- see

13-Day Road Trip from Brisbane to Cairns

Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip

Discover the best of Queensland with a journey along the state's main road: the Bruce Highway. Begin your journey at the capital city of Brisbane then head north through the beautiful coastal towns, fabulous island beaches, unique hinterland and lush rainforests. To help you get going on this  journey, start comparing rental cars at VroomVroomVroom to find the perfect vehicle for your road trip adventure.

Rent a car in Brisbane

Brisbane to Cairns Itinerary:

  • Day 1: Brisbane
  • Day 2: Brisbane to Glasshouse Mountains
  • Day 3: Glasshouse Mountains to Sunshine Coast
  • Day 4: Sunshine Coast to Hervey Bay
  • Day 5: Hervey Bay to Fraser Island
  • Day 6: Fraser Island to Agnes Water and 1770
  • Day 7: Agnes Water and 1770 to Mackay
  • Day 8: Mackay to Airlie Beach
  • Day 9: Airlie Beach to Whitsunday Islands
  • Day 10: Whitsunday Islands to Townsville
  • Day 11: Townsville to Mission Beach
  • Day 12: Mission Beach to Atherton Tablelands
  • Day 13: Atherton Tablelands to Cairns

Day 1: Spend the day exploring Brisbane

brisbane skyscraper

Brisbane highlights

  • Start your road trip adventure in Queensland's ever-changing capital city. With new buildings constantly being added to the skyline, and travelling exhibitions and shows frequently stopping by, there is always something new to see.
  • For newcomers to the city, a walk along the Southbank Parklands should be your first port of call. It is on this side of the city that you can stop by the Gallery of Modern Art and the Queensland Museum. 
  • With a rental car, you can also travel to the top of Mount Coot-tha for a fantastic panoramic view of the city.

Day 2: Be amazed by the dramatic Glasshouse Mountains

glasshouse mountains queensland

Glasshouse Mountains highlights

  • Your first day on the road will take you north toward the Sunshine Coast. On the way, exit the Bruce Highway for Australia Zoo. There are plenty of activities to do here that lets you get up close to the wildlife and learn more about conservation.
  • The drive to Australia Zoo will take you past the stunning Glasshouse Mountains. One of the best places to view them is from the Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve just outside of Maleny. 
  • Spend some time exploring Maleny and its neighbour Montville. These towns are a great examples of the beauty and quirkiness of the Hinterland. Sample some delicious local foods or explore the vintage shops.

Day 3: Enjoy a taste of the Sunshine Coast

aerial shot of noosa heads

Sunshine Coast highlights

  • You could easily spend weeks exploring the many sights and beaches of the Sunshine Coast region. If you're just passing through, there are a few sights you shouldn't miss. Be sure to make a stop at Maroochydore, and explore the esplanade at Cotton Tree.
  • If you're feeling energetic, you can make the two hour hike to the summit of Mount Coolum for some fabulous views of the coast.
  • Spend the night in the popular village of Noosa. Along with a strip of some of the best restaurants and shops in the Sunshine Coast, you can also visit the Noosa Heads National Park. The busy park offers stunning beaches and beautiful nature hikes. It is a great place to spot koalas in their natural environment.

Day 4: Head for Hervey Bay

hervey bay pier

Hervey Bay highlights 

  • Make your way north on the Bruce Highway toward the idyllic oceanside town of Hervey Bay. There are plenty of activities to fill your day here.
  • Take a walk on the beautiful Urangan Pier, or visit the Hervey Bay Historical Village and Museum.
  • Finish your day with a meal at the popular Hervey Bay Boat Club.

Day 5: Experience stunning Fraser Island

lake mackenzie

Fraser Island highlights

  • If you're visiting Hervey Bay, you can't pass up the chance to visit the magnificent Fraser Island. As the largest sand island in the world, there is a lot of stunning sights to see. 
  • Explore the rainforests and enjoy the beautiful blue waters of Lake Mackenzie. The island is actually home to more than 100 freshwater lakes.

