Brisbane – Cairns: Australia in 3 weeks

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Brisbane – Cairns is one of the most beautiful travel routes in Australia. We did this trip through Australia in 3 weeks and show you here our almost 3.220 km long travel route. It is designed to help you plan your trip so you don’t miss the highlights of this tour and can just focus on your Australia trip. I have deliberately omitted here the time in Brisbane at the beginning and that in Cairns at the end of the trip. Here you can spend some time and explore the area.

Why do we travel from Brisbane to Cairns?

We decided to travel from Brisbane to Cairns because, firstly, we got to know and love the city of Brisbane on one of our last trips. The metropolis exudes so much beauty, the people are relaxed and at the same time there is a lot to see in Brisbane itself. So for us it was clear: We will be back! And since I am very interested in the region around the Great Barrier Reef on the east coast of Australia anyway, I just wanted to travel the entire distance on the mainland, to experience and get to know the itinerary myself, which appears so short on the map.

Brisbane – Cairns by camper

If you are planning to travel from Brisbane along the east coast of Australia to Cairns in a camper, I recommend you to enter your travel dates in our camper price comparison and compare the available campers. Since the peak season for this trip is in the Australian winter, you should book the camper early, otherwise you can be unlucky and there will be none available.

Our experience report and more information about renting a camper in Australia can be found here.

When is the best time to travel from Brisbane to Cairns?

Cairns is located in northeast Queensland. The climate here is tropical, the weather is nice and warm, but there is one important detail for my travel planning: there is a rainy season in Cairns and the surrounding area. This lasts the Australian summer. Since I have already experienced Brisbane in the heat, the right travel time for me on the route Brisbane – Cairns is from June to October, then it is mostly warm and dry there. This is important to me, because I would like to do tours to the islands, of course, not necessarily in the rain.

Brisbane – Cairns itinerary on the map

Brisbane Cairns

Our trip from Brisbane – Cairns in the overview

In this overview you can see our complete itinerary from Brisbane to Cairns. I have written down not only the route section, but also my personal highlights and tour tips for this itinerary to help you plan your trip.

Brisbane - Cairns

Route section

This is how it looks here

Highlights

Trip in km

Day 1 and 2

Brisbane - Noosa Heads

Noosa Heads

Australia Zoo
Dicky Beach (Shipwreck)
Sunshine Coast

140
Days 3 - 4

Noosa Heads - Hervey Bay und Fraser Island

Brisbane Cairns

Great Sandy Nationalpark
Rainbow Beach
Fraser Island

190

Day 5

Hervey Bay - Agnes Water / 1770

Brisbane Cairns

Bundaberg
Town of 1770

230
Day 6
Agnes Water - Rockhampton

Brisbane Cairns

Steak in Rockhampton

235

Day 7

Rockhampton - Mackay - Cape Hillsborough

Brisbane Cairns

Cape Hillsborough

340
Day 8 - 12
Mackay - Airlie Beach und Whitsunday Islands

Brisbane Cairns

185

Day 13 - 15

Airlie Beach - Bowen -Townsville und. Magnetic Island

Brisbane Cairns

Horseshoe Bay
Townsville
Magnetic Island

280

Day 16

Townsville - Mission Beach

Brisbane Cairns

Hinchinbrook Island

235

Day 17 - 18

Mission Beach - Dunk Island - Palm Cove

Brisbane Cairns

Dunk Island
Paronella Park

205

Day 19 - 20

Palm Cove - Cape Tribulation

Daintree Nationalpark

Daintree Nationalpark
Cape Tribulation

130
Day 21
Cape Tribulation - Cairns

Brisbane Cairns

Cairns
Port Douglas 
Kuranda

150

Total

3220 km

Brisbane – Cairns day by day

Brisbane – Cairns Day 1 and 2: Australia Zoo and Noosa Heads

Our journey starts in Brisbane, from where we head north. The first highlight is not too far from Brisbane: after just under 75 kilometers we had reached the Australia Zoo in Beerwah. It was founded by Steve Irwin – a famous wildlife documentary filmmaker who unfortunately died way too early during one of his trips – he was hit right in the heart by the stingray. The Australia Zoo was a great experience and especially on your trip with kids through Australia it should not be missed.

After a few nice hours, our journey continues along the Sunshine Coast to Noosa Heads. Beautiful spots that are truly picturesque on the water await us here. After checking out the area, we turned in for the night at the Noosa River Holiday Park. It is beautifully situated on the Noosa River – perfect for the first night on this fascinating itinerary from Brisbane – Cairns. After a restful night we explore the area around Noosa.

