With golden beaches to your right and rolling pastures to your left, the 2100km trip between the Gold Coast and Cooktown is a must-do drive.
If the idea of touring with your van, while enjoying the views of golden Pacific Ocean beaches or lush rolling pastures gliding by your tow vehicle’s window, gets your motor running, then the big drive from the Gold Coast to Cooktown could be just for you.
When you travel to Queensland’s Gold Coast, you expect great beaches, restaurants, cafes, nightclubs, theme parks and the whole lot packaged in sunshine. But try starting in the hinterland for something a little different.
Follow the Gold Coast hinterland food and wine trail from Nerang to Tamborine and you will discover pretty hinterland towns. One of those towns is Canungra, resting on the banks of a creek of the same name. Here, you’ll find an inexpensive camp at the showgrounds.
Beyond Canungra is Tamborine Mountain. Few other towns can boast national parks of breathtaking beauty which include magnificent waterfalls no more than 10 minutes’ walk from a number of interesting cafes, restaurants, gift shops and galleries.
TALLEBUDGERA AND CURRUMBIN
Consider hitting the coast at Tallebudgera, a beaut haven for a restful weekend or long-stay holiday.
If that’s not enough, try stand-up paddle boarding at Currumbin, taste the spoils at The Burleigh Brewing Company brewing boutique local beers, try the famous Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary for a bit of nature, or try a little nostalgia at the Surfworld museum next door.
There is a warm sub-tropical heart that radiates from Brisbane’s river as it zigzags through the city and its cosmopolitan city centre. The river meander past such sights as the Roma Street Parklands and the Botanic Gardens, then into interesting suburbs like South Brisbane and Southbank with parklands, wonderful restaurants, the Gallery of Modern Art, the State Library and the Queensland Performing Arts Complex.
THE BAY AND ISLANDS
Away from the suburbs is the bayside and bay islands, including North Stradbroke, Moreton and Bribie islands.
While Moreton is a haven for ultra-keen 4WDers and fishermen, Bribie and North Stradbroke islands offer a more relaxed, gentler experience for those who don’t see themselves as hard-nosed beach campers.
Sooner or later, it’s time to break away from greater Brisbane, as the Sunshine Coast is calling.
For those looking for different water activities, here’s a tip: on a classic day on a Caloundra beach, surfers say, you can see right through the barrel of a wave as the peak pitches, especially at Kings or Moffat beaches. What’s more, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to caravan park accommodation.
Follow the Bruce Highway to take in sights like the rugged Glass House Mountains. These mountains are where spectacular beauty meets Aboriginal Dreaming legend.
The Sunshine Coast hinterland also provides creative centres for local artists in the mountain towns of the Blackall Ranges of Maleny and Montville or Kenilworth.
The beaches along the Sunshine Coast have something for everyone, from anglers almost anywhere along the coast to Noosa, a Mecca for faithful followers of fashion who make interminable pilgrimages along world-renowned Hastings Street.
The highway north from Gympie to Maryborough travels through coastal farmland and timber plantations, and past mountains that hug the highway, such as Mt Bauple National Park, home of the original macadamia nut, just north of Gympie. Within the national park and surrounding countryside, platypus frolic in the creeks, as do Mary River cod.
Moving further north, Maryborough has history, grace and beauty. Trivia buffs will know that nearby Maryborough is the birthplace of Pamela Travers, author of the much-loved Mary Poppins books.
Consider taking the Fraser Coast Tourist Drive from Maryborough to the whale watching hub Hervey Bay.
SOUTHERN BARRIER REEF AND BUNDABERG
By now, you might like a rest stop at Apple Tree Creek, with its barbecues and tall trees that shade the picnic tables, but don’t stay for too long, as Bundaberg awaits.
The sugar and rum city of Bundaberg is the best possible entrée to the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef. After all, Bundaberg is a gateway to 17 sandy beaches and more than 140km of coastline and coral cays.
Don’t leave Bundaberg without visiting Mon Repos to watch sea turtles nesting or hatching, depending on the season.
1770 AND EMU PARK
Just south of the central Queensland town of Miriam Vale, near Gladstone, is the town of 1770. Here, you’ll find beautiful beaches, a memorial to Captain Cook, a quiet pub called The Tree and a magical thing named solitude.
If education is your thing, then take the Emu Park Road from Rockhampton and follow the signs to the Koorana Crocodile Farm to explore the rugged world of crocodile farming.
While at Emu Park, check out the Singing Ship on the bluff overlooking the Great Barrier Reef. The ship is a monument that rings when the wind blows and is in memory of Captain Cook sailing this way in 1770.
Trek north from Rockhampton, after exploring its colonial architecture and funky restaurants, and you’ll find yourself in the Whitsunday region – Bowen, Airlie Beach, Shute Harbour and Proserpine.
At around 18km from Proserpine, with the briefest of walks from the car park, the beauty and cool freshness of Cedar Creek Falls that tumble over volcanic rock could not be more accessible.
