Cairns to Brisbane Road Trip | A guide to Queensland’s coast

From the lush tropical rainforests and the exquisite expanses of the Great Barrier Reef, to the bustling centre of Brisbane, the eastern shores of Australia offers you everything from Whitsunday island-walking, to koala cuddling, the country’s highest waterfall and just so, so much more. So, where to start? We’ve mapped out the perfect (self-tested, we might add) guide to your epic Cairns to Brisbane road trip.

Whitehaven beach

This includes a driving itinerary, mapping out the distances and times; as well as a full rundown of activities you can do along the way.

Your Cairns to Brisbane Road Trip Itinerary

Now we’ve budgeted two weeks (or 14 days) for your itinerary but, as with anything in life, it’s flexible. If you wanted to, you could do the entire thing in 8-10 days, although it would be a bit of a rush. Our advice? Use our guideline to the ultimate Cairns to Brisbane 14 day road trip is below:

  • Day 1 – 3: Cairns incl Great Barrier Reef / Daintree Forest / Skyrail and Kuranda Scenic Railway
  • Day 4: Cairns to Townsville incl. Mission Beach and Wallaman Falls
  • Day 5: Townsville incl. Magnetic Island / Horseshoe Bay / Forts Walk / Picnic Bay
  • Day 6: Townsville to Airlie Beach
  • Day 7: Airlie Beach incl Whitsundays day trip
  • Day 8: Airlie Beach to Rockhampton
  • Day 9: Rockhampton to Bundaberg incl. Cape Hillsborough National Park / 1770 / Agnes Water / Paperbark Forest Trail
  • Day 10: Bundaberg to Hervey Bay incl. Bundaberg Barrel and Urangan Pier
  • Day 11: Fraser Island incl. Lake McKenzie / Central Station / SS Maheno / Pinnacles / Eli Creek
  • Day 12: Hervey Bay to Noosa incl. Noosa Everglades / Noosa River
  • Day 13: Noosa to Brisbane incl. Noosa Spit / Boardwalk / Fairy Pools / Fish Lane
  • Day 14: Brisbane incl. Mount Cootha / Gallery of Modern Art / Lone Pine Sanctuary
The pier at Picnic Bay Magnetic Island

Cairns to Brisbane Drive times

The Cairns to Brisbane road trip distance is 1,702 km and approximately 20 hours. That being said, that wouldn’t include any key stops, detours and attractions, and needs to be broken up with stays in different towns along the way!

We’ve mapped out the distances and times between your key overnight stops for you, as a guide:

  • Cairns – Townsville: 347 km / 4 hours
  • Townsville – Airlie Beach: 275 km / 3 hours 15 min
  • Airlie Beach – Rockhampton: 480 km / 5 hours 30 min
  • Rockhampton – Bundaberg: 287 km / 3 hours 30 min
  • Bundaberg – Hervey Bay: 110 km / 1 hour 20 min
  • Hervey Bay – Noosa: 158 km / 2 hours
  • Noosa – Brisbane: 150 km / 2 hours

Getting there – car or campervan?

Now when we did this trip, we simply rented a car with Thrifty Car Rental, which you can do through a company like rentalcars.com to check out prices.

This did end up being a slightly expensive exercise – while it was cheaper to hire than a campervan, you have to book accommodation at every stop. And, in certain towns like Rockhampton or Bundaberg, there really aren’t too many affordable options (well, options where you don’t feel you’ll get some sort of airborne disease just from walking into your motel room…).

You’ll need to figure out your travel style and budget. If you’re a happy camper (like the pun?), then hire a campervan (we did it in New Zealand and highly recommend it!) and download apps like Campable to nice holiday parks or find free camping locations in Queensland.

If you really want to get a hotel or motel room every night, we do suggest you book in advance on websites like Agoda.com if travelling in high season. The ones we booked in advance (like Hervey Bay) were great. The ones we ‘took a chance’ on like Rockhampton left a bit to be desired.

Insider Tip: Cairns to Brisbane is not as popular a route as Brisbane to Cairns. That means that many car and campervan rental companies need people to ‘relocate’ the cars. These relocation deals can be pretty sweet – think a few dollars a day plus petrol costs. You usually only find these deals a few days before the trip – try websites like Transfercar or Imoova websites for options.

Travel Insurance for Australia

Got your travel insurance booked? We promise to never push a brand or product we don’t personally use, and the travel cover from Safety Wing is a policy we don’t just use, but we highly recommend. They offer some of the most flexible policies, amazing customer service and are affordable too.

Check out the latest travel insurance prices with Safety Wing here.

Interactive Map for your Cairns to Brisbane Road Trip

Day 1- 3: Cairns

This North Queensland gem is one of our favourites in all of Australia – there is so much to do in the town, and you are not only perched at the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef but also a stone’s throw from the epic Daintree rainforest.

