Taking A Camping Road Trip Up The East Coast Of Australia

Australia is a huge country with an overwhelming amount of opportunities for an outdoor enthusiast. Amazing beaches, incredible hikes through ancient rainforest and some of the most unique animals in the world.

Get your vehicle ready and follow this road trip up the east coast from Sydney to Airlie Beach that will get you a taste of the adventures that the Land Down Under has to offer.

The road starts in the surfing beaches of Sydney and follows the Legendary Pacific Coast Route (M1) of eastern Australia to the north. You will drive across the scent of gumtree forests, all the way to Airlie Beach: a paradise town that is the gateway to both the Great Barrier Reef and Whitehaven, the whitest sand beach on Earth.

Spend a night stargazing at Diamond Head Campground

Skip the buzz and fuzz of Sydney and hit the M1 highway to enjoy some amazing landscapes. As the city disappears in your rearview mirror, find yourself driving over rivers and across gumtree forests up to Diamond Head Campground in Crowdy Bay National Park.

This campsite does not have drinking water so remember to take your own when preparing your gear.

Diamond Head is a great place for a first taste of Australia’s wildlife. Drive slowly when entering the campground to avoid hurting the wild kangaroos that will be hoping all around you.

Diamond Head campground kangaroos
credit: Pablo Barragán Grondona

Please remember not to feed them and always respect their space.

If you want to stretch your legs from the 350 kms ride, there are plenty of hiking options including a 4.8 kilometers loop walk.

Spend the night here to experience the real magic of Diamond Head. Enjoy the facilities the campground offers by cooking a barbecue or grilling some veggies right next to the beach and take a night stroll by the sea under a million stars.

Once you are back in your tent, fall asleep to the soothing sound of crashing waves.

Diamond Head Beach
credit: Pablo Barragán Grondona

Visit the Koala Hospital (optional)

The next day, about 44 kilometers north from Diamond Head, a little detour will get you to the world’s first rehabilitation facility dedicated solely to the care and preservation of wild koalas.

It is not a very outdoorsy activity but it is the best way to to know everything about these beautiful creatures. You will also learn about the incredible work that is done there. The Koala Hospital is located in the city of Port Macquarie.

Cool waves of Byron Bay / Ancient rainforest of Mount Warning

The small town of Byron Bay, 387 km north from the Koala Hospital, has a very laid back environment and it is a great place to hone your surf skills. You can also kayak up close with dolphins and from May to November, during whale season, with the magnificent humpback whales.

Byron Bay is also the easternmost town of Australia, so before heading further north, be sure to take a walk to little Wategos beach at dawn to be the first one to watch the sunrise in the whole country.

If you are not much into water sports or want a little bit more camping and less city life, you will find Mount Warning National Park 60 kilometers west from Byron Bay. It is a great place to enjoy some walking tracks through ancient rainforests around the sacred Wollumbin (Mount Warning).

Keep your eyes open: you might spot a wallaby or two.

Following the M1 again, north from Byron Bay, you will enter the state of Queensland. The route goes through some amazing cities by the beach like Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.

You should really consider stopping there if you want a last surfing experience. Once you start heading further north the waves disappear completely.

Colorful sands at Rainbow Beach

Follow the M1 for about 350 kms and take a side trip up the State Highway 15 and down Tin Can Road for about 70 kilometers to find a fantastic stopping place. Rainbow Beach is a very small town that hosts the best access entry point to both Fraser Island and the Great Sandy National Park.

rainbow beach
credit: Pablo Barragán Grondona

If you are in for some adventure, hop on to the barge at Inskip Point to spend a day wandering through K’gari (Fraser Island), the biggest sand island of the world. There, you can swim in crystal clear streams and lakes made of pure rain drops under towering thousand years old rainforest trees.

With some luck you could even spot a Dingo.

If you don’t have time to cross over to Fraser Island, don’t worry, go to the beach downtown and walk about 2 kms east of Rainbow Beach Surf Club to see the multi coloured cliffs that give the place its name.

There are also some very fun activities for hire in Rainbow Beach like horse riding, skydiving and, if you are an experienced diver, playing in the deep with nurse sharks, bull rays and sea turtles at Wolf Rock.

Find your way to the hiking and walking tracks around the Great Sandy National Park, an enormous area of protected coastline that includes the Cooloola Recreation Area.

Stay the night in one of the many holiday parks and prepare to drive another 212 kms north across the perfectly aligned exotic pine plantations of Tuan State Forest and then through the cane farms of Bundaberg, to get to Mon Repos Turtle Centre. This part of the road you will be driving away from the M1 (which is now called  A1) but you will return to it shortly.

Save the turtles at Mon Repos

Mon Repos is the first one of a long line of beaches protected by the Great Barrier Reef. From here northward the waves start to fade until the sea transforms into a huge turquoise lake.

From November to January you can witness the incredible event of sea turtles making their nests under the Mon Repos beach sand. From January to March you can watch the little eggs hatch and help the rangers guide the turtles in their run to the sea.

From Mon Repos Turtle Centre there is a short hike you can take across the bushland and then along the coastline to get to Bargara Beach. On this track it is very common to meet face to face with the Eastern Grey Kangaroos.

These roos can be up to two meters tall and have muscular bodies that could make some bodybuilders jealous.

Once on Bargara Beach, head to the stone walled swimming pool on the sea where you can snorkel and swim with colorful fishes even on stinger season.

End of the line: tropical islands of Airlie Beach

The last part of the trip powers through the A1 for 780 kms all the way to Airlie Beach. If this sounds like too long a stretch you can stop half way in Rockhampton or at the beautiful beaches of Yeppoon.

Once you arrive in the tropical town of Airlie Beach, and right before you get over-runned with the insane amount of tours and activities available downtown, you should consider hiking one of the many free trails in the area.

Airlie beach from Honeyeater lookout
credit: Pablo Barragán Grondona

Some of these trails, like the 27 km Conway Circuit that takes you across a dense tropical rainforest, are quite challenging. Others of moderate difficulty like the Honeyeater Lookout Track (pictured above) or the Mt Rooper summit track will reward you with amazing views of the sea and the islands around Airlie Beach. While trekking, always remember to watch out for snakes!

For less experienced hikers there are several short walks across the bush, like the one that takes you to the deserted Coral Beach where instead of sand the shore is made completely of small pieces of coral and you can see turtles grazing on seaweed under the transparent waters only a few meters away from you.

However, the real deal of Airlie Beach is that it provides access to the Whitsunday Islands, Whitehaven Beach (pictured below) and The Great Barrier Reef. If you like diving it is a great opportunity to explore the wonders of the sea and the colours of the playful fish at the very heart of the reef.

Whitehaven beach
credit: Pablo Barragán Grondona

If you want to stay dry, you can visit the mesmerizing white sand of Whitehaven, a 7 km beach of pure silica sand unique in the world. Be aware that it is located in the Whitsunday Islands National Park which is a protected area only reachable by plane, helicopter or boat.

To get there you could pay a tour for a day visit. But the best way to enjoy this beach is to get a ticket for a small water taxi and camp for the night. Enjoy the whole beach to yourself and fulfill the dream of sleeping under the stars surrounded by the sea on a tropical unspoiled island.

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