Queensland Road Trip – Brisbane To Cairns

Queensland Road Trip – Brisbane To Cairns

Brisbane To Cairns Queensland Road Trip AustraliaThere’s really nowhere on earth quite like Queensland. Where else can you find desert, rainforest, mountains, islands, coral reef, and some of the most spectacular beaches on the planet all in one place? It’s an enormous place, but if you want an epic Queensland road trip, you can see most of the good stuff by following the coast up from Brisbane to Cairns.

If you’re sticking to the coast, the Brisbane to Cairns drive is less than 24 hours. You can easily do a coastal Queensland Road Trip in under 2 weeks and still visit all the must-see sights. I’m all about road trips and slow travel, so I spent a month doing it, and I still only scratched the surface. There’s so much to see, do, and photograph.

The Ultimate Queensland Road Trip

These are the locations you won’t want to miss. If you’re pushed for time, you won’t be able to visit them all, but if you have 10-14 days it’s totally possible. Obviously, since we’re talking about a Queensland road trip, it will help if you have your own vehicle. Even if you don’t, you’ll still be able to follow this itinerary, as there are buses between Brisbane and Cairns that stop at all these locations.

Brisbane

Whether you’ve driven, flown, bused, or hitch-hiked into Brisbane, you’re gonna want to spend a night there. Brisbane has an unfortunate reputation as a bit of a hole. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s just been compared a little unfairly to Sydney and Melbourne, two of the most liveable cities on earth.

I really liked Brisbane. If you like amazing food, rooftop bars, and live events virtually every night of the week, I’m sure you will too. We spent a couple of nights at the Brisbane City YHA. We timed our visit perfectly as one of my favourite comedians – Stephen K Amos – was on tour. He gave us a few good LOLs and we spent the rest of our time there exploring the city. I particularly liked the New Farm and Fortitude Valley areas.



Brisbane, like most of Australia, is insanely expensive, so if you’re on a budget you’re not gonna want to hang around too long. As much as I liked Brisbane, I was itching to get out of the city and on the road.

Noosa

Your first stop after leaving Brisbane should be Noosa Heads, on the aptly-named Sunshine Coast. Think gorgeous beaches, epic surf, coastal walks, and more amazing bars and restaurants. Noosa is a big tourist attraction thanks to all of the above, so you won’t want to visit during the holidays. Any other time, though, it’s a super chill little town.

Noosa National Park Queensland Road Trip Brisbane To Cairns

All within a short distance from Nomads Hostel Noosa, you’ve got one of Queensland’s best surf beaches, stunning walks that follow the coast through Noosa National Park, the beautiful Noosa river, and loads of food and beer to top it all off. Hastings St has a bunch of great options, but can be pricey. I recommend heading up to Noosa Junction, where the best bars, food, and nightlife can be found.

Fraser Island

SS Maheno Shipwreck Fraser Island Queensland Road Trip Brisbane To Cairns

Since long before arriving in Australia, I’ve been wanting to visit Fraser Island. The largest sand island on earth and a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, there’s nowhere on earth quite like it. Think rainforests, crystal-clear lakes and rivers, whales, dingoes, turtles, beaches, and a whole lotta sand. You’re gonna want to make sure you have your camera for this one, because Fraser Island has some incredible photography spots.

Fraser Island was the place I was most excited about visiting on my Queensland road trip, and it didn’t disappoint. We had three nights camping on the island, and really only scratched the surface. It’s 4WD only on the island, so if you don’t have a vehicle that’s set up for extreme off-road driving, you’ll need to rent one or go with one of the many Fraser Island tours.

Hervey Bay

Hervey Bay is a popular base for exploring Fraser Island. It’s also the place to do a whale-watching tour. Each winter, tens of thousands of humpback whales migrate up the east coast of Australia to breed. If you’re doing your Queensland road trip around this time, I definitely recommend going whale-watching. Seeing these incredible creatures close-up is something truly special.

Urangan Pier Hervey Bay Queensland Road Trip Brisbane To Cairns

Other than Fraser Island and whale-watching, Hervey Bay is a pretty sleepy little town. If you’re not whale-watching, or if you’re self-driving Fraser Island or doing a tour from Noosa, I would skip Hervey bay. It does have a massive pier that’s worth a look.

