14 Day Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip Itinerary

Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary

Australia is without a doubt one of the most beautiful countries I have been too. From roughed coastlines to unique and deadly wildlife and some of the most pristine national parks I have ever seen.

In October of last year, I went on an incredible road trip from Brisbane to Cairns in one of my favourite holidays to date. I saw kangaroos on the beach during sunrise, I was whales jumping out of a pristine ocean, I saw the most stars ever in my life and I snorkelled at the Great Barrier Reef from a rainforest.

In this blog post, I will show you the route we took from Brisbane to Cairns in our road trip itinerary! Where I have been, what I have seen and what I have loved. If you are planning to do a similar trip, then read on. And if you love Australia and all its beauty…. Then also read on.

The Perfect 14 Day Queensland Itinerary

Apart from knowing what to do and what to see in Queensland, it is also useful to know some of the basics of the sunshine state. Where to get a rental car or campervan, when is the best time to visit and much more.

Underneath you will find the answers.

Things to do in Hervey Bay, Queensland

Queensland is an Australian state covering the continent’s northeast, with a coastline stretching nearly 7,000km. It is known for its incredible pristine beaches and stunning tropical islands. Over 200 national parks cover more than 6.5 hectares across the state, plus there are lush mountainous rainforests, bushlands and creeks and flat tablelands perfect for farming. And, of course, it is also home to the Great Barrier Reef.

Size 1.853 million km²
Population 5.071 million
Slogan Queensland, where Australia shines
Languages English/Aussie
Currency $ AUD

MONEY

Australia uses The Australian Dollar ($).  In pretty much all places will accept credit card. Some stalls at the markets do not though, so I do advise to carry some Australian Dollars with you just in case. There might also be a couple of smaller stores that do not have an EFTPOS machine.

As stated above, tipping is not expected, though it is customary to round up your restaurant bill to the nearest Dollar. At more expensive restaurants, it is normal to leave a 5-10% tip.

LANGUAGE

English is the official language of Australia. Underneath you can find some handy English/Australian phrases as well as some handy travel phrases that might come in handy during your time in the country.

Australian English
G’day Hello
How are ya Greeting, warm welcome
Arvo Afternoon
Catch ya later Goodbye
Good on ya Good job
Dunno I don’t know
Barbie Barbecue
Bloody oath That’s true
Beaut Fantastic, wonderful, the best
Buzz off Go away
BYO Bring your own grog/alcohol (Often seen at Restaurants)
Crikey! Astonishment, disbelief
Fair dinkum True, real, honest
Fair go To give somebody a reasonable chance at something; to treat them fairly

QUEENSLAND WEATHER AND WHEN TO VISIT?

The best time to visit Queensland are the most dry winter months between June and October. In the summer months, Queensland can be a tad too hot, when temperatures soar to a sweaty 30C.

Brisbane (and as far north as Rockhampton and Mackay) has a more temperate climate than the far north and while some rain can still be expected from December to February this is rarely cold.

WHY SHOULD I VISIT QUEENSLAND?

Queensland is one of the most incredible states in the country. It offers incredible diversity, gorgeous national parks, mind-blowingly beautiful reefs, incredible wildlife and so much more.

Queensland is probably my favourite holiday destination within Australia and I highly recommend checking it out!

GETTING AROUND | CAMPERVAN AND CAR RENTAL IN QUEENSLAND

The best way to travel Queensland and fully enjoying this 14-day Queensland Itinerary is by driving yourself. So, I would suggest hiring a car or campervan for your trip.

For this itinerary, we are travelling in a campervan. Not the cheapest way of getting around, but definitely the most fun!

Since a lot of visitors drive in Queensland, the market for a rental campervan is reasonably competitive, meaning you can usually get a pretty good deal. (If you don’t travel in high season)

There are two main things to consider when choosing a hire campervan: Size of the vehicle and luxury required. Campervans come in all shapes and sizes. Knowing how many people will travel and what you require in a van are essential. The more people and the more luxury, the higher your budget needs to be.

Do keep in mind, the bigger the campervan, the better your driving skills should be! You do have to be able to mauver the camper around in a safe way! If you are not a confident driver, then maybe go for a camper that is a bit more compact.

