37 Free Things to Do in Queensland, Australia
23 June 2016 | Mri Grout
Australia might have a reputation for being an expensive country to visit, but with this list of free things to do in Queensland, it's easily affordable for the budget backpacker. There are free attractions in Brisbane like fire dancing for all skill sets and beautiful gardens to have picnics in. There are fantastic bamboo forest and singing mountains, long beaches, and amazing snorkel spots all up and down the coast. And there are even free things to do in the Queensland Outback and right up north, like looking for millions of years old fossils (and we've even found some!).
Free things to do on the Brisbane Coast:
Brisbane & Surrounds:
- Bribie Island – The smallest of the three Moretan Bay islands, Birbie Island is the only one that you can travel to by car. It is situated a mere 45 minutes north of Queensland’s capital and from its eastern shore you are awarded with gorgeous views of another island in the near distance. Due to the majority of this place being a conversation park, it also offers fantastic viewing of migrating birds at Buckley’s Hole, but its best feature is its 34km stretch of beach – the perfect spot for a free wedding venue. Or just an awesome place to build giant sand castles, whatever the case may be.
- Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt. Coot-tha – If you can find a spot in its free parking spot, these gardens make for a great day out outside of Brisbane’s city centre, especially if you happen to bring a lovely picnic to match the surroundings. Its collection of rainforest trees native to the country is the largest, not just in Queensland, but the entire world. There is also a free minibus tour available during the non-holiday weekdays at 10.30 and a free guided walk at 11.00 and 13.00 every day but Sunday. The walks are not held on public holidays or between mid-December and late-January.
Brisbane Botanic Gardens Mt. Coot-tha Hours: 08.00 – 17.00 every day.
- Brisbane Museum – A fantastic museum with a section on dinosaurs, marine life, native Australian critters, rocks, and much much more. All exhibitions, with the exception of the occasional special edition, are free. Their carpark, however, is not; though there is the possibility of free parking near the Brisbane Museum in a nearby mall carpark (10-20 minute walk away).
Brisbane Museum Hours: 10.00 – 17.00 every day of the year minus on public holidays.
- City Botanic Gardens – But you don’t have to travel outside of the city to find a peaceful walk through bamboo shoots, past exotic flowers, across streams fed from the river, and under shade-bearing trees full of gorgeous orb weavers as there’s another fantastic gardens right in the center of Brisbane. However, free parking near these ones is difficult (if not completely impossible) to find so you’ll have to park further away and walk to it.
- Kangaroo Point Cliffs – A very easily accessed outdoor climb in the middle of Brisbane. Though even if you didn’t bring any climbing gear with you on your travels, you can still try your hand at bouldering (ie: climb it sideways). My husband will tell you that you still need at least shoes for that, but you really don’t and the grade’s even easy enough (in some places) for complete beginners.
- Moora Park every full moon / Count White Park Kangaroo Point Cliffs every 2nd Sunday of the month – Firedancing! (www.firespinning.com.au/fire-spinning/meets) Yep, you read that right. At multiple venues across Brisbane is the fantastic opportunity for backpackers (and locals) to try their hands at twirling strings of fire. Or rather, cloth balls of fire on a string. But whatever. YOU GET TO PLAY WITH FIRE! MWUAHAHAHAHA!
*No experience necessary, but if you have any kind of hair it's recommended to bring a hat – though they also have one (literally) you can borrow for free. (:
- Mount Tamborine Lookout – An amazing lookout and paragliding site literally located right off the main road with a nice clear launching field (when it’s not swarmed by clapping tourists; lols). The landing field is straight out from launch and there is a designated bombout field as well. However, I would check out the HGFA Site Guide for further details (it’s actually useable and informational!) Travelling paragliders are able to fly without joining the club.
