The Brisbane to Cairns drive is one of the best road trips you can experience on the east coast of Australia.
This epic drive isn’t short, but it is packed full of exciting places to visit and iconic destinations to stop off at! It truly encompasses the best of Queensland.
Drive along the coast as you make your way north from Brisbane. Call in at the largest sand island in the world, admire the Whitsundays’ beautiful scenery, and explore the underwater marine world of the Great Barrier Reef.
To inspire your next Aussie adventure, here’s our guide to planning a Brisbane to Cairns road trip!
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Australia (Travel Guide)
Brisbane to Cairns Drive: Ultimate Road Trip Guide
How Far is it From Brisbane to Cairns?
Brisbane to Cairns is a long way to drive. It’s over 1000 miles along the main coastal highway, and that’s before you take into account any extra detours or stops you might want to make.
It’s a vast distance to cover, and you won’t even be leaving the state of Queensland; make sure you have plenty of time and don’t underestimate the distances involved.
Because it’s such a long way to drive, to really enjoy the road trip, you should try to have at least two weeks free.
You can drive the route in a much shorter period, of course, but you’ll be spending most of your days behind the wheel, which isn’t much fun!
With two weeks, you’ll have time to spend a few days in Brisbane and a few days in Cairns, where there are so many great things to do!
- Brisbane to Cairns: 1,678.5 km – 1,042.9 miles
- How long is a Brisbane to Cairns road trip: 18 hours.
- How many days should a road trip from Brisbane to Cairns take? Just driving you can do it in two days but the normal road trip length is 8 days.
- What is the halfway point between Brisbane to Cairns? Middlemount, Australia
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Best Stops Along the Brisbane to Cairns Drive
Our Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary breaks up this mammoth journey nicely.
However, you might want to factor in more stops if you want to cut down on driving time each day or if you have more time to spend driving the route.
Your 1000 mile journey starts in Brisbane, the capital of Queensland and one of Australia’s top tourist destinations.
Before you start your Brisbane to Cairns road trip, spend a few days exploring the city.
Walk along the vibrant Southbank, where you’ll find great bars and restaurants and a public lagoon where you can cool off by taking a refreshing dip.
Visit the excellent Museum of Queensland, take a trip to Australia Zoo or the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, and enjoy a day trip to beautiful Moreton Island on the coast.
Stay awhile and truly feel the Brisbane area:
- Spicers Balfour Hotel – Luxury
- Stamford Plaza Brisbane – Midrange
- Brisbane Backpackers Resort – Budget
Top 5 things to do in Brisbane:
- Full-Day Byron Bay and Crystal Castle Day Tour from Brisbane
- Brisbane River Helicopter Flight
- Cruise To Lunch Package
- Greater Brisbane Hot Air Balloon Flights – City & Country views
- Brisbane Segway Sightseeing Tour
Noosa and the Sunshine Coast
Drive north from Brisbane, and you’ll soon reach Noosa and the Sunshine Coast.
This sunny part of Queensland is best known for its beaches and its surfing, and the town of Noosa is often the location for surf competitions throughout the year.
We loved the atmosphere of Noosa, with many shops, cafes and cute streets. There is also some great hiking trails accessible from right in town. It’s also a great place to camp out and enjoy nature on the edge of town.
Hit the waves or lounge on the beach and enjoy a relaxed first stop on your long journey north to Cairns!
Stay awhile and truly feel the Noosa area:
- Netanya Noosa – Luxury
- Noosa International Resort – Midrange
- Nomads Noosa Backpackers – Budget
Top 5 things to do in Noosa & Sunshine Coast:
- Merrick’s Noosa Learn to Surf: 2 Hour group surfing lesson
- Seaplane Adventure Flight over Maroochydore for 2
- Full-Day Guided Noosa Everglades Kayak Tour
- The Great Beach Drive: 4WD Tour Between Noosa and Rainbow Beach
- Noosa Whale Watching Tour
The next destination on your Brisbane to Cairns drive is Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world.
