Queensland is known for its mild climate and year round sunshine. It is a place where southerners come to escape cold winters and enjoy an endless coastline of golden beaches. For those looking for adventure a Brisbane to Cairns road trip will have you exploring some of the best loved attractions of Australia’s sunshine state.
So come along with us as we take you to the whale watching capital of Australia, show you the wonders of nesting marine turtles and visit the islands of the Great Barrier Reef. We give you a glimpse of the resort towns of Hervey Bay, Airlie Beach and Palm Cove. We introduce you to the delights of Brisbane and visit a selection of favourite Queensland brands.
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- Queensland Road Trip Itinerary
- Driving from Brisbane to Cairns
- The drive from Brisbane to Hervey Bay
- Hervey Bay
- Fraser Island
- Hervey Bay to Bundaberg
- Bundaberg to Yeppoon
- Great Keppel Island
- Yeppoon to Mackay
- Mackay to Airlie Beach
- Airlie Beach
- Airlie Beach to Townsville
- Townsville to Cairns
- Quick facts on Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip
- Last Words on a Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip
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Queensland Road Trip Itinerary
The first thing to do when planning a Brisbane to Cairns roadtrip is to choose the locations you’ll want to visit. This Queensland road trip itinerary gives many options and we have included some of our most favourite destinations.
Places we visit include Brisbane, Hervey Bay, Bundaberg, Yeppoon, Mackay, Airlie Beach, Townsville, and Cairns. Along the way we take side trips to Fraser Island, Great Keppel Island and Green Island.
Driving from Brisbane to Cairns
The Brisbane to Cairns drive takes you along one of the busiest highways in the country, the Bruce Highway. One thing to consider when driving to Cairns from Brisbane is the amount of road work that takes place along the highway. This roadwork can add hours to the drive from Brisbane to Cairns.
If you were to drive straight through without stopping for roadworks a Brisbane to Cairns road trip would take just over 19 hours. The Brisbane to Cairns distance is 1,678 km and compared to other road trips such as Darwin to Perth you do not drive for vast distances on lonely and isolated stretches of road.
There is no need to stock up on water, food or fuel as you pass through many townships and there are plenty of fuel and comfort stops along the way.
Brisbane is the capital of Queensland and is admired for its climate and relaxed lifestyle. In the past Brisbane was overshadowed by its glamorous cousins Sydney and Melbourne. Those days are long gone and today Brisbane is a sophisticated city where arts, entertainment, attractions, dining and café culture reign supreme.
Things to do in Brisbane
If this is your first visit to Brisbane, make sure to set aside time to explore this vibrant city. The crowning glory of Brisbane is its river and along its banks you will find some of the city’s favourite attractions.
Explore Brisbane River on a CityCat Ferry
One of the best ways to see these attractions is to take a ride on a CityCat Ferry. You will find terminals dotted all along the river. Included is the Southbank Ferry Terminal which gives access to Southbank Parklands, home to the Wheel of Brisbane, Streets Beach swimming lagoon, the Queensland Museum and Queensland Art Gallery, weekend markets and some of Brisbane’s finest dining venues.
Other popular terminals include the Regatta Ferry Terminal, which is a short walk to the Heritage listed Regatta Hotel, an iconic pub and one of Brisbane’s best loved watering holes.
Brisbane Day Trips
If a tour is more your style you will find a great range of Brisbane day tours to take before heading off on your Brisbane to Cairns road trip. Take to the heights and see spectacular views of Brisbane and the Brisbane River on a Story Bridge Adventure Climb. Visit Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and enjoy a Brisbane River cruise. Or discover Brisbane on a Brisbane Segway Sightseeing Tour.
Where to stay in Brisbane
Brisbane has a huge range of accommodation options to suit every style and budget. From 5 star luxury, apartment and hotel accommodation the choice is yours.
The drive from Brisbane to Hervey Bay
The first stop on our Brisbane to Cairns road trip is Hervey Bay. The distance from Brisbane to Hervey Bay is 282 km and takes around 3.5 hours to drive.
As you drive from Brisbane to Hervey Bay you will pass the impressive Glass House Mountains with Mount Tibrogargan being closest to the highway. The journey continues through the city of Gympie which has a rich goldmining history and the small country town of Tiaro. Leave the Bruce Highway at the Maryborough-Hervey Bay exit and follow the signs to Hervey Bay.
Hervey Bay is famous for its proximity to Fraser Island and the humpback whales that visit the area between July and November.
With a 13 km esplanade of calm sheltered beaches and great fishing Hervey Bay is a popular family friendly holiday destination. This relaxed beach vibe plays host to a range of water sports that include jet skiing and scuba diving.
Things to do in Hervey Bay
What you choose to do in Hervey Bay will depend on how relaxed or adventurous you want your holiday to be. Whichever mode you prefer there are a good range of activities and tours to make your stay memorable.
