Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip
Mention the words Road Trip in a country the size of Australia and some people will cringe in horror. The long distances between towns can turn travellers off. But it shouldn’t, as there are so many places and lots to do and see, I feel the biggest thing travellers do incorrectly when planning a road trip is they don’t allow enough time. Being rushed isn’t going to add to the enjoyment. If you are on a tight schedule, fly to a central point and drive out to the locations you most want to see.
This article is going to focus on Brisbane to Cairns via the coast road (Pacific Hwy). So firstly you will need to decide how long your trip is going to be and that will determine the length of time you will have in any one place. I am going to stick mostly to the coast but there are many fabulous places to see on the inland roads.
Depart Brisbane:- The easiest exit route is the gateway motorway north. If you’re starting point is south of the Brisbane River there is a toll to get North and there are no toll booths, so you will need to arrange for a pass or if you do go through the toll you have 3 days to call the transport administration and arrange payment via your credit card. The motorway will then merge into the Bruce Highway which will take you the rest of your trip.
The roads are reasonable good but there are several road works around so don’t be impatient, keep to the speed limits indicated and be sure to stop if you are feeling fatigued. The RACQ is a good reference for road conditions in Queensland. Queensland is very hot in summer so have the air conditioning working, plenty of water to drink and some health snacks. If you are travelling with children make sure you have everything you need to make their trip as pleasurable as you can. It will impact on your holiday. Use this link for handy information on travelling with children.
Sunshine Coast: The Sunshine coast stretches from Caloundra to Noosa and there are many beautiful beaches in between. The sunny coast is not as commercialised as the Gold Coast but the outdoor activity is similar. Surfing, boating, swimming, skiing or anything related to the water is here for your enjoyment. The accommodation ranges from budget camping, cabins, family hotels and 4 and 5 star resorts. There are theme parks for the kids and the young at heart, plenty of shopping for the shopaholics, department stores, boutiques and tailors bring it on and take your credit cards. Some places you should probably not miss:- Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo at Landsborough, Noosa National Park, Buderim’s Ginger factory and Underwater World at Mooloolaba.
Gympie:- Not much to see here however it is a quaint little town once known as the town that saved Queensland from bankruptcy. Gold was discovered here in 1867 and at that time Queensland was in drought and the wool prices had fallen dramatically, leaving the state in a bad way. There are some lovely parks and small historical buildings to see. A quick stop over here might be nice. Once a year the County Music Muster is held here and attracts many thousands of visitors.
Maryborough:- On the Mary River, normally heading north one would not go through this town as the highway bypasses the town and does cut quite a bit of time off the journey north. This town was once a busy immigration port but nowadays is popular with retirees.
Childers:- The highway takes you through this town which is a National Trust registered town and a centre for agriculture. The main street offers the traveller a few convenience stores, cafe` and a couple of the good Aussie pubs that serve up counter meals at reasonable prices. Childers is popular with backpackers because they can always get work here on the produce farms. Many will remember the terrible fire that occurred in the main street backpackers hostel in which several young people lost their lives.
If you were to look at a map of Queensland you would probably be saying hey, you have missed a few towns. Well yes, because the main highway does not go directly up the coast. However, if you have time, turn right and make the trip to the coast to Hervey Bay and Bundaberg.
Hervey Bay (On the Coast and off the highway)
Great town and busy most of the year with tourists visiting to see the whales. Whale watching tours run all day from dawn to sunset and you will be guaranteed to see the magnificent humpback whales. Tours include sight seeing and lunch on the day cruises, morning or afternoon tea on the half day cruises. Prices vary quite a bit, so get online to compare and save. There are plenty of beach front restaurants, cafe`s or parks for a picnic or some fish and chips, and the fish is very fresh from the fish markets here. Plenty of accommodation here so visit your favourite website and compare. (I like wot if or roamfree).
Bundaberg:- Called the sugar town, as this entire area is surrounded by sugar cane farms. The Burnett River runs through the middle of the town and the many heritage buildings make this a very appealing town for the visitor.
The town is most famous for Bundaberg Rum and the Bundy Bear, which most Aussie’s will know. The distillery opened 110years ago and has never looked back. Tours are available daily and even if you do not drink, it is fascinating to see how the rum is produced.
Mon Repos Beach is 15 kms east of the city and has the largest colony of nesting marine turtles on the eastern Australian mainland. Nesting turtles are best viewed after dark 1 or 2 hours after the high tide from November to February. The visitors centre will issue you tickets to the area but turtles nest and eggs hatch at any time, so you may not see this event. Ask the locals to get the best information.
