Australia East Coast Road Trip: Cairns to Cooktown

Australia East Coast Road Trip: Cairns to Cooktown

Written by Heather

Topics: Life in Oz

I’m sitting in a Maccas (McDonalds) on George Street in Sydney, using their free wifi to upload photos from the EPIC east coast trip! Less than 24 hours ago Brooke and I returned on day 17 and concluded the trip with a meal at the Indian restaurant next to my hostel.

The week ahead promises to be busy as I kick off the search for both a job and an apartment. Somewhere in the midst of all that, I plan to carve out time to reflect on the trip and share both my thoughts and photos in what I hope will be a coherent and interesting read O:-)

Getting to Cairns

Just over two weeks ago, on a freezing cold morning in Ballarat, Darren drove me to the Melbourne airport for my 6:00am flight to Cairns. When we landed and I stepped off of the plane, I was choked greeted with a thick blanket of humidity. It may be winter in all of Australia, but the temperature differences between the two locations was like night and day. First item on the to-do list — buy a pair of shorts!

Cairns is much smaller than I anticipated and definitely a “beachy” town. Travelers, tourists, and locals alike donned relaxed clothing and walked from accommodation to the shops, soaking up the sun. In search of a seafood dinner, I was happy with Splash Seafood Restaurant‘s Grilled Banana Prawn Baguette (with avocado salsa and beer battered chips).

After dinner we returned to our room at Globetrotters International (free brekky, free wifi!) to find a COCKROACH on the AC vent directly over my bed. I dashed to reception to ask for something to capture it, and the girl on duty got a dustpan and came after the intruder. Sadly, it fell to my bed, scurried across the pillow, onto the floor, and underneath Brooke’s bed. I borrowed the hostel’s vacuum cleaner and managed to chase it down. Heather, 1. Cockroach, 0.

16 days. 2 women. 1 car.

We received our vehicle rental for free and Brooke will be evaluating it more thoroughly on her site! Watch for the upcoming detailed review.

The next morning it was time to pick up our rental station wagon from Travellers Autobarn! We originally planned for a camper van, but all of the models are manual. As we can only drive an automatic, it was the station wagon by default. And I’m glad it worked out that way! The wagon was the *perfect* size for the two of us and could have easily accommodated one or two more people. In addition to the car itself, they also provided a tent, table, two chairs, an array of dishes & cooking necessities, and an esky (aka cooler). We were set!

The pick-up process was easy — just a few forms to read and complete, followed by an inspection of the outside of the car by us and one of the staff. By mid-day we had added our gear and were on the way north to Cooktown.

Travellers Autobarn rental

The 4-5 hour journey north was an interesting one to say the least! Apart from my 5 minute stint of driving in Melbourne in week two, I have never been behind the wheel of a car in another country. A few friends offered pointers before the trip (e.g., how to center myself in the lane given I’m used to steering from the other side of the car) and with a speed limit of 110 km/hour (~68 mph) and fairly empty roads, I didn’t have too many obstacles in my way. Other than the cow that was standing dead center in the road after I rounded a curve. Thankfully it was a good 50-75 meters ahead and I had plenty of time to come to a complete stop, watch it stare at me, and wait for it to finally cross. Cow and all, I truly enjoyed the first day of driving. The scenery reminded me of what I saw in the outback and was stunning in a dry, lonely landscape sort of way.

We made it to Cooktown just in time for sunset, viewed from the lighthouse at Grassy Hill thanks to a suggestion from James.

Sunset from Grassy Hill in Cooktown

Lighthouse at Grassy Hill in Cooktown

At the Grassy Hill overlook in Cooktown

Also at James’ recommendation, we dined at Restaurant 1770. While my Spanish Mackerel skewers with Mediterranean salad was heavenly, the service was lacking. At least we caught one last view of the sun before it set!

Sunset in Cooktown

We camped for the night — and I mean literally — at Cooktown Caravan Park. For two girls who never camp, pitching the tent couldn’t have been easier. Thank you Travellers Autobarn for providing the most simple tent ever!

Minus the rain cover
Station wagon & tent -- our home for 16 days

After a long day, it was time to unroll the sleeping bags and snag a few hours of sleep. The next morning we had big plans with Guurrbi Tours, led by Aboriginal Elder & story-keeper Willie Gordon. I had eagerly anticipated Willie’s tour of his ancestors’ land and rock art for months. It didn’t disappoint and deserves a post of its own. Watch for it later this week!

11 Comments Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Darren says:

    That was brilliant Heather, & I cant wait to reas more about this trip. Oh & the photos look brilliant!

  2. Mom says:

    Loved the pictures, enjoyed your way of telling ‘the’ story as I always do. <3

  3. James Cole says:

    Another great post Heather. I can’t wait to read the rest of the adventure (even though I got all the live updates…)
    I refuse to recognise any negative words that may have been spoken about Restaurant 1770. This is the greatest restaurant on Earth. They must’ve been having a bad day. But thankfully the food was good for you and let’s face it, that’s the main part.
    It sounds like a good start to the trip. Did you not stop and have a look at Black Mountain on the way? or are you leaving that for a later post?
    Can’t wait to hear about Guurrbi. I hear they’re good ya know…

    • Heather says:

      We drove through them and pulled over at one lookout but didn’t know where else to go and we wanted to get to Cooktown before dark :-)

  4. Gunther says:

    What a wonderful sunset with the sun illuminating the clouds.

  5. Andi says:

    Beautiful pics! I loved Cairns, it’s where I learned to dive. :)

  6. Rebecca says:

    I “learned to drive” in NZ and I can’t tell people enough that that is the place to learn! Loads of empty space and plenty of room to make mistakes! Australia is a good 2nd choice…

    And what is what NZ (and Australia) and station wagons?! I rented one when the family came and it was fantastic! Why these aren’t more common still in the US is beyond me. I kind of want one now! (Aren’t I the hip and cool 29 year old!)

    Can’t wait to read more of your trip!

    • Heather says:

      Seriously, the station wagon was fabulous!!! I’m so glad we got it versus the camper van. It would have been a BEAST to manage on some of the crazy roads.

      Other than city driving, we were really blessed with pretty clear roads so feeling comfortable on the drives was easier than expected. At this point, I feel pretty confident about driving here :-)

      • Nicole says:

        I know you’ve heard this before, but you really are brave! I would be terrified to drive in an unfamiliar country on the other side of the road no less! I’m sure it was such an exciting adventure though! Good for you for trying new things & creating such wonderful memories. :)

  7. Annie says:

    Love the photos! I am jealous of your guys’ trip and hope to live vicariously though your next posts! Can’t wait to hear the rest!!

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