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7 highlights between Brisbane and Cairns

Are you ready for the beach holiday of a lifetime? If tropical Australia is what you’re after, this road trip has you covered. This journey takes you along 2,000 kilometres (1,242 miles) of the Queensland Coral Sea coast, where you’ll visit pristine beaches, splendid waterfalls, the spectacular Great Barrier Reef and more…

By DriveAway Holidays

What to expect

  • The world’s best beaches
  • Amazing Australian wildlife
  • Travel your way, whether that’s partying or relaxing by the pool

Fast facts

  • Time: 7 days
  • Distance: 1,865 kilometres (1,158 miles)
  • Transport: car
  • Nearest major city: Cairns
  • Price: $$$ - $$$$

This road trip from Brisbane to Cairns includes seven fantastic spots to visit on the spectacular Queensland coast. You can complete this drive in seven days, however we recommend staying a few nights extra along the way to truly enjoy the journey. Expect to surf at Noosa, get up close and personal with native wildlife and kick back with a cold drink in hand. This is Queensland at its finest.  

Day 1: Noosa

Surfer at Sunset, Tea Tree Bay, Noosa National Park, Queensland

Leave Brisbane bright and early via the M1 and drive north for two hours to Noosa. Located on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and bound by spectacular beaches and national parks, there is so much to explore.

Explore the Noosa Hinterland, inland from the coast. The Hinterland combines country charm with laid-back beach hospitality, providing visitors with a memorable experience. Hire a kayak and float through the luscious Everglades or hop into a saddle and join a horse trail ride.

Back in Noosa Heads, pick up a surf board and learn to ride the waves at the world famous Main Beach. Sunshine Beach is another option for a paddle and is usually less busy than Main Beach. It backs onto Noosa National Park and is close to casual cafes and on-trend boutique stores.  

If you’ve worked up a thirst, head to MOTO for an afternoon coffee or sneaky pint of beer. If you’re in the mood for something a little bit extra, buzzy Miss Moneypenny’s has you sorted with crispy pizzas and snazzy cocktails. Open from 8am to late, every day of the week.

Noosa is packed full of quality accommodation to choose from, most within minutes to the beach or town. We recommend the Noosa Sun Motel & Holiday Apartments for their service, location and value for money. 

Day 2: Hervey Bay (optional day trip to Fraser Island)

Dingo, Fraser Island, Queensland

Hervey Bay is a 2 hour drive from Noosa, and is the perfect base to visit unspoiled Fraser Island. 

Hervey Bay is probably best known for whale watching, with multiple experienced tour companies to choose from. The best time to see these awe-inspiring ocean friends is from mid-July to early November.

Make time to hop across to Fraser Island. The world-heritage listed Island is an unquestionably unique location and the world’s largest sand island. It is home to tall rainforests and crystal-clear fresh water pools – as well as diverse wildlife.

It is not unusual to see a dingo running along the shore, or a lace monitor lizard watch you from a tree. Within the ocean waters around Fraser Island you’ll most likely spot humpback whales, dolphins, rays and dugongs.

The Island is only manageable by 4WD due to the sand and the dense rainforest. It’s best to leave the rental car/campervan in Hervey Bay and to take a boat across. We recommend booking an island tour.

Stay the night on Fraser Island with one of the overnight tours, or head back to Hervey Bay and spend the night here. We suggest the Coconut Palms on the Bay for value for money, or the Akama Resort for a more refined experience.       

Day 3: Bundaberg

Hatched baby turtles at Mon Repos, Queensland

Bundaberg is a one hour drive north from Hervey Bay. You may have heard the town’s name before – that’s because legendary Bundaberg Rum have called the place home for nearly 130 years.

Start the day in Bundaberg with brunch from Oodie’s – a fab little spot loved by locals and tourists alike. Pro tip, they do really good frappes, we’re talking about mouth-watering combos of Queensland mango, guava & lychee…

After a feed, head on over to the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. Tour the famous spirit-producing facilities and learn how this iconic brand came to be.

If beer is your drink of choice, fret not! Bargara Brewing Company is here. Started in 2015, this brewery was founded by a passionate local couple and is not to be missed.

At nightfall, visit Mons Repos Beach. From November through to January you can spot nesting loggerhead sea turtles here. Some 6-8 weeks later the little baby turtles hatch and race towards the warm sea embrace. 

We recommend staying at the 12th Tee BnB as it’s right on Bargara golf course and a 10 minute drive from Mons Repos - making it perfect for turtle spotting.

