Brisbane to Cairns road trip: Long and short itineraries | Finder

Brisbane to Cairns road trip itineraries

2, 3 and 7-day itineraries that capture the hottest spots along the Queensland coast.

View of the Elevated roadway at Geoffrey Bay,Magnetic Island,Queensland,Australia

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Road tripping from Brisbane to Cairns means you'll pass by some of the country's most beautiful forest-to-sea landscapes.

We've designed both short and long road trip itineraries that include all the most important stops. They come complete with all the must-see spots and must-do activities and how to get to them. All you have to do is get in your car and go.

Brisbane to Cairns roadtrip overview

  • What is the distance from Brisbane to Cairns? By road, the driving distance is 1,681km
  • How long does it take to drive from Brisbane to Cairns? 19.5 hours non-stop. This is along the Bruce Highway and uses toll roads. We recommend spending at least 3 days on this drive to have time to explore and take breaks.
  • Where should I stop on a Brisbane to Cairns road trip? Sunshine Coast, Fraser Island, Rockhampton, Airlie Beach/the Whitsundays, Townsville and Magnetic Island.
  • When's the best time to do the drive? This drive is good year-round. However, unless you have good air con, we recommend avoiding summer, as the hot and humid weather can be unpleasant to drive in.
  • Is the drive safe? Yes, this is a highly popular route featuring well-maintained main roads. In national parks and rural areas you may encouter wildlife. If you're hiring a car, make sure you're covered just in case.

2-day Brisbane to Cairns drive

Point to point, the journey from Brisbane up to Cairns is around 19.5 hours long. This makes a two-day drive possible, as long as you have a few breaks or multiple drivers, but it does mean you won't be able to really get into any activities along the way.

To break the trip up fairly evenly, we recommend spending the night at either Rockhampton or Mackay.

The good news is that the quickest way up is also a scenic one along the coastal Bruce Highway.

A June 2013 photo of a dirt road running through a beef cattle ranch near Yeppoon, Central Queensland, Australia. The afternoon winter light enhances the beauty of this cluster of eucalyptus trees. Most secondary roads in Central Queensland are dirt roads servicing the beef cattle industry.

2-day Brisbane to Cairns itinerary

  • Distance: 1,685km
  • Route: Brisbane-Mackay-Cairns
  • Highlights: The Sunshine Coast, Airlie Beach, Mackay and Townsville
  • Stay at: Rydges Mackay Suites, Mackay

Day 1

  • Distance: 950km
  • Drive time: 11 hours

Brisbane to Mackay

  • Start early and drive along the Bruce Highway A1.
  • Make a breakfast stop at the Sunshine Coast for views, or at the historic town of Gympie.
  • Keep driving north and have lunch in Rockhampton or Gladstone.
  • Call it a night in Mackay at the Rydges Mackay Suites.

Aerial view of the Sunshine Coast.


Day 2

  • Distance: 735km
  • Drive time: 8 hours, 15 minutes

Mackay to Cairns

  • Head north, stopping at Airlie Beach for brekky, with a view of the Whitsundays.
  • Continue along the A1 to Townsville, where you can drive up Castle Hill to lookout points over the city and Magnetic Island.
  • Stay in Townsville for lunch, or drop in at any number of the small towns along the way, such as Ingham or Mission Beach, for a feed.
  • Complete your drive to Cairns.

Photo Taken In Airlie Beach, Australia


3-day Brisbane to Cairns drive

With a total of 19.5 hours to drive, you'll be spending at least 6 hours on the road per day. Start each day off early and you'll have plenty of opportunities to check out the state's beautiful beaches, islands and forest trails.

Palm trees lining a sandy beach with a sun star burst

3-day Brisbane to Cairns itinerary

Day 1

  • Distance: 477km
  • Drive time: 5.5 hours

Brisbane to Agnes Water

  • Drive along the Bruce Highway A1, taking a break at the Sunshine Coast for breakfast or lunch on the beach. Or, if you're more active, drive to Noosa Springs National Park for a short hike or to check out its viewpoints.
  • Continue driving north to Agnes Water and the Town of 1770. If the sun is still high, tour the water by kayak or boat.
  • Spend the night in Agnes Water at Agnes Water Beach Holidays or on the Coral Coast at The Point.

