The Best Places to Road Trip in Queensland
Pack up your swag, fill your esky and dust off your bathers. We are covering all the must see spots for your scenic drive up into the northeast of Australia. It’s going to get tropical.
This series of articles is looking at epic Australian road trips. Whether you’re a local making the most of border closures or whether you’re a tourist with a travelling dream, we are covering the big road-trip ‘must sees’ and ‘must dos’.
Today we are exploring the sunshine state of Queensland. It’s got bustling coastal towns, quiet sandy islands, the world’s oldest rainforest and largest coral gardens. Get the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest and Fraser Island ticked off your bucket list on a Queensland road trip you’ll never forget.
Planning Your QLD Road Trip
Queensland is home to 5.2 million people and is the seond largest state in Australia. That means there is a lot of driving on this road trip – sometimes a lot of driving with nothing to see and no one around. So be smart and pack extra water, food, fuel and sunscreen just in case you find yourself in a more remote situation than you had planned.
The state capital, Brisbane, enjoys more winter sunshine than most other cities in Australia, making it excellent for trips and outdoor activities at any time of the year. Brisbane is in the southernmost part of the state near the New South Wales border. Head north up the coast and you will hit the next largest settlements, Bundaberg, Townsville and Cairns. Cairns is a small tropical city often used as a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Let’s explore what’s in and around these gorgeous places in the appropriately named ‘sunshine state’.
The Great Barrier Reef
The world’s largest and most famous coral reef spans around 350,000km2. It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and has to be on your road trip itinerary and life’s bucket list! It is the only living organism that can be seen from space.
There are 900 islands and you can choose to scuba dive, snorkel or fly over it in a hot air balloon. Most people access the reef from Cairns, Townsville or further south at Airlie Beach. The reef has suffered from the effects of bleaching in recent years, so please be responsible when visiting by not touching or taking coral, wearing marine safe sunscreen and seeking out environmentally responsible tour companies. A Queensland road trip must be about observing and protecting our stunning (and fragile) environment.
Queensland is home to some of the most breathtaking islands. Let’s start off at the top and work our way down.
Thursday Island (TI) is in the tropical north of Queensland off the Cape York Peninsula. It is one of the Torres Straits islands and is like nowhere else in the country. It’s got a thriving, largely indigenous population of around 3000 people. They live a picturesque life full of arts and culture and welcome visitors to explore this with them.
Heading south, you will find Magnetic Island off the coast of Townsville, an idyllic haven for water sports and lush forest walks surrounded by coral reefs. The wildlife is abundant all over the island; if you’re lucky, you’ll even spot a local dugong!
Heading further south you can find Heron Island. This is the place to go if you’re into scuba diving and want the chance to swim with green and loggerhead turtles. Probably one of the few places where you don’t have to get in the water to see the wildlife it holds.
Just before we hit Brisbane, there’s the famous sand island, Fraser Island. A popular camp spot for a few nights, most people come here to 4WD on the dunes, explore the tropical waters and go fishing. Expect picture perfect lakes, dunes, sunsets and sunrises.
Exploring Nature’s Oldest and Dearest
Let’s put our feet back on the mainland and stop off in some of the breathtaking spots along the coastal drive. Daintree rainforest is the world’s oldest rainforest and remains untouched. Book a guided walking tour and get in touch with some of the most unprecedented natural beauty the world has to offer.
Cape Tribulation is a remote headland spanning out of the Daintree rainforest, so you can hike through the rainforest and spill straight out onto the beaches. Watch out for the crocodiles and box jellyfish in and around the waters!
Port Douglas sits just south of the rainforest and is a great town to refuel in on your Queensland road trip. It’s quite busy but if you need to spoil yourself after a few sweaty days on the road, you can find some pretty exclusive accommodation here overlooking the long white beaches. Bliss.
If you’re heading north or after something a bit less touristy, then make sure you stop off in Palm Cove. A stunning little suburb of Cairns named after the palm trees that line the beach.
The southern coastal area of Queensland is a lot more populated and full of holiday makers. You’ll find Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Noosa Heads and Gold Coast down here, each with something slightly different to offer.
Noosa Heads and Noosa National Park both offer amazing beaches, hiking and even some Fairy Pools if you are willing to do the walk.
Sunshine Coast is more populated and has more hotels and attractions but the surf is better. The beach just never seems to end!
Then we hit the state capital, Brisbane. A big shiny riverside city with everything you’d expect, and probably where you’ll start or end your road trip. Make sure to visit Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and take a hike up Mt Coot-Tha to get the best views of the city.
Finally, if it’s your thing, head to Gold Coast for an adrenaline fuelled, theme park filled blow out to finish your road trip. This is where locals go to party, holiday, surf and let their hair down, and is one of Australia’s most popular holiday destinations.
More things Brisbane…
If you’d like to make a permanent base of Brisbane to explore the wonders of QLD over a lifetime, then you’ll want to check out our articles on the city’s best suburbs, best beaches and top activities.