Underneath are a couple of websites that we have found useful in collecting information and quotes for different vans.

Campervan trip Melbourne to Adelaide road trip

Campervan Hire Brisbane is where we booked our campervan. We absolutely loved the campervan, it was pretty new, clean and well maintained.  They offer not the cheapest of campervans, but if you go for a long trip, you want to be comfortable. Another good site to use it Camper Champ.

Sta Travel also offers a bunch of great deals on campervan hire!

Underneath are just a couple of rental places you could hire a car from if you prefer to travel that way:

A good comparison site to check for cheap cars is vroomvroom. Also worth checking out.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO DRIVE FROM BRISBANE TO CAIRNS?

This road trip can be as long or as short as you want it to be.  But in order for our sanity and to not have a never-ending Itinerary we have combined this trip into 10 days. You can definitely add on to this, as we haven’t even covered half of the country. You can also do this road trip in 7 days, but you don’t want to fly all the way to Queensland to have to rush! You want to be able to enjoy your time and stop where you want to stop.

This 2-week self-drive Queensland itinerary is still reasonably fast-paced, but if it’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia that you’re planning, you probably won’t mind being on the move regularly.

QUEENSLAND ROAD TRIP ITINERARY | ROUTE OVERVIEW & DRIVE TIMES

Underneath you can find an overview of my Queensland road trip itinerary. Keep in mind that this is just an itinerary that I think works best. You can add on destinations or remove destinations if one does not appeal to you.

Day 1 – 3 | Brisbane
Day 4 |  Brisbane to Glasshouse Mountains
Day 5 -6 | Glasshouse Mountains to Hervey Bay
Day 6 | Hervey Bay to Capricorns Caves
Day 7-8 | Capricorns Caves to Cape Hillsborough National Park
Day 9-10 | Airlie Beach + Great Barrier Reef
Day 11 | Airlie Beach to Townsville
Day 12 | Townsville to Mission Beach
Day 13 | Mission Beach to Cairns
Day 14 | Cairns 

This extensive Queensland road trip covers 1,861 kilometres (about 1.156 miles).

Origin Destination Distance Drive time
Brisbane Glass House Mountains 72.2 km  1 hour 
Glass House Mountains Hervey Bay 234 km 3-4 hour
Hervey Bay Capricorns Caves 419 km 8-9 hours
Capricorns Caves Cape Hillsborough National Park 362 km 5-6 hours
Cape Hillsborough National Park Airlie Beach 126 km 1-2 hours
Airlie Beach Townsville 275 km 3-4 hours
Townsville Mission Beach  235 km 3 hours
Mission Beach  Cairns  138 km 2 hours

Places to stop from Brisbane to Cairns
Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary

The good thing about a Brisbane to Cairns drive is that there are plenty of incredible towns, attractions, National Parks and reefs to explore. The state is gigantic and as you make your way up, or down, Queensland you will encounter numerous beautiful locations.

Underneath you will find my favourite route and suggested places to stop.

Day 1-3 | Brisbane

Kangaroo Point, Brisbane

The first couple of days we spend in Brisbane. This city is a great place to start the trip. I loved wandering South Bank, chilling at Streets Beach and enjoying the city’s skyline from our apartment. I have written a solo guide to the city as well as a 3-day Itinerary about this city, so If you are planning to go to Brisbane, then checked those posts out to get lots of handy information in Brisbane.

I found the city very safe and chill and loved spending a couple of days here. Is it as amazing as Sydney or Melbourne? I would say no, but to start off your trip, this city is perfect.

If it’s your first time visiting the city, these are some highlights you should definitely check out.

  • South Banks Park Land: This is the place to visit at any time of the day. It has lots of food options for breakfast lunch and dinner. Weekend markets are a great way to spend a Sunday morning. Situated right on Brisbane’s lovely city river makes for a relaxing visit and photographer’s delights.
  • Kangaroo Point: Kangaroo Point can be found on Brisbane River, within walking distance from South Bank. It offers some pretty cool city views. You will find open-air activities, BBQ areas and one of the most beautiful views of the river and the city. It is also a great place to watch the sunset! This area is a bit further from the city, but it still felt safe, even on my own.
  • Street beach: Street beach is the perfect place to cool down on a hot summer’s day! This large swimming pool with a sand beach and is free to enter. It is very clean, there are lifeguards on duty and it offers views of the city!
  • Wheels of Brisbane: Hop on the Wheels of Brisbane for some stunning city views.
  • Botanic Gardens: Every city and town in Australia pretty much has its own botanic gardens but Brisbane’s is pretty special. Situated in Mount Coot-tha (Brisbane’s tallest mountain) which in its own right is also stunning -two beauties in one location! did someone say “winning!!”

