Whether it’s time spent outdoors, the excitement of exploring a new landscape or just sleeping under the stars, my time camping as a kid has meant a desire to share similar experiences with my own children.
The beauty of living in Tropical North Queensland is that you don’t have to travel too far to find a diverse range of great camping locations that are perfect for families.
Here’s my favourite, family-friendly camping spots near Cairns.
1. Bramston Beach
This simple, little beachside oasis is located about an hour south of Cairns, smack bang between two national parks. The council campground is our preference because it’s kid and dog-friendly, offers powered and unpowered sites, a toilet block, laundry facilities, and uninterrupted ocean views – without the million-dollar price tag. There’s also a local café nearby and a boat ramp to launch from and explore nearby islands.
Our day’s drift away as the kid’s fish from the beach or test their balancing skills on our stand up paddle boards. It’s a hard spot to top and you’ll find us here most school holidays.
LOCAL’S TIP: Keep an eye out for the local pod of dolphins that regularly cruise the bay.
2. Russell Island
Announce to your kids that you’re off to camp on a deserted, tropical island on the Great Barrier Reef and their heads will fill with adventures not dissimilar to those in Walt Disney’s, Swiss Family Robinson. Russell Island, in the Frankland Island Group National Park is all their dreams come true.
Located off the coast of Deeral, between Cairns and Innisfail, the island is a mix of continental and sand cay, with a fantastic lagoon and shallow reef to explore when the tide is low. There are basic camping facilities but you’ll need to bring everything with you, and this includes your own water. Camping on Russell Island is free but you will need to arrange a camping permit through Queensland National Parks beforehand.
If you’re not traveling with your own boat, campers can arrange to be dropped off and picked up from Russell Island by Frankland Islands Cruises.
LOCAL’S TIP: While you won’t have the perks of a nearby bar or restaurant, you can always try catching your own dinner due to this spot’s GBRMPA zoning.
3. Bustard Downs
If you crave an Aussie outback setting for your family’s camping adventures, then Bustard Downs is the perfect choice. Less than two hours north west of Cairns, this campground sits amongst the open plains of what used to be a thriving farming community. Although they’ve scaled back, it’s still a working farm and wherever you stand on the property you’ll spy cattle grazing the nearby purple ranges, or the forest of paperbarks that adorn the banks of Mary Creek.
A spacious campground offers drive-through covered sites for caravans (no backing into tight spots here), plenty of shade, a toilet block and best of all, a large communal campfire for marshmallow roasting.
If the camping gear wouldn’t fit into your luggage, there’s two original farm cottages available for nightly hire. They exude an old-world charm with rustic furniture and fittings that could easily be classified as ‘bush-chic’. Over by the main farmhouse you’ll find the bed and breakfast accommodation that offers the same rustic charm as the campground cottages only this time you have access to a 20-metre lap pool.
Bookings are essential for all levels of accommodation.
LOCAL’S TIP: Don’t miss the delicious assortment of foods in the form of pickles, sauces and jams that come straight from the farm’s garden.
4. Lake Tinaroo
Our number one ‘Go To’ place when the weather gets too hot and humid is Lake Tinaroo. If you’ve driven to the Tropical North with your watercraft in tow, bonus! Lake Tinaroo is where skiers, wakeboarders and boaties unite.
The lake has quite a few options for camping with the larger selection of sites managed by Queensland Parks.
Lake Tinaroo Tourist Park offers powered and un-powered camp sites, cabins, villas and units, all very closely located to the Lake itself. If you’re after an active, family adventure then hire a kayak, stand up paddle board or even a boat from the Tourist Park and set off for a day on the lake.
We love sitting under the outdoor gazebo by the water’s edge and watching the kids wear themselves out. When the sun drops, we’re quick to get the fire roaring because it’s always a little cooler on the Atherton Tablelands.
LOCAL’S TIP: If the water level is low the lake can occasionally be off-limits for watercraft. Check the levels with Queensland Parks here if you are escaping to the Lake for some fishing or speedboat action.
5. Undara Lava Tubes
West of Cairns, along the Savannah Way, is the geological wonder known as the Undara Experience – home to the world’s longest lava tubes. Uniquely positioned within the Undara-Volcanic National Park, the Undara Experience offers guests a chance to explore 190,000-year-old lava tubes created by the eruption of the Undara volcano.
It’s the ultimate in outback experiences and offers a variety of accommodation options from powered and unpowered sites to historical train carriages, refurbished with comfortable beds and lounges and beautiful bathrooms.
We like sleeping under the stars so the campsite wins our vote, with well-maintained toilet blocks and communal camp kitchens close by. Eastern greys and wallabies graze freely around the grounds, kookaburras and apostle birds are regulars and in the evening the sky comes alive with microbats and cicadas.
LOCAL’S TIP: Visit Undara during the Green Season (November to March) to experience native wildlife at its best as they take advantage of the sudden abundance of food and water.