10 best Queensland road trips

Plus 3000km Queensland road trip itinerary by Katharine Fletcher.

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A driving holiday opens doors to memorable and personal experiences, from the yarn with the bloke that owns the pub to seeing world-heritage listed scenery. From waterfalls to deserts, along the way, you’ll learn a little history as you settle into a relaxed tempo on the road on these fantastic Queensland road trips.

If you love driving holidays, Queensland has a fantastic selection of routes to choose from. So pull out your road trip packing list and plan your next Queensland road trip adventure. 

10 Queensland road trips

1- Overlander’s Way

  • Townsville to Tennant Creek
  • Distance: 1550 km
  • Highlights:  Historic drovers route, cattle trucks, Townsville, Julia Creek. 
Queensland road trip
The Overlander’s Way is an iconic Queensland road trip through the outback.

The Overlander’s Way is a Queensland road trip through the outback.

From Townsville in Queensland’s tropical north on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, this Queensland road trip leads you west to Camooweal in outback Queensland, over the Northern Territory border to finish at Tennant Creek.

The 1550km Overlander’s Way is an iconic Queensland road trip named in honour of the drovers that herded huge mobs of cattle from the east Kimberley.

Today you’ll share the road with modern day drovers and their long cattle trucks.

There is plenty of options for accommodation from camping to motel rooms and some B&B’s.

The towns of Townsville, Charters Towers (once known as ‘The World’ due to the gold discovered and still mined today), Hughenden, Richmond, Julia Creek, Cloncurry, Mount Isa and Camooweal are all covered along the fully sealed drive.

It’s worth stopping a couple of days to tick off these things to do in Townsville and things to do in Charters Towers

It’s one of those typical outback Queensland road trips.

Festivals and rodeos such as the Mount Isa Rodeo and the Julia Creek Dirt n Dust Festival and fossil hunting for ancient dinosaur bones are just a few of the many attractions along this route.

Other things to do include exploring Dalrymple National Park, Porcupine Gorge and Kronosaurus Korner in Richmond.

The Outback at Isa Hard Times Mine is a tour underground in an Alimak cage.

It’s a brilliant experience and one of the most memorable Queensland road trips you could do.

Then there’s the Mount Isa lookout at night, which has a view of a city that never sleeps and the Kalkadoon Cultural Centre. 

Queensland road trip
The Dig Tree is one of the unique things to see on a Queensland road trip in the Outback.
Queensland road trip
A lovely scene on a Queensland road trip through the outback.

2- Great Tropical Drive

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The Great Tropical Drive is a scenic Queensland road trip along the coast.

Drive from Cairns in Tropical North Queensland and take in the reef and coastal townships along this remarkable coastal drive.

Localities include Palm Cove, Port Douglas, Daintree, Cape Tribulation and north to Cooktown.

From Cooktown, the trail heads west and winds its way down through the Atherton Tablelands to historic Charters Towers before finishing at Townsville back on the reef.

A side trip to Mackay and Eungella National Park is an option for extended touring on your north Queensland road trip.

queensland road trips
Seeing the coastline is one of the highlights of this Queensland road trip. Photo: Paul Ewart

I recommend this as a two-week drive, although sections can be done easily on their own.

As Queensland road trips go, the road is all bitumen and suitable for all road-worthy vehicles.

qld road trips
Queensland road trips offer amazing scenery. Photo: Matt Harvey

Other things to do include a photo stop at Rex Lookout, a visit to Cairns Aquarium, Wildlife Habitat in Port Douglas and the view from the lookout in Cooktown.

Make sure you pop into the Lion’s Den Hotel for a beer.

3- Great Green Way

  • Townsville to Cairns
  • Distance: 410km 
  • Highlights: Coastal scenery, Magnetic Island, Townsville, Cairns. 
queensland road trips
The Great Green Way is a top Queensland road trip. Photo: Amber Toms

A favourite for any driver on a Queensland road trip, the Great Green Way hugs the coastline from Townsville to Cairns.

This drive between Cairns and Townsville is constantly rated in the top 10 in the world.

The scenery is breathtaking along the 410km fully sealed route suitable for all vehicles.

Allow at least two days to enjoy the sights.

There’s far too much to list here.

queensland road trips
Stop for a sail around Magnetic Island on your Queensland road trip.

