Brisbane to Cairns Return

Planning your next motorhome road trip along this iconic and popular route?
Use our travel resource to be inspired and plan your next dream motorhome holiday.

So much diversity on this route!

Journey through a state of contrasts. Experience the diverse scenery and wildlife travelling the stunning coastline, experiencing the tropical north and the incredible vastness of the Outback.

DISTANCE: 4,800 kms
SUGGESTED TIME FRAME: 28 days minimum
BEST TIME OF YEAR: May to September

Watch this video for a quick taste of the Brisbane to Cairns Return route:

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Highlights of a driving holiday from Brisbane to Cairns Return

Heading West from Brisbane

  • Roma is the gateway to the Outback, it holds the largest cattle sales in Australia every week (with exception of Christmas). While Roma hosts the largest, a lot of small towns in Qld have these, if you’re in town on the right day this is something different to experience, or perhaps a local rodeo!
  • Along the main road through outback Queensland heading up to Longreach and beyond, you’ll find the Stockmans Hall of Fame. An interesting display and tribute to Australia’s outback hero’s including information on bush life throughout the years. The Qantas Founders Museum is also located here.
  • Travelling in the Outback, you’ll find many quirky things like the 'musical fence' in Winton. Depending where where you hit the fence, you can make your own tune. The town of Winton is where Banjo Paterson wrote Australia’s most well-known song Waltzing Matilda.
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  • Heading out of Winton there’s a couple of ways to head towards Mt Isa. The most popular and direct route is via McKinlay which is home to the Walkabout Creek Hotel, which you’ll probably remember from the original Crocodile Dundee movie. Our favourite is via Boulia to Mt Isa. It is a sealed road, although only one lane sealed, and more remote. We’ve always had memorable experiences such as the Outback pub in Middleton with its freedom camp across the road. Make sure you pop into the pub for a chat with the locals as you’ll hear many eye opening stories as life in the Outback is so different to what most of us know!
  • It’s very pretty around Mt Isa as you drive in, from whichever direction, surrounded by beautiful red ranges. Well known for mining, and we recommend you visit the Hard Times Mine where you can experience mining life. If that is on your bucket list, a good idea to book that in advance.
  • Heading out towards Cairns you can take the main road straight out to Townsville. It’s a fairly straight road passing through some interesting towns and if you’ve got an interest in dinosaurs and fossils, this is the way for you. Our favourite route, which is only suitable in the dry season is to head north at Cloncurry up the sealed road to Normanton, past all the magnetic termite mounds with its beautiful scenery. It is worth heading out to the Gulf of Carpentaria to Karumba as it’s known for recreational fishing and a birdwatchers paradise with a beautiful drive through the wetlands to get there.
  • Take the sealed Savannah Way to the west of Cairns past the Undara Lava Tubes.
  • It’s not long before you find yourself in the Atherton Tablelands which is popular for a shorter trip from Cairns. Apart from stunning scenery including waterfalls, farmland, dairies and little towns to explore there is also coffee plantations to visit and great vistas.
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  • There’s quite a bit north of Cairns to visit. Northern beaches like Ellis Beach and Port Douglas are popular too. Visit the Daintree River where you could join a boat tour to check out the local wildlife.
  • Cape Tribulation is also a stunning drive. There is a sealed road after taking a barge across the Daintree River, there are lots of stunning lookouts on the way. Keep your eyes open for cassowaries too!
  • Heading back down the coast there’s more than just the world renowned highlights like the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsundays and Fraser Island which are all highly recommended day trips. Just driving this route is an attraction in itself really – with plenty of beautiful views.
  • Head to our coastal section ‘Brisbane to Cairns’ to find loads more tips and highlights for this specific part of the route.
  • We also find some travellers like to do a portion of this route due to time constraints such as Brisbane – Roma – Blackall – Longreach – Emerald – 1770 – Noosa – Brisbane. Of course there are many different variations when you’re in charge of the steering wheel!

Learn more details and useful planning tips about this route.

Grab yourself a drink, sit back and relax while you watch this 8-minute video providing more insight to help your road trip planning for the Brisbane to Cairns Return route.

Brisbane to Cairns Return route planning tips

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  • As you’ll be travelling in the northern third of Australia, it’s important to understand the seasons and best time to experience. This area is best visited in what is known as the ‘dry season’ which is roughly May to September, and through the winter months.
  • It doesn’t matter really matter which direction your travel the ‘loop’ for this route, however we prefer to go clockwise and travel to the outback first. The reason for this, is that the outback just takes the length of time it does, however the coastal section sometimes entices you to want to spend an extra night or two at a beautiful coastal beach for example. If you were winging the trip and had not planned each nights stop, there could be a feeling of a bit of a need ‘to keep moving’ if the coast was done first as it was felt there was so far still to travel. If its nearer the end of the trip, you’ll be much clearer how much time is left.
  • In the southern inland part of this route, it will be cool at night-time, but the day time temperatures are much more comfortable than summer. Pack a jacket.

We’d recommend a minimum of 28 days for this trip, however its not unusual for our retired clients take around 45 – 60 days to experience this route.

  • To experience this route, you can pick up your campervan hire in Brisbane or Cairns. Some weave their way through the Queensland outback and head to the Northern Territory. We have campervan hire in Darwin and Alice Springs also.
  • You’ll find helpful information centres along your route, and generally there is no need to book campsites in advance when in the outback except at the more major towns such as Longreach and Mt Isa or if you’re travelling at a popular time such as when a specific event is happening (and a few days either side of this).
  • There is plenty of freedom camping, which is free and low-cost camping through the outback or inland section of this route. Some days there will be longer km’s that you’ll need to drive, and you’ll see a number of rest areas that allow overnight parking – perfect while you’re travelling in a self-contained motorhome. Often with these, you’ll see an area ‘in behind’ the rest area where you can be further away from the highway. The coastal section does have less freedom camping and a little more planning maybe required around the northern beaches area.
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  • Many areas of outback Queensland do have a sealed road or a one lane sealed road which can be accessed with the motorhomes, driving with care. There are also a number of unsealed roads which will require one of our 4WD camper hires if that is on your itinerary. The unsealed roads can become fairly corrugated at times (depending when last graded) which is why they are not suitable for the 2WD motorhomes.
  • During some sections there will be longer distances between the roadhouses where you can get fuel, however there is no need to carry extra fuel inside your vehicle when travelling this sealed road.
  • Refer to the Camps Australia Wide Guide book for locations for freedom camps which can be purchased along your route at some information centres, book or camping stores. You can also purchase an app called ‘Wiki Camps’ if you use a smart phone or tablet, plus the information centres en-route are a gold mine for local information.

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