Day 4: Yeppoon

Catamaran, Great Keppel Island off Yeppoon, Queensland

Yeppoon is located 4 hours north of Bundaberg. This coastal town is the gateway of the Capricorn Coast and known for its peaceful, tropical vibe. 

The gang at Cooberrie Park Wildlife Sanctuary have a brilliant place for you to get up close and personal with a range of native critters. You can cuddle a koala, hold a crocodile or pat and feed a kangaroo, and that’s just a few examples. The park takes care of sick, injured and orphaned wildlife and your money goes towards helping make this a possibility.

Are you a fan of stalagmites and stalactites? No idea what they are? You’re bound to learn something new at the Capricorn Caves. The caves run a few different tours depending on what you’re interested in. 

For a whole day activity, join a day cruise and sail around the calm waters of the Keppel Islands. You’ll embark on an ocean adventure with swimming, snorkelling and maybe a chance encounter with a dolphin or two.

The Salt Yeppoon is perfectly situated across from the beach and features apartment style accommodation in the heart of Yeppoon. 

Day 5: Airlie Beach

Kayaking at Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays Islands, Queensland

Airlie Beach is a 5 and a half hour drive north from Yeppoon. This picture-perfect resort town is a key port to the immaculate Whitsundays and the vibrant Great Barrier Reef. Airlie Beach’s aqua shores provide endless opportunities to create memories.

Start the day by driving down to the Cedar Creek Falls. You’ll find this hidden spot about half way between Airlie Beach and Proserpine on Saltwater Creek Road. The Falls are perfect for a morning dip and provide lots of great photo ops.

After the exhilarating swim at Cedar Creek Falls, head back to Airlie Beach and grab a bite to eat before heading out on a boat tour to Whitehaven Beach. If you want to see the view from above, try a helicopter tour instead, bound to give you a unique and breathtaking perspective of the Coral Sea.

After a full day of adventure, kick back with a drink in hand and watch the sun set at Dingo Beach. The Dingo Hotel nearby will provide food, drinks, a great view of the ocean and good company. Is there anything more Australian than this? We doubt it.

Stay in the centre of town at Airlie Waterfront B&B. You’ll be within walking distance to the best swimming spots and close to all the action!

Day 6: Townsville

Adrenalin Dive and Snorkel at Lodestone Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Townsville is located about a 3 hour drive north of Airlie Beach. Townsville is a lively city that bustles with a youthful spirit and fun-loving joviality.

Hankering for a party? Magnetic Island is your destination and is only 25 minutes off the Townsville mainland. This raucous spot is best known for the full moon parties, so join in the fun. You’ll discover a haven for wildlife in the form of Australian animals – and in the young people who come here to have a good time.

Townsville is also an ideal base to go snorkelling and diving from. Adrenaline Snorkel and Dive is an experienced local business which has been operating since 1987.

For something more low-key, head to Rambutan’s rooftop bar or Townsville Brewery (a restored 1880s post office) for a refreshing craft brew.

For a unique night’s sleep, go to the Classique B&B, a historic federation home built in 1890. If you want to join the ultimate backpacker atmosphere, you can stay at the Rambutan (the one with the cool rooftop bar). 

Day 7: Cairns

Coopers Creek, Daintree Rainforest, Queensland

Cairns is the unofficial capital of tropical north Queensland, and boy will you believe it. As soon as you arrive you will feel the warm, humid air caress your skin. It’s best to just embrace this, you’ll get used to it. This buzzy city is the perfect base to explore the Great Barrier Reef and a range of other natural wonders.

When most people hear ‘Australia’ one of the first things they think of is our beautiful Great Barrier Reef ecosystem. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is 2,300km-long and is made up of hundreds of islands and over 600 different types of coral! Whilst staying in Cairns you can go on one of the many half-day or full-day boat tours. 

Snorkel and dive amongst schools of fish, sea turtles, dolphins, whales, dugongs and rays.

Back on land, travel to the local secret of Crystal Cascades. It is a secluded freshwater swimming hole, hidden in a tropical rainforest. On particularly hot days, the shade and refreshing water is appreciated.

To the north of Cairns is the Daintree Rainforest. Forget Jurassic park, once you’re in the Daintree you’ll think you’ve stepped back into the real land of dinosaurs. Towering trees, waterfalls and the booming call of the cassowary will give you goose bumps.

Finish the night by making friends at The Woolshed, a backpacker night club – and true Cairns’ institution.

As Cairns is a big city, there are a large range of accommodation options to suit most budgets. Water’s Edge Cairns is centrally located, close to shopping, dining and the ocean. 

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