Australia | East Coast/Van Life

After working in the South Australian Outback for 4 months we had earned enough money to do something we had wanted to do since before we left home: the east coast in a campervan. Whilst in Cairns, we found, viewed and bought a 1995 Mitsubishi L300 campervan who we called Po based on the number plate (Jenny’s idea). In total we drove over 6000km across 3 states in 10 weeks and had such an amazing time, meeting so many people and seeing so many awesome places.

 

The Route:

Cairns – Port Douglas – Millaa Millaa falls – Mission Beach – Wallaman Falls – Townsville – Bowen – Hydeaway Bay – Airlie Beach – Cape Hillsborough – Mackay – Yeppoon – 1770/Agnes Waters – Bundaberg – Elliot Heads – Hervey Bay – Rainbow Beach – Noosa – Glass House Mountains – Brisbane – Gold Coast – Springbrook National Park – Nimbin – Byron Bay – Coffs Harbour – Port Macquarie -Port Stephens – Newcastle – Central Coast – Blue Mountains National Park – Manly, Sydney – Wollongong – Kiama – Batemans Bay – Narooma – Eden – Lakes Entrance – Sale – Golden Beach – Port Albert – Wilson’s Promotary – Philip Island – Melbourne 

 

Here is each main stopping point and what we did in each place. The blue highlights mark the main attractions.

 

Cairns

Cairns was our start point but first we had the nightmare of registering the van and in order to do this you must pass a roadworthy test. We didn’t know this and pretty much one bad thing turned into another bad thing over the next few days. 

Po failed the test for multiple reasons and cost about $400 total to fix them. Then, when we were finally ready, the woman told us it was $600 for 6 months of registration! It was a bit of shock. After we got our new plates (no more Po), we made a swift exit from Cairns after a night of camping on a quiet street and leaving the bad vibes behind us. Unless you want to go to the Great Barrier Reef I would say the only attraction in Cairns is the lagoon. 

 

Millaa Millaa Falls

We headed to the set of Peter Andre’s “Mysterious Girl” video and Herbal Essence’s shampoo commercial; Millaa Millaa falls. It was a very windy and bumpy road and was a good first test for Po. The falls were awesome, especially as it had been raining all day. We stayed at a place allied Diggers Creek for $20.

 

Mission Beach

In Mission we stayed at Cassowary campsite for 2 nights for $40. From the boot of our van there was a path surrounded by palm trees that led to the beach, it was pretty picturesque. There wasn’t much going on here but we attempted to set up our awning (fail), visited the local monthly food market and had a fish and chips. 

Townsville via Wallaman falls

Next, we headed to Townsville but first to the highest single drop waterfall in Australia, Wallaman falls It was quite a detour but worth it. 

In Townsville we gave Po another test by climbing castle hill for the lookout. It was definitely worth the noise. We also visited the botanic gardens and had a dominos ($5 in Aus). Our camp was for free behind a BP petrol station with access to toilets.

 

Bowen

To us, Bowen was the type of place you just drive through really. We stopped at a lookout over the town and weren’t too impressed to be honest. We went to a free camp site just after Bowen.

 

Airlie beach via Hydeaway bay

Airlie beach is the gateway to the Whitsunday islands. Unlike a lot of people we know who have done a similar trip, we didn’t want to fork out the hundreds of dollars to take a boat tour out to the islands. 

We stayed at XBase caravan site for 2 nights at $25 a night. Airlie is a nice town but most of the shops are either travel agencies or bars. 

We lazed on the beach, I got a few new tattoos and a haircut and we had some drinks and watched a musician play in the campsite who was really good.

 

Cape Hillsborough

A good coastal stop with lots of viewpoints to offer and (I think) free entry. If you go at sunrise or sunset they say that the beaches are filled with kangaroos but unfortunately we didn’t see any. 