Where to stay in Brisbane?

During my trip to Brisbane, I stayed at Fleet Lane Apartments. It is located within walking distance of South Bank’s iconic bars, restaurants, and attractions. This apartment complex also offers some stunning views of the city’s skyline.

I booked a 2-bedroom apartment with city views. The apartment was nice and clean, and two good size bedrooms with their own bathrooms, a large kitchen and washing facilities.

I really liked the apartment and I would recommend this if you need a central place to live.

Wheel of BrisbaneSoutbank by night, BrisbaneStreets Beach, Brisbane

DAY 4 | Brisbane to Glass House Mountains

In the morning, after collecting your campervan or car, it’s time to head to Glass House Mountains. It’s only a 1 hour and 15-minute drive from Brisbane (approximately), so you have plenty of time to take it slow. Glass House Mountains offer an awe-inspiring landscape. Some imposing rocky outcrops are actually remnants of volcanic activity that occurred about 25-27 million years ago. As the volcanic mountains cooled stunning vertical columns emerged.

Today, they have become iconic landmarks on the Sunshine Coast and a popular location for bushwalkers and hikers.

Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary

Where to stay in Glass House Mountains?

We ended up at Ocean View Campsite, which is a basic, clean but lovely campsite, perfect for one night.

Steve’s Irwin Zoo, Australia Zoo,  is also located very close by. I had already been to this zoo and my parents were not that interested, so decided not to go. If you are interested in going, that this is a handy place to stay.

DAY 5-6 | Glasshouse Mountains to Hervey Bay

The first stop of the day was at a lookout point at Maleny. It is a very small lookout point, but it does offer some amazing views of the Glass House Mountains. The drive there is also very scenic, offer glimpses of the mountains, valleys and farmland throughout.

Our second stop was a bit of a dodgy one. It was around lunchtime, so we were looking for a place to have lunch. We saw a sign saying Creek. Since it was a brown sign, we thought it was a sight that should be seen. So we entered the road and drove 5 kilometres (Some on unpaved roads) only to find that the creek is not that amazing. But the senes around it were quite pretty.

I love the tranquillity of this scenery and because it is spring, the lands are pretty dry, the colours are just so unique.

After we realised that the creek wasn’t what we thought it was going to be, we decided to call it a day and blast to Hervey Bay. Our next stop. This was still a couple of hours drive, but we winded up on the M1 and blasted there pretty quickly.

We booked into the Big4 Campsite in Vernon for 2 nights.

An early morning alarm for an amazing trip on the spirit of Hervey Bay! Hervey Bay is a whale-watching paradise. For hours on end, you will see whales frolicking around in the surrounding waters.

Hervey Bay Whale Watching Fraser Island just of the coast of Hervey Bay Things to do in Hervey Bay

If you have more time, then I suggest heading over to Fraser Islands, just of the Coast from Hervey Bay. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island, stretching over 120km,  Some of the must-see sights on the island are Lake McKenzie, Eli Creek, Maheno Shipwreck, Lake Wabby and the cathedrals. Of course, the island is also home to some incredible wildlife, including the Dingo.

DAY 6 | Hervey Bay to Capricorn Caves

The Capricorn Caves are located north of Rockhampton (Just a 23-kilometre drive) and are winners of many major tourism and environment awards, they are also eco-tourism accredited. The Capricorn Caves are a great destination to check out during a trip to Queensland. In this cave system, you can explore spectacular caves set in a limestone ridge and even spot little bats. Home to ‘the cathedral’, bats, tree roots, larges and small chambers, these caves are pretty interesting to check out!

The Capricorn caves Caterdral Tour at the capricorn Caves

There is a small campsite located adjacent to the caves, making the caves the perfect place to stop on Day 6.

