Article & Photography by Jessica Percy Campbell
As a typical Canadian snowbird, trading in our frigid Montreal winter for Australia’s 37°C summer has been my lifelong dream. This year, I was fortunate enough to turn that dream into a reality. After spending the better half of 2017 enjoying Melbourne’s world-class coffee culture, yoga studios and botanical gardens, my partner and I topped it all off with a month-long campervan trip on the quest for eastern Australia’s most picturesque beach towns. Spanning almost 2000kms from Northern Queensland’s Port Douglas all the way down to New South Whales’ legendary Byron Bay, here are some highlights from the road trip of a lifetime. Whether you’re a luxury traveler or if you’re looking for the ultimate eco-adventure; read on.
Balance is the Key to Life
Ideal weather conditions, a variety of well-maintained campgrounds and an abundance of pristine beaches make tropical Queensland a prime spot for exploring all year round. It’s no secret that Aussies are avid travelers and road-tripping down the coast via campervan or RV is a popular activity not only for young backpackers, but especially for the retired crowd. While making our way down the coast, we spent many nights by the campfire gazing at the Milky Way, swapping stories and introducing fellow travelers to s’mores (who knew they were a North American secret?). Some would call it “glamping”, as it was very easy to find clean campgrounds with showers, kitchens, and free WIFI. We used the Wiki Camps Australia app to find nearby accommodations and check campsite reviews. As much fun, as “roughing it” can be, spending every few nights in some of Australia’s finest luxury resorts and villas along the way made for a wonderful contrast after beach combing and bush trekking.
Our first upscale stop at Pool Resort Port Douglas gave us easy access to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). For those who love swimming and want to avoid the crocodiles and sharks (although sightings are rare), this is the place for you to enjoy a stress-free pool-side vacation in a fully-equipped luxury villa apartment. You may have heard that parts of the GBR are struggling, but did you know the reef is the largest living organism on earth and spans an area the size of Japan? The friendly crew at Tropical Journey’s Calypso Reef Cruise did a brilliant job at showing off one of many healthy areas of the reef to intro divers and snorkelers on our tour. Agincourt Reef is swarming with colourful marine life and even some hawksbill sea turtles. The Calypso Reef Cruise has underwater cameras available for rent, and offers a seafood buffet with afternoon tea as part of the package. I was especially impressed with the fact that they had prepared a special vegan lunch for yours truly.
Moving on, ten hours of driving and a few camp stops later, we found ourselves in laid-back Airlie Beach, the passageway to discovering the Whitsunday Islands. While the area was still recovering from Cyclone Debbie in June, we were happy to see local businesses getting back on their feet. We checked into our luxury suite at Coral Sea Resort and watched breathtaking sunsets unfold from our private balcony Jacuzzi surrounded by palm trees. We took another snorkel trip to the GBR with Cruise Whitsundays, and spent the day on their private pontoon in the middle of the sea at Hardy Reef. The highlight of our day was watching humpback whales breaching out of the water from the ship.
You may recall seeing photos of a heart-shaped reef online or on TV. We snapped photos of this world-famous icon from a seaplane tour of the white sand Whitsunday Islands and the GBR. We embarked on this life-changing experience with Air Whitsunday, who discovered the Heart Reef in 1975. Viewing the GBR from above is highly recommended for those prone to sea-sickness as the reef takes two hours to access by boat and waters can be rough. For those who want the best of both worlds, the Air Whitsunday Reef Adventure package includes a GBR snorkel trip via seaplane with all snorkel gear included.
Further down the coast, we took a quick ferry from Hervey Bay to Fraser Island (AKA Dingo Island) and stayed a few nights at the KingFisher Bay Resort; an eco-resort surrounded by a protected world heritage site. In one adventure-fueled day, our expert tour guide took us in a 4WD bus tour of the island. The Beauty Spots Tour included an easy hour-long hike through the rainforest, photo ops at the beached Maheno shipwreck, a buffet lunch, and whale spotting on Seventy-Five Mile beach. Cooling off in dreamy Lake McKenzie, a perched lake with clear eucalyptus infused waters and white sand, was the perfect way to end a gorgeous day on Fraser Island.
Next Stop: The Sunshine Coast
Nestled in a scenic bay surrounded by various types of native forest, Noosa is a lesser known gem along the Sunshine Coast with plenty of health and wellness activities to keep you busy. Here, we stayed in a luxury villa at Peppers Noosa Resort & Villas which is perched on a hill surrounded by the natural beauty of Noosa National Park and steps away from Noosa Main Beach. We started off the week with an educational and inspiring 8km guided bushwalk of the Sunshine Coast hinterland with Tropical Treks. Our passionate and knowledgeable tour guide Steve Grainger taught us much about the flora and fauna of the area, and even brought afternoon tea, coffee and homemade banana bread in his backpack for us to fuel up on halfway through the hike. We finishing off the evening by sipping champagne on a breathtaking sunset cruise with Malu Os Eco Boat Hire’s environmentally-friendly electric boat tour.
Among other trip highlights, my partner took a surf lesson with world champion instructors from Merrick’s Learn to Surf Noosa- they provide a safe space to learn, making it easy for beginners to catch a few waves at Noosa Main Beach. We were also pleased to visit the newest boutique Pilates studio in town, Noosa Flow. The enthusiastic instructors offer refreshing yoga and reformer Pilates workouts in a chic studio overlooking a scenic view of the Noosa River.
No trip to Queensland is complete without a day trip to the Australia Zoo, the late Steve Irwin’s animal conservation center which is now managed by his wife and kids. I would highly recommend checking out the crocodiles at the crocoseum and petting the kangaroos at Roo Heaven. I was delighted to see that all the animals seemed healthy with plenty of room to roam. We concluded our journey by camping out for a few nights in legendary backpacker paradise, Byron Bay. This tiny beach town is teeming with colourful art, surf culture, frolicking dolphins and live music by the ocean.
From the high life to the simple life, we discovered one thing for certain: Australia’s east coast is so vast and diverse, even a month isn’t enough time to fully take it all in. We might just have to fly back next winter to experience even more!
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