As we made our way through Rockhamton and towards Byfield National Park I reflected on our time in Australia’s interior. The past few months exploring the outback have been amazing, we’ve met brilliant people, seen incredible things, and felt like we were truly immersed in the interior of this massive country. I’ve loved the red dirt, the dry heat, and the wildlife, which was unexpectedly abundant, but it was blissful to see the coast again after such a long time and smell the salty tang of the ocean. It feels like we have started another leg of our trip, The East Coast.
Our first stop on our new journey is a little-known national park that sits slightly north of Yepoon called Byfield. I’d organised two nights in a coastal campground Called Five Rocks which I booked not realizing that a notoriously difficult 4WDing obstacle stood in our way, Big Sandy, a massive dune with sand the texture of talcum powder. I knew we were in trouble when we reached the bottom of the climb and immediately dug into the sand despite our deflated tyres. Matt pulled over and let some more air out so we were sitting at 15psi and went again. This time we maybe got halfway up before getting stuck again. We got out the recovery boards and had a go at leapfrogging our way up, I’d put down the boards, Matt would drive over them and another 2m up the hill, I’d dig the boards out, put them back under the wheels and we’d go again. We tried this about 5 times before deciding it was ridiculous, reversing down the hill and going again. The third attempt was much better and we managed to get the whole way up, it turned out the trick was instead of going up the left “up” side we needed to go up the right “down” side. After Big Sandy the rest of the drive to camp was a breeze. We spent the afternoon walking down to the beach and chatting with our fellow campers making note of the advice that the locals deflate their tyres to 8psi to get up the dune.
The next morning we took the van out on the trails and explored the national park, I was much too nervous to get into the ocean due to the slight risk of crocodiles so was very happy when we found a clear creek running into the sea reminiscent of Eli Creek on Fraser Island. Matt didn’t want to swim but was happy to walk up the creek and then watch me lie in the shallow water and wash off the sand and sweat from yesterday. We got back in the van and drove up the beach to a lagoon surrounded by mangroves and watched the seabirds fishing. On the way back towards the camp we walked to another huge orangey/red dune and climbed up for a beautiful view over the ocean. After another restful night, we made our way back to town with a few stops along the way. Our first was a lookout at Stockyard Point which is a small beach shack town in the national park, Matt made a few work calls and checked in with our friends in Yepoon to let them know we were on our way. Next, we drove back to Big Sandy, let our tyres down and I drove us to the bottom without any issues. Matt wasn’t happy about how we’d done it the first time and what a mess we’d made out of it so he decided to climb it again using the trick of even lower tyre pressure. He absolutely flew up! We couldn’t believe the difference between 15 and 8psi. There looked like a bit of weather was rolling in but Matt was keen to have a swim so instead of turning left and driving back to Yepoon we hung a right and popped into Stoney Creek for a dip, unfortunately, a storm rolled in which cut the swimming short but it was a beautiful place.
We rocked up at Tom and Emma’s house in Yepoon by mid-afternoon where we were greeted by Emma’s sister, her partner, and Emma’s mum and dad. It was so lovely to see them all and catch up with everything that had been going in their lives as well as play with their beautiful one-year-old daughter Aria. After pizza for dinner and a hot shower, we went to bed happy and clean. On Saturday morning we decided to all head to the beach for a coffee to have some fun on Emma and Tom’s stand-up paddleboard and kayak. I was very excited to have a go on the SUP because I’ve wanted to try it for ages but never had the opportunity. We had a fantastic morning splashing and paddling around and I was pleased to discover that paddleboarding isn’t too challenging and that the water in Yepoon is deliciously warm. In the evening Tom, Matt, and I went out to the Railway Hotel for dinner and then had drinks at the surf club. We got home at 11.30pm and while I went to bed Matt and Tom stayed up talking and drinking, Tom informs me Matt made an “espresso martini” for them which was a shot of coffee spirit and a shot of vodka and nothing else…hmm.
I was well-rested and excited on Sunday morning, unlike Matt who was reasonably seedy because we’d all booked on to the ferry to go snorkeling on Wop-pa (Great Keppel Island). Neither of us had been to a reef since we had a family holiday in Vanuatu in 2013. The ferry took about 45 minutes and we then walked for another 20 minutes to reach the beach where we spent 4 hours exploring the reef and lying in the sun. We saw 2 turtles which was the first time Matt and I had swum with a turtle in the wild, it was just magic. I think we spent around 2 hours in the water and were all exhausted by the end of the day, but it was absolutely brilliant and it was even better to spend it with friends.
We left Yepoon on Tuesday morning with the plan to pop up north for a few days to Stanage Bay and then head back south dropping back into see our friends the next weekend. On our way out of town, we stopped in at the local surf shop so I could buy a rash vest as despite the stringent sunscreen applications I’d managed to get sunburnt both times we’d been swimming. I ended up walking out with a surf suit which is a hybrid between a wetsuit and swimmers and should hopefully be good for both. The drive out to Stanage was surprisingly long because the road off the highway was nothing short of disgraceful, and we have been on some bad roads in the NT. It was corrugated, pothole-riddled and to make matters worse a thunderstorm had just been through and dumped a ludicrous amount of water over the road. It was late afternoon by the time we found somewhere to camp. In the evening atop our cliff we watched two storms travel either side of us filling the sky with lightning.
The following morning we woke up late and enjoyed relaxing before taking a leisurely drive around the town to check out the main sites. There wasn’t that much to see or do, no hikes, no real touristy things but there were beautiful beaches and some fun little 4WDing tracks. It was a good place to sit around and enjoy views and would be amazing if you had a boat, which sadly we do not. The day was not completely without drama however, as we made our way down a track to our campsite for the night we managed to get our 2nd flat tyre for the trip. Fortunately, we noticed it when we pulled in for the night and the side was nice and level so the change wasn’t too difficult. Unfortunately, we also noticed that the tyres are on the way out so we will have to get a new set in Brisbane.
