Australia Road Trip: Brisbane to Cairns
We had seven nights to do a road trip from Brisbane to Cairns. It's not much time, but it's enough to get a sense of the East Coast and explore the Barrier Reef. Here is our itinerary based on a four hours drive between each stop, apart from Mission Beach to Cairns which is one hour.
Brisbane - one-night stay. Brisbane was our starting point where we took the car.
Hervey Bay - one night stay. Harvey Bay is known for the access to Fraser Island. They offer one day or multiple days excursions but we didn't have time. We had a coffee on the beach at Enzo's and took a walk on Urangan Pier. It's a long pier populated by fishermen and few tourists walking back and forth. We saw a turtle swimming.
If you want to see turtles, on the way to Rockhampton, you can stop at Mon Repos, the place where turtles hatch. If you have time the hike takes two hours and sunset is your best chance to spot turtles. We couldn't do the hike but we visited the small museum, which is free.
Rockhampton - one-night stay. The town is not interesting at all but you will have to stop there unless you want to drive more than five hours. We arrived at night and there was no one around, few restaurants were open.
Airlie Beach - one night stay. Airlie is a cute spot. There are a lot of young people and cool restaurants. We had dinner at Mr. Bones and loved the food, fresh and tasty. The day after we did a half day trip to Whitsunday Island. The boat takes you to Haven Beach and you get can hang out there for two hours. Haven Beach stretches for miles and it's spectacular. The water goes from clear to dark touching 50 shades of blue, literally.
Townsville - one-night stay. Not pretty, but better than Rockhampton. We had dinner in a nice affordable Japanese restaurant: Sakana.
Mission Beach - one night stay. Mission Beach is the place we chose for snorkeling, it was recommended by a local met during the trip. When we arrived we went to South Mission Beach for a quick late afternoon swim. It was quiet, just a few people on the beach. The water is dark blue and it seemed cold, but we decided to swim anyway. Surprisingly, our bodies warmed up and we found ourselves immersed in a natural hot tub. The area where we swam was protected by jellyfish through a net delimitating the safe spot for swimmers.
Later we enjoyed dinner at a restaurant on the beach: @Sealevel and took a walk to look at the stars. If you have never been in this part of the hemisphere make sure you look for the South Cross. The day after we went snorkeling with Reef Express ($120 for 3 hours). We were ten people in total and the instructors were nice and told us many interesting things about the Reef and the animals that populate them. We stopped in different parts of the Reef, saw plenty of fish, a giant clam, and a lobster. Incredible.
Cairns - one-night stay. We just spent one night and arrived in the evening, not much time to explore.
The road trip wasn't a touristy experience, there weren't many cars on the road and plenty of secluded places to discover. Don't expect to drive by the ocean all the time, the road mainly crosses the inland and the landscape gets dull for hours. Make sure you have good music and podcasts to entertain yourself.
WHERE TO STAY (just the ones I recommend for their good value):
Hervey Bay Kondari Hotel
Airlie Beach Island Gateway Holiday Park
Townsville Chifley Plaza Hotel
Cairns Cairns City Palms
NOTE: Wi-fi doesn't work well in Australia and even if hotels offer it, it's not useful. Don't rely on it.