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As I was sitting in the car listening to Men at Work’s Land Down Under, it all hit me at once. I was surrounded by beautiful sugar cane fields with mountains in the background. The sun silhouetted the car as it began to set. I was finally in Australia on the other side of the world driving on the opposite side of the road. I immersed myself in the moment and had to remind myself of how lucky I was.


The sugar cane fields passed quickly on the two lane highway, the only major road in the area. It was like nothing else I had ever experienced before. I danced and sang about vegemite and thought about nothing but the road and the radio.  I soon lost myself in the moment and concentrated on the windy road. A smile spread across my face as I remembered why I love traveling so much.

Australia is a diverse and beautiful country with something new around every corner. Sydney is just one small part of a beautiful country. Outside of the cities Australia is very rural often only connected by a two lane highway. This is part one of three of my Australia travel guide focusing on the sites from Proserpine to Cairns in Northern Queensland. Part two will be what to do in Cairns. Part three explores the hip and trendy Melbourne.


Getting Around Australia: To Fly, Bus, or Drive?

Most people don’t realize that Australia is a vast country. It is as large as the US, but much more sparsely populated (25 million people total). It takes a long time to get just about anywhere. If you think you can drive to most places, you are mistaken. If you do drive or take a bus you need to schedule in lots of travel time.


Flying is getting a lot cheaper in Australia with budget carriers Jet Star and Tiger Air. I was able to fly all the way from Sydney to Prosperine (near the Whit Sundays) for only $70 one way. The flight is almost three and half hours, so you can see the value there. These airlines are a great way to get around especially when you are limited on time. However, they are budget carriers so they will try to nickel and dime you. They limit their carry on size to 7 kg. However, they don’t really check it. I was able to walk on with my backpack which was well over the weight limit. They really didn’t care. Don’t be afraid to fly on either; each flies new planes and the flights were enjoyable.


Driving views around Cardwell Forest Drive


Rent a Car or Grab the Bus: Go on Your Own Time

You can also rent a car, but it can be expensive. I rented from Budget because they did not have an obnoxious $200 AUD one way fee. It ended up being $50 AUD a day for 4 days (not too bad). I rented the car from Proserpine and drove up to Cairns. It was an awesome road trip. This is a great way to experience Australia because you can stop when and where you want. An even better way is to get a campervan. This will allow you to sleep anywhere you want while still taking your time.


Greyhound also has a nice package in Australia where you can hop on and off as you please. The cheapest package is $189 AUD which includes 1000 km of travel. This is a great option when you want to spend an extended period of time in major destinations.


Secluded Beaches and Great Scenery

I began my road trip in Proserpine just outside Airlie Beach in Northern Queensland. I was excited to have my own wheels so I could stop when I wanted and where I wanted. A little research beforehand revealed that the nature was going to be incredibly beautiful. The only stop my friend and I had planned was Townsville for the first night. After that we were going to play it by ear.


Babinda Boulders – Beautiful example of natural scenery


The first stop was Airlie Beach which is the gateway to the Whitsundays. This is a great place to start a sailing adventure. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to get on a sailboat. However, I highly recommend this trip. You can get a 3 day and night sailing tour for about $300-$500 AUD. It is incredibly beautiful and serene. I really want to go back and do this. Other than that Airlie Beach is pretty tame. There are a few places to eat, but not much else to do. You also can’t really swim at the beaches especially in the summer. This is because of the huge amount of jelly fish in the water (and sometimes crocs). All the beaches in Northern Queensland are like this. I’ve never been to a beach where you can’t swim.


Find the Best Secluded Beaches in Northern Queensland

Dingo beach is north of Airlie beach and is the definition of secluded. It was a nice spot to stop and enjoy some lunch. You really feel disconnected from the world. The drive to Townsville from Dingo Beach was about 3 hours and did not disappoint. All of it was on a two lane highway where passing had to be done on the opposite side of the road. Driving on the left side was not as difficult as I thought it would be. My biggest difficulty was turning on the windshield wipers instead of my turn signal!


The Serene Dingo Beach


The scenery was really beautiful especially as we approached Townsville. The mountains were shrouded in mist emerging from the flat sugar cane fields. Blasting Men at Work’s Land Down Under was appropriate and made driving super fun.


Townsville: Great People, Beaches, and Views

We stayed the Rambutan in Townsville. This is a hostel/resort. You can get a cheap dorm bed for $20 AUD a night yet you basically have access to a resort. There is a beautiful pool, drinks, and good food. It was clean and an awesome place to stay. I highly recommend.


The first thing I did upon arriving in Townsville was grab an “Aussie burger.” It had pineapple, beets, bacon, and an egg to top it off. It was incredible. You would think that combo would be horrible, but I really enjoyed it. Mad Cow Tavern was the spot for this; they also had some great beers.


The Ultimate Aussie Burger


Townsville has some beautiful beaches with great views of the nearby Magnetic Island. I ran down The Strand which has a lot of great restaurants overlooking the water. Townsville actually has swimmable beaches since they have a few jelly nets as well. The town is really well developed and worth stopping in for a few days. You can also take a day trip to Magnetic Island (Maggie) which has some great nature trails.


Stunning Landscapes are Just Normal in Queensland

It is also worth heading up Castle Hill for the sunset. The views are incredible and you can see across the whole territory. It is possible to walk up. There were heaps (to use the Australian phrase) of people doing this. You can also be lazy and drive up. Don’t miss out on this; it’s one of the cooler things to do in Townsville.


Castle Hill views at night


The people of Townsville are also even more laid back than other Australians (if the was even possible). We found it easy to talk to everyone. Everyone gave us awesome recommendations and were willing to just hang out. We even made a friend who drove us around town.