We’ve actually written an entire article on the plethora of cool things you can do in Cairns, so give that one a read if you want a full itinerary. Just want the highlights? We’d suggest these three:

Do a Great Barrier Reef Tour

The Divers Den Reef Quest boat

So the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest reef system. It’s got nearly 3,000 individual reefs and stretches for over 2,600 kilometres. Let’s just say: it’s one of those places you have to put on your bucket list and ‘do before you die’.

We did a day out on the Reef Quest, a luxury snorkelling and scuba diving vessel run by the best operator in town, Diver’s Den. Whether you are a certified diver, an avid snorkeller or want to learn to dive on the world’s most magnificent reef, you’ll be catered for.

We are open water divers so did three dives out on Norman reef, which were all highlights in our diving ‘careers’. Think hundreds of anemone fish (yes – Nemo’s were all around us), angelfish, prehistoric-looking cuttlefish, green turtles and, our favourites, white-tip sharks. Don’t worry, they’re totally harmless!

Cairns itinerary - Blue spotted ray

If you can’t splash out on a luxury boat, we recommend you use a more affordable option like their Sea Quest vessel. And, if you have more time, we wish we’d been able to try their liveaboard option, Ocean Quest. Imagine waking up to the sun rising over the largest World Heritage Area on the planet. The stuff that dreams are made of.

Check out all the Great Barrier Reef cruise options with Diver’s Den here.

Visit the Daintree Rainforest and surrounds

Cairns itinerary - Daintree Forest Outlook

It’s where the rainforest meets the reef: a 250 million year old lush tropical rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef, with one of the world’s most beautiful beaches – Cape Tribulation – wedged between them.

We’d probably suggest you use an entire day to travel out via the coastal road, known as the Bloomfield Track, and visit the Mossman Gorge, the Daintree River and Cape Tribulation.

It will take you about 1.5 – 2 hours (77km) to reach the Mossman Gorge, where you can stroll the elevated boardwalks to see leafy forests, crystal clear rivers and hundreds of brightly-hued butterflies. While you’re there, try to do the ‘Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk’, where the local people show you through the unique plants of the area and share their ancient traditions. There is also a suspension bridge at Rex Creek or a longer Rainforest loop track to do if you have time to spare.

Cairns itinerary - Mossman Gorge

After this, head to Daintree forest itself and book yourself a river cruise! The forest has more than 200 species of plants as well as amazing wildlife – croaking frogs, tweeting birds and even marsupials. Usually the highlight is coming across one of the amazing saltwater crocodiles which lurk along the river’s edge.

Last, but definitely not least, drive to Cape Tribulation. Named by explorer James Cook after his ship scraped a reef (and all his ‘tribulations’ started, the beach is absolutely beautiful. Just talk a walk along it or check out one of the viewpoints. There is a 1.8km boardwalk (called the Dubuji walk) through the forest and mangroves if you’re still feeling fit.

Beach of Cape Tribulation

Take the Skyrail and the Kuranda Scenic Railway

Just 15 minutes out of Cairns is the 7.5km scenic cableway, the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway, which gives you absolutely sweeping vistas of the Barron Gorge National Park. These amazing gondolas give you 360 degree views of the forest and has some great stops like Red Peak Station, where you can do a rainforest boardwalk loop or hop onto a free guided tour. The end point of the 90 minute journey is the rainforest village of Kuranda, where you can cuddle some koalas, check out the markets or see the Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.

Cairns Itinerary - Skyrail

Photo courtesy of Kyle Taylor / Flickr

Your return leg should be on the Kuranda Scenic Railway which gives you some views as the skyrail, but in beautifully-appointed 100 year old train carriages. You’ll feel transported back in time as you chug along the railway back to Smithfield station.

Where to stay in Cairns

We loved the Freedom Hostel, which feels less like a hostel and more like a hotel. It has a great central location, fantastic private rooms (and dorms), and so many free services including a killer breakfast.

Day 4: Cairns to Townsville

It’s time for your epic Cairns to Brisbane road trip to begin! The road between Cairns and Townsville isn’t too strenuous but we’d always recommend breaking it up, so that you ‘arrive alive’ and don’t suffer from driver fatigue.

There are a number of potential attractions to see along the route, but we have two highlights: Mission Beach and Wallaman Falls.

Meander along Mission Beach

Mission Beach Australia

It should take you approx. 2 hours to reach Mission Beach from Cairns, and it’s a short detour off the main highway to get there.

The beach is pretty spectacular. For us it felt like we’d arrived at some sort of extra-terrestrial sand stretch; we almost expected the Mars rover to amble on past us!

This 17 km stretch of coastline was quite deserted and punctuated by brick red sands and crashing waves as far as the eye could see. Apparently there is quite a bit more to do in Mission Beach but our suggestion is to just chill on the beach for a while.

