Snorkelling on The Great Barrier Reef During A Road Trip Along The Bruce Highway
This road trip along the Bruce Highway starting in Brisbane and ending in Cape Tribulation, and vice versa, is one of my favourite road trips. It is also one of the most popular road trips in Australia. The Bruce Highway runs parallel to the Queensland coast making the trip very scenic. You will pass through many seaside towns with plenty of beaches to enjoy. Along with lush rainforests to walk through, great food to eat and a world-heritage listed reef to explore. This road trip appeals to couples, singles and families of all ages with the warm weather being one of the biggest attractions. And now you can find out for yourself. Read on.
The Bruce Highway Length: Brisbane to Cape Tribulation
The Bruce Highway from Brisbane to Cape Tribulation is 1,820 kms or 1,130 miles long. The drive time if you drove direct would take 21 hours. My biggest tip for this road trip is to take your time driving along the Bruce Highway and enjoy all the things it offers. I would suggest taking 14 to 21 days, or longer as there is so much to see, do and enjoy.
Transport Needed To Travel The Bruce Highway
This is a road trip so you will need a vehicle to undertake it. Having your own vehicle gives you the flexibility to stop wherever and whenever you want ensuring you have a great road trip. If you don’t have a vehicle then choose one that will suit your expectations, budget and number of people travelling. You could take your accommodation with you and drive a motorhome, van, campervan or tow a caravan. Maybe drive a 4×4 with a roof tent. A car will be just fine also as there is plenty of accommodation you can stay at and book along the way.
If you don’t have your own vehicle get pricing and availability to rent one here. Before you leave home ensure your vehicle is road ready by undertaking some checks.
Accommodation Options along The Bruce Highway
There are many accommodation options along The Bruce Highway. Ranging from camp grounds to hostels to hotels to resorts. And you will find accommodation in the major cities, near beaches, in rainforests and on islands of the coast. To find accommodation check out HostelWorld and Booking.com.
When should you do your Brisbane to Cairns drive?
Of course you can drive from Brisbane to Cape Tribulation and vice versa anytime however, you might want to consider the weather. Most say Queensland weather is always beautiful with hot summers and mild warm winters. if you want to travel during the best weather I suggest the winter months from May to October when the weather is warm and pleasant. As the summer months see high humidity, lots of rain and a cyclone or two. I would try to avoid Christmas, New Year and January as this is school holidays and accommodation prices can skyrocket. Plus there are a lot of people on holidays so places will be more crowded than usual. But hey, as I said, anytime is a good time.
READ MORE: Brisbane 2 Day Itinerary
Brisbane to Sunshine Coast
Road Distance Brisbane to Sunshine Coast: 120km
Time to Drive: 1-2 hours drive
Caloundra, Sunshine Coast
Leave the hustle and bustle of Brisbane behind and drive up the Bruce Highway to the Sunshine Coast. The Sunshine Coast is made up of a number of pristine beaches and rocky outcrops. You can spend your days lazing on the golden sands, strolling along the coastal paths or relaxing with a good meal in one of the cafes. It stretches some 55km from Caloundra to north of Noose Heads or ‘Noosa’ as most call it and you are spoilt for choice as to which beach to visit. As well as spending your time at the beach, shopping in one of the many boutiques or in a cafe or restaurant there are a number of other places to discover. One of the most popular things to do is visit Australia Zoo, home of the Crocodile Hunter. Walk around the grounds, maybe cuddle a koala, watch crocodile feeding and other wildlife shows. You could spend all day here if you like and end the day with a dip in the ocean followed by a nice meal. You can book your tickets to Australia Zoo here.
