Budget Camping in Queensland Australia
Campervan, Camper trailer, Caravan, Tent or just sleeping in the car...
No matter which method of camping you prefer, if you wish to do it cheaply this little guide is for you.
On the Queensland coast approximately halfway between Brisbane and Cairns is the tourist region of Whitsunday. This is also Backpacker Central and playground for the rich and poor alike. Because of this, and the little fact that I live here, I will offer camping suggestions beginning in the Whitsundays and extending out to eventually cover most of coastal Queensland. The exciting inland regions will be described in separate lenses.
North of Cooktown is four wheel drive country which counts me out but there is plenty written about that region elsewhere.
I also don't offer any suggestions for Brisbane as I'm not game to camp on the side of the road in a big city like that.
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Free camps and Cheap camps.
Firstly, It is illegal to camp on public reserves, parks and beaches in most parts of Queensland.
Camping in some of the places suggested in this guide may be unlawful and you may be asked to move on. Make your own inquiries and determine whether or not the site is suitable.
NEVER camp on private land without permission.
NEVER camp close to a creek or river that may hold saltwater crocodiles.
NEVER camp under trees during a severe thunderstorm.
NEVER camp in a truck stop (see section on rest areas)
These include rest areas designated for camping. Most rest areas have signs indicating camping limits but in general you can stay up to 24 hours in a roadside rest area. These areas have as a minimum a toilet. Some may have tables, barbeque, rubbish bins and occasionally showers. If not you are expected to take away any rubbish with you.
Shire councils sometimes provide free camping areas and these are always the best place to camp. (See section on RV Friendly Towns)
There are many unofficial campsites near remote beaches and rivers that have been established by locals for fishing, hunting and dirt-bike riding. The best way to find these places is to visit the local pub and make a few discrete inquiries. It may however, cost you a beer. Fishing tackle suppliers are also a good place to find out where the locals camp.
Walking track heads usually have a parking area where you often find campers overnighting. Be sure there are no 'No camping' signs and you will need your own toilet with holding tank. Be prepared for a visit by local rangers. Similarly council stockpiles (particularly near roadworks) are often used but be ready for an early getaway as roadworkers won't be very pleased to see you in the morning.
National parks and State Forests provide cheap camping at around $5 to $10 per person per night. You can read more about these in the section National Parks and State forests.
Some hotels have cheap camping on their grounds and are often free if you come in for a meal and a drink. This is more common in remote areas.
In the outback you will see sheep and cattle stations offering camping. Check prices first but most charge $10 pp or less.
Many smaller towns offer free or cheap camping at their showgrounds. These are great as there are usually showers as well as toilets.
National Parks and State Forests
Where possible I prefer to camp in National Parks and forests. They are mostly quiet and peaceful places where you don't have to listen to other peoples generators or air conditioners. Many have walking tracks, swimming holes and resident wildlife that visit the camping area.
The cost is $5.30 pp per night with a cheaper rate for families. At most parks you pay at a self registration station and attach a registration label to your camper/tent. The big problem with National parks is the online and phone booking system. Often the online site shows all sites taken where in fact there are plenty of sites vacant. Also several times we have booked a site given a site number and then found someone else on that site. Phone booking is not a good option as generally national parks camps are in areas where there is no mobile reception and no phone booths. Having stayed in national parks hundreds of times I have never been turned away because the place is full. I always pay the correct fee at parks with self registration but have never seen a ranger checking the registration labels.
Always check road conditions before heading into a national park as road maintenance is almost nonexistent. Many parks have fireplaces but do not allow collecting of firewood. You are expected to bring in your own wood even if this means introducing exotic seeds and pests. In my opinion our national parks management desperately needs a good shake up.
The photo above is a Rufous Bettong taken at Alligator Creek National Park camping area.
It's no surprise there is so much confusion surrounding camping in rest areas. Some rest areas are controlled by Transport and Main Roads and others by local councils, water authorities and other bodies. Some Transport and Main Roads sites allow camping up to 20 hours whilst council ones can be no camping, 24 hours, 48 hours, 72 hours or unlimited. Camping is not usually permitted in rest areas close to a caravan park.
Best to check to check the signs around the rest area. If there are no "No Camping" signs then you should be okay. I find if the rest area has a toilet then it should be alright to stay the night. It's a good idea not to attract attentionby setting up awnings, tables and chairs etc. Unless you are driving a heavy vehicle you must stay out of truck parks. Caravans and motorhomes are not considered heavy vehicles. The problem with staying at a truck stop is that the truckies who regularly pull in are likely to come barreling in in the middle of the night half asleep and either clean you up or park right next to you with a fridge motor running noisely all night.