Brisbane – Cairns Day 3 and 4: Hervey Bay and Fraser Island

The next day we head for Hervey Bay. Here, one of our first big highlights awaits us the next day: We take a tour to Fraser Island and admire the largest sand island in the world. As a contrast to the brown sand of the island, which we explore in our 4WD bus, the freshwater lake Lake McKenzie is one of the fascinating highlights of this tour. It could not be bluer. The drive along the beach, where we could even spot a dingo, rounded off this breathtakingly beautiful day.

Brisbane Cairns
A lake can hardly be more beautiful: Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island

Brisbane – Cairns Day 5: Bundaberg – Agnes Water – 1770

The next days of our trip we have planned some distance. The destination today is Agnes Water or 1770, but not without visiting the rum distillery in Bundaberg on the way and choosing a good drop for the evening. We spend the evening at the campground in 1770 directly on the water.

Brisbane – Cairns Day 6: Rockhampton

Even though we would prefer to stay here longer, we continue our journey to Rockhampton today. We cook our lunch in Gladstone on the Auckland Point Lookout with a beautiful view over the city. By the way, that’s what I find practical about traveling through Australia in a camper. Rockhampton is the so-called cattle capital of Australia. And that’s why we treat ourselves to a good steak in the evening at The Bush Inn Bar & Grill Steak House restaurant, located in The Criterion Hotel at 150 Quay Street. We ate The Smaller Rump and The Porterhouse, the kids had Chicken & Chunky Chips – and we were all happy and absolutely convinced. We spent the night at a 24-hour campground just outside of town. Because we were just a little late and no campground in Rockhampton would take us in that late. Here, however, we were in good company. There were many campers and also some road trains here.

Brisbane – Cairns Day 7: Mackay – Cape Hillsborough

After a long drive on day 7 on the journey from Brisbane – Cairns we reward ourselves. We actually planned to spend the night in Mackay, but then decide to continue on to Cape Hillsborough. And with that, we reward ourselves, so to speak. Because we stay at Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park, get up early in the morning to see the sunrise and the kangaroos on the beach – a real heartfelt moment. Unfortunately we had some bad luck with the weather in the morning, so we had to watch the animals so typical for Australia in the pouring rain. But after that the weather got better and the walk on the beach was just terrific.

Brisbane Cairns
Cape Hillsborough is absolutely worth seeing not only because of its wallabies.

Brisbane – Cairns Day 8 to 12: Airlie Beach – Whitsunday Islands – Heart Reef

Finally we arrive in Airlie Beach after a short drive. The next days we spend in this place, because we not only recover from the drive of the last days, we take tours from here to Hamilton Island and to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island.

First we go on a day tour to get to know the Whitsunday Islands with the truly whitest beach in the world. Because the Heart Reef is on our bucket list, we take a flight into the Great Barrier Reef and are rewarded with the most beautiful views. It takes me a few days to understand that I have really seen this sensationally beautiful area. Here you can learn more about this tour.

Brisbane Cairns
The most beautiful tour: By seaplane to Whitehaven Beach

In Airlie Beach itself there is of course also a lot to see and so we spend the next few days here relaxed, go swimming in the lagoon and strengthen ourselves for the next stage of the journey. You can really tell that Airlie Beach is also a popular vacation spot for Australians. With the warm climate, of course, no wonder. By the way, I highly recommend the Bohemian Raw Café on Shingley Drive at Abell Point Marina. Super nice people, good coffee and great to relax!

Brisbane – Cairns Day 13 to 15: Townsville – Magnetic Island

After saying goodbye to Airlie Beach, our drive takes us via the picture-perfect Horseshoe Bay in Bowen to Townsville. In Townsville itself we are at Rowes Bay Beachfront Holiday Park. It’s very large, but it’s perfectly situated (as the name suggests) on the water – with a direct view to Magnetic Island.

Brisbane Cairns
Magnetic Island is very diverse – and beautiful

From here we will head to Magnetic Island the next day. Although there are really great tours here, we decide to explore the island on our own for the sake of the kids. For this we get ferry tickets for the crossing and then walk across the island. Magnetic Island is special – due to the slightly different climate, eucalyptus trees grow here and we can spot koalas.

