An East Coast road trip itinerary –
places to see between Brisbane and Cairns!
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 in the past two years. If you plan the route right, you’ll be able to see every aspect of this beautiful state and plenty more. Here are just 10 of our favourite places to see between Brisbane and Cairns that we think are truly unmissable.
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.
Getting to the Glass House Mountains
Time from Brisbane; 6 hours // Time from Cairns: 18 hours 15mins
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.
Want to know more about doing a self-drivedrive tour of Fraser Island?
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.
Getting 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.
Read what Corrine over at Reflections on Route has to say about her time with a tour company on Fraser Island
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.
Want even more info on this amazing town? Here’s a full guide to Townsville that includes where to camp and what day trips you can do from there too!
Getting 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.
Want to see more waterfalls like this? Check out our mini guide to Tropical Queensland Waterfalls
Getting 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.
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.
Getting 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.
Getting 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.
Getting 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.
Sure there are heaps of other, more popular, places to see between Brisbane and Cairns but I’m sure they’re already on your itinerary anyway. 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 stops between Brisbane and Cairns? Drop them in the comments so other’s can expand their road trip ideas!!
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