If you can allow the time to visit Magnetic Island, it’s well worth it.

Bungalow Bay Koala Village is a top spot to get up and close and personal with some of the island’s wildlife.

The experience offers fun for all ages and you are assured of seeing one of the islands very special koalas.

A really fun way to see the island is by hiring a moke (my last one was called Bambi) and driving yourself around.

Roads around the island lead to exciting activities from eco jet-skiing tours, horse riding on the beach to cruises on yachts, markets and cafes and vantage points to finish your day with a magnificent sunset watching the sun dip over mainland Australia. 

4- Cairns to Cape York

  • Cairns to Cape York
  • Distance: 1200km
  • Highlights: 4WD, Indigenous communities, Thursday and Horn Islands
Cape York 4WD
A Cape York 4WD road trip requires planning and experience.

Considered one of the last 4WD frontiers on Earth, this drive takes you to the northern-most point of Australia – Cape York.

Through untamed wilderness with creeks full of barramundi and saltwater crocodiles, the most ferocious of the species on the planet, this is an epic Queensland road trip that rewards those who are willing to do the forward planning and preparation.

Cape York 4wd
One of the most adventurous Queensland road trips is to Cape York by 4WD.

This Queensland road trip is only suitable for experienced four-wheel drivers.

But if you don’t have the skills, there are independent tour operators that conduct regular tours to ‘The Tip’.

driving holiday Queensland
A stunning sunset is one of the treats on a driving holiday in Queensland

You’ll pass through indigenous communities where alcohol restrictions apply.

There is a range of accommodation options available from camping to resort style.

Other things to do include day tours to Thursday and Horn Islands.

The Daintree Discovery Centre is also worth visiting. 

cape york 4WD tour
Join a Cape York 4WD tour and let someone else do all the driving.

5- Great Inland Touring Route

queensland drives
Check out the dunnies on the various Queensland road trips.
  • Hebel to Cairns
  • Distance: 1863km
  • Highlights: Bushranger history, Great Dividing Range, Carnarvon Gorge. 

This 1863km drive leads from the town of Hebel on the Queensland and New South Wales border to Cairns in the tropical north.

The Hebel Hotel is where the Kelly Gang used to drink.

The historic hotel still has a hitching rail for horses to be tethered but today modern vehicles are parked out the front. 

The fully sealed drive traverses the Great Dividing Range.

It’s one of those Queensland road trips with plenty of national parks and towns.

Culgoa, Carnarvon Gorge and Lake Nuga Nuga are my favourites.

queensland road trips
One of the stunning Queensland road trip attractions.

Add museums such as Cobb and Co Changing Station complex in Surat, country sale days at Roma.

Throw in brilliant fishing and camping along with eateries and accommodation that caters for the drive market and you have a big tick for your Queensland road trip.

Other things to do include exploring Charters Towers and Ravenshoe (the highest town in Queensland at 930m) and relaxing in Innot Springs

6- Fraser Island 

queensland road trips
Beach driving on Fraser Island is an epic Queensland road trip experience.
  • Around Fraser Island
  • Highlights: Beach driving, Eli Creek, Coloured Sands, Indian Head. 

The world’s largest sand island with 75 miles of beach designated as an official road makes Fraser Island on the top of most must-visit lists in Queensland.

You’ll cross Eli Creek, see the rusting hull of the Maheno wreck and coloured sands, experience the Champagne Rock Pools and amazing views from Indian Head. 

For those new to driving on 75 Mile Beach, remember to give way to the airplanes that share the beach with you.

If you’re not sure about driving yourself, there are tour operators that offer drives around the island.

queensland road trip
Fraser Island is a top spot for a Queensland road trip by 4WD.

Fraser Island can be accessed from either Rainbow Beach or River Heads.

Time your drives with the tides.

There is a range of accommodation from basic camping sites to holiday homes and resorts.

Other things to do include visiting Pile Valley, Wanggoolba Creek and Lake McKenzie.

queensland road trip attractions
Another thing to see on your Queensland road trip is the wreck of the Maheno on Fraser Island.

7- Adventure Way

queensland drives
Hit the road along the Adventure Way for a Queensland road trip to remember.
  • Brisbane to South Australia
  • Distance: 1152km
  • Highlights: Burke and Wills trail, Dig Tree, Dalby. 

