There’s a whole lot of Queensland to discover, but don’t be put off by its impressive size, we’ve got the guide to the best Queensland road trips sorted for you.
1. The Capricorn Coast, Qld
Getting to the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef from Brisbane usually involves a flight. But not always. Yeppoon is the gateway to its southern stretches and while this tropical town on Queensland’s Capricorn Coast can be reached by a full day’s drive via the Bruce Highway, breaking up the journey will turn your road trip into a relaxing holiday sprinkled with gourmet and outdoor experiences.
Stroll the Hervey Bay pier and take a whale-watching cruise (July to November) on the Fraser Coast; explore Bundaberg’s famous distillery and the golden sands of Bargara Beach; and walk the Paperbark Forest Boardwalk at Agnes Water before catching a spectacular sunset at the town of 1770.
Park the car and jump on the Keppel Konnections ferry at Rosslyn Bay, just south of Yeppoon, to overnight at Great Keppel Island Hideaway – a barefoot paradise.
Words by Jennifer Johnston
2. The Great Green Way, Qld
It takes about five hours to drive from Townsville to Cairns (or the other way round), but don’t do that. Missing the chance to linger along this part of the Queensland coast is to miss what’s truly special about the Far North.
I pass through sugar towns, and drink at Queensland pubs where locals still fish and farm for a living. This road’s called The Great Green Way, because it traverses 12 national parks. It’s also the closest mainland access to the Great Barrier Reef – and the area’s World Heritage listed (in a region dubbed the Wet Tropics).
There are places you’d have heard of along the way – like Mission Beach, a 14-kilometre strip of beach fringed by rainforest that’s home to trendy resorts and an eclectic community of creative types (it’s also home to the highest density of endangered southern cassowaries left on the planet). But it’s the places you haven’t heard of that make this drive special.
Drive 20 minutes north of Townsville and there’s wide sandy beaches like Saunders Beach: six kilometres long, with not a soul on it. Or drive 25 minutes north of Mission Beach to Kurrimine Beach where only fishermen live, and swim in rock pools within the Great Barrier Reef, accessible at low tide. And if you’d prefer to see a cassowary with no one else, book a cabin on the beach (Etty Bay Caravan Park) just north of there at a secret spot where the birds come to feed each morning and evening.
Words by Craig Tansley
3. The Great Barrier Reef Drive
Playlist choice is important for this one, because you’re never going to forget this road trip. With mountains to your left plunging into the Coral Sea to your right, the ocean-hugging tarmac between Palm Cove and the eco-certified Port Douglas is unforgettable road real estate.
It’ll only take you about an hour, end to end, but factor in detours to connect with Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owners and plunge into a pool at Mossman Gorge, or sail to Low Isles from Port Douglas to snorkel over coral gardens.
Spot crocodiles as you cross the Daintree River on the car ferry and drive the seam between two World Heritage-listed sites to reach the pinnacle.
At the stunning new-look Silky Oaks Lodge.
Words by Celeste Mitchell
4. Scenic Rim, Qld
You know exactly what you are going to get on a road trip of the Scenic Rim – it’s right there on the packaging.
One drive in particular, from Binna Burra Lodge to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat allows you to experience all its best bits in the one go, from unique luxury digs to stunning scenery to gourmet treats.
It’s easy: head down the mountain from Binna Burra to Canungra along Beechmont Road, stopping for lunch at Canungra Hub Cafe and grabbing some Greenlee Farm macadamias; continue to Sarabah Estate Vineyard for a tasting and some takeaway, then it’s back up the mountain at the other end of the breathtaking Lamington Plateau to O’Reilly’s for the night.
5. The Sunshine Coast, Qld
The Sunshine Coast, on the Traditional Lands of the Kabi Kabi and Jinibara peoples, is one of the best places in Australia to enjoy winter sun. And while most road-trippers are drawn here for its epic surf breaks and beautiful beaches, the Sunshine Coast also extends into the rural hinterland, a brilliant emerald bangle of everglades, valleys and undulating hills. But first, let’s get back to those beaches. If you want to see the Sunny Coast with all its bells and whistles, head to the glamorous seaside town of Noosa.
But if you’re after something altogether more lo-fi, change down a few gears and motor to family-friendly Kings Beach in Caloundra, or Coolum, which promises barefoot boho vibes.
Cruise along the coastline between Caloundra and Noosa, before doing a brief inland loop to Rainbow Beach. Circle your way back through Gympie and the scenic Mary Valley and then retreat to the hinterland to explore a constellation of quaint country towns such as Maleny, Mapleton, Eumundi, Yandina and Nambour.
