Itinerary from Cairns to Brisbane along the Pacific Coast

by Tanja

If you’re looking for an inspiration for the trip of a lifetime, pack your bags and head to the Australian East Coast! The Pacific Coast connecting Cairns to Brisbane will be the realisation of all your travel dreams. Will and I spent 2 weeks exploring the Pacific Coast from the tropical rainforests to the most pristine beaches. If you are planning a trip from Cairns to Brisbane (or vice versa), this 2-week itinerary on the road will give you an idea of ​​the best things to do and the best places to stop along the way. I hope this post will help you planning your road trip on the East Coast of Australia!



DAYS 1-3: Cairns

The small tropical town of Cairns is the perfect place to be if you want to explore ancient tropical forests, hippie villages, waterfalls and the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world that can be admired in all its beauty with a short scenic flight. The kind of experience that you cannot miss! 

Another thing to do while you are in Cairns is a day trip to Green Island. This ancient coral atoll – more than 6,000 years old – is home to more than 120 species of native plants, colourful birds and marine wildlife, as well as many corals.

An hour’s drive north of Cairns, along one of the most Scenic coastal roads of Australia, you will find Port Douglas and the beautiful Four Mile Beach, fully surrounded by palm trees. If you are travelling between June and July do not miss the opportunity to swim with whales, while in November you can witness the spectacular corals’ reproduction.

Itinerario da Cairns a Brisbane

Port Douglas

A little further north there is a wild and remote corner of land, home to the oldest tropical rainforest on the planet: the Daintree National Park (its beauty inspired the movie Avatar). In this dense vegetation hides the Casuario, a large primordial bird unable to fly, classified as a direct descendant of the dinosaurs.

Itinerario da Cairns a Brisbane

Daintree National Park

Not to be missed inside the park: Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef, the silver sand of Cape Kimberly and the zip-line experience between the trees of the rainforest. The park can be explored independently or with a day tour departing from Cairns.

If you don’t want to adventure so far north, along the Barron River you can visit the village of Kuranda.The journey to reach this mountain village is as spectacular as the destination. The inhabitants – a hippie community – sells aboriginal artifacts, handicrafts, creations in wood and leather, tropical fruits, organic and Km 0 food at the Kuranda Market (open daily). While here enjoy some live music, street artists and the fortune tellers. You can reach the village using the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway and return to Cairns with the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which crosses historic bridges, dense rainforest, waterfalls and the Barron Gorge.

DAY 4: Mission Beach & Magnetic Island

A two-hour drive south of Cairns you will reach Mission Beach, the best access point to the Great Barrier Reef which is only about an hour boat ride from here. The Coral Sea here is calm – ideal for who, like me, feel seasick – and perfect for snorkelling or diving day trip. Further south there is Magnetic Island, reachable in 20 mins via catamaran from Townsville. This little paradise, surrounded by the Great Barrier Reef, is a mix of hidden beaches, unspoiled nature and wildlife, including a koala population. Travel tip: to spot koalas and have a 360-degree panoramic view of the island follow the Forts Walk.

Try the skydive over the Great Barrier Reef!!

Itinerario da Cairns a Brisbane

Mission Beach

DAYS 5-7: Airlie Beach & Whitsunday Islands

The journey continues south, across 500 kilometers of mango trees and sugar cane plantations to reach Airlie Beach, the gateway to the 74 Whitsunday Islands. There are many ways to visit them: some islands are just perfect to camp on the beach, others feature super expensive luxury resorts. We stayed in Airlie Beach only a couple of days and we chose to see the Whitsunday Islands from the window of the small airplane that took us on a scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef, the Heart Reef and the beautiful Whitehaven Beach (book a panoramic flight here!). The day after we returned to this white sandy beach on a boat trip (to book the boat trip click here!). It was one of the most exciting parts of our road trip on the East Coast of Australia!!


DAYS 8 – 9: Bundaberg

I always loved sea turtles! In Bundaberg you can witness two unique events: the turtles laying the eggs and the turtles hatching. During our trip we were lucky enough to witness a big turtle laying her eggs, it was magical! To experience this moment, contact the Mon Repos Turtle Centre or go to the Bundaberg Visitor Center and book an evening tour with the rangers. They bring small groups of visitors to the nesting sites and tell a lot of informative facts about the life and habits of these beautiful animals.

Itinerario da Cairns a Brisbane

Mon Repos Turtle Centre

When and where to see the turtles:
November – January: the turtles come ashore to nest in Mon Repos
January – March: the turtles take their first steps towards the shore at Mon Repos
• All year round: you can swim with the sea turtles at Lady Elliot Island!

DAYS 10 – 12: Hervey Bay & Fraser Island

After the sea turtles, do not miss the passage of the whales that slowly go up the coast every year. Hervey Bay is the capital of Australian whale-watching and the best time to observe the whales goes from the end of July to the beginning of November. From Hervey Bay – as well as from Rainbow Beach – you can also take the ferry to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, declared a World Heritage. To visit the island you must rent a 4×4 vehicle or join one of the many organized tours that take you to the most beautiful sites such as Lake McKenzie. Camping is permitted on the island, but you will also find hotels and resorts.


DAY 13: Rainbow Beach

Rainbow Beach is a riot of colors. The cliff fades from yellow to green, with white and red streaks. The sea goes from turquoise to intense blue. The road leading to Rainbow Beach is worth the trip alone. You will drive through the Toolara State Forest, past pine trees and wild horses, until you get to the Great Sandy National Park! To explore the sandy streets of the park you need a 4×4 but don’t worry, you can rent one of them in the village near the beach. Also part of Rainbow Beach is accessible by 4×4, but this drive requires a special permit purchasable online.

Itinerario da Cairns a Brisbane

Rainbow Beach

DAY 14: Brisbane

The capital of Queensland is the last stop on your itinerary from Cairns to Brisbane. The 2-week road trip on the East Coast of Australia is reaching an end. From Brisbane several national and international flights depart also trains to Sydney and other cities leave, in case you want to continue your adventure around Australia! If your journey is not at the end yet check out our full East Coast itinerary with all our top destinations from Brisbane to Sydney!

Have you already visited the East Coast of Australia? Did you like it? Let me know in the comments below! After this itinerary from Cairns to Brisbane our journey continued for another two weeks until we reached Sydney… Read all our posts for more travel inspirations and for more road trips ideas! 

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