- Bamboo Land Nursery & Parklands – Their touching desire to help people find the perfect bamboo for their homes and gardens has lead to this business creating a gorgeous display area that will give any botanic garden a good run for their money (despite that saying, walking around in this place is still 100% free ;P). They also have a store stocked with bamboo carvings and creations that would look amazing in any home and a giant bear watching the place...or rather begging for food if you have any and ignoring you if you don’t. (:
Bamboo Land Nursery & Parklands Hours: 08.00 – 17.00 every day.
- The Basin – This place isn’t just the town’s local swimming hole, but it’s also an easy place to find fish willing to eat out of your hand for free. However, feeding fish white bread severely damages their guts to the point where they can no longer defend themselves (via swimming away) in the wild. So please, please, PLEASE go buy some fish pellets instead or at least use brown bread. To drive this point home on how bad white bread is for fish (and other species, like birds) some places of the world have actually banned angelers from using white bread as bait...and if that doesn’t tell you something then I don’t know what will. Except that if we keep feeding animals foods that will kill them, eventually there won’t be any amazing wildlife left to see.
- Carlo Sandblow – A 15 hectacre sized, colorful dune that was named after one of Captain Cook’s deckhands. It’s a great spot for backpackers and locals alike to try their hand at sandboarding (though tiring to constantly climb up!) and from August until October it’s supposedly also a great place to watch for migrating whales as they head back down to the cold waters of Antarctica.
- Rockhampton Zoo – A completely free zoo located beside Rockhampton’s Botanic Gardens (fantastic, easy day out anyone?) and Murray Lagoon. It’s home to over 70 different types of critters that are both native to Australia and from places afar, such as a massive salt-water crocodile, a couple of very energetic otters, and a few unfortunate chimps. Normally I wouldn’t support a place that held any broken animal captive, but Rockhampton Zoo is working as a conservative group, whose effort is seen in the number of signs they’ve put up warning about deforestation and in the genuine care the keepers have for the animals they’re watching out for. There are also free feeding and talk shows held daily starting at 14.30 with the otters and ending at 15.20 with the koalas.
Rockhampton Zoo Hours: 08.00 – 16.30
Springbrook National Park:
- Natural Bridge – A short walk that veers a few steps into a cave located underneath and behind the waterfall. It was the force of this water that brought about the natural bridge seen in the picture above as it carved into the basalt year after year. The picturesque view of the waterfall and the bridge is enough to call for a visit, but there’s also the wonderful attraction of glow worms crawling on the cave’s ceiling. The best time to see them is obviously at night, but if everyone turns off their light sources then you can see them even in the middle of the day.
- Twin Falls – Probably named for the way this waterfall splits into two as it falls down the cliff and into a small pool. You can also supposedly swim here, though I hear it’s not as deep or as big as Warringa Pool, which is mentioned below.
- Warringa Pool – A paradisaical swimming hole located in the calming growth of a rainforest gully. There are actually two pools here with one being big about 10m in diameter – plenty big enough for a good, relaxing swim for any weary, sweaty traveller.
- Cania Gorge – A national park that is home to many interesting rock features all covered by a few kilometres loop track. Such free attractions include the Dripping Rock, Dragon and Bloodwood Cave, Two Storey Cave, Fern Tree Pool, Giant’s Chair, Shamrock Mine Site, Big Foot, and The Overhang. The caves aren’t very deep, so don’t get your hopes up too high there, but nevertheless they are quite fun to look at and cover with handprints like the Aboriginals once did.
- Mt. Scoria – Despite only being 150m in height, this ancient volcano is still a tough climb given the loose rocks...and maybe us accidentally getting lost and climbing up the wrong way… Regardless, once you finally do get to the top, don’t just stop and have a look at views below. Instead, pick up a fist-sized rock and tap it against one of the hexagonal basalt columns to listen to these unique rocks sing. And yes, different rocks sing at different pitches. (:
Free things to do in Queenland's Tropical Coast:
- Hypipamee Crater – Believed to be the consequence of a giant volcanic gas explosion some time in our history, this crater looks like a long circular hole in the ground. It’s calculated to be roughly 70 metres across and about 128 metres deep. And be sure to keep an eye out for the shy cassowary as you travel through the lush canopies to go visit this ancient sign of destruction.
