David and I have dreamed of owning our own camper van. We imagine driving around the United States exploring national parks and visiting with friends along the way. When we heard that Australia is often traveled via camper van we were excited to dip our feet into an extended van camping experience together.
After the first night we were both ready to throw in the towel. With temperatures above 90 degrees (even throughout night) we found it very difficult to sleep and missed the comfort of a hotel. By morning we were convinced we had made a mistake. Calling our RV company we asked to return the vehicle with plans to travel via car and staying in hotels instead. It didn’t work out that way, thankfully, because now we have a better story of how a boy and a girl fell in love with camping.
After building up the courage, we hit the road in our Toyota Hiace with a map in hand and a reluctant feeling in our stomachs. We started our adventure in Caines, known to be the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and drove all the way down to Melbourne – a distance of 2,262 miles.
Most people doing this trek carefully plan where they will be staying each night and the stops they would like to take along the Pacific Highway. This is wise when you have a set return date on a rental van. However David and I let the wind be our guide and added days when we realized we needed more time to be able to complete our coastal journey.
Here is the first half of our stops. To help you plan your trip we highlight our favorites along the the Pacific Highway with links to our camping sites. If is your first time with an RV check out our first timers RV guide. We discovered some amazing cities, as well as some that we would recommend skipping.
A perfect first roadtrip stop. Just a touch over four hours from Caines, this city offers a beautiful paved path along the beach know as The Strand. Stretch your legs here and take a swim in the netted beach area, there you are protected from any predators that may be interested in you (mostly jellyfish).
The following morning wake up and head over to Billabong Animal Sanctuary for one of our favorite days in Australia! Start here at 9am and enjoy all of the native animals on site. You will hear from the zoologist on how each animal came to live at the park and what their day to day routine looks like. Animals we fell in love with; a baby kangaroo that kept following us around, this adorable wombat, and of course their cuddly koala bear.
Stayed at ?: Rowes Bay RV Park – across from the beach
This is a party town! If you are looking to have dinner and stay up into the wee hours of the night you will love this place. This was not our draw however but if it’s yours, you will find it here.
There are many islands off the east coast of Australia. It can be costly in time and money to make the journey to multiple. David and I had decided we were going to visit one island while down under. We decided on Whitsunday known for their gorgeous beaches and some of the whitest sand in the world. We were not disappointed!
To get out there we booked a trip with Ocean Rafting Tours. Their boats are semi-rigid inflatables with dual engines making them a fast and fun way to get between spots. They are the only tour allowed to dock right at Whithaven beach, allowing plenty of time to explore the island and its sandy shores. The outing is a bit pricy at $111 USD + $11 for a buffet lunch, but trust us you will have a great time.
Fun fact: the sand at Whithaven is made of silica and does a fantastic job cleaning jewelry and exfoliating your feet.
Stayed at ?: Island Gateway Holiday Park
We were told by serval locals this was a stop to not miss. I can see why Aussies love it. With much less development then several other beach towns it feels like you stumbled upon a gem if you are looking for a quite space for a few days.
Personally it remained me of cities I grew up visiting in northern Michigan. Very sweet and quaint however we were looking to spend our days amongst other travelers, and this was not the place for that. We drove through and decided to drive another 40 minutes south to spend the night in Bundaberg.
Bundaberg (Great Barrier Reef)
Bundaberg is the last chance to visit the Great Barrier Reef. We waited to go further south since 1) the coral is not as bleached from the heat and 2) there are fewer jellyfish. I didn’t do much research to check the validity of these statements, so take it with a grain of salt.
There is only one boat that leaves from Bundaberg for daily snorkel tours. We booked our spots on Lady Musgrave Experience at a local information center. The day trip includes a light breakfast, snorkel gear, a visit to Lady Musgrave Island, ride on a glass bottom boat with a marine biologist, and a buffet lunch. The day tour is $160 USD. This experience is perfect for a quick view of the Great Barrier Reef. We saw miles of coral, turtles, jellyfish, and even an octopus!
Note: David and I have our diving certification and both wished we had booked a scuba tour instead. With diving you get the chance to go further out and explore the deep nooks and crannies where some unique species may be found.
If you are lucky enough to be visiting Australia during turtle nesting season (between November and February) make sure to get a ticket to Mon Repos Turtle Encounter (http://www.bundabergregion.org/turtles). Book a slot as soon as you know you will be heading to Australia, they fill up quick. Your tour will start anytime after sunset and could be scheduled for as late at 2am. This is the nesting capitol for turtles, if you are lucky you may see one! Since we had not booked a spot, we went to the local beach with flash lights and hushed voices in hope of spotting one on our own. After 5 passes of the beach we saw a gorgeous turtle making her way back to the ocean after laying eggs.
Stayed at ?: Burnett Heads Light house Holiday Park
You’re now entering Sunshine Coast. With a unique blend between surfer chill and upscale chic, David and I fell in love with the ambiance. Amazing cafes are tucked into sandy coves along the beach and dotted along the main drive, Hastings Street. Take a walk after lunch on this street where you will find anything from tourist shops to upscale boutiques, this is a great place to find the perfect souvenir.
Don’t miss the sunset along the Coastal Track, with its trail head starting right along the beach. Here you find locals enjoying a picnic or jogging up the gradual hill. Take it in like a local and jog the path or enjoy a hike like we did. Whatever you decide the views are amazing! You may even be lucky enough to see some wild turkeys and large lizards.
Stayed at ?: Noosa Caravan Park
By now we were beginning to feel like pros, almost. With a few nicks, scratched, and many humble lessons learned – David and I fell in love with RVing. Each night we slept with all off the windows and doors wide open so we could wake up to the kookaburra singing in the old gumtree, almost too good to be true.
With covering a large section of the eastern coast we thought it may be more digestible in two posts. Stay tuned for our 2nd leg of the journey, Brisbane to Sydney!
Aussie Style Vocab
While we were in Australia we heard many different local variations of words and we jotted down our favorites:
Arcade – Mall
Big Drop – Porter Potty
Bottle Shop – liquor store
Breakie – Breakfast
Busker – Street Performer
Cheeky – Bold, smarty
Chemist – pharmacy
G’Day – Hello
Hire – Rent
Holiday – vacation
Lollies – Any type of candy
Macca – McDonalds
Overtaking – Passing another car on the freeway
OZ – Australia
Rubber – Eraser
Sunnies – Sunglasses
That’s Okay – No problem or your welcome
Togs – Swim suit
Torch – flashlight
Trolly – shopping cart
Uni – University