Cairns to Brisbane

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.

Explore the stunning east coast of Qld!

Enjoy a great mix of long beaches, tropical rainforest and of course the world’s largest coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef. Wonder if you’ll spot a cassowary?

DISTANCE: 1,700 kms
SUGGESTED TIME FRAME: 14 - 21 days
BEST TIME OF YEAR: May to September

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

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Highlights of a driving holiday from Brisbane to Cairns

Heading North

  • Brisbane is a great base to start or finish many other popular shorter and longer camper road trips. Both the Sunshine and Gold Coast, including the hinterlands are popular with those who only have a few days.
  • Australia Zoo, a very popular attraction made famous by Steven Irwin (aka the Crocodile Hunter).
  • Glass House Mountains – these are large remnants of volcanic peaks that are quite stunning against an otherwise flat landscape and can be seen from the Bruce Highway, heading back to Brisbane.
  • Enjoy the coastal drive from Caloundra to Noosa if you have time, through many popular seaside towns and past long golden beaches – plenty of campgrounds along this section. These can be busy during popular times like school holidays and Christmas.
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  • Noosa, at the northern end of the Sunshine Coast offers everything from boutique shopping and exquisite cuisine to picnics on the beach. Also enjoy the nearby Noosa National Park situated on Noosa’s headland. It is full of great walks and wildlife.
  • Hervey Bay is one of the locations where you can take a day tour to Fraser Island. A great way, when on a limited time frame, to experience World Heritage listed Fraser Island (the largest sand island in the world) is on a 4WD day tour. You can see all the main highlights like the stunning Lake Mackenzie, enjoy a rainforest walk, see the spectacular and colourful sand dunes and even go for a couple of swims. There’s a variety of different day tours available, and these can also be taken further south from Rainbow Beach if you have more time to head out to this beautiful seaside community.
  • Bundaberg – another pretty detour off the Bruce Highway. Bundaberg has attractions which are popular like finding out more about ‘Bundy Rum’ or ‘Bundaberg Ginger Beer’, which are both very popular drinks in Australia. Head out to Bargara on the coast for more enjoyable scenery.
  • Agnes Waters and The Town Of 1770 are a worthy detour from the Bruce Highway. Agnes Waters boast Queensland’s most northern surf beach while 5kms away you’ll find the laid back relaxed community of 1770. Enjoy 'the Larc' while in 1770, which is an amphibious vehicle that drives up the coastline of Bustard Bay to the isolated Bustard Head Lighthouse – the first lighthouse to be built in Queensland.
  • Rockhampton spans the Tropic Of Capricorn and is the self proclaimed “beef capital” of Australia.
  • Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays, which are stunning islands with long white beaches. Enjoy bush walks in The Conway Range behind Airlie Beach. The majority of the tours to the Whitsunday Islands leave from Shute Harbour, near Airlie Beach. You’ll find markets on Saturday morning at Airlie Beach.
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  • Bowen – snorkel at Horseshoe Bay. Get some excellent views over the Whitsunday Islands from driving up Flagstaff Hill. Enjoy the murals in town and the memorabilia from the move ‘Australia’ which was filmed here.
  • Townsville has a nice esplanade, good for a picnic and walk. Drive up Castle Hill for some amazing views over the city and out to Magnetic Island. If you have time, take a day trip out to Magnetic Island, via ferry (leave your Motorhome Hire on the mainland).
  • Mission Beach, a beautiful coastal village surrounded by rainforest and coastal farmland – keep your peepers peeled for a cassowary sighting.
  • Cairns is very easy to navigate around and is the ideal starting point for many different trips. For example you could head north to Port Douglas, the Daintree and Cape Tribulation (sealed road) or you could travel west up into the Atherton Tablelands and over into the outback after visiting the Undara Lava Tubes. There is also a lot to see and experience around Cairns, like visiting the Great Barrier Reef and the Kuranda Sky Rail amongst other attractions.

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 from Brisbane to Cairns.

Brisbane to Cairns 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 which direction you travel this route; it is more important you consider the time of the year. If you’re starting early in the ‘dry season’, for example in May, it is better to go from the Brisbane to Cairns direction, and vice versa if later in the season.
  • As the coastline is far more populated than other popular routes in Australia, you’ll find there is not as much ‘freedom camping’ as inland or other routes. If you are wanting to mix up your travels with nights off power, consider national parks (book online prior to arrival) or heading inland a little.

We’d recommend a minimum of 14 days for this trip, but it's not unusual for our retired clients to take a minimum of 21 – 28 days to experience this route. The coastal route is also popular to include as part of exploring inland Queensland to create a circuit back to Brisbane for example

  • You’ll find helpful information centres along your route, and it is worth booking your campsites in advance if you know where you are planning to stay each evening. The coastal area can be quite busy, particularly through school holidays and in June – August as the ‘grey nomads’ head north from the cooler southern states for the winter months. Around northern beaches and Cairns in particular, the area can be very busy. If you are planning to ‘wing it’ then factor in a bit of flexibility with your itinerary and consider staying just off the coast if it’s a popular time to travel.
  • 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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  • It is possible to drive to Cooktown on a sealed road, however the road from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown (the Bloomfield Track) is 4WD only, and not suitable for the 2WD motorhomes.
  • You’ll find a really interesting array of wildlife on this route such as kangaroos, wallabies, crocodiles, cassowaries and other interesting birdlife, sea turtles, humpback whales (May – Sept) and maybe even a dingo.

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