 

Mackay

In Mackay we did some shopping and went to an art exhibition/gallery called Artspace. It was pretty strange, with rooms filled with pictures of completely naked people. We stayed at Bakers creek tavern in their car park for $5. They had a topless barmaid working, obviously to attract old creepy men and hey, it worked (lol).

 

Yeppoon

In Yeppoon we didn’t do much. Looked around the shops, cooked pasta on the beach and then rough camped down a quiet beachside road which was recommended to us by a lady who was caught in the act of peaking into the van while we were on the beach. The next day we went via Rockhampton to visit the free zoo which was pretty decent!  

 

 

1770 & Agnes Waters

In Agnes Waters we stayed in the car park of Cool Bananas hostel for $12.50pp. The owners were lovely but their employees (British travellers) were rude and unhelpful. We chilled at the beach and had the local fish n chips. One day we had a day trip to nearby town “Seventeen Seventy” and took a coolbox with some cold ones to the beach.

One major regret was not having a surf lesson here as I think it was probably the cheapest place on the whole coast at $17 for a 3hr lesson. 

When we left we went via the Horizon Kangaroo Sanctuary for which we paid $10. We got to learn about, feed and play with the rescued roos. Great place with lovely owner.

 

Bundaberg  

Bundy was one of my favourite places in QLD. We stayed for 3 nights at Riverdale caravan park in order to get our van fixed up by a really nice mechanic – very rare! 

We visited the Bundaberg Rum Distillery (my fave Aussie drink) for $30 which included a great tour and free tasters of limited edition rums that aren’t available anywhere other than the distillery. 

We saw Wonder Woman in the cinema after not being for so long ($8) and had a drink in a nice bar.

 

Elliot Heads

Elliot Heads is only about half an hour east of Bundy so we headed there on our way to Hervey Bay. We got ice cream and sunbathed at the beach and then stayed at a rest area named “Isis”.

 

Hervey Bay via Childers

On the way to here we came across a vintage car show in a place called Childers. We parked up and wandered around for an hour or so, it was pretty cool. The place was littered with Isis signs on everything so it obviously meant something different to them…

 

Rainbow Beach

In Rainbow Beach we went for a short walk to discover the famous sand blow. You u can walk a few hundred meters across the sand to get a view of the rainbow cliffs. It is here you realise how high you climbed in the van to get to the sand blow car park. Everyone on the beach looks so small!

 

Noosa

I think we spent 4 days in Noosa and stayed at the Noosa backpacker resort for $10pp. This was another really good place to stop and I will definitely go back to Noosa. There are lots of walks to do in the area as well as having the esplanade which is filled with surf shops and plenty of other kinds of shop. It had a very LA vibe to it with lots of fancy holiday homes with their own private beaches on the canals.

We checked out dog beach and had drinks in a bar and van/people watched. I did 20,000 steps in one day – that’s a whole lot of exploring.

 

Beerwah via Glass House Mountains

On our way to Brisbane we decided that the Glass House Mountains looked like they were worth a stop. We climbed the 3rd largest one, Mt Ngungun, in 20 minutes and were rewarded with a spectacular view over the region. Later stayed in nearby town Beerwah, where we camped at the sports ground for $20 and I watched the local rugby match.

 

Brisbane 

Accommodation in Brissy for a van was extremely hard to come by. We ended up paying a ridiculous amount ($34) per night to park in a Chill Backpacker hostel’s car park and use the not-so-great facilities. We stayed for 5 nights, though, as we hadn’t really spent too long in each place yet. 

 

Things we did:

  • Southbank food and wine festival

  • QLD gallery of modern art

  • Museum of Brisbane

  • World Press Photo exhibition at the Brisbane Powerhouse

  • Brisbane sign

 

While we were there I found out that a friend from home was actually in the same hostel as us so we had some drinks and played pool with him and his mates on the hostel’s rooftop.

 

When we were leaving Brisbane we went to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary which would have been good if we hadn’t previously seen any koalas. We went with the intention of getting a photo holding a koala but in addition to the entry price you had to pay the same amount again to do that.

