At Apollo, we love road trips! On a road trip, the destination IS the journey, as experienced by some of Australia’s most popular Instagrammers on our recent ‘Drive the Great Barrier Reef’ promotion.

Jesse and Bel from @meandmytravelbugs recently shared the highlights of their great road trip adventure, which took them from Townsville to Mackay over six glorious days. We’ll let you join the journey in their own words!

The Great Barrier Reef stretches some 2,300km from Bundaberg in the south right up to Cape York Peninsula in the north, it is the only living structure on earth that can be seen from outer space and to explore this natural wonder by car you’ll need to follow the Pacific Coast Way.

While driving the whole thing (here’s a wunderlust inspiring brochure if you want more info) is on our to-do list for later in the year, this trip was just about the stunning land and seascapes that lie between Townsville and Mackay. Here’s what we got up to…

Great Barrier Reef Drive Apollo

DAY 1: TOWNSVILLE – HELICOPTER FLIGHTS AND CHASING WATERFALLS

After an early morning flight from Brisbane to Townsville, we headed straight to Townsville Helicopters to start our trip with a bang! Having never flown in a helicopter, this was the first of my many ‘firsts’ during this trip and definitely something I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

We cruised out over a number of stunning reefs that make up a tiny part of the Great Barrier Reef, hovering down close enough to see the amazing patterns of coral in lots of detail. I’d never seen the Great Barrier Reef so this was another ‘first’ I’d been planning for a long time.

The highlight of the experience was being dropped off on a tiny sand cay (basically just a patch of sand that appears at lower tides) in the middle of Wheeler Reef, and having the place to ourselves for about 15 minutes. There’s nothing quite like standing on your own little island paradise in the middle of one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Once back on solid ground, we picked up our little mobile home from Apollo Motorhomes and got acquainted for the next five nights. After a pit-stop at SqueezeMe to refuel with some acai bowl goodness and a speedy grocery shop to stock up on (healthy) snacks and supplies, we got on the road and headed to Paluma Range National Park.

Paluma is all about waterfalls, watering holes and scenic lookouts. As we didn’t have much time, we opted for the first two and stopped in at Big Crystal Creek Rock Slides for a swim and then a little further into Little Crystal Creek to marvel at the stunning waterfalls and cute stone arch bridge hidden deep in the lush rainforest landscape.

We finished the day at Rollingstone Beach Front Resort campground, parking up the van less than five metres from the beach. After a hectic first day, falling asleep to the sound of the ocean wasn’t too hard.

 

Great Barrier Reef Drive Helicopter
Our ride home – getting picked up in a Helicopter from a sand cay on Wheeler Reef.
Great Barrier Reef Drive Food
Fueling up with Acai bowls from SqueezeMe, Townsville.
Great Barrier Reef Drive Paluma
Ah the serenity… enjoying a quick dip in the swimming holes of Big Crystal Creek, Paluma Range National Park.

DAY 2: TOWNSVILLE TO THE WHITSUNDAYS – MANGOS, SEAFOOD AND SECLUDED BEACHES

This was our biggest driving day of the road trip – about six hours all up. After packing up the van we headed to Bowen, home of Queensland’s most delicious mangos (as well as amazing fresh seafood and stunning secluded beaches, we found out). Our first taste of Bowen (pun intended) was actually a fresh seafood picnic banquet enjoyed on the palm-fringed beachfront of Rose Bay, complemented by some refreshing mango sorbet… yes, this was a good day!

We had time for a swim at Horseshoe Bay (another one of Bowen’s amazing beaches) before heading inland to Collinsville to get a feel for a classic Queensland country town. It’s amazing to see the landscape change as you head inland from the coast and makes you appreciate the diversity of this beautiful part of the world.

It would have been nice to spend some more time in Collinsville but we were already behind schedule so we jumped back on the road and down to Seabreeze Tourist Park campground in Airlie Beach to arrive before it got dark. Can I just say that we were blown away by Bowen and I’m keen to head back and explore some more.

Great Barrier Reef Drive
Seafood Picnic Banquet at Bowen’s beautiful Rose Bay.
Great Barrier Reef Drive Bowen Horseshoe Bay
Horseshoe Bay, all to myself!
Great Barrier Reef Drive Collinsville Road trip
Off-road detour on our way inland to Collinsville.

DAY 3: WHITSUNDAYS – ACAI BOWLS AND SNORKELLING ON THE GREAT BARRIER REEF

Today was about one thing, a real bucket list item: snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef! But first, superfood smoothie bowls (are you sensing a pattern here too?). Fortunately Bohemian Raw serves up ah-mazing acai bowls (and other healthy options) right at the meeting point of the Explore Dive and Snorkel tour so no need to skip breakfast ahead of a big day.

