road towards Queensland mountains

The best road trips in Queensland

Queensland could make a fair claim to being Australia’s best road tripping destination, if not one of the best on the planet. This is thanks to the incredible diversity of landscapes the state has to offer, ranging from tropical coastline to rainforests and the red, open expanses of the outback. Throw in some of the state’s famous rural hospitality and a peppering of unforgettable historic sites along every route, and you have the recipe for the perfect road trip.

Here’s our pick of the best road trips Queensland has to offer.

The Great Barrier Reef Drive

The Great Barrier Reef Drive is Queensland’s answer to the New South Wales Grand Pacific Drive. Like its counterpart across the border it makes for a great day trip, and the 140 km route between Cairns and Cape Tribulation can be covered in the space of three hours.

This road trip does a great job of showcasing the beauty of the Queensland coastline as well the forests and peaks of the northern parts of the state. Along the coastal sections of the route, the undulating road will bring up one expanse of stunning scenery after another. Popular stops along the route include the Mount Alexandra lookout at Walu Wugirriga and the Rex lookout at Trinity Bay.

Adventure Way

Adventure Way is ideal for a long weekend or week-long road trip. The route departs from the city of Brisbane and heads west into the Queensland interior, approximating the path once travelled by pioneering outback settlers Cobb and Co., before reaching its terminus at the border with South Australia.

Adventure Way offers a great combination of history and scenic splendour. One of your first stops will be the scenic Bunya Mountains National Park, home to the world’s largest stand of bunya pines. As you head west, the forested landscape gives way to the gibber landscape of the outback plains, where you’ll find historic outposts and museums, night skies brimming with stars and warm outback hospitality.

Central Queensland Outback Drive

The Outback is the ideal destination if you want a break from the hurly burly of city life. The Central Queensland Outback Drive is a looping route that will take you from the coast and into the outback heartland. Give this one a try when you have some vacation time available, as the 1985 km route will take you around nine days to cover – not including your commute to the starting point at Gladstone.

While open spaces, stunning sunsets and crystal clear night skies typically lure travellers onto this route, there are also several interesting stops along the way. Highlights include Rubyvale, home of the largest sapphire fields in the southern hemisphere, and Stockman’s Hall of Fame, one of Australia’s finest outback museums.

The Turtle Tour

Not many places in the world can offer you the opportunity to take a leisurely multi-day road trip along a tropical coastline, spending some quality time observing the local sea-life along the route. The Turtle Tour offers you exactly this. Starting off at Brisbane, the Turtle Tour route heads north to Bundaberg before heading back down to Brisbane with a stop-off in Sunshine Coast.

This road trip will involve a fair amount of time outside the car, as you take the opportunity to explore small towns along the route and cool off and snorkel in the tropical waters off the Southern Barrier Reef. While you’re virtually guaranteed to bump into a turtle or two at any time of year, the best time to take the Turtle Tour is over January and February when you can catch a glimpse of turtles laying eggs and hatching on the beaches.

Matilda Highway

Like all good Outback routes, Matilda Way fuses Australian history, scenic beauty and open expanses of wilderness into an unforgettable road trip. What makes this one novel is it will deposit you in a beach town at its conclusion. Starting at Cunnamulla near the New South Wales border, the route heads north into the Queensland interior before veering north east to the coastal town of Karumba.

This road trip covers a big chunk of central Queensland, providing you with an opportunity to sample a variety of the scenic, historic and cultural delights of the region. Book a visit to the Charleville Cosmos Centre to view the sun through a Hydrogen Alpha Telescope, picnic near the Kynuna water hole which inspired Waltzing Matilda and grab a prawn lunch in Karumba once your trip is done.

The Great Tropical Drive

The Great Tropical Drive comprises dozens of potential routes that allow you to customize this Queensland road trip to fit the amount of time you have available. The diversity of the landscapes along these routes is breath-taking, ranging from vast outback plains to rainforests and the azure waters off the Great Barrier Reef.

One of the major highlights on the Great Tropical Drive is the ancient rainforests you’ll find when you cross the Daintree River by cable ferry. If you’re adventurous, stop off at Cape Tribulation to jungle surf. At Palm Cove you can sample the best of Queensland’s laid-back beach lifestyle, while a little further north you can visit the Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropical Rainforest Heritage sites.

The Overlanders Way

With a route that cuts through Queensland from west to east, the Overlanders Way will provide you with a journey back in time as you travel along the same route pioneered by the cattle drivers of the past as they drove their cattle from western Queensland and the Northern territory to the cattle markets on the coast.

While you could cover this entire route in a day, it is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace so that you can stop off at the many historic and scenic sites along the route. Highlights include the Reef HQ aquarium at Townsville Strand, the marine fossil museum at Richmond and the Hard Times Mine tour at Mount Isa.

The Warrego Way

The Warrego Way is another great beach-to-outback route that is ideal for people residing in Brisbane or Sunshine Coast. This route covers a distance of 1578 km, crossing the Great Divide en route to the remote outback town of Birdsville. Along the route the landscape will transition from the lush greens of the tropics to the Darling Downs and onto the red soil of Windorah’s Outback.

You won’t find a shortage of activities along the way. Sites of interest include the Historical Village and Museum at Miles, the Romavilla Winery at Mitchell and the Cosmos Centre and Observatory at Charleville. If you enjoy fishing, there are several good fishing spots along the route, including waterholes at Cooper Creek and the Bullo River.