Queensland, with its sun-kissed beaches, pristine rainforests, and vibrant cities, is a veritable paradise for road trippers. What can be better than embarking on a coastal road trip through this gem of an Australian state, topping up your tan, or surfing at some of the best beaches in the world and enjoying seafood so fresh, it's practically dripping with ocean water?
From the bustling streets of the Gold Coast to the tropical city of Cairns and possibly beyond, this 15-day road trip itinerary is your ticket to uncovering the best that Queensland's coastline has to offer.
So, if you are looking for adventure and you've got the time, allow us to provide you with a roadmap for an unforgettable journey along the eastern edge of the Sunshine State.
This two-week itinerary takes you from the Gold Coast all the way up to Cairns in Tropical North Queensland - over 1800 km away. The route goes solely along the Bruce Highway (M1) - which is named after Harry Bruce, a popular former federal and Queensland politician.
Although two weeks might seem like a long time, it barely scratches the surface of what this fantastic state offers in terms of sites, attractions, and activities. In other words, the more time you can devote to exploring Queensland, the better. You'll also need a couple of extra days at the beginning of the trip to spend in the Gold Coast.
You'll obviously need a car to complete this itinerary. Luckily, hire cars are available from most major car rental companies, including Hertz, Budget, Avis, and Enterprise, along with some smaller ones. Most have offices at Brisbane and the Gold Coast airports and many locations in those regions. It's best to best to book a rental car in advance, especially in peak seasons.
While this road trip starts from the dazzling Gold Coast, we are going to assume that you have already spent some time touring around the area. This vibrant region is renowned for its sun-drenched beaches, world-class surfing spots, and lively atmosphere, so there is plenty to see here.
Start from the Coolangatta, the southernmost part of the Gold Coast, where you can soak up the laid-back beach culture, enjoy some quality coffee at one of the area's hipster cafes or take a stunning coastal walk along Point Danger, where you might even see dolphins frolicking below.
As you venture further north, Surfer's Paradise awaits, offering a bustling hub of entertainment, shopping, and dining. Surfer's Paradise Beach is an iconic destination for sun-seekers, and you can ascend the SkyPoint Observation Deck for panoramic views of the city and coastline.
Other beach areas you might want to visit on the Gold Coast before starting your Queensland road trip include Burleigh Heads, Currumbin, Mermaid Beach and Kirra.
The first stop on your coastal road trip should be Brisbane - the dynamic capital of Queensland.
This rapidly evolving city blends a vibrant urban lifestyle with a relaxed, outdoorsy vibe. Here, you'll find various attractions, including the South Bank Parklands, which offer lush green spaces, riverside dining, and cultural events.
For those wanting a spot of culture, the Queensland Museum and Art Gallery provide insight into the state's rich history and artistic endeavours. Elsewhere, the Brisbane Botanic Gardens offer a serene escape.
One of the best ways to take in the beauty of the city's skyline is on the Story Bridge Adventure Climb, while the lively Eagle Street Pier is a fantastic spot for dining by the river.
Additionally, Brisbane has diverse neighbourhoods - from trendy West End to historic New Farm - that provide plenty of dining and entertainment options for every taste.
Stay at the Royal Albert Hotel in the heart of the city.
Heading north from Brisbane, your coastal road trip brings you to the Sunshine Coast, a paradise for nature enthusiasts and beach lovers. This region is renowned for its stunning beaches, lush hinterland, and charming coastal towns.
Noosa Heads, a highlight of the Sunshine Coast, boasts a National Park with pristine trails and captivating coastal views. The town also has one of only two Everglades systems in the world. The other is the famous one in Florida. Whilst in Noosa, take the time to stroll along the iconic Hastings Street for a unique and upscale shopping and fine dining experience.
A little south, the Sunshine Coast hinterland features the Glass House Mountains, providing a perfect backdrop for outdoor adventures like climbing Mt Ngungen. Remember to visit the iconic Australia Zoo, made famous by the late Steve Irwin, where you can get up close and personal with various wildlife, including kangaroos, koalas, and crocodiles.
Stay at the Caribbean Noosa in a self-contained studio close to beaches, shops and restaurants.
A couple of hours up from the Sunshine Coast, you'll find Hervey Bay, a charming destination with a rich natural heritage and a welcoming, laid-back atmosphere. It's most renowned as the 'Whale Watching Capital of the World'. So, if the idea of seeing these magnificent creatures excites you, make sure you schedule a visit here.
Hervey Bay offers visitors the unique opportunity to witness humpback whales during their annual migration, typically from July to November. The stunning K'gari acts as a natural barrier, creating calm and sheltered waters perfect for whale-watching excursions.
Beyond its marine marvels, Hervey Bay boasts a beautiful foreshore, including Urangan Pier and its esplanade, where you can enjoy leisurely walks, fishing, and dining.
Formerly known as Fraser Island, K'gari is a must-visit destination for any Queensland itinerary. Easy to get to from Hervey Bay, this natural wonder is the world's largest sand island and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
As a paradise for nature lovers, it offers an extraordinary combination of white sandy beaches, lush rainforests, and striking freshwater lakes, with Lake McKenzie being a major highlight. You can visit on a day trip from Hervey Bay, but it's well worth spending a day or two there if you have the time.
The island also boasts unique attractions like the Maheno Shipwreck - a haunting reminder of the island's maritime history. The best way to explore and appreciate its beauty is by a 4x4 vehicle or on a guided tour (which you can book from Hervey Bay).
Stay at Fraser Island Beach Houses in a villa near the beach.
On the way to Rockhampton, it's worth popping into Bundaberg - a town with a delightful mix of history, culture, and unique attractions.