Leading from Brisbane’s city lights into the heart of the outback, the Adventure Way takes you along a route once frequented by swagman.

Innamincka in South Australia is the last town on this journey of 1152km.

It’s close to where explores Bourke and Wills, while making the first attempt to cross Australia from south to north lost their lives.

Camping is allowed along a designated section of Copper Creek on Nappa Merrie Station where the Dig Tree still stands and at Innaminka.

queensland drives
One of the highlights of this road trip in Queensland is the Dig Tree.

Allow at least four days to take in the towns and scenery along the way which include Dalby, St George, Cunnamulla, Thargomindah and Innamincka.

The road is sealed almost to the Dig Tree, which is an iconic Australian landmark.

If you do the alternative trip to Currawinya National Park we recommend a 4WD.

Other things to do include seeing the Face Tree, which is 30m downstream from the Dig Tree carved by John Dick in 1898, visiting the Artesian Hydro Power Plant at Thargomindah.

The plant is believed to be the oldest, working unit in Australia and possibly the world.

Visit Currawinya and Lake Bindegoley National Parks and attend Music in the Mulga at Wandilla.

queensland road trips
Welcome to Wandilla, on your Qld road trip.

8- Rainforest Way

queensland drives
The Rainforest Way is a NSW to Queensland road trip through two states.
  • Links NSW and Queensland
  • Highlights: Queensland’s rainforest. 

Exploring Queensland’s heritage-listed rainforests, just a short drive south of Brisbane via the Rainforest Way allows for spectacular scenery. 

See remarkable views from cliff-tops and ancient volcano rims as it meanders through thick lush rainforested sections.

It’s one of those quintessential Queensland road trips that lead you to waterfalls, babbling creeks, rare and endangered wildlife and picturesque villages.

queensland road trips
In Queensland, the Rainforest Way is a Qld road trip that delivers lush forest walks.

The drive can be accomplished as a day drive however I recommend a two-night stay.

There are plenty of accommodation options and the road is suitable for all vehicles with adequate clearance.

Day pass fees apply to sections on the Rainforest Way. 

Other things to do include visiting Buck, the barefoot bush tucker man in Chillingham for the best fruit and vegetables, the Border Loop Lookout and Brindle Creek Walk

queensland road trip
A quintessential Queensland road trip scene.

9- Birdsville to Big Red

queensland road trips
Dropping in at the Birdsville Bakery is one of the joys of this Queensland road trip.
  • Birdsville to the Big Red 
  • Distance: 
  • Highlights: Simpson Desert, Birdsville.  

Considered one of the top iconic Queensland road trips, the route from Birdsville to the top of Big Red (the largest sand dune in the Simpson Desert) takes you to one of Australia’s most arid and isolated places.

This is an area rich in outback colours. Ochre-tinged sand dunes are interspersed with grey cracked clay pans and purple gibber plains provide a striking contrast.

Big Red stands around 90m above sea level, though this does change as its sands shift with the wind.

Of the 1,100 sand dunes that form the Simpson Desert, it is the tallest.

It’s definitely a four-wheel drivers’ bucket list experience.

Queensland desert road trip
A road trip through the Simpson desert is one you’ll never forget.

The Simpson Desert is closed between December 1 and March 15.

Allow a minimum of four days to cross the Simpson Desert from Birdsville.

Camping permits are required and you need to be self-sufficient, carry enough water, food and fuel and be travelling in a sound vehicle with adequate communication for remote travel.

The Birdsville Hotel is a Queensland road trip attraction.
Queensland road trip attractions: The Birdsville Hotel.

Other things to do include a stop at the Birdsville Hotel – a must for any visit. 

Indulge in a pie from Rusty’s at the Birdsville Bakery – we can recommend the roo and red wine pie.

Visit the Visitor Information Centre and see the ruins of the Royal Mail Hotel (in town) and Carcory Ruins (approximately 80km north). 

queensland road trips

10- Matilda Highway

queensland road trips
The Matilda Highway is a Queensland road trip for those who love long drives.
  • Karumba to Barrungin in NSW
  • Distance: 1812km
  • Highlights: Outback scenery, Charleville, Longreach, Gulf of Carpentaria. 

