By Chris Fry. This post sharing a fun Australia road trip itinerary contains affiliate links to trusted partners!
Looking for a Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary?
Then you’re in the right place!
Brisbane to Cairns is one of the best road trips you can do in Australia, with stunning landscapes, beautiful beaches, and plenty of adventures and attractions to be experienced.
The hardest part is trying to decide where to stop and what to see along the way — which is why I’m sharing an epic itinerary below for you to use when planning your Brisbane to Cairns drive.
While the suggested route is 10 days, you can tweak the drive time based on which experiences sound most appealing to you — though if you can do the whole 10 days I highly recommend it!
Free Ultimate Travel Planning Kit
Before we dive into our Brisbane to Cairns drive itinerary, I want to invite you to grab access to the free Travel Planning Resource Library!
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Grabbed the resources?
Then let’s get into our Australia travel guide on how to have an epic Brisbane to Cairns trip!
Brisbane To Cairns Distance
In terms of distance, it’s about 1,700 kilometers (1,056 miles). Moreover, the Brisbane to Cairns drive time is about 19-and-a-half hours without stops.
But, you’ll absolutely want to stop along the way!
In fact, in my opinion, the drive to Cairns from Brisbane is best enjoyed by driving just a few hours each day so you can really experience as much as possible.
The stretch of road will have you passing by stunning islands, beautiful beaches, turquoise waters, remote swimming locations, and local wildlife.
This is what makes a Brisbane to Cairns road trip so incredible.
Brisbane To Cairns Map
Now, to help give you a lay of the land, the above Brisbane to Cairns drive map provides a visual of the route.
Prefer an interactive map?
You can also click here for a Google map that you can zoom in and out of and add stops to.
As you can see, you’re in for a scenic drive that takes you along Australia’s stunning coast!
Brisbane To Cairns Road Trip Highlights
Are you still wondering if traveling from Brisbane to Cairns by car is for you?
Here are some highlights you can expect to experience along the way:
- Finding secluded waterfalls and rock pools for swimming
- The Whitsunday Islands, Great Barrier Reef, and tropical beach locations
- Hiking through rainforests and mountainous locations for spectacular views
- Watching wild kangaroos feeding on the beach
- Visiting the largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island
- Seeing loggerhead turtles laying eggs or hatchlings born
- Trying delicious local dishes — including fresh seafood meals
- And much more!
10-Day Brisbane To Cairns Road Trip Itinerary
It’s over 19 hours to travel directly from Brisbane to Cairns, so we have a lot of ground to cover.
To give you a sample of the best stops, I’m sharing an unforgettable 10-night itinerary below.
However, if you have more time to complete the Brisbane to Cairns road trip, then stay longer in each place to explore more attractions.
Alternatively, you can use the same itinerary to travel in the opposite direction from Cairns to Brisbane.
Note that the times below may differ depending on road conditions, road work, and other unexpected occurrences that can cause driving delays.
1 – Brisbane to Sunshine Coast | 105 kilometers/65 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes
2 – Sunshine Coast to Hervey Bay | 200 kilometers/124 miles, 2 hours 30 minutes
3 – Hervey bay to Bundaberg | 110 kilometers/68 miles, 1 hour 20 minutes
4 – Bundaberg to Agnes Water | 120 kilometers/75 miles, 1 Hour 30 mins
5 – Agnes Water to Yeppoon | 270 kilometers/168 miles, 3 hours 30 minutes
6 – Yeppoon to Cape Hillsborough | 405 kilometers/252 miles, 4 hours 30 minutes
7 – Cape Hillsborough to Airlie Beach | 130 kilometers/81 miles, 1 Hour 40 minutes
8 – Airlie Beach to Townsville | 270 kilometers/168 miles, 3 hours 30 minutes
9 – Townsville to Mission Beach | 235 kilometers/146 miles, 3 Hours
10 – Mission Beach to Cairns | 140 kilometers/87 miles, 2 hours
Day 1 – Brisbane to Sunshine Coast | 105 kilometers/65 miles, 1 hour 30 minutes
Brisbane is Queensland’s capital city, featuring a population of over 2 million people and stretching about 100 kilometers (62 miles) along the South East coast.
