Cape Hillsborough: Sunrises, the beach, and new kangaroo friends

Every weekend, Dom and I do something we like to call "Adventure Weekends". Super original name, I know. I'd love to say we plan ahead, but 95% of the time we just wake up in the morning and say, "what should we do today?" and the possibilities are pretty much endless because Queensland is AwEsOmEee.


So a couple weekends ago, our decided plan for "Adventure Weekend" was spend the night at Cape Hillsborough, and let me tell you: it was f*cking magical. For those of you who haven't a clue where or what Cape Hillsborough is, it's a National Park just north of Mackay, Queensland (or 1.5 hours from our home in the Whitsundays), and it's filled with protected rainforests, eucalyptus forests, walking trails, and a beautiful long stretch of beach.

While all this sounds amazing on its own, the star attraction for Cape Hillsborough happens around 5am down on the beach. Every morning, roughly 10-20 kangaroos hop down to the beach in search of a salty breakfast. Don't ask me what exactly they eat, but each morning like clockwork they hop hop hop down for sunrise and it's seriously remarkable.

Dom and I got to experience this first-hand, because we spent the night camped out in our van, Marshmallow, at Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park. We paid about $40 for a powered site, but they also have tons of options if you want to camp in a tent, rent a bungalow, don't want power, etc etc. Anyways, we pulled up in our van around 6pm, just missing the sunset because we suck at timing, but we cooked some burgers in the community kitchen, drank wine, took some star photos, and then headed to bed with a 4am alarm set!

As soon as I saw the first glimpse of sunrise, I dragged Dom out of bed and down to the beach where we could already see some cute lil kangaroos kickboxing each other (not dangerously - the males typically do this for fun). We already knew not to feed them - they are wild animals after all - but we made sure to bring our camera and snap some beautiful sunrise pics of them all!

Just an FYI for those reading who are probably thinking "well I'm not scared to feed them!". If you feed them, you'll probably scare them off along with messing up their diets. They have a very specific diet, and if you feed them yourself, it will encroach on their personal space and then you could end up scaring them away from the beach. That would be a sad sad day for everyone, so just be respectful! End rant.


We ended up spending about an hour down at the beach while one of the guides explained their history and diet, and it was a morning we will never forget. Check out some more of our photos from our Adventure Weekend below!

To see our Instagram Stories of our time at Cape Hillsborough

And if you want to read our other blogs on how Queensland is the greatest place on earth, check them out below:
4 Days in Tropical North Queensland
Living in a Tropical Island Paradise: The Whitsundays
Road Trippin' Up the Eastern Coast of Australia

No joke, the sky actually looked like that. Oh, Australian sunsets...

No joke, the sky actually looked like that. Oh, Australian sunsets...



The tallest falls in all of Australia, at a whopping 268 metres!

The tallest falls in all of Australia, at a whopping 268 metres!

I've been to my fair share of tropical locations in my life, but let me tell you: Tropical North Queensland takes the cake. On Thursday, Dom and I packed up the van and headed 8 hours north to spend the weekend exploring Cairns. We had heard it was beautiful, but boy was that an understatement. Now, we're not city people by any means (cities make me feel uber claustrophobic), but Cairns proved to be more of a tropical oasis than a bustling city, and we LOVED it! If you want to see my Instagram stories from the trip, follow my personal account @jessbackpacks!

For our 3 days in Cairns, we stayed with YHA Australia at the Cairns Central YHA, and to be honest it felt more like staying at an island resort. Everywhere you look there is tropical palms, bright flowers, huge ferns, fountains - pretty much my dream hostel. We unpacked, jumped in the pool to cool off, snapped some pics (because it was just so damn insta-worthy), and started planning out our Cairns adventures! After making our plans for the next few days (pool-side of course), we set out to explore more of the hostel and it's surrounds. Cairns Central YHA is within walking distance from literally everything we needed: the marina, the esplanade, supermarkets, the aquarium, etc., so there was no need for us to even use our van for our time in Cairns which was a nice change! If you're looking for a fun, inexpensive, & laid-back place to stay, then I cannot recommend Cairns Central YHA more highly. The standard of YHA Australia is unlike any other hostel; insanely clean, chill vibes, staff who go above and beyond to make your stay great, and best of all, a free pancake breakfast!!