The Matilda Highway, a fully sealed 1812km road, stretches from the New South Wales border town of Barrungin all the way to Karumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

It is one of the longest themed drives in Queensland.

Allow at least four days to complete the whole drive but you’ll most probably need a week or more to fully experience the sights along the way.

Many sections of the road are unfenced and I advise not to travel from sunset to dawn as wildlife and stock often share the road with you.

During the day, the kangaroos are usually resting in the shade but beware of emus. 

Of all the Queensland road trips, this one is a classic drive through the outback to the barramundi filled waters of the Gulf where life takes on a slower and more relaxed pace.

It is suitable for all vehicles and there is a range of accommodation options along the way but it’s best to pre-book.

Other things to do include the Cosmos Experience and Bilby Show in Charleville, fishing for barramundi in The Gulf and enjoying a sunset cruise on the Wilson River at Longreach. 

best road trips in queensland
road trips queensland
Another cool attraction on this road trip in Queensland is the Bilby show.
Queensland road trips
A sign along the Matilda Highway is one of the photo opportunities while on a Queensland road trip.
10 best Queensland road trips
10 best Queensland road trips

Queensland Road Trip Itinerary – 3000 km

queensland road trip
Queensland road trip itinerary photos by Eric Fletcher.

By Katharine Fletcher

Have road, will travel.

We’re keen roadies, so when it comes to understanding the heartbeat of a sprawling state like Queensland, we rent a camper van, gear up and head off on our road trip.

Not knowing quite what might be around the corner never daunts us.

We’re intrepid adventurers, perhaps like you?

All of the nearly 3,000 km circuit described here was suitable for our 2WD camper van.

Next time we’ll rent a 4WD to tackle most roads, flooded or clear, and gain access to more remote areas. 

Here’s what we did on our last Queensland road trip. 

Brisbane to Cairns

We rented our camper van in Brisbane and drove north along the Sunshine Coast to Cairns.  From that coastal city, our back-of-beyond roadie adventure kicked in. 

Cairns to Mareeba

road trip queensland
The Atherton Tablelands is a rich agricultural area to drive around on a road trip in Queensland.

Waving goodbye to the Pacific and our snorkelling experiences on the Great Barrier Reef, we headed off on our road trip inland, first passing through the Cairns Highlands, then entering the undulating hills of the Atherton Tablelands.

Atherton Tablelands

Dairy cattle grazed in lush grassy paddocks and almost at every turn, breathtaking views captured our fancy – a pastoral contrast from the coastal, ocean landscape of the Sunshine Coast.

Further on, we entered the java region of Oz, where more than 70 per cent of the nations’ coffee crop is grown.

So a stop in Mareeba’s Coffee Works may be necessary for the driver…

Plan to visit the superb Mareeba Heritage Museum – also home to the “i” (Australia’s Visitor Information Centres).

Exhibits are wide-ranging, affording a good overview of the history of Queensland.

Here we learned about Aboriginal life prior to European contact and settlement, ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) involvement in Gallipoli, the waves of immigrants and types of agriculture, and much, much more – such as the ant-bed shovel.

Before roads and wifi, this region was “out back of nowhere”, so it’s fascinating to see the wireless station both made and used right here.

Communication was important as this and the telephone party line exhibit demonstrates. Many artefacts can be touched, a feature fascinating for more than youngsters.

Granite Gorge Nature Park

road trip queensland
On our Queensland road trip, we saw the rare Unadorned Rock Wallaby at Granite Gorge.

Birding and wildlife watching is superb around Mareeba, so we camped at Granite Gorge Nature Park, north of Mareeba to experience the northern savannah (grassland) wilderness.

The park’s rare, endangered Unadorned Rock Wallabies – cute smaller cousins of kangaroos – can be fed here (staff provide macropod pellets so you can feed them this specially formulated, appropriate food). 

Walking tracks (paths) here are adventurous and some can be rugged because the boulders are immense: leaping from one to another can be awkward.

Happily, there are tracks designed for all levels of walker.

Be realistic about your capabilities – and have fun.

You’ll likely be awakened by the crazy “laughter” of kookaburras, but watch for birds like tawny owls at dusk, and during daytime koels, and many parrots and finches.

