4 week itinerary from Sydney to Cairns
Here we were again, 20 years later venturing along the popular and activity fueled Australian East coast. Last time we did this trip, we travelled from Cairns, via greyhound bus, 20 years ago. This time we were heading North though and not only that, but we were doing it in a motorhome with kids. So this blog is our 4 week itinerary from Sydney to Cairns with some hidden gems we found along the way.
Our plan was to try and avoid most of the larger towns and instead focus on those smaller inlets with great walking tracks and hidden nature trails. We also didn’t really plan. We enquired in a the our tribe travels facebook forum for some hidden gems and made a note of them. However, we didn’t have a set itinerary. As we were in the lower season we were just going to see where our adventures took us.
Here’s a snapshot of where we stopped, how long and how much it cost to stay. Note: the costs are for a powered site for 2 adults and 2 children (unless stated)
- Sydney – 2 nights (Lane cove campsite)
- Seal Rocks – 1 night (Reflections Holiday Park)
- South West Rocks – 2 nights (BIG 4 Sunshine Resort South West Rocks)
- New Italy Rest Area – 1 night (Free aires)
- Byron Bay – 2 nights (Suffolk Beachfront Holiday Park)
- Hugh Muntz Park – 1 night (free Aires)
- Brisbane – 1 night (stay with friends)
- Noosa – 2 nights (BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Noosa)
- Tin Can Bay – 1 night (Kingfisher Caravan Park)
- 1770 – 1 night (1770 Camping Ground)
- Sarina – 1 night (Sarina Palms Caravan Village)
- Airlie Beach – 3 nights (Island Gateway Holiday Park)
- Bowen – 1 night (queens Beach Tourist Village)
- Townsville – 2 nights (Secura Lifestyle Magnetic Gateway)
- South Mission Beach – 2 nights (BIG4 Beachcomber Coconut Holiday Park)
- Port Douglas – 4 nights (Tropical Breeze Caravan Park)
Total – 26 nights
Apps we used
As well as researching areas to go, we have used a few other useful tools to find suitable camping sites.
Google Maps – for online navigation (make sure you get a local SIM card with a good data balance)
CamperMate – this provides a detailed list of free, low cost and well established campsites. In addition, deals will flash up in the area you are in so it pays to not have anything booked if you are out of season. An alternate is Wikicamps, but this is a paid app.
Fuel map – a map showing the prices of all petrol stations in the area. Very handy for getting the best price for your fuel!
East Coast Destinations
It was time to left Sydney and having already spent a few days with friends around Newcastle. We pushed on to:
Seal Rocks (3 hrs, 256km) – Reflections Holiday Parks Seal Rocks – A$62 per night
One of our favourite stops on the East coast, we were debating whether to stop – but once we arrived it was absolute bliss. A beautiful cove with calm waters and a lovely walk up to the lighthouse – which took around an hour and a half return.
The campsite was beautiful (right on the beach with uninterrupted views) – worth the extra as it had a lovely park and lounge/kitchen area with fabulous views. Hopefully you get good weather as the sunset is just gorgeous. Such a relaxing and chilled place!
South West Rocks (2.5 hrs, 225km) – BIG4 Sunshine Resort South West Rocks (Shipwreck Island Water Park) – A$62 per night
Another recommendation and a great stop. The area has a number of great beaches and bays if you have longer to explore. We enjoyed a beautiful morning walk from out campsite over to Trial Bay – wow! I’ll fill you in a bit more about south west rocks shortly!
The campsite was fantastic and very family friendly with a huge jumping pillow, a small (but free) mini golf area, a large swimming pool play area with slides and water bucket.
The kids loved it and made a few friends while here. However, the best part was the fact that there were kangaroos in the campsite! You could feed them too – carrots, sweet potato or apples!
New Italy Rest Area (3 hrs, 265km) – free Aires
Some days just required driving. We spent another morning around South West Rocks area, but mainly because we were planning a highway stopover night. It was a first one and I wasn’t sure what to expect.
We drove into the car park and was pleasantly surprised by the lack of noise from the nearby road. Plus there was already a handful of campervans, motorhomes and caravans already there with plenty of space. People continued to arrive until around 7pm.
There was an italian museum, cafe (which was closed after 4pm) and reasonably clean public toilets. There was also kangaroos in the nearby grass area! It was a great overnight stop and everyone was very chatty there.
Byron Bay (1 hour, 71km) – 3 nights (Suffolk park holiday park) – A$40
Everyone loves Byron Bay and although it has lost some of it’s rustic feel – to be replaced by cosmopolitan cafes and shops. But it hasn’t lost it’s vibe!! Such a surfer dude; chilled out feel! I love it!!
We spent most of our time at the beach, riding the waves! Fabulous fun.
Unfortunately the cost of staying in Byron was too high and we opted to stay at Suffolk Park Holiday Park. It’s only a short 15 minute drive away and we found a great FREE parking area, ideal for campervans – Butler Street Parking.
