AUSTRALIA, QLD: Campervan Adventures on the Great Tropical DriveThere are 13 additional routes that veer off the main Great Tropical Drive so you can add an extra week or more to your itinerary if you so please; the choice is yours based on time available really. We decided to start from Townsville in a clockwise direction but the trip can also be started in either direction from Cairns as well.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2013
After a relaxing two day vacation on Queensland’s Magnetic Island, we had pre-booked a small but highly maneuverable two-man Toyota Bush Campervan to cruise slowly north by way of the Great Tropical Drive to Port Douglas and Cairns, with the intention of stopping off at unusual outback attractions en-route.
There are 13 additional routes that veer off the main Great Tropical Drive so you can add an extra week or more to your itinerary if you so please; the choice is yours based on time available really. We decided to start from Townsville in a clockwise direction but the trip can also be started in either direction from Cairns as well.
From Townsville it was a 130km drive to our first overnight stop - Charters Towers - a place that grew up with the gold rush of 1871. Not surprisingly it drew men from far and wide to the region, in turn making it one of the most prosperous towns on the eastern seaboard of Australia. There are many magnificent buildings that have survived including the heritage listed Stock Exchange Arcade, World Theatre, City Hall and the Post Office Tower.
It was midday in Charters Towers and the heat was stifling. We checked into the Big4 Campground called the Aussie Outback Oasis and began preparing a leisurely lunch before our afternoon visit to nearby Leahton Park owned by Michael and Linda Bethel.
Michael’s Texas made, canvas-covered wagon was pulled by two huge horses as we headed out onto their 1,100-acre spread. Leahton Park is home to the largest herd (70 or more) of purebred Texas Longhorn cattle in Australia. When I asked Michael where he imported them from he replied,“ Well believe it not our first few head we bought from a guy in Tauranga.” Five years ago Michael and Linda began hosting tourists on their three-hour, Longhorn Safari Tours, the only one of its kind in Australia. And how those Texans must be green with envy. Michael and Linda now have a five-year old steer named ‘JR’ that has made it into the Guinness Book of World Records with the longest horn span measuring tip to tip, nine feet one inch (2.82m).
Back on the road again the following day we had a 380km leg to drive, about a six-hour journey to Undara National Park. Someone once said: It’s not the number of breaths you take; it’s what takes your breath away! Well what takes your breath away is that in Undara you’ll find the world’s oldest lava tubes, created approximately 190,000 years ago. This is probably one of the rarest and most fascinating volcanic phenomenon on earth.
The massive eruption from the Undara Volcano caused lava to flow more than 90km to the north and over 160km to the northwest. It is estimated that 23 cubic kilometers of lava at a temperature of about 1,200 degrees Celsius flowed from the volcano, at a rate of 1,000 cubic meters every second. A lava flow this large could fill Sydney Harbour in just six days. And we worry about climate change?
They say that there are only two types of season in Queensland, the wet season and the dry season, although the wet season is often referred to as the green season – we were between the two as it would often cloud over and drop a short shower of rain mid-afternoon – nothing we couldn’t handle.
Undara National Park is teeming with wildlife and to get a sense of how much is on display, we joined the Sunset Lava Cave Tour to discover what happens after the sun had dipped well below the horizon. Our guide Bram (short for Bramwell), was from a 5th generation family that had settled this land in 1862, all 1,290 square kilometres of it. Bram led us below the trees in almost darkness before showing us what we had passed under. As thousands of bats took to the night sky to find food, night tiger python snakes and spotted tree pythons had slithered into the trees at the entrance waiting for the opportunity to snatch a bat for dinner!
Accommodation varies at Undara Lava Lodge from the powered campsites we stayed in to regular tented campsites, but there are also fixed, hard-sided camping accommodation, shearer’s huts as well as beautifully restored railway carriages which add a sense of historic realism when you stay overnight there.
Two days later we detoured off the main highway to stop off in the historic 1880s mining town of Herberton. For a cold tinny on a hot day pop into the Royal Hotel that has been standing in the centre of town since it was built in 1880. There’s also a local Mine Museum and one of the best camera and photographic memorabilia museums cluttered with thousands of historic cameras, some of them considered the rarest in the world. On the edge of town, Herberton Historic Village showcases more than 50 restored historic buildings filled with unique Australian collectables . . . it offers a brief look into Australia’s rich and diverse history much of which has been lost and long gone.
It was Good Friday and it seemed like the whole eastern seaboard was heading into outback Australia. Going against the flow we drove 240km to Granite Gorge, 12km from Mareeba on the Atherton Tablelands. The family friendly campground in Granite Gorge is nestled in a landscape of huge dramatic granite sized boulders, dwarfing some of the huge campervans that had booked the place out for the long weekend. The boulders make a perfect home to a resident population of rock wallabies, echidnas, possums, dingoes and in the river system turtles and eels.
Our next port of call was the laid-back town of Port Douglas. Once a sleepy fishing village, Port Douglas today is a bone-fide tourist destination with luxury spa resorts on the outskirts and stylish designer shops all along its main street thoughfare. To escape the crowds we found a quiet spot by the water and ordered a bucket of prawns and a cold beer at the ‘On the Inlet Seafood Café & Restaurant’ hidden away on a side street near the marina.
The marina in Port Douglas is where all the cruise and dive boats depart for the Great Barrier Reef – a reef system that stretches 2000km incorporating 900 or more coral islands as well as over 3000 separate fringed reefs – the reef lies anywhere from 16km to 160km off the Queensland shore. Day cruises generally allow you about three hours of underwater exploration, lunch and the use of snorkeling gear. For diving enthusiasts many day trips offer diving as an optional add-on for certified divers or introductory courses for beginners.
The following day we drove one of Queensland’s most scenic highways along the coast to Cairns where we spent a night in Cairns Holiday Park only three kilometres from the nightlife bustle of downtown. Then all that was left was to return the campervan to Townsville driving the remaining coastal route via Cardwell where, if you’re so inclined, you can visit Hinchinbrook Island.
On our last night we slept with the back doors wide open as shimmering waves crashed onto the beach below as a full moon rose in the night sky at the Big4 Campground at Rollingstone Beach. Now that’s what I call a great way to end an outback campervan road trip.
Britz Campervan Rentals: There are different variations in the 4x4 campervans you can hire, with some utilizing fixed hard tops or ones that have soft-sided canvas pop-tops. Our Bush Camper had an internal two-burner butane stove and sink but other models have an external slide-out camp stove and sink, so select carefully
Tips to make life on the road easier:
- Before departing check the height of your vehicle – twice I had a close encounter with trees
- On your first night arrive early in camp to configure out the ins and outs of your campervan
- Buy a floor mat to help stop trailing sand and gravel into your camper
- Take along a four-pin motherboard as some campervans only have one electrical socket
- Buy a folding chair/table – we found chairs for Aud$4.99
- We bought proper drinking glasses, as we didn’t like the plastic variety supplied
- Buy a plastic organizer bin for storing maps/pens/cameras/coins etc.
- Campervan fridges often make a buzzing sound – earplugs are really useful
Shane Boocock travelled to Queensland courtesy of Tourism Queensland flying with Qantas Airways. W: www.queenslandholidays.co.nz
Britz Campervan Rentals
Cairns Holiday Park
Big4 Rollingstone Beach Caravan Park
Quest Apartments Townsville
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