Queensland Coastal Route
On this breathtaking drive from Brisbane to Cairns, perfectly suited for when you’re renting a campervan, you will see Queensland at its very best. Taking in the length of the Great Barrier Reef, this itinerary will see you tackling tricky inland routes on the 4WD paradise of Fraser Island, sailing the captivatingly clear waters of the Whitsundays, and uncovering an underwater wonderland alive with mesmerising marine life. Cairns – and the open road – awaits!
Travelling the other direction? Check out our Cairns to Brisbane itinerary.
Brisbane to Cairns
Best Time of the Year
All year round
- Australia Zoo
- Noosa Heads
- Main Beach
- Great Barrier Reef
- The Whitsundays
Fraser Island - Credit Tourism Australia
Brisbane to Bundaberg
Distance 362km - Driving Time 5 hours 30 mins
With the campervan packed and ready to go, and having seen the best of things to do in Brisbane, it’s time to hit the highway north. Just over an hour’s drive out of Brisbane will take you to the Sunshine Coast, home to an array of excellent beaches and enticing hinterland adventures. While a detour along the Sunshine Coast is certainly rewarding, if you’ve got kids in the campervan, a trip to Australia Zoo is a must. Home of the Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, Australia Zoo focuses on conservation and educating kids, as they fall in love with the many animals that call this exceptional conservation centre home.
Another two and a half hours on the road and you will arrive in Hervey Bay. Situated on the magnificent Fraser Coast, Hervey Bay is the hopping off point for Fraser Island, which just so happens to be the world’s largest sand island – and a 4WD playground. As a World Heritage-listed National Park, Fraser Island offers spectacular inland lakes, lush rainforests and amazing wildlife, and is one of the few places in Australia you can drive along the beach. If you love a bit of adventure – and really want to disconnect from the stresses of everyday life – taking an extra day or two to explore Fraser Island might be just the trick.
After taking time out to check out Hervey Bay and its surrounds – the fishing in these parts is said to be extraordinary – jump back in the campervan and drive north to Bundaberg, where you will bed down for the night.
Bundaberg to Rockhampton
Distance 318km - Driving Time 5 hours 30 mins
Situated at the gateway to the Coral Coast, Bundaberg offers easy access to the Southern Great Barrier Reef. A short boat ride will take you out to Lady Musgrave Island, where you can discover a coral reef teeming with marine life, such as turtles, manta rays, dolphins and migrating whales. Offering a similar experience, a little further out, Lady Elliot Island can be accessed on a short flight from Bundaberg Airport, with the opportunity to stay overnight just steps from the beach. If you’re looking for something a bit different, check out the ex-HMAS Tobruk, Australia’s newest wreck dive, created as a project by the Queensland government and local councils.
Once you’ve had your fill of Bundaberg, head on up the coast towards Gladstone. Here, you can explore Heron Island, an evergreen coral cay surrounded by 24 hectares of coral reef, situated 72km off the coast. As a World Heritage-listed Marine National Park, Heron Island is a nature lover’s paradise – with some of the best dive spots in Australia. Keep an eye out for Green and Loggerhead turtles, migrating whales, and the abundance of birdlife native to the island.
While you could easily spend a night or two on Heron Island, back on the road, you will reach your next official overnight stay on this campervan itinerary in less than 90 minutes. Known as the beef capital of Australia, Rockhampton does things a bit differently, within a town where country Queensland meets contemporary cosmopolitan living. Tonight, let Rockhampton seduce you as you watch an awe-inspiring sunset from Mount Archer National Park, and then go all-out country at the rodeo at The Great Western Hotel.
Rockhampton to Airlie Beach
Distance 483km - Driving Time 5 hours 30 mins
Rockhampton has plenty to offer, so be sure to set aside some time to pull over the campervan and uncover its best bits. Rockhampton Botanic Gardens is well worth a wander, especially the Arid Gardens and the Japanese Garden. If you missed out on Australia Zoo, the zoo at Rockhampton will keep the kids entertained for a few hours, or alternatively, try your hand at spelunking at the remarkable Capricorn Caves. Now, with all that energy burned off, it’s time to settle in for the long drive up to Airlie Beach. Road trip games at the ready!
