Camping at O’Briens Creek Campground

O’Briens Creek Campground is located on the banks of Elizabeth Creek. It’s the closest place you can stay to the O’Briens Creek fossicking area and safe to say most who stay, also fossick – but with its waterfront positioning and shady trees, it’s a great little bush camp destination. Set on 25 acres the O’Briens Creek Campground has no powered sites, but does provide toilet and shower facilities, and you are welcome to bring a generator and your dogs. Oher than fossicking (and you need a licence) you can swim, paddle and fish in the creek, enjoy the big blue sky days and starry, starry nights set to a soundtrack of the diverse local birdlife.

O’Briens Creek Things to do

O’Briens Creek Campground is right on the banks of Elizabeth Creek. Here you can swim, paddle and fish against a scenic backdrop of pink granite rock walls and sandy creek banks. A lovely bush camp in the Gulf Savannah.

A Real Bush Camp With Perks O’Briens Creek Campground

This would be my definition of real bush camp, with some perks – being the toilets and showers (similar to Elim Beach Camping) – as I must say, I do like to have amenities to hand in the form of an ablution block. We stayed 2 nights at O’Briens Creek Campground on the Labour Day long weekend 2023, arriving Saturday afternoon and departing Monday morning. We fossicked – without any real success – and spent the rest of the time relaxing and paddle boarding in Elizabeth Creek. The creek was a blessing actually, given it was still quite warm during the day (32 degrees) and provided a very scenic backdrop for the SUPs.

“We came for the fossicking but ended up enjoying the creek time more than anything. Elizabeth Creek is just lovely, with shallow sections, some deeper sections and even a small waterfall / rapids up around the bend from the campground (heading in the opposite direction to the road). The water was clear and cool and at sunset, the entire creek glowed red and gold. O’Briens Creek Campground had lots of shade, which was lovely, and the toilets and showers were kept clean. The birdlife was prolific and I particularly liked the flocks of pink and grey galahs which swooped over and above our camp in the early morning. There are creekfront camp sites, but it’s first in first served and we missed out on one of those, which wasn’t really an issue as it was a short walk from our camper to the creek.” – Julie Johnston

O’Briens Creek Campground The Country That Surrounds It

O’Briens Creek Campground is located 37km from the township of Mount Surprise, part of the Gulf Savannah. It’s accessible on a graded dirt road, which was in good condition when we visited in May. The savannah is known for its tropical grasslands, which is the dominant feature of the landscape. The country that surrounds O’Briens Creek Campground is mostly flat, with some small hills. Elizabeth Creek runs along the ‘front’ of the campground and has a combination of sandy banks and pink granite walls and outcrops, with black granite boulders scattered along the waterway. The vegetation and birdlife is quintessentially Australian ‘bush’, with large stands of paperback trees, gum trees and wattle, flocks of galahs, kookaburras, kingfishers, butcherbirds and parrots.

This is gemstone country, and the nearby O’Briens Creek fossicking area is famous for its topaz, smoky quartz, citrine and aquamarine. If you follow our travels, you will see we’ve been doing a bit of fossicking lately at Agate Creek. We found that more enjoyable as it provided quick reward for little effort, while fossicking at O’Briens Creek did require digging and sifting and as the campground manager said to us as we headed out in the morning, ‘you’ll need to work for it here’. We only found a few little pieces of smoky quartz. It was still fun, but our son and his mate tired of it pretty quickly, and we were all keen to get back to the creek.

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Camping at O’Briens Creek Campground

There is lots of things you can do at O’Briens Creek Campground. Obviously as we’ve highlighted above, Elizabeth Creek was popular with us. We cooled down in its water and paddled up and down a small section of it on our stand up paddle boards, enjoying the scenery and serenity. Other campers had kayaks and a range of inflatables. A few people were fishing at various locations, catching small to medium sized black brim. This creek has water all year round but I’m not sure on levels, as even when we were there lots of sections were very shallow. You could give the campground a call to enquire about water levels prior to your visit on (07) 4062 3001. Birdwatchers and nature lovers will enjoy the flora and fauna and you can go exploring around the creek and in the nearby fossicking area. At night campfires are a must and keep your eyes peeled for satellites that can be seen shooting across the sky in the early evening.

O’Briens Creek Campground has an ‘office’ which is a tin shed and is where you pay for your stay, on arrival. Please note when we visited there was no reception and therefore, no EFTPOS. Make sure you take cash to pay. Here you can also purchase firewood, hire fossicking equipment, and when we visited they had a very limited selection of soft drinks and ice creams. It does not sell groceries or supplies, so you will need to bring these with you. The only other facilities are the toilets and showers (with hot water available thanks to the ‘donkey’ – see our FAQs for more on this), which are basic but are kept clean. For a photo opportunity, stop by the rusted car at the front gates and in the afternoon, make sure you’re at the river for a spectacular sunset.

O’Briens Creek Photos

There’s lots of photo opportunities at O’Briens Creek Campground, including this ‘classic’ car parked at the gates. Kids will have a great time, exploring the area and swimming in the creek.

Questions About Camping at O’Briens Creek Campground

Where is O’Briens Creek Campground?

O’Briens Creek Campground is located 37km from the township of Mount Surprise, which is between Mount Garnet and Georgetown on the Savannah Way in North Queensland. It’s on a private property and faces Elizabeth Creek.

How far is it from Cairns to O’Briens Creek Campground?