 

Surfers Paradise 

From Brisbane the next stop was the Gold Coast. This was another awesome place that we spent 3 nights staying outside another hostel. 

We visited the Q1 Skydeck which is the tallest building in Australia and provided a good view, it’s just a shame they haven’t invented reflection-proof glass yet! We wandered through the beach market as well as chilling on Main Beach for sunset. During our stay we met up with another friend from home and his girlfriend for a wee catch up and game of ping pong. I also added to my Hard Rock Café glass collection.

 

Springbrook National Park

We stayed in Springbrook for a night and 1 full day of exploring. The campsite was one where you pay for online as you need a pass. It was $12.50 so quite cheap and we got our own little secluded parking bay. 

We visited the natural bridge and “the best lookout ever” which is a bit of an exaggerated name but still pretty cool. 

 

Nimbin

From Springbrook to the hippie capital of Australia. The roads to Nimbin were awful but Po survived and we checked into the Nimbin Showground to get a powered site for a couple of nights. It was a wacky little place that has obviously been hit hard by tourism but the hippie culture is still strongly alive. 

There was lots of shops selling psychedelic clothes etc and we also visited the candle factory for a look around and lunch at the café.

 

Byron Bay

We must of spent about an hour total in Byron. I’m sure if you just came to Aus for a holiday and went to Byron you’d love it! But it was very similar to everywhere we had been, if not a bit more expensive than everywhere else and just overall a bit overrated I feel. We watched a young guy since acoustic songs by the beach and then headed to a nearby free campsite. 

 

Coffs Harbour

Upon entry to Coffs we took photos beside “The Big Banana” which is at the entrance to a theme park. We wandered round and looked in some shops and walked out along the pier to see the colourful break-wall at the end. We parked up in a field at the back of a campsite for a night and chilled out in the sun with some cold ones.

 

Port Macquarie 

We walked along the colourful break-wall which, this time, had been painted on by what looked like school kids and lasted for about 600m. We chatted to a local man about the area and later camped at Bundalelah Golf Course which was a quiet little spot where we made a fire and watched hundreds of roos run about.

 

Port Stephens

Having been the 2nd time we had visited Nelson Bay, we didn’t do everything again. We camped at Middle Rock Holiday Park for 2 nights. In December 2016 we climbed ????? and got a dolphin watching boat tour. This time we went up Gungun hill which was quite a disappointing view and we got a tasty fresh fish and chips down at the marina. 

I had been growing my beard for about 8 months by this point and needed a hair cut. The woman was obsessive over me and demanded to “tidy” my beard. Stupidly I accepted and left the shop baby faced and not amused.

 

Newcastle

Again, we had visited Newcastle in January when we were looking for jobs so we did a lot of the ‘things to do’ then. This time Jenny got a haircut, we chilled at the beachfront people watching (very windy and cold) and we went to see Dunkirk at the cinema. Surprisingly and disappointingly Jenny didn’t get egged when we left this time. We rough camped near where we had stayed in January. 

 

Gosford & Central Coast

We slowly drove down through the towns but ultimately stopped at the Gosford greyhound track for the night. It should have been $25 but there was an event on and no grounds man so we got it for free. I watched a local go-karting event.

 

Blue Mountains National Park

The highlight of the East coast for me, click here to read more

 

Manly, Sydney

Manly did not feel like the rest of Sydney at all. We stayed at Manly backpackers hostel and this was the first night we hadn’t slept in the van since we left Cairns. 

We visited two friends, Dan and Lola, who we met back in December who were still in Sydney. We caught up for a couple of hours then headed up to Palm Beach (the set of Home and Away) and climbed the lighthouse hill. It was a very satisfying view but not sure it was worth the $110 parking fine we found when we came back down. 

We wandered around Manly a lot and Jenny put her new tripod to use at sunset. When we left we collected our mail and headed for Coledale beachside camp which was really nice. It was here that we emotionally finished The Sopranos. 