Day 6: Visit the small towns of the Queensland coast

sunset view in queensland coastline

Agnes Water and 1770 highlights

  • Continue north on the Bruce Highway, stopping in to visit some of the small towns lining the coast. The joined towns of Agnes Water and Seventeen Seventy is a particularly popular spot for locals. 
  • The foreshore is a beautiful place for a walk, and a great spot to watch the sun setting.
  • Located at the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef, there are plenty of water activities to enjoy in the area. Take a kayaking tour, or head out snorkelling on the reef.

Day 7: Continue north to Mackay

mackay road queensland

Mackay highlights

  • Before driving north to Mackay, stop in to explore Rockhampton. The city has a lot of impressive heritage buildings to explore, along with botanic gardens and a wildlife park.
  • On your way out of the city you can explore the Capricorn Caves.
  • When you reach Mackay you will find even more interesting architecture, with the city's art deco centre.

Day 8: Relax at Airlie Beach

aerial shot of airlie beach

Airlie Beach highlights

  • Colourful Airlie Beach is the perfect base to explore the fantastic Whitsundays. The town has all the restaurants, cafes, shops and markets that you need, all in a beautiful coastal setting.
  • You can spend your spare time exploring some of the surrounding national parks and natural attractions.

Day 9: Take a day trip to the Whitsunday Islands

heart reef whitsunday

Whitsunday Islands highlights

  • Take the day to visit one of the famous islands off the Whitsunday coast. No matter which you choose, you will instantly see why the islands have become so well-known around the world.
  • Spend the day relaxing by the pool at exclusive Hamilton Island, or get up close to marine wildlife at family-friendly Daydream Island.
  • For many travellers, a visit to the iconic Whitehaven Beach is at the top of the list.

Day 10: Get some great views in Townsville

townsville hill lookout

Townsville highlights

  • After the long drive from Airlie Beach, you will be looking forward to relaxing and enjoying a meal in Townsville. Luckily, the city's esplanade, known locally as The Strand, has plenty of restaurants to cater to everyone's tastes.
  • You can also pay a visit to the Townsville Botanic Gardens.
  • For the best view in the city, hike to the top of Castle Hill. The large monolith is impressive in itself, but it also provides a fantastic view over the entire city.

Day 11: Welcome to Far North Queensland

mission beach far north queensland

Mission Beach highlights

  • Now that you're in Far North Queensland, keep an eye out for the region's unique wildlife. From the bright blue Ulysees butterfly, to the small tree kangaroos, and the beautiful cassowaries, there is plenty to discover.
  • Although elusive, one of the best places to spot cassowaries is at Mission Beach. Spend some time exploring the nature trails and walking along the huge, sandy beaches.
  • There are plenty of scenic stops en route from Townsville to Mission Beach. One of the standouts is a little town on the Cassowary Coast called Cardwell. After it was destroyed by Cyclone Yasi, the foreshore was re-built. It is now a vibrant area with incredible views to Hinchinbrook Island.

Day 12: Take the scenic route through the Tablelands

atherton tablelands lookout

Atherton Tablelands highlights

  • Head into the magnificent Atherton Tablelands for a more scenic route to Cairns. Look for tree kangaroos at Malanda, and visit the local waterfall.
  • Drop by the beautiful town of Yungaburra for lunch. Located on the shore of Lake Tinaroo, the town boasts many old fashioned eateries and unique, vintage shops.
  • See the photogenic Curtain Fig Tree just outside of Yungaburra, and make sure to swing by Gallo Dairyland to try some of their famous chocolates, yoghurts and cheese.
  • Spend the afternoon in Kuranda, the Village in the Rainforest. The town is home to waterfalls, scenic hiking trails and wildlife parks.

Day 13: Arrive at Cairns

the great barrier reef queensland

Cairns highlights

  • Drive down the winding Kuranda Range to the city of Cairns. There are plenty of exciting sights to explore here.
  • From the idyllic Northern Beaches of Palm Cove and Clifton Beach to the lively esplanade, you will find plenty of worthwhile attractions.
  • The city is a great base to explore sights such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.

Map of Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip

Do you know that you can download this map directly to your phone? Press the box symbol located on the top-right corner of this map to open in your Google Maps app. Now you can easily access this map on your next road trip adventure from Brisbane to Cairns.

Travel time and distance: 18 hours and 51 minutes / 1,680.7 km

Other popular road trip destinations