It was a Sunday afternoon, and we were all sitting on the couch watching Netflix, and astonishingly my husband said with a big smile, “There is a deal for campervan Sydney to Cairns leaving on Tuesday. Do you want to go?”. The girls obviously super excited and the first to yell out…”Yeah, please mum, let’s go”.
We’ve never travelled to this part of North Queensland and after having heard so many great things about Cairns, and then of course a deal too good to miss, it didn’t take us long to make a decision. It was the perfect chance for us to explore Cairns in a Campervan, and it had come at just the right time. We went during October so the weather was perfect for this time of year.
With only the one night to pack our bags, my husband left early on Tuesday morning to go and pick up the campervan from Sydney’s CBD.
We rented the Camperman Paradise 5 Family without toilet/shower. It was very well equipped with all the cooking utensils, dishware and everything we needed, clean and ready for us to use. There was enough linen, bedding, pillows and doona’s, and they even provided us with a two person tent, which we didn’t really use.
We are a family of five with the youngest being three, so we were a little disappointed that it was smaller than we had expected. I guess it was okay for our very first campervan trip. We left that day for our big adventure.
The drive from Sydney NSW to Cairns QLD is a 1 day, 3 hour (2,413km) drive. We hired the campervan for 5 nights so we had 5 days to reach Cairns. It is doable but if you have kids like us, then I would allow an extra day or two or longer if you can, to really make the most out of the trip.
The drive was amazing, and honestly in my opinion, the best way to see the most beautiful parts of Australia. For the most part of our trip we took the scenic route along the East Coast. This gave us the best views as we drove through rainforests, national parks and many remote towns.
When you drive a campervan you will need to stop at a caravan park. You have to choose if you want a powered site or a unpowered site. On powered sites they have a power outlet box that you can plugin to your campervan to charge your battery and you can also use the power within the campervan. They also have water connection that you can connect to the campervan to fill your water tank. It is recommended that every day you empty your water tank and refill with fresh water. Also when you are booking a caravan park you may want to find one with facilities such as laundry room, hot water for showers, concreate slab so you can put your table & chairs outside and sit and relax, etc.
Here’s a rundown of the best places to stop and great things to see and do with the kids.
POINTS OF INTEREST
DAY ONE: TUESDAY
Sydney to Woolgoolga via Pacific Hwy/A1
Approx drive time: 5 hours 35 minutes
Distance: 538 km
On our first day we left Sydney at 1pm and drove straight for 538km with a couple of stops in between. We wanted to cover as much of the drive as possible without stopping for sightseeing, at least up until we had reached the Sunshine Coast.
We figured we would have more time to explore the other places we had not seen before, and because we had already done a road trip to Brisbane before, we had seen a lot of the touristy places already.
We travelled for almost six hours on day one. We stayed overnight at the ‘Woolgoolga Beach Holiday Park‘. It was our first night sleeping inside a campervan.
Our first night in the campervan – what it was like
So i would say that our first night wasn’t exactly comfortable, at least not for me. I did find it very cramped inside once the beds were down, and getting the kids down from the bunk-beds were a challenge every night, manageable but not comfortable. As with anything, i guess a new change is always difficult and takes time to get used to. The nights that followed did get easier as we just got used to it.
DAY TWO: WEDNESDAY
Woolgoolga to Gympie via Pacific Hwy/A1
Approx drive time: 5 hours 52 minutes
Distance: 534 km
We left Woolgoolga and continued our journey north up the east coast trying to drive as much as we could once again to cover as many km’s as possible.
One hour into the road trip, and we were hit with a flat tyre. It was pretty scary as it happened on a bridge at a speed of 80km. My husband has never changed a tyre in his life and today he changed his first tyre on a campervan! It took around 1 hour, but once done we were back on the road.
We drove 534km until we finally reached Sunshine Coast which had been our goal from day one. We searched the area to find accommodation for the night, and found a vacancy at the ‘Gympie Caravan Park (an hour’s drive from Sunshine Coast). It was a lot cheaper that what we paid at Woolgoolga, at only $30 for the night.
After dinner we sat down and did our calculations for the amount of kilometres left until we reached Cairns. We still had 1,514 km and we were slightly worried that we wouldn’t get much time to explore and would only be driving most of the time.
Of course we didn’t want to just be driving all the time, but we also wanted to take breaks and do some sightseeing, and so we had to factor that time in as well. We spontaneously made a decision to wake up really early and drive as much as we could the next day for this to be able to work.
