Brisbane To Cairns: The Classic Queensland Road Trip
Between Brisbane and Cairns, there’s over 1600 kilometres of road to cover and countless hours to spend behind the wheel of a vehicle, but for those who do tackle this long stretch of Australian coastline by car or campervan, then the rewards are as endless as the roads might seem.
From the glorious weather and laid back beach culture of the Sunshine Coast, to the crocodiles and rainforests of Far North Queensland, there’s so much to see and do between Brisbane and Cairns that it would be a crime to miss out on everything in between. Hit the road, get ready for a long drive, and be prepared to experience one of the world’s great road trips.
The Glasshouse Mountains
Start the journey north of Brisbane with a short drive to one of Queensland’s most underrated and under-visited natural attractions, the Glasshouse Mountains. This area of otherwise flat land is punctuated by the dramatic shapes of volcanic plugs - distinctive, tall mountains formed from molten lava millions of years ago. It’s an unusual area of spectacular natural beauty, just inland of the coastal road that most people take towards Cairns. Take the detour, and see something otherworldly.
Noosa and the Sunshine Coast
From the Glasshouse Mountains, join up with the more traditional, classic road trip route by travelling along the Sunshine Coast, past beautiful coastal scenery and stopping at any of the many beaches found along its length. Spend a day or more relaxing at Noosa, enjoying the national park and the laid back, beachside surfing culture that the East Coast of Australia is famous for.
Travelling further north will bring you to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. This is one of the highlights of a Brisbane to Cairns road trip but a four wheel drive is needed to tackle the sands. If you don’t have the vehicle or the experience though, don’t worry, it’s easy to jump on a tour at either Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach on the mainland to join an action packed adventure across the island, visiting the lakes, creeks and rainforest of this natural spectacle.
Few people stay long in Bundaberg, using this industrial city as just a pit stop on the long road further north from Fraser Island, but stay a little longer to uncover a few local sights. For starters, Bundaberg is where the famous Bundaberg Ginger Beer is brewed, as well as the more infamous Bundaberg Rum. Visit the breweries and distilleries and then tour the quiet but spectacular coastline that surrounds the city and includes turtle sanctuaries and sand bars.
Eungella National Park
There’s a lot of kilometres left to go on the road to Cairns, and from Bundaberg onward the distances between cities and sights begin to stretch further and further apart. Aim for the city of Mackay on the coast, but don’t stop here for long, instead, turn inland and visit Eungella National Park. At this point the mountains, cooler climate and misty mornings will make for a welcome change from the scorching, sunshine filled coastline. As well, Eungella National Park is home to the rare and elusive platypus, a must-see animal on any Australian itinerary. Interestingly, it’s possibly the only place in the world where you can get in the river and snorkel with platypus rather than just viewing them.
Airlie Beach and The WhitsundaysTwo thirds of the way into the road trip it’s time to stop at one of Queensland’s most colourful attractions, The Whitsundays. From Airlie Beach, a laid back traveller hub and holiday town, take a boat trip out into this archipelago of white-sand islands and beautiful bays. There are 74 islands in total, all of them offering raw natural scenery for visitors to admire.
Townsville and Magnetic Island
Townsville is one of the largest cities in Far North Queensland and it’s a good spot to stop on the road trip to enjoy a bit of city comfort, quality restaurants or decent pub food before hitting the final stretch of road to Cairns. Before you leave though, take the ferry across to Magnetic Island for world-class snorkelling.
Josephine Falls and Babinda Boulders
On the way to Cairns from Townsville stop off along the highway at two of Far North Queensland’s most impressive sights. Josephine Falls is a magnificent, tiered waterfall with natural swimming areas amongst the rainforest. Babinda Boulders is a brilliant stretch of river that flows powerfully over a smooth formation of rounded rocks, with a few natural swimming pools thrown in too. Both are refreshing pit stops in the ever humid Queensland climate.
Cairns, The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree RainforestThis is the home stretch, and once you are in Cairns although most of the road tripping might be over, there is still a lot to see. Take to the water to see the Great Barrier Reef. Then if you still feel like you can drive a bit further, head up to the Daintree Rainforest, to explore the oldest rainforest in the world. If, after over 1600 kilometres of driving you can’t take on any more of Queensland’s roads, then simply enjoy the lively atmosphere of Cairns Esplanade, eat out at the excellent restaurants or enjoy a few refreshing drinks in this holiday city.
Queensland Road Trip Tips
The huge distance between Brisbane and Cairns shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s really an understatement to say that this is a long drive. If you have the time, then take at least two weeks to travel the distance, stopping off and enjoying all the incredible locations along the route. Ensure you keep your vehicle topped up with petrol and take plenty of water for yourself. The further north you get, the more aware you need to be aware of the weather. This is rainforest territory, and Far North Queensland experiences torrential amounts of rain as well as cyclones and storms frequently. Heavy rains can cause dangerous floods, road closures and delays, so just be wary if you are aren’t used to this sort of unpredictable weather.