Our last day in Stanage Bay turned into one of the very rare days where we do nothing, I don’t think we’ve had one since we got stuck in Arkaroola. I alternated between lying in my hammock next to the beach and walking along the beach enjoying all the sea critters. It doesn’t get much more relaxing than that.
Five Rocks Camping Area – Secluded sites in the bush a short walk down to the beach (190 steps). Drop toilets, cold showers, and frogs that sounded like car alarms. It was blissfully peaceful during the week, there were maybe 3 other people there while we were camped. $$6.15pp/pn – 8/10.
Stanage Bay Road Camping – The set up at Stanage Bay is quite unusual. All the sites are free and there are heaps of them but they are all hidden along random 4WD tracks off the right hand side of the main road as you drive in. We spent the first night camped up on a hill with cliffs on each side and the second two nights in a little covered area directly next to the beach. None of the sites had toilets but they were beautiful. $Free – 8/10.
Our evening in Mitchell was very pleasant, we caught up with one of the couples that were staying in the caravan site in Charleville. We bonded over our bizarre tour and shared a platter of cheese and biscuits while watching the sunset over the river. The next morning, we packed up and drove into Roma for a short visit to pick up some more socks because I have lost so many pairs it is getting ridiculous, and both of us invested in a pair of goggles as we have decided to try and do some exercise in the local pools that we are visiting. From Roma we turned north for the first time in a long while and started to make our way towards Carnarvon National Park. Not much further along the road, we stumbled upon an event that I’ve wanted to go to for years, a rodeo! I was stoked that the timing had finally worked out because it feels like every town we’ve been to we’ve either missed the rodeo by a few days or we have arrived a week too early. We paid our $15 entry each and settled down to watch under a shade tent at the end of the arena. Matt and I were clearly really out of place as everyone else was wearing their rodeo outfit of cowboy boots, jeans with a comically large belt buckle, a plaid button-up shirt, and an Akubra. No word of a lie Matt and I were the only people dressed differently in the entire event. We soon struck up a conversation with the families sitting around us and I peppered them with questions about the events and the rules of each one. To pay them back for their kindness I took out my wildlife lens and captured photos of their kids competing to send to them.
Eventually, we reached a point where we either had to commit to staying in Injune for the night or leave to get to Carnarvon. Matt had had enough of steer wrestling so I begrudgingly let him lead me back to the car. It was a great afternoon. By the time we reached the caravan park in Carnarvon, it was nearly dark but luck was on our side and we managed to nab the last poky unpowered site at the only accommodation place that was still open for the offseason. I was less than impressed at the $45pn we had to fork out for the tiny bit of dirt we parked the van on.
The next morning dawned clear and warm which was a bit of an issue as Matt and I had decided to complete the longest hike of our trip into the Gorge. The main gorge hiking trail is 19.4km one way finishing up at a campsite for those completing the walk over two days, because we are unable to do overnight hikes, we decided to terminate our journey at the Cathedral Cave making our hike 18.2km return from the visitor’s center. Our first stop was the beautiful Moss Garden, we were lucky to have seen it when there was a bit of water around with the lush dripping wall of ferns and the small waterfall making a lovely cool place to have a rest. We continued onwards to the Amphitheatre, which was my favourite place on the hike, after climbing up a staircase that might as well have been a ladder, we squeezed through a gap in the towering limestone cliffs which opened into an amazing room stretching up to the gumtrees far above. While we were sitting and eating a snack a little native mouse started running around our feet and trying to get into our backpack. Another kilometer down the track we reached Wards Canyon, it was similar to the Moss Garden but with more water and King Ferns. Our final two stops were both spectacular examples of indigenous cave art. I couldn’t believe the colours of the stencils and free hard drawings standing out stark against the white stone, it was just beautiful. We returned to the car park in the early afternoon and decided to walk down to the local waterhole where we ate our lunch and had a swim before heading back to the campground for a relaxing afternoon.
Because we hadn’t had enough of walking after our solid 18km the day before we picked another hike for our final day in the park. In retrospect picking a hike that we 6km long and had a 3 hour walking time wasn’t a great idea but hey hindsight is 20-20. It started off civilized enough but we were soon climbing/clamoring up ladders and rocks on the side of the cliff to reach the top of the gorge. The view from Boolimba Bluff was well worth the effort as it rewarded us with views down into the gorge where we had walked yesterday and then across the mountains on the other side. Needless to say, we were both completely buggered when we got back to the van. The afternoon was spent driving to Emerald and setting up camp under the railway bridge next to the botanical gardens. We didn’t end up having a very good sleep thanks to the road trains and actual training rumbling next to us and over us all night. Oh well.
In the morning we drove to The Gemfields to do some more fossicking. After reading a lot of information online I decided that we would be better of buying wash from one of the mining companies in the town of Rubyvale rather than digging for our own gems due to the limited time that we had. My research lead us to Armfest Mine where we met the owner and purchased our first bag of wash. He showed us how to get the sapphires out of the dirt and we managed to pick up a few good ones. We ended up buying 4 bags, 2 standard, and 2 premium, and left with over 30 sapphires that were cutting quality. Not a bad way to spend the morning. The rest of the day was taken up by putting some big miles in and heading towards the coast. We spent the night behind the pub in the coal mining town of Bluff.
Takarakka Bush Resort – Urg where to start with this one. Ridiculously overpriced at $45 per night for an unpowered patch of dirt but to add insult to injury the park wasn’t even very nice. The showers weren’t very clean, there was no soap in the toilets, it smelt vaguely of sewerage and the camp kitchen was overcrowded. We were even more annoyed that it was our only option anywhere near the national park. $45pn – 3/10.
Botanic Gardens Emerald – You can’t really complain too much about a free camp but this one wasn’t great. There was a lot of road noise and a train went over us in the middle of the night. The botanical gardens were nice. $Free – 5/10.
Bluff Pub – Cute little pub in a coal mining town with cold beer and good food. Matt and I got the only spot in the shade which was good for us as it was a very hot night. $5pp/pn – 7/10.
