The drive from the Gold Coast to Cairns, along the gorgeous coast of Queensland, is the perfect road trip for outdoor or motorhome enthusiasts, families and almost everyone in between. Make regular stops along the way and you’ll have the chance to explore breathtaking beaches, pristine islands, lush rainforests and iconic destinations. 

If you’re planning a road trip for your next holiday in Australia, and love the idea of discovering Queensland as you drive from the Gold Coast to Cairns, then you’ll need to know what you can see, what you can do and where you can stretch your legs en route. We’ve plotted some of the Sunshine State’s best places to stop as you hit the road from the Gold Coast to Cairns. Don’t forget to bookmark these destinations in your GPS!

Best Places To Stop On a Road Trip From Gold Coast to Cairns

  1. Gold Coast
  2. Brisbane
  3. Sunshine Coast
  4. Hervey Bay
  5. Yeppoon
  6. Airlie Beach
  7. Mission Beach
  8. Cairns

1. Gold Coast

Driving time to Cairns: approximately 20 hours

Beach on the Gold Coast with the city in the background, Gold Coast, Australia. Credit: Herry Lawford | CC BY 2.0

The Gold Coast is the second-largest city in Queensland and it’s one of the most popular holiday destinations for Australians. There’s plenty to see and do on the Gold Coast, from a trip to the famous theme parks to enjoying the vibrant nightlife and dining scene, and exploring an abundance of natural beauty. 

Travel to the Gold Coast to start your Cairns road trip and make the most of the day at one of its fantastic beaches, from Burleigh Heads Beach to Surfers Paradise Beach and Coolangatta Beach, or journey out into the wild while completing any of the stunning walks on the Gold Coast shoreline or hinterland.

Things to do on the Gold Coast

  • Theme parks: a day of fun for almost every age group! Head to one, or all, of the famous Gold Coast theme parks, including Dreamworld, Sea World, Warner Brothers Movie World, Wet’n’Wild and Whitewater World. 
  • Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary: home to a number of native Australian species including kangaroos, echidnas and native birds. There’s plenty to see and do across the park, even cuddling a koala!
  • Springbrook National Park: with breathtaking views, lush rainforest, waterfalls and a variety of walking trails, Springbrook National Park shouldn’t be missed if you’re a nature lover.

2. Brisbane

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 19 hours

Skyline of Brisbane city at night, Brisbane, Australia. Credit: Steve Collis | CC BY 2.0

A little more than an hours’ drive north from the Gold Coast, Brisbane makes a natural first stop on your Queensland road trip. As Queensland’s capital city, there’s plenty to see and do in Brisbane. You can visit museums and art galleries, book a cruise of the river, enjoy a swim, or take guided tours around various parts of the city.

Those staying in Brisbane for the night will enjoy the after-hours entertainment as well: from rooftop bars looking over the city to dining spots for every taste, late-night food and artisan markets and even drive-in open cinemas, you’ll have plenty of things to do in Brisbane at night

Things to do in Brisbane

  • South Bank: the premier lifestyle and cultural destination in Brisbane. Explore the parklands, stroll along the Brisbane River and wander around the vibrant cafes, restaurants and bars.
  • Queensland Gallery of Modern Art: a great spot to take in city views and discover a collection of contemporary art and featured exhibitions from Australia, Asia and the Pacific.
  • City Botanic Gardens: with its sculptures and ornamental ponds, this is a great destination for a leisurely stroll and a picnic, allowing you to enjoy the beauty of this part of the Sunshine State.

3. Sunshine Coast

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 18 hours

Noosa Beach, Sunshine Coast, Australia. Credit: bertknot | CC BY-SA 2.0

The Sunshine Coast is made up of more than 100 kilometres of iconic Australian beaches, stretching from Caloundra to Coolangatta. Maroochydore, Noosa, Mooloolaba and Coolum are dream destinations on the Sunshine Coast for those who love spending long days at the beach, browsing markets and hiking in the lush hinterland.

The Sunshine Coast is also home to several wineries and breweries, so if you’re not driving to your next destination until the following day, why not sample some fine wine at the Flame Hill Vineyard or craft beers at the Eumundi Brewery? If you prefer spirits, the Noosa Distillery is the right spot for you.

Things to do on the Sunshine Coast

  • Noosa: the beloved gem of the Sunshine Coast is renowned for its laidback lifestyle, a treasure trove of boutiques, eateries and bars, endless stretches of white sand and turquoise waters.
  • Eumundi Markets: one of Australia’s best weekend markets, you’ll find stalls filled with everything from fresh produce, gourmet food, furniture and homewares to handmade items, unique pieces and fantastic gifts. Be sure to check it out on a Wednesday or Sunday!

4. Hervey Bay

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 16 hours

Whale jumping out of the water, Hervey Bay, Australia. Credit: Michael Dawes | CC BY-NC 2.0

Around two hours’ drive north of the Sunshine Coast is Hervey Bay, a town best known for its spectacular beaches that stretch for nearly 14 kilometres and whale-watching opportunities. There’s plenty to see and do in Hervey Bay, with no shortage of natural beauty and easy access to the UNESCO World Heritage Site-listed Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island.

The perfect pitstop for a reinvigorating dip, Hervey Bay’s calm waters will have you relaxed in no time and you might even get the opportunity to swim among dolphins, turtles and other spectacular animals. Keen to discover more about the bay’s wildlife? Between the Reef World Aquarium And Shark Swim and the eco marine tours available for booking, you’ll learn all there is to know. 

