If you’re planning a road trip from Brisbane to Cairns then you’re in for a treat. Besides driving down Australia’s Centre, travelling through Queensland has probably been our most memorable road trip of 2018. If you plan the route between Brisbane and Cairns right , you’ll be able to see every aspect of this beautiful state and plenty more. We want to show you our favourite places to see between Brisbane and Cairns that we think are truly unmissable, including some off the beaten track locations you’ll really want to see!
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Things to know before your Brisbane to Cairns trip
This is one hefty road trip that equates to over 1678.km and will take upwards of 18 hours to complete, it’s not a trip many choose to do in one go – it’s a good job there are so many amazing places to visit between Brisbane and Cairns.
While there aren’t too many stretches along this route that I would class as ‘secluded’, it’s still wise to be concious of your fuel stops. The Aussies are good at keeping you up to date with when and where the next one will be, so more often than not all you need to do is keep your eye on the road signs. Fuel will likely be your biggest expence besides tours/activites with the average price being around $1.49 per litre for unleaded and $1.30 for diesal. We often had a jerry can of fuel on our van roof, however, we only ever needed it in the outback.
Road trip essentials
There are few must haves for your road trip between Brisbane and Cairns, mostly to keep you occupied during the long drives. Our biggest must have is definetly snacks! Is it really a road trip if you don’t have to unwrap sweets for the driver?
Places to visit between Brisbane and Cairns
Glass House Mountains
Time from Brisbane; 55 minutes // Time from Cairns; 18 hours
The Glass House Mountains are yet another thing we stumbled-upon that we perhaps should have known about before leaving Brisbane, so here it is to ensure you don’t make that mistake too! These unique mountain ranges are made up of 11 peaks, all completely different to anything I’ve seen before and all have their own Dreamtime story in the Aboriginal culture.
Instead of heading straight to the main Glass House Mountain lookout point, we highly recommend visiting the Wild Horses Mountain Lookout instead. We thought this gave us a much better view of all of the points together and it was a lot quieter too. It is, however, a bit of a walk/climb to get to it. The Wild Horses Mountain Lookout is a fully functioning fire watch ‘tower’ that is also open to the public, so it makes sense that it’s up a fairly big hill. It’s not a long walk but it is steep, however, if you time it right you’ll get a beautiful view of the sunset from the top.
How to get to the Glass House Mountains
Time from Brisbane; 2 hours // Time from Cairns: 17 hours 30mins
The Sunshine Coast as a whole can’t be missed, but Noosa was our favourite part. There’s plenty to do around Noosa, the most popular being the board walk through Noosa National Park where there’s the oppertunity to spot wild dolphins + koala. While we never braved the water once we passed Brisbane (because, ya know… sharks and all that), surfing and other water activities are really popular in Noosa. If you don’t fancy any of that, simply relaxing on one of Noosa’s beaches is enough to make the most of this beautiful area between Brisbane and Cairns
How to get to Noosa
Agnes Water + 1770
Time from Brisbane; 5 hours 30 minutes // Time from Cairns: 14 hours 30mins
Agnes Water is THE place to learn how to surf (apparently). There are heaps of surf schools in the area and the peninsular town of 1770 has several secluded bays that offer a great space for beginners. Like us and not a fan of surfing? Our favourite walk from 1770 was the butterfly walk and the paperbark trail, both are relitevley short walks but they show off the area well. On top of this you have the Kangaroo Sanctuary and the nearby Lady Musgrave Island that is a haven for snorkellers and divers.
How to get to Agnes Water
Time from Brisbane; 13 hours // Time from Cairns: 7 hours
Fraser Island will no doubt already be at the top of your list of things to do between Brisbane and Cairns, if it isn’t it should be. A UNESCO world heritage site and home to Australia’s purest line of Dingo, Fraser Island is a real bucket list destination. There’s plenty to do on this small tropical island so we’d definitely suggest you hire your own 4×4 (if you don’t own one already) and spend at least three days here.
One of the highlights for our trip was camping on the beach and of course seeing the famous SS Maheno change colour as the sunrises. Other things to do at Fraser Island include visiting the inland lakes, hiking the sand dunes or relaxing in the champagne pools.
How to get to Fraser Island:
As the name suggests, it’s an Island, so the only way to get there is by Ferry. You can get the ferry to Fraser Island either from Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay. From Rainbow Beach, it takes 15 minutes and is $120 for a return ticket and $175 from Hervey Bay. It’s also worth noting you’ll need a camping and beach access permit, you can find more details on that here.