Seventeen Seventy

It must be the only town in the world named after a year. The Town of 1770 was the second place that Captain James Cook landed in Australia that same year. Agnes Water and Seventeen Seventy are so close that they’re basically the same place. It’s a cute, quiet little town that makes a good base to explore the area.

Seventeen Seventy is the place to join a tour of Lady Musgrave Island, known for some of the Great Barrier Reef’s best diving and snorkeling. The area is also surrounded by national parks, which are great locations for bush camping and hiking.

Cape Hillsborough

Cape Hillsborough National Park Queensland Road Trip Brisbane To Cairns

I would skip Mackay and head a further half-hour to Cape Hillsborough National Park. It’s a beautiful headland that has a few different beaches and campgrounds to choose from. We unfortunately missed out on the only Queensland National Parks campground (which are only about $6 per person), but lucked out and found a hidden gem of a campground at Halliday Bay.

If you’ve ever seen photos of kangaroos on the beach, they’re likely here in Cape Hillsborough. Every morning, kangaroos and wallabies come down to the beach to eat seed pods that have washed up on the beach overnight. Or so we were told. What actually happens is a “tour guide” puts food down for them, along with orange cones to keep the crowds back. Not exactly what I was expecting. On the plus side, you’ve made it over half way from Brisbane to Cairns.

Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays

The only instructions I was given for our Queensland road trip were from my partner-in-crime, Rach. “I want to spend my birthday on an island!” What better place to spend your birthday than Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays?

We spent three nights in Airlie Beach, and LOVED it. We didn’t intend to stay that long, but due to some trouble with our 4WD, Al Bundy, we needed to stay an extra night. I was completely okay with it.

For such a popular tourist destination, the town has a surprisingly laid-back feel. We spent Rach’s birthday jetting out amongst the Whitsunday Islands, snorkelling amongst the coral reef, sunbathing on Whitehaven Beach, watching whales play, and drinking cold beers on Palm Bay Island. Bliss.

Whitehaven Beach Whitsundays Queensland Road Trip Brisbane To Cairns

There are a ton of Whitsunday Island tour companies based in Airlie Beach. They offer everything from half/full-day tours to overnight reef-sleep packages and self-charters. Whatever you choose to do, don’t skip the Whitsundays. It really is one of the jewels of the Great Barrier Reef.

Townsville and Magnetic Island

Koala Bears mother and baby Queensland Road Trip Brisbane To Cairns

I’ll admit, I didn’t know a lot about Magnetic Island before our Queensland road trip. I knew it was off the coast of Townsville, and that was about it. Sometimes it’s better to visit a place without any expectations.

Magnetic Island has so much going on, you’re gonna need a full day at least. I wish I had stayed a night there and made it two days. If you get the early ferry, you can watch the sunrise from the boat (always a great start to the day). You can get a bus pass for the day, which will take you all over the east side of the island.

Make sure you don’t miss The Forts hiking trail. You can see some old WWII forts, and if you’re lucky, some koala bears. Also, Radical Bay is a gorgeous little cove that you can’t miss. Watching sunset over Horseshoe Bay is a pretty epic way to finish the day.

 

Mission Beach Dunk Island Queensland Road Trip Brisbane To CairnsMission Beach

North of Townsville, on the Cassowary Coast, lies Mission Beach. It’s actually a few beaches, but the whole area has come to be known as Mission Beach. If you go in winter, like we did, you’ll find you’re well and truly in the territory of the grey nomads, a horde of retirees escaping the colder southern states.

This sleepy little collection of beaches is paradise. Endless, white-sand beaches, palm trees, crystal-clear water, and the perfect climate will make you want to unpack and stay forever. This is a great spot to spend a day or two reading and chilling on the beach. If you can’t sit still, you can catch a boat the short distance to Dunk Island, just off the coast. I also recommend checking out Kurrimine Beach, north of Mission Beach.

Atherton Tablelands

Zillie Falls Atherton Tablelands Queensland Road Trip Brisbane To Cairns

Although the Brisbane to Cairns drive follows the coast, there is one location where I would recommend getting off the Bruce Highway and heading inland. The Atherton Tablelands is an elevated plateau southwest of Cairns, and if you like waterfalls, definitely worth taking a detour for.

If you turn off the highway north of Mission Beach and head towards Millaa Millaa, you’ll come across a circuit of three stunning waterfalls within a few minutes drive of each other. They’re pretty popular, so get there early. I was a little disappointed to see the area at the base of Millaa Millaa Falls has been concreted following some flood damage recently.

