day 7 - airlie beach to mackay
Distance: 150 km
Things to do:
- Mackay. Another unplanned stop which turned out to be great. We stopped in Mackay for grocery shopping. It was actually nice to see a city which is not spoiled by the tourist industry and lives it's slow local life. Mackay also has quite some beautiful art deco buildings (Sydney street).
- Cape Hillsborough National Park. I was really looking forward to this place, because of all the "kangaroo on the beach" photos I stumbled upon while doing research for our trip. The park itself is beautiful, especially the coastal area. As for the kangaroo experiencenyou can read all about it here.
- Wood street in Mackay has some cafes and eateries.
- Woodman's Axe Espresso in Mackay serves good coffee.
Where to stay:
- Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park. This place has nothing special to offer, but it is the only one if you here for kangaroos. Kangaroos who come to the beach at the sunset hours actualy reside at this caravan park premises, so you will see them during the day too.
- Smalleys Beach Campground is a chaper alternative, located further away from the "kangaroo beach" at another beach so you will need to walk. The campground has very limited places to offer - better book in advance.
- Go to bed early. You will have to be at the beach before the sun rises to have good shots.
- If you take the Yakapari Seafront Road watch out for a hangar with a "Pinapple Sundays" sign on it. As the sign says on Sundays you the place is open and a lovely family sells pinapples right from their garden (they are delicious!)