Hugh Muntz Park (1.5 hours, 137km) – 1 night (free Aires)
Having had a successful evening, we thought we would try again. However, the night time temperature was starting to get warmer so we knew it might be our last one! The area was a small car park near to Beenleigh Shopping centre. So if you need to stock up there is a Woolworths just a short walk away. There is a large grass area and small lake so make sure you have mosquito spray!
Brisbane (0.5 hours, 36km) – 1 night (stay with friends)
Brisbane isn’t given the credit that it deserves and has much more going for it than most people assume. It has a great City Hopper, a boat which takes you around the main CBD sites and to top it off, it’s free!! It’s a fabulous way to see the city from the water.
The highlight for me is the Southbank Lagoon and swimming area. It’s huge with a water splash area, massive park and a rainforest walk area. You could easily spend a day here – especially on a hot day! We walked back from South bank through the botanical gardens (spotting water dragons & birds on our way) towards the CBD. It’s a fabulous small city to roam around.
If you prefer to save money then it’s a short distance to commute from hugh muntz park. We parked the motorhome at New Farm park for free. If you then walk around the headland (15 mins) to Sydney Street Ferry terminal. It’s a free ride on the city hopper into the CBD or Southbank!
Noosa (1 3/4 hours, 138km) – 2 nights (BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Noosa) – A$40
This is a hub for the Australian holidaymakers, thus making it a little more expensive. It has lots of lovely beaches, fishing spots and riverways to enjoy. While there we had a wander around the town and walked to the beach. To be honest we were feeling a little tired out so didn’t have the energy for much else. But there are some lovely walks around the area and you can hire a boat to explore the rivers.
The campsite was nice with a good size pool in shade and also a jumping pillow which kept the boys entertained. Their favourite place was the games room with a play station though!
Tin Can Bay (1.5 hours, 103km) – 1 night (Kingfisher Caravan Park) – A$52 per night
Another recommendation, because of the estuary dolphins in the area. Each morning at 8am you can head to Barnacles Dolphin Centre to hear a talk on the dolphins and pay $5 to feed one, in addition to the $5 to enter. A great little experience for the kids.
To be honest, we arrived really earlier but the talk only takes 10 minutes and the feeding only 2minutes, so don’t get their too early! Feeding happens at 8am everyday.
The weather was quite grey during our visit to the area, so it wasn’t good enough for the beach. But if you are pop over to rainbow beach – one of the key areas to reach Fraser Island. You can see the sandy banks. However, due to the poor weather we decide to put on our coats and instead walked along the coast for an easy walk through the mangroves and trees.
Seventeen seventy (3.5 hours, 308km) – 1 night (1770 Camping Ground) – A$62
This area is famous for one of the landings by James Cook in 1770. It was originally known as Round Hill, but changed its name. Again, poor weather hampered our plans here but we did manage to get out in between rain showers to walk along the coastline, pass Captain Cook memorial and onto Bustard Bay Lookout. We were lucky enough to see Dolphins in the bay too!
A good area to head to is Agnes Waters, and is known as a great beach – unfortunately the weather wasn’t playing ball and we didn’t get to enjoy the area this time.
The campsite we stayed at was in a great location though – again situated directly on the beach. Can’t beat listening to the waves lapping on the shore.
Sarina (6.5 hours – including stops, 531km) – 1 night (Sarina Palms Caravan Village) – A$49
Today, we just drove! We were on a timescale to get to Airlie beach for our Whitsundays excursion. So we drove until we’d had enough. This brought us to our most enlightening stop so far… Sarina! Not known on the ‘tourist’ route. But we loved the real Queensland feel of the place.
The owners of the Sarina palms caravan village were very welcoming. They invited us to join them for fish and chips in their ‘social area’ and a spot of karaoke!
We are not karaoke fans, but decided to join them and meet some residents. What a great decision. It’s was quite the giggle and we meet a lovely family who the boys enjoyed playing with!
Sometimes pleasure comes from the most unlikely places!!
Airlie Beach (2 ¼ hours, 182km) – 3 nights (Island Gateway Holiday Park) – A$48
It was time to head to Airlie beach, gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. However, en route ‘Budgie’, our cheap motorhome, developed a problem. It was nothing major but lost a little umph.
After speaking on the phone to the mechanic we decided to limp her onto Airlie beach. We were then advised that we would receive a replacement but the next day! What a service from Cruisin Motorhomes!!! (Mother ship of Go Cheap!!). I can’t recommend them enough, fantastic communication and customer service!!
When we eventually made it to Airlie beach we took the opportunity to have a break! Our original plan was to do another 3 day 2 night cruise, but the cost!!! Wow… so instead we booked a day trip on the Derwent Hunter and spent the rest of our time just relaxing. I’ll tell you more about the Whitsundays and Airlie beach in a separate post!
