If you want to see the real heart of Queensland, Airlie Beach is the perfect base to begin your adventure.
Queensland has a huge 7,000 kms of coastline along the Coral Sea, and there is no better way to explore it than in a Spaceships campervan. As well as our Queensland campervan hire branches in Brisbane in the south and Cairns in the north of the state, we have a branch in between at Airlie Beach.
Airlie Beach is 1100kms north of Brisbane and just over 600kms south of Cairns. It has a beautiful climate with year-round tropical weather and is your gateway to the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef.
Airlie Beach is the perfect base to start your central Queensland road trip. Pick up your campervan from the conveniently located Spaceships depot in Airlie Beach and you are ready to hit the road as all sleeping and cooking gear is included. Here are some of our must-see destinations for you.
Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays: tropical paradise on the Great Barrier Reef
Airlie Beach itself is a tropical coastal town that is well worth exploring. Cool off in the Airlie Beach Lagoon or at Cedar Creek Falls or discover the area on foot on the Bicentennial Boardwalk.
Airlie Beach is all about the water. Enjoy activities like snorkelling, jet-skiing, sailing and scuba. The short ferry trip to The Whitsundays is a must. Go island-hopping on the Whitsundays. They are in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, the iconic World-Heritage site and largest coastal reef system in the world. A diving or boat trip is the perfect way to experience the dazzling colours and wide variety of marine life.
Tropical tranquillity on the Whitsunday islands | photo: Tim Shepherd
Whitsunday Island is the largest of the 74 islands and this is where you’ll find Whitehaven Beach, 7 kms of white sand. Don’t miss the beautiful Hill Inlet at the northern end of Whitehaven Beach. Here the moving tides create swirling waters in shades of blues and greens – a wonderful place to take in the beauty of Hill Inlet is from Tongue Point.
Hiking, biking and waterfalls at Conway National Park
Head south towards Shute Harbour to the Conway National Park Mt Rooper car park. There is a climb up a 2km trail that gives you breath-taking views of the Whitsundays. There are plenty of hiking and mountain bike trails so you can venture into Conway National Park to find tropical rainforests, hidden beaches and spectacular waterfalls.
South to Mackay and kangaroos on the beach!
Head further south out of Airlie Beach into Mackay. If you want to get up close to some Aussie wildlife, make sure you plan a morning visit to Cape Hillsborough Beach. Every morning the kangaroos and wallabies from the nearby National Park come down to the beach for their breakfast on the shoreline.
It’s also worth a visit to Platypus Beach near Mirani and a detour to Finch Hatton Gorge. See the Araluen and Wheel of Fire waterfalls and take a swim in the deep natural pools.
North to Townsville & Magnetic Island
Townsville lies 270km to the north of Airlie Beach. Climb 268m Castle Hill, a granite hill, for 360-degree views of Townsville and the Coral Sea coast. The Strand has a water park and is a base for a range of activities from Stand Up Paddleboarding to skydiving. There is also a 2.5km walkway with views over to Magnetic Island.
Magnetic Island is a 20-minute ferry trip away, and well, a magnet for visitors. Enjoy diving on the Great Barrier Reef or explore the island and its 23 beaches in a traditional mini-moke.
Back in Townsville, call in at the Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium. It’s the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium as well as a rehabilitation centre for sea turtles.
Townsville is also your gateway to discover Outback Queensland…
Into the Outback and onto the dinosaur trail
If you’re looking for a genuine Outback Queensland adventure, head west out of Townsville and take the 900km journey to Mount Isa, along the A6, crossing the Great Dividing Range, the third largest mountain range in the world.
This mighty range crosses Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria at 3,700 km in length. It is so-called because it divides the Australian east coast from the interior – or Outback.
There’s loads to see and do en route. Take in the Texan Longhorn cattle at Charles Towers, then follow in the footprints of dinosaurs at Hughenden. At the Flinders Discovery Centre, you can see “Hughie” as he’s affectionately known, a 7m Muttaburrasaurus skeleton found as late as 1969.
For more dinosaur pre-history, head further west to Richmond, home of Minmi, a complete Ankylosaur skeleton at the “koolly” named Kronosaurus Korner.
Go West for Bush Tucker and The Curry?
The next stop on your Outback road trip is Julia Creek. Stay over at the Julia Creek Caravan Park, which hosts its own Bush Dinner. It’s your chance to eat genuine Outback Queensland Bush Tucker, prepared by the locals under the starry sky.
Bush Tucker under the stars on your Queensland campervan road trip
After your Bush Tucker, it’s time for “The Curry.” You’ll be relieved, or maybe disappointed to know that this doesn’t mean more food. It’s simply the local’s name for Cloncurry. It was originally named by Robert O’Hara Burke, of Burke and Wills fame. Visit the Cloncurry Unearthed Museum to find out more about the 19th-century explorers doomed 1860 expedition from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria, a distance of 3250 km.
Finally, you’ll reach the sprawling city of Mount Isa, with its mining heritage. It’s a city built on copper, silver, lead and zinc, and is home to the southern hemisphere’s largest rodeo.
Back from the Outback over the Thomson River
You could retrace your route back to Airlie Beach, or you could take the long way home… Head southwest along the A2 to Longreach on the Thomson River in the heart of Outback Queensland. Take a paddle steamer on the Thomson River or stop for a cold one at one of the many Outback pubs.
Head back to the coast at Rockhampton, from where you could go 620km south and return your Spaceship campervan at our Brisbane branch (there are no fees for one-way trips at Spaceships) or head North back up the coast on the 480km journey back up to Airlie Beach.
Whatever your route and wherever you choose to visit, one thing is for sure. Airlie Beach is a great place to start your road trip adventure through the heart of Queensland!