This is one of the highlights of any journey along the east coast of Australia; there’s nowhere else quite like Fraser Island anywhere else in the world.
You need a four by four to drive on Fraser Island, but you can easily join a 4 by 4 tour in group convoys.
You’ll see the iconic Fraser Island Shipwreck on the long beach, swim in crystal clear lagoons and creeks, and even spend the night on Fraser Island to really experience the best of this natural beauty.
Below are our top recommended trips for visiting Fraser Island:
- All-Inclusive Fraser Island Day Tour
- 2-Day Fraser Island 4WD Tag-Along Tour at Beach House from Hervey Bay
- 3-Day Fraser Island Resort Package
Your next stop is the city of Bundaberg, a town often overlooked by tourists, but which is a hit with Aussies.
The reason Aussies love Bundaberg is that they love a good drink. The city is home to two of Australia’s most famous beverages – Bundaberg Rum and Bundaberg Ginger Beer.
You can take a tour of both factories to learn how these drinks became so popular across Australia. Around Bundaberg, there’s plenty of great nature to see, too.
Many of the beaches are important turtle nesting areas, while off the coast, you can see where the Great Barrier Reef starts.
Stay awhile and truly feel the Bundaberg area:
- Manta Bargara – Luxury
- Villa Mirasol Motor Inn – Midrange
- Bunk Inn Hostel – Budget
Agnes Water and 1770
Keep driving north until you reach Agnes Water and 1770, two small towns that make a wonderful stop on your journey towards Cairns.
By now, you’ll realize how vast the distances are, so take a break here and enjoy the fantastic coastline.
From here, you can visit several islands in the Great Barrier Reef if you can’t wait to start exploring the underwater marine world that Queensland is famous for!
Stay awhile and truly feel the Agnes Water area:
- The Edge On Beaches – Luxury
- Captain Cook Holiday Village 1770 – Midrange
- Beachside 1770 YHA – Budget
Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays
One of the most iconic destinations in Australia is Airlie Beach; this is your next stop on the way north to Cairns.
Airlie Beach is the jumping-off point for the Whitsundays, a spectacular collection of sand islands where you’ll find beautiful beaches and crystal clear lagoons.
Join a multi-day sailing trip if you have time, or take a whistlestop day tour on a fast catamaran to see the highlights. Make sure you go snorkeling because this is all part of the Great Barrier Reef!
We spent 3 days sailing the Whitsundays and it was simply amazing below are a few of our favorite sailing trips that include the Whitsundays.
Top Airline Beach and the Whitsundays tours:
- Whitehaven Beach Half-Day Cruises
- ZigZag Whitsundays Day Tour – Whitehaven Beach – Snorkel – Island Resort
- Airlie Beach Tandem Skydive
- Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet | Aussie Style | Awesome Beach BBQ | Iced Esky
- 2 night Whitsunday Islands Cruise on New Horizon from Airlie Beach
Top 3 places to stay in Airline Beach.
- Club Wyndham Airlie Beach – Luxury
- Coral Sea Resort Airlie Beach – Midrange
- Magnums Backpackers – Budget
Townsville is the largest city in the north of Queensland. While there’s not much in the city itself to stop for (other than fuel and supplies), the surrounding coastline is beautiful.
You can also take a ferry across to Magnetic Island, a laid back resort island that’s packed full of great nature. It’s a wonderful palace to relax for a night or two before continuing your Brisbane to Cairns road trip.
Book your Aquascene Magnetic Island Discovery Tour today!
Top 3 places to stay in Townsville:
- Mercure Townsville – Luxury
- Madison Plaza Townsville – Midrange
- Reef Lodge Backpackers – Budget
There’s one last stop on your Brisbane to Cairns road trip before you make it to the final destination. That stop is Mission Beach, one of the best beaches in Far North Queensland.
The small community is part of the Cassowary Coast; if you’re lucky, you might be able to see one of these ancient, flightless birds in the wild.
