Inspiration Destinations Australia The Best Queensland Road Trips

The Best Queensland Road Trips

February 8, 2024
Great Barrier Reef Drive, one of the best road trips in Queensland

From endless fields of sun-kissed sugarcane to the golden coastline of the Great Barrier Reef, some of Australia’s best road trips are found in Queensland.

Windows rolled down, wind in your hair, hints of sea salt in the air: there’s nowhere more suited to the road trip than Queensland. Whether it’s food-filled sojourns from Bundaberg, family friendly routes through the Gold Coast or historic travels through bush myth and legend, there’s a journey in store for every type of traveller.

Buckle up – this is our pick of the best Queensland road trips.

For adventurers: Adventure Way (approx. 16 hours, 1,152km)

Bunya Mountains National Park, Queensland, offers the perfect stop on Adventure Way.

Follow the trail of coachmen and bushrangers as you journey deep into Queensland’s extraordinary outback along Adventure Way. Stretching from Brisbane to the tiny South Australian village of Innamincka, it’s a journey that’s steeped in bush myth and heritage.

Move through southern Queensland’s golden countryside and be sure to spend at least a day at the spectacular Bunya Mountains National Park, home to the largest stand of ancient bunya pines in the world and a landscape filled with hidden waterfalls, rare grasses and colourful birdlife.

Continue west, and if you’re in a four-wheel drive consider stopping at the St. George region’s Thrushton National Park, accessible only by dirt road. Cruise down rust-red roads, explore the ruins of ancient homesteads and, if you’re lucky enough to travel in spring, look out for the extraordinary blooming of millions of wildflowers in shades of pink, blue and white. It’s the kind of one-of-a-kind experience that’s found only out on Adventure Way.

There are plenty more adventures to be had along the way. Move from Cunnamulla to Thargomindah, and hunt for opals in the offroad town of Yowah; swim with kangaroos at Lake Bindegolly National Park; enjoy a beer at the historic Noccundra Hotel, built in 1860 right on the Wilson River. The road is sealed up until you reach the South Australian border, and then it’s seven hours to Innamincka. Just before crossing, detour to see the Burke and Wills Dig Tree and Site.

For foodies: Bundaberg Food Bowl to Brisbane (approx. 4 hours, 371km)

If you’ve ever bitten into a mango or pineapple, unbelievably ripe and sweet, chances are you’ve tasted Bundaberg sunshine. Start your foodie adventure in Bundaberg and be sure to hit up the iconic Bundaberg Rum Distillery and Bundaberg Brewed Drinks. Because what’s better than an ice-cold rum and ginger beer on a warm summer’s night in the bush?

While the best produce is seasonal, no matter when you visit, you’re guaranteed a taste of the country’s very best, with macadamias, ginger and figs available throughout the year. In winter, passionfruit, zucchini and mandarin are in abundance; watermelons, lychees and honeydew are best sampled in the summer. The region is also home to some of Australia’s best seafood, with prawns, scallops, crabs and bluefin often delivered straight to restaurant doors.

It's a four-hour drive to Brisbane, but there’s plenty to see (and eat) along the way. In the picturesque village of Apple Tree Creek, Mollydookers Café & Bar serves Canadian-Australian brunch (with plenty of real maple syrup); near Yandina, The Ginger Factory offers tours, spicy gelato and one of the largest ginger-focused shops in the world. If you’re travelling on a Wednesday or Saturday, the Eumundi markets are less than 15 minutes' drive away and showcase the region’s wealth of locally made artisan goods and confectionery.

Celebrate your arrival in Brisbane with a visit to any of its acclaimed restaurants, including Mediterranean taverna-inspired Greca, woodfired eatery Agnes or exceptional French brasserie Montrachet.

For families: Sunshine Coast to Gold Coast (approx. 2 hours, 183km)

The Gold Coast's Surfers Paradise, Queensland, offers tons of family-friendly fun.

There’s a good reason why this road trip has been a favourite of families for decades. With brilliant beaches around every corner, plenty of camping spots and tourist parks and Queensland’s famed theme parks along the way, it’s easy to transform a two-hour drive into a week’s journey (or more).

A stop at Noosa National Park offers countless sights to get the family in the road-trip spirit. Look out for dolphins frolicking in crystal-clear waters, spy koalas high above in the treetops and splash your way through Tea Tree Bay’s shallow rock pools. Spend a few nights in town and you’ll be rewarded with stunning sunrises and delicious brekkies at any of the town’s brilliant cafes.

Be sure to visit the Noosa Everglades – one of only two true Everglade systems in the world – for a chance to explore one of Australia’s most diverse ecosystems. Hire a canoe or kayak and paddle your way through the Mirror of Rivers, seeing mighty black-necked stalks, cormorants and brolgas along the way.

A stop in Brisbane is the perfect place to relax and recharge mid-adventure. Waterfront precinct South Bank offers tons of fun for all ages; a free artificial beach, sprawling parkland, art galleries, museums, restaurants and cinema are the perfect excuse to spend a night in the big city.

Upon reaching the Gold Coast, it’s almost mandatory to celebrate with a visit to a theme park or two. Alternatively, head to the region’s gorgeous hinterland to discover waterfalls, wineries, coffee plantations and micro-breweries among the rambling greenery at Mount Tamborine.