Some rest areas have a "Driver Reviver" (free coffee) service. They only open on selected heavy traffic days which are generally the days I stay off the road so are of little benefit to regular travellers.
There is an excellent guide to camping in rest areas by Camps Australia Wide and the serious traveller should consider buying it. It is available from Amazon on a link above.
Wolfgang Peak. Peak Downs Highway
There are hundreds of islands off the queensland coast but only two that can be easily explored in a camper/van. Others are suitable for tent camping assuming you can find a boat to take you and your camping gear.
Stradbroke Island (North) is a great place to visit and well worth the $135 return cost of the car ferry. The island has plenty of camping and caravan options along with a friendly and relaxed lifestyle.
Magnetic Island is just off Townsville and also has a car ferry service. The catch is the only camping on Maggie is at one of the backpacker joints. To take a car over is $174 and camping is $12.50 pp per night. This beautiful island is mostly national park but unfortunately no provision has been made for camping within the park.
Fraser Island is famous for it's beach camping but as it is purely four wheel drive I will leave it to the 4WD publications.
Tent camping is available at Keppel Island (near Yeppoon), Hinchinbrook Island (near Cardwell) and on many of the Whitsunday Islands. Check with local tour agents for transport to and from your chosen island. In the Whitsundays a small barge called "Scamper" will ferry you to your private island paradise and make arrangements for permits etc. All Whitsunday island camps are national parks and subject to the same conditions, costs and booking methods as the mainland sites.
I can strongly recommend a Queensland island camping trip and there is no better feeling than watching your transport depart leaving you with an island to yourselves.
Queensland's parks and forests contain an amazing number of walking tracks that vary from short, level wheelchair friendlypaths to to the Bicentenial Trail which is near 500km long. Walking is one of the few things you can do in these parks that doesn't require a permit. Of course if you are doing an overnight walk you will still need a camping permit.
Prepare a walking day pack and keep it with you on your travels. It will also double as an emrgency kit if you break down.
Suggestions for your daypack:
Drinking water - Food bars - First aid kit - Torch - Insect repellent -
Camera - Poncho (plastic raincoat) - Toilet paper roll (in plastic bag) -
Lightweight garden trowel (to dig toilet hole)
Because I often walk alone I also carry:
Mobile phone - Handheld CB radio - Smoke flare - Compass
Compressive knee bandages - Lightweight tripod - Ipod
Before setting out make sure someone knows where you are going or leave a note at your campsite.
Detailed information on walking tracks can be found at www.derm.gov.au or in the book "Exploring Queensland's Parks and Forests" available from Amazon above.
Some parks that have good walking tracks and allow camping are:
Springbrook Nat Park - Gold Coast - Waterfalls etc.
Lamington Nat Park - Gold Coast - Waterfalls etc.
Beerburrum Sate For - Sunshine Coast - Views of Glasshouse Mountains.
Bunya Mountains Nat Park - Toowoomba - Wildlife
Cooloola, Great Sandy Nat Park - Noosa - Coloured sands
Amamoor State For - Gympie - Platypus viewing
Byfield State For - Yeppoon - Pine forest and creeks
Blackdown Tablelands Nat Park - Blackwater - Aboriginal paintings, lookouts, waterfalls
Canarvan Gorge Nat Park - Rolleston - Aboriginal paintings, waterfalls, caves
Eungella Nat Park - Mackay - Platypus viewing, lookouts
Alligator Creek Nat Park - Townsville - Waterfall, wildlife
Paluma Range Naat Park - Townsville - Waterfalls, swimming
Porcupine Gorge Nat Park - Hughenden - Pyramid rock
Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) Nat Park - Mt Isa - Gorges
Barron Gorge Nat Park - Cairns - Waterfalls, ravines
Daintree Nat Park - Cape Tribulation - Aboriginal culture, Wildlife
This just a small sample of the walks available. Do not attempt walks graded difficult if your fitness level is not up to scratch.
The photo above was taken while walking in Porcupine Gorge.
Travelling the Queensland Coast - (updated 11 April 2012) Photo - Paronella Park, North QLD
The following sections describe free or cheap travel between Brisbane and Cairns on the Bruce highway up the East coast of Queensland.
Western Queensland and the far north will be described in a separate lens soon.
On The Road Whitsunday to Townsville
I live in Whitsunday and travel through Airlie Beach - Shute Harbour every day. There are always campervans, motorhomes, caravans and tents parked in carparks, foreshores, walking tracks and up side roads. In fact an early morning start will see campers parked in some of the strangest places. These visitors like myself are not going to check into a caravan park and our only National Parks camp was closed some years ago. The local council seems unable to see the value of this business and the revenue they bring. Camping is prohibited in all the areas I have mentioned but they do it all the same. Good on them I say.
