Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip

Australia is full of so many fantastic drives and road trips, from state to state and national parks, and coastal drives with unforgettable scenery. One of the most stunning and feature-packed road trips is from the Queensland capital city of Brisbane to the northern cap city of Cairns. This 1,680-kilometre journey is full of regional cities, attractions, coastal views and stunning nature.

Between Brisbane and Cairns, you will pass through many towns and cities such as the Sunshine Coast, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Mackay and Townsville. This road trip can take as long as you are willing to put into it, but it is recommended you carve out at least 8-10 days to fully enjoy the experience and give yourself enough time to enjoy each location without feeling rushed. Part of the beauty of road trips is the mixture of both city attractions, town attractions and being completely lost in nature. An easy way to split up your itinerary is by sectioning attractions into groups, galleries, museums, natural attractions and restaurants. Depending on where you are, the ratio will change, but it’s a good idea to try and get at least one of each into every major destination. 

Brisbane

Carve a decent chunk of time to spend in Brisbane, the largest of the cities on your road trip, and consequently the one with the most attractions packed in. Brisbane is full of art galleries exhibiting local, national and international talent. The main gallery is the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art. Here, you can find everything from Aboriginal Art to European Impressionism. With a constant revolving door of travelling exhibitions, you’re sure to have a different experience even if you’ve been there before. As well as galleries in Brisbane, you can find museums, animal sanctuaries, top-quality restaurants and heritage-listed buildings. 

If you only have a short time in Brisbane, it’s best to pick one of each type of attraction. If you have a little longer, there are smaller and more hidden attractions to pique your interest. For example, instead of Australia Zoo, head to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the largest of its kind, to meet our most iconic animal. The sanctuary is on the banks of the Brisbane River, only a few minutes from the CBD.

Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast

The next major stop on your road trip is the Sunshine Coast, 1 hour and 20 minutes north of Brisbane, with optional stop-offs of Caloundra and Bribie Island along the way. If you’re a fan of beaches and surfing, then the Sunshine Coast will be your main beach destination, although you will find them across the entire coast. Take in Sea Life at the Sunshine Coast Aquarium, with its incredible underwater walkway, or hop on a few rides at Aussie World, located just south of the CBD. With over 30 rides and attractions, it makes a unique alternative to the larger Movie World, Sea World and Wet’n’Wild theme parks, which are south of Brisbane on the Gold Coast.

The Sunshine Coast to Noosa

A popular coastal city on your route is Noosa, famous for its beaches, fantastic food scene and boutique shopping. Noosa is a more cosmopolitan area of Queensland, with the large Sofitel Hotel (formerly the Sheraton), luxury apartments and expensive boats and yachts. If you are planning on fitting a national park in this area of the world, Noosa National Park, although small, doesn’t disappoint, with fantastic coastal views, well-worn walking tracks, rock pools and beaches.

Noosa to Bundaberg

The next main section of the drive takes you from Noosa to Bundaberg, with stops such as Gympie, Great Sandy National Park and Hervey Bay along the way, all worth seeing with unique attractions in each. Hervey Bay also serves as a gateway to the stunning Fraser Island. Planning ahead with your bookings can save you a lot of money, better spent on other things, such as food! 

Bundaberg is best known for the rum that bears its name. The Bundaberg distillery is a must for rum fans, with tours and tastings available for those over 18 and non-alcoholic options available for younger travellers or designated drivers. 

Bundaberg to Cairns

From Bundaberg to Cairns, there are many more stop-offs, with Rockhampton and Townsville the major cities, each with their own museum, galleries, natural attractions, botanic gardens, zoos and restaurants. Keep in mind many of the northern points from Rockhampton onwards are gateways to the Great Barrier Reef and provide access to different parts of the reef. Everyone’s itinerary is different on a road trip, but planning ahead can save time and money. Take in the stunning Queensland coast at your own speed, enjoy the journey and drive safely. 

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