Travelling with pets

By: Carla Francis, Photography by: Carla Francis

Check out these top spots to stay if travelling with your furry (or feathered) BFF along the coastal route from Sydney to Palm Cove

Travelling with pets
On the road with pets

If you’re anything like me, then leaving your furry friends behind is not an option when you travel. Although the number of pet-friendly caravan parks has steadily increased over the years, a 'pets on application' policy still exits — which means that your holiday can be defined by where your best friend is welcome.

A pitfall of travelling with pets is that the label 'pet-friendly' doesn't always mean that all kinds of pets are automatically welcome. This can lead to undue stress if you turn up with a bird and are told that actually, only dogs are permitted. Some properties are merely 'dog-tolerant'.

For my 10-year school reunion in Palm Cove, I made the decision to drive north in a campervan as I didn’t want to fly my two cats: my rescue cat Lulu, aged seven, and Shinsei, a two-year-old Egyptian Mao.

Pet playpen Gympie.jpg

Instead, I wanted to take the scenic route. After doing some research, I mapped out a journey from Sydney to Cairns and trying to break our trip into manageable chunks. This was to include enough toilet breaks for both two and four-footed travellers, however, my options were narrowed again by a lack of pet-friendly options.

Not to be outdone by draconian pet laws or distance, I embarked on my journey after ensuring most of the parks I’d chosen were not too far off the beaten track — or major motorways.

Five years ago, I’d completed the same journey, so I was keen to find out if things had got any better in terms of pet-inclusive places. I was happy to see many parks declaring, 'Pets OK' as I sped past them on the Bruce Highway.


For the start of my journey north, I chose NRMA's Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park. Located just over four hours from Sydney, this park is not only in a seaside setting but also came well recommended.

Formerly known as Sundowner Breakwall Tourist Park, it was taken over by NRMA in 2017 and boasts a newly refurbished swimming pool, camp kitchen and barbecue areas, kids' club and shared amenities.

Due to heavy traffic congestion getting out of Sydney, I arrived a lot later than expected which didn’t give me much time to explore, but the next morning I went for a walk on the dog-friendly (on-leash) Oxley Beach, which is about 1.5km away.

The park is popular due to its great location and sensational year-round weather. Once you’re set up, you don’t need your car since everything is within walking distance.

The town centre is at one end, the gorgeous Hastings River runs along the Breakwall, and Town Beach is at the other end. Port Macquarie is a town with a rich history that dates back to the penal settlement, and has the honour of hosting the only koala hospital in the country.

After a quick morning stroll, it was time to buckle up and hit the road for the second leg of my journey.

Big Mango Bowen.jpg


I was keen to stay at Ballina Beach Village ever since I’d read its website that they even had pet-friendly cabins – not a common option in most places. I arrived as darkness descended and the heavens opened. I checked in and quizzed the friendly receptionist, Jeremy, about the Park’s particular features.
"Have you had many cats staying here?" I asked Jeremy.
"We are not at all averse to kitties staying," he said.
Good, I thought.
"Once a guy stayed with a big spotted cat that cost him $3000."
"A Bengal?" I asked.
"Yes, that’s the one," he replied.
"How about birds?" I enquired.
"Yes, we’ve had birds stay too. A lady stayed for weeks with a lorikeet," he said.
There is a beach at the back at the caravan park but unfortunately dogs are not allowed.

According to Jeremy, it's a conservation area for critically endangered birds and a turtle nesting place, but dogs can go off leash at Patchs Beach, just a short drive away.

The next morning I went for a wander and found plenty of other pet owners who had decided to stay at the Park because of its pet policies. I stopped to chat with a New Zealand visitor walking her two brindle staffies, Kew and Jess.
"We chose Ballina because of the dogs," she says. "It’s not always easy to find parks that are this pet-friendly."
Staying across from me in one of the cabins was a 12-year-old Maltese terrier called Mopsey, cuddled affectionately by a young couple from the Gold Coast. Down for the weekend, they were enjoying their stay in a pet-friendly cabin and sat out on the deck eating breakfast.

Lily at Palm Cove Holiday Park.jpg


Gympie Caravan Park caught my eye because of its Hachiko statue. As a lover of the film about the loyal dog, I was keen to find out more. Richard, an enthusiast of the Akita breed of dog and fellow animal lover, manages the park. Inside the reception I spied a dog’s 'property laws' sign pinned to the wall detailing 10 points from a dog’s point of view. Richard checked me in and he pointed down the hill, I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not when he looked at my cat and said, "the off-leash dog park’s that way".
"This park also has pet-friendly cabins", he proudly informed me.
"Cabins 1 and 2 are made locally."

