From Brisbane to Springbrook National Park
Brisbane to Brisbane
Best Time of the Year
All year around
- Pat Morton Lookout at Lennox
- Springbrook National Park
- Fish and Chips at The Stunned Mullet
- Hastings Point Holiday Park
Byron Bay to Lennox Head
Distance 160km - Driving Time 2hrs
I step out of the camper and recoil immediately in searing pain as the soles of my bare feet are scorched horribly. It’s not lava, but probably the next hottest thing: an asphalt road under the Australian summer sun (which is, incidentally, only a fraction hotter than the tomato in a cheese and tomato jaffle*).
We’ve pulled up in Byron Bay, just under two hours from Brisbane where we collected our camper to start this journey. I slip on a pair of thongs** and alight again, not knowing that in a previous geological age, in that very spot, my thongs would have instantly burst into flames.
Yep, Byron Bay – that glorious, beach-fringed hippy haven – used to be at the foot of a gigantic volcano. In fact, the volcano was so massive it reached from here, far into Queensland and would have enveloped the infamous Gold Coast and beyond, including everything in between, as well as the lush hinterland region to the north-west for 100km or more.
Fortunately, 20 million years have passed since the streets of Byron were actually lava, and the steady decomposition of the volcano by wind and earth and sea has created one of the most spectacular landscapes you can drive a campervan through.
We had no idea about any of this at the start of our journey. Even if someone had told us about it at that point, the old volcano carcass is just so vast that it’s hard to contain it all in your head. It wouldn’t be until much further along our journey that we could see it for ourselves and would come to understand.
Here’s how it all unfolded, with a quick guide to some of our favourite destinations along the way.
* Aussie slang for ‘toasted sandwich’
**The footwear, not the underwear
Watch the sunrise from mainland Australia’s most easterly point, Cape Byron. Its iconic lighthouse stands guard from the cliff face and you can drive your camper right up to it (access from 8am, but it will cost you $8 to park – if you’re feeling fit, hike it!). From here at dawn you can be the first in mainland Australia to greet the sun, and in the right season (June to November), you’re almost guaranteed to spot humpback whales on their migration. Byron is surrounded by sensational beaches – Watego’s is a MUST in a camper. You can park for free, right next to the sea, make yourself lunch, surf, spot dolphins and immerse yourself in the campervan culture with likeminded campervan captains and crew who, just like you, are stoked about all the decisions that led to them being right there, right now, living the #vanlife.
Heading a quick 20km south of Byron Bay we discover one of the most spectacular places to pull your camper up to. Pat Morton Lookout has a spacious, free carpark with uninterrupted views across the water towards Cape Byron. There’s a world-class surf break down below and a broad, rolling lawn for unfurling your camp table and chairs and toasting yourself another jaffle.
Distance 45km - Driving Time 2hrs
North of Byron, just a little off the main M1 Pacific Highway, the Tweed Coast Road runs in parallel, and in some places just inches from the sea. Like an exotic dancer, it flashes tantalising glimpses of scenery – pristine beaches and blue Pacific Ocean. It has a long, thin stretch squeezed between Mooball Creek and the beach, and strings together quintessential Aussie beach villages like Pottsville, Cabarita, and what would probably turn out to be our favourite stay – Hastings Point.
Hastings Point itself is a small rocky outcrop that juts out into the Pacific Ocean and you can drive right out onto it. Nearby, a broad sandy creek empties out onto a powder-white beach. You can park your camper on the crest of the point for 360 degree views, 180 of which will include the Pacific Ocean, and probably a bunch of whales and dolphins, totally outmanoeuvring local surfers. At dawn, if you park at the right angle, you can open your back door and let the rising sun and it’s dazzling reflection stream straight in and flood the camper with gold. In terms of man-made attractions, there’s a general store that sells milk, beer, fish hooks and burgers and then there’s… well, nothing really – and that’s exactly the appeal.