Thanks to the night of cycling viewing we woke up a little bit later than planned and therefore had to get ready at speed and drive to the QANTAS Founders Museum which we were both really looking forward to. We’d decided that if we were going to do it we might as well do it properly so we booked entry to the museum, a guided walk of the airpark, and the 747 wing walk, when in Rome look at as many planes as humanly possible. We started off with the museum which was an absolutely fascinating exploration of the history of the airline. The large room was filled with information boards and artifacts that allowed visitors to walk through the creation of the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services as well as learn about the founding members, the aircraft they purchased, the issues they had with receiving government funding, and I discovered it was founded on my birthday. I’d thought that I would be bored (not being a huge fan of planes) but it was so interesting, honestly, the story was incredible and if you’re not familiar with it I’d strongly recommend either buying one of the many books written on the subject or read about it on google.
Once we had finished in the museum we had enough time for a scone and a coffee in the cafe before we were called to go into the airpark. If you only do one thing in Longreach do this! Our guide took us outside and we walked through a number of planes, they were all different from a frankly terrifying machine that carried 70 people but needed a navigator who would look at the stars through a little window in the roof near the cockpit to ensure the plane was traveling in the right direction, to the amazing 747, to a fully customised private jet complete with gold plated seatbelt buckles and a bedroom with a queen bed.
Our final activity, directly following the airpark was the wing walk, the only place in the world where you can step onto the wing of a 747. We went on the tour with one other guy and the same guide that had taken us around the other planes. Rather than going straight to the wing we were taken into the cockpit and spent 20 minutes learning about the different knobs and dials as well as the roles of the staff that would have worked there. We followed the guide back down the stairs into the main part of the plane, put on some very gratuitous safety harnesses, and then walked out and onto the wing. It was a cool experience, my favourite part was when the guide got us to all jump at the same time so we could see the flex of the wing tip.
We left Longreach in the afternoon with a plan to stop in Barcaldine for the night. We were going to drive flat out to the campsite but on the way through a little town called Ilfracombe we saw a sign for a bottle and gun display. Obviously, we were both very intrigued by this bizarre combination of items so we stopped and went into a room that was completely full of bottles, and another room that was floor to ceiling covered in guns with a Nazi flag hanging on the wall. Our last stop for the day was The Tree of Knowledge, the remnants of the original ghost gum where the 1891 Shearer’s Strike occured which ultimately turned into the Australian Labor Party. In 2006 the tree mysteriously died by poisoning but was resurrected as part of a 5 million dollar sculptural art piece that opened in 2009. Matt and I were both really impressed with how the tree had been reborn, under the glass at your feet you can view the root system while overhead hundreds of wooden planks gently shift in the breeze and clank together like the biggest wooden windchime that has ever existed.
The next morning we drove into the town of Blackall and had a look around the main street. We’ve become very slack of late with our pre arrival research so we had no idea what there was to do or where we’d be staying so naturally, our first stop was the combined information center/library. The woman behind the desk was lovely and soon we had a pass to camp next to the river, a town map, and advice to see the main attraction, The Blackall Woolscour. I called the woolscour and booked in for the 1.30pm tour, while we waited we had a coffee, some delicious food from the bakery, found the second black stump of the trip and wandered around the very pleasant little town. I know absolutely nothing about sheep farming or wool so I was quite surprised at the size and complexity of the scour when we rolled into the car park. Our tour started with a video that explained the wool boom and the phrase “Australia rides on the sheep’s back”. When that ended we were introduced to our tour guide who was in the middle of a cup of tea and not at all keen to take us, in the end, he begrudgingly got up and took us on one of the most amusing tours we’ve done. The woolscour was surprisingly interesting, both historically and mechanically but honestly the tour guide absolutely made the place for us. He was probably 75 years old and just about as ocker as you could get, his sense of humor was hilarious and we had a great time. At the end of the tour it was getting pretty warm so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the public pool.
Our plan for Wednesday was to cruise down the road to Tambo and spend the night at their free camp but we’d woken up early and found ourselves parking up at 9am. We popped in to see the wonderful teddies and then went down to the visitor center where we picked up a free booklet that took us on a historical walk around the town. By the time we’d finished exploring we had only killed another 2.5 hours and we really didn’t feel like sitting around on our bums until night so we decided to keep on going with a new plan to stop in Augathella for the night. Well, we reached the meat ant capital of Australia and were both so uninspired we opted to keep on heading south to Charleville. We ended up finding a brilliant little caravan park on the outside of town called the Charleville Bush Caravan Park where we met the owners Graham and Deb. It was a very welcoming place and we were soon sitting at the communal fire pit, enjoying fresh damper while Graham told us all about Lake Eyre.
The next day Graham encouraged us to join him on his 2 hour tour of the town and at $15pp it was hard to say no. The tour was a bit hit and miss for me but not in a way that left us feeling disappointed we needed something to do to fill in the day and it certainly did that but the format was bizarre. We looked at things like the kindergarten, and power poles while Graham handed out photos from the last major flooding event and explained that the old people in the town were now scared of rain. He also kept stopping at houses that were for sale and asking us to guess how much they cost before telling us and then explaining all the good things about each property…Matt and I were wondering if he might have got a commission from the real estate agents if he managed to sell one. We then went to the town weir and had a 15-minute explanation on how that functioned, the tour was very strange. During the afternoon we popped into town to look at the botanical garden and some of the historic buildings that were missed while we learned you could buy a 2 bedroom house with a nice garden for $200,000. I kept an anxious eye on the weather as we’d booked in for an astronomy tour and the clouds looked like they’d be hanging around for the rest of the day. Fortunately, they dispersed just in time and we were able to take our seats at the Cosmos Centre and enjoy the million-star views. Matt and I both agreed that the highlight was looking through the telescope at Jupiter and Saturn to see the moons/colours and rings respectively, it was beautiful.