Wade into Wallaman Falls

Disclaimer: Wallaman Falls is a pretty big detour off the highway; about 90 minutes (both ways) in fact. That said, Wallaman Falls is the tallest waterfall in all of Australia, with a single drop fall of 268 metres (about 800 feet) high.

This is a mightily impressive waterfall, even if you just go up to the viewpoint and don’t bother to walk down to the base pools. Actually, the 2km walk is quite strenuous so if you don’t have the energy please don’t attempt it!

Wallaman Falls near Townsville

Insider Tip: There is a public toilet at Wallaman Falls and it was well-maintained when we used it. However, there is no drinking water available anywhere near the Falls or along the through road so if you are going to hike it, fill up your water bottle at a rest stop along the highway.

After you’ve finished at Wallaman Falls, get back onto the road and head south towards Townsville, where we’d suggest you stay for the night.

Where to stay in Townsville

We stayed at the Rambutan hotel in Townsville, and really enjoyed our overnight there. They also do a mean pizza at the accompanying restaurant.

Day 5: Townsville including Magnetic Island

We’re sure there is a lot to do in Townsville but, for us, our pick is definitely Magnetic Island, where you can do a day trip out on the ferry.

Magnetic Island or ‘Maggie’ as it’s fondly known to locals, is a 20 minute ferry road from Townsville itself. We walked from our hotel to the ferry terminal and just bought tickets about 15 minutes before it was due to depart. Apparently it’s never really full so you don’t need to worry about booking in advance. You can check out the timetables here.

While on ‘Maggie’, you have two ways to get around: hiring their famous ‘Barbie’ cars – bubblegum pink topless cars that are heaps of fun – or the local bus.

We used the bus and it was really easy: you can either purchase a one day ticket from the driver, or even ask at the ferry terminal, since it seems they sell discounted tickets (ours was 5 AUD per person). Alternatively, you can pay for each journey separately by paying the driver. All the timetables are up at the various bus stations and all the bus drivers were incredibly helpful and patiently answered our (many) questions.

Chill out at Horseshoe Bay

In terms of a route or itinerary on the island, we’d suggest you start off by going up to Horseshoe Bay, right at the top of the island. You can visit the beautiful white sand beach and get yourself a gourmet coffee or a delicious gelato at one of the many beachside cafes (we recommend Adele’s Café!) dotted along the road.

Do the Forts Walk

Doing the Forts Walk on Magnetic Island

After this, head down on the bus to do the Forts Walk, the most famous walking trail on Magnetic Island. The Forts Walk is a 4 km walking trail where you’ll see very well-preserved structures from World War II.

The 90 minute walk will have you looping round to see some incredible views of the Coral Sea, but also some amazing WW II history including gun emplacements and a command post that you can climb atop (for more sweeping views).

What really attracts people to the Forts Walk, however, is the chance to see some cuddly koalas in the wild. You’re almost guaranteed to find one clutching a tree along the route – we actually saw about four of them as we strolled around.

Koalas on the Fort Walk

Walk the Picnic Bay Boardwalk and see the SS City of Adelaide shipwreck

Lastly, head down all the way to the south of Maggie island, to Picnic Bay. You can see the amazing boardwalk and walk along it trying to spot pelicans and dolphins.

A total highlight would then be to walk round to Cockle Bay to see the SS City of Adelaide, an old shipwreck off the coast that beached itself in 1915 and has towering trees growing out of its ruined hull.

This is such an instagrammable spot – this amazing photo taken by the talented @conormoorephotography was not only @australia’s most liked Instagram post, but won Australian Tourism’s best photo of 2018! It’s best done at low tide, (check the tides here), since you can walk out near the boat. That said, please do wear water shoes or functional sandals, since there are stinging jellyfish to contend with.

Insider Tip: The busses don’t run for about two hours after lunch. This means that if you need to get onto the 3pm ferry, you MUST leave the Forts Walk at around 11.45am, else you will not be able to do the boardwalk and the shipwreck.

Day 6: Townsville to Airlie Beach

Today you’ve got a ‘relatively’ short drive between Townsville and Airlie Beach, so it’s worth getting up early so you can at least see a bit of Airlie Beach in the afternoon. Or, like us, just relaxing poolside at your hotel!

Where to stay in Airlie Beach

We loved our stay at Mantra Club Croc. The hotel is set around a central pool area, with well-appointed rooms and some of the best staff we encountered in Australia. They had great recommendations for things to do in the area.

Day 7: Airlie Beach including Whitsundays

Aaah, the Whitsundays. Did you know that Whitehaven Beach, the pre-eminent beach on the Whitsundays, is the third most photographed place in all of Australia? That should tell you two things: Firstly, that this place is absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful. And, secondly, it does have quite a few other tourists sharing its shores…

Whitehaven beach in the Whitsundays

In case you’re not familiar with it, the Whitsundays is a cluster of 74 islands near Airlie Beach. These are absolutely heavenly beaches – many of them totally secluded and full of natural beauty.

