Roadtrip up the Queensland Coast in winter

The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
72 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
Length of time
2-4 weeks
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 2,000
Time of year visited
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
104th/372 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 30% SUMMARY RATING: Superb


The Queensland coastline includes some of the highlights for the whole country and, with world-class beach experiences such as 4WDing on Fraser Island, sailing the Whitsunday Islands and diving the Great Barrier Reef, it is one of the premier coastal roadtrips in the world.  Throw into the mix the the hedonistic glitzy skyscraper Gold Coast, the natural phenomenons of the Daintree Rainforest and Atherton Tableland, chilled out islands like Great Keppel and Magnetic Islands, plus the very Australian quirky habit of needing each town to have its own “Big Thing” (think giant prawns, bananas, mangos etc), and you’ve got an unmissable experience


Itinerary below for a 3 week trip and 3 top tips:

  1. Go in winter – despite most of the Queensland coast being in the tropics, majority of people (Aussies and International) think it’s cold in June and July in Queensland.  Whilst it’s certainly colder than normal, the temperatures are very mild in the south and still very much warm enough in the north.  Go in winter – it’s cheaper and it’ll be a far more enjoyable experience
  2. Start in Brisbane or Sydney? – obviously starting in Sydney gives you more to see and includes the wow factor highlights like walking along Sydney Harbour (see the individual travel Sydney Harbour for more tips), the Blue Mountains (likewise the travel entry Train ride from Sydney to Katoomba and checking out the Blue Mountains) and wine tasting in the Hunter Valley.  But these highlights are clustered around Sydney.  The remainder of the New South Wales coastline between Sydney and Queensland is mainly beach towns like Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay, which are nice, but very similar to what you’ll get all along the Queensland coast and will be that bit colder in winter.  It makes sense to start in Sydney if you want to see the highlights around Sydney, less so for the rest of the New South Wales coast
  3. Can do in 10 days, but 3 weeks better – if you wanted to smash the key highlights of Fraser Island, the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef, you could do this in 10 days, but it would be hectic as it’s around 2,400km / 1500miles of driving.  The three weeks gives you plenty of chill out time and the opportunity to see some of the slightly more off the beaten track places like the Daintree Rainforest, Atherton Tableland and Great Keppel Island


#1 4WDing throughout the Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island, and along its magnificent 100km+ East Coast Beach with ocean on one side and rainforest on the other

#2 Taking a 2/3 day sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands. Quite possibly the most paradisiacal islands in the world

#3 swimming in Fraser Island's Lake McKenzie with its mesmerising coloured waters and perfect white sands

#4 Snorkelling and scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef

#5 Australia's fascination with big things for their towns! On the trip you'll see the Big Barrel, Big Barramundi, Big Bulls, Big Captain Cook, Big Mango and Big Cassowary amongst others

#6 the hedonistic but oh so fun Gold Coast

#7 Camping in the Daintree Rainforest - the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest in the world

#8 Swimming in the waterfall pools of the mountainous Atherton Tableland

#9 The endless beaches all along the Queensland Coast, in this case Rainbow Beach with its multicoloured sand and long chilled out, quiet beach area

#10 Glamping on the super chilled out Great Keppel Island

The route

Rough itinerary

  • Day 1-2 – Brisbane and the Gold Coast.  They are the natural starting point where most people fly into and a pleasant place to get yourself settled before the drive.  Whilst they aren’t the highlights of the Queensland coastline, the Gold Coast in particular ijs worth visiting because, other than maybe Miami or Rio de Janeiro, there is nowhere else in the world that has such glittering skyscrapers right by a world-class beach.  Head to the suitably names Surfer’s Paradise for and hit the bars to get a feel for this uber commercialised and fake, yet alluring place
  • Day 3-4 – drive up along the coast and stop off in the beautiful Noosa Heads.  They give a lovely contrast to the glitz of the Gold Coast.  Make your way on the 4th day to either Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach for your short ferry ride over to Fraser Island
  • Day 5-6 – 4WDing across Fraser Island.  The world’s largest sand island to explore pristine creeks, freshwater lakes, lush rainforest and all interlinked via the magnificent eastern stretch of beach that runs its full 120km / 75mile length.  Lake McKenzie, with its clean mesmerising colours, perfect white sand and backdrop of the rainforest, is worth the trip alone.  See more details here – 4WDing around Fraser Island
  • Day 7-10 – make your way up to the Whitsundays.  This stretch of the coast is a long 10 hour drive or so, break it up with a stay at Great Keppel Island
  • Day 11-13 – sailing the Whitsunday Islands.  Even in a country known for its beaches, the Whitsundays standout.  Islands like emeralds scattered on aquamarine velvet, with whiter than white sand and carol just off the shore.  Take a overnight boat around them
  • Day 14 – drive to Mission beach
  • Day 15-17 – diving the Great Barrier Reef.  The UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest reef system in the world has stunning diving and snorkelling.  Mission Beach is closer to the reef than any other gateway point and is far quieter than Cairns, Townsville or Gladstone
  • Day 18 – driving up to the Daintree Rainforest via the Atherton Tableland.  Many just drive along the coast, but don’t miss the tranquil inland spot with its stunning waterfalls littered all throughout the highest point in Queensland
  • Day 19-20 – camping in the Daintree Rainforest.  This UNESCO World Heritage listed site is the oldest continually surviving tropical rainforest in the world and it feels like you’re escaping the well trodden tourist path as nature takes control with jellyfish stopping you swimming, the constant sound of birdsong and insects of the jungle, and frogs getting just about everywhere.  A real getting back to nature experience – but prepare to get very wet!
  • Day 21 – fly out from Cairns


Experiences nearby

The below map shows experiences nearby with a colour that reflect the Overall Score of those experiences

Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone