The Ultimate Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip Guide
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Introduction

The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s most popular tourist destination. It stretches over 2,300 kilometres (that’s 1,400 miles for the Americans) along the coast of Queensland and contains over 2,900 individual reefs. The reef is home to many different species of marine life such as tropical fish, turtles, stingrays and sharks. The site is listed as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and is number 1 on my top 10 places to visit in Australia list. With that popularity, a Brisbane to Cairns road trip is an amazing way to see the Great Barrier Reef and one of the best experiences you can have travelling Australia.

This article is a full in-depth guide on a Brisbane to Cairns road trip that is driven by so many tourists every year. I will go over every town and city that is worth stopping at, where to visit and where to stay. There are several different trips you can do over different lengths of time depending on how much you want to see. This article is everything you need to know on one page. This is a hugely epic article and as such I highly recommend bookmarking the page and returning to reference it when needed.

This article is formatted by major cities along the Queensland coast between Brisbane and Cairns. In each cities section I will break down the best places to visit and where to stay. The majority of visitors to Queensland fly into Brisbane. Some will fly into Cairns as it also has an international airport. If this is the case, you can read this article in reverse.

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Itineraries

Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip Itineraries

Let’s look at a few different itineraries that you can take on your road trip. Depending on the amount of time you have, you could spend 2 weeks driving it slowly and taking in all the beautiful sights and attractions the Queensland coast has to offer.

The drive from Brisbane to Cairns is over 20 hours long. I would not recommend driving the road trip in less than 3 days for safety reasons. Fatigue is one of the biggest killers on Australian roads. The roads are extremely long with not a lot between the towns. This increases the risk of falling asleep at the wheel when driving for such long periods.

With that in mind, here are quite a few different itineraries for multiple days spent driving the Queensland coast. Use these suggestions and the town guides above to formulate your own Brisbane to Cairns road trip. For more than 9-day trips decide on what you really want to see and add those spots into your road trip. I also recommend staying multiple nights in some towns to really enjoy day trips to islands without feeling rushed.

9 Day Road Trip

Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip (9 Days):

  1. Brisbane to Noosa Heads
  2. Noosa Heads to Hervey Bay
  3. Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy
  4. Seventeen Seventy to Gladstone
  5. Gladstone to Yeppoon
  6. Yeppoon to Mackay
  7. Mackay to Airlie Beach
  8. Airlie Beach to Townsville
  9. Townsville to Cairns

Day 1 – Brisbane to Noosa Heads

Brisbane to Noosa Heads
Brisbane to Noosa Heads – 135 kilometres (84 miles) – 2 hour drive

Begin your road trip by taking a short 2-hour drive from Brisbane to Noosa Heads. Noosa is a perfect spot to explore for the day with plenty of resorts and backpackers to stay for the evening. Discover the beautiful Fairy Pools, Hell’s Gate and picturesque beaches the Sunshine Coast has to offer.

Day 2 – Noosa Heads to Hervey Bay

Noosa Heads to Hervey Bay
Noosa Heads to Hervey Bay – 184 kilometres (114 miles) – 2.5 hour drive

On day 2 get up early and witness an amazing Sunshine Coast sunrise. Get some breakfast and continue your road trip up to Hervey Bay. Another 2-hour drive, get in early and head over on the ferry to Fraser Island for the day and enjoy the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef. Get the ferry back in the afternoon and enjoy an evening in Hervey Bay along the esplanade checking out the restaurants and bars.

Day 3 – Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy

Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy
Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy – 236 kilometres (147 miles) – 3 hour drive

Day 3 get yourself to the spectacular town of Seventeen Seventy. This is a hidden gem of the Queensland coast and is often forgotten by tourists and locals alike. Get yourself a cottage or holiday accommodation for the night and explore the beauty of the town including Wave Lookout, Bustard Bay Lookout and Walking Trailhead. This is one of the most unspoiled coastal towns in all of Australia and is well worth the detour off the Bruce Highway.

Day 4 – Seventeen Seventy to Gladstone

Seventeen Seventy to Gladstone – 131 kilometres (81 miles) – 2 hour drive

Day 4 is another short drive from Seventeen Seventy to Gladstone. Head off early and catch a ferry over to Heron Island and Wilson Island from Gladstone to experience beautiful coral reefs and see the famous turtle breeding grounds of the islands. A great snorkelling and scuba diving spot, Heron Island and Wilson Island make for an amazing day out on the Great Barrier Reef.

Day 5 – Gladstone to Yeppoon

Gladstone to Yeppoon
Gladstone to Yeppoon – 148 kilometres (92 miles) – 2 hour drive

Yeppoon is a great destination for day 5. Located just outside of Rockhampton off the Bruce Highway, Yeppoon is the gateway to the Keppel Islands, a beautiful group of tropical islands on the Great Barrier Reef.

Spend the day out on Great Keppel Island or explore what the towns of Rockhampton, Yeppoon and Emu Park has to offer. This area is also another underrated part of Queensland with the region offering a lot of culture, history and stunning beaches.

Day 6 – Yeppoon to Mackay

Yeppoon to Mackay
Yeppoon to Mackay – 353 kilometres (219 miles) – 4 hour drive

Not much is between Rockhampton and Mackay, in fact there is only a few small towns and that’s it. However, once you get into Mackay there is plenty to see and do. Head out and explore the magnificent Eungella Dam and Finch Hatton Gorge. Get some great food and drinks at the Eimeo Pub in Mackay which you will have to trust me when I say has the most spectacular views you will ever see from a pub.

Day 7 – Mackay to Airlie Beach

Mackay to Airlie Beach Road Trip
Mackay to Airlie Beach – 150 kilometres (93 miles) – 2 hour drive

Airlie Beach is one of the highlights of a Brisbane to Cairns road trip and is a must visit on your journey. The town is the gateway to the world-famous Hamilton Island, the most popular destination on the Great Barrier Reef. Hamilton Island is one of the most sought-after holiday destinations in Australia so ensure you are planned and prepared if you are staying on the island.

In Airlie Beach itself there is plenty to explore such as the town lagoon, Bicentennial Walkway and magnificent Shute Harbour.

Day 8 – Airlie Beach to Townsville

Airlie Beach to Townsville Road Trip
Airlie Beach to Townsville – 275 kilometres (171 miles) – 3.5 hour drive

After exploring the wonderful Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island, your next stop is up in the major city of Townsville. The city is the largest in Queensland north of the Sunshine Coast and has a lot to offer tourists and visitors.

Magnetic Island is located only a 20-minute ferry ride from Townsville and is a great way to spend the day in the area.

Day 9 – Townsville to Cairns

Townsville to Cairns Road Trip
Townsville to Cairns – 347 kilometres (216 miles) – 4.5 hour drive

The final day sees you get into Cairns. Enjoy everything the city has to offer and spend a few days exploring the Great Barrier Reef, Kuranda Railway and Skyrail, Palm Cove and Port Douglas.

Cairns is best enjoyed over several days so don’t rush and take it all in. After seeing the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, you won’t want to leave.

7 Day Road Trip

Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip (7 Days):

  1. Brisbane to Noosa Heads
  2. Noosa Heads to Hervey Bay
  3. Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy
  4. Seventeen Seventy to Yeppoon
  5. Yeppoon to Mackay
  6. Mackay to Airlie Beach
  7. Airlie Beach to Cairns

Day 1 – Brisbane to Noosa Heads

Brisbane to Noosa Heads Road Trip
Brisbane to Noosa Heads – 135 kilometres (84 miles) – 2 hour drive

Even on a 7-day journey, the short stop into Noosa Heads is well worth the time. The area is spectacular, and I rate it as some of the best on the Queensland coast. Definitely a great idea to check it out along with the rest of the Sunshine Coast.

Day 2 – Noosa Heads to Hervey Bay

Noosa Heads to Hervey Bay Road Trip
Noosa Heads to Hervey Bay – 184 kilometres (114 miles) – 2.5 hour drive

Hervey Bay has been included into the 7-day itinerary also as Fraser Island is one of the must see islands on the Brisbane to Cairns road trip. Get into town early and get over on the ferry for a magnificent day on the world’s largest sand island.

Day 3 – Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy

Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy Road Trip
Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy – 236 kilometres (147 miles) – 3 hour drive

Seventeen Seventy is another Queensland town that cannot be missed. It often is missed unfortunately and that is a real shame as it offers some of the most spectacular and pristine beaches on the Great Barrier Reef. This is well worth the slight detour of the Bruce Highway to check out.

Day 4 – Seventeen Seventy to Yeppoon

Seventeen Seventy to Yeppoon Road Trip
Seventeen Seventy to Yeppoon – 272 kilometres (169 miles) – 3.5 hour drive

If you can get to Yeppoon early enough to catch the ferry to Keppel Island, it is well worth doing so. The island is a spectacular day out and is another highly underrated spot on the Brisbane to Cairns road trip. Stunning beach, swimming and snorkelling is a perfect day out.

If you cannot get to the ferry it is still worth exploring what Rockhampton, Yeppoon and Emu Park has to offer.

Day 5 – Yeppoon to Mackay

Yeppoon to Mackay Road Trip
Yeppoon to Mackay – 353 kilometres (219 miles) – 4 hour drive

Same as on the 9-day tour, Mackay should be your next destination. The Eungella region is not to be missed and is a truly beautiful region. Don’t forget Cape Hillsborough which also offers some gorgeous beaches and rainforest.

Day 6 – Mackay to Airlie Beach

Mackay to Airlie Beach Road Trip
Mackay to Airlie Beach – 150 kilometres (93 miles) – 2 hour drive

Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island are not to be missed. This area will feature on any good Brisbane to Cairns road trip guide and is the most popular destination on the Great Barrier Reef.

Day 7 – Airlie Beach to Cairns

Airlie Beach to Cairns Road Trip
Airlie Beach to Cairns – 621 kilometres (386 miles) – 7.5 hour drive

Day 7 is a day full of driving however will get you to Cairns in just over 7 hours. This is the final destination on the road trip and is a great city to spend a few days exploring and enjoying.

5 Day Road Trip

Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip (5 days):

  1. Brisbane to Hervey Bay
  2. Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy
  3. Seventeen Seventy to Yeppoon
  4. Yeppoon to Airlie Beach
  5. Airlie Beach to Cairns

Day 1 – Brisbane to Hervey Bay

Brisbane to Hervey Bay Road Trip
Brisbane to Hervey Bay – 286 kilometres (172 miles) – 3.5 hour drive

Begin a 5-day tour by road tripping from Brisbane to Hervey Bay. Getting there early and getting yourself over to Fraser Island is recommended. However, if you cannot get there early enough, spend the day exploring up the Sunshine Coast, Noosa Heads and Rainbow Beach.

Day 2 – Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy

Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy Road Trip
Hervey Bay to Seventeen Seventy – 236 kilometres (147 miles) – 3 hour drive

Make your way up to Seventeen Seventy on day 2, stopping in at the iconic Bundaberg Rum factory in the city of Bundaberg. I’ve already said this several times, but Seventeen Seventy is a must visit town on the Brisbane to Cairns road trip. Just get there and see what I mean!

Day 3 – Seventeen Seventy to Yeppoon

Seventeen Seventy to Yeppoon Road Trip
Seventeen Seventy to Yeppoon – 272 kilometres (169 miles) – 3.5 hour drive

The Rockhampton and Yeppoon region are well worth stopping at on day 3. If you can get out to Great Keppel Island do so, if not explore the region. Stop in at Gladstone on the way through, and see what Rockhampton has to offer. Yeppoon is the place to stay at for the night for the small-town beach vibes.

Day 4 – Yeppoon to Airlie Beach

Yeppoon to Airlie Beach Road Trip
Yeppoon to Airlie Beach – 498 kilometres (304 miles) – 5.5 hour drive

On day 4 is a bit of driving to get to Airlie Beach. However, once you get there you will be rewarded with the most popular spot on the Brisbane to Cairns road trip. Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island are both truly paradises with wonderful beaches and pristine water.

Day 5 – Airlie Beach to Cairns

Airlie Beach to Cairns Road Trip
Airlie Beach to Cairns – 621 kilometres (386 miles) – 7.5 hour drive

On the final day of the 5-day Brisbane to Cairns road trip head from Airlie Beach to Cairns through Townsville. A solid day of driving will be well rewarded with what Cairns has to offer. Spend a few days in Cairns to really take everything in.