Ravenshoe to Georgetown

Mareeba

road trip Qld
Windy Hill was the first wind farm constructed in Queensland, with power being delivered in 2000. The 20 turbines produce 12 megawatts of power.

From Mareeba, via Highway 1, we checked out Windy Hill Wind Farm – the first wind farm in Queensland, built in 1996.

Wind turbines are controversial all over the world, but as a renewable energy source, they’re likely here to stay.

This farm`s viewing area shows their sleek industrial design to full advantage.

Forty Mile Scrub National Park

road trip Qld
Sleeping under the stars is all part of a Queensland road trip.

West and southwest took us to Forty Mile Scrub National Park, on the McBride Plateau.

This is a landscape of volcanic flows, and the park was created to conserve a remnant of dry rainforest, grassy woodlands, and the headwaters of three creeks.

Bottle (baobab) trees grow here, as do other rare species such as white bean, white cedar, and fig trees.

We particularly appreciated seeing our first baobabs outside of a botanic garden: their chubby trunks lend them their common name.

 

Camping by the roadside is what we love to do, and out here, camping for free beneath a canopy of stars was awesome.

Undara Lava Tubes

Nearby, Undara Lava Tubes – where lava once flowed from volcanic eruptions – make a fascinating stop.

Mount Surprise

We pressed on, travelling through Mount Surprise (a road stop with two petrol stations straddling the highway).

The settlement was a railway town and is the first Gulf Savannah town travellers from the east like us meet.

Although you need a permit, fossickers can search for gems: perhaps you will find topaz, quarts, cairngorm and others.

Georgetown

Next stop: Georgetown, a centre for the Etherton Goldfields located on the Etherton River – it was a dusty dry bed when we passed through on the Gulf Developmental Road.

In fact, throughout the outback, it’s astonishing to see road signs marking flood levels, because the landscape seems devoid of water.

While driving, we kept our eyes open for wildlife and here, despite the “seeming nothingness” as usual, there’s actually tons to see.

Brolgas

 

Brolgas on a Qld Road trip
We saw lots of brolgas on our Queensland road trip.

Brolgas were roadside, with grown-up chicks.

These large crane-like birds are sacred to Aboriginal peoples, and many legends and artwork featuring of these birds exist.

Romantically perhaps, their name means “native companion.”

Road trains

queensland road train
A road train in Queensland.

Another common sign alerts drivers to road trains.

These are large trucks, sometimes 53 (or more) metres long.

They travel at daunting speeds and we learned the protocols of driving off-shoulder (and sometimes stopping) while they pass.

Normanton to Karumba

road trip Queensland
Sitting in the jaws of a crocodile is one of the endearing photos we tool of our Queensland road trip.

Now we’re seriously in the grasslands, destination Karumba on the Gulf of Carpenteria.

We’re conscious of the luxury of driving in the laborious footsteps of doomed explorers, Burke and Wills, who perished trying to reach the Gulf.

Their Camp 119 lies about 30 km southwest of Normantown, our next destination.

Normantown

Normantown is a cattle town on the Norman River.

Exploring, we discover a statue of Krys.

At 8.5 metres long, it’s the largest saltwater crocodile ever seen – shot by Krystina Pawlowska in July 1957 in the river.

It’s a daunting size, and as we approach Karumba, a timely reminder to tourists who wish to swim, that Aussie crocs are both fresh- and saltwater.

Karumba

Undaunted, we pressed on to Karumba.

The capital of Gulf Country, here we were astonished by sprawling camper van parks largely occupied by semi-permanent residents.

Aussies are inveterate roadies and retirees among the tribe are dubbed “Grey Nomads.”

The moniker is apt, because many retired folks sell their homes, buy a lux camper van, and escape winter by hunkering down in places like Karumba.

Here, they fish, play cards, jog, and generally enjoy a relaxed life.

Travellers like us seamlessly interweave into the rhythm, appreciating Karumba’s fabulous sunsets.

Anglers will want to try fishing for delicious barramundi in the Norman River which boasts the largest such fish ever caught, at 6 metres.

Savannah Way

queensland road trip
A grey nomad we met on our Queensland road trip.

Via Normantown, we continued along the Savannah Way to Burketown.

Talking of Grey Nomads, we discovered they are a fount of knowledge – much the same as at International Hostels, they are serious travellers, not tourists.