There are a number of ways to see the Whitsunday Islands, staying out on one of the islands like Daydream Island or Hamilton Island, or on a day trip via a sailboat or speedboat.

We opted for the latter based on the recommendation from our hotel and since the sailboats, while they are beautiful, just can’t go as quickly as speedboats and you’re therefore slightly limited in the number of places you can visit on your tour.

We booked a tour with Ocean Rafting and were very happy with our choice: they have won a number of tourism awards, and we felt our two guides were really knowledgeable, experienced and just heaps of fun.

Check out the latest prices here (by the way, this tour sells out so book ahead if possible).

If you really do want to see the sheer spectacular beauty of the Whitsundays, it might be worth investing in a scenic flight. These are usually about an hour and more affordable than you think – about 250 AUD (170 USD / 130 GBP). Book it here.

Relax on Whitehaven Beach

Whitsundays Hill Inlet

While doing a tour of the Whitsundays, you’ll usually check in first at Whitehaven Beach itself and do the viewpoint walk to see the Hill Inlet. This 1km walk takes approximately 45 minutes on a return loop and, let us tell you, you’ve possibly never seen a view like it. Essentially the shifting sands means you’ll never see the same panoramic view…

Whitehaven beach is world-renowned because the white sands are 99% silica, giving them their signature lily white appearance.

You’ll get a bit of time get some of that famous sand between your toes or, like us, go looking for lemon sharks and stingrays which lurk in the corners of the beach. You could also get a shot on this awesome piece of driftwood which seems almost perfectly positioned for the ultimate Instagram shot.

Posing at Whitehaven beach

After that, usually the boat stops for lunch at another part of Whitehaven beach, in our case the Southern bit.

Interested in Instagram spots? Why not check out our guide to the most Instagrammable places in Sydney.

Go snorkelling in the Whitsundays

Post that, its time for a snorkel. Our boat headed to Dumbell Island, where we spent about an hour exploring the reefs around the Whitsundays.

We suffered from poor visibility since it had been quite windy but we still got to swim with a few curious green turtles, and really enjoyed the plate coral in the area.

GoPro for travel - taking photos of turtles

Now of course your Whitsundays experience might differ to ours, depending on what you book. But, regardless, you HAVE to include it as part of your Cairns to Brisbane journey!

Insider Tip: Our guides told us that Sunday is the quietest day to visit the Whitsundays, and Tuesday and Wednesday are the busiest. We visited on Tuesday – the busiest day of the week.

Day 8: Airlie Beach to Rockhampton

Let’s manage your expectations upfront. Today is NOT a sightseeing day. And Rockhampton or ‘Rocky’ as it’s apparently known to locals, is not the most beautiful city on Australia’s East Coast.

Many a frequent traveller along the route will also tell you that it’s one of the most boring stretches of the journey. And they aren’t wrong.

Unfortunately there isn’t too much to see between Airlie Beach and Bundaberg but that distance is too long to do in one day. So you’re usually stuck with staying overnight in Rockhampton, and doing the 5.5 hour drive (without breaks) without doing too much in between.

Airlie Beach to Rockhampton

We did a few rest stops at random beaches and petrol station breaks but don’t have too much to report. We were told that Flaggy Rock in Carmila is a nice coffee and ice-cream stop along the way, although we didn’t personally try it ourselves…

Where to stay in Rockhampton

You are not spoilt for choice in Rocky but there is a great option in the Denison Boutique Hotel, which is worth it for the money. That said, if you want a more affordable option, you could try the Q Motel. We stayed at the Q after traipsing around town looking for a cheap, high-end option (which doesn’t exist), but were pleasantly surprised when we stayed here – the rooms are actually very nice, the beds are comfy and the owner was so kind.

Day 9: Rockhampton to Bundaberg

Now that you’ve got that boring driving day under your belt, today is a new day and there are definitely some great options for stops along the way between Rocky and Bundy!

We wouldn’t recommend you that you attempt all of these – it will make it a pretty long day. We’d probably recommend you choose between Cape Hillsborough and the 1770/Agnes Water/Paperbark suggestions, unless you’re okay with arriving a little late into Bundaberg.

Cape Hillsborough National Park

Cairns to Brisbane road trip - Cape Hillsborough National Park (1)

This one is a bit of a detour off the highway but well worth the extra time to do it, especially if you get there early.

Why? Well every morning on the beach, a ranger feeds the kangaroos! You might have seen the pictures of kangaroos perched next to travellers, just relaxing on the beach? Yup, that’s at Cape Hillsborough.

More than just kangaroo spotting, the park offers a number of fantastic short walks like the Diversity Boardwalk, which has you wandering through the Melaleuca woods or Andrews Point where you have five incredible viewpoints of the coast and the Whitsundays.

If you did want to fully explore the park, we suggest you stay overnight. The best option is Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park which offers everything from camping to more premium rooms.