There is a nice quiet spot at Strathdickie that has an eco toilet and you are unlikely to be disturbed camping there. Find Strathdickie signposted off the road between Airlie Beach and Proserpine.
There are only two places you can see the ocean when travelling from Brisbane to Townsville and Bowen is one of them. There is a rest area that allows overnight camping with beach access just south of town opposite the big mango and visitor info centre. A caravan park just a little further north on the left hand side has wide open spaces and caters for the travelling fruit pickers.
Heading north Guthalungra has an overnight rest area and supplies are available from the service with a station and shop next door.
As you travel north before Inkerman look for a sign on the right to Wunjunga. A short drive down here will take you to a beach and the "Funny Dunny" camping area. This is a great spot and you can stay here for a little longer by making a donation in the honesty box.
Continue north to the RV friendly town of Home Hill. The free camp is in the street behind the purpose built "comfort stop" (pictured above). There is also a dump point here for any chemical waste.
The next town is Ayr and just north of Ayr is Brandon which has a rest stop handy to the pub, shop and musical toilet.
About another 60km to Alligator Creek National Park. There are a couple of camping options and the park thankfully has a self registration
Townsville is the next stop and the best free camping options are at the beaches just north of the city.
On the Road Townsville to Cairns
Townsville has free camps at Saunders Beach, Toomulla, Balgal Beach and Rollinstone. All these are signposted on the Bruce Highway north of the city.
Toomulla is a lovely quiet little camping spot with shady trees, grassy sites, kids playground, electric barbeques, toilets and beach access. Balgal beach is a lot more popular and has good fishing from the shore, a shop / takeaway / pub, playground and barbeques etc.
Heading north is Paluma Range National Park and you can camp at Crystal Creek or continue up to Jourama Falls and camp there. The usual national parks costs and conditions apply.
At Ingham you will want to head a little west to see the spectacular Wallaman Falls but first stop at Tyto Wetlands for a bit of wildlife spotting. The falls are 50km from Ingham and you can camp either at the falls or in the Abergowrie Sate Forest. There are a couple of small walks here with the possibility of spotting a Cassowary (very large flightless rainforest bird) in the wild.
As you continue toward Cardwell stop and take in the views of Hinchinbrook Island and channel. There are some great tracks and walk in camping sites on Hinchinbrook Island and access is from Lucinda or Port Hinchinbrook. Neither offer much in the way of free or cheap camping although there were a couple of campers at Five Mile swimming hole (signposted) when I was last there.
Kennedy is basically just a shop north of Cardwell but is the turn off to Blencoe Falls and a very scenic drive. You can camp at the Kennedy store by arrangement (I think you have to buy something) and they can advise you of road conditions.
Bilyana rest area is a convenient place on the highway to overnight before heading north to Tully although the railway line is very close.
Inland (west) of Tully is Tully Gorge National Park. Here it is easy to spend a few days bushwalking and sightseeing. The camping area is large and suitable for all vehicles and vans.
East of Tully are the beaches of Tully Heads, Hull Heads, Mission Beach, Wongaling Beach and Bingil Bay. This area has a number of council run caravan parks that are fairly cheap otherwise you can camp for free at the rest area back on the highway at El Arish.
As you travel north from here you detour at Silkwood to visit Mena Creek and Paronella Park. Paronella is a unique attraction and there is a cheap camping option goes with entry to the park. Facilities here are very good. Don't forget to take a walk over the suspension bridge at the top of the waterfall and visit the Mena Creek pub.
Carry on up the highway towards Innisfail and there are cheap council run camps at Kurramine Beach and Etty Bay. Mourilyn Harbour is pretty but no camping is provided.
At Innisfail you can choose to head to Cairns via the very scenic route through Atherton Tablelands or the much quicker direct route via Babinda. For now we will continue the coastal way and I will describe the Tablelands in a separate lens.
Next stop is Josephine Falls and Bartle Frere. There are some great bushwalks here including the track up Queensland's highest mountain. Camp at Josephine Falls National Park.
A little further up the coast is Bramston Beach. The camping area is right on the beach and has a stinger net for year round swimming.
The RV friendly town of Babinda is next and you can camp at Babinda Creek (turn right at town) or The Boulders camping area which is west of town. Both are free. Babinda has some good arts and crafts shops and it is possible to buy Aboriginal art at a fraction of the Cairns prices.