3 Day Road Trip

Day 1 – Brisbane to Seventeen Seventy

Brisbane to Seventeen Seventy Road Trip
Brisbane to Seventeen Seventy – 486 kilometres (302 miles) – 6 hour drive

Begin a 3-day tour by driving from Brisbane to Seventeen Seventy. This will take around 6 hours so head off early to enjoy the afternoon in the beautiful town of Seventeen Seventy.

Day 2 – Seventeen Seventy to Airlie Beach

Seventeen Seventy to Airlie Beach Road Trip
Seventeen Seventy to Airlie Beach – 712 kilometres (442 miles) – 8 hour drive

Day 2 is another full day of driving, this time an 8-hour stint from Seventeen Seventy to Airlie Beach. The earlier you can take off the earlier you will get in and be able to relax and enjoy everything the picturesque town of Airlie Beach has to offer.

Day 3 – Airlie Beach to Cairns

Airlie Beach to Cairns Road Trip
Airlie Beach to Cairns – 621 kilometres (386 miles) – 7.5 hour drive

The final leg on day 3 is the same as the 5-day trip from Airlie Beach to Cairns. A 7.5-hour day, this road takes you through the large city of Townsville and has much better sights from the highway than on day 2.

Brisbane

Distance from Cairns – 1861 kilometres (1156 miles) – 21 Hour Drive

Brisbane - Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip Guide
The largest city in Queensland, Brisbane is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef.

Brisbane is the capital city of Queensland and Australia’s third largest city with a population of over 2 million. Located in the south east part of Australia, Brisbane is most commonly the starting point for tourists and explorers wanting to visit the Great Barrier Reef as it serves as the biggest hub in the state for international visitors. The perfect beginning to a Brisbane to Cairns road trip starts right here.

Where to Stay

It is highly recommended to stay close to the central business district (CBD) to get maximum value out of your visit to the city. The most popular suburbs to stay are the CBD, Fortitude Valley and South Bank.

Central Business District

The CBD of Brisbane is the heart of the city and is a great place to stay to access everything Brisbane has to offer. There is plenty of trains, buses, bikes and e-scooters available around the city to get where you want how you want.

The CBD area is home to many of the best tourist landmarks in the Brisbane area including the Story Bridge, Queen Street Mall, Treasury Casino and Eagle Street Pier. There is plenty of amazing restaurants, bars and quick food for whatever you are feeling like.

This is the number one spot to stay in Brisbane when visiting. The best hotels, food and transport are all located here.

My favourite and recommended accommodation in the CBD are:

Hotels and Resorts

The Brisbane CBD is populated with luxury hotels and apartments, targeted at the high-end lifestyles. You will get the best rooms and service in the CBD. Marriott, Stamford and Hilton Hotels are all magnificent 5-star accommodations. Oaks Aurora Tower is a fantastic apartment complex with rooms overlooking the iconic Story Bridge. If you want the prime CBD location and not the hefty price tag, City Edge Hotel is ideal and provides great value.

Hostels and Backpackers

The CBD is limited in hostel accommodations however there is Nomads Hostel located near central train station. This is a perfect spot for backpackers and is in a prime location close to everything you need.

Fortitude Valley

The suburb of Fortitude Valley is located just a 10-minute walk from the CBD and is a great spot for backpackers wanting a cheaper option than the CBD. Filled with an amazing food and nightclub scene, the Valley, as it is known to locals is a treasure trove of culture and history.

Transportations options are plentiful in Fortitude Valley. There is a train station near Brunswick Street Mall, bus stations as well as bicycle options.

Fortitude Valley is home to Brisbane’s Chinatown district which is a great spot for a meal. Just a street over is the Brunswick Street Mall which features some of the best drinking spots in Brisbane conveniently located in the one strip.

The Valley is a great spot to stay on a budget. There is a lot more 3 and 2-star options than the city, and you are still nice and close to the action.

Hotels and Resorts

Fortitude Valley has a much bigger mix of hotels and hostel accommodations. There is something for everyone in the Valley. The Sage Hotel and Snooze Inn are great value and location hotels in the suburb.

Hostels and Backpacking

The Valley has more hostel options than the CBD and its proximity to food and nightlife options is unrivalled in the city of Brisbane. Amelia Boutique Hotel and Bunk Backpackers are the two best options in Fortitude Valley.

South Bank

South Bank is located just across the river from the CBD and is connected by many bridges including the Victoria and Kurilpa Bridges. There are 2 train stations in South Bank (South Bank and South Brisbane) as well as a bus hub.

South Bank is the best spot for families and has free picnic spots, museums, art galleries and even a man-made beach. Not far from South Bank is the quieter and cultural hub West End, which is perfect for markets and a pub crawl.

Hotels and Resorts

While not as premium as the Brisbane CBD, South Bank is home to some gorgeous and luxurious hotels. Rydges, Mantra and Novotel are the hotels of choice in South Bank.

Hostels and Backpackers

The best option for a backpacker’s accommodation in South Bank is the Brisbane Backpackers Resort, it provides great value and location.

What to See

You can get lost for days in Brisbane. I have been lost here for 7 years now! Brisbane is an amazing city, and in my opinion is highly underrated. There is world class beaches, national parks and attractions right on the doorstep. If you are planning out a Brisbane to Cairns road trip, I highly recommend putting aside a few days to explore and discover the Brisbane region. This includes the Gold Coast which is in the opposite direction to Cairns. However, it is well worth the time to explore and is only an hour from Brisbane.

These are the top places to see in Brisbane. For a full list in more detail, make sure you check out my article on top 10 things to do in Brisbane. I also have an article on saving money on travel in Brisbane which is perfect for tourists.

South Bank

I covered staying in South Bank above, however if you are visiting Brisbane this is a must-see spot and has many amazing places to eat, drink and discover including museums, art galleries and beaches.

The Queensland Museum and Science Centre is a free museum with always changing, beautifully crafted exhibits that will impress even the fussiest critics. GOMA (Gallery of Modern Art) is a free art gallery featuring contemporary art from Australia and Asia. The gallery is free and well worth diving into while at South Bank.

For the families there is a man-made beach which is perfect for spending the day relaxing on the green lawns and beach chairs surrounding it. A very popular spot for picnics, this is a great way to spend a hot summers day.

Kangaroo Point

Located over the river from the CBD, Kangaroo Point is another spot which is perfect for picnics. The CityHopper free service has 3 stops at Kangaroo Point so getting there from South Bank or Brisbane CBD is easily done. This is my favourite spot in Brisbane for watching the sunset and Story Bridge.

Eat Street Markets

The best food markets in Brisbane are at Eat Street Markets in the suburb of Hamilton. Taste foods from all around the world and soak in the atmosphere at these insanely popular markets. You can get to Eat Street Markets from the CBD by Citycat or by Uber.

Queen St Mall

Located in the Brisbane CBD, Queen Street Mall is the ultimate shopping destination in the city. With plenty of luxury stores, department stores and specialty retailers you will be lost for hours in the mall.

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

If you want to hold an iconic Australian animal, Lone Pine is the spot to go. Feed and hold over 130 koalas, as well as hand feed Kangaroos. This is a great spot for the animal lovers.

Gold Coast

Not in Brisbane, however it is still a must see in Queensland. Located an hour away from Brisbane, Gold Coast is home to some of the best beaches and surf spots in Australia. If theme parks are your thing, the Gold Coast has 4 different parks, Dreamworld, Movieworld, Seaworld and Wet ‘n’ Wild which will keep anyone entertained for hours.

Gold Coast is easy to access from Brisbane by either car or train. Trains go regularly from Central Station in Brisbane CBD. On the Gold Coast there is a light railway system which is perfect for getting around the city.

Sunshine Coast

Distance from Brisbane – 100 kilometres (62 miles) – 1.5 Hour Drive
Distance from Cairns – 1593 kilometres (990 miles) – 19 Hour Drive

Sunshine Coast - Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip
The Sunshine Coast is a treasure trove of amazing beaches and beautiful mountain ranges

The first stop after leaving Brisbane should be at the Sunshine Coast. Like the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast is full of amazing beaches, national parks, hiking trails and tourist attractions. The Sunshine Coast is located an hour’s drive north of Brisbane along the Bruce Highway is a great place to spend the night.

Where to Stay

The Sunshine Coast is nearly 100 kilometres of stunning beaches and forest areas. There is plenty of different options on where to stay and each offers a unique perspective of the Sunshine Coast. These are the best spots to explore and discover the area of the Sunshine Coast. The city is a great place for anyone including families, couples and backpackers to stay on a Brisbane to Cairns road trip.

Caloundra

Located on the southern end of the Sunshine Coast, Caloundra is a stunning area with amazing beaches, resorts and parks. If you enjoy a quieter beach area Caloundra is a great spot for you rest on your travels.

These are my recommended hotels in Caloundra:

Mooloolaba

If you truly love white sand beaches, then Mooloolaba is the place you need to visit. Step out of your accommodation and enjoy the most amazing beach the Sunshine Coast has to offer. There is plenty to do at Mooloolaba including Adventure Rafting, Mooloolaba Beach and Alexandra Headland. Make sure you check the beach out even if you aren’t staying here.

This is where I recommend staying in Mooloolaba for the best beach access:

Hotels and Resorts

Hostels and Backpackers

Maroochydore

Great food, shopping and nightlife, Maroochydore is the heart of the Sunshine Coast. All of this along another great beach makes for the perfect spot for people looking for a good night out. Just down the road is the suburb of Cotton Tree which is perfect for a BBQ and picnic with family and friends. Worth checking out on the way through.

My recommendations for the best hotels in Maroochydore:

Hotels and Resorts

Coolum Beach

Heading further up the Sunshine Coast and the beautiful Coolum Beach is another beautiful spot to visit on your Brisbane to Cairns road trip. A quieter spot than Mooloolaba and Maroochydore, Coolum is perfect for a low-key day on the Sunshine Coast.

This is where I recommend if you are staying at Coolum Beach:

Noosa Heads

At the tip of the Sunshine coast lies Noosa Heads, a gorgeous coastal town bordering the Noosa National Park. Noosa is well known for its fairy pools, lookouts and of course beaches. Take a walk down Hastings Street and soak in the chilled holiday vibes and cafe atmosphere.

I highly recommend these spots for your stay in Noosa Heads:

Maleny

Getting away from the beaches of the Sunshine Coast, Maleny is the spot to go if you love nature, national parks and hiking. Located just west of the Sunshine Coast in the Blackall Range, Maleny is home to exquisite falls, mountain range views, chocolate and the best cheese the region has to offer. It’s worth going for the chocolate and cheese alone, trust me!

Maleny’s best spots to stay are:

What to See

Sunshine Coast is a wonderland of beaches, hinterlands, theme parks and culture. The quieter sibling of the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast is a great spot to spend a night or two while going on the Brisbane to Cairns road trip.

Beaches

Sunshine Coast is home to many beaches that are all exceptional and any trip to the coast is not complete without visiting a few that the region has to offer. The Sunshine Coast’s best beaches are:

  • Kings Beach
  • Golden Beach
  • Dicky Beach
  • Mooloolaba Spit
  • Coolum Beach
  • Noosa Heads
  • Sunshine Beach

Markets

The Sunshine Coast is littered with farmers and artisans markets and are a great way to get your day started. There is a market for everyone on the coast. My favourite markets on the Sunshine Coast are:

Maleny

As mentioned above, Maleny is a hinterland paradise with plenty of cows, greenery and the stunning Glass House Mountains. It is well worth the detour on your road trip to check out what Maleny has to offer. The town has some of the best cheese and chocolate I have ever tasted if that helps your decision to get there!

Australia Zoo

Home of everyone’s favourite crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, Australia Zoo is the best zoo in Queensland. The zoo offers plenty of different animals including Tigers, Dingoes, Rhinos and a Galapagos Tortoise named Harriet

However, the biggest draw card of the zoo is the crocodiles which made Steve Irwin so famous along with his conservation efforts. Head to the zoo to catch a feeding show and explore what the park has to offer at your own pace.