DAY THREE: THURSDAY
Gympie to Prosperpine via Bruce Hwy/A1
Approx drive time: 10 hours 9 minutes
Distance: 907 km
So this morning we were up at around 5am. We woke up the kids, folded away the beds and left to resume the road trip. The convenience of having a kitchen inside the campervan meant we could have breakfast on the way.
We managed to drive 10 hours with a few stop breaks here and there. It wasn’t as tough as we first thought it would be. Honestly with three kids I have no idea how we managed it, but we did, and surprisingly the kids really enjoyed the ride in the campervan. We made sure we had a variety of activities to keep them entertained and we made it a point to stop every two hours and refuel our campervan.
With another seven hours more to reach Cairns, we were able to relax and enjoy the sights more.
We drove to Airlie Beach, one of Australia’s popular tourist destinations. We were so excited to see this place. I’d last come here more than 10 years back and it was even better than what I remembered it to be.
Now the holiday really started! Airlie Beach is such a lovely friendly town with pristine clear blue waters. Our first stop was Abell Point Marina, gateway to the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef. Here are a few photos which speak for themselves just how beautiful this place is.
After the Marina the kids wanted to go for a swim and the best place for this was the Lagoon. The best part… it was totally Free, and what a great size! It was a scorching day and we were lucky to get a great shady spot with views overlooking the sea. The kids had a blast in the water.
We enjoyed a couple of hours here at the Lagoon before leaving for our overnight stay at Prosperpine Tourist Park, roughly 25 minute’s drive from Airlie Beach. This caravan park was gorgeous, and very comfortable. The staff were also amazing. Perfectly situated next to the Proserpine Swimming Pool and Golf Course, the Tourist Park has powered and unpowered shady sites available for caravans, as well as a spacious camping area. A recently installed camp kitchen is also available for use by guests staying at the park.
What an absolutely fabulous day at Airlie Beach. Next stop Townsville.
DAY FOUR: FRIDAY
Prosperpine to Townsville via Bruce Hwy/A1
Approx drive time: 2 hours 57 minutes
Distance: 265 km
Now the scenery really starts getting exciting and it begins to feel like we are away on a tropical holiday somewhere far away. I can’t believe we are still in Australia! You now start to see tropical plants such as Banana trees and sugar cane plantations everywhere.
Today we headed straight for Townsville, a beautiful coastal city with very friendly locals. A must see, especially with the kids, is the water park – great for cooling off in the tropical summer heat.
We arrived in Townsville in the morning. Townsville has so much to offer for families with kids. The locals there are also really friendly. Townsville is surrounded by beautiful Coast and plenty of greenery.
Here are just a few of the things we did in Townsville with the kids.
1. Walked Along the Strand
The Strand is a long stretch of 2.2 km, and there is so much to do in one spot. There are playgrounds, a waterpark, bars and restaurants, a pier and an abundance of picnic areas. It’s a great idea to grab the prams, kid’s scooters or bikes, and take a stroll and explore The Strand at Townsville.
2. The Strand Waterpark
Grab the kid’s swimmers and head to the waterpark at The Strand. A perfect spot on a hot day where the kids can cool down and go wild. The kids will love it! There are water cannons, fountains and a huge tipping bucket.
3. Swim at The Rockpool
After a play in the waterpark we headed on down to the Rockpool, which is a swimming area situated at the far end on The Strand, with views of Magnetic Island. There are some nice grassy banks to lay down a picnic rug. A lifeguard is on duty from 9am-5pm every day.
4. Take a walk up Castle Hill
Townville is dominated by Castle Hill – a stunning heritage pink granite stone formation in the suburb of Castle Hill in Townsville. It is 286 metres above sea level and is one of the most extraordinary natural features on the Queensland coast. Unfortunetly for us the roads were closed off so we couldn’t visit, however we were able to get some gorgeous photos of this stunning rock formation from afar.
5. Kissing Point Fort
Later in the day we drove on up to Kissing Point. Walking up the steps we came to a vantage point from where you could see amazing views looking out over the sea to Magnetic Island and Townsville. A great place to watch the sunset from. This is a great place to come for Information about Townsvilles history. If you don’t want to take the steps, there is also a path suitable for wheelchairs and strollers. We found a lot of open space and shady trees for a picnic.
We were pretty exhausted after an action packed fun day. We stayed overnight at the Townsville Tourist & Lifestyle Village. The campsite was well maintained and clean. It was off-peak season, and so we easily got a spot otherwise they do get sold out pretty quickly during the peak season. The camp kitchen was superb with clean areas that had an outdoor TV (great if you’re with the kids). If you drive north to Cairns, we highly recommend this place.