We were blessed with a perfect sunny day and really calm seas so travelling out for a few hours to make it to Bait Reef was a breeze. Our first snorkel session we saw lots of colourful coral and sea life, including a really interesting Moray eel and a small reef shark. After a lunch of chicken and salad we ‘graduated’ to an area of the reef known as the ‘Stepping Stones’ which was amazing to see with 18 metres of visibility.

Even without a strong current, swimming around for a couple of hours is pretty tiring business, so we were a little shattered on our cruise back to Airlie Beach and grateful for an early night!

Great Barrier Reef Drive Food
But first, superfood smoothie bowls from Bohemian Raw.
Great Barrier Reef Drive Snorkelling
Snorkelling at Bait Reef on the Great Barrier Reef.

DAY 4: WHITSUNDAYS – SAILING TO WHITEHAVEN BEACH

Where better to experience my first time on a proper sailing boat than the Whitsundays!? And on a former America’s Cup racing yacht with Explore Whitsundays, no less. I’d seen pictures of the stunning sands of Hil Inlet but, like most natural beauties, nothing really compares to experiencing it for yourself. The short hike up to Hill Inlet is super easy (we did it in flip-flops) and as you can see below, well, well worth it!

Our afternoon didn’t quite pan out how we hoped after a mini-disaster with the tender back to the sailing boat from Whitehaven Beach. This meant we missed the afternoon’s snorkeling adventure (so grateful for the previous day), but did get to enjoy calm seas and a strong breeze to fill the open sails and push us home to Airlie Beach’s Abell Point Marina.

Great Barrier Reef Drive Hill Inlet Whitehaven
Admiring the stunning views from Hill Inlet Lookout, Whitsunday Island.
Great Barrier Reef Drive Sailing Whitsundays
Sunset views on our sail home to Airlie Beach.

DAY 5: WHITSUNDAYS TO MACKAY – SEAPLANE SCENIC FLIGHT

I think this morning might just have been our favourite of the whole trip. A once (hopefully twice, maybe?) in a lifetime scenic seaplane flight over the Great Barrier Reef, including the famous Heart Reef with Air Whitsunday.

To make this experience even more special, we were able to land the seaplane at Whitehaven Beach and enjoy a swim and beach picnic. Did we mention that Whitehaven Beach is regularly voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world? And that we parked our seaplane metres from the shore and lunched in paradise? Oh, I did mention that already? Sorry. Serious highlight.

After landing back at Airlie Beach and a short stop at the serene Cedar Creek falls, it took us almost the entire drive down to Mackay to stop looking at each other and say, ‘Wow, did that just happen?’ every 5 minutes. We arrived in Mackay just after sunset, excited about what was in store the next morning.

Great Barrier Reef Drive Heart Reef Seaplane
Soaking up the Great Barrier Reef from above during my first ever seaplane flight.
Great Barrier Reef Drive Seaplane Whitehaven Beach
Just casually chilling with my seaplane after landing at Whitehaven Beach. No really, this actually happened.

DAY 6: MACKAY – BEACH KANGAROOS, GLUTEN-FREE GOODIES AND A RAINFOREST

Is there anything more Australian than kangaroos and wallabies skipping along a beautiful beach at sunrise? The locals at Cape Hillsborough National Park certainly know how to put on a show and it was definitely worth the early wake-up to see them chilling on the beach at dawn.

We would have loved to have done some of the walking trails around the national park, but with only a few hours before our flight home, we jumped in the Apollo van and headed inland to Eungella National Park. Eungella (pronounced young-galah) means ‘land of the clouds’ in the local indigenous language and is Australia’s longest stretch of sub-tropical rainforest. In our short visit, we didn’t manage to spot one of the famous platypus at Broken River but did enjoy a tranquil walk through lush rainforest and some great views from the Sky Window Circuit.

Our last supper was an amazing find; the Eungella Chalet restaurant and its extensive gluten-free menu (including desserts) and stunning views over the valley. This was a great way to end an epic six-day road trip in our little APollo van along the Great Barrier Reef Drive from Townsville to Mackay

A massive thanks to all the organisations and operators who made this trip an unforgettable experience. It was short but super sweet and we can’t wait to make our way back north later this year.

Great Barrier Reef Drive Cape Hillsborough Wallabies
Sunrise on the beach with the kangaroos and wallabies of Cape Hillsborough National Park.
Great Barrier Reef Drive Eungella Rainforest
The lush rainforest of Eungella National Park.

For more tips and tricks for road tripping the along the Great Barrier Reef Drive, continue reading Jesse and Bel’s blog here.