It’s your gateway city and a great place to start your Brisbane to Cairns road trip.
If you have a few days here before starting off on your coastal journey, there is much to be explored.
Brisbane City or the suburb of Southbank are both central locations. Here you will find ample accommodation options along with budget or luxury-style restaurants or cafes.
At South Bank Parklands, you can take a ride on the Wheel of Brisbane, walk the pathways along the river, or browse the markets. Inside the parklands, you’ll also find Streets Beach where you can swim in a sparkling beach lagoon.
Other local highlights include visiting the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to meet 130+ rescued koalas and Australian animals, exploring the Museum of Brisbane for interesting exhibits and events, getting your photo taken with the famous “Brisbane” sign, and taking stunning photos at the Sunflower Fields Brisbane.
On the other hand, the Sunshine Coast is your first taste of beach paradise.
Explore sandy beaches from Kings Beach in Caloundra in the south to the Noosa National Park in the north. There are secluded rock pools to swim in — like the Noosa Fairy Pools — and it’s also not uncommon to see koalas while hiking.
Moreover, the whole family can be entertained at places like the Ginger Factory, which features rides, a cafe, and tastings and factory tours introducing you to their Buderim Ginger.
A short drive inland allows you to explore hikes like Mount Ngungun or Mount Beerwah, both of which offer views across the Glass House Mountains.
This is where you will also find lots of waterfalls and freshwater swimming in places like Gardners Falls and Kondalilla Falls.
Sunshine Coast Hotels & Experiences
Tours In Australia’s Sunshine Coast:
Hotels In Australia’s Sunshine Coast:
Day 2 – Sunshine Coast to Hervey Bay | 200 kilometers/124 miles, hours 30 minutes
Hervey Bay is famous for two reasons:
Whale watching tours and for being the gateway to Fraser Island.
If you’re traveling from June to November you can book a tour from Hervey Bay to watch the migrating humpback whales. The whales pass through in pods, breaching the surface of the water and putting on a big show for tourists.
Additionally, throughout the year, there are day trips to the largest sand island in the world, Fraser Island.
Here you can swim in pristine freshwater lakes, rock pools, and streams. The island is also home to the Fraser Island Great Walk — one of the bests hikes in Queensland!
Also, make sure to explore the SS Maheno — a shipwreck you can see right on the beach — and admire sand formations like The Pinnacles. These pointed cliffs were formed hundreds of thousands of years ago with clay and minerals and contain orange, red, yellow, and brown layered colors for a visually stunning natural attraction.
Trust me; this is one stop you won’t regret!
Hervey Bay Hotels & Experiences
Day 3 – Hervey Bay to Bundaberg | 110 kilometers/68 miles, 1 hour 20 minutes
Drive a short distance up the coast and you’ll come to the city of Bundaberg. Featuring a population of 70,000 people, this is the start of the Great Barrier Reef.
Here you’ll find many different beaches worth visiting, like Elliott Heads, Woodgate, Bargara, or Burnett Heads.
That being said, one of the most unique experiences you can have occurs during turtle season, which runs from November to March.
The Mon Repos Conservation Park in Bargara has a ranger monitored area for loggerhead turtles to come and lay their eggs most nights.
After an eight-week gestation period, the eggs are ready to hatch, and you can witness them scampering down the beach.
Apart from that, you can tour the famous Bundaberg Rum Distillery, take a day trip to Lady Musgrave Island to visit a coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef, or taste the locally-made and world-famous Bundaberg Ginger Beer.
Furthermore, view wooden keg construction at Schmeider’s Cooperage. It’s quite interesting to see, as the barrels securely hold spirits and fortified wines before bottling.