We were a bit slow to get going the next day as our slightly late night caused us both to sleep in but we had a bit of time to kill before the WWII Secret Base museum opened. Located at the airport in an old hanger the museum explained how the Australian and American forces collaborated in Charleville during world war two and hid secret technology from the enemy side. It is currently undergoing a rebuild so the first section was much more modern than the second but it is due for completion at the end of this year so hopefully if you decided to go there it will be finished by the time you arrive. Our final activity was to visit the bilby centre which my mum had recommended that we go and see months ago. It’s directly next to the visitor information section in the train station so it was very easy to find. The tour started with a presentation about bilbies, a question session, and then we were let into the bilby house where we saw a bilby family bouncing around. They were so cute!
We left Charleville and rather than continuing to travel south we turned east stopping for the night beside a beautiful river near the small town of Mitchell.
Lloyd Jones Weir – Just outside the town this small but peaceful campground has clean toilets, picnic tables, and an excess of turtles. We were very amused by the pretend grave for “people that steal toilet paper”. There is a couple of long-term campers set up here but they were friendly and considerate. $5pn – 6/10.
Barcoo River Camping Area – Thanks to Blackall for setting up this lovely little camp. Public toilets a short walk away and free showers in the amenities block in the main street of the town. $10pn – 7/10.
Charleville Bush Caravan Park – The perfect caravan park, awesome hosts, free information talks and damper in the evening, communal fire pit, good washing machine, great showers and toilets, and really nice fellow campers. $25pn – 9/10.
Fishermans Rest – There are two campsites in Mitchell and this is by far the better one. It’s quieter, more secluded and the river is absolutely beautiful, bring your bug spray though they were thick. $Free – 7/10.
Rather than leaving at our usual 9am departure time from Julia Creek we decided to hang around until mid morning so that we could go to the visitor centre and see the fat-tailed dunnart be fed. Entry was $5 and it was well worth it to see the adorable little marsupial munch into some mealworms as well as learn some more about the dunnarts of Australia.
We hit the road and headed to our first stop on the Dinosaur trail at Richmond, Kronosaurus Korner. Because we’d made quite good time getting into Queensland we were actually a day ahead of ourselves and booked into visit the museum the next day so we occupied ourselves exploring the very pleasant town. I don’t know if it was the isolation of the Northern Territory or not but our appreciation of small towns has increased exponentially and Richmond was particularly nice with long wide streets lined with bougainvillea. The main highlight of the town for us was a large man-made lake right next door to the caravan park we were staying at. It was very warm again so we paddled around in the water until it was late enough to walk into town and have dinner in the pub. That night we had the worst sleep we have had on the road so far, it was oppressively hot and we had the most inconsiderate family park next to us. Not only did they pull up ridiculously close considering the amount of space available but their children were an absolute nightmare. When they weren’t getting into our campsite and going through our stuff, they were screaming and running around until well after midnight. At 1am after getting completely fed up of having the little turds shining torches directly into our van Matt yelled at them to shut up.
Despite the lack of sleep we woke up determined to enjoy the dinosaurs and walked into town to the museum. Matt jumped into the mouth of the kronosaurus for a cheeky photo and we had a second coffee in the cafe to ensure we were properly awake and ready to take everything in. Richmond is a hot spot for marine fossils so the museum was filled with the bones of huge carnivorus ocean reptiles down to perfectly preserved shells. It wasn’t a huge display with two main rooms but there were that many things crammed in we managed to spend over an hour wandering around and then watching the short documentary in the attached theater. Afterwards we strolled back to the caravan park and had a walk around the lake so I could take some bird photos before we had yet another dip, cooked dinner, and turned in early for what turned out to be a wonderful noise free sleep sans horrible kids.
The next morning I woke up early and went down to the lake to watch the sun rise, the water was so still and the only sounds were of the birds flying from their roosts and out to the bush for breakfast. We made our way to Winton through the disturbingly flat and dry farmlands reaching the town in time to grab some rolls from the bakery and make lunch in a park next to the local pool. We walked up and down the main street enjoying the art deco architecture and looking in a couple of opal shops that were more than a bit of a rip off ($10 for a piece of potch what a joke). We decided not to fork out $32pp for the Waltzing Matilda Centre but did go in to use the amazing toilets and visit an exhibition at the gallery attached to the museum. I really liked the art despite it’s weirdness, it was a series of portraits of boss drovers by Robert MacPherson who drew them while taking on the persona of a year 4 student of St Joseph’s Convent, Nambour, Queensland named Robert Pene. They were drawn on kids sketch book paper, signed like a child, and then had “great work” and “you’re a star” stamps put all over each piece. There was also an interactive area where you were able to make your own poem using language from Banjo Paterson’s poetry which Matt and I enjoyed. That night we camped at a local waterhole and were kept company by a bunch of friendly cattle and emus.
The drive to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum took about 20 minutes from our camp and even though we left quite early by the time we reached the Jump Up (a sort of mountain think above the flat farmlands) it was already pushing 35 degrees. I was feeling very glad that I’d booked one of the first available tours at 9am. Our first stop was the dinosaur laboratory where we saw the volunteers preparing numerous bones found on digs throughout the local area. We also met Kim, a fellow delica owner who contacted me through instagram and asked us to make sure we said hello. He was working on the sacrum of a sauropod dinosaur and explained what he was doing inbetween chatting about our vans, great guy! Our next tour was in the main museum area and was more like a lecture in that we sat in a theatre area and were shown a documentary about the area and how the fossils were found. After the video one of the guides explained each of the fossils that were particularly special such as Matilda (Diamantinasaurus ) and Australias most complete carnivorous dinosaur (my favourite) Banjo (Australovenator wintonensis). The final tour was of the dinosaur foot prints housed within a specially designed shed at the top of the museum site. We learnt how the slab of prints were moved from their original location when they were deemed at risk of deterioration and how they were put back together. After the talk we were set free to wander the area and enjoy the dinosuar sculptures.