Do the Town of 1770 Headland Walk

The 1770 headland lookout view

Technically 1770 and Agnes Water are just a few kilometres from each other, but we’d recommend you stop at 1770 first and wind your way back.

Seventeen Seventy (or 1770), was so named since it was the second stop of explorer James Cook in – you guessed it – May 1770. It was originally known as ‘Round Hill’, and that is really what it is: a small hamlet set up on the hill.

Drive all the way up to the top car park of 1770 and do the viewpoint walk around the hill, called the Headlands Lookout. It’s really quick – about 350m – and gives you views of the coastline. On your way back down you can also visit the Captain Cook memorial.

Agnes Water’s Main Beach and Chinaman Beach

Agnes Water beach between Cairns and Brisbane

A gem of a coastal town, we honestly would have loved to stay overnight in Agnes Water if we had enough time. That said, an hour or two in Agnes Water gives you enough of a feel for the laidback atmosphere of the place.

As with most places on the East Coast, there is heaps to do in Agnes Water. Go kayaking, do a fishing charter or go to Lady Musgrave Island. However, since you’re a little short on time, we’d recommend you head to the two beaches to check them out.

The Agnes Water main beach is a great place to relax, plus it has a big parking lot and some high-end ablution facilities, so a good place to empty the bladder ?. The beach is patrolled so totally safe for kids plus if you were keen to learn to surf, this is the place to do it – we saw lots of people out in the water trying to get up on their boards.

We would however recommend going a bit further and doing the ‘secret’, more deserted shoreline: Chinaman’s beach. This orange-hued beach stretches for miles and only had one other beachgoer there when we visited.

Chinamans Beach in Agnes Water

Walk the Paperbark Forest Trail

This one we LOVED. Just a few kilometres on from Chinaman’s Beach is a recently constructed forest walk, the Paperbark Forest Trail, which honestly made us feel like we had stepped into a fairytale.

The trail is only 400m long but winds through a forest of paperbark trees, and has you hopping from little platforms and skipping along wooden walkways. We honestly thought a fairy or a gnome was going to peek out from behind one of the trees.

We highly recommend this stop – just park up at Reedy Creek Reserve on Springs Road, and you should see this signposted.

Paperbark Forest Trail near Agnes Water

From here, its about 90 minutes into Bundaberg, where you can rest up for the night.

Where to stay in Bundaberg

Definitely stay at Hideaway Haven. This lovely property feels like a home away from home, and is one of the best options in Bundy. It’s a bed and breakfast, and has some gorgeous personal touches to enjoy, including amazing hosts.

Day 10: Bundaberg to Hervey Bay

Luckily this is quite a short little stint; about 80 minutes without traffic. That said, by now you’ve spent a significant amount of time on the road, so the quick jaunts are definitely appreciated! Our suggestion for the day? Do the Bundaberg Barrel Tour in the morning, head over to Hervey Bay and just relax!

Drink the brews at the Bundaberg Barrel

First up, it’s worth noting that Bundaberg is famous for two types of tipple: their rum and their carbonated drinks. We are not huge rum fans so we headed to the Bundaberg Barrel, an interactive tour of the brewed drinks; most famously their ginger beer.

Bundaberg Barrel tour between Cairns and Brisbane

It’s only 12 AUD (8.20 USD / 6.20 GBP) per person for the tour and that includes a 6 pack of ‘Bundy’ that you can pick and choose from their selection; great value since the tour ends up significantly cheaper than if you bought a six pack in a supermarket!

The tour is self-guided and you’ll go through the brewing process for their various drinks, try the ‘smell’ test i.e. can you guess the flavour profile just by taking a deep sniff, and check out the bottling procedure. Then, the magic happens: a friendly Bundaberg employee takes you through a tasting of their 19 different flavours; everything from Passionfruit to Cream Soda, Pineapple/Coconut and our favourite, Blood Orange. After this it’s time to choose your 6 bottles and make up your take-away pack – the most difficult part is choosing only six!

Walk the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay

Once you’ve finished up at the brewery, our suggestion is to get on the road to Hervey Bay and spend the rest of the afternoon chilling out. Goodness knows, you’ve earned it!

That said, if you have the energy when you arrive in Hervey Bay, we’d suggest you see the Urangan Pier. This pier is 1.1km long, making it one of the longest in the world! We enjoyed walking down the pier but also stopping to see teenage fishermen feeding their hard-won fish to the enormous pelicans perched atop the pier lights.

Urangan Pier pelican

We were also lucky enough to see some dolphins having a play in the nearby waters and jumping joyfully into the air… a pretty spectacular sight.

Want to see more than pelicans and dolphins? Did you know that Hervey Bay is known as the ‘whale watching capital of the world’? More than 1,500 humpback whales visit on the migration south to the Antarctic each year. The best time of year to see them is between August and October.

Insider Tip: Want a dinner option? The coolest place in town is Enzo’s, a beachfront restaurant that has stood the test of time.