The wood used for those barrels is selected because of its ability to transfer certain flavors and aromas to the spirit.
Touring their operation allows you to better understand why your favorite libations taste the way they do and part of the process behind their creation.
Alternatively, learn about local aviation pioneer Bert Hinkler at the Hinkler Hall of Aviation, or be amazed at geological formations like Mystery Craters.
Yes, you read that right. Mystery Craters.
These craters are a local phenomenon, made from sandstone with an ochre stain and discovered in the early 1970s. There are 35 oddly shaped craters in the ground and today it remains a mystery how they were formed.
Bundaberg Hotels & Experiences
Day 4 – Bundaberg to Agnes Water | 120 kilometers/75 miles, 1 Hour 30 mins
This is where you get to relax and chill on the beach for a while.
Both Agnes Waters and Seventeen Seventy — located about 10 minutes away — are quiet little beachside towns full of life.
The area is known for its surfing, which draws an adventurous younger crowd.
Additionally, there are many opportunities for boating, fishing, and swimming.
The beaches here are known for their sunsets, so make sure to time your walks to watch the sky light up in an array of colors.
When it’s time to eat, you won’t be disappointed by the local seafood restaurants and fish and chip shops — like Off The Hook Fish & Chips, where you can pick out your own fresh fish and have their staff cook it for you.
In terms of accommodation, there are plenty of rental homes as well as resorts — though if you love the outdoors you’ll also find loads of camping and cabin options, too.
Agnes Water Hotels & Experiences
Tours In Agnes Water:
Hotels in Agnes Water:
Day 5 – Agnes Water to Yeppoon | 270 kilometers/168 miles, 3 hours 30 minutes
The next stop on our Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary is the small town of Yeppoon, which has a population of just over 6,000 people.
Yeppoon feels incredibly laid-back, and is the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing beach holiday.
One of the top highlights here is Byfield National Park, an 87 km² (33.6 mi²) park known for its beautiful beaches and four-wheel drive tracks.
Pack a lunch and hit the park, making sure to spend some time swimming in the fresh turquoise waters of Stoney Creek.
You’ll also find off-grid camping facilities, but also day-use areas for those coming in from Yeppoon.
Alternatively, while in the area of the Great Barrier Reef, you have options for a day trip off the coast to discover the Keppel Islands, a group of 14 islands in Keppel Bay, 13 of which are part of the Keppel Bay Islands National Park.
The only one that isn’t is the largest of the group, Great Keppel Island, which is still very much worth exploring.
Pack your sunscreen and enjoy a day of snorkeling, playing on the beaches, and walking through remote tracks — which offer some of the best hiking trails in the world thanks to how pristine and secluded they are.
Yeppoon Hotels & Experiences
Day 6 – Yeppoon to Cape Hillsborough | 405 kilometers/252 miles, 4 hours 30 minutes
Another must-have experience when traveling from Brisbane to Cairns by car is seeing the beach kangaroos at Cape Hillsborough National Park.
The national park area is very low-key and contains secluded beaches, camping spots, hiking trails, and an incredible way to escape city life.
Every morning, you have the opportunity to witness wild wallabies and kangaroos feeding on the beach while the sun is rising.
Mangrove seed pods are left behind on the beach from the high tide and are a staple food for these Australian animals, who head to the shore to forage for them.
With this in mind, the closest place for accommodation is the Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park.
Just note: this is the longest leg of our Brisbane to Cairns drive, so it’s smart to have some road trip games handy!
Cape Hillsborough Hotels & Experiences
Tours In Cape Hillsborough:
Hotels In Cape Hillsborough:
Day 7 – Cape Hillsborough to Airlie Beach | 130 kilometers/81 miles, 1 Hour 40 minutes
Airlie Beach is an absolute must-stop when driving from Brisbane to Cairns!
That’s because this is a prime spot to enjoy beautiful blue waters as well as the famous Great Barrier Reef.