DAY 7-8  | CAPRICORN CAVES TO CAPE HILLSBOROUGH NATIONAL PARK

cape hillsborough beach kangaroos

My all-time favourite place in Queensland is Cape Hillsborough National Park. The national park can be found near MacKay and offers some of the most spectacular natural sights! From kangaroos and wallabies on the beach during sunrise to imposing prehistoric rock formations and stunning untouched rainforests.  

The main attraction is the beach kangaroos during sunrise. A backdrop to one of Australia’s most iconic picture opportunity you will encounter during your trip. Getting up at 5 am has never been my strong suit, but even I thought it was completely worth it. Unfortunately, it is not a natural occurrence, but they are loured to the beach by a ranger with some yummy breakfast for them.

cape hillsborough beach kangaroos Cape Hillsborough National Park | Beach Kangaroos

WHERE TO STAY AT CAPE HILLSBOROUGH? 

The best place to stay is at the Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park. This is located next to the beach and allows you to not only see those spectacular sunrises but also stay in bed as long as possible and still make it on time to watch the kangaroos hopping along the shoreline. 

The tourist park offers reasonable places either with our without electricity. If you wish to have a spot near/on the beach, then I am pretty certain you have to get a spot without electricity. 

The park has a small pool (Which is great for kids, not so much an adult pool) a small restaurant which is open till 3 pm and ping-pong and mini-golf facilities. There is a no-noise curfew so the campsite is not too loud. (Even though I got woken up by kids in the pool at 7 am, but ok) 

The communal facilities (Showers and toilets) are not the best ever, but if you are used to camping then you won’t have any issues. 

Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist ParkThe campsite is also home to two kangaroos. Their mothers both got unfortunately killed when they got hit by a car and the campsite is now their home base.  If you have a spot near the swimming pool and washing lines, then you will certainly bump into them. Since they are bottle raised, so they are pretty tame, but you get advised on arrival not to feed or touch them (Unfortunately I have seen many people do attempt to tough them, which is such a shame) 

DAY 9-10 | AIRLIE BEACH + GREAT BARRIER REEF

I have been to Airlie beach many times now, and is, after Cape Hillsborough, my second favourite stop in Queensland. Its main tourist attraction is its proximity to the Whitsundays as well as the Great Barrier Reef. The town itself has lots of amazing restaurants, clothing shops, and souvenir shops. Because you are unable to swim in the ocean (due to the presence of jellyfish) it offers a large free swimming pool with plenty of shade.  The town itself is not popping, but it is perfect if you want to go on a quiet and de-stressing getaway.

I highly suggest booking either a Whitsundays Cruise or a cruise to the Great Barrier Reef.

I opted to go to the Great Barrier Reef. It is about a 2-hour trip from Airlie to the reef and takes you along the Whitsundays. As you can imagine, the trip goes by very quickly and before you know it you dock at the platoon for a fun day of snorkelling with the fish.

I went on a cruise with Cruise Whitsundays, which is a large company, so it has its own platoon at Hardy Reef.

Hardy Reef at the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Hardy Reef is home to some spectacular fish life with Trevally, Coral Trout, Snapper and a host of smaller marine life. As well as and a two-meter-long Giant Queensland Groper that usually congregates for a free feed.  If you are lucky you are able to spot a turtle or two at this reef as well!

Great Barrier Reef, Australia Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Honestly, the snorkelling at Hardy Reef is incredible! As soon as you jump f the platoon there is a massive drop below you. Kick twice with your flippers and you reach the reef. From there incredibly beautiful corals, reef sharks and barracudas and so much more can be spotted.

On the platoon itself they have a sundeck, stinger suits, and snorkelling sets, so no need to bring any of that. This cruise also offers a glass boat, which will take you along the reef.

You leave early in the morning and come back late in the evening, so your day is gone after this. But it is an incredible day trip and definitely worth it!

Check out my full guide on my day trip to the Great Barrier reef from Airlie Beach for an incomprehensive guide.

Day 11 | Airlie Beach to Townsville

Try to make your way to Townsville as quickly as you can. Then hop on a 20-minute ferry to Magnetic Island. With its palm trees, national park reserves and gorgeous hidden beaches, it’s definitely worth a visit on any east coast itinerary.