Since this was the first day of good weather, I put up the pet playpen, read outside for a while and thought about taking a swim in the pool, until the sun finally faded and I bedded down for another night.


The next day was my birthday, so I didn’t relish the thought of driving as far as Rockhampton; the furthest I was happy to go was Midgee about 22km outside the city. I decided I’d splash out on a deluxe pet-friendly cabin at Kangaroo Country Caravan Park since it was a celebration — and also because some of the Park’s online reviews had said its proximity to the highway and train track meant that it could get noisy — which happily, it didn’t.

I wasted no time in cracking open the bottle of bubbly I’d packed for the occasion and sat out on the deck to enjoy the last remaining hours of daylight.
The park has a large aviary and a talkative cockatiel near the entrance, which was entertaining as the bird greets everyone with a friendly "hello" on arrival.
As in Gympie, Kangaroo Country has short and long term residents, but it was quiet and suited my needs for an overnight stay.

Aviary Kangaroo Country CP.jpg


The next morning, we were on the road again, driving through the most remote part of our journey. I decided to push on to Bowen since I’d stayed there before and I liked the small tropical town.
Wangaratta Caravan Park is located close to Queens Beach, a long stretch of sand where dogs can run free. Surrounded by a golf course, this park has a good atmosphere and is pet-friendly. Features include a swimming pool, large shady sites, a playground and disabled access. Pets, as usual, are to be kept on a leash while in the park.


As I headed toward Innisfail, large expanses of sugar cane spread out on both sides of the road announcing that we had reached a hotter climate.

For our penultimate night we stayed at August Moon Caravan Park, a place I’d previously stayed and enjoyed the company of other travellers, and I decided to return there.

Set on 10 acres, the Park welcomes most small pets in your own van. There's a saltwater pool, large camping area and sites for motorhomes. Pet-friendly features include a large, grassed, off-leash exercise area where dogs can run free. Although the Park is located on the Bruce Highway, the traffic is a lot lighter in this area so it didn’t prevent me from getting a good night’s sleep. I woke refreshed and keen to get to my final destination where I would be meeting friends.

A slight spattering of rain came down as I left, followed by a beautiful rainbow that appeared overhead as I headed north on the final part of my journey.


Speeding past masses of banana plantations, signs selling dragon fruit and Nonna’s special juice, it became immediately clear I had finally hit Far North Queensland, or FNQ as it’s fondly known as.

Ahead of me in the distance was Mount Bartle Frere, Queensland’s highest mountain at 1611m, looming like a giant green monolith with low-lying clouds hovering just below its tropical peak.

Driving this far andnot paying a visit to the northern gem of Palm Cove would be unthinkable, so I passed by Cairns Central and headed straight to the crown of the northern beaches, NRMA Palm Cove Holiday Park, a stunning spot next to the ocean. 

As there are no cabins, I would be staying in my own accommodation for the night. I parked up next to Charlie, who had travelled all the way up from Northern Victoria with his Jack Russell cross, Molly. On the other side was Errol from the Gold Coast accompanied by Lily, a Maltese cross, who had a nasty experience with a paralytic tick — a reminder to keep your pet properly protected on the road.

The next morning I went for a swim, the water was warmer than expected and I made sure to stay inside the stinger net.
My new neighbour, Charlie, recommended strolling along the esplanade and going for a coffee at one of the many cafes where dogs are welcome.
I’d driven well over 2000km, almost the equivalent of driving across Europe, from London to Istanbul.
I think that no matter which continent you are on, or which State you are in, pets definitely make the journey more enjoyable, and parks like these make it far easier to take them with you.

 Ballina Beach Village camp dog.jpg

7 Tips for Successful Pet Travel

  • Plan ahead and book in advance – the more popular parks can get booked up
  • Invest in a pet playpen
  • Comply with each park’s pet policy 
  • Make sure your pet’s flea and tick treatments and vaccinations are up to date 
  • Pets should be microchipped and wear ID tags in case they go missing
  • Always have poo bags and wet wipes available
  • If your pet is a nervous traveller, invest in a good calming spray



  • Getting there: Driving from Sydney to Palm Cove is 2438km — almost the equal of driving from London to Istanbul.
  • NRMA Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park. Visit or call 1800 636 452
  • Ballina Beach Village. Visit or call (02) 6686 3347.
  • Gympie Caravan Park. Visit or call (07) 5483 6800.
  • Kangaroo Country Caravan Park. Visit or call (07) 49w 21 1799.
  • Wangaratta Caravan Park. Call (07) 4785 1152.
  • August Moon Caravan Park. Visit or call (07) 4063 2211.
  • NRMA Palm Cove Holiday Park. Visit or call (07) 4055 3824.