Best way to camp in Tropical North Queensland

The beautiful surrounds of Tropical North Queensland are tailor-made for camping. Here’s how to enjoy the great outdoors the easy way.

  • Simon Tsang
  • July 2018

I get it. Not everyone is into camping. I’m hardly a start-a-fire-with-two-sticks kind of guy myself. I love the great outdoors, but have always preferred accommodation I don’t have to assemble.

And then there’s all the equipment you need, including the kitchen sink. So, while I didn’t hate the idea of camping, I didn’t exactly go looking for it either.

One thing changed it for me, however. Okay, two things: Tropical North Queensland and a company called Bear Rentals.

The former promises some of the best campgrounds and facilities in the country, and the latter specialises in fully-equipped, four-wheel drive hire in locations across Australia, so you don’t have to bring your own gear.

Bear Rentals’ Land Rover Defenders have been specially customised to create the ultimate camping vehicles: roof-mounted tents, fridges that run 24/7, water tanks with a pump ... you name it, the 4WDs have it. Just fly to Cairns with the clothes you need, pick up the 4WD, drop by a supermarket for some groceries and head to the first campsite.

Where to Eat, Play and Stay in Cairns & Port Douglas

Whether renting gear or bringing your own, here are the top places to visit on a camping holiday in Tropical North Queensland.

People are enjoying the cool water of Mossman Gorge.
Take a dip in the cool waters of Mossman Gorge. Picture: Simon Tsang

Cape Tribulation calls

Captain Cook didn’t have a great time here (hence the name), but it’s hard not to fall for the spectacular coastline hugging the World Heritage-listed Daintree rainforest.

Cape Tribulation is about two and a half hours’ drive north of Cairns and involves a car-ferry crossing at the Daintree River. Stop off at the famous Mossman Gorge on the way up for a dip in the pristine river and hike through the national park. Then continue north and pitch your tent at Cape Trib Camping – a spacious campground next to Myall Beach. There are two large undercover camp kitchens with full cooking facilities and dining areas.

You may not bother to use one, however, as on-site café the Sand Bar serves up some of the best woodfired pizzas you’ll taste anywhere. Needless to say, we didn’t cook during our stay and couldn’t wait for dinner time to roll around.

There are plenty of soft-adventure activities in the area, plus others on the firmer side. We only had a couple of nights, so we picked the one activity at the top of all our lists: snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef.

Just 25 minutes away from the outer reef by boat, Cape Tribulation has earned the catchy slogan ‘where the rainforest meets the reef’. Ocean Safari launches its boats straight from Myall Beach, and if you’re lucky you’ll get a whale watching tour on the way.

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef with Ocean Safari.
Check out the Great Barrier Reef with Ocean Safari. Picture: Simon Tsang

We were lucky indeed. It took a little longer to reach our snorkel spot as several whales were spotted breaching as we headed out. Nobody on the boat seemed to mind the short detour.

Luck played its part again when we arrived at the reef to find two turtles swimming by just as we were entering the water. If you’ve ever wanted to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, this is the place to do it.

Cape Tribulation also marks the start of the Bloomfield Track – a scenic 4WD track that leads north to Cooktown. The Land Rover was perfectly suited to the unsealed road, but being on a tight schedule, we had to turn around and head back south, stopping by the Daintree Discovery Centre on the way. Here, you can learn about this prehistoric rainforest (complete with animatronic dinosaurs dotted throughout the centre) as you stroll along the elevated walkways. Don’t forget to grab an ice cream at the Daintree Ice Cream Co. before leaving. The ice cream is made using fruit from the on-site orchard. It’s as fresh as it gets.

Woman capturing the view from the top of the tower at Daintree Discovery Centre.
View from the top of the tower at Daintree Discovery Centre. Picture: Simon Tsang

Atherton Tablelands experiences

This lush region, located in the heart of Tropical North Queensland, deserves much more than a quick drive-by. Spend at least a couple of days here to fully immerse yourself in the spectacular natural beauty of this plateau area with its own distinct climate.

Plentiful rain in the area means there are a lot of waterfalls to explore, so it’s no surprise that one of the Atherton Tableland’s most famous attractions is the Waterfalls Circuit.

The 13km-loop road takes in some of the most photographed waterfalls in Australia, including Millaa Millaa, Zillie and Ellinjaa Falls. Go for a swim in Millaa Millaa Falls, where there are also picnic and change room facilities, and don’t forget to stop by Millaa Millaa Lookout to enjoy the panoramic views of the area.

Peaceful place of Malanda Falls in the Atherton Tablelands.
Great camping at Malanda Falls in the Atherton Tablelands. Picture: Simon Tsang

We based ourselves in the excellent Malanda Falls Caravan Park after discovering it entirely by chance. Situated next to its namesake waterfall, the beautiful campground is surrounded by great bushwalking trails and even has a small petting zoo.

While in the Tablelands region, go for a hike down to the cascading tiers of Dinner Falls and check out the deep crater left behind by a massive volcanic gas explosion. Volcanic activity also had a hand in forming the tranquil Lake Eacham in Crater Lakes National Park, where you can go for a picnic on the banks and take a dip in its clear waters.

Set aside a day (and night) to visit Paronella Park – a privately-owned … um, castle? The place is truly one of a kind, built next to Mena Creek Falls by a Spanish immigrant named José Paronella, who made his fortune buying and selling sugar cane farms.

Mena Creek Falls at Paronella Park.
Mena Creek Falls at Paronella Park. Picture: Simon Tsang

Paronella was built in the style of the Catalonian castles he remembered from his childhood, and the ruins of the buildings and landscaped gardens are still a sight to behold today.

The entrance fee to the park includes camping in the grounds. It’s worth staying just to take a night tour of the park and view the castle and gardens all lit up.

Pleasures of Port Douglas

No visit to Tropical North Queensland is complete without visiting the popular holiday town of Port Douglas. We planned our journey to finish here as a way of treating ourselves to a bit of luxury, and to ease back into civilisation after more than a week of roughing it in tents.

The recently renovated Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort proved the perfect spot to wrap up our adventure. Its sizeable lagoon pools and beachside location were a hit with the kids, and the resort is only a short drive to Port Douglas’ main shopping and restaurant strip – the perfect finish to a no-fuss week.

Simon Tsang was a guest of Bear Rentals and Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort, Port Douglas.