DAY FIVE: SATURDAY
Townsville to Cairns via Bruce Hwy/A1
Approx drive time: 4 hours 11 minutes
Distance: 347 km
Crystal clear blue waters, hot and tropical. I’m just loving this part of Queensland. Townsville was amazing with so much to see and do with the kids. We were so glad we stopped here. Next stop Cairns, and our last and final night in the campervan. We’ve had the best experience and will definitely be doing it again.
Cairns is a popular holiday destination due to its tropical climate and easy access to the Great Barrier Reef. We had a total of three days in Cairns and it was the best experience. The kids enjoyed themselves so much and now we have memories for life. Here is everything we did during our stay in Cairns.
We reached Cairns on Saturday evening, and after freshening up after a long drive we headed out to the main city centre to have dinner. We parked along The Strand and had dinner at the Night Markets on Cairns Esplanade. It was a great Buzz inside. The night markets is the perfect place for some retail therapy after dinner.
There are a variety of shops inside with lots of bargains and mostly a lot of shops selling tourist goods, but there are also some local crafts and gifts. There are also several places where you can pay for a massage. Plus there is a food court for you to get something to eat after your shopping. We walked passed a fish pedicure spa, and I remember thinking to myself, how can anyone dunk their feet into a bowl of feet nibbling fish.
DAY SIX: SUNDAY
Cairns to Port Douglass via Captain Cook Hwy/State Route 44
Approx drive time: 1 hour
Distance: 67.5 km
Today we had to return the Campervan in the afternoon, so we decided to leave early morning and head up to Port Douglass. We had friends recommend visiting this place and we are so glad we did.
This is a short video of the scenery we got on the way to Port Douglass. It was breathtaking.
The first place we visited was Port Douglass Trinity Bay Lookout. It was the perfect location to get a great view of the Four Mile Beach. The views of the sea were a little bit hard to see due to the trees and houses obstructing the views.
After the lookout, we visited The Four Mile Beach, a beautiful stretch of beach that had lifesavers to keep an eye out for those swimming. Sun lounges were also available for hire at the kiosk.
Cairns doesn’t have any beaches, and so if you’re not planning to do the Great Barrier Reef then I definitely recommend Port Douglass. The beaches are beautiful and the drive is very scenic.
After returning our Campervan, we picked up the car from the rental company and spent the rest of the day exploring the Cairns Esplanade and planning what we would do for the remaining two days left in Cairns.
DAY SEVEN: MONDAY
Cairns to Kuranda via Scenic Railway
Approx travel time: 30 minutes
Distance: 26.7 km
Today we explored Kuranda by taking the Scenic Railway up there, and returning on the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. Kuranda is a small town situated inside the rainforest high up in the mountains. The town became well known in the 1960’s when the hippies were established and they opened up shops selling vibrant arts and crafts and still exists today. Many people do day trips to Kuranda to see the great Barron Falls and the simple natural beauty and the relaxed atmosphere that surrounds this town.
We had the best experience and would recommend this to anyone as a must do Cairns attraction. We parked the car at the sky rail depot and were taken to the train station by bus travel.
The train was exciting at first but after a while it just felt like any normal train. The seating can be a little disappointing if you are not next to the window, or if you are seated facing the opposite direction as your view is then limited.
We found it very slow and it did take a while to reach the top until the scenery gets interesting. There were some rare moments when we got to capture some great photos, especially the ones of the train on the tight winding curves, and the breathtaking Barron waterfalls. The driver was good in that he did slow down the train, and give us notice so we could get our cameras ready to capture those moments.
The train briefly stopped at Barron Falls Station which allowed us a great opportunity to get off the train and capture some great photos of the rainforest and waterfalls.
This is a short video taken when we got down from the train at Barron Falls Station.
We finally arrived at Kuranda Station and had a few hours to explore this wonderful village before getting the gondola back down. We were all hungry and decided to find a place to grab some lunch.
We came across the Barron Falls Hotel and it seemed like the perfect place to stop and have lunch. The atmosphere reminded me of a typical pub, but it was very family friendly inside with a nice seating area outside on the verandah. The selection on the menu for hot and cold items was great and looking around the food looked delicious.
After lunch we explored the Kuranda Village. A few of the shops were nice, there were some lovely jewellery stores, a rock candy shop (kids favourite obviously) and a few nice boutiques.
