What to expect
- Take a free river cruise to a man-made beach
- Encounter majestic humpback whales
- Snorkel the world famous Great Barrier Reef
- Time: 10 Days
- Transport: Car or campervan
- Price: $$
Few road trips include cityscapes, mountains, everglades and reefs all in the same stretch. On a drive from Brisbane to Cairns, you'll enjoy tropical feels, laid-back beach culture and incredible aquatic life as you feel the exhilarating freedom of the open road.
Day 1: Explore Brisbane
Although this road trip offers plenty of nature, your adventure begins in bustling Brisbane.
Jump on the CityHopper ferry that will take you cruising into the centre of town. Here, you’ll find the man-made Streets Beach drenched in sunshine. Have a swim and soak in the rays before wandering around South Bank, the cultural hub of the city.
As the day pushes on, plant yourself on the top of Mt Coot-Tha for a spectacular sunset. The lookout has the perfect view of the city, as well as restaurants, gardens and picnic areas. After the sun has set, head to Fortitude Valley, which offers amazing nightlife. Try Ben's Burgers for dinner.
Day 2: Explore the hinterland's Glass House Mountains
Your adventure starts as you head into the Sunshine Coast Hinterland - about an hour north of Brisbane. The hinterland offers breathtaking scenery, dotted with waterfalls and lush rainforests. Don't miss the Glass House Mountains, where you can discover ancient volcanic peaks. Take the 2.8-kilometre (1.7-mile) Mount Ngungun walking track to be rewarded with a stunning view of the hinterland's summits. There are plenty of hiking trails in the area, so there's no shortage of space to explore.
Day 3: Check out Noosa’s national parks, everglades and boathouse
This morning, set out into Noosa National Park for the chance to see cute koalas sleeping up in the trees. There are several Instagram-worthy hikes in the park, like the popular Coastal Track. After you've reached the end of the paved path, keep walking toward Dolphin Point, where you could spot some frolicking dolphins.
Next, head just under forty minutes north to check out the largest lake on the Noosa River, Lake Cootharaba. The river system here also leads back down to the perfect spot for a paddle, the Everglades. The Noosa Everglades are one of only two everglade systems in the world, offering glass-like waters bordered by rich flora and fauna.
After a day on the bay, chill out at the Noosa Boathouse. This three-level bistro overlooks the epic Hinterland and Noosa river.
Day 4: Get lost on Fraser Island
From Noosa, make the five-hour drive north to Fraser Island, often regarded as one of the world's most unusual island. Made entirely of sand, the island is only accessible by 4WD, which you can use to explore the incredible 123 kilometres (75 miles) of sand.
Be sure to also head into the rainforest, which seem to deft gravity as they grow from the soft sand. Lake McKenzie is one of the forest's highlights, known for its white silica sand and pure blue water. To reach the lake, take the short jungle path from the car park near Central Station.
You can take a day trip to the island, or you can simply set up a tent on the beach.
Day 5: Watch some whales in Hervey Bay
Say farewell to the sand island before taking the two hour trip to Hervey Bay, which is home to some of the best whale watching in the world. Hop on a boat tour for your best chance at spotting the majestic creatures; many of the tours even guarantee a sighting. Enjoy the bobbing of the boat as you marvel at breaches, splashes and tail flips. Be sure to visit during migration, from July to November.
Day 6: Beach hopping and cave hunting
Wake up early to tackle the five-hour drive to Yeppoon. This beachy village offers quaint coastal living, offshore islands and great shopping and restaurants.
The main beach in Yeppoon is a peaceful and patrolled spot which makes it ideal for reading a book, sunbathing and swimming. However, if you’re still up for more adventure, head to the ancient Capricorn Caves. You can explore the limestone-formed cave system on a variety of tours, including walking tours, fossil tours and geology tours.
Day 7: Arrive in beautiful Airlie Beach
Another five hours north and you'll reach one of the most beautiful beach towns in the country. Airlie Beach has a bit of everything - it's buzzing with backpackers, swimming lagoons, beer gardens and nightlife. The main street of Airlie beach provides cute boutique shops and if you’re here on a Saturday, you won’t want to miss the markets on the esplanade. Check out the vibrant nightlife, or indulge in a bit of wellness at the Wisdom Health Lab.
If you're after lesser-known beaches and calm coves, explore the nearby Hydeaway Bay. Drive 45 minutes from Airlie Beach to discover this little piece of paradise, where you're sure to find a stretch of sand that's all your own.
As a backpacker hotspot, Airlie Beach has several seaside hostels to choose from, or stay in the peaceful caravan park at Hydeaway Bay.
Day 8: Discover the Whitsundays
Airlie Beach is one of the best locations to reach the Whitsunday Islands, and no trip here is complete without experiencing their beauty.
Sailing is the best way to explore the islands, offering incredible coral reefs, 360-degree views and the opportunity to dive into the water at secluded beaches. Explore Whitsundays has a range of tours that will take you to iconic locations like the bays of Hayman Island, Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet, where you'll find a breathtaking view of the crystal blue ocean swirling with pristine white sand.
Day 9: Townsville retreat
Drive three hours along the coast to reach Townsville, another of Queensland's eye-catching coastal cities. The town has both a fascinating military history and significant Aboriginal heritage. Learn about the traditional owners of the land at the Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Centre before hopping over to Magnetic Island, home to secluded beaches and abundant wildlife. If you like to scuba dive, you'll find several intruiging dive sites here, including the sunken S.S. Yongala. Or, embark on a sunset cruise to watch the sun sink into the horizon.
Day 10: Arrive in Cairns
The final stop on your coastal road trip is also arguably the most exhilarating. Drive four hours to Cairns, the major gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. You can't leave Cairns without marveling at the amazing underwater world, so book a snorkelling tour, which will allow you to experience the reef up close.
If you'd rather chase waterfalls and climb mountains in rich rainforests, head ten minutes inland to the picturesque Barron Gorge National Park. At night, wander through the endless shopping stalss at the Cairns Night Markets, offering everything from indigenous crafts to natural remedies. The markets also contain a food court where you can find cheap eats from around the world.
If you're not quite ready to say goodbye to Queensland, head under two hours further up the coast to the Daintree Rainforest. Hike through emerald green vines and ferns, take a crocodile cruise along the river and explore ancient gorges.
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