This has been a nice little diversion, but let’s get back to the Highway
GinGin:- This very small town is known to have had some of the earliest cattle stations in Queensland and is now today still rich with pastoral and produce farms. There is a small museum here but a quick stop is all you will need.
Calliope:- Gold was once mined here, but never in a big way. The town has an historical village which is opened to the public, but really, the town benefits from its neighbour, Gladstone.
Gladstone:- This Central Queensland town has one of the most beautiful deep water ports on the Eastern seaboard. It is set in a resort setting with manicured lawns, facilities for the yachting community (shops, laundry, internet facilities etc) and the university has a campus here which is very active in the cultural scene. Just about the entire community is involved with the mining industry and you could easily spend a couple of days here looking around the mines and loading docks. The fishing fleet is based here so it is great for a fish meal. A little out of town you will also find a hidden treasure, the Gecko Valley Winery, a lovely spot in the hinterland where you can sample the produce and have a delightful lunch. On the way to or from Gecko Valley you will pass the Tondoon Botanic Gardens. This is an excellent place to sit and enjoy the bushland and if you are travelling with children they will love the open spaces.
Now the trip is going pretty well and you have been very conscientious with your diet. Well that all stops here as all the fast food outlets are in Gladstone, Mac Donald’s, KFC and, Eagle boys pizza. If you are looking for something that’s not fast food, but not a fancy restaurant, try the yacht Club down by the marina. The food is great, well priced and the view is the best in town.
Rockhampton:- Is known as the Beef Capital of Australia and it is said you will get the best steaks here. Visitors will be greeted by the very large statues of cattle in the streets, “very novel”. You can easily spend a few days in Rockhampton and the surrounding area. The town itself sits on the Fitzroy River and had its origin as a shipping port for produce and coal. Once paddle steamers travelled up and down the river, but sadly they have long gone.
Most travellers miss a few very important places here. Firstly the Rockhampton Zoo, which is remarkably good and is a very pleasant way to spend the day, whether you are 6 or 60. If you are lucky enough to be there for the feeding of the apes, it will bring a smile to your face. The animal attendants are not performers but the antics with the apes are well worth the wait.
Just out of town to the north are the Capricorn Caves. These spectacular caves are a unique system of above ground limestone caves. They were discovered in 1882 by John Olsen. Tours through the caves are available daily, do not miss this attraction. The Caves offer a great caravan park or cabin accommodation which is very reasonably priced and very much 4 – 5 star.
Rockhampton-ites have their own piece of paradise just 30minutes east of town on the coast. Yeppoon, with views of Great Keppel Island is part of the Great Barrier Reef. Ferry trips to the island are available daily and there is great accommodation on the island if you want to experience one of the most underrated islands of the reef. The island offers all the usual water sports and some great snorkelling in the crystal clear water.
There are a few small towns between Rockhampton and Mackay, but you will not find a lot to do there. They are great for a driver reviver stops or to refuel both the car and the family. Rest stops along the road are clearly marked. The drive between Rockhampton and Mackay has a bit of a reputation. This road claims a few travellers each year and it could well be that the 281kms is boring scenery. So take it easy and make sure you stick to the speed limits and take breaks when you need to.
Mackay:- The Sugar Capital. This very large regional city has a population of nearly 100,000 and is probably one of the most prosperous regional cities in the country. It has diversified the crop production over recent years but there is still an endless vista of cane fields and with its busy bulk handling terminal at the port, it is clearly the sugar centre of Australia. The boating here is second to none and the harbour is experiencing rapid growth with new marinas making it a popular destination with the boating community. In the hinterland of the Mackay region is Blair Althol and Peak Downs where you can visit a working coal mine or maybe fossick for gold in one of the creeks. The range of accommodation here is anything from backpackers, farm stays, camping or hotel/motel, everything to suit your budget or adventurous spirit. Once you reach this part of the Queensland coast the gardens become more tropical, so the parks are lush and provide a pleasant retreat from the road travel. Don’t hurry! Stop to smell the roses or orchids in this case.