 

Wollongong

In Wollongong we visited the largest buddhist temple in southern hemisphere called Nantien. It felt like we were back in Thailand. 

 

Kiama & Hymes beach 

As we continued south we came across Kiama. Our Lonely Planet guidebook told us we should check out blowhole point, so we did. It was pretty impressive to see the power of mother nature like that. The water came shooting out because waves collided in a cave which forced the energy up and out. 

After that we went to “arguably the whitest beach in the world” called Hymes. I couldn’t argue with its name… it’s was extremely white. It was like waking on squeaky, warm snow. We had lunch here and chilled out for a bit.

We stayed at Wairo Old Town campsite which was designed like an old western town. $25 powered site. We had 2 days to chill out here and played ping pong and made use of the beach which was pretty much our private beach as we were literally the only ones in the site.

 

Bateman’s Bay

We stopped here purely to have lunch at the beach – not much going on. 

 

Narooma

We stayed here for a few hours and went to a viewpoint overlooking the town, had a nosey at the yachts in the marina and we went to Australia rock. Australia rock is pretty much just a rock that has a big gap in it shaped like the country. Pretty cool though. 

 

Eden & Lakes Entrance

Almost everything in this area was shut as it was Sunday. We had a McDonalds and went to see a nice view over Lakes. 

We camped down a dirt track between here and Sale and we were completely alone in a forest. It was creepy but pretty cool at the same time. 

 

Sale 

Stayed at Sale motor inn which was a total ripoff as it turned out. The power was metered so we didn’t know how much we were using (we didn’t use more than $1 but what a strange way to do it) and the laundry cost $5 to wash and $5 to dry as well as park entrance fees.

 

Golden Beach

Golden beach is a long strip of land with water on either side. All along the strip there are free camping sites in secluded little bays, each with about 5 or 6 spots. There was absolutely no one there so we chose our spot and… got stuck. I went parallel into the sand so pretty much I couldn’t go forward or back – wise!  

We tried for an hour to dig out and even broke the shelf after unscrewing it and wedging it under the wheel. After that we walking and finally found a nice old man who came, laughed and then towed us out.

 

Port Albert

Sleepy little fishing village. We stayed in an free overnight car park which was the first one of its style that we had seen. It rained heavily and we took this opportunity to not feel guilty about another fish and chips.

 

Wilson’s Promotory

We stayed for 1 night in Yanakie campground which was listed on Campermate. Our main/only objective here was to hike to the top of Mt Oberon which we accomplished. It wasn’t easy and we were both way too overdressed. We had to take a solid hour rest at the top and take in the spectacular views from all sides. We were the highest people on the Prom.

 

Philip Island 

A popular weekend destination for people from Melbourne. The main attraction people come to see is the penguins coming ashore to rest which happens daily. We thought that sounded very un-Australian so decided to check it out and shock, they’ve turned it into a business and charge a ridiculous amount to enter. 

We went to the chocolate factory and paid $2 to create our own little bar. I made vegemite and strawberry milk chocolate and I DO NOT recommend! There were also games to play along the way to win chocolatey prizes.

We parked in a car park on the cliffs at the entrance to Pyramid Rock and only realised in the morning that there was actually a no camping sign – yolo.

 

Melbourne

Our final destination in our trusty steed! We stayed in an Airbnb in Glen Iris for 3 weeks in order to try and not spend money, sell Po and just generally chill out. The house was awesome and so were the people. They were all musicians and very friendly. We went into the city a few times but usually just watched Game of Thrones and edited 2 months worth of photos.  

 

 

And that was it! 10 weeks on the road seeing what all the hype is about. Vanlife was such a great experience and I would do it again in a heartbeat – just make sure you buy a van with a bloody roadworthy!

 

Overall I think that buying a van and registering it to your name is cheaper than renting one and it also gives you way more freedom and reduces nerves.

 

See you soon #VanLife! 

© James Lilley 2018