For history enthusiasts: Matilda Way (approx. 18 hours, 1,692km)

The night sky bright about Charleville, Queensland, home to the Cosmos Centre observatory.

Stretching from the border of New South Wales to the shimmering blue waters of the Gulf of Carpentria, Matilda Way offers road-trippers the chance to cruise through Australia’s rich pioneering history. At every stop, you’ll be joined by larger-than-life ghosts and visions of the Outback as it once was. In Cunnamulla, bush ballad star Slim Dusty is still revered for his contributions to country music.

Spend the night in Charleville, the state’s unofficial astronomy capital, and gaze upon the star-strewn Milky Way at the Cosmos Centre observatory. Further north, stop in Tambo, famous for leveraging its wool production into a thriving teddy bear industry, before reaching Blackall, a quaint outback town brimming with tales of lightning-fast sheep shearers.

It's worth spending a few days in Longreach, the undisputed heart of Outback Queensland. It’s stuffed with iconic Aussie sights: relive Australian aviation’s golden age at the QANTAS Founders Museum, visit the fascinating Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, cast a line on the majestic Thomson River and ride an authentic, 19th-century Cobb & Co. stagecoach across a rust-red trail.

As you travel north, even more stops call out for attention. In Cloncurry, visit the Mary Kathleen Mine, once a prime source of uranium and now eerily abandoned, before continuing through the savannah to Karumba. Here you’ll find the Sunset Tavern, the outback’s northmost pub, and plenty of cold beer to celebrate the end of a magnificent journey.

For nature lovers: Southern Great Barrier Reef (approx. 3 hours, 142km)

Rainforest meets the reef between Cairns and Port Douglas, Queensland.

If you’re visiting Tropical North Queensland for the first time, a visit to the Great Barrier Reef is mandatory. The world’s largest reef system dazzles with more than three-quarters of the world’s 798 coral species in one place, plus dugongs, manta rays, marine turtles and more. Your journey starts in Cairns, and it’s the perfect place to hop on a sea cruise, book an Indigenous reef tour or gain your scuba certification.

Continue to Port Douglas. As you drive through the deep rainforest, pass by dozens of golden beaches, secluded coves and coconut palm bays, give in to the overwhelming desire to pull over. Stopping for a quick dip is all part of the Southern Great Barrier Reef’s charms. Daintree Rainforest is another must-do – at more than 135 million years young, it’s the world’s most ancient rainforest and the home to flora and fauna unseen anywhere else in the world. Hike the rainforest’s trails yourself or opt to embark on a tour with an Indigenous guide from the Kuku Yalanji people: the traditional custodians of the land have called the rainforest home for over 50,000 years.

Port Douglas turns into another fantastic opportunity to explore the Great Barrier Reef; a walk along the town’s iconic Four Mile Beach is a must for all visitors. As you continue north to Cape Tribulation, you’ll be required to cross the crocodile-filled Daintree River by car ferry – an experience you won’t soon forget!

The wonders continue in Cape Tribulation, where you can snorkel with eagle rays, hike Mt. Sorrow and enjoy the region’s fantastic produce.

For those with more time on their hands: Pacific Coast Way (approx. 20 hours, 1708km)

There’s nothing quite like the Pacific Coast Way, linking Brisbane and Cairns as it runs through boundless rainforest, bountiful farmland, quirky hinterland towns and endless blue horizons. It’s a trip that demands you take your time, carry a little adventurous spirit and explore off the beaten track.

The Sunshine Coast and Noosa provide countless places to swim, sip and admire spectacular sunsets; go further north, past Bundaberg and Gympie, and the towns of Agnes Water and Seventeen Seventy provide some of Queensland’s best surf breaks. Stop in historic Rockhampton to see a live bull ride, fish for barramundi in the city’s slow-flowing Fitzroy River or sample a plate of the region’s famous beef. Motor 30 minutes further out and the limestone Capricorn Caves, considered Queensland’s oldest tourist attraction.

Head further north, through fields of sugarcane, mountain passes and streams, and you’ll eventually reach Mackay. It’s another fine gateway to the islands of the Great Barrier Reef; take a quick swim at Finch Hatton Gorge; go platypus-hunting in the sky-high peaks of Eungella National Park.

Pacific Coast Way boasts plenty more soul-stirring experiences, running through the world-famous Airlie Beach, the charming sandscapes of Bowen, sun-kissed Burdekin and vibrant Townsville. In Ingham, a little over 200 kilometres south of Cairns, you’ll find Australia’s highest sheer drop waterfall, Wallaman Falls, and Hinchinbrook Island National Park’s spectacular mangrove bays.

Upon arriving in Cairns, you’ll be tempted to return to Brisbane the same way. And why not? There’s always more to discover on the Pacific Coast Way.

This article is produced in partnership with Tourism Events Queensland. Feature image: Pacific Coast Way.

Looking for more inspiration for your next trip to Queensland? Discover 8 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do in Cairns.

About Nate Robinson
Mad for travel and an incorrigible foodie, Nate is as at home in a Mexican taqueria as he is at Tsukiji. When he's not abroad, you can always find Nate with a book in one hand and a tiki cocktail in the other.

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