Away from the coast, rugged routes lead to some of Queensland’s most remote pockets of wilderness where you’ll discover Indigenous rock art, vibrant waterways and, on Cape York, top angling and secluded tropical beaches. Here, we explore our three favourite Queensland destinations for offroad caravanners.
From Laura to Bamaga, the rugged, red dirt route to the Tip is one of the best offroad journeys Australia has to offer. En route, secluded tropical beaches, spring-fed waterfalls and barramundi fishing spots will leave you spellbound, and more than compensate for the bumpy ride.
Breaking up the 510km between Laura and Weipa is easy with a string of top roadhouses that tempt with cold beers and shady campsites. Of the roadside free camps, choose Morehead River, 200km north of Laura, where you’ll find colourful flocks of galahs, great mobs of noisy flying foxes and the agile wallabies that keep this grassy camp neatly groomed.
Established as an overland telegraph repeater station, Musgrave Roadhouse is a historical spot, and don’t miss The Bend at Coen to snare a catch of cherabin and soak in deep, sandy, croc-free pools.
Across the Archer River, Weipa lures anglers with promises of barramundi and big rivers full of salmon, trevally, grunter, fingermark, jewfish and more. It’s a great resupply point and there are Indigenous heritage sites to explore, too. Some of the world’s largest cockle shell middens dominate the northern bank of the Mission River at Red Beach (Prunung).
Pushing north, Moreton Telegraph Station on the Wenlock River offers half-price camping for kids and great wildlife watching, and Captain Billy Landing is an idyllic, albeit wind-swept, camp nestled beneath towering sea cliffs by the Coral Sea.
Despite the washed-out access track, you won’t regret a stay at Eliot and Twin Falls, floating in the clear, spring-fed pools, red, dusty feet dangling in the current. There are caravan-friendly sites and good, wheelchair-accessible facilities, including drinking water, but book ahead because there’s no self-registration or mobile coverage on site.
Of the free campsites included in your Jardine River ferry ticket, our favourite is Mutee Head, signposted 27km north of Jardine River and another 20km west. It’s nothing more than a grassy clearing beneath shady she-oaks, but turtles floating in the sandy cove, great fishing and beachcombing make this a stellar spot in which to relax.
From the sea at Seisia, Frangipani Bay and the tip of Australia are only a bumpy drive and a short climb away. Enjoying that magical panorama of York and Eborac islands is a defining moment of the journey. But the best part? You get to turn around and do it all again, all the way back to Laura.
Location: From Laura to Bamaga, it is 760km. Detouring via Weipa adds at least 260km to the journey, while side trips to Captain Billy Landing, Eliot Falls and Mutee Head add another 120km.
Camping: The free camps at Morehead River (192km north of Laura) and Coen River (toilets and bins) are highly recommended, but don’t miss stays at Captain Billy Landing and Eliot Falls (www.nprsr.qld.gov.au).
Top tip: Well-groomed early in the dry season, Cape York tracks inevitably deteriorate as winter progresses and side tracks may be rough, sandy and unsuitable for vehicles towing vans. Get up-to-date road condition reports at www.cook.qld.gov.au
In Queensland’s rugged north-west, Boodjamulla’s emerald, spring-fed oasis blazes a palm-fringed path towards the Gulf, cascading through ancient sandstone and parched spinifex plains. Thanks to extensive grading and partial sealing of the once-bumpy access route from the east, Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is even easier to reach.
The corrugations are just a little easier to endure but you’ll still need a tough offroad setup to reach the banks of Lawn Hill Creek where you can paddle a canoe, board a solar-powered cruise boat or hike upstream to Indarri Falls. Allow two hours to tackle the 6km-long canoe adventure into Upper Gorge, gliding past pandanus-fringed banks and between sheer, blazing red cliffs.
You can walk to Indarri Falls too, a top swimming spot where a limestone waterfall stalls Lawn Hill’s crystal-clear creek, sending it cascading over its two-metre-high drop.
For self-contained rigs, waterfront national park camps are a bargain at under $6 per person, while nearby Adels Grove tempts with hot showers and restaurant meals. Spa pools and swimming holes are within easy reach of campsites, stretched along the scenic banks of Lawn Hill Creek.
Don’t miss an early morning stroll along the ‘Wild Dog Dreaming’ track (4.5km/1.5hrs return) to discover Indigenous rock art and a midden of mussel shells and stone artifacts. World heritage-listed Riversleigh, 50km away, showcases the fossilised remains of 25 million-year-old prehistoric megafauna on a self-guided walking trail.
Location: Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is located 100km west of Gregory Downs via the Wills Developmental Road.
Camping: Entry is free and campsites cost $5.95/person/night or $23.80/family. Book national park campsites well in advance for stays from April to October (www.nprsr.qld.gov.au, 137468).
Top tip: The best time to visit is between May and September, when you can expect cool, dry conditions (12-28˚C). The park is busy during school holidays and may be cut off by wet season rains (December to March).
At Mount Moffatt, Carnarvon National Park, there’s a resounding energy at the Tombs where Indigenous rock art adorns a cliff face pocketed with sacred Bidjara burial chambers. Although now empty, these intriguing, tubular rock tunnels evoke a respectful silence from hikers exploring one of the most remote corners of Carnarvon National Park.
Located off the bitumen, 250km north-west of Roma, Mount Moffatt requires determination and a couple of spare jerry cans to reach, but it promises quiet bush camps and solitude. Clifftops provide grand vistas of chiselled pillars and imposing bluffs, there’s a good choice of short walks, and plenty of pioneering history to discover.
While ‘gutsy’ conventional rigs might survive the gravel roads that lead into this park, you’ll need a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to tackle the sandy riverside tracks and explore rugged paths that climb through a lush pocket of mahogany forest to lookouts atop the state’s highest plateau.
Winter is the ideal time to explore the ‘Roof of Queensland’. Park your caravan beside the Maranoa River at West Branch camp or Dargonelly Rock Hole and take a 4WD tour of the park. At Marlong Plain, an incredible expanse of Queensland bluegrass is fringed by gum trees and buffeted by sheer sandstone cliffs. Follow the steep 4WD track up the western edge of Consuelo Tableland to Top Shelter Shed for dramatic, panoramic views, and take short walks to Lots Wife, Marlong Arch and the rock art gallery at Kookaburra Cave.
The Tombs is a must-see site where, in ancient times, the deceased were wrapped inside long cylinders cut from the bark of the budgeroo tree, wrapped in marsupial skins and twine cut from possum fur, and placed deep inside naturally occurring tunnels in the sandstone. By the 1920s the contents of most burial chambers had been robbed, but the Tombs remains a spiritual place with one of the Central Highlands’ most significant rock art galleries.
Location: Mount Moffatt Section of Carnarvon National Park lies west of Injune. Camping: Overnight fees are $5.95/person/night or $23.80/family, campfires are permitted but generators and pets are not. Don’t expect mobile phone coverage. Visit www.nprsr.qld.gov.au for more information.
Top Tip: Carry spare fuel as exploring the park typically clocks up at least 100km.