It was early afternoon by the time we’d finished but we decided to make our way towards the Dinosaur Stampede at Lark Quary because our tour the next day was booked for 9am and it was a 110km drive. About 80km in I realised that I’d made a significant mistake believing that we’d be able to spend the night in Opalton before driving across to see the footprints. It turned out that there were two roads, completely seperated, one went to Opalton and the other went to Lark Quarry, they were 40km apart as the crow flies, 130km away by road. Bugger. We decided to go to the conservation area anyway and ask the tour guide if there were any campsites near by. Our misfortune was quickly turned around when he gave us directions to a spectacular spot overlooking the valley below. The following morning we were able to get ready at a leasurely pace and cruise the 500m down to the stampede, we were confused when we arrived as there was no one around and nothing was open. After sitting under the shelter feeling puzzled for 15 minutes I realised that both of our phones had changed over to daylight saving time and we had arrived 90 minutes early instead of 30 minutes early. We occupied ourselves by going on a bush walk until we were forced back to the centre by the unbelivable heat, it hit 35 degrees at 8.30am again! The tour of the stampede was nothing short of outstanding from the enthusiasm of the guide to the shear spectical of the hundreds of footprints, we both agreed that the 220km round trip was 100% worth it to see the only record of a dinosaur stampede on the planet. Amazing.
The rest of the day was boring, we drove back into Winton and then on to Longreach stopping for the night in a hot and dusty free camp on the side of a river. We set up our laptop and watched the Paris Roubaix cycing race into the early hours of the morning.
Lakeview Caravan Park – You know it is a good caravan park if we fork out for a two night stay and still enjoy ourselves with a sleepless night. Perfect location, lovely shower block, and really well priced. $20pn – 8/10.
Long Waterhole – Dusty site under the trees next to a waterhole. Aparently the locals swim there but after watching a seemingly endless herd of cattle wade in and do their buisness in the water you couldn’t pay me to go for a dip. Nice spot though and we enjoyed the friendly cows walking through our camp in the afternoon. $Free – 6/10.
Jump Up Lookout – I actually had the pleasure of popping this site on WikiCamps which is a first for our trip. It had clearly been used before with a couple of sites and a fire pit already there. Amazing view down off the Jump Up and the perfect spot to visit the footprints. $Free – 8/10
Apex Riverside Park – Grim, just so grim, but there were limited options in Longreach and we wanted somewhere cheap for the night. On the bright side it was quiet and the toilets were clean. $5pn – 5/10.
On the map the drive to Queensland looked boring. More tarmac up to Three Ways then turn right at Tennant Creek and continue along the highway to the border, snooze city. We looked for an alternative and found a route through the Davenport Ranges including a section of the Binns Track and then maybe an exit to the highway in the north along a private station road. On the map this detour looked tiny, like a drive to the shops and back, so it was with a degree of dismay we came upon a sign that indicated our campsite was a whole 160km away turning it into a 340km drive on corrugated dirt roads, oh well, still better than the highway! On our way to our spot for the night at the Old Police Station Waterhole we stopped in at Epenarra Station for initially some petrol which then turned into some travel advice, some lunch, and having some local indigenous kids play with my hair. There is something joyous in coming upon what looks like a shed on Google and finding friendly locals and good food in literally the middle of nowhere.
We set up camp much earlier than normal because we made reasonable time so we put on our swimmers and made our way down the sketchy track to the waterhole which contained water that wasn’t freezing. We spent a couple of hours swimming around and enjoying the huge numbers of birds flying around the banks and as the sun set went back to the van and started on a tasty dinner of bugs. Well…it was meant to be curry but by the time I’d finished cooking there were so many insects in it the ratio was definitely swinging the way of the bugs. The next morning rather than driving back out the way we came in we decided to take the 32km Frew River 4WD track through the National Park. It was a nice drive, a lot of the reviews online said it was challenging but there were only two hills where I had to move a couple of rocks and jump out to give Matt directions, the rest was a nice stony track through the, well I guess they used to be mountains but they were eroded to the point of being low lying mounds. Spinifex grass and ghost gums dotted the landscape and occasional lizards ran across in front of the van, it was quite, beautiful and looked like we were the only ones to drive the track in a long while.
Back at the station we tucked into a slice of moist chocolate cake and worked out a plan for the next few weeks in Queensland, we’d initially planned on meeting my sister in Rockhampton but the flights and timing didn’t work out so we had a bit more time to play with than we had thought we would. I was sad not to catch up with family but excited to see a bit more of outback Queensland. With permission from the station owners we got back in the van and continued up to the highway, turning left and making the long drive across to our first stop in the Sunshine State in Camooweal. The highlight of the sleepy town was the campground, a number of free sites nestled along the most beautiful waterlily filled waterhole. We went to sleep listening to the weird trumpeting call of brolgas.
The next morning it was hot, 30 degrees at 7am hot which only means that it would be pushing 40 when the sun got higher. We filled up with fuel and left the town in our dust continuing down the highway for 40km until we came upon a man waving with disturbing enthusiasm at the side of the road. We pulled over and he ran up to us explaining that their coaster bus had a tyre blow out and would we be able to help? Keen to assist a fellow traveller we went and looked at the bus and what was left of the tyre. Matt asked the guy if he had a spare, he said no, Matt then looked under the back of the bus and found that they did have a spare (which the couple didn’t know about) but the tyre looked like it hadn’t been replaced since the bus had been built (1970). Matt then went about trying to get the spare down while I talked to the woman and discovered that they were also from Tasmania! How good! Unfortunately they were missing part of the mechanism to get the spare down so that wasn’t going to be an option and we decided the best course of action would be to get them to Mt Isa and arrange for either a tow truck to pick up the van or a tyre person to go out and fix it. We hailed down another couple of cars to see if anyone had a spare seat, they didn’t so we ended up driving the woman the 130km to Mt Isa lying in the back of the van, the bloke had a slightly more comfortable ride sitting in the boot/back of a 4WD containing a family travelling from the NT. We reunited them in the town and went to find lunch.