Brisbane – Cairns Day 16: Hinchinbrook Island – Mission Beach

In the morning we take a helicopter flight to Hinchinbrook Island to see Australia’s largest national park located on an island. After that we make some distance again, whereby the 240 kilometers to Mission Beach are actually not that far by Australian standards. In Mission Beach we are standing on the Mission Beach Hideaway Holiday Village.

Brisbane – Cairns Day 17: Dunk Island – Paronella Park – Palm Cove

On day 17 of our trip from Brisbane to Cairns we first take a tour to Dunk Island, for this there is a small water cab, which we board in knee-deep water. We then explore the island on our own. We get back to Mission Beach at noon and the kids use the travel time to Palm Cove for a little nap. On the way there we pass a rather unknown but beautiful insider spot – Paronella Park near Innisfall. It is an overgrown castle built by an entrepreneur engaged in sugar cane mining and appears enchanted in the greenery. In places like these, I’m always amazed at how diverse Australia is.

Brisbane Cairns
Like an enchanted castle: Paronella Park

We are deliberately passing Cairns today because we don’t need a camper for our time there. Instead we would like to explore the Daintree National Park. We spend the night at the Palm Cove Holiday Park campground, which is again right on the water. Nevertheless, we set off the next morning in the direction of the north.

Brisbane – Cairns Day 18 to 20: Daintree Rainforest – Cape Tribulation

Today we drive past Port Douglas to the Mossman Gorge Centre where we pay the entrance fee for the National Park. Once here, we put on our sturdy shoes and hike up to Mossman Gorge.

After crossing the Daintree River by ferry, we drive up to Alexandra Lookout. From there we enjoy the beautiful view over the rainforest to the Great Barrier Reef. For the next few days we are at Cape Tribulation Camping, which is just perfect in the rainforest and still on the water.

The next days we explore the Daintree Rainforest extensively. Besides beautiful (lonely) beaches we do a post hike at Cape Tribulation, which I would recommend as a must do for every traveler, because here the many unique animals come out at dusk that you probably wouldn’t get to see on a day hike.

Brisbane – Cairns Day 21: Cairns

On the last day the journey goes south again. We head for Cairns, where we will drop off our camper and spend the next few days. This trip with the camper through Australia in 3 weeks was just terrific. We experienced so many unique things and I can’t even describe with words how fascinating this tour really is. We would love to go right back and do many more tours to the islands in the Great Barrier Reef.

My tip for your

Journey from Brisbane to Cairns

We deliberately planned 3 weeks for the trip with the camper from Brisbane to Cairns. If you – like us – really want to get the most out of this trip, I recommend you plan 2-3 days for Brisbane and another 3-4 days in Cairns.

How much does it cost to travel from Brisbane to Cairns?

The journey from Brisbane to Cairns is not cheap. The most expensive part of everything is the flight to Australia – especially as a family of four. We have chosen to travel by camper so that we can be as much as possible in the fresh air and use the campsites beautifully located in nature. Since we travel with our children, the only option for us is a motorhome with an alcove. Here, the WC on board is particularly important to me, because I always have an eye on the worst-case scenario if one of the children falls ill. But so far we have always been very lucky on our travels! With the camper, however, you can save quite a bit of money if you choose, for example, a smaller model or even an older vehicle with higher mileage.

Camper: 21 days (Maui )

4.700 €

Campgrounds (2 adults und 2 chidren)

1.025 €

Fuel (2.200 km | 13L/ 100 km | 0,84 € / Liter )

240 €

Total cost for camping

5.965 €

Tours

Cost in € per person

Entrance Australia Zoo

38 € 

Daytrip to Fraser Island

129 €

Boat trip to Hamilton Island and Whitehaven Beach

115 € 

Flight to Heart Reef

141 € 

Ferry to Magnetic Island

16 €

Helicopter flight to Hinchinbrook Island

614 €

Tour to Dunk Island

25 €

Post hike at Cape Tribulation

29 €

Tour with the zipline over the rainforest

67 €

Total cost tours per adult

1.174 €

Optional, of course, are the tours that you can do on site. However, they are so insanely great that I can only recommend them. Ours just made the trip perfect. By the way, you can find other travel routes in Australia that we have already driven.

About the author
Laura Schulze

I love traveling! Whether it's the Australian outback, the fjords of Norway or city trips to the most beautiful cities in the world like Paris, Singapore, Barcelona or New York - I'll write down my best tips so that your trip will be a very special highlight.

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