It’s around a 320km one-way drive from Cairns to O’Briens Creek Campground, which should take approximately 4 hours and 20 minutes (with no stops). The road from Cairns to Mount Surprise is sealed, but once you turn here for O’Briens Creek Campground you are travelling on a graded dirt road. The journey is accessible by 2WD and 4WD.

How far is it from Cobbold Gorge to O’Briens Creek Campground?

It’s around a 168km one-way drive from Cobbold Gorge to O’Briens Creek Campground, which should take approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes (with no stops). The road from Forsyth to Mount Surprise is mostly sealed, the other roads are graded dirt. The journey is accessible by 2WD and 4WD.

What are the facilities at O’Briens Creek Campground?

O’Briens Creek Campground has an office, where you pay to stay, can hire some fossicking equipment and stock a limited selection of ice-creams and soft drinks. Please note when we stayed they had no reception for EFTPOS so CASH is a must. You can also purchase firewood here and fossicking licences. It has toilets and showers, with some hot water thanks to the donkey. What’s a donkey you ask? A DONKEY is a heat exchange system that works by heating a tank full of water that has a copper coil submerged within. Once the surrounding water is hot enough, the water in the pipe can be maintained in a reasonable temperature using only a small amount of fuel. It is unpowered camping but generators are allowed. Please note you are requested to turn generators off by 9.30pm, out of consideration for others. Pets are allowed.

Is it worth going to O’Briens Creek Campground?

Is it worth going to O’Brien’s Creek Campground – that all depends on what you are hoping to find and do. We enjoyed our 2-night stay there and I believe serious fossickers come and set-up camp for weeks at a time. The remote location and lack of reception and power, means you are getting off grid in a very real sense, which we enjoy from time to time.

How far is it to the O’Briens Creek fossicking area from O’Briens Creek Campground?

It is about a 10-minute drive from O’Brien’s Creek Campground to the official ‘entry’ of the O’Briens Creek fossicking area. The first sign-posted locations you will see are ‘Tourmaline Gully’ and ‘Crystal Gully’, which are relatively easy to access along the dirt roads, with tracks leading down to O’Brien’s Creek. Here you can dig and sieve looking for gemstones. There are lots of other ‘locations’ you can try your luck at, but we only visited these first two.

Do you need a licence to fossick at O’Briens Creek?

Yes, you do need a licence to fossick at the O’Briens Creek fossicking area and these can be purchased online, through the Queensland Government website. Please note you can also hire some fossicking equipment – picks, shovels, sieves and more – from O’Brien’s Creek Campground.

Are there fossicking tours at O’Briens Creek?

When we first investigated this in 2022 there were fossicking tours to O’Briens Creek fossicking area from the nearby Mount Surprise. However, when we were researching and booking our visit in 2023, we discovered these tours were no longer running.

Is the road to O’Briens Creek sealed?

The road to O’Briens Creek is not sealed, but it is graded dirt. We visited at the start of the season – in early May – and the road was in good condition. It is also well sign-posted.

What can you find at O’Briens Creek fossicking area?

O’Briens Creek fossicking area is well known for gemstones, mainly topaz, quartz, citrine and aquamarine. Previously there was a lot of tin mining in the area, but this is not still being conducted today.

Can you fly your drone at O’Briens Creek?

Yes you can fly your drone at O’Briens Creek, while adhering to the normal licence requirements regarding height and proximity to people.

Can you take your pets to O’Briens Creek?

Yes you can take your pets to O’Briens Creek – as long as they are secured and stay with your tent / camper trailer / caravan and do not bother other guests.

What’s better O’Briens Creek or Agate Creek?

There is no definitive answer to this, as it all depends on what you are looking for and how ‘serious’ you are as a fossicker. From our perspective though, we enjoyed fossicking at Agate Creek more than O’Briens Creek. Why?

  • It was ‘easier’. At Agate Creek we just wandered up the dry creeks and gullies and picked up agates from the surface. Serious fossickers will tell you the good stuff is buried and you should dig – and I am sure this is the case – but there is still lots of pretty rocks and crystals you can just find on the surface.
  • At O’Briens Creek you do need to dig for your stones. If you are lucky at the start of the season you might pick up some topaz and smoky quartz on the surface, but it’s less prolific than the agates at Agate Creek and we only found a few small specimens in the 3 hours we were looking. While in the same timeframe at Agate Creek, we had collected a bucket of stones.

Staying at O’Briens Creek Campground, What You Need To Know

O’Briens Creek Campground is located 37km west of Mount Surprise – which is between Mount Garnet and Georgetown in the Gulf Savannah. It’s located on 25 acres of private property and they do not take bookings, so we suggest calling before to check availability. Phone (07) 4062 3001. At the time of writing [May 2023] campground costs were $10 per adult per night, $5 per child per night with weekly rates available. You can access the campground on 2WD and 4WD and you should bring in your own food and beverages, as they do not sell any onsite. There are toilets and showers, but no camp kitchens or laundry facilities.

  • Not Open All Year Round
  • All Unpowered Sites, Generators Allowed
  • You can not pre-book camp sites
  • You can take your pets
  • Bring your own supplies
  • Take cash as EFTPOS might not be available

About the Author

Julie was born in Cairns and grew up running around in the cane fields south of the city. She has explored, breathed and loved everything about our amazing Cairns region her whole life. Excited to be able share this wonderful place with our son and see it all again through ‘new’ eyes. Watch this space for more info on the people, places, destinations and things you can do up here.

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