Because it was so hot, and we had arrived much later than we’d intended to due to the flat tyre issue we didn’t end up seeing very much of Mt Isa. Just the visitors centre, the main lookout, and then the local pool where we hid for 2 hours and partook in our first shower in longer than I’d like to say. From what we saw of it though it was a pretty interesting town, I couldn’t get over that they had a massive mine in the CBD, it was pretty surreal. We decided to keep travelling and set up for the night in the fascinating ghost town of Mary Kathleen. In 1954 a significant uranium deposit was discovered by local prospectors following a trail of radioactive boulders, the mining licence was sold to Rio Tinto Mining which created Mary Kathleen Uranium Ltd and the architect designed service town for the large mine. The life in the small community seems to have been ideal with nice houses rented at a cheap cost, no bills for the tenants, and local pool, cinema, school and hospital. We drove in and explored the remnants of streets, gutters, roundabouts and foundations. Here and there was an abandoned front yard filled with flowers, scattered power poles and other various pieces of town infrastructure. By far the weirdest thing we saw was a bloke in a caravan with a full karaoke set up singing a number of songs at full volume, fortunately he was really good.
The next morning we woke up and drove to the mine site to explore. The building slabs in this area were much bigger and more industrial looking, there was also a lot more left. It was interesting that there was such a lack of rehabilitation, Matt and I were able to walk up to the open cut mine and over the tailings and even though the last ore was removed nearly 50 years ago it was very obvious where everything was. The pit was the highlight with the vibrant blue waters and towering cut cliffs it was impressive and slightly vertigo inducing. After we’d finished poking around we took a weird track back to the highway which lead us into a private mine road, we only discovered what it was after we drove out past all of the no entry signs. Because it was another boiling hot day we ended up spending most of it in the car driving to Julia Creek. We stopped briefly in Cloncurry to visit the bakery and have a quick walk around town but there wasn’t much to see or do so we kept moving. Julia Creek Caravan Park is on the bucket list for a lot of travellers because of the fancy baths but it was another stinking hot day so we opted for a free entry to the community pool and floating around there until dinner time.
That night after dinner we ended up hanging out with our fabulous neighbours and having a good chat, unbelievably karaoke guy from Mary Kathleen had followed us to Julia Creek and completed an hour long performance for the caravan park.
Camooweal Billabong – Such a well set out free camp on the edge of the river. Beautiful birds, waterlilies, and considerate fellow campers. $Free – 8/10.
Mary Kathleen Town – I doubt that there is a more interesting campsite in Australia and I can’t recommend visiting enough even if you just pop into explore and don’t stay the night. The area is huge and hundreds of people would be able to camp there with reasonable space. $Free – 9/10.
Julia Creek Caravan Park – Not an amazing unpowered area as there was next to no shade and not many sites but the amenities block was really clean, owners were lovely, free access to the community pool, and the washing machine didn’t put stains or more dirt on our clothes so definitely worth the stop. $28pn – 7/10.
I wasn’t planning on writing about Fraser Island before we left but as I lay in the bath this morning looking out the window at the cold grey sky I found my thoughts drifting to the tropics which inevitably led to contemplating our visits to the world’s largest sand island. It’s unlikely that we will be visiting on our lap and I therefore thought that I should write a post about our experiences on K’gari before we head off (in 50 days!!)
K’gari (pronounced gurri) is a word in the language of the Butchulla people meaning paradise that comes directly from the creation story of the island which you can find transcribed from one of the elders here. Fraser Island is a habitat to large numbers of vulnerable plants, birds, and marine life and has the second highest concentration of freshwater lakes in Australia (behind Tasmania). Of the lakes on the island 40% are perched, meaning that they are formed when sand is cemented together with decomposing organic material making a barrier that prevents the water from flowing away. There are 80 known perched lakes on earth making K’gari the perfect place to see (and swim in) these watery wonders. It is the ideal destination for travellers that enjoy 4WDing, camping, fishing, wildlife, bushwalking, and swimming.
Places to Stay The accommodation options on Fraser vary significantly in both location and price. I can only speak in confidence about the places that we have stayed/experienced but I’ll also outline the other options that are available to travellers.
Kingfisher Bay Resort On our first trip we spent 4 nights at Kingfisher Bay Resort. Because it was the off season (June) we got a fantastic deal which included accommodation, breakfast, drinks, and our ferry tickets. The resort will often have promotions and seasonal packages available on their website.
Kingfisher Bay is a very interesting place to stay. Some of the reviews online describe it as dated but we felt that the older architectural style and fittings added to the charm of the resort. The atrium is incredible, the staff were friendly and helpful, and the layout of the grounds and cabins makes you feel like you are a part of the wilderness.
We participated in several of the activities offered by the resort including the ranger guided bush tucker walk, where we learnt about and sampled food growing in the area, the ranger guided night walk, that included a trip down to the jetty to look for rays and the disturbing information that spiders eyes reflect torch light, the guided kayak paddle, and the brilliant Bush Tucker Talk and Taste. Needless to say we were never bored during our visit.
Private Accomodation There are a number of communities on Fraser such as Orchid Beach, Second Valley, and Happy Valley. In these areas you can find houses and units that can be rented. If you are planning to go to Fraser with a large group of people and weren’t camping this would be a great option. Find them by searching for “Fraser Island” on airbnb
Eurong By far the biggest town on Fraser Island is Eurong which makes it a very convenient base for holidays. The main place to stay is Eurong Beach Resort. We’ve never been into the building but we have looked jealousy at their pool (which is amazing). It’s cheaper than Kingfisher Bay and a bit more basic however the rooms appear bright and roomy and it would be a great place to stay on a budget.
Campsites Most of our time on Fraser has been spent camping so we can offer some advice on where to stay if you are roughing it in a tent or campervan.
