With just over a month to spare, an East Coast Australia road trip was in order. With no fixed itinerary, we uncovered a few gems.
After a 3-month Chilean road trip, the addiction to living life on the road was too great. So, after arriving back into Australia it wasn’t long before we were on the road again. This time the valid excuse being the need to attend our first housesitting gig near Rockhampton in Queensland. So, it made the perfect excuse to pack up the car with our camping gear and spend a little time discovering some hidden gems on an east coast Australia road trip.
If you are planning to take a trip on this route, take a skim through our trip and see if there are any highlights you may want to add to your itinerary. Detailed reviews of the campsites will be added in due course, although links to the Google listings (which include our shorter reviews) have been included.
Our East Coast Australia Road Trip Itinerary
- Seal Rocks (2 nights)
- Yamba (1 night)
- Brisbane (1 night)
- Hervey Bay (2 nights)
- Tanby (14 nights)
- Seventeen Seventy & Agnes Water (1 night)
- Noosa (1 night)
- North Stradbroke Island (3 nights)
- Springbrook National Park (3 nights)
- Byron Bay (7 nights)
Vehicle & Equipment
Sadly, we were not able to bring our trusty Toyota 4Runner home from Chile. So, we had to make do with our Subaru Impreza hatchback. While a little cramped with gear, it was suitable for us as camping in a tent was more than suitable this time around. We were also in possession of the following gear:
- 40-litre Waeco fridge
- 4WD self-inflating camping mat
- Wild Country Explorer 4 man tent
- Outdoor gazebo
- 2x OzTrail camping chairs & 2x Spinifex footstools (we like to put our feet up!)
- Spinifex fold-away table
- 1 x large tarp for extra rain protection
- MSR butane stove and camping pots and pan set
- Then standard linen, clothes, kitchen and electrical items
Seal Rocks has been one of the more isolated towns by design on Australia’s east coast. A fiercely patriotic local community have stopped most development. The result is a very laid back surfing town with a few good beaches, a lighthouse and a unique campsite in the form of Treachery camp. Treachery has massive resident goannas (lizards) prowling the campsite, is a short walk through sand dunes to reach a mostly deserted beach. The only downside is the lack of mobile signal (Optus) and electricity. Of course also a feature, but we were supposed to be working!
The Sugarloaf Point lighthouse (est. 1875) is a short but steep walk from the main beach where you can also stay (should your budget allow) or just review the history, such as the ill-fated SS Catterthun who in 1895 sunk after hitting the Rocks Seal Rocks is known for with the loss of 52 lives.
We had never been to Yamba before. It had often been recommended and referred to as the next Byron Bay. However, our stay, albeit a short one, didn’t live up the hype.
We arrived after a long drive from Seal Rocks (500km) and set up camp at the Calypso Yamba Holiday Park right in town as we were only staying one night and needed the convenience along with access to wifi and a powered site. The campsite while adequate was mostly dominated by RVs and Caravans and very exposed. To be expected given we were right in town I suppose.
The Pacific Hotel is located up the hill on the headlands and provides great views over the main beach and a sea breeze keeps things cool. The food menu was quite extravagant and with that came with extravagant prices, however, we realised later there was a bar menu which issued the standard pub meals a little cheaper.
Before leaving the next day we popped into Angourie, just south of Yamba. A great little town with rock pools for swimming and potentially some areas for free camping should one be discreet. Would recommend checking that out for a more out of town experience.
After crossing the border and skipping past the Gold Coast, a brief stopover in the suburbs of Brisbane, Cleveland to be precise, to visit Erin’s sister. Dinner had out in Victoria Point on a thriving Saturday night. A cool feature at the restaurant being a token issued after you pay for your meal where you can choose from three local charities to donate to. The restaurant will distribute their monthly donation in line with the volume of tokens each charity received. Nice.
Further north Hervey Bay was in our sights and after a lunch stop at a very tasty Beefy’s Pie’s in Gympie it was on to the Hervey Bay YHA which also runs a campground with powered and unpowered sites. Having worked for YHA many moons ago it had always received positive reviews. It is a great natural setting in established gardens, resident ducks, peacocks and native birds with good facilities including a very refreshing pool.
Hervey Bay itself is mostly used as a base to access Fraser Island so 4×4’s are in abundance around town. A long beach which you may also call a mudflat runs along the main esplanade of the town with a few picturesque jetties poking out for fishing.
Arriving at our housesitting gig we passed through Rockhampton which was very hot (in February). So we were pleasantly surprised to find Tanby, about 10km south of Yeppoon, a lot cooler being on the coast and slightly elevated catching a strong sea breeze. We met the house owners and their two delightful dogs which would be under our care for the next two weeks.
The surrounding areas of Tanby, Emu Park and Yeppoon are very quiet coastal towns. Emu Park has two campsites near the ‘Singing Ship’ a memorial to the European discovery of this area by Captain Cook. The pipes used to construct the mainsail of the monument had once whistled when the wind blew over the top. These have since been capped to prevent the consistent noise irritating the locals!
