East Coast Road Trip Week 1 – Cairns to Airlie Beach

Firstly, massive apologies for the delay in writing this. As I’m sure those of you close to me are aware the road trip has since come and gone, and I didn’t get around to writing one blog during the whole time! Not really sure why this was, it just seemed I could never find the peace/quiet/time living in a camper van to get around to writing them. But rest assured now I’m settled in Sydney I now have the time to update everyone who is interested in what we got up to during the road trip. I ensured I made notes while travelling down so I didn’t have to rely too heavily on memory. But I do imagine the writing style won’t be as good had I kept more up to date. Alas, I shall do my best to paint a picture of our East Coast Adventure, the 4000 km from Cairns to Sydney. Starting with week 1 Cairns to Airlie Beach.

Our camper van for the road trip

Day 1 – 10th Sept: So, the time had come to start the trip, we picked up the van and packed all our gear into it. If I’m honest it seemed like it was going to be a little tight and that was before we had even picked Ollie up who would be joining us in a few days’ time. But there wasn’t much we could do, we had paid the Au$5000 bond on the van and this was to be home for the next 5 weeks. We did soon come to adapt to van life, but it certainly took some adjusting too. We decided to leave Cairns and drive inland a little to explore the Atherton Tablelands. To do this we first drove to a place called Malanda, which was a beautiful scenic drive up a winding mountain road, but probably not ideal for our first time out in the camper van haha. We first stopped off at Malanda Falls before heading onto complete the waterfall circuit which consisted of 3 waterfalls a short drive from one another. The first being Milla Milla falls which is famous for being featured in Peter Andres Mysterious Girl music video and also the setting for the Herbal Essences shampoo adverts. I lost odds on and had to take a dip in the falls, but the water was bitterly cold and I’m sure I looked far less graceful than the Herbal Essences models prancing around in the water. We spent the first night in the van in a town called Ravenshoe, which is the highest town in Queensland. Yet even being this high and this remote the girl working at the hotel where we parked the van in the car park was British.

Milla Milla falls

Day 2 – 11th Sept: After spending our first night in the van, which passed pretty uneventfully but did get a little chilly in the night due to the altitude we drove to Millstream falls. Which is supposedly the widest waterfall in Australia. From here we elected to drive on towards Innisfail, but en-route stopped off at North Johnson River lookout which offered some amazing views down into the valley below. There was a trekking path that led to a viewpoint which Fred and I decided to explore and in fact, ended up hiking all the way down to the river itself in the valley below. The sight that greeted us is probably one of the most idyllic and tranquil places I have ever been to. Fred and I were alone jumping across rocks in the river surround by nature. All you could hear was water rushing over rocks protruding the waters surface and wildlife in the surrounding jungle. I honestly could have sat down there all day as an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. Unfortunately, Lisa had stayed in the van, so we didn’t want her thinking the worst had happened to us. The total round trip took Fred and me two hours to hike and by the time we got back were sweating bucks. From the River Lookout, we then headed to Josephine Falls which once again were ever so inviting to swim in, but the water temperature really was arctic, so we only elected to get our feet wet. Close to Josephine falls we made camp at our first free campsite, a place called Golden Hole. I guess now is a good time to explain the whole overnight camping situation. During the road trip, we stayed at free campsites, paid campsites and even the sides of roads. Most free campsites have toilets to use but that’s about it for amenities. Whereas with the paid campsites you often have showers, the choice to use power and the ability to fill up the water tank. There were also campsite such as the one we stayed in the first night, whereby you pay a little money, far cheaper than an actual campsite, say to a hotel or bar and are allowed to park in the car park and use any facilities that may be on offer such as toilets and showers, yet still sleep in the van.  Now the camper van was self-powered meaning we didn’t need to plug in overnight. But certain appliances within the van did such as the kettle and microwave. Therefore, when parked up at a non-powered site we only really had use of the gas stove.

Millstream falls
View from the top of the Johnson River Lookout
View from the valley floor of the Johnson River
Halfway point on the hike down to the river

Day 3 – 12th Sept: From our overnight spot just north of Innisfail we then made the drive down to Mission Beach. As we approached Mission Beach, we drove past a Cassowary bird famous in the area. The bird was bloody massive, and supposedly can be dangerous due to their massive talons so I’m glad we got to witness it from the safety of our van. Unfortunately, the weather hadn’t looked at the plan for a day at the beach, it was very windy and overcast so after a bite of lunch and a stroll up the beach we decided to make the long drive south to Townsville where we would be picking up Ollie and heading over to Magnetic Island for a few days. Once again, we stayed at a free campsite just outside of Townsville. The campsite was located right next to the beach which was handy for sunrise the following morning seeing as we would be up early.

Sunrise from our camp spot

Day 4 – 13th Sept:  Today we were heading to Magnetic Island to spend the next few days. The ferry was departing early in the morning and we still had to make our way into Townsville to pick up Ollie. The early start did allow the opportunity to witness the sunrise from the beach which was the perfect start to the day. Having picked up Ollie, making our party 4, instead of 3, things in the van got a little tighter, especially with the addition of Ollie’s surfboard too. Somehow, we managed to get everything in and there still be just about enough room to live. When we arrived on Magnetic Island, we made our way to our campsite for the night which this time we were paying for so had access to nice showers, could plug in the van and fill up the water tank which was now empty. We also bumped into a couple of Ollie’s friends who he had met on the farm and spent the day exploring with them. We visited a few of the bays on the island such as Arthurs Bay before taking a stroll to the next bay over. That evening we went for a few drinks at a hostel on the other side of the island before coming back home and finding a wild Koala bear in the tree above our camper van.