Central Station Campground – My personal favourite campground on the island it is situated in the middle of the rainforest and has the added bonus of being the closest site to Lake McKenzie. It has drop toilets, $2 showers, and massive flat sites for cars, vans, or tents. We left this site early in the morning and drove to the lake where we spent an hour enjoying it all on our own.
Wathumba Creek – An absolutely stunning site for a campground but be warned, do not try and camp there in summer! We set up for the night but ended up leaving in the dark because the midges were horrific. I literally have scars on my legs from the bites. The other issue was that a lot of dingos (wongari) were in the area and they were much too friendly. I had to shoo a couple away several times.
Add: I’ve just read that in early February this campground was closed due to issues with the wongari interacting with people. Good decision by QPS.
Dundubara – This wongari safe campground is a quick walk inland from the beach. There are open areas, grassy areas, and hot showers available. There is also a ranger station and phone reception next to the building which is handy. We really enjoyed our stay at this site and it was nice to spend a night where we weren’t being constantly followed by dingos.
Northern Beach Sites – We ended up staying in one of the Northern Beach camping zones after being chased out of Wathumba by the bugs. In the evening while we were cooking dinner I had a feeling that something was watching us and sure enough there were a couple of wongari poking their heads around the dune behind our van but they didn’t bother us. The sunrise the next day was spectacular. There were no facilities available at this site it was simply a cleared area on some dunes.
Eurong Beach Campsites – Just north of Eurong there are a number of beach campsites available. We chose one back from the main drag in some she oaks. It was very pleasant in the evening but unfortunately during the day we were hounded by sand flies. I ended up cooking dinner while Matt supervised my legs and swatted the flies off with a thong. We killed about 50 and still they came. After this trip we ended up buying an awning tent to avoid these kinds of situations in the future.
We really enjoyed camping on K’gari but struggled a lot with the number of biting insects. I think winter would be a much nicer time to be outdoors or bring a heap of insect repellent with you (and buy the strong stuff aeroguard didn’t work).
Transport K’gari is a mecca for 4WDing but if you don’t own an offroad vehicle don’t despair. There are numerous 4WDing tours you can do including the huge and impressive 4WD bus tours, self drive tours, and guided tours.
On our first trip we hired a 4WD for a day from Aussie Trax 4X4 (which is next to Kingfisher Bay Resort). The price was absolutely obscene, from recollection it set me back $400 without the additional cost of paying for petrol. Matt really wanted to do it for his birthday and there weren’t any other hire options where we were staying so I forked out for it. It would seem from the Google Reviews that the owner may have changed since we were there and I therefore wouldn’t recommend using this company any more. For us at the time it was a good option and the man that talked us through the hire and basic 4WD safety was friendly and fun.
Matt had basic 4WDing experience when we first visited but if you don’t I’d definitely steer clear of hiring and take one of the coach tours around the main sites on the island. The tracks aren’t very challenging but it there are a lot of potential hazards, especially along the beach, and if something goes wrong it would become a very expensive issue very quickly.
The second time we visited (in January this year) it was part of our trip to bring Egg down to Tasmania and we therefore had our own 4WD to get around in. It was absolutely brilliant and we saw so much more of the island in the 5 days that we were there. The inland tracks and beach were very soft but we didn’t have any issues with getting bogged or stuck. Another great thing about 4WDing on Fraser is that if you get into trouble there is always someone around to give you a hand. Before you leave the mainland don’t forget to buy a vehicle access permit to drive on the island. The Queensland Parks Service has two options:
1 month or less = $53.65
More than 1 month (up to 1 year) = $270.00
Ferries There are a number of ferries that service the island with two departure points: Inskip Point near Rainbow Bay and River Heads just south of Hervey Bay. These will either drop you at Kingfisher Bay Resort, Wanggoolba Creek, or Hook Point. We’ve taken the ferry on foot from River Heads to Kingfisher Bay and have taken van on the barge from Inskip Point to Hook Point. Be warned, Inskip Point is notorious for vehicles getting bogged while trying to get to the ferry and there have been a couple of incidents of sinkholes appearing.
Price varies depending on the service and vehicle being taken. In January we paid $130 for a return ticket with our van on the Manta Ray barge.
Fuel We filled up twice on our January trip, once at Happy Valley and once at Kingfisher Bay. Both places were $2.10-$2.30/L which is pretty normal for the island. I’d recommend bringing a couple of filled jerry cans along on any trip just to cut the costs down a bit or even better get a long range fuel tank. We used our 20L of spare fuel pretty fast.
Food If you are going to buy supplies or eat out on Fraser Island expect to pay a premium for it. The most cost efficient meals will be those that you cook on your own equipment with food that you have brought over from the mainland (there are big supermarkets in Hervey Bay). If you do want to eat out we’ve been to several of the options on the island and can recommend the following:
Kingfisher Bay Seabelle Restaurant Currently closed for renovations this high end restaurant is a fusion of modern Australian cuisine and traditional indigenous foods. Matt and I had a very memorable dinner there and I had an outstanding chili crab dish. It was also the site of the Bush Tucker Talk and Taste experience where I tried crocodile for the first time.
Kingfisher Bay The Sand Bar The most relaxed dining experience in Kingfisher Bay this friendly bistro is a great place for a quick meal and a couple of drinks. The pizzas and the burgers are great.
Kingfisher Bay Sand and Wood We only had breakfast here however it was sooo good it is definitely worth a mention. I’m often skeptical about buffet breakfasts as they don’t often represent good value or quality but this place was just great. The variety of food was brilliant and everything was delicious. No powdered eggs here! Yum.
Eurong Bakery Another budget friendly option especially for lunch, here you can find everything that you’d expect in a bakery. We had a sausage roll and a pie, both were very nice.
Orchid Beach Trading Post and Driftwood Bar This pub/store/bar/museum was a great stop on our way to the northern end of the island. We popped in for lunch, Matt had a burger and I had the most fantastic squid (pictured below). Again really good prices and look how fresh that salad is.
