How to free camp from Brisbane to Cairns

Road trip #hack: How to free camp from Brisbane to Cairns

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There’s nothing quite like a campervan road trip, but these days the term ‘budget holiday’ doesn’t always apply. Even though you’re combining your transport and accommodation costs in one, after you account for fuel and food, the holiday park fees can really crunch the budget.

Some companies, such as Apollo Motorhomes, offer incredible last-minute relocation deals which – if you’re footloose and fancy-free enough to throw yourself into a seven-day road trip with one day to plan – will definitely save you big money.

But is it possible to ‘free camp’? We put our planning caps on to find out, and came up with a gorgeous sounding ‘Ye-hess!’. So, in the name of the almighty budget, I say: “Start your engines, travellers – whether you’re driving your own wheels which you picked up for an absolute bargain on Gumtree, or renting a majestic motorhome, we’re about to #hack our way from Brisbane to Cairns.”

Day 1: Brisbane to Sunshine Coast

Little Yabba Creek

The Sunshine Coast lives up to its name with its sun-drenched beaches, lush green hinterland and iconic Glass House Mountains.

Explore Noosa’s trendy shops, cafes, postcard-perfect beaches or go koala-spotting in Noosa National Park.

The hinterland towns of Maleny and Montville are people-watching wonderlands with every café menu boasting near-grown ingredients and a story to tell.

Free camp: Little Yabba Picnic Area (Little Yabba Creek Park). This pretty spot sits beside a creek with a swimming hole.

Find it: 3145 Maleny Kenilworth Road, 6km south-west of Kenilworth.

Maximum stay: 24 hours.

Caffeinate: Secrets on the Lake Café, 207 Narrows Road, Montville.

Stock up: Kenilworth Friendly Grocer, 13 Elizabeth Street, Kenilworth.

While you’re here: Explore SEA LIFE at Mooloolaba, Australia Zoo or Aussie World; taste the local flavours at the Ginger Factory and Maleny Dairies; or find your perfect patch of sand with this local’s beach guide.

Day 2: Sunshine Coast to Fraser Coast

Fraser Coast

The wind is well and truly in your hair by now as you roll along the highway and congratulate yourself on your cleverness so far.

Things get wilder and more beautiful on this route, as you head towards where the whales play each July to November, and to within ferry distance of the world’s largest sand island.

Free camp: Tiaro Memorial Park has everything you need: shaded picnic tables, electric barbecue, kids playground, toilets and a hot shower for the bargain price of zilch. Tiaro is a nice little town where you can grab a meal or stock up.

Find it: 42/44 Mayne Street, Tiaro (Inman Street behind Town Park).

Maximum stay: 48 hours.

Caffeinate: Retro Espresso, 28 Mayne Street, Tiaro.

Stock up: FoodWorks Shop, 2 Mayne Street, Tiaro.

While you’re here: Educate yourself at Fraser Coast Wildlife Sanctuary, play at the Fraser Coast Discovery Sphere and WestSide Water Park, do a day trip to Fraser Island or whale watch in Hervey Bay.

Day 3: Fraser Coast to Bundaberg

Brierley Wines

Photo by @brierley_wines via IG

Onwards and upwards towards sugarcane, ginger and rum country! Don’t miss a cane field sunset – or sunrise – and enjoy the sub-tropical vibe of the city and towns along the way.

Free camp: Brierley Wines. Watch the sunset over the winery in this peaceful, secluded spot.

Find it: 574 Rainbows Road, South Isis.

Maximum stay: 24 hours for customers only, bookings required (for camping). Free wine tasting.

Caffeinate: Oodies Café, 103 Gavin Street, Bundaberg.

Stock up: IGA Childers, 114 Churchill Street, Childers.

While you’re here: Soar at Flying High Bird Sanctuary, scream at Snakes Downunder Reptile Park and Zoo, steam ride through Bundaberg Botanic Gardens, and stare (silently please) during egg laying or hatching of baby turtles at Mon Repos.

Day 4: Bundaberg to Gladstone

Fishing around Gladstone

Gladstone has a passion for all things maritime. Enjoy one of the many fishing spots, explore the harbour or islands.

Just one hour south of Gladstone is Agnes Water Beach, Queensland’s most northerly surf beach and an unspoilt haven for surfing, kitesurfing and paddle boarding.

Free camp: Boyne River Rest Area. A shaded rest area with toilets and showers. Located across the road from the Boyne River, a great spot for fishing (but beware of crocodiles!).

Find it: 49km south-east of Mount Larcom or 1km south of Benaraby.

Maximum stay: 20 hours.

Caffeinate: MJs Retro & Vintage Wares and Café, 48843 Bruce Hwy, Benaraby.

Stock up: Benarby General Store, 48843 Bruce Hwy, Benaraby.

While you’re here: Play at East Shores Water Park, fish for Barramundi at Lake Awoonga, or get a history fix at the Gladstone Maritime Museum.

Day 5: Gladstone to Mackay or Cape Hillsborough

Roos Cape Hillsborough

Oh, Cape Hillsborough, you are just tooooooo pretty. With your blue butterflies fluttering, your rainforest beckoning and your wallabies posing for photos with tourists at sunrise on the beach.

Not to mention your sister mountains at Eungella National Park – with platypus to spot and Araluen waterfall to swim under. We might stay a while.

Free camp: Wilson Creek Rest Area. A small ‘overnighter’ spot on the Bruce Highway on the southbound side. Some shade available but unfortunately no amenities.

Find it: 28km south of Home Hill or 12km north of Gumlu.

Maximum stay: 20 hours.

Caffeinate: Old Station Tea House, 231 Cape Hillsborough Road, Ball Bay.

