Brisbane to Cairns - An epic road trip

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Gareth Meade
18 Jul, 2022
8 minutes to read

Follow the sun on Australia's east coast

If there's one thing the state of Queensland is known for, it's the warm weather. But there is so much more to enjoy, especially when travelling up the east coast from bustling Brisbane to serene Cairns. You'll experience epic beaches, spectacular scenery and have access to Fraser Island, Daintree National Park and the Great Barrier Reef. With a rental car from GoSee, you can create your own perfect Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary and enjoy everything the Queensland coast has to offer. If you're not sure how to get started, we have put together ideas for one of the great Australian road trips below.

Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast - National Parks and Australia Zoo

Onyour Sunshine Coast vacation, be sure to enjoy the white sand and gentle tide of Mooloolaba beach, the safest beach in QLD.

At just an hour and a half, this is a nice leisurely start to proceedings. Take the M1 motorway all the way and you'll soon be enjoying a range of local attractions and beautiful beaches. Take in Noosa National Park, with its extensive range of hiking trails, including the scenic coastal track that takes you to Dolphin Point. From here, you get stunning coastal views, which for some lucky travellers will include pods of dolphins and whales.

If you'd rather relax and soak in some sunshine, Mooloolaba Beach could be the perfect choice. Easily accessed from central Sunshine Coast, Mooloolaba Beach has all of the conveniences of a city beach, including easy access to a range of food options, pathways for getting some exercise and the option to surf, sunbathe or paddle in the clear blue water.

About 20 minutes drive south-east of the Sunshine Coast, you can find one of Australia's most famous attractions. Australia Zoo was started by The Crocodile Hunter himself, Steve Irwin and is still run by his wife Terri and children Bindi and Robert. The zoo is over 700 acres and has everything from snakes to birds, elephants to rhinos, and of course, crocodiles. Open 9-5 daily, this is a great option to enjoy with your family.

Sunshine Coast to Fraser Island - The worlds largest sand island

There is still so much to explore in Fraser Island, like this paradise-like beach in its southern area.

Continue your trip to North Queensland by heading inland toward Gympie, then taking Tin Can Bay Road before making a right onto Rainbow Beach Road. Rainbow Beach is a long stretch of pristine sand, with Double Island Point lighthouse at one end and Inskip Peninsula at the other. From here, you can catch a boat to visit Fraser Island, also known by its indigenous name, K'gari. Fraser Island is the world's largest sand island and is World Heritage listed. Here you'll find white sandy beaches, freshwater lakes and ancient rainforests.

If you want to stay on Fraser Island, there is the Kingfisher Bay Resort, a purpose built ecotourism resort, on the western side of the island. Or the Eurong Beach Resort, which sits on the beachfront and gives its guests easy access to the island's famous Seventy-Five Mile beach.

It is possible to take vehicles with you on the ferry to Fraser Island, but make sure to check with your rental car company that this is something they allow. The vehicle must be 4wd. All wheel drive and SUVs are not suitable.

Fraser Island to Rockhampton - The start of the Great Barrier Reef

rockhampton town street cars mountains

Given the distance from Brisbane to Cairns, there's going to be some long stretches on your road trip, these next couple of legs included. Once you hop off the ferry in Rainbow Beach, you'll make your way back to Wallu before taking Maryborough Cooloola Road to head north. This route travels through and alongside a number of National Parks, including Waru National Park, Bania National Park and Bulbirin National Park.

If you need a rest on this part of your epic road trip, you can head towards the coast to Bundaberg, home to the famous rum and ginger beer of the same name. If you want to get up close to those two products, there's The Bundaberg Barrel, home of Bundaberg Brewed Drinks and the Bundaberg Rum Distillery, which offers tours and and tastings.

Continuing north, you can either drive straight to Rockhampton, or take your time and detour by the coastal towns of Seventeen Seventy or Gladstone. Seventeen Seventy, also known as The Town of 1770, is a small town that's historic as as the second landing site of Captain James Cook. Gladstone gives you access to places like Heron Island, Wilson Island and the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

Once you've hit Rockhampton, you'll have access to the Mount Archer National Park and be just a short drive from the seaside town of Emu Park. Don't forget to explore Rockhampton's Heritage Architecture Trail and see century old trees in Rockhampton Botanic Gardens.