Yeppoon has a great dog beach just north of the town where any sized dog could run for miles and not run out of beach. Tanby has a solid local community and was once a large collection large of pineapple farms. One farmer still running today has a sign out saying ‘Fresh Pines’ when he has fresh pineapples to sell. You simply drive up to his roadside cart, drop your $2 in the bucket and take your pick of fresh juicy pineapples.
The oddly named town of 1770 (officially Seventeen Seventy) is the site of the second landing in Australia by Captain Cook. Cook had been scouting out locations for the English to both dump a lot of their criminals and potentially start a new colony, as was the style of the time. After popping into Botany Bay, south of Sydney, the park now known as Endeavour Park was only the second landing in some 2000km! Cook described the site as ‘worse’ than Botany Bay and swiftly moved on.
The lookout at 1770 is about a 2km walk from the carpark which bears the stone cairn in memory of Cook’s landing. There is a rough rocky ocean beach and a small beach on the bay side although warnings of deadly stingers & stonefish along with strong currents might put you off!
We camped at Workmans beach campsite just outside Agnes Waters. This campsite was similar in style to Treachery camp in Seal Rocks with natural bush surrounding a few marked sites. Rangers pop by to take payment in the afternoon or morning and a good setup of Toilets, BBQ and cold water only open shower. The beach was fit for surfers and the odd swimmer. Similar warnings about currents, stingers etc and the beach is unpatrolled.
A very popular stop on the east coast of Australia and caters for everyone from the 5-star luxury resorts to weekend getaways, family vacations, campers and backpackers. We settled on the Halse Lodge YHA located in the heart of Noosa and a backpackers institution. The nearby campsite was undergoing some renovations and given the one-night stay, we decided to live it up in a double room!
With dinner planned at the Sofitel (previously the Sheraton), we had a contrasting experience enjoying a great Sri Lankan themed feast. An obligatory run through the National Park in the morning was as pleasant as always, despite the rain with surfers bobbing in the many rolling surf breaks located along the heads.
Straddie, as it is known, is the world’s second largest sand island, second only to Fraser Island a few hours drive north. It is accessed by passenger and car ferries from Cleveland. After staying again with Erin’s sister and family we enjoyed three nights on North Straddie at the Amity Point Campground.
We explored the island covering Gorge walk, a boardwalk around the headlands at Point Lookout. A great spot for whale watching when the time is right. We headed to Blue Lake which is a 3km walk to a less than impressive lake that you are not supposed to swim in. Better off heading to Brown lake where you can drive to an also swim from the small bleached-white sandy beach.
A 4WD would be useful here to get on the beaches and camp, although permits are required. Despite the Subaru being all-wheel drive, it definitely would have gotten stuck in the soft sand!
Less than an hour from the glitz and glamour of the Gold Coast in the hinterland lies Springbrook National Park. Sporting old growth ‘Gondwana’ rainforest and copious waterfalls (honestly, you’ll think the cliffs have sprung a leak!) you can hike a bounty of trails and is well worth a stop on your east coast adventure.
We stayed in The Settlement Campground which contains 10 or so marked sites available for booking on the National Parks website. It did have a small over subscribing issue in the booking system (or there were people camping for free) but other than that a very well maintained and picturesque campground in the hills. The little town of Springbrook is quaint so unless you can survive on fudge and coffee, you might want to stock up on supplies before you arrive.
Purling Brook falls is stunning and only 700m from the campsite. You can then walk a few kilometres to the base of the waterfall. Twin Falls is equally impressive and you can wander in behind the actual waterfalls for a great perspective on the rushing water. The unimaginative title of ‘Best of All Lookout’ does have a view over an ancient volcano caldera with views to Mt Warning and across the rolling green hills towards the coast. Natural Bridge which is a bit of a drive away is a waterfall falling into a cave lined with glow worms and bats.
We did take a further drive to Lamington National Park also, but more planning is required to take on the longer day hikes which run for upwards of 15km.
With our pace of travel getting slower on our return journey we decided to spend a full week in Byron Bay. Tough life! The Glen Villa Campground is a delightful place to stay so close to town yet so removed from the hustle and bustle of central Byron. Easy to get into a routine of a morning jog up to the lighthouse and Australia’s most easterly point for sunrise, then return via the coast to watch surfers battle dolphins for a wave.
With work to keep us busy, we were a permanent fixture in the large campground watching the comings and goings of campers and the well-oiled maintenance machine of this well run campground. It is pretty hard not to love Byron Bay particularly if you get out a bit further from the centre of town.
While Byron could hold us here forever we need to move to our next housesitting gig. The east coast has so much more than what is covered here and many continue another 100km north to Cairns. But having a standard car with a tent and a few other supplies is a very doable way to travel up the coast if that’s all you have. Although next time we hope to have upgraded the vehicle!
About The Author
Ever since venturing out the back gate into the bush as a kid, I've had a curiosity to escape and explore as often as I could. It's fair to say that my curiosity has continued to grow instead of fade as the years go on. It eventually came time to turn a few scribbled notes into some legible stories and travel tips for anyone with a similar curiosity as me.