I thought we had seen the best of the best when it came to the Great Barrier Reef, but I was way off. On day two of our stay in Cairns we booked a snorkel & dive tour with Divers Den that took us out to the Outer Great Barrier Reef on a boat called the ReefQuest. Our first stop was Norman Reef, where I came to learn just how absolutely incredible underwater life really is. I've been snorkeling in loads of tropical locations before, but when I jumped into the waters on that reef, I was completely blown away. The colors, the fish, the coral, everything was just so freaking amazing. It's honestly hard to put into words just how beautiful it truly is, and my photos definitely don't do it justice. The only thing I can say is see it for yourself!

Photo Credit: @maydivepix - Diver's Den Photographer

Photo Credit: @maydivepix - Diver's Den Photographer

After a while of snorkeling the reef, we got our diving gear on and hopped back into the waters. Dom and I have never been diving before, but Divers Den made the experience one that I will never forget - and one I definitely want to experience again! Our guide Jessica (great name & greater girl!), helped us through the basics and then guided us down 16 meters into the depths of the reef. Before the dive I was nervous AF to going that far underwater (so nervous that I almost backed out of it!), but Jess made the experience so easy and I felt like the coolest person ever gliding on the ocean floor among the coral and giant fish. I have to give a huge shoutout to the photographer for Divers Den too, because May is a freakin' boss. Her underwater photos are absolutely stunning, and she even guided us over to a giant clam that was pretty much bigger than my body, as well as snapping some pics of us with a huge cuttlefish.

After our diving experience, we headed over to another reef - i'm blanking on the name right now, but i'll try to update this when my brain decides to work! Pulling up in the boat, there were legit THOUSANDS of jellyfish. We were told they were the non-dangerous ones, but it was still the most surreal feeling swimming through jellyfish while they bump into your face, arms, legs. Anyways, did you know that turtles like to eat jellyfish? I didn't, but then another snorkeler yelled "turtle!!", and I swam to him like my life depended on it. Seeing a turtle swimming in the wild is breathtaking, and even cooler watching the turtle munching on his jellyfish lunch.. so cool. So moral of the story, if you find yourself in Cairns, a trip out to the GBR with Divers Den is a must-do if you want the most amazing underwater experience!


We had planned out a cool day of exploring Fitzroy Island for my birthday, but when we woke up the weather was cloudy and the forecast predicted a storm. We googled 'indoor things to do in Cairns', and low and behold, we found out they have an all-new aquarium that has some of the coolest fish/eels/sharks/rays i've ever seen. We loved it so much we went around the whole thing twice and were especially lucky to see the shark & ray feedings! My birthday ended up being even cooler than we had planned for, although we will still have to go back and see Fitzroy Island someday!



I can't finish this blog without telling you about our trip up to Cairns from the Whitsundays. We had planned to stop at Wallaman Falls just north of Townsville, because we had seen photos and it looked like the most untouched, jungly place we'd ever seen. I cannot recommend it more highly if you're in Northern Queensland. We had to drive quite a ways into the jungly mountains to get to the campsite, but the drive was beyond entertaining. There were TONS of cows just sleeping in the middle of the road, wild pigs, frogs, and the elusive Cassowaries (although we didn't see any of those on our drive unfortunately!). We woke up early after sleeping in our van Marshmallow, and headed over to the falls. To get to the bottom of the falls you have to do a 2km hike (that feels more like 10km), but it is so worth it! It's such an impressive sight to see a waterfall that big, surrounded by nothing but jungles, with not another person in sight. It felt like we were transported back in time! Check out our photos below from our morning hike to Wallaman Falls.