Stock up: Coles Supermarket, 78 Sydney Street, Sydney St Markets, Mackay.

While you’re here: Visit the Sarina Sugar Shed, take a Whitsunday Crocodile Safari, swim at Bluewater Lagoon, or scream on the Finch Hatton Gorge flying fox.

Day 6: Mackay to Guthalungra via Bowen

Horseshoe Bay Bowen

We love our ‘big‘ tourist attractions, and we love our mangoes.

So a big high-five for the genius who created the Big Mango in Bowen – officially the largest in the world. You can’t eat it, but you can Instagram the heck out of every angle.

Free camp: Guthalungra Rest Area. Toilets and water are available and you can shower at the service station for a fee.

Find it: At Guthalungra, just off the highway and opposite the service station.

Maximum stay: 24 hours.

Caffeinate: Le Sorelle Coffee House and Florist, 52 Richmond Road, Bowen.

Stock up: Friendly Grocer 107/115 Eighth Ave, Home Hill.

While you’re here: Grab a bite (and a couple of selfies for Instagram) at the Big Mango, explore Bowen Museum, and swim at Horseshoe Bay.

Day 7: Bowen to Townsville

Magnetic Island

Townsville is not only a cool town worth exploring, it’s also your tropical launch-pad to Magnetic Island, home to northern Queensland’s largest wild koala colony, the historical Fort Walk and ridiculously gorgeous views.

Free camp: Saunders Beach Park Rest Area. This shady campsite is right on the beach, perfect for long walks or throwing in a line. Toilets, showers and water available.

Find it: At Reef Street, Saunders Beach.

Maximum stay: 24 hours.

Caffeinate: Saunders Beach Bar and Bistro, 31 Lagoon Crescent, Saunders Beach.

Stock up: IGA Mount Low Pkwy & Lionel Turner Drive, Bushland Beach.

While you’re here: Dive into Reef HQ Aquarium, cruise around Magnetic Island, trek through Paluma Range National Park, or take a snorkel or dive trip out on the Great Barrier Reef.

Day 8: Townsville to Ingham

Wallaman Falls

Ciao bella! You’ve arrived in the ‘Little Italy’ of Northern Queensland.

Nearby, there’s birdwatching at TYTO Wetlands and the jaw-dropping Wallaman Falls, Australia’s highest single drop waterfall.

If you can make time for Hinchinbrook Island, its pristine beauty will be your greatest reward. There is plenty of hiking, bird watching or just relaxing on the beach to be done here.

Free camp: Frances Creek rest area (Helens Hill). The drive in and drive out set up makes it an easy place to park and the trees make it a cool and shady spot to spend the night. Toilets, water, fireplaces and sheltered picnic tables available.

Find it: 11km south of Ingham and 45km north of Rollingstone on the western side of the Bruce Highway.

Maximum stay: 20 hours.

Caffeinate: Jk’s Deli, 78 Lannercost Street, Ingham.

Stock up: Zaghini’s IGA, 82 Cartwright Street, Ingham.

While you’re here: Experience a Mungulla Aboriginal Tour, visit Wallaman Falls in Girringun National Park or travel to Hinchinbrook Island.

Day 9: Ingham to Mission Beach

Tully Gorge National Park

Mission Beach combines swaying palm trees and white sand to maximum effect. Bingil Bay is all romantic seclusion, while lush Tully Gorge rewards travellers who brave the likelihood of rain with glorious views and a stunning variety of butterflies dancing for your very own entertainment.

Free camp: El Arish Rest Area. Sitting beside a small creek, you’ll find toilets and water available here too.

Find it: 61193 Bruce Highway.

Maximum stay: 20 hours.

Caffeinate: Bingal Bay Café.

Stock up: Mission Beach Supermarket Shop 11, Beachtown, 46-48 Porter Promenade, Mission Beach.

While you’re here: Explore the mystical romance of Paronella Park, skydive onto Mission Beach and head to World Heritage-listed Tully Gorge National Park.

Day 10: Mission Beach to Cairns

Babinda Boulders

Photo by Mycolourfulworld via FB

What? You’re here already? Well done, traveller. Cairns’ stunning beaches, tropical rainforests and adventure overload await! Commence the kudos collection for your #roaadtriphack success.

Free camp: Babinda Boulders Camping Area. A free campground in the national park amongst lush rainforest and within a stone’s throw of a perfect swimming hole. Toilets, showers and picnic tables available.

Find it: The Boulders Road, Babinda.

Maximum stay: 72 hours.

Caffeinate: Bramston Beach Café, 67 Evans Road, Bramston Beach.

Stock up: SPAR 52 Munro Street, Babinda.

While you’re here: Enjoy the scenery on the Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, kayak around Green Island, take a hike through the Daintree Rainforest at Cape Tribulation or take a cruise down the Daintree River.

Disclaimer: Most holiday parks are pretty awesome. They have pools. Trampolines. Gourmet cafes. Even pizza ovens, people. So you may not want to skip ALL of them. Plus, you’ll probably need to recharge your motorhome which is only possible at holiday parks due to the different voltage – especially rental motorhomes, which can’t be charged from domestic power outlets. Do your research. And happy travels!

Have you ever free camped in Queensland? Got any other secret spots to share? Tell us in the comments below.

  • Debra Stanley

    Awesome Thank you

  • Jane Barnes

    What a top Road trip plan, thanks. I’ll pin it and check out the spots when on the road with the kids. Think we’ll double the time frame and hang out in a few places…

  • Tony Hodges

    Home Hill rest area right in town, showers,toilets camp kitchen.
    Street runs paralel to highway, beside railway.
    Council have done great job encouraging travellers.