The Urangan Pier was built in 1917 as a deep water dock for transportation of sugar, coal and timber. This Hervey Bay icon was saved from demolition and has been lovingly restored. It is a great place to drop a line and you will often see hungry pelicans taking their pick from the schools of fish that swim in and around the Pier.
Maryborough is a city filled with character and a short 30 km drive from Hervey Bay. The city is the birthplace of P. L. Travers the author of the Mary Poppins series of books. The spirit of Mary Poppins can be felt throughout the city and the large number of charming heritage listed buildings only add to the mystique.
Hervey Bay Tours
Hervey Bay has an exciting range of tours including a selection of wildlife, whale watching and Fraser Island tours. These tours are guaranteed to make your stay in Hervey Bay an unforgettable experience.
**If you would like more information on Hervey Bay Whale Watching tours, click here to read our Best Whale Watching Hervey Bay Tours article.
Where to eat in Hervey Bay
Whether dining with sunset beach views or having lunch overlooking the boats at the Hervey Bay Marina, foodies are well catered for with a good range of fine dining restaurants and cafes.
Where to stay in Hervey Bay
Hervey Bay has a good selection of accommodation which includes apartments, hotels and caravan parks.
We chose to stay at Mantra Hervey Bay which is apartment style accommodation overlooking the Marina. The apartment is in a lovely location and a short walk to restaurants and tours.
Sitting off the coast of Hervey Bay is Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. Fraser Island is renowned for its outstanding natural beauty. The island is crisscrossed with thin sandy tracks and unless you have experience with a 4WD vehicle the best way to see Fraser Island is to take a tour.
We were thoroughly entranced with Fraser Island. Our tour took us to swim in the turquoise waters of Lake McKenzie and the crystal clear stream of Eli Creek. We explored the tropical rainforest and drove along the spectacular Seventy-Five Mile Beach. It is well worth taking the time during your road trip from Brisbane to Cairns to spend a day or two exploring this fascinating Island.
**If you would like a more detailed look at Fraser Island tours, click here for our Fraser Island Tours article.
Hervey Bay to Bundaberg
We return to the Bruce Highway to make the 109 km drive to Bundaberg which should take around 1 hour and 20 minutes.
The trip takes you through the town of Childers which is famous for its vintage shopfronts. While there make sure to visit the Old Pharmacy Museum, see the curious collection of reptiles, koalas and kangaroos at Snakes Downunder Reptile Park & Zoo or try a delicious Mammino Gourmet Ice Cream, my favourite flavour is Ginger & Macadamia.
Stop off at the Palace Backpackers Memorial which is a moving tribute to the 15 young backpackers who lost their lives in the deliberately lit Palace Backpackers fire on the 23 of June 2000.
Just outside the small township of Apple Tree Creek take the Bundaberg exit off the Bruce Highway.
Bundaberg is a pretty city and home to Bundaberg Rum. The city is surrounded by picturesque cane fields and a collection of stunning beaches. Much loved beaches of Bundaberg include Kelly’s Beach at Bargara and Mon Repos Beach which is famous for its nesting marine turtles between October and March.
The Great Barrier Reef stretches 2,300 km along the Queensland coast from Bundaberg to Cape York. Bundaberg is located on the Southern Great Barrier Reef and is the gateway to Lady Musgrave and Lady Elliot Islands.
Things to do in Bundaberg
When you visit Bundaberg, you will discover that it is the drinks capital of Australia. Not only does Bundaberg have Bundaberg Rum and the world renowned Bundaberg Ginger Beer but it is also the place to try a Cheeky Tiki Cider at Ohana Winery or the range of craft beers at the Bargara Brewing Company.
If you love gin, a visit to Kalki Moon Distilling & Brewing Company is a must. Kalki Moon has a fabulous variety of artisan gin, vodka and liqueurs and offer free tastings. It is also a great place to while away the afternoon with a delicious cocktail.
Where to stay in Bundaberg
When staying in the Bundaberg region you must decide whether you want to stay in the city or near its beaches. The city has a large range of motels to choose from and a personal favourite is the Chalet Motor Inn as the rooms have been tastefully renovated and are comfortable.
Bundaberg’s most popular beach is Bargara which is a short 16 km drive from Bundaberg. Bargara is a seaside town with a variety of apartments, hotels and caravan park accommodation to choose from.
One of our top accommodation choices at Bargara is the Point Resort Bargara. We have stayed at The Point on many occasions and have always enjoyed our stay. The Point Resort is within walking distance to Kelly’s Beach and the restaurants and cafés of Bargara.
**If you would like to know more about what to see and do in the Bundaberg region, click here for our Bundaberg article.
Bundaberg to Yeppoon
The easiest way to get from Bundaberg to Yeppoon is by driving to Gin Gin on State Route 3 and then continuing along the Bruce Highway to Rockhampton. Once in Rockhampton take the Yeppoon Road to Yeppoon. The journey takes around 5 hours but may take longer if there are roadworks along the Bruce Highway.
