I am pleased to present a new Solo Travel Destination Post from Jeanette, a member of the Solo Travel Society on Facebook. Jeanette is from the United Kingdom, and submitted the following report about her solo Australia road trip. Do you have a solo travel destination that you would like to recommend? Submit your description here, along with a few photos, and share it with fellow travelers!
Solo Travel Rating: 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult. Please see chart below)
Languages Spoken: English
Costs at Destination: Reasonable (local transportation, dining, tours, events, and attractions)
Jeanette’s Solo Australia Road Trip
I am a road trip fan. Having visited the West Coast, the Red Centre, and the South Coast of Australia a few years ago, I was keen to see the East Coast and especially Tasmania. In 2018, after a layover in Hong Kong, I took a bumpy overnight flight (dodging a super cyclone near the Philippines), landing the following morning in Cairns.
Cairns isn’t very big, but with a bustling waterfront, boat trips, and a night market, there is plenty to occupy. Although this is the start for many trips to the Great Barrier Reef, my experience of this comes later in the holiday.
For the next day I had booked an excursion on the Kuranda Scenic Railway and the Skyrail cable car. With a pick-up from the hotel, I was taken to Freshwater Station to board the train. (It’s worth paying the extra for the gold class rail car, but not for the glass-floored cable car.)
Top tip: When you get to Kuranda, turn left as you exit the station and catch the free mini-bus which takes you to the heart of the village, arriving before the people who walk it, and so getting to the attractions before the crowds.
This was a day to get up close and personal with koalas, kangaroos, butterflies, and birds. There were plenty of shopping opportunities and places to eat before catching the gondola back to the bus pick-up point and the trip back to Cairns.
After collecting my car the following morning, I took the short drive to Port Douglas, stopping at deserted beaches along the way with palm trees dipping over the sand and warm water to wade in. But with warning signs about crocodiles, it was not worth risking a swim!
Mossman Gorge, Daintree Forest, and Cape Tribulation were next on the itinerary. The gorge was lovely, with water dragons, a swim in the cool water with perch all around, walks through lush woodland, and then on to a boat trip along the river spotting crocodiles, frogmouths, and kingfishers.
The ferry across the river led to a twisty forest road dotted with lots of speed bumps to protect the cassowary birds, of which I was lucky to spot a few. The road terminates at Cape Tribulation, so I took a lazy drive back to base.
Top tip: Stop at the Daintree Ice Cream Company for some of the best ice cream around.
This is sugar cane country, and a lazy Sunday saw me wander through the craft market, take the tourist train through the fields, then enjoy a sunset cruise along the river and waterfront.
The following morning, I started the drive south with Mission Beach as my destination. There were plenty of stopping points along the way: a monument to fallen military in the Afghanistan conflict, quaint towns with elusive platypus, waterfalls, isolated beaches, and rainforest walking tracks.
Mission beach is pretty small, but like most places along this coast, it has a lovely beach. The choice of hotels and restaurants is limited, especially mid-week in the off-season.
After re-charging my batteries I took the long drive to Airlie Beach, my stopover before the ferry out to Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays.
Top tip: Make sure you have plenty of music loaded on your phone, as radio reception is poor between towns.
Hamilton Island is very much a resort island, with good infrastructure, making it easy to get around on the free buses, or by hiring a golf buggy. My apartment here had very friendly neighbors, including kangaroos on the lawn below and flocks of cockatoos, who, given half a chance, would be in the room and creating havoc.
A day trip by boat to Whitehaven Beach was enjoyable, although not as beautiful as the hype would suggest.
I was excited for the next day, as this was the trip to Hardy (or Heart) reef. If the boat ride the day before had been bumpy, this took it to a whole new level, resulting in some pea-green passengers. Once docked at the reef station, this was soon forgotten as fetching stinger suits were donned and most people took to the water.
The stunning colors of the water were more muted below the surface, and the coral was badly bleached. The vivid colors on photos are created by clever lighting.
After a good lunch followed by a trip in a semi-submersible along the edge of the reef, it was time for another exciting boat trip back to Hamilton Island.
Saying farewell to the Whitsundays, the ferry back to the mainland was followed by another long drive to Rockhampton, a pleasant town with some interesting old buildings. The following day was another substantial drive to catch the ferry to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world.
Here, the accommodation was in buildings dotted along wooded paths. Evening nature walks highlighted some of the spiders, frogs, and other native fauna. It’s a great place to whale-watch, with plenty of breaching humpbacks putting on a show.
A full day was to be spent on a tour of the island by a 4WD bus. First stop, crystal clear Lake Mackenzie, followed by a bushwalk and a stop for lunch. Next was a trip hurtling along 75 Mile Beach to the much-photographed shipwreck and The Pinnacles Coloured Sands.
I ticked another experience off my bucket list when some pilots invited us for a very reasonable price to take to the skies in small planes, using the beach as a runway.
