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. Join us on these 10 best Queensland road trips.
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 one of those typical outback Queensland road trips.
Other things to do include exploring Dalrymple National Park, Porcupine Gorge and Kronosaurus Korner in Richmond.
Then there’s the Mount Isa lookout at night, which has a view of a city that never sleeps and the Kalkadoon Cultural Centre.
2-Great Tropical Drive
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.
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.
Other things to do include a photo stop at Rex Lookout, Cairns Wildlife Dome Zoo, Australian Butterfly Sanctuary 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
A favourite for any driver on a Queensland road trip, the Great Green Way hugs the coast line from Townsville to Cairns; this drive 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.
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 islands wildlife.
The experience offers fun for all ages and you are assured of seeing one of the islands very special koalas.
A real 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.
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 salt water crocodiles, the most ferocious of the species on the planet, this is an epic Queensland road trip that rewards those with forward planning and preparation.
This Queensland road trip is only suitable for experienced four-wheel drivers. Independent tour operators conduct regular tours to ‘The Tip’.
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.
5-Great Inland Touring Route
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.
Add to that museums such as Cobb and Co Changing Station complex in Surat, country sale days at Roma, 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 – 75 Mile Beach
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 it yourself, there are tour operators that offer drives around the island.
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.
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.
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. 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.
Exploring Queensland’s heritage-listed rainforests, just a short drive south of Brisbane via the Rainforest Way allows for spectacular scenery such as remarkable views from cliff-tops and ancient volcano rims as it meanders through thick lush rain forested sections.
It’s one of those quintessential Queensland road trips that leads you to waterfalls, babbling creeks, rare and endangered wildlife and picturesque villages.
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 doinclude visiting Buck, the barefoot bush tucker man in Chillingham for the best fruit and vegetables, the Border Loop Lookout and Brindle Creek Walk
9-Mung-Thirri National Park – Big Red
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.
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.
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).
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 its 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.