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Goldsborough, our favourite family-friendly camping spot near Cairns

Do you have fond, or even wistful, childhood memories of endless days spent outdoors, toasting marshmallows over a camp fire and waking with golden sunlight peeking through the canvas?

Sharing these experiences with our own children is something we all long to do, but somehow the weeks and months go by, and we never quite find the time. Perhaps camping is one of those things that, as parents, we put into the ‘too hard’ basket because we simply don’t know where to start.

Well, not anymore! We know just the place for novice family campers—a place that makes camping ‘do-able’, not to mention enjoyable! Goldsborough Valley in Wooroonooran National Park is only an hour’s drive south of Cairns and ticks all the boxes for family fun (for both parents and kids)!

Read on for our tips to help you plan your first foray into family camping.

Practice makes perfect when camping!

Family sitting in camp chairs in front of fire ring near their two dome tents, in grassy clearing surrounded by rainforest
Goldsborough Valley camping area | Maxime Coquard © Queensland Government

If you are true novices, practise putting up the tent in the backyard first! The kids may even want to have a ‘practice-sleep’ in the tent to see how they go. Blow up the air mattresses, shake out the sleeping bags and zip up the tent. Settle in for a restful night under the stars, albeit in suburbia!

Then, once you arrive in the beautiful Goldsborough Valley, it’s the same but much better!

Goldsborough Valley camping area, on the banks of the Mulgrave River and surrounded by lush lowland rainforest, has all the features you need to make first-time camping (not to mention family camping) easy!

You’ll find shady camp sites, toilets (both flush and composting variety), fire rings (which kid doesn’t love a fire?), tap water (treat before drinking), gas barbecues in the nearby day-use area (it’s much easier to cook on a barbie than over an open fire), and wide open spaces for the kids to burn off all that energy.

Apart from the obvious things to pack (like tent, sleeping gear and food!), you’ll also need rubbish bags (to take out your rubbish) and firewood (purchased from a servo along the way).

A hint from the Park Rangers: During the warmer months (anytime from August to April) you may encounter March flies so it’s best to avoid this time or to bring protective clothing (long sleeves and legs) and insect repellent.

We’re going on a butterfly hunt!

Man and woman carrying child striding along on walking track through rainforest, gazing into the canopy
Wajil walk | Maxime Coquard © Queensland Government

Now what? You’ve got the camping part covered, but how do you occupy the kids during the day? Simple, keep them active! And, while a bushwalk may not sound too exciting, a butterfly hunt sure does!

Fact: All kids know the words and actions to Playschool’s song, ‘Going on a Bear Hunt’, right? Well, if Playschool can adapt the lyrics from ‘bear hunt’ to ‘bush hunt’, we can too!

Grab your hats and walking shoes, kids! We’re goin’ on a ‘butterfly hunt’! From the camping area, head off on the Wajil walk and look for flashes of colour against the green rainforest backdrop.

Make up your own lyrics and actions as you walk—‘We're goin’ on a butterfly hunt. We're going to see a big one. I’m not scared. What a beautiful day!’

‘Uh-oh! A forest! A big green forest. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no! We’ve got to go through it. Stumble trip, stumble trip…’  Take turns to decide what comes next.

Cairns birdwing butterfly showing dappled patterns of black, yellow, green and blue on wings, with red body
Female Cairns birdwing butterfly | © Jodie Bray

Along this walk, you’ll probably see Cairns birdwing butterflies—males are bright green and black, while females are yellow, green, blue and black. The Wajil walk brings you to the base of scenic Kearneys Falls and the return trip will take you an hour or more—a perfect way to spend the morning.

Hint: If your kids are too ‘old’ for butterflies, try a dragon hunt—eastern water dragons hang out in the trees leaning over the river near the day-use area.

Water play

Two children splashing water into the air while standing in shallows of river with rainforest backdrop
Mulgrave River | Maxime Coquard © Queensland Government

You’re camped beside the river so what is more natural than wanting a swim? Like kids drawn to the music of Mr Whippy, your young ‘uns will spot the river and start burrowing in the tent for their swimming togs! So make sure you pack towels, floaties, inflatable toys and all the other things essential for the kids’ water play.

You can access the river from the day-use area and camping area but check the conditions first. The river can be fast-flowing and the river bank and rocks can be slippery. Make sure it’s safe before you jump in. And it’s best to keep shoes on when in the river to avoid chance encounters with bullrouts (freshwater stonefish).

The kids will happily spend entire afternoons splashing in the river while you relax on the riverbank, or why not join in the fun?

Convinced to give it a go?

Grassy open space with picnic shelter against backdrop of green rainforest and blue sky
Goldsborough Valley day-use area | Julie Swartz © Queensland Government

Put yourself in this picture: Goldsborough Valley is close to Cairns, the kids can sit around the camp fire to toast marshmallows and wake in their tents to the sounds of birdsong. They can swim or paddle in the river, explore the rainforest, spot wildlife and run ‘wild’ in wide open spaces.

All in all, it sounds like an ideal family camping spot, doesn’t it? And, with all the facilities on offer, it’s perfect for campers who don’t have all the gear, including the kitchen sink.

There’s one more thing—it’s great value! A family camping permit costs little more than a family-sized pizza.

Check out Goldsborough Valley, Wooroonooran National Park, for more information, or find out more about camping in Goldsborough Valley. Remember to always check Park alerts before you go.

Remember to book before you go!
Camping must be booked in advance.
Book now

Last updated: 15 March 2020

Acknowledgement of Country

The Department of Environment and Science acknowledges Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and custodians of the land. We recognise their connection to land, sea and community, and pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.

Design developed by Boyd Blackman, a Butchulla and Birri Birri man, featuring the artwork of Elaine Chambers, a Koa (Guwa) and Kuku Yalanji woman.