Along the way you will pass through the small townships of Gin Gin and Miriam Vale. Make sure to stop off for a pie at the Gin Gin Bakery or drop in for a lunch of pub favourites at the historic Miriam Vale Hotel.
Upon entering the city of Rockhampton, you will discover why it is known as the Beef Capital of Australia. Scattered throughout the city are the Big Bulls, seven statues of bulls which represent the different breeds of cattle in the region. A favourite activity for those visiting the city is to spot each one.
Other attractions in the region are the Capricorn Caves and you can see spectacular views of Rockhampton from Mount Archer.
Yeppoon is 40 km from Rockhampton and the gateway to Great Keppel Island. The town has a long sandy foreshore with striking views of the Keppel Islands. Yeppoon has a quiet beach vibe which is enhanced by shady picnic areas and the vibrant colours of the Keppel Kraken water play area.
Things to do in Yeppoon
There is quite a lot to see in and around Yeppoon, enjoy the coffee culture and beachside dining, discover the street art, visit the Yeppoon Lagoon or head out of town and commune with nature at the Byfield National Park. One of the most popular things to do in Yeppoon is to take a day trip to Great Keppel Island.
Where to stay in Yeppoon
Yeppoon has a good range of hotel, apartment and caravan park accommodation in central Yeppoon, Keppel Bay Marina and Rosslyn Bay.
Great Keppel Island
Great Keppel Island is a 30 minute ferry ride from Keppel Bay Marina near Yeppoon. The ride over is a treat and nothing can prepare you for the thrill of approaching the sandy shore of Great Keppel Island.
This peaceful island is the perfect place to spend the day swimming, snorkelling or kayaking. You can take a hike on the walking trails of the island or relax with a cool beverage and lunch at the Great Keppel Island Hideaway.
**For more information on what to do in Yeppoon and Great Keppel Island, click here for our Yeppoon article.
Stay on Great Keppel Island
For those wanting to spend more time on Great Keppel Island there are a few all-inclusive accommodation options to choose from.
Yeppoon to Mackay
Head back to Rockhampton and join the Bruce Highway for the 354 km drive to Mackay. This drive is known as the horror stretch due to the number of accidents on this section of the Bruce Highway.
Now we have driven along this road we can understand why as it is one of the most mind numbingly boring drives we have ever taken. We also found that there were greater distances between roadhouses and communities, so fuel and comfort stops were less frequent.
If you want a break from the road stop for lunch at the Koumala Hotel which is just south of Sarina. This charming pub is instantly recognisable by the crocodile that decorates the entrance.
Graced with a picturesque marina and charming Art Deco buildings Mackay makes an interesting overnight stay on a Brisbane to Cairns road trip.
For those wanting to stay in the region longer there are plenty of natural wonders to see. Visit the Eungella National Park and spot platypus in the wild at the Broken River viewing decks. Watch the sunrise over Cape Hillsborough Beach and see wallabies and kangaroos feed on the seaweed and mangrove seed pods that have been washed up on the shore.
Where to Stay in Mackay
There are heaps of accommodation options in Mackay including luxury hotels, motels and holiday parks within the city centre, the Mackay Marina and further afield.
Mackay to Airlie Beach
The distance from Mackay to Airlie Beach is 151 km and takes around 2 hours to drive. Airlie Beach is a steppingstone to many of Queensland’s most popular Whitsunday Islands including South Molle Island, Daydream Island, Hayman Island and Hamilton Island.
Airlie Beach is one of Queensland’s best loved holiday destinations. Airlie Beach is famous for its sweeping palm tree lined beach, stunning views of Airlie Bay and the family friendly Airlie Beach Lagoon leisure area.
The town has a fantastic range of fine dining restaurants, a great café culture and a good selection of shops for the shopaholics among us.
Airlie Beach – Whitsunday Island Tours
Airlie Beach has a fabulous range of day tours, you can take a scenic flight over the Whitsunday Islands and the iconic Heart Reef or spend the day relaxing on the striking white sands of Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island. Take a thrilling jetboat ride or sail off into the sunset on a traditional gaff-rigged schooner. These are just some of the tours to experience when visiting Airlie Beach.
Shute Harbour is a short drive from Airlie Beach and the place to see spectacular views of Shute Harbour. From the Lions Lookout you can watch ferries pass Repair Island and Shute Island on their way out to the islands.
The Shute Harbour to Daydream Island Ferry takes 1 hour & 25 minutes and operates 7 times a week. The Shute Harbour Ferry to Hamilton Island Marina takes 35 minutes and operates 3 times a week.