Take time to strike up conversations, and like us, you may discover out-of-the-way but delightful non-touristy stops.

Leichhardt Falls

road trip Queensland
Sunrise at Leichhardt Falls along the Savannah Way was a stunning photo op on our road trip in Queensland.

That’s how we found Leichhardt Falls, where veteran roadies not only welcomed us for supper but showed us how to dine on crabbies.

Resembling small lobsters, these crayfish were easily caught with inexpensive, small nets – and were delicious.

The Falls is astonishing: in June the broad river had shrunk, exposing a dramatic set of stepped waterfalls which we could only imagine as churning whitewater during wet season floods (November through April).

Our Grey Nomad pals also taught us to be wary of tranquil-looking “swimming holes.”

They showed us crocodile tracks and then, I gasped: “There’s one!”

Basking in the sunshine, a croc slowly opened and closed its jaws.

Although not a Krys in size, it was good enough warning for this keen swimmer to stay out of the water…

Burketown

Now to Burketown… a town Wikipedia describes as “isolated”.

Its claims to fame are the annual Easter Barramundi fishing competition, celebrating the town being the barramundi capital of Oz.

Here too find the Burketown Pub, where fisher folks growl about “the ones that got away” – and compete regarding sizes and weights of ones which didn’t.

Don’t miss the Burketown “i” which has astonishing photos of the flooding of Musgrave and Burke streets.

Gregory to Boodjamulla 

Population 40.

queensland road trip
Queensland road trip experience – Brahma cattle mustering with horses and ATVs along the Savannah Way.

That’s Gregory, in a nutshell, so seemingly, it’s “just another back o’ beyond service stops” for petrol and supplies.

But of course, there’s a story: the town grew up as part of the Gregory Downs Station – “stations” being Aussie for ranches.

The homestead was located in town and this cattle station was one of the Gulf Country’s first pastoral properties.

Another important thing: the Gregory River is perennial, meaning it always has water.

That’s critical for wildlife, so we weren’t surprised to find all sorts of critters, such as wallabies and wallaroos through to a host of birds.

queensland road trips - Lawn Hill Creek
Tufa formations in Lawn Hill Creek block the water to create these falls.

Boodjamulla – the Aboriginal name for Lawn Hill Gorge National Park – is testimony to how crucial water is to life.

After having travelled from Cairns to Karumba to this parkland oasis, roadies well know the vast stretches of dryland.

And, we’ve seen the flood signage marked on stretches of dried, baked riverbeds.

So, Boodjamulla is indeed a sanctuary, where the welcome of the Waanyi peoples serves to remind us that these are sacred, special lands deserving of our respect as we explore.

And explore we did.

We camped at forested sites where a boobook owl surveyed us from its lofty perch.

queensland road trip sight - Crocodile basking on river bank
While on our Queensland road trip we saw a crocodile basking on river bank.

We canoed upriver to explore the gorge and yes, saw freshwater crocs basking along the shore.

Despite their presence, I couldn’t resist a dip – so in we both plunged, flirting with disaster.

Happily, the cooling waters soothed our souls and we clambered out on the docks, refreshed.

We hiked, we sketched, and we luxuriated, appreciating shaded serenity.

It was hard to leave: the contrasting colours of red rock, turquoise waters, green rushes and trees, and a blue sky spoke to our hearts.

Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) to Cairns

Leaving the park presented us with our first flooded road, forcing us to turn back and backtrack rather than risk getting bogged.

Backtrack we did to Gregory, then made our way south on the road more suited to 2WD vehicles.

At the Barkly Highway, we turned west, to the Northern Territories, and our final destination of Perth.

On a previous trip, we’d driven a station wagon east on the Barkly Highway through Mount Isa, then joined the Flinders Hwy beyond Cloncurry to bring us to Townsville – nearly 1,000 km of good road.

Townsville is fantastic, and a super way to return to ocean life.

Acquaint yourself with marine life at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, or take the ferry to Magnetic Island.

We did just that, so we could first identify marine life before we snorkelled, off-island, to see the fish and coral.

But that’s another extraordinary story.

Enjoy being a roadie, to get to know the back of beyond and the characters who make Australia rock

Queensland road trip itinerary
Queensland road trip itinerary

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