Aussie World

Sunshine Coast’s own theme park is located conveniently on the Bruce Highway heading north from Brisbane. Drop in and check out what the park has to offer with attractions such as The Wasp, Mayhem Maze, The Plunge and Redback.

Aussie World is a great park for families and is geared towards them. If you are after a thrill park, I would recommend the Gold Coast theme parks. However, Aussie World is still worth a visit on the way through.

Bundaberg Region

Distance from Brisbane – 360 kilometres (224 miles) – 4 Hour Drive
Distance from Cairns – 1354 kilometres (841 miles) – 15 Hour Drive

Hervey Bay - Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip
Bundaberg Region is the gateway to Fraser Island and many magnificent coastal towns in the area

Bundaberg in the Fraser Region is the next major stop on the road trip from Brisbane to Cairns. The area marks the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef and as such there are plenty of small coastal towns in the area that are perfect for a quick visit.

With plenty of coastal towns and islands to visit here is where I think is worth a visit.

Where to Stay

Hervey Bay

Located an hour from Bundaberg, Hervey Bay is most famous for its whale watching, which is considered one of the best in the world. I have fond memories of heading out whale watching as a kid from Hervey Bay and it was a popular holiday spot for my parents.

The whale watching season begins in mid-July with pods of Humpback Whales heading north from Antarctic waters. They will begin heading back around September and be out of Queensland waters heading south by November.

I recommend staying nice and close to the beach and there are plenty of options in Hervey Bay:

Fraser Island

Fraser Island is a world heritage listed site and is a highly popular tourist spot. It is the world’s largest sand island and is home to several native Australian wildlife, most famously Dingoes.

The island is covered in tropical rainforest and white sand making it a great stop on a Brisbane to Cairns road trip. If Four Wheel Driving (4WD) is your jam, there is a vehicle transfer to the island. However, please be aware that it is strictly 4WD only.

Fraser Island is a great spot for a day trip or staying the night and there are resorts on the island including:

Rainbow Beach

Located just north-east of Gympie, Rainbow Beach is a small coastal town and is a gateway to Fraser Island from the south. It is a popular tourist town and has amazing beaches. Whether you are heading to Fraser or not, Rainbow Beach is worth the drop in to witness the exquisite beach that stretches up to Inskip Point.

These are the best accommodations when staying at Rainbow Beach

Hotels and Resorts

Hostels and Backpackers

Seventeen Seventy

Discovered in 1770 by Captain Cook, the aptly named town is a highly underrated destination on the Brisbane to Cairns road trip and is one of the hidden gems of Queensland.

The area has some of the most untouched and pristine beaches along the Queensland coast. There is plenty of day trips to the Great Barrier Reef and Lady Musgrave Island from the town as well as regular trips to the hidden Bustard Head Light.

Here are some great spots in Seventeen Seventy to stay if you decide on a night here:

Hotels and Resorts

Hostels and Backpackers

Camping

What to See

The Bundaberg Region is full of places to visit as mentioned above. But in the town itself there is plenty to see and do as well.

Bundaberg Rum Factory

The most famous export of Bundaberg and the most famous Australian rum, the Bundaberg Rum distillery has a world-famous tour and is well worth taking the time out to do. Immerse yourself in the history of the distillery and learn about the story of the rum as well as mixing your own blend.

Hinkler Hall of Aviation

Learn about the history of the Bundaberg aviation pioneer Bert Hinkler at the Hinkler Hall of Aviation. Hinkler was the first person to fly solo from England to Australia and the centre is a fascinating insight into the early flying days of Australia and the world.

Mon Repos Turtle Centre

Watch the entire turtle life cycle from eggs to fully fledged gentle giants of the sea. Dedicated to turtle conservation, the Mon Repos Turtle Centre is home to plenty of loggerhead turtles and during hatching season you may be lucky enough to witness one of tiny turtle’s be born.

Gladstone Region

Distance from Brisbane – 514 kilometres (319 miles) – 6.5 Hour Drive
Distance from Cairns – 1174 kilometres (729 miles) – 13 Hour Drive

Gladstone Region - Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip
Gladstone Region has some magnificent reefs and islands to visit on your Brisbane to Cairns road trip

Heading north from Bundaberg, the Gladstone region is the next major stop along the Queensland coast and is an essential stop on a Brisbane to Cairns road trip. Surrounded by tropical islands and reef formations, the Gladstone region is a great spot for snorkelling, learning to surf and fishing day trips.

Gladstone is home to over 45,000 residents and has a highly mining driven economy with a large commodity port. The region is a great spot to spend a night and explore the surrounding area.

Where to Stay

Gladstone

The city of Gladstone has plenty of accommodation to rest and kick back on your journey. There is plenty to do around the town including boating trips to Facing Island and Curtis Island which is great spots for swimming and snorkelling the reefs.

There is some great accommodation with these being the best value:

Hotels

Hostels and Backpackers

Camping

Tannum Sands

The coastal towns of Tannum Sands and Boyne Island is a great spot to swim and fish. The area is a great spot for families with plenty of barbeque and picnic areas. The beach along the towns stretches for over 20 kilometres and is a great spot to relax and enjoy the scenery.

These are the best spots to stay in Tannum Sands:

Hotels

Camping

What to See

Awoonga Dam

Awoonga Dam is located only 15 minutes from Tannum Sands and is a great fishing spot to grab an elusive Barramundi. Not only stocked with Barramundi, the dam is full of Saratoga, Mullet and Mangrove Jack. A great campsite and boating destination, Awoonga is worth a visit.

Heron Island

You will find turtle tracks, white sand and crystal-clear water at the stunning Heron Island. Located 90 kilometres off the coast of Gladstone, Heron Island is a treasure trove of magic on the Great Barrier Reef. There is plenty to keep you busy and enjoying the nature on the island including snorkelling, diving and watching the sun set over the ocean.