Whitsundays - Credit Tourism Australia
Providing a base to explore the Whitsundays, Airlie Beach offers a wide range of tour options that will allow you to get out and explore these breathtaking islands and all they have to offer. Located within the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays are made up of 74 islands scattered throughout the tropical waters of the Coral Sea. Known for their crystal-clear waters and idyllic beaches, the Whitsundays offer swimming, snorkelling and diving along reefs abundant in marine life, with the option to explore by sailboat, jet-ski, raft or plane.
Heading inland offers just as much opportunity for adventure, as you discover the Whitsunday Coast and its hinterland. Take a drive to Proserpine, where you can fish for barramundi at Peter Faust Dam, or do some crocodile spotting on a wildlife tour along the Proserpine River. Conway National Park offers some excellent walking trails, where you can trek within lush forest and uncover hidden gems such as Cedar Creek Falls.
Airlie Beach to Townsville
Distance 285km - Driving Time 3 hours 45 mins
After your second overnight stay in Airlie Beach, hop back in the campervan to drive an hour or so north to Bowen. While its official claim to fame is the fact that it is North Queensland’s oldest town, Bowen’s main attraction has to be its beaches. With seven beaches to choose from in Bowen, you will be spoilt for choice. Whether the kids want to investigate the rock pools at Rose Bay, or you want to step off the sand and into the reef at Horseshoe Beach and Murray Bay, there is sure to be a beach to suit your needs. If you fancy throwing a line in, Bowen also offers some awesome fishing spots.
From Bowen, it’s only a few hours on the road towards your next overnight stop at Townsville. With more than 320 days of sunshine each year, Townsville definitely has some appeal, especially for those who like to get out into the great outdoors. The city itself is well worth exploring, but first, climb to the top of Castle Hill to get the lay of the land, while enjoying panoramic views of the cityscape and the surrounding islands within the dazzling Coral Sea. Depending on when you arrive in Townsville, there may be time to do a little island hopping. Magnetic Island is perhaps the best-known island within easy reach of Townsville, but others such as Hinchinbrook Island – part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and Australia’s largest island national park – also have plenty to offer.
Townsville to Cairns
Distance 348km - Driving Time 4 hours 45 mins
Taking you from Townsville all the way up to Cairns, the final leg of your journey is known as the Great Green Way. While the drive itself takes less than five hours, the various stops along the way will make the journey much longer. Which stops and detours you choose to make will be up to you, but here are some of the highlights.
Offering a scenic detour, Cardwell State Forest Drive takes you through lush pine forest plantations, with lookouts offering unforgettable views over the Coral Sea. Stop at Attie Creek to take the 15-minute walk to an impressive 25m waterfall with a pool for swimming at its base. Another great option for a dip is Cardwell Spa Pool, which is vivid turquoise in colour, and offers swirling, bubbling waters much like a jacuzzi.
On to Mission Beach, where you can get a somewhat different view of the region – as you jump out of a plane. Considered one of Australia’s favourite skydiving destinations, Mission Beach is made up of four towns spread along a 14km stretch of beach, with Dunk Island just a ten-minute water taxi off the coast. Dunk Island offers a range of superb walking trails, allowing you to explore tropical rainforest and secluded beaches that are way off the beaten track.
If you didn’t spot a cassowary on Mission Beach, you may get lucky at your next stop, Etty Bay. Known as one of the region’s most scenic beaches, Etty Bay also happens to be a great spot to see the notoriously hard-to-find Southern Cassowary as they roam the beachfront in the early morning and late afternoon. Further along the road, you can stop in at Babinda to see the Babinda Boulders and then take a refreshing dip in the easily accessible waterfall pools. Alternatively, stop at Walshs Pyramid near Gordonvale to stretch your legs on the demanding 6km return hike, to take advantage of amazing views at the summit. From there, your overnight in Cairns is only half an hour away.
Great Barrier Reef - Credit Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree
Great Barrier Reef
While you may have officially reached your destination in Cairns, you will need a few days – or a few weeks – to make the most of this tropical capital and its surrounds. From Cairns, you can dive the Great Barrier Reef, take the scenic railway to Kuranda, or step back in time to discover the ancient world that lies within the Daintree. If you have time, consider extending your campervan hire so you can take time to uncover more of this magnificent region with the Great Tropical Drive.