Where to stay in Airlie Beach
Considering its popularity, it’s not surprising that Airlie Beach has a huge selection of accommodation. From 5 star luxury to caravan park Airlie beach has you covered.
Airlie Beach to Townsville
The distance from Airlie Beach to Townsville is 272 km and should take around 3.5 hours depending on roadworks.
On your way you will pass through Bowen which is famous for the Bowen mango. From the highway you will see the Big Mango, which serves a delicious mango sorbet and is well worth a stop. Across the road there is a comfortable rest area for those wanting to take a break from the road.
Townsville sits in the shadow of Castle Hill, a heritage listed pink granite monolith which dominates the city skyline. For the best views of Townsville and Magnetic Island make sure to take a trip up to Castle Hill. There are several walking tracks to explore, and you will also see an observation bunker, a remanent of Townsville’s World War II history.
The Strand is Townsville’s playground, a 2.2 km beachfront promenade with picnic and safe swimming areas, a water park, restaurants and bars. Take the time to fish off the pier and enjoy the views of Magnetic Island.
One of my favourite areas is Palmer Street on South Bank. The street has a great selection of award winning international eateries and is close to the Maritime Museum and Townsville Yacht Club and Marina.
Magnetic Island is 8 km off the coast of Townsville and is blessed with 23 picturesque beaches and bays. More than half the island is national park and there are 25 km of walking tracks which highlight the rugged beauty of the island.
Bays include Horseshoe Bay which is the largest bay on the island and popular with water sports enthusiasts, Nelly Bay is great for snorkelling on the fringing coral reef and Picnic Bay has a safe swimming enclosure and jetty.
There is a choice of Townsville to Magnetic Island ferry transfers including the Sealink passenger ferry which takes 20 minutes, and the Magnetic Island Ferries car ferry takes 45 minutes.
Townsville & Magnetic Island Tours
There are a good range of Townsville and Magnetic Island tours which include ferry tickets, scenic helicopter flights over Townsville and Cape Cleveland, scuba diving the S.S. Yongala wreck and sunset sailing tours.
Of course, one of the most incredible tours is the Great Barrier Reef and MOUA cruise which takes you to the Coral Greenhouse, a submerged building which was designed by world renowned underwater sculpture artist Jason deCaires Taylor.
Where to stay in Townsville
Townsville has a great choice of accommodation. We stayed at Park Regis Anchorage, which has hotel and apartment style accommodation. We chose to stay in a one bedroom apartment which had views of the Marina and were happy with our choice.
Townsville to Cairns
The distance from Townsville to Cairns is 346 km with a drive time of around 4.5 hours. For spectacular views of Hinchinbrook Island and Channel take the exit off the Bruce Highway to Hinchinbrook Lookout which is 19 km north of Ingham.
Stop off at Cardwell for a breathtaking photo of the beach and Hinchinbrook Island and make sure to sample a Cardwell Pie from the pie van at Cardwell Park Rest Area.
Cairns is a vibrant city and the heart of Far North Queensland. Sitting on its doorstep is the Great Barrier Reef, the Atherton Tableland and it is the gateway to the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation.
For foodies the city has an exciting restaurant and café culture, a wealth of attractions including its spectacular beaches, Kuranda and Green Island.
With views overlooking Trinity Inlet and mountains, Cairns Esplanade is a place to relax and unwind. Decorated with the delightful woven fish sculptures, the Esplanade is home to the Cairns Esplanade Lagoon and is the venue for the weekend markets.
Cairns is famous for its beaches and there are many to choose from. Two of my favourites are Palm Cove which is home to some of the best resorts in Queensland and Trinity Beach which has a laid back beach vibe and an interesting WWII history.
**To find out what to see and do in Cairns read our Cairns day trip article.
Where to Stay in Cairns
Possibly the best area to stay in Cairns is along the Esplanade and around the Marina. These areas have access to fine dining restaurants and the Marina is a great departure point for tours out to the islands and Great Barrier Reef.
Quick facts on Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip
Cairns is well worth a visit, it attracts visitors from around the world and is the gateway to the famous Great Barrier Reef, the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation.
The distance from Brisbane to Hervey Bay is 282 km.
Brisbane to Airlie Beach is 1,096 km.
The distance from Airlie Beach to Townsville is 272 km.
The distance from Brisbane to Townsville is 1,331 km.
The distance from Townsville to Cairns is 347 km.
Last Words on a Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip
A Brisbane to Cairns road trip will take you to some of the most magnificent scenery imaginable. The trip allows you to discover Queensland’s boundless coastline, the small farming and coastal communities, spectacular mountains and ancient rainforest.
My only regret is that we didn’t have time to explore more of these incredible regions. After seeing such beauty, we are so proud to call Queensland our home state.
Have you been on a Brisbane to Cairns road trip? What was your favourite place? Feel free to leave a comment.
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