20 May, 2023
Last updated on 13 October, 2023
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Posted by Spaceships Crew
Australia, with its stunning landscapes, vibrant cities, and unique wildlife, is a dream destination for campervan travellers worldwide. The country’s vast open roads and extensive camping facilities make for a truly immersive journey, and one route that stands out for all first-time campervan road trippers is the iconic journey from Brisbane to Airlie Beach.
This unforgettable journey covers approximately 1,100 kilometres along the Bruce Highway, presenting an enriching blend of coastal vistas, lush hinterlands, quaint towns, and World Heritage sites. This mix of natural beauty and cultural richness, combined with the flexibility and comfort of campervan travel, makes it a must-do road trip in Australia.
Why the Brisbane to Airlie Beach road trip?
The journey from Brisbane to Airlie Beach is more than just a trip; it's an adventure that takes you through the heart of Queensland, a state known for its sunny weather, diverse landscapes, and warm hospitality. The route offers a chance to experience Australia's tropical coast at its finest, with its pristine beaches, teeming marine life, and vibrant coastal towns, all while having the freedom to stop and stay at some of the best campsites in the country.
Airlie Beach, the final destination, is a gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef, two of Australia's most cherished natural wonders. You get to end your journey with an exploration of these World Heritage sites, making the entire road trip a fulfilling and unforgettable experience.
Amazing views, great weather and tasty road trip meals (well that's up to you)... It's road trip time
What to do, see and where to camp?
As you embark on your memorable road trip from Brisbane to Airlie Beach, you'll encounter a host of sights and experiences that capture the essence of Australia's East Coast. From vibrant cities and charming coastal towns to stunning natural wonders and unique wildlife, this journey offers something for every traveller.
Moreover, the trip is not just about the destinations; it's also about the journey itself. Travelling by campervan affords you the freedom to explore at your own pace, stop at off-the-beaten-path locations, and wake up to a new breathtaking view each morning.
1. Start in Brisbane
Begin your journey in Brisbane, a city that harmoniously blends modernity with nature. Undeniably Australia's hidden gem, Brisbane seamlessly blends vibrant energy with cultural diversity. From the hip bars in the valley to the sophisticated Southbank, it offers a captivating variety. The Brisbane River threads through the city, offering diverse activities from rock climbing at Kangaroo Point to jogging towards the tranquil South Bank lagoon. A visit to the eclectic West End and the bustling Queen St Mall in the Central Business District rounds off the multifaceted experience that is Brisbane - vibrant, diverse, and unforgettable.
Start in Brisbane, end in Airlie Beach and experience an amazing Aussie road trip
2. Sunshine Coast and Noosa
An hour north of Brisbane is the Sunshine Coast. The Sunshine Coast and Noosa region of Queensland is renowned for its picturesque beaches, lush hinterland, and vibrant local culture. There are plenty of attractions and activities to enjoy in this area.
Australia Zoo: Made famous by the late Steve Irwin, the "Crocodile Hunter," this large, well-maintained zoo offers interactive experiences with a wide range of animals, including kangaroos, koalas, and of course, crocodiles.
Glass House Mountains National Park: A group of thirteen hills that rise abruptly from the coastal plain, offering excellent hiking, rock climbing, and spectacular views.
Mooloolaba Beach: One of the many stunning beaches along the Sunshine Coast, perfect for swimming, surfing, or simply relaxing in the sun.
Eumundi Markets: Open every Wednesday and Saturday, these markets offer a vast array of locally produced food, art, and craft items.
Noosa National Park: A beautifully preserved piece of coastal wilderness, with trails offering the chance to see koalas, goannas, and a variety of birds. The coastal track provides stunning ocean views.
Hastings Street: A bustling strip in Noosa Heads, filled with high-end boutiques, restaurants, and cafes. It's a great place for shopping, dining, or just enjoying a coffee while people-watching.
Noosa Everglades: One of only two Everglades systems in the world, offering canoeing, kayaking, and cruises. It's a fantastic place for bird watching and photography.
K'gari (Fraser Island) Tour: Though it's a bit of a journey, many companies offer day trips or overnight tours to Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island, from Noosa.
Another piece of paradise: Little Cove Road in Noosa Heads | photo: Lukas
3. K'gari (Fraser Island)
From Hervey Bay, take a detour to K'gari (Fraser Island), the world's largest sand island and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Explore the stunning Seventy-Five Mile Beach, the crystal-clear Lake McKenzie, and the rainforest growing directly out of the sand. Here's more detailed info about what you can do and see on K'gari aka Fraser Island, all the things covered on one of these amazing tours.
