Once I dropped Roojin off at the airport in Brisbane, my road trip adventure became even less fixed than ever. I had 6 days and 6 nights to spend as I pleased on the 1800km drive to Cairns.
And I could end up traveling with just about anyone!
Through advertisements online, I connected with other 20-something travelers who were interested in sharing the journey (and the gas expenses) with me.
Both on my own for part of the journey and with my travel companions, I discovered many natural wonders along the way. Unbelievable mountains, interesting rainforest vegetation, and unique waterfalls made up the best stops on the road from Brisbane to Cairns.
Wild Horse Mountain Lookout
North of Brisbane on Bruce Highway I immediately started seeing signs about a tourist route called “Wild Horse Mountain Lookout.”
Tourist routes are common along Australia’s highways. They usually follow a back-road through towns, countryside, and national parks, eventually looping back around to the highway. Other than the extra mileage and gas, these routes are a pretty safe bet for seeing something new and exciting without getting completely lost or sidetracked.
With nothing to lose, I deviated off the highway toward Wild Horse Mountain.
A few hundred meters through a pine forest led me to a parking lot where I got out to walk a paved trail up to a fire tower.
The climb up Wild Horse Mountain was not easy. It was a very steep 700m walk to the top, but the views once up there made it all worth it.
My jaw dropped as I spun around for a 360 degree panoramic view. The Beerburrum pine plantation could be seen stretching nearly 57,000 acres below like a giant green blanket, the city of Brisbane faintly rested on the distant horizon, and the most spectacular view of all was of the Glass House Mountain range.
These unusually shaped protrusions made for an otherworldly sight.
The most prominent of the Glass House Mountains from this view are Mount Tibrogargan, Mount Coonowrin, and Mount Beerwah. They are the hardened rocky remains of molten lava. The local Aboriginal people consider them sacred.
I have to say thanks to the telephone company, Telstra, and the forestry industry for installing this fire and information tower as a gift to the public. It’s a gem—and I was lucky enough to be there in time for sunset!
Mooloolah & Melaleuca rainforest walk
I stayed overnight at a simple rest area in Jowarra that night because I had read about its great walking track nearby.
The reviews were right! I found the entrance to the 1-hour walk in the morning at the back of the campsite. Two interconnected trails led next to the highway through a thick rainforest following the Mooloolah River and Melaleuca swamp.
The trees are what made this walk so spectacular!
I particularly loved the Strangler Figs. They drop twisting roots from its canopy down its trunk and into the ground like tentacles. Eventually the fig suffocates the inner trunk leaving a hollow space between the winding roots.
These roots also grow to be super strong and enormous. This one had roots stretching higher than I am tall.
Fraser Island and Rainbow Beach
At this point in my trip I began sharing my ride with other travelers. Through posting ads on gumtree and coseasts, I managed to find two French brothers named Pol and Quentin who were looking to make it to Airlie Beach.
These two were hardcore backpackers on a Round the World ticket which had so far taken them all over Southeast Asia, including India, for the last 6 months. They were fun to talk to—I could finally practice what little I remembered from my high school French lessons.
I picked them up North of Sunshine Coast and they suggested we go check out Fraser Island.
World heritage-listed Fraser Island is a huge tourist destination among vacationing Australians and foreigners alike. Most people visit for its untouched land, pristine sandy beaches, and freshwater mirror lakes. It’s also popular among 4WD enthusiasts. Beaches requiring 4WD were beginning to be a pattern during my travels across Australia!
People often take their vehicles on the ferry that brings you over to the island from the mainland. But without an off-roading vehicle, this was a no-go for us!
Instead, we decided to visit Rainbow Beach which had views of the island across the water. Rainbow Beach is a town named after the multi-colored sand dunes lining its nearby shore.
The sand here is so fine it felt like the soft fur of a baby animal. I was fascinated by it!
Rainbow Beach also has unique hardened black sand rocks. They are deceivingly not very hard at all—I could easily carve into them with a stick as many others had done before me.
Around the corner from Rainbow Beach is the location where people take the ferry to Fraser Island. It’s also where we spotted pelicans!
I bet you can’t guess the name of the bay of water around this part of the island. It’s Pelican Bay. Gee, I wonder why.
I dropped Pol and Quentin off in Airlie Beach and picked up two new travelers: Lewis, an Irishman, and Yuvi, an Israeli. These two were great company on the road. Lewis had lots to share about his love for Vietnam and his 2 years working and traveling around Australia. I enjoyed Yuvi’s fresh enthusiasm for travel, as he was new to traveling solo. He was also refreshingly forthcoming about his forced military service back in Israel. Very interesting conversations were had.
Now that we were in Northern Queensland, the weather had gotten warm and sunny. It was starting to feel like we were closer to the equator, unlike the rest of the country which had me shivering in my sleeping bag most nights.
With the weather being so nice, we decided to fill our two days together before arriving in Cairns (pronounced “Cans”) with lots of water-based sightseeing.
One of the first stops was Australia’s longest drop waterfall. At 268m, Wallaman Falls in Girrigun Natonal Park is a UNESCO World Heritage location. It drops into a pool that is 20m deep.
The drive to Wallaman Falls is half the adventure, however. First, a flat drive through farmland took us passed enormous termite hills and Brahman cattle lining the sides (and sometimes standing in the middle of) the road.
Then we ascended the mountainside and got some awesome valley views. A long, winding, narrow road through thick, mountain forest finally brought us to the park.
Signs telling us to watch out for the Cassowary crossing were everywhere on the route to Wallaman Falls. Alas, we never saw one.
At the base of Mount Bartle Frere in Wooroonooran National Park is Josephine Falls.
It’s a gorgeous tiered waterfall with several different levels accessible for swimming. But caution must be taken in the wet season here. Rain up on the mountain can cause the creek to increase in current and flood very suddenly.
On the occasion we visited, the water flowed steadily and the pools were a crisp and clear aquamarine. The light coming in through the trees made this spot feel like a dreamscape!
Swimming at Babinda Boulders
I’ve saved the best for last! Actually, this spot was also the last thing the guys and I visited before ending our journey in Cairns.
Only an hour or so South of Cairns are the Babinda Boulders. These boulders are the result of thousands of years of water erosion.
Also called “Devil’s Pool,” the Babinda Boulders mark the location where several mountain streams merge and crash against enormous rocks on the way down the river. Signs are posted all over here warning visitors not to attempt swimming. The boulders have claimed 17 deaths since the 1950s all because of people thinking they could handle the swift currents and evade the underwater rocks and chutes.
There is a designated spot for swimming further up the river from the viewing platforms. A government worker clearing the walking trails in the area showed us the way to what he said the locals call “the hippie pools.”
Along the way he told us the water at the pools is completely drinkable. It’s filtered down the mountain and comes out clear, clean, and crisp.
Not to mention—it’s COLD! The three of us went in despite the freezing temperatures. I mean, we had to as soon as we saw how beautiful it was.
This was by far my favorite stop in all of Northern Queensland. A must do if road-tripping through especially on a hot day.
Queensland from Brisbane to Cairns had many beautiful natural wonders to discover along the way.
Getting some time alone in which I deviated off the highway to catch the Glass House Mountains and then wander a rainforest near my campsite was the perfect recharge for my solo travel needs. Then, having the company of many diverse travelers was a welcomed and pleasant way to spend the remainder of the journey.
Now that all of the driving was over I was ready to explore Cairns and prepare for diving the Great Barrier Reef!