The quickest way to explore the island is by hiring a car. The coolest car can be hired from Tropical Topless Car Rentals. 

I suggest doing the Forts Walk, it is the number one place people recommend visiting to see wild koalas on Magnetic Island. Going to Magnetic Island for a few hours breaks up the day, and is it worth for the scenery alone!

If you do not want to explore Magnetic Island, then you will have a bit of time on your hands to travel some places along the way from Airlie Beach to Townsville.  Here are a few highlights to check out while driving:

  • Hideaway Bay: Beautiful clear water, a reef just off the beach! Lovely rocks and coastal areas to check out.
  • Dingo Beach: Dingo Beach is a sandy, reef fringed, tropical beach encompassed by a small coastal community at the top of the Whitsundays. Accessed by a rural road meandering through the local countryside, you will find yourself in an environment that is idyllic. A place the locals retreat to no crowds, no hype, no traffic, no resorts.
  • Bowen: The town is famous for growing mangoes, and in the town, they even have a giant mango as a tribute. It’s a great place to stop and get a picture with the gigantic mango!

Day 12 | Townsville to Mission Beach

From Townsville, you are heading out on the penultimate leg of our Brisbane to Cairns road trip to Mission Beach. The drive takes around 3 hours, but it unfortunately short in the way of places to stop.

Once you arrive in Mission Beach, the main place you want to head to is the beach!  It’s one of the best in Australia, and it’s an ideal place to relax for the evening before you head onto Cairns the following day. If you’re lucky, you may be treated to a beautiful sunset too!

Day 13 | Mission Beach to Cairns

The last leg of the road trip from Brisbane to Cairns isn’t too long and should only take you around 2 hours or so. There aren’t too many places to stop along the way, but if you fancy a detour you can check out some of the National Parks that lie inland. You have the Gadgarra National Park and Little Mulgrave National Park to visit along the way if you fancy.

But because within Cairns there is lots of amazing things to do, I suggest you try to get there as early as possible and make your way to the Harbour. Hop on one of the many Ferries (I highly suggest pre-booking) and make your way to Fitzroy Island. Fitzroy Island is home to Nudey Beach. This beach has been voted the number one beach of 2018 within Australia by beach ambassador Brad Farmer.
Nudey Beach is about a 15-minute walk from the ferry wharf and offers some nice reef action right off the beach.

It has some cool hiking tracks that you can do, some more beaches where the snorkelling opportunities are incredible (You might even spot a turtle) and a turtle rehabilitation centre. ⠀

Foxy's Bar at Fitzroy islandNudey beach on Fitzroy IslandFitzroy island ferry

Day 14 | Cairns

Today we are heading a bit further than Cairns and driving the Great Barrier Reef Drive to the Daintree Rainforest.

The Great Barrier Reef Drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation takes you along some of the best coastal sights in Queensland. Including two incredible heritage listed areas! Because of this, a Cairns to Cape Tribulation road trip is a must-do when you are in the tropical far north Queensland.

From spectacular views over the Coral Sea, too postcard-perfect secluded beaches, beachside villages like Port Douglas and Mossman, and crocodile spotting at the Daintree River, this road trip has it all.

3 days in Cairns Cairns to Cape Tribulation Road Trip

So check out this my Cairns to Cape Tribulation Road Trip to get the best tips possible to cruise this spectacular highway sandwiched between two World Heritage Areas. I will make sure you will see the best beaches, viewpoints and more.

It would be an awesome way to end your self-drive from Brisbane to Cairns!

Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary

WHERE TO GO AFTER YOUR ROAD TRIP?

Cairns is an incredible spot to start travelling either up the coast or down to Brisbane. Underneath are just a couple of handy posts if you are planning to travel after you have completed this Cairns itinerary.

ADDITIONAL QUEENSLAND RESOURCES

Thank you for reading my Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary, I hope this was helpful. have you done this road trip? What was your favourite stop? I have to be honest and I don’t think I can choose between Cape Hillsborough and Fitzroy! Both were absolutely spectacular. Let me know in the comments below what is your favourite. (If you can choose)

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Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary

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