Things to do in Hervey Bay

  • Fraser Island: a 20-minute ferry ride from Hervey Bay, Fraser Island is a true adventure playground, with rainforests to hike, sand dunes for 4WDing and activities for water sports lovers. 
  • Wetside Water Park: this water park has plenty of room for kids to run, slide and swim their way through a number of waterslides and water spouts, and there are shady spots for parents to sit and supervise too.
  • Whale watching: if your Queensland road trip falls between July and November, book a whale-watching cruise to boost your chances of seeing whales swimming along the coastline.

5. Yeppoon

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 12 hours

Yeppoon Main Beach, Yeppoon, Australia. Credit: eGuide Travel | CC BY 2.0

Close to the halfway mark of your road trip from the Gold Coast to Cairns, Yeppoon is a coastal town that boasts a relaxed atmosphere and no shortage of beautiful beaches. Although small, the town has more to do than you might think and it is the perfect destination if you’re looking for a hidden oasis to stop at during your road trip.

Nestled in the Capricorn Coast, Yeppoon is wonderful for surfers, hikers and foodies alike. While you’re there and if you have time, take a day cruise to the Great Keppel Island and explore the unique nature-filled sites, spanning from snorkel coral reefs to secluded beaches and more.

Things to do in Yeppoon

  • Yeppoon Main Beach: a favourite with locals and visitors alike, relax for a day at this peaceful beach and take frequent dips in the turquoise waters. There’s no need to fight for sand space here, as it is much quieter than many other beaches in Queensland. 
  • Wreck Point Scenic Lookout: a good option if you have the time up your sleeve, the lookout offers some incredible views of Yeppoon and the beautiful Capricorn Coast.

6. Airlie Beach

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 7 hours

Airlie Beach Lagoon, Airlie Beach, Australia. Credit: jipe7 | CC BY-ND 2.0

After driving for about five hours along the Pacific Coast Way, take your next well-earned stop at Airlie Beach. This coastal town offers a combination of relaxation and plenty of action and adventure and it is also the gateway for those wanting to explore the incredible Whitsundays.

Popular for its laid-back atmosphere, Airlie Beach has plenty of restaurants for a meal by the shore, as well as markets for some retail therapy. While you’re there, take some time to discover the beautiful waterfalls and tropical rainforest in Conway National Park, only a 35-minute drive away.

Things to do at Airlie Beach

  • Whitsundays: a one-hour ferry ride from Airlie Beach, Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island is one of the most beautiful beaches in Australia, famous for its bright white sands. 
  • Airlie Beach Lagoon: this huge resort-style lagoon pool is located in the centre of Airlie Beach and is perfect for a great day of relaxation and recreation, especially if you want to spend time in the water without venturing too far out of town.

7. Mission Beach

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 2 hours

Mission Beach, Australia. Credit: Marie-Luise Klaus | CC BY-NC 2.0

Mission Beach is a great place to stop before the final leg of your road trip and is only two hours’ drive south of Cairns. It is a favourite holiday destination within Tropical North Queensland, much-loved for its golden beaches and its proximity to both the Great Barrier Reef and the verdant rainforest of the Wet Tropics.

Within Mission Beach, you will find four villages, Bingil Bay, North Mission, Wongaling Beach and South Mission, stretching for 14 kilometres of coast. No matter if you choose to explore one, two or all of these areas, take the opportunity to go for a swim and wander through the gorgeous tropical flora with your camera ready to snap the most stunning photos.

Things to do at Mission Beach

  • Skydiving: for those wanting a thrill, skydiving over Mission Beach is an adrenaline-pumping opportunity to see the sandy stretches, local villages and even some of the Great Barrier Reef from a bird’s eye perspective. 
  • Paronella Park: soak up some beautiful scenery at this heritage-listed site nestled among 13 acres of the Australian rainforest.

8. Cairns

Kuranda Scenic Railway, Cairns, Australia. Credit: Robert Linsdell | CC BY 2.0

You’ve made it! You’ll find ample things to see and do across Cairns, with an esplanade lined with bars and restaurants, as well as a large man-made lagoon in the city centre. Cairns is one of the most popular launching pads for seeing the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest coral reef, and is a great ending point for your Queensland road trip. To explore this extraordinary natural wonder, look to any of the great range of snorkelling and diving tours that depart daily.

Whenever you need to recharge batteries, head to any of the region’s vibrant cafes – we love Caffiend,  The Chambers Cafe and Wharf One. Before making your way back home, be sure to challenge yourself with some water sports or go on a waterfall hunt through the tropical city.

Things to do in Cairns

  • Kuranda Scenic Railway: this historic train winds its way through the rainforest, past waterfalls and steep ravines. The line ends in the town of Kuranda, home to a butterfly park, nature reserves and more.
  • Cairns Esplanade Lagoon: take a dip in this protected saltwater pool, which is patrolled by Life Guards and is flanked by timber decking and grassy knolls perfect for picnics.
  • Skyrail Rainforest Cableway: soar above the heritage-listed rainforests of Barron Gorge National Parks. It also runs from Cairns to Kuranda.

Who doesn’t love a good old road trip, especially when there is so much to be discovered along the way? Driving from the Gold Coast to Cairns is one of the most unforgettable experiences you can have while travelling to Australia and after reading our itinerary, we’re sure you can’t wait to put your seatbelt on and be on your way. Hire a car with Webjet and, if you need to, get your flights to the Gold Coast today!

Looking for more road trip ideas in Australia? Discover eight spots you can drive to from Sydney!

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