Day 5 – 14th Sept:

Today we didn’t really get up to too much other than chilling / relaxing at Alma Bay beach. The weather was wonderful, and the sea really calm. We even spotted some kind of ray in the water when chucking a ball about. Fred and I also decided to climb over the rocks surrounding the bay which offered us a nice vantage point looking back onto the beach where we had been for most of the day.

Alma Bay Beach

Day 6 – 15th Sept:

We were joined on the Island by Zoe and Jade who had themselves now made their way from Cairns to Magnetic Island. I spent the morning with the pair of them at their hostel, chilling out on the nearby beach while Lisa, Fred and Ollie watched Tyson Furry in a boxing match at a sports bar on the island. Once the boxing had finished the group of us then went to explore the forts that had been built on the island during WWII. This involved a 30-minute walk to the forts which we then explore for a little while and offered fantastic views of the island and surrounding Ocean. On the walk back to the car park we also came across yet another koala bear munching eucalyptus in the tree above us. Having completed the Fort Walk late in the afternoon we then headed over to the west of the island to best get a vantage point for sunset. We probably didn’t select the best location but settled upon watching the sunset from the end of a pier. As I said it wasn’t the best sunset or viewpoint to watch from, but it was still great to have a few minutes of peaceful reflection while watching the sun disappear for the night. We then all headed to a nearby bar for a quick drink before calling it a night and heading back to our respective places of stay for the evening.

View from the Forts on Magnetic Island
Sunset from the pier

Day 7 – 16th Sept:

Today we would be leaving Magnetic Island, but our ferry wasn’t until early afternoon. We, therefore, elect to chill at nearby horseshoe bay which was very close to our campsite before eating fish and chips on the beach. The chips weren’t quite up to English standards, but the fish was delicious, and it beat making food back in the camper van. After our lunch stop, we then headed back to the ferry terminal and caught the ferry back to the mainland. With it being pretty late in the day and not wanting to drive too much a night time for fear of hitting a kangaroo and losing our Au$5000 bond on the car we made our way south. This journey took us back through Ayr where Fred Ollie and I completed our farm work and although we still had many friends there. None of us wanted to spend any more time there than we already had done so passed on through quickly (although all still managed to bump into people we knew). Just south of Ayr is a place called Inkerman lookout which I used to drive past every day on my way to the farm. Basically, it’s a big hill that looks across the area just south of Ayr. I had always wanted to see the view from the top and luckily there was just enough daylight in the day to catch the sunset from the lookout point. It also offered great views of some of the sugar cane fires that were raging in the nearby cane fields. We did toy with the idea of staying there for the night, but this was soon put to bed when nearly all of us were being eaten alive by mosquitos. making our way south of Ayr to stay the night. Drove past farm and lookout. This left us driving for around 1 hour in the dark further south to a free campsite next to the main road. This, in fact, took me past the farm I had been working on for most of my time while in Ayr. The whole time while working I fantasied about the day that I got to drive past the farm on the road trip as I knew we would pass. I will admit I certainly gave the farm the finger when driving past. But as is so often the case the build-up and anticipation of the event far outweighed the actual event itself. Still, it was a great feeling to finally be heading south of Ayr after nearly 5 months in the country and only seeing that little part in northern Queensland. For the rest of our journey, we would be travelling to destinations and exploring places I hadn’t been before, and I couldn’t wait to see what Australia had in offer besides Ayr.

Sunset from the Inkerman Lookout with a sugar cane fire in the distance

Day 8 – 17th Sept:

Today we continued our drive south and arrived in Airlie beach ready for Whitsundays tour which would be departing the following day. We took a walk around the small party town, popular with young Australians wanting a big weekend away. In the evening I met up with Julia who had moved to Airlie beach to live and work and who I had been working with on the farm in Ayr. It was great to catch up with her and her boyfriend Shaun particularly in a place that wasn’t Ayr. We were also again joined by Zoe and Jade who had made the long drive from Townsville to Airlie Beach as they would also be joining us on our Whitsundays boat tour. We ended up in a bar that was hosting a chilli eating competition so as you can imagine we quickly got roped into that. Fred and I really could be bothered as gave up after the first two rounds. Ollie on the other hand who is a self-proclaimed lover of hot foods and asked multiply times in Asia for the chef to blow his head off was in it for the long hall. He did well, that is until he threw up into the bin on stage and had to eliminate himself after this. The two guys left standing continued to scoff down ridiculous amounts of chillies and I dread to think of the morning after sides effects.

Well on that rather pleasant note, I shall leave the long-overdue first leg of the road trip there. I aim to write another 4 blogs detailing the rest of the road trip and hopefully, they won’t take as long to do as it did to get the first one completed. If you would like a more visual look at the route our road trip took. Please feel free to follow me on Polar steps where it shows in map and photo form the route of the road trip as well as my whole time in Australia and South East Asia too. Just click on the links below.



5 thoughts on “East Coast Road Trip Week 1 – Cairns to Airlie Beach

Add yours

  1. Well Done another great Blog its really great living dreams through your adventures while sitting in the wet cold UK
    Look forward to the next one Ken (Sues Dad)

    Liked by 1 person

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