The resort town itself is small but welcomes over 750,000 tourists each year to experience this world-renowned attraction as well as the stunning Whitsunday Islands, an archipelago of 74 tropical islands with untouched forests and white sandy beaches.
Half or full-day trips leave from Shute Harbour near Airlie Beach and take you snorkeling, to stunning lookout points like Hill Inlet (one of the most photographed places in the archipelago), and walking along the white sandy shores of Whitehaven Beach, a pristine white beach located on Whitsunday Island, the largest of the 74 islands in the Whitsundays.
Other options have you visiting Hamilton or Daydream Island — both of which are popular to explore thanks to the resort accommodation, award-winning restaurants, relaxed cafes, and numerous activities on offer ranging from land sports to aquatic adventures.
On Hamilton Island, spend the day hiking up Passage Peak — the highest point on the island offering 360-degree views — and then refuel with a delicious seafood meal with a view at Manta Ray Restaurant.
Hamilton Island even has its own airport, which makes it easy to get to with direct flights from Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne.
Alternatively, at Airlie Beach, you have beautiful beaches, freshwater swimming lagoons, and, for the adrenaline junkies, jet skiing.
When it comes to accommodation, this resort town has hostels, campsites, motels, and even luxury properties overlooking the marina.
Airlie Beach Hotels & Experiences
Tours In Airlie Beach:
Hotels In Airlie Beach:
Day 8 – Airlie Beach to Townsville | 270 kilometers/168 miles, 3 hours 30 minutes
It’s a long drive today but make sure you make a pit stop at the Big Bowen Mango.
This is where the tourist information center is, and also where you can savor a vast supply of mango products, like their famous mango ice cream!
Townsville is one of the largest North Queensland cities and is your gateway to Magnetic Island.
There are several ferries each day going over to the island, so the amount of time you spend there depends on you.
While you’re there, experience walking trails to find baby koalas, WW2 memorials, and local beaches for relaxing, swimming, or snorkeling.
Visiting the boulders in the Geoffrey Bay area before sunset means you’re likely to see adorable allied rock wallabies in the wild. They aren’t too shy around humans, so it’s easy to get great photos.
Of course, as you should with all wildlife, make sure to maintain a safe and respectful distance.
Townsville Hotels & Experiences
Tours In Townsville:
Hotels In Townsville:
Day 9 – Townsville to Mission Beach | 235 kilometers/146 miles, 3 Hours
A quick stop along this leg of the journey means you can visit the famous Cardwell Spa Pools.
This has long been a local swimming spot where the flowing water runs over the rocks to create a natural spa effect.
What makes this place special is the gorgeous blue color of the water that is made by phytoplankton, bicarbonates binding to clay, and light refraction.
It truly has to be seen with your own eyes to be believed!
On the other hand, Mission Beach consists of beaches lined with palm trees, freshwater swimming locations, river rafting, bike trails, and walking paths.
Mission Beach Hotels & Experiences
Tours In Mission Beach:
Hotels In Mission Beach:
Day 10 – Mission Beach to Cairns | 140 kilometers/87 miles, 2 hours
Finally, we’ve reached the last section of our Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary — though if you have the time, lively Cairns can certainly keep you occupied for days, if not weeks.
In fact, it’s a major city with a population of over 150,000 people and loads to do!
If you’re into waterfalls and don’t mind taking a 30-minute detour off the major highway, this is where you can explore the Waterfall Circuit.
The Waterfall Circuit showcases three amazing waterfalls along a 20-kilometer (12-mile) loop road — including the 60-foot Millaa Millaa Falls, which is the most photographed waterfall in Australia.
Note that exploring the Waterfall Circuit isn’t the only active travel adventure you can have in Cairns, as the city is home to skydiving, bungy jumping, white water rafting, kayaking, hiking, and more.
If you’re looking for an aquatic adventure, there are several boats that can take you out to explore the Great Barrier Reef, nearby islands, snorkeling, or diving.