Rockhampton Region

Distance to Brisbane – 617 kilometres (383 mile) – 7 Hour Drive
Distance to Cairns – 1,067 kilometres (663 miles) – 12.5 Hour Drive

Rockhampton Capricorn Caves - Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip
The Rockhampton region is a hidden gem on the Brisbane to Cairns road trip

Rockhampton is the city which is often forgotten when travelling up the Bruce Highway. However, if you take the time to look around you will find some beautiful limestone caves, coastal towns, beaches, zoos and islands to visit and explore. My article on things to do in Rockhampton goes into the area in depth and is worth checking out.

The city of Rockhampton has over 75,000 residents and is known as the Beef Capital of Australia. The city exports some of the best beef in the world and you need to get down to a local pub and try some while you are visiting.

Where to Stay

Rockhampton

The city of Rockhampton is located about 40 kilometres inland and is home to plenty of attractions and natural wonders. The Rockhampton Botanic Gardens and Zoo is considered one of the best in Australia and features over 20 gardens and hundreds of animals including Chimpanzees, Crocodiles and Kangaroos.

If you are staying in Rockhampton this is the best accommodation in town:

Hotels

Hostels and Backpackers

Yeppoon

Located 40 kilometres east of Rockhampton on the Central Queensland coast, Yeppoon is a small coastal town and the gateway to the Keppel Island group. With a scenic coastal town vibe and tropical climate, the town is perfect for enjoying fish and chips on the beach and exploring the Scenic Highway which heads down the coastline. The town is the connection to the famous Great Keppel Island, a wonderful swimming and snorkelling island.

Hotels

Hostels and Backpackers

Camping

Emu Park

Emu Park is the smaller brother of Yeppoon and is the best spot to stay if you enjoy the quiet lifestyle. The perfect spot to park up for a night, enjoy the beaches and attractions the town has to offer, as well as the markets if you are there on the weekend. There isn’t much of the town but what there is offers a peaceful atmosphere and serene culture.

The best spots to stay in Emu Park are:

Hotels and Motels

Camping

What to See

Great Keppel Island

Situated off the coast of Yeppoon, Great Keppel Island is the biggest drawcard of the Rockhampton region. Featuring stunning beaches, crystal clear water and reefs full of turtles, stingrays and tropical fish, the island is a great day out with family and friends.

Take the ferry over to the island for the day or stay overnight, the choice is yours however this is a must see on any Brisbane to Cairns road trip.

Rockhampton Botanic Gardens and Zoo

Rockhampton is home to one of the best gardens and zoos in regional Australia with stunning flora and home to many different species of animals, both native and imported.

The Botanic Gardens features over 20 different gardens including beautiful Japanese Gardens which are a treat to explore.

The Zoo is filled with Chimpanzees, Crocodiles, Cassowaries, Koalas, Kangaroos and Macaques.

Both the Botanic Gardens and Zoo are free of charge and well worth a visit through Rockhampton.

Capricorn Caves

Australia’s oldest and largest privately owned limestone cave formation, the Capricorn Caves is a great spot to stop and discover.

Located conveniently along the Bruce Highway just outside of Rockhampton, the caves are filled with tours, education and exhibits that will keep you busy for hours. They are well worth a visit and the time.

Mackay Region

Distance to Brisbane – 950 kilometres (590 miles) – 11.5 Hour Drive
Distance to Cairns – 735 kilometres (457 miles) – 8.5 Hour Drive

Mackay is home to beautiful beaches and spectacular national parks

The halfway mark between Brisbane and Cairns has been passed on the way to the city of Mackay. Smothered between the Great Barrier Reef and State Forests, the city of Mackay is a must stop on your journey through. There is a lot to explore in the Mackay region, both on the coast and in the country.

Mackay is home to over 80,000 residents and its economy is driven through sugar cane and mining. The city enjoys a warm tropical climate and is a great region for hiking, mountain climbing and scuba diving.

Where to Stay

Mackay

Mackay is the heart of the Central Queensland region and is home to many stunning reefs and beautiful national parks. The region is famous for its sugar cane production and mining which drives its economy, however there is plenty to explore and discover in the area. Located along the Bruce Highway on the road from Brisbane to Cairns, this is a perfect city to make an overnight stop and discover.

The region has an abundance of accommodation options and these the ones I recommend:

Hotels and Resorts

There is plenty of great hotels in Mackay with the majority being in the central business district area. Quest Mackay on Gordon and Rydges Mackay are the best spots to stay if you are after an apartment style accommodation. If a motel is all you need, Tropic Coast Motel has you covered with service and great value.

Hostels and Backpackers

If you are after budget accommodation, there is plenty of options in the city. They are usually located close to the central business district and a great for a place to sleep and continue your journey. The two best ones are at Taylor’s Hotel and Gecko’s Rest which provide great value.

Camping

There is no camping in Mackay itself, with most of the campsites located in the state forest to the west of the city. The best spot to camp is up at Eungella Dam which has plenty of facilities including toilets, showers and BBQ/Picnic areas.

Airlie Beach

The coastal town of Airlie Beach, located 2 hours north of Mackay, is a highly popular tourist destination and a great place to explore the Great Barrier Reef. The town is very popular for cruise ships who visit the region and anchor at the town. There is plenty to explore around Airlie Beach including the world-famous Hamilton Island.

Airlie Beach is a must visit on a Brisbane to Cairns road trip. There is plenty of backpacker’s hostels, hotels, resorts and campsites for accommodation in the area. These are the spots I recommend in the area:

Hotels and Resorts

Airlie Beach is a popular holiday location for families and couples wanting a weekend away together. The town has plenty of resorts and apartment style accommodations and it is easy to find somewhere to stay. The Coral Sea Resort Hotel and Mantra Boathouse Apartments are great for a stylish getaway while the Airlie Beach Motor Lodge provides a great accommodation which is perfect for families.

Hostels and Backpackers

Airlie Beach is a popular backpacker’s destination, and as such is littered with hostels and backpackers retreats. The best two are Magnums Bar and Nomads Airlie Beach Hostel, both providing decent accommodation at a great price.

Camping

The only camping in the area is at Swamp Bay Campground, located just outside Airlie Beach in the Mount Rooper area. The campsite is accessed by a 2 kilometre walk however is well worth the effort as you are rewarded with private beach access and your own slice of paradise.

What to See

Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island is the biggest draw card not only for the Mackay and Whitsunday region, but the entire state of Queensland. You will be amazed at how beautiful this island is and is one of the best snorkelling and swimming spots on the entire Great Barrier Reef.

