The Cairns road trip to the Gold Coast is one of the most popular with campervan enthusiasts across Australia, and it’s easy to see why, with so much beautiful scenery and some incredible sightseeing stops to enjoy along the way.
Below, we’ve put together some top recommendations on places to stop between Cairns and the Gold Coast. Each of these is easy to access along the way, so there’s no need to worry about them taking you too far off your route, and we’ve included something for all the family to enjoy!
How Long is the Drive from Cairns to the Gold Coast?
The drive from Cairns to the Gold Coast covers 1,777km and takes a total of 21 hours to complete. This offers plenty of opportunities to stop and take in some of the route’s best sightseeing stops, stretch your legs in nature, and learn more about each place you visit as you travel to your destination.
Where Should I Stop Between Cairns and the Gold Coast?
Below, we’ve put together an itinerary for this 10-day trip, making it easier than ever to plan your road trip and ensure you don’t miss any of the amazing sights along the way. From beautiful beaches to peaceful walks and museums, we’ve got you covered.
Are you ready? Let’s get exploring!
1777km trip distance
10 day roadtrip
road trip map
Day 1: Cairns to Mission Beach
Travel time: 1 hour 50 minutes/139km
Sightseeing 1: Dreaming Trail
The aptly named Dreaming Trail takes you on a 3.2km walk through lush rainforest with beautiful pools of water and waterfalls to stop and admire along the way, which really makes it feel like you are in a dreamland. The track is relatively easy and takes around an hour and a half to complete, making it a perfect place to stretch your legs after a drive, take in some fresh air, and get back to nature.
Sightseeing 2: Cassowary Coast Lookout
As you cross the Johnstone River, you’ll find signposts leading you to Cassowary Coast Lookout. This is a must-visit stop for any animal lover, as it offers the ideal place to spot this prehistoric Australian bird.
As if that wasn’t enough, the panoramic views of Dunk Island on the Great Barrier Reef are unmissable, so even if you aren’t lucky enough to spot one of the most famous birds on the Australian continent, you’ll still get the opportunity to take some incredible scenic photographs.
Day 2: Mission Beach to Townsville City
Travel time: 2 hours 50 minutes/235km
Sightseeing 1: Castle Hill
Townsville City has an incredible backdrop of a pink granite monolith called Castle Hill, which makes it the perfect place for any explorer to climb after a few hours on the road. There are several different trails to explore, each ranging in difficulty and length, so it’s perfect for new and experienced climbers alike.
Whichever trail you decide to take, you are guaranteed amazing views of Townsville City and across to Magnetic Island. This is definitely worth a visit for the photo opportunities alone!
Sightseeing 2: The Strand
Stretching across 2.2km, The Strand runs along the coast and is lined with palm trees that offer a little shade for a walk. There are also a tonne of activities to enjoy at The Strand, including playgrounds, a water park, and picnic areas, making it a great place to spend most of the day with your family.
The Strand also offers some of the most beautiful views across Magnetic Island, so it’s the perfect place to stop and watch the sunset. There are a few restaurants and bars here too, so if you’re looking for a place to relax and refuel after a day’s driving, The Strand is the place to go!
Sightseeing 3: Magnetic Island
With a little more time to explore on day 2 of your trip, we recommend hopping on the ferry from Townsville and heading over to Magnetic Island. Here, you’ll find trees lined with palm trees and amazing ocean views. As the island is situated within the Great Barrier Reef, it also makes for a great spot to go snorkelling, and when you’ve finished exploring everything this amazing island has to offer, stop and one of the restaurants to watch the sun set of the water.
Day 3: Townsville to Bowen
Travel time: 2 hours 20 minutes/201km
Sightseeing 1: The Big Mango
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Bowen, the Big Mango is exactly what you think it is – a giant mango that was built in 2002 to celebrate the area’s mango production. Standing at over ten metres tall and weighing an incredible five tonnes, The Big Mango offers the perfect opportunity to take a commemorative selfie of your road trip, and it also marks the entrance to Bowen’s Visitor Information Centre, helping make things pretty obvious where to go if you need more information on the area.
Sightseeing 2: Horseshoe Bay
One of the most famous destinations along the route from Cairns to the Gold Coast, Horseshoe Bay has beautiful white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. This place is ideal for snorkelling, swimming, or simply kicking back for a few hours.
Horseshoe Bay is also a great place to stop if you’re a fan of art, as it is home to the inter-tidal sculpture created by Brian Robinson and installed as part of the Whitsunday Islands Reef Recovery and Public Art Project.
Day 4: Bowen to Airlie Beach
Travel time: 1 hour/80km
Sightseeing 1: Heart Reef
You’ll likely have plenty of time left in your day following a short drive from Bowen to Airlie Beach, so why not treat yourself to a truly memorable experience and take a flight to Heart Reef, one of the most beautiful places in Airlie Beach? Named for its naturally-formed heart shape, this coral reef can be reached by helicopter and seaplane tour, and once you’re there, you’re free to explore the reef by snorkelling.
Sightseeing 2: Bicentennial Walkway
The perfect place for a sunset stroll following a day exploring Airlie Beach, the Bicentennial Walkway runs for 4km along the waterfront and offers some of the most amazing coastal views in Australia. Along the walkway, you’ll encounter lagoon pools that offer the opportunity to spot fish, turtles, and exotic marine life as well, and the final point of Cannonvale Beach is the perfect place to stop and grab a well-earned drink.