The best part of the trip was definitely the skyrail trip down. Even though I’m sometimes terrified of heights, the views from the skyrail were out of this world and an unforgettable experience. I would recommend the Kuranda Heritage Railway as it’s a great experience as well but not as thrilling as the gondola ride. Overall the experience was worth the money and it was a lot of fun coming back down on the gondola. If I was doing this again then I would use the gondola for both going up and coming down.
DAY EIGHT: TUESDAY
Cairns to Green Island, Great Barrier Reef via Ferry
Approx travel time: 30 minutes
Distance: 26.7 km
Today we did the Great Barrier Reef tour from Cairns. You can’t come to Cairns and not do the Great Barrier Reef (the world’s largest coral reef, over 2,300 kilometers long). It is one of the major tourist attractions in Australia, and so incredible that it can even been seen from space. We had a fantastic experience. The submarine is an absolute must.
There are many options for exploring the Great Barrier Reef, and you have several tours to choose from including the different islands and coral reefs you choose to visit. Some of the most popular Islands include Moore Reef, Fitzroy Island, and Green Island. After doing some research and after speaking to several tour operators, we chose to do the Green Island tour.
We made sure that we packed enough for the trip. Everyone was excited especially the kids.We left the hotel and walked down to the ferry terminal to get checked-in and board the ship.
The vessel was big, clean and pleasant with lots of space on board to stand and walk around the boat. The scenery on the way to Green Island was gorgeous with stunning views of the ocean and landscape.
After a brief safety demonstration, and an overview of the activities that would be included on the tour, we arrived at the beautiful Green Island.
We got off the ferry wharf and headed onto the Island. It was nice and clean and very picturesque, and as we walked through the Island we spotted different species of birds and native plants.
The island has a hotel, several cafe’s and one swimming pool.
After a long morning we were hungry and the first thing we did was grab some lunch.
There were a few activities that were available for everyone to take part in so even if you didn’t get into the water you could still enjoy the sea life and coral by taking a glass bottom boat or submarine. We did both but if I was to do it again I would definetly opt to do the submarine again. The viewing from the submarine is much more intense and exciting than on the glass bottom boat where you are not able to see a lot, whereas the submarine can take you right down into the reef. The tour lasts for around 20 minutes. We were lucky to see a wide range of fish species, rays, small sharks and even the odd turtles.
Below is a snippet of the video we took when we were inside the Submarine. It was amazing and would definetly recommend the tour to anyone planning to visit the Great Barrier Reef.
The most popular activity of course on the Great Barrier Reef is Snorkeling. The kids did this with their dad and they had so much fun they almost missed the Submarine Tour. Snorkeling is a great way to get up close and personal to the marine animals of the Great Barrier Reef.
We didn’t have an underwater camera but wish we had as i’m sure the girls would have captured some amazing photos from everything they saw down there.
DAY NINE: WEDNESDAY
Last day in Cairns
We had a free morning left before we had to get on the flight back to Sydney. We spent this time visiting the Cairns Esplande, Botanical Gardens and Muddys Playground.
So first and foremost the kids wanted to go back to the Lagoon. The Cairns Esplanade is such a fun and beautiful place to be that no matter how many times you come here you always want to come back. We spent a good couple of hours here. There are lifeguards on duty by the lagoon as well so you can feel safe with the kids in the water. There are toilets and changing rooms, and barbeques free to use. This is certainly a must visit when you come to Cairns.
The best part about the location of the lagoon is that you can relax in the water or on the grass area and look out over the ocean, and see the ships coming in and out of the harbour. There are plenty of restaurants and fast food places just across the road.
Muddy’s Playground on the Esplanade in Cairns is set in a tropical garden setting and is famous for its water play features. It’s a great play space for the kids and It really is huge, with equipment to suit kids of all ages including a fully enclosed toddler play area. There is lots of seating and a cafe for refreshments and facilities such as toilets and bbq’s.
Cairns Botanical Gardens
Running short on time we made sure to grab a map to guide us through the gardens. We came across a huge variety of tropical plants and gorgeous flowers as we wandered around the beautiful Botanic Gardens. The kids enjoyed the butterfly conservatory the best. It’s worth a walk over to the lakes too and we found a great playground for kids there.
This is just the perfect place to spend the day. Unfortunetly we didn’t have a lot of time to explore everything but we are certainly glad we came and visited.
Have you visited Cairns in the Tropical part of North Queensland? Let us know where you have visited and share you experiences. We love hearing from our readers.