Access to Hamilton Island is through Airlie Beach from Shute Harbour. There are multiple ferry operators that run several times a day.

Eungella National Park

With plenty of walking tracks, gorges amazing views and swimming holes, Eungella National Park is a great detour on your Brisbane to Cairns road trip. The area is surrounded in fog most of the year which provides a beautiful backdrop to the already stunning scenery. The park is famous for its platypus which can be found swimming peacefully along the flowing water.

Access to Eungella National Park is west of Mackay along the Mackay Eungella Road. It is a 1.5-hour drive from Mackay.

Finch Hatton Gorge

Just down the road from Eungella is the magnificent Finch Hatton Gorge, filled with waterfalls, boulders formed from the inactive volcano, walking trails and even a zip line. There is plenty of rockpool formations to take a dip in and picnic areas to enjoy the landscape.

Finch Hatton Gorge is located only 30 minutes from Eungella National Park and 1 hour from Mackay, combine the two and make a whole day of it.

Cape Hillsborough National Park

Another stunning national park in the Mackay region, Cape Hillsborough is the perfect scenery to enjoy on the coast of Queensland. The park is where the dense rainforest comes across the beach with plenty of native Australian wildlife lingering around like the friendly Kangaroos.

The Cape Hillsborough National Park is located only 40 minutes from Mackay and is a great stop to make in the Mackay region.

Townsville Region

Distance to Brisbane – 1337 kilometres (831 miles) – 15.5 Hour Drive
Distance to Cairns – 347 kilometres (216 miles) – 4.5 Hour Drive

Townsville Region
Townsville is rich in beautiful reefs and tropical islands

Your Brisbane to Cairns road trip next heads through the large city of Townsville as the last major destination before reaching the finish line. Townsville is rich in beautiful reefs and tropical islands and has plenty to stop and see including the very popular Magnetic Island and Hinchinbrook National Park.

Townsville is home to over 170,000 residents and is the largest city in Queensland north of the Sunshine Coast. The city has plenty of great food and entertainment options and is an ideal final destination before reaching Cairns.

Where to Stay

Townsville

The city of Townsville itself is a great spot to stay and explore when driving through. Take day trips to Magnetic Island and Hinchinbrook National Park where you can immerse yourself in the natural beauty. There is plenty to see and do around town if you want to discover different markets, zoos, museums and food options.

Hotels and Resorts

Townsville is full of great hotels and resorts to stay. The strand is covered in great parks, waterparks and rock pools and is in the heart of the city. The Strand is also home to the marina and ferries that go to Magnetic and Palm Island, so this is the area to be situated. Mariners North Holiday Apartments, Rambutan Resort and Oaks Metropole Hotel are all very highly rated hotels and are all along the strand.

Hostels and Backpackers

Townsville is a popular destination for backpackers and there is plenty of options in the central business district area. Reef Lodge Backpackers, Civic Guest House Backpackers and Adventurers Backpackers Resort are all great options that are highly rated and are great value.

Camping

If you are wanting to camp in the Townsville region, Saunders Beach is your go to spot. Located just north of the city, this free camping spot has amenities and direct access to the beach.

What to See

Magnetic Island

Magnetic Island is the major drawcard of the Townsville region. Located only a 20-minute ferry ride from Townsville, the island is a treasure trove of snorkelling, hiking, beaches and koalas. The island is well known for its topless cars that can be hired and are great for exploring the island in. Make sure you check out Magnetic Island on your Brisbane to Cairns road trip, it is a great day out.

Hinchinbrook Island

Home of the largest single drop waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere, Hinchinbrook Island is a nature lover’s dream and is a must see on your journey. The best way to get to Hinchinbrook Island is from the town of Cardwell, located just two hours north of Townsville.

Cairns Region

Distance to Brisbane – 1684 kilometres (1046 miles) – 20 Hour Drive

Cairns Region
Cairns is the ultimate city to experience the Great Barrier Reef from

The final stop on your epic journey is the beautiful city of Cairns. Located in Far North Queensland, it is the last major city along the Queensland coast and the best place to see and experience the natural wonder of the Great Barrier Reef.

Cairns is home to over 150,000 residents and experiences a very tropical and humid climate. The city is surrounded in stunning reefs, islands and rainforests that will make you not want to leave this truly beautiful area.

Where to Stay

Cairns

Hotels and Resorts

Cairns is one of the most popular cities to visit in Australia and as such is populated with plenty of great places to stay. The best location to stay is close the Esplanade along the water in the city’s central business district. The Hilton, Doubletree, Rydges Esplanade and Cairns Plaza Hotel are my favourites in the area, and all represent great value.

Hostels and Backpackers

Cairns is a very popular backpacker destination with plenty of options around the city. Globetrotters, Caravella, Mad Monkey and Cairns Waterfront are all in great locations and are great value.

Palm Cove

Located just north of Cairns, Palm Cove is a relaxed coastal town where peace and tranquillity reign supreme. A great spot to explore and spend a night, Palm Cove is the best way to access Double Island and its beautiful reefs.

Hotels and Resorts

There are plenty of amazing hotels and resorts along the coast of Palm Cove. For luxury accommodation Peppers is an amazing 5-star resort and highly recommended. Paradise On The Beach and Beachview Apartments at Villa Paradiso are great value 4 star hotels.

Hostels and Backpackers

There are no hostels or backpackers in Palm Cove. If you are after budget accommodation there is plenty of options in Cairns which will be suitable for you. Travel to Palm Cove is only a 30-minute drive from Cairns CBD.

Port Douglas

Located an hour north of Cairns, Port Douglas is known at the place where the reef meets the rainforest. This beautiful town is a highly popular tourist location and has plenty of accommodation for all budgets.

Hotels and Resorts

There is a range of hotels and resorts in Port Douglas for all budgets. If 5-star luxury is your thing, the Saltwater Luxury Apartments are simply beautiful. For 4-star accommodations I recommend By The Sea and Mantra Aqueous for best location and value.

Hostels and Backpackers

If you are after some budget accommodation there is a few excellent options in Port Douglas. My recommendations are Port Douglas Backpackers and Coral Beach Lodge which are both fantastic value and location.