Seventy-Five Mile Beach: As the name suggests, this is a stunning 75-mile-long beach that serves as a highway, a runway, and a gateway to many of the island's famous sites. It's home to the Maheno Shipwreck, a popular sight and photo opportunity, and the Pinnacles Coloured Sands, a series of sand cliffs of varying colours.
Lake McKenzie: A 'perched' lake, which means it contains only rainwater, no groundwater, and is not fed by streams and does not flow to the ocean. The sand around the lake is pure, white silica, and the water is crystal-clear, making it a popular spot for swimming and picnicking.
Eli Creek: A beautiful and serene creek that pours up to four million litres of clear, fresh water into the ocean every hour. Walking trails follow the creek inland through a scenic canopy, or you can float down the gentle current to the beach.
Indian Head: The most easterly point of the island, this headland offers panoramic views of the island and the ocean. It's a great spot for watching marine life, including turtles, sharks, rays, and during the migration season (July to November), humpback whales.
Central Station Rainforest: Once the central hub of Fraser's logging industry, today it serves as a gateway to the island's unique rainforest, which grows in the sand. A boardwalk winds through the forest, past Wanggoolba Creek, a silent, crystal-clear stream flowing over white sand.
Champagne Pools: Natural rock pools on the eastern beach, filled by waves crashing over the rocks. The frothy bubbles left by the waves give the pools their name.
Wildlife spotting: Fraser Island is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including dingoes, over 350 species of birds, and various reptiles. It's also one of the best places in Australia to spot humpback whales during their migration season.
Experience K'gari aka Fraser Island on your Brisbane to Airlie Beach road trip
Keep in mind that Fraser Island is not accessible for normal 2WD vehicles. The island's terrain consists mainly of sand tracks, which require a 4WD (four-wheel drive) vehicle to navigate. Even the main beach, Seventy-Five Mile Beach, which acts as a highway of sorts, is sandy and requires a 4WD. As a Space Traveller, you can still visit Fraser Island by parking your Spaceship in a secure car park at River Heads or Hervey Bay and taking a passenger ferry across to the island. Once on K'gari (Fraser Island), you can join a guided 4WD tour or hire a 4WD vehicle to explore the island.
Known as the beef capital of Australia, Rockhampton has so much to offer as it is also the gateway to the Capricorn Coast and the Southern Great Barrier Reef. Visit the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens, one of the best in regional Australia, and stay at the Discovery Parks - Rockhampton, which provides excellent camping facilities.
Rockhampton Botanic Gardens and Zoo: These well-maintained gardens are amongst the oldest in Australia and are home to a variety of native and exotic plant species. The adjacent free-entry zoo allows you to see a collection of animals, including chimpanzees, wombats, and a variety of birds.
Riverside Precinct: Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Fitzroy River, take in the views, and enjoy the public art installations. The precinct is also home to the Riverside Restaurant and the Boathouse offering delightful dining experiences. Mount Archer National Park: Drive or hike up to the summit for a panoramic view of Rockhampton and the surrounding landscape. The park also offers several walking tracks and picnic facilities.
Capricorn Caves: Just north of Rockhampton, these above-ground limestone caves offer guided tours. The adventurous can try the adventure caving experience, while others might enjoy the Cathedral Cave, known for its natural acoustics.
Koorana Crocodile Farm: A short drive from Rockhampton, this working crocodile farm offers guided tours, and if you're feeling brave, the opportunity to hold a baby crocodile.
Heritage Village: A recreated historical township, featuring buildings from the 1850s to the 1950s. It offers a glimpse into the region's past, complete with vintage vehicles, a blacksmith shop, and a range of other historical exhibits.
Rockhampton Art Gallery: Home to a significant collection of mid-twentieth-century Australian art, the gallery also offers a range of temporary exhibitions, workshops, and events.
There are several caravan and camping sites in and around Rockhampton, such as the Discovery Parks - Rockhampton and the Riverside Tourist Park, which offer facilities suitable for campervans.
Mackay is a tropical city with 31 pristine beaches and is often referred to as the "sugar capital" of Australia due to its vast sugarcane fields. This vibrant tropical city has heaps to offer. Check it out!
Bluewater Lagoon and Riverfront: Located in the heart of Mackay, the Bluewater Lagoon is a free family-friendly leisure facility overlooking the picturesque Pioneer River. Nearby, the Bluewater Trail meanders through scenic natural environments and the city's cultural landmarks.
Eungella National Park: Just an hour's drive west of Mackay, this national park is one of Queensland's most ecologically diverse parks, with cloud-covered rainforests, waterfalls, and the chance to see a platypus in the wild.
Artspace Mackay: This regional art gallery offers an ever-changing program of visual arts, social history, and educational exhibitions.
Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens: The gardens showcase the natural beauty of the tropical flora from Mackay and the Whitsundays, along with other Australian and international plant collections.
Cape Hillsborough National Park: Just a 50-minute drive north of Mackay, Cape Hillsborough is known for its stunning sunrises and the wallabies and kangaroos that visit the beach at sunrise.
Sarina Sugar Shed: Learn about the process of sugar production, from cane to sugar, at this miniature sugar mill and distillery. The guided tour includes tastings of products made from sugar and other local produce.
Fishing: Mackay is known for its excellent fishing opportunities, whether from the shore, on the Pioneer River or out at sea.
The Gooseponds in North Mackay - The Gooseponds is a vibrant oasis that offers a delightful blend of nature and active outdoor adventure. As part of the Mackay Regional Council's 10,000 steps initiative, a myriad of trails winds around a sizeable central lagoon, inviting visitors to explore and engage with the surrounding wetland ecosystem.
For accommodation, there are several campsites and caravan parks, such as the Andergrove Van Park - which offers a quiet, friendly, and relaxing environment for campervans - and the BIG4 Mackay Blacks Beach Holiday Park, which cater to campervan travellers and offer a range of facilities.
The Goose Walk in North Mackay | photo: Kenneth (US)
6. Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands
You've made it. Airlie Beach is in sight, the end point of your road trip from Brisbane to Airlie Beach. Or isn't this the endpoint? More about that later. Now it is time to explore the area and have some fun. Airlie Beach is the vibrant hub of the Whitsundays, and the 74 Whitsunday Islands are renowned for their stunning natural beauty and plethora of outdoor activities. Here's what you can do and see in this tropical paradise.
Airlie Beach Lagoon: This man-made lagoon in the heart of Airlie Beach offers a safe swimming spot all year round. With sandy beaches, grassy knolls, and picnic areas, it's a great place to relax.
Whitsunday Markets: Held every Saturday, these markets showcase a variety of local arts, crafts, fresh produce, and food.
Great Barrier Reef: There are numerous tour operators offering trips to the Great Barrier Reef for snorkelling, diving, or sightseeing. Some also offer the chance to sleep on the reef.
Shopping and Dining: Airlie Beach has a good selection of boutiques, gift shops, and restaurants that cater to a range of tastes and budgets. The bustling nightlife scene is also worth experiencing.
Space Travellers, it's important to know that you can't take your vehicle to the islands. However, there are several campervan parks in and around Airlie Beach, such as the Airlie Beach BIG4 Caravan Park and the Island Gateway Holiday Park. You can leave your campervan here while you explore the islands. Or you can drop off your Spaceship at the Spaceships depot in Airlie Beach if it's the last day of your trip and your booking has come to its end.
Whitsunday Islands: paradise in Australia and a must-see on your Aussie road trip
Whitehaven Beach: Located on Whitsunday Island, this 7 km stretch of pure white silica sand and crystal-clear waters is one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Accessible only by boat, seaplane, or helicopter, it's a must-visit.
Sailing: The Whitsundays are one of the world's premier sailing destinations. There are a variety of charter options available, from fully crewed yachts to bareboat charters for those with sailing experience.
Hiking: Many of the islands have walking trails that offer spectacular views. On Whitsunday Island, the Hill Inlet lookout offers a breathtaking view of Whitehaven Beach.
Snorkelling and Diving: The islands are surrounded by coral reefs, offering fantastic snorkelling and diving opportunities. Many species of fish, sea turtles, and other marine life can be seen.
Hamilton Island: The largest inhabited island of the Whitsundays, it offers a range of activities including golf, spa treatments, wildlife encounters at the Wild Life Hamilton Island, and dining at a choice of restaurants.
How many days will the Brisbane to Airlie Beach road trip take?
For a relaxed, unhurried road trip from Brisbane to Airlie Beach, taking in all the sites and experiences without feeling rushed, it's advisable to set aside a minimum of 10 to 14 days. Here's a potential itinerary to consider:
Brisbane: Spend 1-2 days exploring the city.
Sunshine Coast and Noosa: Allow 2-3 days to enjoy the beaches, dining, and natural attractions like Noosa National Park.
Fraser Island: Allocate 2-3 days for a thorough exploration of this unique sand island.
Rockhampton: Spend a day exploring the city and its surroundings.
Mackay: Spend a day enjoying the city's beaches and lagoon.
Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands: Allocate 3-4 days to relax in Airlie Beach, take a cruise to the Whitsunday Islands, and explore the Great Barrier Reef.
Remember, one of the joys of a road trip, especially in a Spaceships campervan, is the flexibility it offers. You can adjust your schedule as you go, staying longer in places you love and moving on from those you don’t. This timeline is just a suggestion.