Time from Brisbane; 14 hours // Time from Cairns; 4 hours
Townsville was our favourite stop between Brisbane and Cairns. It’s a campers paradise with free parking, free camping, a free infinity pool looking out over the river and even free hot showers. If that isn’t enough, it also has a beautiful botanical garden that’s perfect for escaping the heat then in the centre of the city is Castle Hill which gives you amazing views over the town and out towards Magnetic Island. It’s also the starting point for Queensland’s Far North, meaning from here the landscape changes dramatically from dry dusty fields to tropical rainforests.
How to get to Townsville;
Time from Brisbane; 16 hours 50 minutes // Time from Cairns; 3 hours 50 minutes
Want to see Australia’s Tallest waterfall? This is it. Hidden within the Wet Tropics, Wallaman Falls is a little off the beaten track but that doesn’t mean it should be left of your Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary.
At 286m tall and a drop pool that’s at least 20m deep, it’s huge and definitely worth the mini detour. Other things to do at Wallaman Falls include a 3.2km (return) scenic walk into the gorge, this walk winds you down a grade 3 track to the bottom of the gorge, giving you an alternative view of this mammoth waterfall.
How to get to Wallaman Falls;
From Townsville you need to head north to Ingham, from here Wallaman Falls is roughly 50km inland. The drive is an interesting one as it takes you through open cattle fields into tropical rainforest and up steep mountain roads. You can read more about our trip to Wallaman falls here.
More places to visit between Brisbane and Cairns
Time from Brisbane; 17.5 hours // Time from Cairns; 1.5 hours
Looking for wild Cassowary? forget Daintree Forest (well, don’t… it’s beautiful) or Mission Beach and head to Etty Bay instead. Etty Bay is along the Cassowary Coast and you don’t have to be a genius to guess how it got its name. You’re almost guaranteed to see Cassowary at Etty Bay, either on the beach or wandering in people’s gardens. In fact, locals think the numbers in this area are on the rise, whilst in other parts of the North they’re in decline.
That’s not the only reason to visit Etty Bay though, there’s beautiful beaches here and the water is netted so it’s one of the rare beaches you can actually swim at in the North, although we still didn’t risk it. We had some of the best fish and chips here too so that in itself is a reason to stop here in you’re way to Cairns.
How to get to Etty Bay
Time from Brisbane; 17 hours 50 minutes // Times from Cairns; 1 hour
This is A gem we picked up from locals while working in the area and one part of me doesn’t want to share with you but I think it’s a unique place to see between Brisbane and Cairns, especially if you’re looking for wild crocodiles. Eubenangee Swamp is famous to locals for being home to some of the biggest saltwater crocodiles in the area and it’s the sole reason we think you should visit, the views from the lookout hill are just an added bonus. We spent most of our weekends here, picnicking and looking out for the big croc we’d managed to find on our first ever outing to the Eubenangee.
Once you find the carpark (Here’s a google pin to help you) follow the signs through the forest and out the other side – don’t be tempted to just stop at the river bank, while there might be some there the big fellas are almost always in the swamp. Follow the path out the other side and up the hill behind the forest, once at the top you’ll see the swamp to the right as well as an amazing view over Mount Bartle Freire; the tallest mountain in Queensland.
Depending on the time of year will depend if it’s accessible or not and the best way to find out is to ask the locals; The Mirriwinnie Hotel will always be our top recommendation for finding local knowledge. Later in the wet season, the swamp gets so flooded that it isn’t safe to cross through the forest.
How to get to Eubenangee Swamp
Time from Brisbane; 18 hours // Time from Cairns; 50 minutes
The last of our unmissable places to see between Brisbane and Cairns is Babinda Boulders. They’re another rare safe swimming spots in the Far North, the water is cold clear and teeming with little curious fish. The locals I worked with told me this used to be a hidden gem but over the last few years, it’s got a little busier. Even so, when we went we were the only tourists there, the rest were local families enjoying their weekend.
How to get to Babinda Boulders;
It’s fairly easy to find the Babinda Boulders, as you approach the small town of Babinda you’ll see signs leading you through the town. Follow these town a little bendy road and you’ll soon find the car park. The Boulders swimming area is quite big so if you do find a few locals there, it won’t be hard to find yourself a quiet corner.
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Sure there are heaps of other, more popular, places to visit and things to do between Brisbane and Cairns but I’m sure they’re already on your itinerary too. These were our highlights and stops that we think really shouldn’t be missed, especially Etty Bay. Have you travelled up Australia’s East Coast? Where were your favourites places to see between Brisbane and Cairns? Drop them in the comments so other’s can expand their road trip ideas!!