A visit to Sea Life Aquarium, the largest aquarium and oceanarium in Queensland is always a good time. The Big Pineapple is another top tourist attraction on the Sunshine Coast where you can have a tour of the pineapple farm and follow it up with a pineapple delicacy in the coffee shop. You can book your ticket to the Big Pineapple here. Continue from the Big Pineapple for a drive into the hinterland and through the Glass House Mountains National Park. Visit charming townships of Maleny, Montville and Mapleton and get fabulous views from the hinterland over the Sunshine Coast. And definitely spend some time in Noosa Heads. Walk along Hastings Street and sit in an alfresco cafe and watch the world go by. There is plenty of shopping in the local boutiques. Maybe take a hike into the Noosa National Park or simply lie on the golden sands.
Hervey Bay & Fraser Island
Road Distance Sunshine Coast to Hervey Bay: 199km
Time to Drive: 2.5 hours
As well as whales, golden sands and clear blue water you may see a shipwreck on Fraser Island
Hervey Bay is a coastal city in southern Queensland on the Fraser Coast. It is protected by Fraser Island and is known as the stepping off point where people go whale watching. Whale watching boats operate out of Urangan Harbour during July to November. There are many boats able to take you out into the Great Sandy Strait to Platypus Bay near the tip of Fraser Island where the whales like to put on displays of breaching and tail and fin slapping. Hopefully they might be so interested in the boat they will come up for a closer look. Half day and full day tours are offered on various sized boats.
Interested to go Whale Watching? READ MORE: Whale Watching in Hervey Bay
Many people also come to Hervey Bay on their way to visit Fraser Island. Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world. It is 123 km long and about 14 km wide. It is a World Heritage-listed area and is a nature lover’s paradise. Four-wheel drives are the only vehicles allowed on the island. These can be rented if you want to explore the island yourself, or you could take one of the available tours. These include day tours or camping tours of 2-3 days duration and are a great way to experience the island. You can book a tour to Fraser Island here.
Rockhampton via Bundaberg
Road Distance Hervey Bay to Bundaberg: 383 km
Time to Drive: 4 hour 20 minutes
Sugarcane Train somewhere near Bundaberg
Leave Hervey Bay and head to Bundaberg. You will be driving through sugarcane country and home of Bundaberg Rum (Bundy Rum). Why not visit the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. Lady Musgrave and Lady Elliot Islands are accessed from Bundaberg and are good places to swim, fish and dive. So if you wanted to deviate from this road trip up the Bruce Highway, now is your chance.
After the morning spent in Bundaberg you have about a 3 hour and 20 minute drive to Rockhampton. Rockhampton is the beef capital of Australia and has a number of cattle statues around the city. You might wish to visit the Capricorn Caverns with 16 caverns to explore, or the crocodile farm and the Spire which marks the Tropic of Capricorn. You could also head out to the resort town of Yeppoon, the step-off point for those wishing to visit Great Keppel Island. This is also where the Great Barrier Reef begins.
Airlie Beach and Whitsunday Islands via Mackay
Road Distance Rockhampton to Airlie Beach: 481km
Time To Drive: 5 hours 20 minutes
This drive is quite long so break up the trip at Mackay. Mackay itself is known for its Harbour Beach, marina and Bluewater Lagoon, a city water park. It’s also the place to access Brampton Island, Lindeman and Hamilton Islands if you need an island holiday. A rest stop here will see you arriving in Airlie Beach and The Whitsundays not so ‘jet lagged’ after a long trip.
Airlie Beach is the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. It is a popular resort town with fabulous views over Airlie Bay. There are over 70 islands in this group of islands with resorts located on Lindeman, Daydream, North Molle, South Molle, Hayman, Hook, Long and Hamilton Islands. The resorts offer standby rates if you feel like experiencing a little luxury. Stays can only be booked a couple of days in advance. Ask at one of the many tourist shops along the main strip.
Relaxing here for a few days is well worth your while. You might wish to learn to dive or take a sailing trip around the islands. There are many boats cruising the islands, from smaller party boats to larger, more luxurious and quieter boats. Most vessels will drop anchor for you to swim and snorkel. Some may even have barbecues on a deserted beach.