Go Hold a Koala Bear

Queensland is the only state in Australia where you can still hold a Koala. Billabong sanctuary is just south of Townsville and is a must stop. It costs $36 AUD to get in and you will end up paying $38 AUD to hold a Koala and Wombat. This is so worth it. You can also pay more to feed crocs or hold more animals.


Holding a Koala!


The park is pretty awesome because it’s completely open. There are kangaroos hopping around and wildlife all over the place. We were able to feed kangaroos and joeys. This was one of the coolest things I have ever done. Holding the koala and wombat was also a lot of fun. Koalas have really small brains, so they are quite chill.


Croc feeding


The sanctuary has wildlife from most parts of Australia and you can see most of it. From cassowary to dingoes, they have everything. You can even watch a crocodile feeding which is just like what you see on TV. The crocs really get after it and you can hear the power of their jaws as they shut with a loud snap. The sanctuary fulfills most of my dreams of Australia. Koalas, wombats, kangaroos, and crocs all in one place. I was beyond happy.


Feeding the joeys!


Explore Some Waterfalls and Tranquil Watering Holes

The drive from Townsville to Mission Beach is gorgeous. The tropics begin to descend as you get farther and farther north, but the beauty increase in leaps and bounds. There are an insane amount of waterfalls and watering holes to stop at. The first is crystal creek in Paluma National Park. It is a little bit of drive up a huge mountain, but well worth it. The water is cool and the falls are pretty. It is a great place to sit and chill while listening to the running water. There are also NO bugs.


Jourama Falls are close by Crystal Creek. They are right off the highway and an easy stop. This area is much hotter and more tropical (some bugs). However, it is a nice walk up the falls. The falls do not disappoint. There are stages upon stages emptying into beautiful rock pools. It was awe inspiring watching the water pour down from the heights.


Jourama Falls


Drive Through the Woods and Flowers!

The next stop is the Cardwell Forest Drive. This is a dirt road (in good shape) track through the forest. Imagine yourself surrounded by wild flowers and huge trees. You can stop at on overlook which gives a great look at Hinchinbrook Island. There are also countless swimming holes. We stopped at the spa pool which is aptly named. It is literally a small hole you can sit in that feels like a Jacuzzi.


I wanted to do the Thornsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island, but did not have time. If you can do it, it is one of the more famous treks in the world. It is 32 km and takes most people four days. They only let a forty people walk the trail at once so book in advance.


Spa Pool on Cardwell Forest Drive

Hit Up Mission Beach for Chill Times or GO SKYDIVING

We slept in Mission Beach which is really quiet at Scotty’s YHA hostel in Southern Mission Beach. We got a private room for only $15 AUD per person. The hostel had a nice pool and lots of good places to chill. It’s a cheap and easy place to stop. They had a free Australian BBQ at the local bar and a pool tournament. I came in thinking Australian BBQs would be expansive awesome affairs with all sorts of meats. Turns out it’s just sausages. Anyway the night life in Mission Beach is better than you would expect. Mission Beach is also a great launching pad for skydiving (the hostel has a nice discount on this).


When at the Beach Don’t Assume You Can Swim

We left the next day for Cairns and stopped at Bramston Beach along the way. We found a deserted beach with a jelly net. The first thought was, “What a perfect place for a swim.” We got in and enjoyed the warm water and a respite from the heat. We headed over to the local café after and were told about a croc (saltie) that had been paddling around the other day. Turns out there was a reason no one was swimming. Oh well. BUT be careful, if you don’t see anyone swimming at a beach there is probably a reason. I had an iced coffee at this café which I had discovered was very different than in the US. In Australia iced coffee means ice cream and coffee. It is actually awesome and worth a try.


Innocent beach with croc sighting!


We stopped off at Babinda Boulders before heading to Cairns. This had a nice swimming hole and cool water. It was a great place to stop and get out of the heat. It also had a nice walking trail out to the boulders. This was a cool site to see the pounding water and nice rock formations. Babinda is right off the highway and an easy stop.


Get Your Road Trip On!

By far this is not an exhaustive list of all the nature you can experience on this drive; there are soooo many waterfalls and watering holes. I wish I had more time to see more. You can head towards Atherton and see even more lakes and waterfalls. Millaa Millaa Waterfall is a little off the highway but is beautiful. Paronella Park is expensive to get into, but is really unique. It is a castle nestled in the forest surrounded by rare plants and waterfalls. It is $45 AUD to get in so keep that in mind. I didn’t get a chance to visit those places, but they came highly recommended from the locals.


Road tripping in Northern Queensland is really an experience you do not want to miss. It gets more and more stunning as you drive north. The nature envelops you and you lose yourself in the wildlife. Just driving on the two lane highway is an experience. To do Northern Queensland right:

  1. Grab a cheap flight to your starting point
  2. Rent a car if you can, so you can experience all the wildlife at your own pace (campervan is even better)
  3. Stop at every beach, waterfall, and watering hole possible
  4. Explore all the scenic overlooks
  5. Get to know the local wildlife at Billabong Sanctuary
  6. Do some of the local treks
  7. Get lost in the journey


Lose Yourself in the Journey

I really lost myself in the journey. I had never experienced a road trip like this anywhere else in the world. It was scenic, tropical, and full of surprises. The drive has plenty of accommodations and food making it easy. It is a great way to get away from civilization and lose yourself in nature. This was part one of two of my Australia travel guide. Part two will show you what to do in Cairns. Part 3 explores the hip and trendy Melbourne. Also check out my training and travel guide to Sydney.


Pools with Jourama in the background

What are your favorite road trips around the world? Have you driven through Australia? What are your favorite nature spots around the globe? Let me know in the comments! As always email me with any questions.


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