This vibrant city is renowned for being the home of the famous Bundaberg Rum Distillery, where you can take an intriguing tour and discover the art of crafting this Australian spirit.
Elsewhere, Mon Repos Conservation Park is a highlight, offering a chance to witness sea turtles nesting and hatching during the nesting season (from November to March).
Rockhampton is just a three-hour drive from Bundaberg. Known as the 'Beef Capital of Australia', it is a city where history, culture, and the rugged Australian outback converge.
This charming city, situated on the Tropic of Capricorn, offers a unique blend of experiences including the state's largest collection of heritage buildings. For those intrigued by geology, the Capricorn Caves are a must-visit destination, featuring intricate limestone formations and guided tours that delve into the geological history of the region.
The Dreamtime Cultural Centre provides insights into Indigenous Australian culture and history, while Kershaw Gardens offers a stoic escape with beautiful landscapes, walking trails, and a unique zoo.
Moreover, as you explore the city, you'll discover its strong connection to the cattle industry, with frequent cattle sales and events showcasing the importance of beef in the region.
Stay at CocoBrew Boutique Apartments for modern, air-conditioned accommodation with patios.
Continuing your coastal adventure, Mackay offers a scintillating blend of tropical beauty and a vibrant arts scene.
Nestled on the eastern coast of Queensland, this city is renowned for its stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and captivating cultural experiences. One of Mackay's standout attractions is the Bluewater Lagoon, a free water park in the heart of the city, perfect for cooling off and relaxation.
The Mackay Botanic Gardens boasts a vast collection of native and exotic plants for those passionate about nature, while Eungella National Park offers a chance to encounter unique Australian wildlife, including platypuses, in their natural habitat.
As the gateway to the world-famous Whitsunday Islands, Airlie Beach is well worth a visit. Located just a two-hour drive from Mackay, this vibrant coastal town - located along the Coral Sea - is a paradise for water sports lovers and anyone seeking a perfect beach escape or a bit of adventure.
Airlie Beach is also an ideal starting point for day trips to the Whitsunday Islands, where you can enjoy pristine beaches, snorkelling, and breathtaking natural beauty - including the world-renowned Whitehaven Beach, which TripAdvisor voted as the best beach in the world a couple of years ago.
Shute Harbour is another must-visit destination, known for its tranquil surroundings and as the starting point for many island excursions. Alternatively, if you just want to chill, the Airlie Beach Lagoon is a popular spot for relaxation and sunbathing, offering stunning views of the azure waters.
Townsville is an up-and-coming city with a relaxed tropical vibe worth checking out before heading further north.
One of the main drawcards is The Strand, a picturesque waterfront promenade offering stunning views of Magnetic Island and the shimmering waters of the Coral Sea. You can also do a tour of the island if you want to see it up close. Additionally, the Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium provides an educational experience about the world's largest coral reef system.
Mission Beach is a tropical haven nestled between lush rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef. It is an idyllic coastal destination that offers a serene and unspoiled environment, so it is a perfect retreat for those who love beaches and nature.
The golden sands of Mission Beach stretch for miles, providing a peaceful setting for sunbathing and swimming. In addition to its pristine beaches, Mission Beach offers easy access to Clump Mountain National Park, where you can embark on scenic rainforest walks and discover abundant unique flora and fauna.
Should you prefer a touch of history and charm, drop on into Paronella Park, a heritage-listed site featuring enchanting gardens, ruins, and a rich historical narrative.
Stay at Mariners North Holiday Apartments near the beach in Townsville.
Your Queensland coastal road trip reaches its pinnacle as you arrive in Cairns, a bustling tropical city situated on the northeastern coast of Australia.
Known as the 'Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef', Cairns offers a dynamic mix of experiences, with the world's largest coral reef system, the Great Barrier Reef, at its doorstep. Whilst here, you can embark on snorkelling or diving excursions to witness the vibrant marine life and stunning coral formations.
The city itself has a lively atmosphere with a charming esplanade, which includes a lagoon swimming pool, bustling night markets, and plenty of beaches within easy driving distance. Elsewhere, you'll find stunning waterfalls and historic towns in the hinterlands, just a short drive from the city.
Stay at Crystalbrook Riley for comfortable rooms and a beautiful pool near the waterfront.
For those with more time on their hands who want to extend their trip beyond Cairns, the remaining parts of Queensland will take you into a very remote territory that contrasts markedly with anything you've previously seen.
Cooktown, a town steeped in history and natural beauty, is a remote outpost perched on the edge of Queensland's tropical north - about 326km from Cairns. The town's past intertwines with the exploration of Captain James Cook, who beached the HMB Endeavour here in 1770. Whilst there, you can delve into this history at the Cooktown History Centre and climb to Grassy Hill Lookout for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
At the same time, the Finch Bay area provides an opportunity to relax on beautiful beaches and soak in the tropical ambience of a place where you'll find very few tourists.
If you did continue further north, the culmination of your epic Queensland coastal road trip would be the outlying wilderness of Cape York. Situated at the northernmost tip of Australia's mainland, over 860 km from Cooktown, this pristine and rugged region offers a truly off-the-beaten-path adventure.
It is a land of ancient landscapes, teeming wildlife, and untouched beauty that is so remote you can go for hours without seeing anyone in some places! Getting there from Cooktown can be arduous and challenging - but it rewards you with the experience of standing at the northernmost point of the continent.
Once you arrive at Cape York, you can take in the vast expanse of the Coral Sea and the Arafura Sea. The surrounding waters also offer excellent opportunities for sailing, fishing, and wildlife encounters - including crocodile spotting. You can also visit fascinating indigenous sites and witness some incredible sunrises and starry skies.