Townsville via Bowen
Distance Airlie Beach to Bowen: 80kms
Time to drive: about 1 hour
Distance Bowen to Townsville: 200km
Time to drive: 2 hours and 10 minutes
Castle Hill overlooking Townsville
Leave The Whitsundays and Airlie Beach and continue heading up the Bruce Highway and take a stop in Bowen. Bowen is known for the numerous murals in the town centre. With a look before continuing on to Townsville. Townsville is the third largest city in Queensland and is home to an army base and James Cook University. It is also the financial capital of North Queensland. It is the step-off point for those going to Magnetic Island. This island is often referred to as the koala capital of Australia as there are thousands of koalas roaming the island. It is also the sunniest spot on the coast with an average of 320 fine days a year. One thing you must do is drive or walk to the top of Castle Hill which provides panoramic views over Townsville.
Cairns via Cardwell and Mission Beach
Distance from Townsville to Cairns: 350km
Time to Drive: Just over 4 hours
Walk the Esplanade and take a dip in the lagoon
Many travellers stop at Cardwell and, or Mission Beach on the drive up the Bruce Highway to Cairns. Mostly to break up the four hour journey. But they are also the major hop off points for Hinchinbrook, Bedarra and Dunk Islands. Dunk Island is home to the Ulysses Butterfly.
Before reaching Cairns visit the Boulder National Park. You could walk the rainforest circuit and see the boulders. Be careful when you’re walking as there have been many deaths along this path.
Cairns is where the rainforest meets the reef. Like the Gold Coast, there is plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets. If you want that something extra a hostel can’t give you, you may wish to upgrade. Like Townsville, Cairns is a popular place to learn to dive. Once you’ve learnt to dive, or if you are already an experienced diver, you may wish to undertake other dives in the Great Barrier Reef including to the popular spot, the Cod Hole.
While in Cairns, walk the Esplanade, go shopping or take a sail in Cairns harbour and Everglades to spot estuarine crocodiles, or visit a crocodile farm. Maybe you would like to go game fishing or take the Cairns Explorer hop-on hop-off bus. And go further afield around Cairns. You may wish to have a beach holiday at one of the beaches just north of Cairns, my favourite is Trinity Beach. Drive up the mountains to Kuranda taking in the Crater Lakes, the Barron Falls and the Curtain Fig Tree. Or take the scenic railway winding its way up the mountains offering some wonderful views. You could also take the Skyrail Cableway to Kuranda. Or maybe leave the tropical far north and head in to the Gulf Savannah for a trip to the Undarra Lave Caves, which are the longest in the world and stretch for some 16km. On the way you could have a drink at the highest pub in Queensland, in the town of Tully. Take note of the signs advising of various battalions which were stationed in the area during WWII.
Daintree Forest and Cape Tribulation
Distance from Cairns to Cape Tribulation: 142km
Time to Drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation: 2.5 hours
Tropical Rainforests to Explore
From Cairns head to the World Heritage-listed Daintree Forest and Cape Tribulation. Here is where the rainforest meets the beach, literally, you can step from the rainforest onto the beach. You can enjoy empty beaches, taste tropical fruits, eat locally made ice cream and soar through the rainforest canopy on a flying fox. The area is a bushwalking paradise with short and long hikes to undertake while taking in spectacular beach and rainforest scenery with diverse flora and fauna. You can easily disconnect from society here if you wish however, it is a popular region with backpackers who come to enjoy the party atmosphere of many of the rainforest set hostels. You can head further on from Cape Tribulation, say up to Cooktown however, the sealed road ends and you will need a 4WD to travel further.
And so ends a wonderful road trip up or down the Bruce Highway from Brisbane to Cape Tribulation. I hope you have or had a good time. If you can recommend any other things to do and see while on this road trip please leave a comment below.
Sharyn McCullum has travelled all of her life thanks to her dad who worked for an airline. She is the creator of Live Work and Play in Australia. She loves coffee, chocolate and parmas and currently calls Melbourne home. Read More.