Is there a difference between 'from Brisbane to Airlie Beach' and 'from Airlie Beach to Brisbane'?
The choice of direction for your road trip from Brisbane to Airlie Beach (or vice versa) largely depends on personal preference, time of year, and any specific events or attractions you want to catch.
If you're starting your journey in the southern states of Australia, it might be more convenient to start in Brisbane and move north towards Airlie Beach. This route typically allows for a gradual transition from the more urbanised areas of Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast to the more relaxed, tropical settings of northern Queensland.
If you're particularly interested in marine life and plan on spending a significant amount of time exploring the Great Barrier Reef, you might want to start in Airlie Beach when you're freshest and most excited. Then, as you make your way south, you can enjoy the diverse coastal landscapes and charming towns at a more leisurely pace.
The time of year can also influence your decision. If you're travelling during the Australian winter (June to August), starting in Brisbane and moving north allows you to gradually acclimate to the warmer tropical climate.
Both routes offer fantastic experiences and the same stunning sights. It depends on your preferences when it comes to deciding whether to travel from Brisbane to Airlie Beach or from Airlie Beach to Brisbane. Ask yourself this question, "what do you most want to see and do?" Then plan accordingly. You'll love this drive, no matter the direction you travel in. It definitely is one of the must-do Aussie road trips!
What is the best time to travel from Brisbane to Airlie Beach?
The Brisbane to Airlie Beach route spans a diverse range of climates, from the subtropical south to the tropical north. Each season offers its own unique experiences, and the best time for your road trip will depend on what you want to see and do.
Summer (December to February)
In summer, the weather is typically hot and humid, with temperatures ranging from 20°C to 30°C. This season is also the wettest, as it's cyclone season in northern Queensland, which can lead to high rainfall and occasionally extreme weather conditions. However, this is also when the region is at its most lush and green, and many tropical fruits (like mangoes) are in season. Summer can be a great time for beach activities, but it's essential to be aware of potential stingers (jellyfish) in the ocean at this time of year.
Autumn (March to May)
Autumn sees a decrease in both temperature and rainfall, with temperatures ranging between 15°C to 28°C. This is a fantastic time to visit as the weather is generally warm and pleasant, and the risk of extreme weather decreases. The ocean remains warm, making it a great time for water activities.
Winter (June to August)
Winter is often considered the best time to travel this route, especially if you plan on spending a lot of time outdoors. The weather is mild and dry, with temperatures ranging from 10°C to 24°C. It's also the best time to visit the Great Barrier Reef as the water is clear, making for excellent diving and snorkelling conditions. It's the peak tourist season, so campsites and attractions may be busier than usual.
Spring (September to November)
Spring offers warmer temperatures (ranging from 15°C to 30°C) and relatively low rainfall. The landscapes burst into bloom, and wildlife is abundant. It's a great time for outdoor activities and exploring the natural beauty along the route.
In terms of potential disadvantages, summer's high rainfall and potential for extreme weather could disrupt travel plans. Additionally, the high heat and humidity might be uncomfortable for some travellers. Winter, while offering the most comfortable climate, is also the peak tourist season, which means more crowds and potentially higher prices.
The "best" time of the year to do the Brisbane to Airlie Beach road trip depends on your personal preferences, tolerance for heat and humidity, and the activities you're most interested in. Each season offers unique experiences, so there really isn't a bad time to make the trip.
To continue this road trip or not? Try to say no to a view like this: Great Barrier Reef from above at Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation Road
Is it worth it to continue to Cairns?
Once you've reached Airlie Beach, you've almost reached Cairns... Well, almost is relative in Australia. From Airlie Beach, it's still more than 600km to Cairns. Is it worth it to extend the Brisbane to Airlie Beach and go for an even more amazing Aussie East Coast road trip?
The additional northern section of the Cairns to Brisbane route takes you through some of Australia's most iconic natural landscapes. Cairns itself is known as the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, and it's a vibrant tropical city with a lot of activities and attractions, such as the Cairns Esplanade and the Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park.
Just north of Cairns, you'll find the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest surviving tropical rainforest in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, you can embark on guided tours, go bird watching, or explore the forest canopy via zip-line. Another major attraction is Cape Tribulation, where you can witness the unique spectacle of two World Heritage Sites meeting—the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.
Between Cairns and Airlie Beach, there are several other notable stops, including Townsville, a vibrant city with a stunning coastal landscape, and Magnetic Island, home to the largest wild koala population in Northern Australia.
If you have more time and want to experience more of what Queensland has to offer - from tropical rainforests to the spectacular Great Barrier Reef - then the Cairns to Brisbane route may be a better choice. Check out our blog post about the Brisbane to Cairns road trip to get even more tips about the full length of the trip.