Rockhampton to Airlie Beach - Explore Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays

One of the Whitsunday Islands, a Hamilton Island trip will bring you to many popular activities in the Great Barrier Reef.

While this part of your road trip will give you plenty to see and lots of places to stop, you'll want to get to Airlie Beach and set aside some time to visit Hamilton Island and Whitsunday Island. Whether it's a day trip, or you spend a few nights there, Hamilton Island is a popular holiday destination for a reason. Surrounded by stunning blue water and featuring world-class restaurants, you can find adventure, take time to relax, or both.

Take the ferry from Airlie Beach and you'll be on Hamilton Island in an hour. You'll need to leave rental cars behind, as people get around the Island either on foot, or golf buggies. Once there, you can either explore all that the Island has to offer, or head further out to the Whitsundays and famous Whitehaven Beach. You have no doubt seen pictures of Whitehaven Beach, with its pristine white sand stretching for seven kilometres and the impossibly blue water lapping its shores. Swim, snorkel or just explore this majestic part of the world.

Airlie beach to Townsville - Magnetic Island and the Tropical Queensland Coast

Aerial view of the Magnetic Island.

Now that you've seen Fraser Island, Hamilton Island and the Whitsunday Islands, tick another island off your list by heading north to Townsville and visiting Magnetic Island. Located just off the coast of Townsville, Magnetic Island has natural beauty and serenity to spare. Also known by its indigenous name, Yunbenun, the name Magnetic Island came from Captain James Cook in 1770, because he believed his compass was affected by the island.

You can take a day trip to Magnetic Island, or take your car over on the ferry and stay at one of the many accommodation options. Once there, you'll be presented with beautiful beaches, hoop pines and wildlife you can enjoy on land and at sea.

Once you're back on the mainland, you can enjoy all that a Townsville rental car holiday has to offer. Australia's largest tropical city, Townsville gets over 300 days of sunshine in any given year. See Reef HQ, the world's largest living coral reef aquarium. Climb Castle Hill and enjoy 360 views from its peak. Get up close with koalas and other native wildlife at Billabong Sanctuary. No matter what you do on this section of your road trip, you'll be sure to have a great time.

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Townsville to Cairns - Far North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef

Allow a whole day to explore the Great Barrier Reef.

Welcome to the final stretch of this road trip. Once you arrive in Cairns, you will have covered over 1,700 kilometres of Australia's east coast. Passing the Palm Islands, Mission Beach, and a number of National Parks, the trip from Townsville to Cairns can be at whatever pace you choose. However, once you reach Cairns, you'll be in the go-to location for boat tours to the Great Barrier Reef.

One of the seven wonders of the natural world, the Great Barrier Reef is the quintessential experience of Far North Queensland. There are many different ways you can experience the reef, including helicopter tours, scuba diving, snorkelling, in a glass-bottomed boat, the choice is yours. Whichever option you choose, you will be in for an incredible experience where you can get up close with marine life such as sea turtles, butterflyfish, clown fish, or the enormous Wrasse, distinguished by the large hump on their forehead. No Cairns road trip is complete without a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, so make sure this is on your list of must dos.

With the reef ticked off, you can now take in a few sights in Cairns itself. Visit the aquarium to see more sea life, or head to the botanic gardens to see the unique tropical flora. You can even take a full day train trip on the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which takes you through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kuranda Rainforest. There's plenty to include on your Cairns itinerary to finish off your Brisbane to Cairns tour in style.

A little bit extra - Port Douglas and Daintree National Park

Discover more of nature at the Daintree Rainforest.

If you aren't quite satiated by ending your trip in Cairns, then consider heading a little bit further north to Port Douglas and Daintree National Park. The lush rainforests and tropical climate of Far North Queensland is hard to beat and you'll get plenty more of it by taking these short day trips from Cairns.