Day 5: Airlie Beach to Mackay
Travel time: 1 hour 50 minutes/149km
Sightseeing 1: Bluewater Trail
Whether you want to stop and take a walk or hop on your bicycle and go exploring, Bluewater Trail is a wonderful place to visit once you reach Mackay. There are several different walking trails to enjoy here, including the Sandfly Creek Environmental Walkway and Catherine Freeman Walk, named after the famous Aborigine Olympian.
There’s also a swimming facility here, which, alongside the walking trails, makes it a great place for anyone looking to spend the day being a little more active.
Sightseeing 2: Mackay Botanic Gardens
Mackay Botanic Gardens is the ideal place for any nature lover or plant enthusiast to visit. Not only are there several walking trails you can enjoy that take you through beautiful gardens and greenhouses, but there are workshops and learning opportunities that offer an insight into Australian plant life and wildlife.
Once you’re done exploring the gardens, you can stop for a delicious meal at Lagoon’s Cafe before heading out on the road again.
Day 6: Mackay to Yeppoon
Travel time: 3 hours 50 minutes/354km
Sightseeing 1: Cooberrie Wildlife Sanctuary
Another great stop for wildlife lovers, Cooberrie Wildlife Sanctuary offers you the opportunity to visit injured and orphaned animals before they are released back into the wild. There are talks and events held throughout the day too, including a Koala Encounter, Crocodile Encounter, and Macaw Encounter.
This is a great place to stop with young children too, as the Junior Zoo Keeper Encounter offers 7-16 year olds the chance to step into the shoes of a real-life zoo keeper for four hours.
Sightseeing 2: Yeppoon Lagoon
Yeppoon Lagoon is a great place to stop at the end of the day and has several swimming pools to cool off in, including an infinity pool that offers views across the ocean to Keppel Bay. There are cafes, bars, and restaurants to unwind in here as well.
Day 7: Yeppoon to Bundaberg
Travel time: 3 hours 45 minutes/328km
Sightseeing 1: Splitters Farm
A great stop for children and adults alike, Splitters Farm is set across 160 acres and is a sanctuary for farm animals that have been abused, neglected, or given up by their owners due to other circumstances. It is also home to over 150 species of Australian birds as well as native wildlife, including barramundi, platypus, and wallabies.
There is also a campsite at Splitters Farm, making it a great place to end your road trip for the day and spend the night under the starry Australian skies. Splitters Farm also hosts themed nights throughout the year, so depending on when you visit, you could be in for some family fun!
Sightseeing 2: Bundaberg Rum Distillery
Founded in 1888, the Bundaberg Rum Distillery provides a glimpse into one of the country’s oldest alcohol producers. Here, you can enjoy a guided tour of the distillery, followed by a rum sampling and the opportunity to pick up a few bottles yourself!
Day 8: Bundaberg to Hervey Bay
Travel time: 1 hour 20 minutes/109km
Sightseeing 1: Woodgate Beach
Around 45 minutes into your trip from Bundaberg to Hervey Bay, you’ll come across the stunning Woodgate Beach. Here, you’ll find pristine beaches, clear blue waters, and incredible ocean views. Kayaking, paddle boarding, and snorkelling are all encouraged here, as is simply sitting back and relaxing in the sun. Or, if you’re more of an explorer, there are wetlands that are home to native wildlife that you can walk through.
Sightseeing 2: Urangan Pier
Stretching 868 meters into the ocean, Urangan Pier is one of the most iconic attractions in Hervey Bay. As you make your way along the pier, you’ll spot schools of fish darting around beneath your feet, as well as dolphins and sting rays splashing in and out of the water.
The parkland at the start of the pier also gives you the opportunity to explore on-land wildlife, as well as rest and refuel with some well-earned fish and chips!
Day 9: Hervey Bay to Sunshine Coast
Travel time: 2 hours 20 minutes/197km
Sightseeing 1: The Original Eumundi Markets
Whether you are looking for fresh produce to make a delicious meal or you want to pick up some souvenirs of your road trip, The Original Eumundi Markets have everything you need. This is more than your average shopping market.
Think of this as a hub of creativity, with growers and crafters from all over the Sunshine Coast showcasing the very best of their work. There is also live music throughout the day and plenty of food stalls to sample the finest produce.
Sightseeing 2: Australia Zoo
Founded by the legendary Steve Irwin, Australia Zoo is one of the best wildlife conservation facilities in the world. Here, you’ll find a plethora of reptiles, birds, mammals, and amphibians, as well as the opportunity to learn more about them in daily talks and encounters.
There are also gardens with native species here that have been created with the aim of preserving the amazing tropical plants found throughout Australia.
Day 10: Sunshine Coast to Gold Coast
Travel time: 2 hours/183km
Sightseeing 1: Surfers Paradise Beach
As you enter the Gold Coast, you’ll find the world-famous Surfer Paradise Beach. There are loads of things to enjoy here, including indoor skydiving, a wax museum, and a Jet Boat adventure ride. You can also relax and watch surfers catch waves while you enjoy a drink from one of the many beach-front bars.
Sightseeing 2: SkyPoint Observation Deck
Located 230 meters high up in the Q1 Building in Surfers Paradise, the SkyPoint Observation Deck is undoubtedly the best place to get 360-degree panoramic views of the Gold Coast. To get the very best views, you’ll need to visit during the day, but it’s also worth visiting at night time when the observation deck is transformed into a lounge bar that offers unrivalled sunset views.
With so much to explore along the way, the road trip from Cairns to the Gold Coast is one you need to add to your to-do list! Get in touch with us about hiring a campervan for your Cairns road trip, and if you want a few more ideas on things to do, take a look at some awesome Cairns road trip ideas here.