Camping

There are several camping options located just outside of Port Douglas. Head up to Noah Beach and camp in a great location where the rainforest and beach meet. The campsite is suitable for both campervans and tents.

What to See

Fitzroy Island

No trip to Cairns is complete without a scuba diving expedition at the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is the most spectacular Australian city for snorkelling and scuba diving and Fitzroy Island provides a spectacular escape to see the beauty of the reef. The island itself is a tropical paradise with pure white sand, transparent water and is surrounded by amazingly beautiful coral reefs.

Located 29 kilometres from Cairns, the island is only a 45-minute ferry ride from the Esplanade. The island is the perfect spot to see the Great Barrier Reef and is amazing for both snorkelling and scuba diving.

Kuranda

Home of jaw dropping picturesque scenery, Kuranda is where the world’s oldest tropical rainforest meets the largest coral reef in the world. Surrounded by the Barron River, the area is an important part of the rainforest ecosystem and is inhabited by hundreds of different species, most notably invertebrates.

Kuranda is home to the world-famous Kuranda Railway Station which journeys through the rainforest and Barron Gorge National Park to Cairns. The town is also where the iconic Kuranda Skyrail which takes you on a 7.5-kilometre ride over the beautiful McAlister Range and Barron Falls. Both the railway and Skyrail and must see attractions of the Cairns region.

Cairns Esplanade

The Cairns Esplanade is a must-see attraction in the city and provides a great day of fun for the family or group. You will find plenty to see and do around the Esplanade with restaurants, cafes, bars, beaches, picnic areas and BBQs all lining the streets.

The spot is a highly popular destination for backpackers with plenty of hostels in the area. A lot of Great Barrier Reef tours depart from the marina located at the Esplanade. Make sure you check out the fun at the Esplanade on your visit to Cairns.

Preparation

Preparation - Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip

The road between Brisbane and Cairns is long and arduous. Make sure you are planned and organised before taking off to avoid any potential breakdowns, accidents and injuries.

Car Service

Ensure your car, van, caravan or whatever vehicle you are taking on the road trip is serviced and ready for your journey. While the road between Brisbane and Cairns is well populated and people will be around to assist if needed, it is important your vehicle is up for the road trip.

Some other tips to check on your vehicle before taking off:

  • Tyres have enough tread and are well inflated
  • Oil is topped up
  • All instruments are working as intended on the dash
  • Navigation is available and up to date
  • First Aid kit is available in the vehicle in an emergency

Route Planning

While the route planning shouldn’t be too hard with a Brisbane to Cairns road trip, it is still important to know where you are heading and how long until you get there. Understand what distance you are going to be driving in the day, how much fuel you have left and how far it will get you.

Use your car or phones navigation system to assist with route planning. Take regular breaks and stops for food and resting. Driving long distances without stopping increases the risk of accidents significantly.

Food and Water

There is plenty of stops on the coastal road between Brisbane and Cairns. However, I would still strongly recommend ensuring you have an esky (cooler box) with food and water available and handy at all times.

If you do happen to break it could be several hours before someone can get to you. So it will be beneficial if you have food and water whilst waiting for assistance.

What to Do in An Emergency

It is important to not panic in an emergency. If you happen to have an accident or break down, there is plenty of assistance that can help you in an emergency.

Vehicle Accident

If you happen to be involved in or witness and accident, the first number to call is 000. This is the emergency services number in Australia, and they can get an ambulance or fire truck out to you quickly. 000 is accessible from any mobile phone regardless of network or carrier.

Do not put yourself in danger helping others. Only assist if it is safe to do so. The basics of first aid are listed on the Better Health Channel.

Vehicle Breakdown

If you break down the first step is to ensure you and your vehicle are safe from oncoming traffic. Many people have been killed on Australian roads after breaking down and being hit by other road users.

RACQ is Queensland’s roadside assistance and are the best to assist you. They will diagnose your vehicle and help either getting you back on the road or towed to the nearest mechanic.

RACQ can be contacted on 13 19 05 or by visiting their website.

What to Bring

What to Bring - Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip

Portable Battery Charger

Portable phone chargers are a must bring on any road trip. If you happen to break down and are stuck for a significant period, you don’t want your battery to go flat.

Ensure your battery charger is fully charged each night and is available if needed. A battery charger with high capacity will allow you to fully charge several devices.

First Aid Kit

As mentioned above a first aid kit is an essential item for any road trip. In case of an emergency, a first aid kit can be the difference between life and death. Make sure you have one in your car!

Swimwear and Gear

You’re going up the coast of Queensland, you will need your swimwear! Make sure you pack your togs to enjoy the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef.

If you plan on snorkelling, a good scuba mask is highly recommended. This one on Amazon is fog free and will let you snorkel for hours.

Portable Stove

If you are planning on camping your way through a Brisbane to Cairns road trip, a good portable stove is a necessity.

Gas stoves are best for travel and allow you to cook wherever you are. This Coleman brand stove is great value and has 2 burners.

Esky

Whether you call it a cooler, esky or chilly bin, you need to bring one with you on your trip. As mentioned above it is vital to have food and water supplies with you on your trip in case of an emergency.

You don’t need anything massive and this small one is perfect for the job. It will hold a few water bottles and some food if you need it.

Mosquito Repellent

Queensland is a tropical and humid climate. Mosquitos, or Mozzies as they are known here absolutely love that weather.

So, if you don’t want to be eaten alive by the real deadliest animal make sure you have some repellent handy. These wrist bands work well for short periods however make sure you get some spray from Woolworths or Coles also.

Sunscreen

It also gets very hot in Queensland. Don’t forget to slip, slop, slap your sunscreen when you are here. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer by a large margin in Australia and it comes down to reason, people don’t wear sunscreen.

Always make sure you are wearing SPF 50+ sunscreen and reapplying every 4 hours. Trust me, I have been burnt badly before and wouldn’t wish it on anyone!

You might also be interested in these posts:

The Top 10 Things to do in Australia
The Best Cameras Under $400 for Travel
Is it Safe to Travel to Australia? These Are The Risks
The Best Sites to Get Cheap Travel

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