It takes roughly two hours to drive the 166.8 kilometres from Caloundra to Rainbow Beach and a further 162 kilometres on a return loop through the hinterland.
Words by Carla Grossetti
6. Atherton Tablelands, Qld
I am enjoying a cup of coffee on the polished concrete terrace at Lumholtz Lodge, 93 kilometres from Cairns, when I notice owner Margit Cianelli striding towards us with an enormous tree kangaroo wrapped around her shoulders, its paws propped casually upon her head.
Spotting tree kangaroos in Atherton
We had been hoping the rare tree kangaroo would make a cameo at this off-the-beaten-track property on the Atherton Tablelands, but Nelson works to his own schedule, so to see him is both a surprise and a delight.
“Nobody can make a tree kangaroo do anything it doesn’t want to do. Nelson is a wild animal,” says Margit, who trained as a zookeeper at Wilhelma, a zoological-botanical garden in Stuttgart, before moving to Australia in 1972. The 72-year-old has dedicated the past 50 years to caring for sick and injured wildlife in Tropical North Queensland and is so invested in the Lumholtz tree kangaroo she named the lodge in its honour.
Indigenous names for the unusual marsupial are mabi, muppie and boongary, and the scientific name is Dendrolagus lumholtzi, a nod to Norwegian explorer and naturalist Carl Sofus Lumholtz who discovered the animal in 1883.
Lumholtz Lodge – a rescue shelter
Margit has built an enclosure on her property that is populated with orphaned tree kangaroos, such as Nelson, as well as ringtail possums and ground-dwelling pademelons she has rescued from the pouches of roadkill.
After climbing down Margit’s back, the pendulous macropod regards us with complete indifference before bouncing along the bough of a giant fig tree and using its broader hind feet to reverse into the jungle. It’s a slow and steady exit stage left.
“Tree kangaroos have very big bottoms and a long black tail to help them balance. Although they are very agile, and can bounce along and jump from tree to tree, they have to go backwards on steep sections,” says Margit, who is renowned around the world as an authority on the species.
During a beautiful banquet under a velvety night sky, we learn about Margit’s dedication to increasing awareness about the tree kangaroo and providing a sanctuary for native species. And in the morning we head south-west for 18 kilometres to learn about another grassroots approach to conservation.
The Tolga Bat Hospital
It’s on full show at the Tolga Bat Hospital, where we hear the echolocation calls of microbats, observe the 200-odd resident bats, which include spectacled flying foxes, and learn about the Rescue, Rehab and Release program designed to facilitate a better future for bats.
Wildlife and Botanical Walking Track
Our immersive tour of the Atherton Tablelands continues in Yungaburra, a further 17 kilometres along State Route 52, where we spot platypus from the viewing platform at Peterson Creek and bounce across the suspension bridge at the Wildlife and Botanical Walking Track.
After lunch at Little Eden, it’s a short drive to the Curtain Fig Tree where the branches of a strangler fig have been braided together over about five centuries to form a soaring structure that juts skyward from the forest floor.
Crater Lakes National Park
Lake Barrine, some 10 kilometres away, is another ecological wonderland in the midst of Crater Lakes National Park. The volcanic crater lake is set like a gem in the landscape and encircled with wild rainforest. It’s where you’ll find the monumental twin bull kauri pines, which tower above the tree canopy and are estimated to be about 1000 years old.
Other off-the-beaten-track sites that deserve top billing on the Tablelands include: Mt Hypipamee, a volcanic pipe crater that is more than 70 metres deep; Mungalli Farmhouse Cafe where you can fuel up on the farm’s biodynamic dairy products, including cheeses, milk and ice-cream; and a 17-kilometre waterfall circuit that loops in Ellinjaa Falls, Zillie Falls and Millaa Milla.
Imagine an artist has been careless with their pot of green paint and you will get a visual of the verdant landscape surrounding Nerada Tea Plantation, located on the bony spine of Queensland’s highest mountain range about an hour’s drive from Yungaburra and on the way back down to Cairns via the Gillies Range Road.
As well as being tea territory, the plantation is a wild playground for nature lovers. Stop for tea and treats at the 360-hectare estate and you might also encounter tree kangaroos in the tufted trees all around.
The Atherton Tablelands, inland from my home town of Cairns, is the backdrop of my childhood. Yet after three decades of returning home, I’ve now seen it anew. Visit now, as the region is camera-ready for a close-up.
