How to free camp from Brisbane to Cairns

Road trip #hack: How to camp from Brisbane to Cairns on the cheap

There’s nothing quite like a campervan holiday. Besides the feeling of facing the open road from your oversized windows, sitting high on your road trip throne, you also combine your transport and accommodation costs in one.

You can further keep the budget in check opting for uber affordable campsites and holiday parks along the way, and splurge on an extra tank of petrol to get you to that incredible waterfall, or on delicious local food and wine to enjoy around the campfire instead.

Some motorhome companies even 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.

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.

Camp: Charlie Moreland camping area in Imbil State Forest. This pretty spot sits beside Little Yabba Creek and boasts flushing toilets, picnic and BBQ facilities, and fire rings.

Caffeinate: Kenilworth Bakery, 8 Elizabeth Street, Kenilworth (don’t forget to pick up a jam-filled doughnut too!).

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.

Camp: Set up camp at the Maryborough Caravan and Tourist Park where you’ll find toilet blocks, a swimming pool and laundry facilities. If you’d prefer to save more mula – and don’t mind roughing it – try Hedleys camping area in Tuan State Forest overlooking the Great Sandy Strait (4WD only).

Caffeinate: Toast Espresso Bar, 199 Bazaar Street, Maryborough.

Stock up: You’ll find Coles, Woolworths and IGA in Maryborough’s CBD.

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.

Camp: If you want all the bells and whistles – aka showers, toilets, camp kitchen and WiFi – hit up the Bargara Beach Caravan Park. Plan on keeping costs as low as possible? Choose between two of the waterfront campgrounds in Burrum Coast National Park (4WD only).

Caffeinate: Oodies Café, 103 Gavin Street, Bundaberg.

Stock up: Friendly Grocers in Woodgate (if you’re staying in the national park) or Woolworths in Bargara.

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.

Camp: Boyne River Tourist Park sits on the banks of – you guessed it – the Boyne River and is a great spot for fishing (but beware of crocodiles!).

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.

Camp: If you want creature comforts of home try the Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park, otherwise go for the basic campgrounds at Smalleys Beach in Cape Hillsborough National Park.

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.

Camp: Spread out at the Bowen Palms Caravan Park complete with camp kitchen and BBQ area, amenities blocks, and unrestricted camp size if you opt for their unpowered sites.

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

Stock up: You’ll find Coles, Woolworths and IGA in Bowen’s CBD.

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.

Camp: Set on 55 acres of native bushland, the Bluewater Caravan Park is a camp-treat with clean facilities, pool, and fully-equipped kitchen.

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.

Camp: Don’t forget the rods and reels during your stay at the Taylors Beach Holiday Park (this beachside village 20 minutes from town is known by locals as an angler’s paradise). If you want to save even further pennies, drive one hour north to the Broadwater Camping Ground in Abergowrie State Forest.

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.

Camp: Choose between one of two council campgrounds at Bingil Bay or on Porters Promenade in the main village. No forward bookings are accepted, so just rock up and the caretaker will sort you out on arrival (can’t hurt to call the visitor information centre to check availability beforehand).

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

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 #roadtriphack success.

Camp: Park up at the Bramston Beach council campground, 20 minutes from Babinda, where you’ll find showers, toilets, a laundry and BBQ facilities to go with those million dollar beachfront views.

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.

Got any other cheap camping spots to share? Tell us in the comments below.