Where to stay in Hervey Bay

This town has a few good choice: Mantra, Breakfree and our pick – Ramada Hervey Bay. The Ramada is in spitting distance of the Urangan Pier, lots of cool restaurants and has a fantastic pool – spring for the deluxe pool room to have direct access to it.

Day 11: Fraser Island

If you’re in Hervey Bay, one of the top things to do is to go to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island! You might sense a theme in this article but, if you can, we’d really suggest you don’t just do a day trip to Fraser Island.

Our reasoning? Fraser Island is 123 kilometres long and, at its widest point, is 22 kilometres wide. That means it’s an absolute behemoth of an island and a day trip means you’re really only seeing the highlights.

A tour with Fraser Explorer Tours

If you are doing a day trip, the only reasonable choice is Fraser Explorer Tours, which you can book here. They operate air-conditioned 4×4 coaches which are crucial since the sand on the island is really difficult to navigate and you need 4 wheel drive! We would recommend you steer clear of trying to do a self-guided tour unless a) you can rent a mean 4×4 vehicle b) you are very very confident driving in thick, difficult sandy conditions and c) you have more than a day to do it.

If not, Fraser Explorer Tours is your best pick – book it here.

They’ll pick you up from your accommodation, sort out your ferry to and from the island and take you around all the top spots. Either way, whether you do it yourself or with a tour operator, here are the must-do things on Fraser Island:

Lie in at Lake McKenzie

Lake Mckenzie on Fraser Island

You’ll probably be reminded a little of Whitehaven beach when you reach Lake McKenzie – it too has a very high silica count and therefore icy white sands. And, similar to Whitehaven, the water in Lake McKenzie is known to be ‘therapeutic’ – apparently just dunking your hair into the waters will leave it silky soft. You can also use the sand to naturally clean your jewellery!

The lake is a ‘perched’ lake which means it only contains rainwater; it doesn’t flow out to the sea and isn’t fed by streams. That’s one of the reasons the lake is so crystal clear!

Lake McKenzie is the most visited spot on Fraser Island so it can get a little busy. That said, it’s a beautiful spot to spend a bit of time chilling out on the sand.

Check out the old logging village, Central Station

Central Station on Fraser Island

Fraser Island used to be used for logging and forestry between the 1920’s and 50’s, before it became a heritage site. It’s worth visiting the old logging village, called Central Station, on the Wanggoolba Creek. Part of the charm of the area is a boardwalk trail along the creek where you can see gigantic King Ferns in lush sub-tropical settings, plus pristine white ‘Ghost Gum’ trees and Kauri Pines, the main tree that was logged during that time.

See the SS Maheno shipwreck

SS Maheno on Fraser Island

This must be one of the most accessible shipwrecks we’ve ever come across. The SS Maheno washed ashore during a cyclone in 1935 and is perfectly perched on Seventy-Five Mile Beach for your picture pleasure. Just watch out while taking your photograph though – other cars come barrelling along the beach and so you need to be vigilant when walking around.

Park up at the Pinnacles

The Pinnacles on Fraser Island

Now this wasn’t our favourite stop on Fraser Island but since it’s on your way between the shipwreck and Eli Creek, it’s worth a quick look.

The Pinnacles are essentially colourful sand cliffs formed of hundreds of thousands of years, where the minerals from the earth have fused with the sand. On a good day you can see more than 70 different hues, with the reds and yellows being most prominent.

Eli Creek

Cairns to Brisbane - Eli Creek Fraser Island

Photo courtesy of Nomads Hostels / Flickr

More than four million litres of fresh water pours through Eli Creck into the ocean every hour, making it a pretty impressive stream on the east coast of the island. What’s cool about Eli Creek though is that you can walk up to the top of the creek along the boardwalk and then ‘float’ down to the beach at the bottom.

The water is a comfortable temperature but if you’re not keen on floating you can also wade through – it reached my knees so was a pretty comfortable height and experience!

After your day on Fraser Island, it will be time to return to Hervey Bay and get a good night’s rest. That said, as we suggested, it would be a great idea to try and do more than one day, which would mean an overnight stay at the island at one of the camping spots or at the Kingfisher Bay Resort.

Day 12: Hervey Bay to Noosa

Your road trip is almost done but the highlights definitely aren’t. Actually, Noosa – your next stop – was our favourite on the entire coastline and somewhere where we could see ourselves settling down one day (if we had the money).

For today, it’s a 2 hour drive to Noosa from Hervey Bay and we suggest you get it done very early, so you can still do the Eco Safari in the Noosa Everglades, which kicks off at 9am.

Noosa Everglades Eco Safari

Noosa Everglades Tour - Noosa River drone

It might not be the most famous thing on the Noosa map, but we would highly recommend a tour of the Noosa Everglades. You might not know it, but Noosa has one of only two everglades in the entire world (the other one is in Florida, USA).