Top 5 things to do in Mission Beach that you simply must do:
- Great Barrier Reef Dive and Snorkel Cruise from Mission Beach
- Tully River White Water Rafting from Mission Beach or Self Drive Cairns
- Fozzy’s 3 Hour, 3 Island Tour
- Beach Skydive from up to 15000ft over Mission Beach
- Dunk Island Round-Trip Water Taxi Transfer from Mission Beach
Top 3 places to stay in Mission Beach:
- Castaways Resort & Spa On Mission Beach – Luxury
- Mission Beach Resort – Midrange
- Mission Beach Retreat – Budget
You’ve finally reached Cairns after mile upon mile of driving along Queensland’s coastline.
The adventure hasn’t ended either, because there’s so much to do in Cairns and the surrounding area that you could spend another two weeks exploring.
You can start by joining a boat tour out to the Great Barrier Reef, where you can go snorkeling or diving to explore the underwater world.
Take a trip north from Cairns, and you can enjoy the beaches of laidback Port Douglas before continuing to the ancient Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation.
If the tropical heat is starting to get to you, take a drive inland and uphill to the cool climes of the Atherton Tablelands.
You’ll find volcanic crater lakes and charming farms and shops. You can also take the Scenic Railway up to Kuranda, a tourist village next to the spectacular Barron Falls.
There really is a lot do in Cairns, so try and save time at the end of your Brisbane to Cairns road trip to appreciate this iconic Australian tourist destination.
Top 5 things to do in Cairns that you simply must do:
- Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Tour from Cairns
- Seastar Luxury Outer Great Barrier Reef Island and Reef Tour from Cairns
- Bungy Jump or Giant Jungle Swing or Bungy & Swing Combo
- Cairns ATV Adventure Tour
- Green Island & Great Barrier Reef Sailing Cruise from Cairns – only 25 guests
Top 3 places to stay in Cairns:
- Mantra Esplanade Cairns – Luxury
- Pacific Hotel Cairns – Midrange
- Gilligans Backpackers Hotel & Resort – Budget
Doing A Cairns to Brisbane Drive Instead
Alternatively, it is possible to reverse this whole route by taking a Cairns to Brisbane road trip instead.
This will depend on if you can find cheap flights to Brisbane or Cairns when you arrive. There really is no right or wrong way to make this drive, so plan it in the direction that suits your plans best.
Road Safety in Australia
Remember to drive on the left on your Brisbane to Cairns road trip – but more importantly, watch out for kangaroos and other wildlife!
As you drive into rural areas, you’ll start to see more wildlife. Koalas are often spotted by the roadside, but most of all, you need to avoid the kangaroos that bound across the highways after dark.
You can drive the route in a two-wheel-drive car, but in Queensland, a four by four will give you more flexibility if you know how to safely drive offroad.
With a four by four, you’ll be able to drive on the beaches and hit up the off-road tracks in places like the Daintree National Park.
Try to avoid driving from Brisbane to Cairns in the wet season, between November and March.
The rains in the far north around Cairns are fierce, and even the main highway can become flooded. There’s a high chance you could get cut off if there are cyclones or storms.
Supplies and Accommodation Between Brisbane and Cairns
The further north of Brisbane you travel, the more remote and isolated places become.
As you drive north, be aware that fuel stops will become less frequent, so always keep your gas tank topped up when you have the opportunity.
Don’t underestimate the amount of fuel you might need, and how far one destination is from the next. You don’t want to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere!
Keep supplied at the local supermarkets and try to keep a stock of water and a few tins of food in the car.
You will find supermarkets in the large towns along the coast and shouldn’t have a problem finding food and drink supplies.
As for accommodation, one of the best ways to make this journey is by driving a campervan from Brisbane to Cairns.
If you haven’t got a campervan, there are plenty of campsites where you can pitch a tent.
If you’re not camping, you’ll need to plan your stops more thoroughly in advance, as accommodation in roadhouses or guesthouses can be limited in peak season.
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