Another fun Cairns attraction:
The Kuranda Scenic Railway, which takes you on a journey through Barron Gorge National Park to view mountains, waterfalls, and spectacular rainforest scenery.
The journey ends at a rainforest village where you can peruse shops, restaurants, and cafes as well as see a large variety of birds and butterflies at Birdworld and The Australian Butterfly Sanctuary.
For a different view on your way back to Cairns, opt for the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
For another unforgettable rainforest experience near Cairns visit Daintree National Park, the oldest tropical rainforest in the world!
Explore several different hikes, learn about the trees and other flora that make up the rainforest at the Daintree Discovery Centre, and cool down in secluded swimming holes.
When it’s time to go back home, you’ll be happy to know that Cairns is a gateway city of Australia with an international airport.
Cairns Hotels & Experiences
Tours In Cairns:
Hotels In Cairns:
Brisbane To Cairns Road Trip Tips
Car Rental & Accommodation Tips
– Driving or hiring your own vehicle will be more flexible and help make the most of your time. Check out DiscoverCars to easily compare rental car pricing and snag the best deal.
– Consider a campervan or RV to save on accommodation costs. This is a popular way to travel this route and you’ll find hundreds of caravan parks along the way.
The Best Time To Road Trip From Brisbane To Cairns
– December to March is summer in Australia and the rainy season in North Queensland. This can make the waterfalls very full but might deter you from other activities.
– May to July are the winter months, but days are still very pleasant in Queensland. This will affect you more in the southern towns with an average low of 10°C (50°F).
Things To Know Before You Go
– The entire journey is on a sealed asphalt bitumen road, but some areas can be busy or a little run down.
– Road work is always happening on this route, so allow extra time to get to each stop.
– There are plenty of service stations and fuel stops along the way, though it’s always best to plan out your route and fill up whenever you can.
Renting A Car For Your Brisbane To Cairns Road Trip
Of course, you’ll need a car for your road trip from Brisbane to Cairns.
Use Discover Cars to quickly compare your car rental options.
Their comparison tool does the homework for you, so there’s no need to have up 10+ tabs trying to figure out which company is the most affordable. Actually, you can save up to 70% using their tool!
Where To Stay When Traveling From Brisbane To Cairns
Wondering where to stay during your Brisbane to Cairns road trip?
Prefer self-contained stays?
You can also use this map to search for local stays:
Australia Travel Insurance
When visiting Australia — or anywhere else in the world — make sure to get travel insurance.
In my opinion, the best travel medical insurance for travelers is SafetyWing as they’ve got a large network and offer both short-term and long-term coverage — including coverage if you’re traveling for months as well as limited coverage in your home country).
Additionally, SafetyWing is budget-friendly and offers $250,000 worth of coverage with just one low overall deductible of $250.
Brisbane To Cairns Flight Time, Train Time & Bus Time
Just in case you’re curious about other ways to get from Brisbane to Cairns, flights and trains are also options.
The Brisbane to Cairns flight time is about two-and-a-half hours.
This is much faster than driving, though of course, the trade-off is you miss all of the incredible stops along the way. It’s only recommended if you’re in a rush to get from Brisbane to Cairns.
On the other hand, the Brisbane to Cairns train time is about 24-25 hours, so you’ll actually sleep on the train.
Again, if you opt for the train over driving you won’t be able to explore the many attractions of the route; however, it can be a smart option if you’re looking for a budget-friendly way to get straight to Cairns from Brisbane.
Now, if you’re looking for the best of both worlds, Greyhound offers a Hop-On Hop-Off Pass where you can travel from Brisbane to Cairns by bus and get off and back on along the way for up to 90 days.
What would you add to this Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary?
About The Author
This guest post on The Ultimate 10-Day Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip Itinerary is by Chris Fry from Aquarius Traveller. Join her Instagram or Facebook community for photography and advice about traveling in Australia.
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