They’re well worth a visit, and you’re not missing much on the coast by taking the inland route. If you’re up for it, there are more waterfalls in the area that require a bit more driving. It’s a slow, windy road, but makes a nice change from the coastal route.

Cairns

If you make it this far, congratulations. You’ve made it further north than most Australians ever will. You’ve not only made it all the way from Brisbane to Cairns, you’ve also reached the heart of Tropical North Queensland. I’m not sure exactly where the tropics begin, but somewhere along the way, you enter a lush, green world.



Cairns is bigger than I expected. There’s so much going on there, you could easily spend a week exploring the area, as well as the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is super popular amongst backpackers, so there are a ton of hostels. The city has a pretty decent nightlife, if that’s your thing, and some great food.

We decided we hadn’t had our fill of the reef, so we took another tour, this time right out to the outer reef. We spent a few hours snorkeling amongst the coral, searching for turtles, and wearily watching the reef sharks swimming below us.

Great Barrier Reef Queensland Road Trip Brisbane To Cairns

For many people, their Queensland road trip ends here. Whether flying out of Cairns or turning around and driving back south, far too many people don’t make it any further north. If you can find a couple more days to squeeze in, there are a couple more places I recommend you visit.

Palm Cove

Is there anything that says “tropical paradise” like palm trees on the beach? Palm Cove is a little town just north of Cairns that we fell in love with. There’s not much there except the stunning beach, a few cafes and bars, and a whole lotta palm trees.

Palm Cove Hammock Queensland Road Trip Brisbane To Cairns

We met some backpackers who had stopped there on their Queensland road trip and decided to stay. After talking with them we were seriously tempted to do the same. We could live out of Al Bundy, and we already had our hammock strung up between two palm trees. What else would we need?

The only thing that motivated us to keep moving was what was still to come further north.

Cape Tribulation

Cape Tribulation Queensland Road Trip Brisbane To Cairns

The northernmost point of our Queensland road trip also happened to be one of my absolute favourites. Cape Tribulation is less than three hours north of Cairns, and there’s nowhere in the world like it. It’s the only place on earth where two UNESCO World Heritage sites meet – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.

The Daintree is the oldest tropical rainforest on earth (over 100 million years old), and it extends right down to the coast. Standing on the beach and seeing a lush, green rainforest in the same place is kinda strange, but incredible to see.

Cape Tribulation is truly a tropical paradise. We stayed three nights, but easily could’ve made it a week or two. Noah Beach was one of the most secluded pieces of paradise I’ve ever seen. We literally had the whole beach to ourselves on more than one occasion. Cape Tribulation Camping also happened to be one of my favourite campgrounds on the whole Queensland road trip. Wood-fired pizzas tend to have that effect on me.

The Long Drive Back

The Brisbane to Cairns drive is a long one. Add the extra 150km to Cape Tribulation, and you’ve driven close to 2000km. If you’re flying out of Cairns or staying in North Queensland, count yourself lucky. We turned around and drove the whole way back down the coast.

If you’re driving back from Cairns to Brisbane, you could stop in to see the places you missed on the way up, or revisit the places you loved and wanted to explore some more. We did a bit of both.

However you choose to do your Queensland road trip, you will have one of the best experiences of your life. Now, go get some wheels, grab your camera, and create some incredible memories.

 

Brisbane To Cairns Queensland Road Trip Australia

PIN ME

Fraser Island’s Top Photo Spots

Fraser Island’s Top Photo Spots

top photo spots on fraser island photography guide queensland australia road trip

If you love sun, sand, and adventure, then it doesn’t get much better than Fraser Island. Just off the Fraser Coast in Queensland, Australia, lies the UNESCO World Heritage listed island. It also happens to be the largest sand island on earth. Apparently that’s a thing.

4WD camping adventure fraser island queensland australia

Fraser Island is synonymous with adventure. You can only get there by ferry. It’s so close to the Queensland Coast that it looks like it’s connected to the mainland. There are no roads on the island other than sandy trails and beaches, so it’s 4WD all the way. It’s also well known for its wildlife – dingos, dugongs, turtles, dolphins, wallabies, possums, and the usual array of Australian fauna that wants to kill you – like snakes.