Now off to the place most tourists want to visit
Proserpine:- The turn off for the Whitsunday Passage and Airlie Beach
The town is dominated by the sugar industry and sugar mill. So, off the highway again to visit the playground of the rich and famous and the not so rich and famous. “Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays” Every year hundreds of thousands of visitors come here to play in and on the ocean. Unless you are backpacking the prices can get a bit on the high side, especially during the high seasons from March to October. From Airlie Beach and Shut Harbour daily boat cruises take visitors to the many islands of the Whitsundays. The snorkelling or diving here is some of the best in the world. The water is clear, warm and fairly protected from rough weather by the reef. There are far too many island locations to mention in this article, but use this link to check out what this area has in store for you. http://www.whitsundaytourism.com/
Back to the Bruce Highway
Bowen:- Most people would just drive right through Bowen and never think to stop. I know that I have in the past. However it is a lovely town and there are some beautiful places to check out. It has a good marina and a great Yacht Club. If you are into fishing it doesn’t get much better. So be sure to pack the tackle. The Bowen area is renowned for growing tomatoes and of course Bowen Mangoes. Most drivers will not even know that they drive past the Bowen Salt Works on the way into town. This salt works was set up in 1925 and produces around 250 thousand tonnes per annum and is well worth a stop to see. Bowen also has the Bowen Coke works, but this has nothing to do with the drink Coke. The Coke Works processes approximately 45,000 tonnes of metallurgical coke each year from Collinsville and transports it to Mt Isa after processing.
Bowen has many small but beautiful beaches and the nice thing is, not too many people know about them. So you could well be the only visitors there. The town itself isn’t all that big but does have a good variety of accommodation and restaurants. There are also heritage buildings to visit and the Bowen information centre is a good place to start.
Home Hill and Aye:- Ask most Australians and they will not be able to tell you where these two towns are. However, if you did your social studies in school, you may remember. They are called the twin towns of the north and are on either side of the Burdekin River delta, surrounded by very fertile soil. The main crops are sugar cane and rice and you can visit the rice and sugar mills, but you will not need long here.
Townsville:- You have arrived back in civilisation. Townsville is a big town and you should plan a few days here at least. You can restock supplies and do some retail therapy and have your vehicle checked over if need be. The town was built on the establishment of coffee, cotton and sugar. The discovery of gold in nearby Charters Towers and Ravenswood did wonders to the rapid development of Townsville. It has heavy industry around its port along with the tourism sector for boating trips out to the reef and in particular Magnetic Island, just a short ride from the marina. If you can organise the time and money, a night or two on the island is interesting. It’s a nice drive around the island, so if you are taking the passenger ferry you can hire a vehicle (mini moke) on the island and feel the wind in your hair. The beaches on Magnetic are beautiful and a visit to the old forts left over from the Second World War will be a buzz.
To get an overall view of Townsville and the surrounding area drive up Castle Hill, which looks over the town. There are museums, botanical gardens, and the casino is always a draw card for tourists “The Strand” is a prominent promenade providing entertainment, restaurants, picnic grounds and playgrounds for the kids. The highlight here is the rock pool, which provides a safe swimming area. Remember you are in the far north now and should always be aware of stingers in the summer months and crocodiles in remote areas.
With your destination in sight, (almost), you may not want to stop in any of the smaller towns that you will be driving through, Ingham, Cardwell, Innisfail and Babinda. These towns are pleasant country towns and provide a nice stop over for lunch, or simply a rest stop. The drive from Townsville to Cairns is 345kms and the road conditions are good. So a nice easy morning will have you in the unofficial capital of the north.
Cairns:- So here you are in Cairns, having driven around 1770kms, depending how many side roads you took. Cairns is a Mecca for tourists who come to play in the north and the town is big, so you will find everything here you could possibly want. Shops, restaurants, cinema’s, theatre, museums, beaches, cable car rides over the rainforest, nature walks, boating tours, diving, snorkelling and fishing. The list is never ending. So plan a well deserved rest here after that drive up but don’t forget you have the whole thing to do in reverse, unless you have been clever enough to hire a car, drive it one way and fly back.
Tips on a successful road trip.
Prepare the car (if it’s your own) or better still hire one and let someone else do the servicing
Get a map and plan the places you want to see
If travelling with children, plan rest stops frequently, they need more stops than adults
Take plenty of water in the car with you
Take healthy snacks
Take your favourite CD’s (there are a few spots where radio reception isn’t good)
Know your car. How many kms do you get from a tank of fuel?
Get online to the RACQ and check the road conditions
Road trip from Brisbane to Cairns via the coast road Brisbane car rental site. We also have great car hire rates across Australia and New Zealand. http://www.webbcarr.com
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