The road trip from Brisbane to Cairns is one of the most famous drives in Australia. It takes you on a journey to explore the very best of Queensland’s highlights. From gorgeous white-sand beaches, stunning national parks, tropical rainforests, pristine islands and sleepy surfer towns – this road trip from Brisbane to Cairns ticks all the boxes.

To all the beachgoers, sun worshippers, adventure seekers and nature lovers, this is your playground. Get ready for an epic road trip across one of the most beautiful coastlines in Australia.

road trip brisbane to cairns

Here’s our 14 day Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary

Rent a vehicle

If you don’t yet have a vehicle, hire one in Brisbane. This seems to be a popular option for discovering the highlights of the coast.

You can pick up most rentals straight from the airport upon arrival. Book it in advance to select your ideal vehicle as rentals are gone quickly, particularly during the high season.

If you are renting a car for this Brisbane to Cairns road trip, we recommend using Discover Cars. Choose a comfortable vehicle as the Brisbane to Cairns drive will have you driving quite a few kilometres.

Which vehicle to choose?

A road trip from Brisbane to Cairns (or vice versa) can be done with any vehicle. It’s up to you to decide what kind of vehicle suits your interests and style of travel:

  • motorhome with all the utilities (shower, toilet etc) for travellers looking for comfort and requiring extra space.
  • van, smaller but well organised. 
  • campervan for a little more space and equipment. There are different options to choose from here. Our road trip from Brisbane to Cairns was driven in our Toyota Hiace Hi-top campervan. We purchased our van (we named her Frida) and spent time re-fitting the inside. We LOVE the extra room with the high roof. It means we can both stand up inside and we can cook our meals indoors. This is especially good when the weather is terrible outside. 
  • 4 × 4 with a roof tent for the adventure seekers out there! Those who wish to visit Fraser Island with their own wheels will need this vehicle. A 4WD vehicle is particularly good for people who love bush-camping and exploring the off-the-beaten-tracks roads.

The vehicle you choose is dependent on the above factors combined with your budget, how many people are travelling and how comfortable you’d like to be. 

cheap campervan rental australia

When is the best time for Brisbane to Cairns road trip?

The best time for a road trip from Brisbane to Cairns is during the dry season (May to Oct). However, southern parts of Queensland such as the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane can be visited year-round.

Far North Queensland is tropical and receives massive rainfall and even dangerous cyclones during the wet season (Nov to Apr).

What to Pack?

Backpack vs Suitcase - Packing a suitcase

Packing a suitcase seems easier

You will spend a lot of time in the sun on this road trip from Brisbane to Cairns. No need to overpack, just take the essentials.

Our Ultimate Packing List for Every Traveller should give you a good idea of what you’ll need. 

The Best Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip Itinerary

Our 14-day itinerary will take you to the most popular places to visit between Brisbane to Cairns. We’ve also included some local gems along the way. These places are worth stopping at on your Brisbane to Cairns drive, you’ll see why.

Visit the best surf towns and cities on the coast, gorgeous Fraser Island, the mesmerising Whitsunday Islands, and the world’s largest coral reef.

Day 1: Brisbane to Sunshine Coast

With warm temperatures, all year round, take in the vibrant atmosphere along the South Bank. There are many cool cafes where you can find great coffee or brunch and restaurants serving world-class food.

Stop by for a swim in the outdoor lagoon or catch the free ferry along the river for some great views of the city. In the afternoon, head towards Maroochydore for fish and chips on the beach.

Drive time: 1hr 30min (110km)

Overnight: Maroochydore 

Day 2: Maroochydore to Noosa

Head to the beach early and take a swim at one of the spectacular beaches along the Sunshine Coast. Maroochydore, Alexandra Headlands or Mooloolaba beaches are close together and equally beautiful.

Next, put on your walking shoes and do the Sunshine Coast Scenic Walk. This is a coastal pathway that stretches 4.4km from Cotton Tree park in Maroochydore to the Esplanade in Mooloolaba, and the views are beautiful.