From here it was a ferry and short-ish drive to Brisbane, where I did a whistle-stop tour of the city and its river before dropping my car at the airport and boarding a flight the next morning to Tasmania.
Arriving in Hobart, I immediately noticed the much cooler temperature. But with blue skies, it was pleasant to walk around this compact town before dinner at my hotel.
I took the car ferry across to Bruny Island for a day of walking on deserted beaches, watching seals, some inquisitive birds, an echidna, and some wallabies.
Leaving Hobart behind, I set out for Strahan. The first part of the trip was like driving through Scotland or the Lake District, and in fact went through Derwentwater and over the Clyde River. The scenery changed as I passed snow-capped mountains and then rainforest before descending into the scarred landscape surrounding the mining town of Queenstown.
Arriving in Strahan felt like arriving at the end of the world. Nevertheless, it is a popular spot for tourists who visit to enjoy a boat trip on the Gordon River, and to travel on the steam train.
My accommodation for the next two nights was in a holiday park, in a cross between a chalet and a mobile home.
The river trip took us first to the mouth of the river with waves crashing around the lighthouse, and then upriver to the penal colony of Sarah Island, where stories from the guides brought the atmospheric ruins to life.
Heading south and inland, my destination was Cradle Mountain. Yeah! I spotted my first wombat. A shuttle bus drops you at various trailheads, and I chose the walk around Dove Lake.
Top tip: Take your mosquito repellent!
My next stop was the most northerly part of Tassie, the small fishing village of Stanley. Little penguins live here and there is a viewing platform where once night falls, they emerge from the sea. However, this isn’t like Phillips Island with thousands of penguins; just a few come ashore each evening.
Top tip: Ask your hotel for the loan of a special torch shining a red light which doesn’t disturb the birds.
Traveling further around the island, I came to Launceston and another boat trip, this time along the Tamar Gorge, with a sea eagle gliding above.
The next day I took a beautiful drive along the coast to Coles Bay, then yet another boat trip, this time to Wineglass Bay. It is named not for its shape, but because of the color that the water became after whales were butchered here years ago. Glorious scenery, wild beaches, and lazy seals made for a superb day.
Top tip: Sea sickness pills are a must.
Heading to Port Arthur was a lesson in geography, passing natural arches and tessellated pavements. Knowing I would be unable to see a Tasmanian Devil in the wild, I stopped at a rescue center to see some up close and learn more about them.
My cabin in the woods was only around the corner from the Port Arthur historic site, so I was able to arrive before the bus tour crowds. Fascinating, sad, powerful, this place deserves a few hours of your time. If you are there towards evening, take the ghost tour by lantern light.
Completing the Tasmania portion of my solo Australia road trip, I handed back my car and took the short flight to a damp, grey Sydney.
After dropping my bags at the hotel, I dodged all the roadworks to Circular Quay where through the drizzle I had my first sight of the harbor bridge. Big, I thought. Then, I turned towards the Opera House. It is cream colored, not the white I had imagined. With the rain showing no signs of stopping, I walked up the hill to the State Library, where I spent an intriguing couple of hours looking at Captain Bligh’s logbook, listening to the stories of Aboriginal people, and learning of the interment of people of German origin during World War II.
I like the freedom of the hop on-hop off buses, so the next day I purchased a 2-day pass and hopped off at St Mary’s cathedral before heading to Darling Harbour and the Maritime Museum.
Although cloudy, the rain had stopped so I was able to take in the sights of the city without getting wet.
The sunshine the next day was perfect for heading to the beach, Bondi that is. Rather like Torquay but with bigger waves, the surf rescue teams bedecked in brightly colored caps and shirts were out practicing, and the muscle-bound men and women were showing off their skills at the outdoor gym.
My last day in Sydney involved a trip on the Manly Ferry, to the beach of the same name, which I preferred to Bondi. Be warned, sitting near the front of the boat can get you very wet, even on a calm day.
Coming back into Sydney you get great views of the Opera House and the bridge. Once off the ferry, I headed to the botanic gardens with their beautiful flowers and views across the harbor.
Top tip: As you come off the ferry, turn left and use the elevator to take you up to the gardens. It will save you climbing many flights of stairs.
That was the end of my solo road trip in Australia. I took about a month to do it and loved the experience. My advice to fellow travelers? Consider flying from Hamilton Island to Brisbane. It’s a very long drive on straight, drowsiness-inducing roads—so much so that they have even put up quiz questions on highway signs to help you stay alert.
Solo Travel Destination Rating System
Safety – 1 (1 very safe, 2 safe in most areas, 3 be cautious at all times.)
Language – 1 (1 English is first language, 2 English speakers easy to find, 3 English speakers rare)
Navigation – 1 (1 easy to navigate by transit or car, 2 poor transit, car necessary, 3 not easy to get around)
Culture – 2 (1 Similar to North America or Western Europe, 2 Different from above but relaxed and easy, 3 Challenging)
Average Rating – 1 (1 is easiest, 3 is most difficult)