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Where To Stop On a Road Trip From Gold Coast to Cairns

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The drive from the Gold Coast to Cairns, along the gorgeous coast of Queensland, is the perfect road trip for outdoor 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 enroute. 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!

Gold Coast

Gold Coast. 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. Start your Cairns road trip from the Gold Coast with a day at one of its fantastic beaches, from Burleigh Heads Beach to Surfers Paradise Beach and Coolangatta Beach.

Don’t miss:

  • 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. 

Driving time to Cairns: approximately 20 hours

Brisbane

Brisbane. 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.

Don’t miss:

  • 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.

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 19 hours

Sunshine Coast

Noosa Beach. 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 lush hinterland.

Don’t miss:

  • Noosa: the beloved gem of the Sunshine Coast is renowned for its laidback lifestyle, 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!

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 18 hours

Hervey Bay

Hervey Bay. 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 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.

Don’t miss:

  • 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.

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 16 hours

Yeppoon

Yeppoon. 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.

Don’t miss: 

  • Yeppoon Main Beach: a favourite with locals and visitors alike, relax for a day at this peaceful beach and make 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.

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 12 hours

Airlie Beach

Airlie Beach. 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 is also the gateway to the incredible Whitsundays.

Don’t miss:

  • 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.

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 7 hours

Mission Beach

Mission Beach. 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.

Don’t miss: 

  • 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 Australian rainforest.

Driving time remaining to Cairns: approximately 2 hours

Cairns

Kuranda Scenic Railway. 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.

Don’t miss:

  • 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.

Hero image: Gold Coast skyline. Credit: Iain | CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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