Conway Beach is a secret that local anglers would prefer to keep to themselves. However, just a half-hour drive from Proserpine, Conway Beach’s natural beauty makes it more than just another favourite spot for anglers. The beach is sandy so a quiet walk along the beach at sunrise is hard to refuse.
Mt Rooper casts an afternoon shadow across Shute Harbour and hides a local secret away from the ebb and flow of tourists at the ferry and boat terminals.
After a short drive along Whitsunday Drive and a 20-minute walk following the rocky track, Coral Beach gives a chance to escape the chug of boats that move tourists to and from the islands. Locals go there for seclusion or meditation while remaining only a short walk from Shute Harbour.
Near Proserpine, the best fishing spot is near the tiny hamlet of Lethebrook at Thompson’s Creek by the boat ramp. Keep in mind that this top fishing spot has remained a secret for so long because there are no signs pointing the way to the creek, so good luck and good fishing.
The Whitsunday Great Walk takes you on a 30km journey through Conway State Forest, starting at Brandy Creek, and finishing at Airlie Beach, wandering through majestic tropical rainforest, relaxing by seasonal creeks, and looking beyond coastal townships to the Whitsunday Islands are all on offer on the Great Walk.
The entire Great Walk is a three-day escape, but you can choose shorter walks that are linked to the main track. To get there from Airlie Beach, travel west along Shute Harbour Road for about 10km and turn left onto Brandy Creek Road. Follow this road onto Forestry Road through to the car park.
Beyond the Whitsunday region are the beaches flanking Bowen. The famous Horseshoe Bay catches the imagination of locals and tourists alike as two granite outcrops reach out into the ocean and protect the bay, making Horseshoe a wonderful haven for many fish species and providing excellent snorkelling. For the adventurous, there is a ‘clothing optional’ beach adjacent to Horseshoe Bay.
Townsville is just four hours north of the exquisite Whitsunday region. At the heart of Townsville is The Strand, just over 2km of parks, rock pools, gardens, safe beaches, where children play and laugh, lovers kiss under tropical moons and artists and story tellers search for and find their inspiration.
PALUMA AND INGHAM
North of Townsville, high in the rainforest-clad mountains, Paluma provides the chance to discover the Roman arch stone bridge over Little Crystal Creek.
Beyond Paluma is Ingham, and nearby national parks and state forests including the gigantic Hinchinbrook Island. Right on the edge of Ingham, the Tyto Wetlands Reserve is a birdwatchers’ paradise. Nearby, Woollaman Falls plunges more than 300m in one single drop to the forest floor below.
Beyond Tully, with rainforest to its west and the Great Barrier Reef to its east, together with a history about coffee, tea, bamboo, and mango plantations, Mission Beach boasts an interesting history and stunning views.
Two hours’ drive further north, Cairns has much to offer, including the Skyrail, the esplanade of shops and Tjapuki Cultural Park. The road beyond Cairns to Mossman and Mossman Gorge weaves along arguably the most beautiful coastal section of the Bruce Highway.
Queensland’s highest village at more than 900m above sea level, the near-Cairns village of Ravenshoe is an essential stop, set among lush mountain pastures and unspoiled World Heritage rainforest.
Then there are the hinterland experiences along the Atherton Tableland that include the stunning towns of Atherton or Kuranda.
PORT DOUGLAS AND THE DAINTREE
They say that you realise life is perfect as soon as you reach Port Douglas and you kick off your shoes and chill in the tropics. Great cafes, a Queenslander-style pub and scenery cap off a memorable drive and bring meaning to words like breathtaking, beautiful and intriguing.
To get to Cooktown, I drove in the only way you can – from the south. This peaceful town is literally at the end of the bitumen that heads north from Brisbane.
As I arrived, a bullet hit my car. The bullet that rattled my car caused me no concern. In fact, when it ricocheted through town, nobody minded. The wind that almost constantly blows through Cooktown every now and then, quite unexpectedly, blasts like an invisible projectile through the streets, rattling windows, knocking on doors. The locals call it the Cooktown Bullet.
Apart from the bullet there is something here that rocks you, shakes you to the core and it’s more than the wind – it’s the beauty of the place.
I came to Cooktown after following the Bruce Highway from Cairns to Mossman, then the Mulligan Highway through Mt Carbine and Lakeland Downs. The alternative is a 4WD-only trek through Cape Tribulation.
There is so much to see, do and understand about Cooktown from the old Cannon down by the river, The Gunpowder Magazine, The Old Hospital, the beautiful old bank, and the Cooktown Railway Station to the recently discovered Botanic Gardens that date back to Victorian times and Nature’s Powerhouse – an interpretive centre with a collection of permanent exhibitions among which a collection of botanical illustrations is a highlight.
For the best view of Cooktown, climb to the Grassy Hill Lighthouse. Just remember, those with large RVs can’t drive to the top. When there, hold on – windy bullets fly past here, too.