363 kilometre round trip from Cairns
Words by Carla Grossetti
7. Cairns to Cape York by motorcycle, Qld
This most profound and adventurous immersion into tropical Australia is not beyond anyone with a motorcycle licence, a pinch of off-road riding experience and a hell-yeah attitude. A handful of companies, such as Cape York Motorcycle Adventures, offer fully supported, week-long trips that take riders to untainted wilderness and small settlements that most Aussies will never see (a support truck carries luggage or food). Burble through the Daintree, cruise the streets of Cooktown, and battle the Old Telegraph Track’s mythical ‘Gunshot’ en route to Australia’s extreme north.
When night falls, slump into a camp stretcher next to a roaring fire next to a babbling tropical creek. You’ll earn every kilometre, through sand and water crossings, but don’t worry, the guides can tailor the route to your ability, and the pay-off and stories last a lifetime.
1800 kilometres (route dependent)
8. Port Douglas to Coolangatta on The Electric Super Highway, Qld
Two huge Australian infrastructure projects are making it a breeze to plan an epic e-road trip to hard-to-reach spots. Via a network of 31 fast-charging sites, the Queensland Electric Super Highway already connects the coast from Port Douglas to Coolangatta at spots like Townsville, Mackay, Rockhampton and Brisbane. Phase three of the project will see the route swing inland, meaning you can hit up everywhere from Charleville to Longreach to Winton and Mt Isa in one low- or zero emission road trip.
Western Australia, meanwhile, is busy building Australia’s longest electric highway. Its 45 new electric vehicle-charging sites, spaced no more than 200 kilometres apart to relieve the anxiety of running out of power in a state so vast, will stretch from the red rock of Kununurra in the north all the way to the white sands of Esperance in the south, with spots dotting the coastline from Broome to Kalbarri to Bunbury and inland detours to destinations like Northam and Kalgoorlie too.
9. Great Beach Drive, Qld
Get the wheels sandy on a trip up the beach from Noosa to Rainbow Beach – part of the Great Beach Drive, which stretches all the way to K’gari (Fraser Island) – and marvel at the coloured sands of Teewah Beach. You don’t even need a 4WD – head off in a private LandCruiser with Discovery Fraser Island and you’ll be escorted to the foot of the lighthouse at Double Island Point, with a picnic laid out to boot. Prefer to go completely carbon neutral? Tackle the five-day hike that runs the same route and will have new off-grid CABN accommodation come 2023/24.
Words by Celeste Mitchell
10. Kenilworth, Qld
Put Mooloolaba’s golden sands in your rear-view mirror as you drive through the arcadian Obi Obi Valley towards Kenilworth. Nestled into a bend of the Mary River, the Sunshine Coast Hinterland township holds much appeal, but what it’s perhaps most famous for is six inches long, stuffed with 300 grams of cream and drizzled with jam, Nutella or custard. If a one-kilogram doughnut challenge is not for you, it’s still worth stopping at Kenilworth Country Bakery for a coffee and a doughnut.
After a stroll under Moreton Bay figs or a dip in Booloumba Creek (you’ll need a 4WD), make your way back via Conondale’s toffee-toned fields, backed by the emerald Blackall Range. Families who want to make a weekend of it should bunk in a vintage caravan at Kookaburra Park where guinea pig cuddles are part of the deal.
11. Mary River Valley, Qld
Queensland’s slow-burn Mary River Valley is perhaps one of the only valid reasons to leave Noosa’s comely shores for a day. Wind 45 kilometres west of the Sunshine Coast to start absorbing the small-town allure of places such as Amamoor and Imbil (with a procrastinative couple of hours in the cafes and curio shops of Kenilworth en route, see #60). Active think-ahead-ers should plan in nature immersions like early morning platypus spotting by kayak on Yabba Creek (Ride on Mary) and cantering through the Imbil State Forest’s hoop pines (Mary River Adventure Trails). Trainspotters should double-check the vintage Mary River Rattler’s timetable (departs Gympie Wednesdays and Saturdays).
130 kilometres (route dependent)
Words by Steve Madgwick
12. Noosa Country Drive, Qld
Just like the quandong gin and lavender vodka being poured at 2020 Distillery in Cooroy, a journey through the pastoral folds inland from Noosa Heads distils the creative essence of the hinterland. How about gin blended with hopped H2O, being poured at the bar at Pomona Distilling Co? Or a frosty local from the iconic Kin Kin Hotel, which is currently undergoing a significant renovation? Sniff, swirl, sip, then snooze in sustainable luxury at Mayan Farm – the rammed-earth villas at the working farm run by Slow Food ambassador Jodie Williams in Kin Kin.
Words by Celeste Mitchell