As you would expect, a place as unique as Fraser Island has some equally unique features that you’re not going to want to miss. Crystal clear streams you can float down, lakes of pure rainwater, the whitest sand you can imagine, huge sand dunes (with rainforests growing on some of them), strange cliffs and rock formations, plus a shipwreck right on the beach.

All this makes Fraser Island not only an incredible place to explore, but also a photographer’s dream. During my four-day adventure on the island as part of a Queensland Road Trip, I took over a thousand photos. The island is massive (over 120km long), so I didn’t get to see everything I wanted to. What I did see and photograph was pretty incredible.

If you’re planning to visit Fraser Island, I recommend you beg, borrow, or steal a 4WD and stay a few days. The freedom you’ll gain from going where you want when you want will be well worth the cost and effort. Driving on the island isn’t difficult if you have the right vehicle, and it’s actually a lot of fun. There are campsites all over Fraser Island, and they’re super cheap.

If self-driving isn’t an option for you, there are a ton of companies that offer Fraser Island tours. There are also a couple of resorts if camping with the snakes isn’t your idea of a good time.

Whichever way you choose to see Fraser, make sure you bring your camera because it’s a feast for the eyes. These are a few of my favourite photo locations on Fraser. None of them are difficult to get to, so don’t miss them.
humpback whales migration fraser island queensland australia
Within half an hour of arriving on Fraser Island’s southern end from Rainbow Beach, we were greeted by these three magnificent Humpback whales. Over the four days on Fraser we saw dozens of groups. Some come quite close to the shore, and a couple even breached right in front of our campsite while we were eating breakfast!

Humpback whales migrate north up the east coast of Australia between June and August to mate and give birth, so that’s the time to go. The weather is much more pleasant during the Queensland winter, and there are far less people on the island.
ss maheno shipwreck drone aerial fraser island queensland australia
One of Fraser Island’s most popular attractions is the SS Maheno Shipwreck. It’s located about half way up 75 Mile Beach, and it’s massive, so you won’t miss it. It’s on the east coast, so sunrise is the best time to photograph it.

We camped in the Maheno campground, which is right on the beach and a short five minute walk to the wreck. We had the whole campground to ourselves. Doesn’t get much better than that.
ss maheno shipwreck sunrise fraser island queensland australia
ss maheno shipwreck milky way stars fraser island queensland australia
One of the reasons Fraser Island is a photographer’s dream is that is there’s no light pollution, so it’s perfect for astrophotography. Plan your trip around the new moon and you’ll see more stars than you ever imagined.
indian head point cliffs fraser island queensland australia
At the north end of 75 Mile Beach is Indian Head. It’s just a short walk up to the lookout over insanely high cliffs. You can see for miles in every direction. From up there we saw whales, dolphins, sharks, and turtles. I also nearly stood on a black python. Not the wildlife I was hoping to run into.
sand dunes waddy point fraser island queensland australia
Our second night we camped at Waddy Point campground. It’s about half an hour from Indian Head through a sandy bush track. There are some pretty incredible sand dunes at Waddy Point. It’s a little unnerving being alone and seeing dingo tracks in the sand.

waddy point sand dunes fraser island queensland australia

champagne pools fraser island queensland australia
A short drive south of Waddy Point are Fraser Island’s famous Champagne Pools. The huge rockpools fill up with seawater as the waves crash over the edges. It’s one of the only places that’s safe to swim on the eastern side of the island, so make sure you take a dip.
lake mckenzie fraser island queensland australia
Located in the middle of the island is one of Fraser Island’s many beautiful lakes. Lake McKenzie is made up of pure rainwater, and it has some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. The sand is 98% silica, meaning it’s pure white and filters the rainwater to give it this incredible colour.

Lake McKenzie also happens to be one of Fraser Island’s most popular attractions, so get there early to beat the crowds. We camped at Central Station campground, which is a short, but very bumpy drive to the lake.
lake mckenzie sunrise drone aerial fraser island queensland australia
From Lake McKenzie it’s not far to the ferry back to River Heads at Hervey Bay. There are two points you can catch the ferry from. Whatever you do, make sure you’ve booked the ferry. Don’t make our mistake and get to the ferry point only to find it’s fully booked and then have to drive all the way around to the other point.

However you choose to see Fraser Island, I promise you it will be an adventure you’ll never forget. You’ll come away with some fantastic photos and even better memories.
top photo spots on fraser island pin

PIN ME!

Pin It on Pinterest