Afterwards, choose from one of the cute beachside cafes and treat yourself to breakfast with a coffee while taking in those warm sea breezes.

brisbane to cairns road trip Noosa

A birds-eye view of the beaches in Noosa

Make your way to Noosa after breakfast. Noosa is a very popular upmarket resort town with lots to do. There are many beaches to choose from, a river which is perfect for kayaking or SUP paddle-boarding, in addition to a National Park that has some amazing walks.

Don’t miss out on a stroll along iconic Hastings St before driving further on your epic Brisbane to Cairns road trip!

Drive time: 45 min (40km)

Overnight: Noosa

Day 3 & 4: Noosa to Fraser Island (via Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach)

Did you know that Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world? It’s the only place on earth where the rainforest grows right out of the sand dunes. This fascinating island is a must-see experience on your Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary.

Hervey Bay is the most popular departure point for trips to Fraser Island. However, you can leave your car (if it’s not 4WD) at Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach and take the ferry to Fraser Island early in the morning. 

Reserve your place on an organised 2-day all-inclusive tour of Fraser island or explore the highlights with your own 4WD or rented 4WD for the trip.

We hear great reviews about rentals from Rainbow Beach 4×4 Hire.

Noosa to Hervey Bay Drive Time: 2 hours (158 km)
Noosa to Rainbow Beach Drive Time: 1 hour 20 mins (102 km) 

Overnight (2 nights): Fraser Island

Day 5: Hervey Bay to Agnes Water & Seventeen Seventy

Agnes Water Beach 1770 Seventeen Seventy

Beach in the town of 1770

Two-and-a-half-hour drive along the coast on your road trip between Brisbane and Cairns, you will arrive at the small, coastal towns of Agnes Water and Seventeen Seventy.

These picturesque communities are built where Captain Cook, in his voyage along the east coast of Australia, moored the Endeavour in 1770 (hence the name of the town).

Drive time:  2 hours 30 min (227 km)

Overnight: Agnes Water or Seventeen Seventy

Day 6: Agnes Water to Yeppoon

This coastal town situated on the southern tip of the Great Barrier Reef is the ideal spot to discover the surrounding area. Many visitors wishing to explore the Capricorn Coast region of Queensland will base themselves here. Yeppoon may be relatively small, but it certainly has tonnes of character and charm.

Known for its tropical climate, beaches, and snorkelling, this is a town you shouldn’t miss between Brisbane to Cairns.

brisbane to cairns road trip yeppoon lagoon

Don’t forget to pin Yeppoon as a stop on your Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip Map.

To ensure you have the best time possible, check out our post on the 15 best things to do in Yeppoon.

If you’re a food lover, you must read our Food Guide for Yeppoon and Capricorn Coast region.

Drive time: 3 hours 10 min (270 km)

Overnight: Yeppoon

Day 7: Yeppoon to Airlie Beach

The next town on your Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary is Airlie Beach. Start early, as you’ve got some ground to cover today. When you do roll into town, check out the views of turquoise blue waters everywhere.

Airlie Beach is the gateway to go and explore the stunning Whitsunday Islands and that’s exactly what we recommend you do here.

Airlie Beach is a busy tourist town in the high season, so we recommend booking accommodation ahead of time.

There is a range of day trips on Viator and overnight stays to the many islands, however, the most famous location is Whitehaven Beach. This is the gorgeous beach that you’ve seen on postcards. You do not want to miss Whitehaven Beach.

Make a reservation for the best day tour of Whitehaven Beach for Day 10 of your Brisbane to Cairns road trip itinerary.

Drive time:  5 hours 30 mins (500 km)

Overnight: Airlie Beach

Day 8 & 9: Whitsundays Reeflsleep Experience

A chance to explore Australia’s Great Barrier Reef on a day trip is a dream, but being able to sleep out there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Trust me, Reeflsleep Whitsundays is a unique experience that you don’t want to miss when visiting the beautiful Whitsundays in Queensland.

This might be the highlight of your Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip.

Read our post on why you need to Reefsleep on the Great Barrier Reef and get in quick! These spots don’t last long, especially during the summer season.

Day 10: Whitehaven Beach

Enjoy your day in paradise! Join this full-day OceanRafting Tour of Whitehaven Beach. Hands down, this is the best tour available.

No Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip is complete without visit to Whitehaven Beach.

Overnight: Airlie Beach

Whitehaven Beach

The stunning Whitehaven Beach

Day 11: Airlie Beach to Mission Beach

Mission Beach has become a haven for adrenaline-seeking travellers, however, the beaches here are gorgeous. Once again, prepare for a long drive day (there are a few big days on Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip) today to reach this paradise.

It’s totally worth it, I promise.  

Drive time:  5 hours 45 mins (505 km)

Overnight: Mission Beach

Day 12: Mission Beach to Atherton Tablelands

Leave the chilled vibes and swaying palm trees of Mission Beach and head inland towards the Atherton Tablelands. Here, the high altitude and volcanic soil are ideal for growing some of Queensland’s best produce.

It’s all about tea plantations, lush green pastures with dairy cows, sugarcane fields and stunning landscapes. 

Although the Tablelands are an ideal culinary destination, it’s also one for exploring. Follow the well-sign-posted waterfall circuit that takes you around the region’s most captivating falls.

This feels like a bit of a detour on your Brisbane to Cairns road trip – but it is so worth it.

Drive time:  1 hour 40 min (139 km)

Overnight: Yungaburra

Day 13 & 14: Yungaburra to Cairns

There is much to see and do in Cairns and the surrounding area and it’s a perfect way to finish your Brisbane to Cairns road trip. 

The stunning Mossman Gorge is 1.5 hours away, just past Port Douglas (a place you should definitely try to visit). The gorge is great for swimming and bushwalking.

Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip - Best 14 day itinerary

Go and check out fresh local fruit, vegetables and seafood at Rusty’s Markets from Friday to Sunday. This is the place to find amazing coffee (Barista Sista is the best) and some delicious street food from one of the many International food vendors.

Cairns has so many amazing places to eat. We even wrote a post about our 12 of the Best Cheap Eats in Cairns.

Don’t miss the Cairns lagoon. It’s located on the esplanade. You’ll be craving a few hours of rest and relaxation in the sun after all that fun from the past 14 days road trip from Brisbane to Cairns.

The World Heritage Daintree Rainforest is a two-hour drive north. Highly recommended to visit here after you’ve completed your Brisbane to Cairns road trip.

Drive time:  1 hour 20 min (67 km)

Overnight: Cairns

CLICK HERE for the best day trips and things to do in Cairns.

If you’ve got the flexibility to extend the duration of your road trip from Brisbane to Cairns, there are many more highlights along the way. Check below for inspiration.

More Travel Tips for Exploring Australia

You might also enjoy reading our 9 Best Tips for the Big Lap Of Australia and the complete guide to Great Keppel Island – Everything you need to know. 

We recommend that you visit Yeppoon and the Capricorn Coast if you head back to the coast. Check out the 15 Best Things To Do in Yeppoon and don’t forget about the food. We’ve got you covered with the best places to eat in Yeppoon.

Our comprehensive itineraries for travelling in Australia include this Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip – the Best 14-day itinerary and our detailed Guide to Camping in Karijini National Park. We’re all about the food too! Don’t miss these 12 best cheap eats in Cairns.

We highly recommend you visit the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands in Queensland; this is a special place! If you’re after a unique experience, these 5 reasons why you need to Reefsleep on the Great Barrier Reef will do it.

If you’re visiting Australia on vacation, these 12 classic Australian foods you must try while you’re here and see if you can visit these iconic 30 Best Big Things in Australia.

For more travel inspiration for Australia, go to the AUSTRALIA Page on our website.

Find all of our best travel tips, advice, and things we use and recommend to travel the world on our Travel Resources Page.

Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance for your Brisbane to Cairns Road Trip

You never know what will happen out there on the road. Travel Insurance is one thing you should always have. We use and recommend World Nomads Travel Insurance for your Brisbane to Cairns road trip. Or for any other travels in Australia.

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Read more about how an eSIMs works or click below to view which eSIM data plan you need for your Aussie adventure. Use our referral code: RACHEL5045 to get $3 off your first purchase!

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