- Mareeba Heritage Museum – Located within the information centre of Mareeba, this museum is free to enter though donations are appreciated if you can spare some loose change on your travels. The unique appeal to this place is the fact that most of its artifacts and pieces of history aren’t locked up behind glass. They’re out and about for you to handle, pick up, flip through, and walk inside. My particular favourite was the piece on the town’s terrorising goats.
Mareeba Heritage Museum Hours: 9-5 Every day of the week
- A gorgeous free camping spot dotted with cocounts and located south of Mackay (I would check the WikiCamps app if you’re having trouble finding it) that has a massive difference between high and low tide (in distance rather than depth). This makes it a wonderful place to look for seashells and other critters though just make sure you don’t get caught out as the tide comes in very fast!
TIP: It’s very sandy (duh, it’s a beach; lols) so I would suggest walking it before you drive or you might get stuck (like we did). But an upside to it being fairly busy (even in the off season) is that there’s always someone to help dig you out. Haha.
- Bluewater Lagoon – A free swimming pool hotspot that is made up of two main lagoons of resonable size and depth. There’s also a waterslide that connects the two, a mini waterfall, and a water playground area for the kids...or kid-like adults as it were. :P It’s supposedly open all year around too so you never have to worry about being stung by a jellyfish regardless of which time of the year you travel here.
Mackay's Bluewater Lagoon Hours: 09.00 – 18.00
- Eugene River National Park – An almost guaranteed spot to see an elusive platypus. However, given that they can hold their breath for over twenty minutes, you need a bit of time and patience to see one. While you’re waiting you can take pleasure in the kingfishers, turtles, and other birdlife in the area. The best times to see platypus (or seemingly any Australian wildlife) is at dusk in dawn. Unfortunately though, one cannot camp here for free and it’s a fair drive from anywhere else so plan accordingly. However, we rocked up at 15.00 on a cloudy day and saw loads.
- Magnetic Island – Two extradoradinary snorkelling spots are easily accessed from the shores here, both only a few kilometres from the docks. One is located south and right outside of Base Backpackers (TIP: if you forgot to change beforehand, they don’t seem to mind letting you use their toilets to do so). This one is worth noting because of the giant clams located only a few metres beneath the far left yellow buoys. And I mean GIANT clams. They’re amazing. The other fantastic free snorkelling spot is north of the docks at Geoffrey Bay. Enter via the old ramp (be careful!) and swim out to the buoys. Not only is there a cool ship wreck and propeller to look at, but there’s also tons of different types of fish.
There are also other snorkelling spots on the island, but these were the best in our opinion.
- Big Crystal Creek & Rockslides – These two crystal clear swimming holes are located only a few kilometres from each other, making it very easy to visit both in one day, which is good given it’s not free to camp here. The Rockslides have a much smaller pool, but it’s one you can supposedly exit by sliding down the adjacent rocks. It also has a small waterfall that makes it look like paradise. Big Crystal Creek is a much bigger pool and is home to a good number of fish and turtles.
- RAAF Museum – A small, but informational war museum covering WWII onwards with a very knowledgable keeper. They also have a few planes and other machinery on display outside.
Townsville's RAAF Museum Hours: 09.00 – 12.00 Tue. & 09.00 – 16.00 Sun.
- Riverway Lagoons – Two jellyfish-free pools that are completely free to both locals and travellers alike. When sized together they supposedly measure bigger than three Olympic swimming pools – an estimation I can agree with.
Free things to do in Queenland's North:
- This town is the picture postcard of Australia. This is the place you imagine when you think of the outback. Not even the actual outback stands up to this place of stunning red rock, clear blue skies, road trains, Aborigine history, and just an all around Australian feel.
- Balancing Rock – A rock that looks like it should fall over at any minute.
- Chillagoe-Mungana Caves – In addition to the caves here that you have to pay for, there are also three free ones any backpacker or other member of the public can enter. These are The Archways, which is a semi-open cave that has quite a bit of outside scrambling, Pompeii Cave and Bauhinia Cave, two proper caves that have fantastic formations and amazing colors.