It’s a brilliant thing to do in Noosa. You’ll spend much of the day on the ‘River of Mirrors’ in a riverboat, checking out the wildlife (kangaroos, lizards and more), the birdlife and the coal-black waters of the lake and everglades.

If you’re up to it you can also kayak or canoe down the river. Or, like us, just kick back and relax on the boat. We’ve actually written an entire article on the Noosa Everglades which will give you a few more tips for this wonderful experience – read it here.

Feed the pelicans on the Noosa River

Noosa pelicans

Once you’re in Noosa centre, we’d suggest you get down to the river for sunset. After the cruise it will be the perfect way to end the way, plus you’ll be able to see some pelicans to boot!

It turns out that right by the Noosa Boathouse restaurant is a group of very keen pelicans, who love to be fed around sunset each night. Go watch it take place, or take a few scraps if you want to throw it to the hungry birds.

Eat fish and chips at the Noosa Boathouse

Noosa Boat House

If you’re a bit of a fish and chips connoisseur (we think we are), then you must try the variant at the Noosa Boathouse. This iconic restaurant has a takeaway option which is the same as the sit-down version in their luxurious eatery. And, if you do sit down, please do get the mango and white chocolate cheesecake for dessert. You can thank us later.

Where to stay in Noosa

Top of the pops is the Offshore Noosa. These are actually fantastic apartments, overlooking the river and boasting pristine white surfaces, really fluffy comfortable beds and three (yes – three) swimming pools!

Day 13: Noosa to Brisbane

You’ve woken up in Noosa – what a treat. Today is your chance to explore a last few corners of this beautiful town, and make your way to Brisbane.

Check out the Noosa Spit

Noosa Spit

There is a plethora of stunning beaches in Noosa but our pick is the Noosa Spit. Okay, it might not be the most fashionable but it’s a quieter beach which not only allows dogs off leash, but is great for a picnic. And, if you have a drone, you will get some of the most incredible photos!

Meander along Main Beach

The more popular beach is definitely Main Beach and the best way to see it is probably to walk the Noosa boardwalk. Start at Hastings street past Little Cove and then veer off to see it. Beyond that, we suggest you get onto the boardwalk and then into Noosa National Park, to do the Coastal Walk.

Chalk up the Coastal Walk and Granite Bay

Noosa Granite Bay

Once the boardwalk ends, you’ll land up in Noosa National Park, an absolutely stunning part of this already gorgeous town. Take the track along the coast to walk past deserted beaches like Granite Bay, and see locals doing their morning run along the trails.

Float in the Fairy Pools

Noosa Fairy Pools

And, last but definitely not least, if you take the Coastal Walk you’ll end up the infamous Noosa Fairy Pools. Now the pools are a little off the beaten track but undoubtedly a cool activity in Noosa – we’ve actually written a whole guide to the Fairy Pools here.

The pools are a 30-40 minute walk along the Coastal track after which you’ll venture out onto the rocks and find these little pockets of crystal clear water just waiting for you to dive (or get in carefully!) right in.

It’s been a full day, but its now time to get onto the road and drive the approximately two hours to Brisbane, your final stop on this 2 week Cairns to Brisbane road trip.

Dinner at Fish Lane

Cairns to Brisbane road trip - Fish Lane

Photo courtesy of Greg Adams / Flickr

Once you’ve arrived in Brisbane, our suggestion is definitely to head to Fish Lane. In Brisbane’s trendy Southbank area (which boasts a city-side swimming pool and beach!), Fish Lane is the epicentre of cool, featuring restaurants, bars and art.

This street features 450m of laneway art with some pretty heavyhitter artists including Drapl and Fintan Magee. Running from Grey Street to Manning Street, it’s filled with street art but is probably now better known for the cuisine that flanks it on either side. Try down-to-earth fine dining at Gauge, or the best Italian in Brisbane at Julius Pizzeria. Down your craft beer at Saccharomyces Beer Café or get a bit more social at the four-storey pub, The Fox Hotel.

Where to stay in Brisbane

We always stay with family but we’ve asked around and it seems the Arise Apartments are a great nod, since they are beautiful, high-end self-catering apartments in a central area of Brisbane.

Day 14: Brisbane

It’s your final day of your road trip, and you need to make it count! We’ve got some killer suggestions for today, also since we have immediate family living in Brisbane so have some tried-and-tested recommendations from some locals!

Watch the sunrise at Mount Cootha

Cairns to Brisbane road trip - Sunrise at Mount Cootha

Brisbane has some epic sunsets; easily some of the most incredible we’ve ever seen. And they are only matched by their sunrises, particularly the one at Mount Cootha.

This is the most popular place to watch the sun rise in Brisbane, for good reason. It’s since you’ll be able be able to see the sun rising behind the silhouetted city skyline, making for a jaw dropping start to the day. It’s a handy spot since there is lots of parking, different walking trails up to the viewpoint to suit your walking style and there is even a small grassy area to eat your breakfast if you’re so inclined.