Distance 35km - Driving Time 40min
So far, we’d been cruising the coast, but from Hastings Point, we swung west into the lush Tweed Valley. Somewhere, on Clothiers Creek Rd, between sugarcane fields and tea plantations, we came across a fruit stand at the side of the road, complete with an honesty box. Prices were written on the pawpaws, and the miniature sugar bananas were the sweetest we’d ever eaten. Continuing to climb into the hills, with clear running streams and fable-worthy views, we passed picturesque villages with exotic names like Crystal Creek and Murwullimbah. We could never have guessed that we were now driving through what once were the deepest bowels of the volcano, but that surprise was coming.
Quick drive to the Gold Coast. Tallebudgera is a lot more laid back than surfers with a beautiful, still-water creek-mouth beach. Filming surf scenes with surf photographer and filming camper/social scenes by the water at sunset in a powered site at Tallebudgera Creek Tourist Park. Filmed whale watching experience and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
Springbrook National Park
Distance 40km - Driving Time 1hr
A thrilling, windy road ascends into the mountains and into a series of national parks and world heritage rainforest. We found Natural Bridge, a stunning waterfall cave, which becomes a cavern of treasure at night when thousands of glowworms switch their butts on and sparkle.
Camping in Springbrook National Park, so far away from any light pollution, meant that the Milky Way was resplendent – so much so that we met some local astronomy enthusiasts who surprised us in the middle of the night by setting up their telescope array right next to us, leading to a fascinating chat with new mates under the stars, and a quick tour of the galaxy.
In the day, it’s easy to explore a huge number of spectacular waterfalls including Purling Brook Falls – one of Queensland’s highest – just a short walk from the national parks campsite.
It was here that we learned about the volcano. The national park is well signposted with relevant info on the region, which is how we learned that as we stood at the brink of a 100m cliff face watching a stream tumble fearlessly over it, we were actually on the remnants of the volcano’s high flank, and now gazed out over the Southern Hemisphere’s largest volcanic caldera – formerly the void inside the volcano itself, known these days as the Tweed Valley.
There are quite a few lookouts in the area but it is at one in particular that the volcano fully reveals itself to you. Best of All is the name of the lookout, and from here, you can stand on a platform on a cliff edge and see that you are on the inside rim of a vast, cliff-lined curve. That curve sweeps around towards the Gold Coast in the north (you can see the distant skyscrapers against the shining sea) and also around towards the south – where from here you can see all the way back to the sweep of Cape Byron itself, and the lighthouse where we began our adventure into Australia’s secret volcano – hidden perfectly in plain sight.Then we had a quick, easy drive back up the highway to give back the camper and fly out.
Road trip highlights
- Where the best view was?
Filmed at Pat Morton Lookout at Lennox. Filmed the van on a headland at Hastings Point.
- Where was your favourite place/town visited and why? Springbrook National Park for waterfalls, views and star timelapse photography – never been before.
- What was your favourite experience/activity & why? Filming stars and Milky Way because by chance we met some astronomers doing the same who talked about all the gear, showed us some planets, nebulae and star systems. Also the whale watching experience on Gold Coast.
- Top highlights? Milky Way at Springbrook National Park, whales from Hastings Point/Gold Coast.
- Favourite pub/restaurant? The Stunned Mullet fish and chip shop in Cabarita for takeaway burgers.
- Did you have a favourite Holiday Park you stayed in and why? Hastings Point Holiday Park – right next to the water. Totally authentic Australian holiday park experience – mostly local tourists who were very regular visitors to the park.
- What would be your top tip for other campervan travellers? Voyager is an excellent vehicle – set-up is great, quick and easy to set up and put away the bed. Loads of space for storage and hanging out. Table/desk is excellent for working on a laptop. Bring a coffee plunger or moka pot if you’re a coffee addict.
- What is your greatest memory of the whole campervan holiday? Whale encounters at the Gold Coast and from Hastings Point.