Photo taken in Agnes Water, Australia


Day 2

  • Distance: 706km
  • Drive time: 8 hours

Agnes Water to Airlie Beach

  • Continue driving along the Bruce Highway and stop in Yeppoon for a feast of fresh seafood. Get in early enough and you can also add a quick snorkel, hike or surf to your day.
  • Continue along the A1 to Airlie Beach, with a rest in Serina or Mackay when you need to.
  • Finish the day at Airlie Beach and check out its buzzing promenade.
  • Stay at Colonial Palms Motor Inn.

Photo Taken In Airlie Beach, Australia


Day 3

  • Distance: 622km
  • Drive time: 7 hours, 11 minutes

Airlie Beach to Cairns

  • Hoping to pop by the Whitsundays? From Airlie Beach, you catch an early ferry to Daydream Island or Hamilton Island to explore. The earliest ferry is at 7:55am and takes around 1 hour to Daydream Island and 1.5 hours to Hamilton Island.
  • When back in Airlie Beach, drive up to Cairns. Good stopping points include Ayr, Townsville and Tully.

Whitsunday Coast with blue skies.


7-day Brisbane to Cairns drive

For a much more relaxed road trip, take a week off to see the best that this part of Queensland's coast has to offer. You'll get to enjoy beach after beach and island after island with only a couple of hour's driving time per day.

Aerial view of Lake Mckenzie, Fraser Island, Queensland, Australia

7-day Brisbane to Cairns itinerary

Day 1

  • Distance: 140km
  • Drive time: 2 hours

Brisbane to Noosa

  • Depart from Brisbane and make your way to Australia Zoo on the way to Noosa Heads.
  • Arrive in Noosa by midday to spend the afternoon exploring Noosa National Park and Main Beach, either surfing or relaxing.
  • Stay in Noosa overnight at Seahaven Noosa Resort.

Photo Taken In Noosa Heads, Australia


Day 2

  • Distance: 0km
  • Drive time: 0 hours

Noosa to Fraser Island

  • Take a day trip to Fraser Island from Noosa.
  • If you have a car that can handle the driving conditions on Fraser Island, stop by sites such as Lake McKenzie, Maheno Shipwreck and Eli Creek.
  • Spend a second night in Noosa, or at Orchid Beach Retreat if you're staying on Fraser Island.

Fraser Island on a sunny say from the sky.


Day 3

  • Distance: 377km
  • Drive time: 4 hours, 20 minutes

Fraser Island to Agnes Water

  • Make the drive from Noosa or Rainbow Beach to Agnes Water for a half-day in the small town.
  • Spend time on the beach, take a Larc Cruise and watch the sunset from Bustard Bay Lookout.
  • Spend the night in Agnes Water at Agnes Water Beach Holidays.

Photo taken in Agnes Water, Australia


Day 4

  • Distance: 706km
  • Drive time: 7 hours, 45 minutes

Agnes Water to Airlie Beach

  • Get going early for the long drive to Airlie Beach.
  • In the evening, check out the Lagoon and explore the town for dinner.
  • Spend two nights in Airlie Beach at Sea Star Apartments.

Photo Taken In Airlie Beach, Australia


Day 5

  • Distance: 0km
  • Drive time: 0 hours

Airlie Beach to Whitsunday Islands

Whitsunday Coast with blue skies.


Day 6

  • Distance: 690km
  • Drive time: 8 hours, 25 minutes

Airlie Beach to Cairns via Atherton Tablelands

  • On your way to Cairns, make a slight detour to the Atherton Tablelands for stops at Ellinjaa and Millaa Millaa Waterfalls and the Curtain Fig Tree.
  • Continue on to Cairns.

Ellinjaa Falls, Atherton Tablelands, Queensland, Australia


Day 7

  • Distance: 0km
  • Drive time: 0 hours

Cairns

Girl walking amongst a palm tree plantation in Cairns, Australia


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