Driving from Brisbane to Cairns

Snorkeling and feeding fish at the Whitsunday Islands To discover the East coast of Australia, we drive from Brisbane to Cairns, passing the Queensland Beaches, towns, and cities. Following a deserted highway, we discover the attractions of the sunshine coast, the gold coast, and the Whitsunday Islands. We stay in previously unheard of places like Yeppoon, Maryborough, Airlie beach, and Mission Beach.

Brisbane is the start of our tour along the Queensland beaches, towns, and cities. It’s a big city, but it has its charm mainly along the Southbank of the Brisbane River, where the South Bank Parklands are located. Here are a park, beach, bars and restaurants, and a lot more. On top of this is Godwana Rainforest Sanctuary, where we have a preview of Australian wildlife in a natural environment.

We pick up our rental car and find our way out of the big city of Brisbane. Soon we find ourselves on quiet roads, where it is more difficult to remember to drive on the left side of the road. Our first destination is Mooloolaba on the Sunshine coast. Here is UnderWater World located, where we can see a lot of tropical fish, a sealshow, and sharks while walking in a tunnel under the large aquarium.


While looking at the map, and digging in our old Lonely Planet guidebook, we find Maryborough, a charming little town where we decide to spend the night. The guidebook leads us to an old, cheap hotel with a balcony and view over the Mary river. The owner is surprised to see us, the guidebook is really old and the hotel is not mentioned in newer versions. It has changed ownership a few times, and now mainly caters as bar and small hotel for locals.

It is late in the afternoon, and as we sit at the bar for a drink, several locals arrive to end their working day with a drink. Apart from drinking a lot, they play on the pooltable. The game is played with passion, to say the least, and as it ends we learn why. The looser of the game is put on a chair, and all his hair is cut off. The now bald guy takes it as a man, it’s all in the game. We have a good time with the guys, but decide not to play a game with them…


Using the Public Barbeque in Yeppoon The next morning we start early for a long drive along the almost deserted roads. The maps shows some small dots along Bruce highway, but these appear to be petrol stations only, accompanied by a truckers restaurant. We stop at one of them, and learn the size of an Australian truckers hamburger.

After five hours we arrive at the Capricorn coast, at a nice place called Yeppoon. We are clearly in the off season, and there is almost nobody around to enjoy the beach. But the locals we meet are very friendly, and they explain that we should not swim here. All along the northern Australian East coast is a danger for stingers, which can be deadly here. We stay at a motel here, and we learn the Australian way of cooking. There are many public barbeques around, we just buy meat, heat up a barbeque and eat in the open air.

Whitsunday islands

After another long day of driving, we arrive at Airlie Beach, the first larger tourist destination in Queensland, since it is located near the Whitsunday Islands. Airlie Beach is not big, but it has a large harbor catering for all the ships offering tours to the islands and the great barrier reef. It also has numerous hotels and hostels, bars, and restaurants. Enough to enjoy ourselves before we go to bed.

The next morning we book a trip to the islands with On The Edge, a sailing catamaran once used in a race around the world. While we are sunbathing, the boat brings us to some whitehaven beach on the largest island. Here we enjoy a swim, and do some more sunbathing. There is not much coral near the beach, so unfortunately no snorkeling. Although the boat was nice, the whole trip was a bit disappointing.

The Wanderer II in Airlie Beach For the next day, we booked a completely different trip. The Wanderer II is a much slower vessel, and the crew is much older. The boat has a bit trouble with the high waves, but we are accompanied by dolphins which makes it great fun. We arrive at Hayman island, where we stop in Blue Pearl Bay. Here we have fun snorkeling among many fish. We also have an introduction dive, where we learn the basic diving skills, and see some nice coral too.

On the boat trip back we went bow-netting. This means hanging in the nets behind the boat in the water. Our swimming trunks were almost pulled down by the water, but we had a great time. Back in Airlie Beach, the crew took us to the restaurant Beaches, where we had a good meal and a good laugh. To make a long story short, this trip on an old boat gave us much more value for our money, than the modern catamaran could ever do. So think twice before you choose a cruise, and go for the one with a friendly crew, less people on the boat, and good references.

Mission Beach

Our hostel in Mission Beach Time to move on, since we have a lot more miles to go before we reach our destination Cairns. After yet another long drive we reach Mission Beach. This is a typical backpackers village, with mainly hostels. We find a nice one, where we check into a dorm room with 8 other people. We make friends quickly, and decide to join a white water rafting tour the next day.

We wake up early to catch the bus that will bring us to the Tully River. After a quick instruction we step into our raft with our guide Josh. A little excited we wait to see what happens. Josh instructs us to peddle, back-peddle, or do nothing. As we approach the first rapid, the adrenaline rises, but all went well. Numerous rapids follow, one a bit trickier than the other, but the boat stays upright. The only thing making us wet is a waterfall, under which we take a shower.

We have enough time to watch the scenery. And during lunch we can explore a little bit of the rainforest, before we return to the boats for some more rapids. At the end of the day, Josh decides that we should at least flip once. So he orders us to lie on the front of the raft, while he steers us to a rapid. And indeed, we all end up in the water. In conclusion, we had a great day, and introduction to white water rafting. But we learn later that it can be a lot more adventurous, when we went Rafting the Zambezi river in Africa.

Dunk Island

The Beach on Dunk Island Another attraction of Mission Beach is Dunk Island, to be reached by water taxi. We have a nice walk over the island, and brought our snorkeling gear for a swim. But unfortunately, the visibility in the water here is not good enough to see something interesting. So we stick to just relaxing on the beach, enjoying the scenery.

One more long driving day finally brings us to Cairns. It was a long trip from Brisbane to Cairns, but the Queensland Beaches, towns and cities were well worth a visit. Although it was the off season, there were a lot of activities in several places. Both the encounters with friendly locals in quiet places, and with backpackers at tourist spots along the route were great.

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