Things to Seeand Do Nothing can really prepare you for the beauty of Fraser Island as it is truly like nowhere else on earth. Expect rugged coasts fringed with colourful sand cliffs, pristine lakes, dunes, and awesome rainforest. Our favourite places include:
Central Station There are so many interesting things in and around Central Station it is definitely worth taking an hour or two and exploring the area thoroughly. The original town was built to service the logging industry on Fraser Island which began in 1863. Other area highlights include Wangoolba Creek with water that is so clear it almost seems like it isn’t there at all, King ferns which only grow in one other place in Queensland and the Satinary tree which has the hardest timber in the world and was used for the construction of the Suez Canal.
Boorangoora (Lake McKenzie) Undoubtedly the most famous place on Fraser Island is Lake McKenzie and it isn’t hard to see why. Leaving the car park and walking down to the lake you are greeted by perfectly white sand and turquoise water surrounded by forest. It’s not only my favourite place on K’gari but one of my favourite places in Australia. I feel truly blessed to have been able to visit twice in the last couple of years and in January to have had it to myself for over an hour.
If you would like the lake to yourself your best bet is to camp the night at Central Station and then get up early in the morning and drive over. We left the camp ground at 6am, got to the lake at 6.30am and had breakfast before swimming and exploring from 7-8am. The other things in our favour were, COVID-19 has prevented international travel and Fraser had only just opened to tourists again after a large fire shut the island.
Lake Wabby Come and see this place while you can. Adjacent to Hammerstone Sandblow this beautiful emerald lake is slowly being eaten by the dune and will disappear entirely in the next 100 years. It currently provides a habitat to 13 species of freshwater fish that live in its 12m depths. The walk from the carpark is around 40 minutes each way, make sure you take plenty of water as it gets very hot on the exposed sand.
Lake Allom Our second favourite lake on the island is Lake Allom. Named after a forestry surveyor in the 1900’s called Noel Allom the lake is one of the only rainforested lakes on K’gari and is filled with friendly turtles that swim up to the viewing platform. There is a circuit walk around the lake offering different viewpoints and additional turtle spotting opportunities.
Champagne Pools This natural spa changed a lot between our first and second visit as the result of the tides and therefore I’d recommend visiting with a higher tide rather than a lower one. The large rock pools are one of the only safe places to swim on the eastern side of the island and are very popular.
Eli Creek Another great spot to hit early in the morning to miss the crowds this creek is the largest on the island and has a flow rate of 4 million litres of fresh water per hour which makes the current perfect for cruising along on an inner tube.
S.S. Maheno The S.S. Maheno had an interesting life as a ship. It was built in 1905 and worked as an ocean liner between Australia and New Zealand until 1915 when it was commandeered and used as a hospital ship in World War I. After the war it was returned to New Zealand finishing its life as a commercial vessel in 1935. In the same year, as it was being towed to Japan the tether attaching it to the tow ship broke and the S.S. Maheno washed up on the Fraser Coast where it has remained.
Wathumba Creek Wathumba Creek is off the beaten track and therefore missed by most tourists to K’gari. Matt and I spent so long swimming here we went all pruny and only got out when the water was so low we were sitting on the bottom. Unfortunately due to wongari interactions the campsite and the beach are currently closed and will remain closed until the end of June or later. We experienced several issues with the wongari here which in retrospect I’ve learnt we should have reported to a ranger. When it reopens we’d strongly recommend a visit.
Lakes Birrabeen and Boomanjin Two of the lesser known lakes are Birrabeen and Boomanjin. Birrabeen is an almost exact copy of Lake McKenzie just much less popular with tourists. It has the same pure white sand, crystal clear water and surrounding forest. Boomanjin was the only brown coloured lake that we visited. The colouration occurs as the result of the feeder creeks passing through a wallum swamp, collecting the tannins, and tinting the water.
Sand Unsurprisingly the biggest sand island in the world has a lot of different sand. There are sandblows, sand dunes, sand cliffs and coffee sand. There is sand of every colour texture and shape. If you are a sand lover or passionate about sand Fraser Island is for you! On the other hand if you are like my dad and hate sand I’d probably give it a miss.
Wildlife K’gari is a paradise for animals particularly birds, reptiles and marine life. There are beautiful creatures everywhere you look. Of course the most famous inhabitant of the island is the wogari. Said to be some of the most pure dingos in Australia these wild dogs can be seen along the shores and in the forests. Unfortunately due to tourists attempting to feed and take photos with dingos they are becoming increasingly bold and changing their behaviour which has resulted in several dingo attacks during the past decade. If you visit please ensure that you read the information booklet on wogari and give them the space and respect that they deserve.
I hope that this quick guide to K’gari has been helpful, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to send us and email and we will be more than happy to provide further information. It is a truly wonderful place to visit and a must see for anyone completing a lap around Australia.
I’m lucky with a lot of things in my life, I have a great job, caring husband, house to live in and never have to worry about food on the table but the one area where I lucked out on a bit was my health. I’m one of the 1 in 10 Australian women with endometriosis. Yay! Bit of a TMI but I’m telling you this because if I didn’t have surgery and end up taking too much leave I wouldn’t have been able to go on this van trip so there is a silver lining.
For something different and because we were both on leave we left town in the middle of the week after I’d finished catching up with my dietician. We drove out to Main Range National Park picking up some firewood on the way and set up camp at Poplar Flat.
Despite the recent slicing and dicing I felt really good in the morning so we headed out on a bushwalk on the 6.5km Cascades Circuit Track. It was a beautiful hike with multiple creek crossings, ferns, and tropical palms stretching into the canopy. I was particularly enthralled by the huge birds nest ferns up in the trees, make sure you look up!
After a rest in the campsite and a bit of lunch we took the van out for a short drive to the Mount Castle Lookout. Certainly worth the 900m of steep walking track to peer out across the valley and towards Brisbane.
Back at camp we spent a lazy afternoon lying around in the hammock, reading books, starting a fire, and discovering the wonders of getting flat breads to crisp up over flames (delicious).