- Chillagoe Smelters – Opened in the 1900s ran for over forty years, this mining camp treated over one million tons of ore, silver, gold, copper, and lead. However, despite this seemingly large amount, the signs here say that in all the years it was open it never made a profit. Unfortunately, however, the smelters can only be looked at from afar, but the walk around it is nice enough and just another perk on top of the other awesome stuff in this town.
- Mungana Aboriginal Art Site – Located a few kilometres outside of Chillagoe is an aboriginal art site that’s within spitting distance of the carpark. There are also a few semi-caves to explore here.
Free things to do in Queenland's Outback:
- Towers Hill Lookout – A short hike along this small hill tells the story of the land’s history via information board dotted along the way. There are also Pyrites Works’ ruins to explore and rock wallabies to spot, with your best chance of seeing them being at dusk and dawn.
- Porcupine Gorge National Park – The Pyramid is an interesting rock feature rising out of the ground in a triangular fashion as its name suggest. Its sandstone contains a variety of beautiful colors that are matched throughout this free-to-enter canyon, but the best bit, especially after the hot kilometre hike down, are the swimming holes located at the foot of this rock monolith.
- Machinery Mile – A free outdoor museum that’s made up from old farm machinery, tanks, guns, bottles, and other bits and bobs. I’m not sure if it actually stretches for a mile, but it sure does feel like it as it can take an enthusiast all day to look at while the non-enthusiast kinda just walks away twiddling her thumbs. Lols. But even though I don’t have a strong interest like my husband, I would still recommend stopping to see this attraction if you’re already travelling through. And if your partner wants to spend more time looking around than you do, there’s always an artisan spring right across the road – it’s not free, but it only costs a couple of dollars a person.
- If you travel 12km north of Richmond, there are two free fossil fossicking sites. The site on your right is the remains of an old quarry and is much easier to dig through. AKA: no fossicking equpiment needed to search for 100+ million years old fossils. The site on your left however, is a bit harder to dig into and will require at least a shovel to get anywhere worth being. The type of fossils you can find here are: bivalve clams (by the thousands), belemnites, fish, shark teeth (their cartilage bodies are hardly ever preserved), turtles, ichthyosaurs (marine dinosaur), coprolites, and more. Rob and I found a fish next to some dinosaur poop as seen in the photo.
TIP: Given that you can take your fossil finds home with you (even across seas), one of these beauties makes for a unique souvenir for the budget backpacker, average traveller, or wealthy holidayer. Also, you can take your finds into the Kronosaurus Centre for free information about them.
- Arno’s Wall – You know you're in the back country when the town's entertainment is to see how many things they can literally build into a wall. Turns out, pretty much everything. From motorbikes to washer machines to old farm parts to dolls to even the kitchen sink, this wall has it all. It's supposedly next to a free garden too, but well, I'll let you be the judge of what exactly it is when you see it. (:
- Musical Fence – This is the place you have your younger sibling take the kids to. Lols. A free music park that allows any traveller or local to drum out a rocking beat on some makeshift drums, beat some old mechanical parts and call it a melody, or play the piano(?) on a pretty awesome wooden fence musical creation thing. Regardless of the specifics, this is definitely the place to go if you want to make some noise...or if you need to work out your frustrations from travelling in a van for too long.
- Opal Shop – I don’t entirely remember what this place is called, but it has some beautiful merchandise created from opals and prettied up fossils that are relatively cheap. However, cheap or not, that stuff isn’t free and this is a ‘free attractions and things to do for the budget traveller in Queensland’ blog. The free bit here is the square metre box sitting out front full of discarded pieces of opal. Now, you’re not going to find anything big, but there are plenty of beautiful pieces of opal in here worth keeping as yet another unique souvenir.
Do you know of any other free things to do in Queensland, Australia? Or just want to write a review on one of the above places you've been? Then we'd love to hear all about them in the comments below!