North of here is Gordanvale and you can stay in the free camping area beside the river before heading in to the big smoke (Cairns).
Not being a city person I have always avoided staying in Cairns but I believe there may be camping at the showgrounds or the old mill. Check with locals. Cairns is slowly waking up to the value of us budget travellers.
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On the Road Whitsunday to Hervey Bay
From Whitsunday take a quick trip out to Peter Faust Dam via Proserpine. There are toilets, covered picnic tables and electric barbeques. Barramundi fishing is excellent but you need a permit (good luck finding someone who sells them). Signs say no camping but this place is too good to leave. Continue past the boat ramp a little way a you may find a secluded spot amongst the trees.
Heading down the Bruce Highway 50km from Proserpine and just south of Bloomsbury there is a poorly marked turn to the west to Cathu State Forest. There are some nice camping spots up here especially after the wet season when the creeks are running. Noisey motorbikes can be a problem on weekends sometimes.
Continue south to Calen. There are a couple of places to camp west of Calen at Boulder Creek and St Helens Creek. Ask a local for directions. There is a music festival called Wintermoon at St helens Creek each year.
A little further south is the turn off towards the coast and Cape Hillsborough National Park. Here you will find camping and walking tracks.
Driving south past Kuttabul look for the turn off (west) to Marion and Eungella. Eungella National Park and the Finchhatten area are a whole new world as they are well above sea level and a climate unlike the coast. I will be writing a separate lens for this area.
Next stop is the city of Mackay. I've yet to find free or cheap campsites in Mackay and indeed yet to find a reason to stay in Mackay so I suggest you head south past Sarina to Carmilla. Here you can camp free right on the beach for up to 3 nights.
Clairview is a little further south and has free camping in the rest area but the caravan park at Clairview has lovely open spaces with shade trees, bar, kitchen and all the mod cons for $10 pp per night.
Continue on just before Marlborough and there is a large rest area with a driver reviver and overnight camping. Further south before Rockhampton there is a free camp conveniently located next to the pub at Yamba.
By now you will have guessed that I am not a city person so I would skip Rockhampton and head east to Yeppoon. This is a great little settlement suited to travelers and the best bits are to the north at Byfield. National Park and State Forest camping is available here and the photo above was taken in the park. Don't forget to visit the pottery shop then take the round trip back to Rockhampton via Emu Park.
Near Gladstone you can camp on the Calliope River below the historical village or continue on to Benarby where there are some good spots on the Boyne River. Look for the track on the eastern side of the bridge.
At Miriamvale take the turn off to the Town of 1770 and look for the turn to Eurimbulla National Park 10km before Agnes Water. Camp at the park while exploring and fishing the area.
Back on the Bruce Highway head down to Bundaberg where you can tour the distilery that makes the world's second best rum (my homebrew rum is number one). There is a free camp at Sharon Nature Park between Gin Gin and Bundaberg.
Look for the road to Woodgate from Bundaberg and head for the Burrum Coast National Park. Camp at Burrum Point. They have a self registration system and some good walking tracks.
Rejoin the highway at Childers where you can camp at Apple Tree Creek. It's a bit noisey from trucks but it's free.
It's only a short run from here to Hervey Bay. There are a number of free camps inland from Hervey Bay but hard to find anything near the coast. Check with locals or some of the many backpackers.
On the Road Hervey Bay to Brisbane
Hervey Bay is the hop off point for Fraser Island which is fourwheel drive only. You can hire a 4WD vehicle at Hervey Bay and explore this amazing sand island. I hope to do it in the next 12 months and will certainly write a lens about it then.
South of Hervey Bay is Maryborough where you will find the turn off to Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach via Cooloola National Park which offers camping and many walking tracks. Just north of Rainbow Beach is Inskip Point where you can camp, with a permit, for $5.30 pp pn.
You will rejoin the Bruce Highway at Gympie. If you chose to stay on the Highway from Maryborough there are free camps at Tiaro (behind the Royal Hotel) and Bauple.
20km south of Gympie is Amamour State Forest which offers camping and several excellent short walks. Rejoin the Bruce Highway at Cooroy.
The highway is now a motorway and the busy coastal strip from here on is known as the Sunshine Coast. Inland is a series of national parks and forests. The cheap way to see the Sunshine Coast is to stay inland and make day trips to the various beaches.
Stay at Maplelton Forest Reserve (west of Nambour) and visit Noosa, Maroochydore, Caloundra and and the many places in between. From Beerburim State Forest camp area visit Bribie Island and Caboulture. There are many possibilities here.
Brisbane itself is surrounded by national parks and forests, most with camping and that's about as close I would get to a major city.