We decided to stop at Island gateway as our campermate app came up with a good deal. It had a small pool and was within a reasonable walking distance of Airlie beach town. Also at 4pm each day the groundsman bring a bucket of food to feed the rainbow parakeets! Be warned their claws are looking! You can feel them, but they don’t really hurt. But they do scare the bejesus out of you when they leave on your head!!
Bowen (1 hour, 78km) – 1 night (Queens Beach Tourist Village) – A$35
Another recommended stop, and a lovely and quiet area to explore. There are lots of little bays. We particularly enjoyed horseshoe bay, which reminded us of Mahabalipuram in India!
There’s a short and easy walk to a lookout with beautiful views all around.
The campsite was very nice and cheap (esp. as we didn’t have to pay for the kids!). They mentioned they have a new water slide & pool opening, but were just finishing so you may find the prices increasing.
Townsville – (2 ½ hours, 202km) – 2 nights (Secura Lifestyle Magnetic Gateway) – A$26 per night
We would have loved to stay longer in the area, but time did not allow. Plus as we have the motorhome, so couldn’t stay on magnetic Island this time… or so we thought.
In fact when we went for our day trip there was a huge 24 hour parking with a number of campervans at the ferry terminal. It’s seemed secure and obviously some people do just park up and stay a few days on the island. Parking was only A$8 for the day!
Magnetic Island is one of my ‘must do’ Australian East coast activities! Blog post coming soon!
Again, due to a campermate deal – we found a basic, but nice campsite on the outskirts of Townsville. It had a small pool and was a short drive from a huge Woolworths. However, we did find out that the recent floods meant the whole shopping centre had
South Mission Beach – (3 hours, 232km) – 2 nights (BIG4 Beachcomber Coconut Holiday Park) – A$51 per night, including 15% discount
We were undecided on were to stop during the latter part of the trip. Do we push on to allow time in cairns or just break up the journey. We decided on the latter. And, of course, because there are regular sightings of cassowary’s in the area. Well, we didn’t expect to see one in the campsite within 30 minutes of arriving!!! Wow!
We chose this campsite because of the cassowary sightings and also there was a 15% discount offered because we stayed at their Airlie beach campsite. It had a lovely pool little slide which the boys enjoyed for an afternoon. Everyone was showing signs of tiredness!
It was another campsite situated right on the beach. But again, the weather closed in and aside from a wander along the beach, there’s not a huge amount to do!
We decided to embark on a rainforest walk, but having the motorhome is difficult to find parking or to drive down unmade roads. So we decided to walk to the rainforest and then head forget. Clearly we were tired, as we used a tourist map to determine our route rather than Google maps! Epic fail…. As we spent most of our time walking on main roads with no path 🤦🏻♀️
We did finally make it to a small rainforest walk, at Licuala, but by then we were shattered and ready to head back. Still, walking for 11km is better than nothing! If you want to see cassowary’s then definitely head here!
Port Douglas – (3 hours, 211km) – 4 nights (Tropic Breeze campsite) – A$52 per night
Having direct time in cairns on our previous trip, we decided to push into port Douglas and decided how to spend our last few days. We were keen to experience snorkeling on the outer reef. A couple of families we’d met were pleased with their quicksilver experience.
However, we weren’t keen on a platoon with hundreds of other people in an enclosed area. Instead, having spoken to the very friendly campsite manager, we decided to book with Wavelength. A local dedicated snorkeling boat with experienced microbiologists willing to share their knowledge. Sounded perfect! I’ll share our experiences and what we saw in a separate blog as well as what we got up to in beautiful Port Douglas.
The campsite was small, compact, but within easy walking distance of 4 mile beach and the town. It perfectly suited our needs. The pool was small, but a great space to just cool off. To top it off we met another family with 2 boys if a similar age!
It’s sometimes the people you meet, rather than the places, which make you stay! A fantastic end to our Australian East coast adventure!
We travelled from mid march to mid April, so definitely not peak season. But this is an idea of our costs.
On average we spent around A$50 a night (including our free nights).
We travelled around 3,500 km
Petrol cost around A$500
Motorhome hire cost A$3,400 for 4 weeks, through Go Cheap. But with impeccable service from cruisin’ motorhomes!!
Add to this food & drinks (which we primarily cooked ourselves – eating out is a luxury of course!) – around A$1,200
Don’t forget to estimate the costs of activities. We Kelly things simple and only paid for big trips, such as snorkelling on the great barrier reef and sailing on the Whitsundays.
The Australian East coast is a hub of activity. Whether you want your journey to be chilled out, party driven or full of wildlife experiences, you can find it all here! As for budget, you can spend as much or as little as you want!
There is something to suit everyone.
If you are out of season try not to book campsites. I am a planner and am seriously glad we didn’t book anything in advance as we could stay or move on depending on what we liked! I liked to have an idea of where we were going, but not actually booking anything easier than I thought!!
We, again, had a wonderful experience and having the motorhome gave us that freedom for a family of 4. If travelling on your own I’d consider sharing a vehicle with friends to get you off that beaten track and find these hidden gems 🙌