And a few more photos from our road trip up to Cairns - a sunflower field that we stumbled upon just outside of Wallaman Falls, and Welsh's Pyramid Mountain.


Road Tripping up the Eastern Coast of Australia


Before I get started, I want to say that I am, one hundred percent, a complete amateur when it comes to road trips. When Dom and I decided to buy a van and drive up the east coast to Queensland, we really just did the bare minimum to the van in order to make it sleep-able, but I still want to share our tips with you guys in case you find it useful!

make sure you're buying a reliable van


When it came to buying a van, we DID NOT want to buy a backpacker's van. Yeah, they're cheaper and sometimes look cool and come with awesome stuff already (like bed bugs), but in reality, most backpackers don't give two shits about their van. They drive it hundreds of thousands of miles across the country and then sell it to the next backpacker. We decided to do things differently, so we bought a van off a tradie who had been using it for work. Turns out he was a mechanic (double win), so we knew it was reliable and taken care of! We spent about $5,000 AUD to purchase and register it, and then another couple hundred on the interior (wood for the frame, a bed, pillows, all that good stuff).


Download WikiCamps

After Dom put the interior together (with absolutely zero help from me.. i'm useless when it comes to building), we sat down and made our road trip plan. I honestly hadn't even thought about where to stay along the way... I literally pictured us parked up next to a beach every night, but in reality, that's not really allowed in Australia! Instead, we found the app WikiCamps, and it is the holy grail of campsites. This app is awesome: it tells you where the free campsites are, which ones have showers, bathrooms, power, yada yada yada. It even has a section where people can post photos of the site, which definitely came in handy!


Figure out your *rough* driving plan

Our aim was to do things quickly and get a lot of miles done each day, but we knew we wanted to see some of the highlights along the way. I mean, we couldn't drive through Sydney without stopping for cotton candy at Luna Park, right? After a while of planning it out, we decided on our *rough* itinerary:

Day 1: Melbourne
Day 2: Sydney - stop for sightseeing & exploring
Day 3: Byron Bay - check out the beaches & town
Day 4: Middle of Nowhere - drive, drive, drive!
Day 5: Whitsundays


Stock up on food

Food along the highway in Australia is like 100x more expensive than anywhere else (ok, that's a made up number, but it's really freakin expensive). We were on a pretty tight budget, so we decided to skip the roadside food options and make our own sandwiches instead. We ate A LOT of sandwiches on that trip, and I can no longer look at peanut butter and jelly the same way again. We bought a cheap $30 cooler from Big W and chucked in ice with the essentials: bread, milk, tim tams, and water (don't worry, we had lots of other non-refrigerated snacks too). After that, we were ready to hit the road without killing our bank account!

Remember that not all roads are free

We learned this the hard way after paying over $50 in administrative fees from the toll roads in Sydney. Before your trip, just google the roads you will need to pay tolls on and sign up for the automatic pass beforehand. It will save you stress, time, and money!

Watch out for kangaroos, koalas, and emu's, oh my!

They're everywhere, and they have no fear of the roads, so stay alert, because they hitting one of these guys can kill you.. knock on wood. You're usually okay during the daylight hours, but anytime before 8am and after 4pm, your chances of seeing them go wayyyy up, so if you're driving in the morning, evening or nighttime, keep your eyes peeled.


Living In A Tropical Island Paradise: The Whitsundays

Last month we arrived in our new home - the tropical paradise of the Whitsundays in Queensland. It's been a bumpy road to make it here (literally and figuratively - we drove 3,000 kilometers and slept in our van along the way!), but we couldn't be happier with our decision to move here. Take a look at some of our photos from the first month, and let us know when your ticket is booked to come visit us ;)

Also, if you're looking for an absolutely AWESOME guide on Whitehaven beaches, stunning viewpoints, and the best ways to get there, check out our friends guide at Sailing Whitsundays. It will tell you everything you could possibly need to know about Whitehaven beach and its surrounds!