Marvel at the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art

Cairns to brisbane - GOMA

Photo courtesy of Philip Antonopoulos / Flickr

We are not big museum or gallery-goers but the Brisbane Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), is an exception to the rule.

GOMA is the largest gallery of modern art in Australia and has acclaimed works from artists like . What we liked about GOMA is that it’s often got some weird and wonderful exhibitions set up. Like transforming into a huge indoor riverbed complete with 100 tonnes of rock, or becoming an entirely climbable museum, or just showcasing interesting films in it’s cinema.

It’s also paired with the nearby (150 metres away) Queensland Art Gallery, where you can see more historic pieces on display.

Admission is entirely free of charge.

Cuddle koalas at Lone Pine Sanctuary

About 12km from the Brisbane city centre is one of the leading koala and kangaroo sanctuaries in Australia, Lone Pine. Actually, it was the world’s first ever koala sanctuary, and is still its largest!

They have over 130 koalas, plus free roaming kangaroos that you can feed – just buy some ‘kangaroo nuggets’ at the on-site store. You can see Tasmanian devils, emus, kookaburras and even cute little wombats, or take in the feeding of the rainbow lorikeets twice a day.

Lone Pine Sanctuary koala

The koalas are of course the main attraction and you can pay to hold one, albeit with very strict regulations. Each koala is only held for 30 minutes a day; a good practice considering some of the poor animal tourism experiences I’ve encountered elsewhere in the world.

Entrance fees for the Lone Pine Sanctuary are 42 AUD (29 USD/ 22 GBP) for adults and 24 AUD (16.50 USD / 12.50 GB for children.

You’re finally done! So, tell us, what did you think of our Cairns Brisbane 2 week itinerary? Have we missed anything? Has any information in this article now changed?

Let us know in the comments or please do get in touch!

What camera equipment and other gear do we use?

We’re living proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to travel the world and take good photos. Here are some of our must have items that make it into the packing list for all our travels.

Frequently Asked Questions

When is the best time to do a Cairns to Brisbane road trip?

We love road trips but we know that weather can play such an important part. The best time to do this road trip itinerary is probably in the dry winter months of June to October. Between November and about April or May you’ll get hot and humid conditions along with rainfall, although it will be quieter in terms of tourists.

I’m going from Brisbane to Cairns – what should I do?

It might sound a little obvious, but just do this itinerary in reverse; albeit it with a few alterations (like the timings of the Everglades Tour). If you’re really not sure, then drop us a line and we would be happy to help you figure out the journey for your Brisbane to Cairns road trip.

What are other cities that I could add onto this itinerary?

There is really a lot to do on the East Coast and we’ve only scratched the surface by ending this itinerary in Brisbane. You could spend more time on the Sunshine Coast or Rainbow Beach, you could go down to the Gold Coast and explore the surfing there or perhaps the lush Hinterland, doing hikes like the Warrie Circuit. Also, if you had the time, we’d suggest Byron Bay, a chilled beach city that is just so Instagrammable that it almost hurts.

Blackfellow Falls

Up near Cairns, you could tag on a few days at the start to see Port Douglas, which would give you even more time in the Daintree Forest and near the Great Barrier Reef.

How much does a Cairns to Brisbane road trip cost?

As with most things, that depends on your travel style. If you’re a backpacker, you could probably get away with about 150 AUD (100 USD / 75 GBP) a day, whereas we spent about 230 AUD (160 USD / 120 GBP) a day.

You’ll need to factor in either a campervan or rental car, quite a bit of petrol and then the tour costs for places like the Whitsundays and Fraser Island, which aren’t cheap.

We advise checking out this Australia budget guide for more info.

What are the drone rules in Queensland?

If, like us, you want to capture epic aerial photography on your Cairns to Brisbane tour, then you’ll want to use your drone. But, what are the rules? Queensland has some of the more relaxed rules in Australia. Of course you need to abide by all the usual regulations around height of drone, not flying over people, not flying near the aerodrome etc but beyond that most council and National Parks area are still okay with drone usage.

We’d recommend you always check the specific rules of the location (like the Sunshine Coast where all drone shots on council land are forbidden or Cairns which has an airport close to the city centre), but when we visited we were able to freely use our drone on the Great Barrier Reef, on the Whitsundays, the beaches of Agnes Water and Mission Beach, Fraser Island and Noosa.

Disclosure: The Travel Scribes were very fortunate to be hosted by Diver’s Den for our day out on the Great Barrier Reef and by Visit Noosa for the Everglades Eco Tour. However, all views are our own, and we are not paid to include either Diver’s Den or any activities in Noosa as part of our itinerary, but rather have included it due to the incredible quality of the experiences.


Want to save this for later? Then why not pin it…

Cairns to Brisbane road trip guide
Share:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *