The Ultimate Guide to a Queensland Road Trip with Oaks Hotels
A Queensland road trip opens the car door to numerous destinations, including six world-heritage-listed preservation areas, like a 135 million-year-old tropical rainforest and one of the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites. In the Sunshine State, you can swim, snorkel or dive around the thousands of coral reefs brimming with sea life in the Great Barrier Reef, go grand-touring along a coastline, and of course, get your adrenaline pumping at one of the many Queensland amusement parks.
On a list of road trips in Australia, Queensland ranks near the top. However, with a whopping 1,852,642 square kilometres, Queensland is the second-largest state in Australia and is larger than all but 15 countries. With so much to explore, make your travels easier with some inside knowledge.
With local tourism being a vital source of income for thousands of communities, from the beaches of the Gold Coast to the tropical north of Port Douglas, we've done our best to fill our Queensland road trip itinerary with some of the best local attractions and destinations. From the obvious can't-miss experiences to the little-known opportunities for something marvellous, our coastal Queensland road trip itinerary has something for everyone.
To help you get around on your road trip through Queensland, we've curated what we believe is the ultimate guide to this great state's many destinations and attractions. But even we must acknowledge that we've only just scratched the surface of what's possible during your stay. Furthermore, Wunya (welcome, greetings) and sew ngapa (welcome) to all who travel to this great state as part of their Australia road trip.
Your Coastal Road Trip Itinerary
If you were to drive the nearly 2,000-kilometre stretch of coastline from the Gold Coast, it would take you just under 22 hours to reach Port Douglas. Plan ahead or be spontaneous either way; we have a range of excellent hotel offers across Queensland to help you recharge in-between destinations during your road trip. Oaks Hotels is the place to look if you want value for money, fun inclusions, or inspiration for a future road trip getaway.
Using Oaks Hotels’ accommodation locations as a jumping-off point, let's get into our ultimate guide to a Queensland road trip. Starting from the Gold Coast, we'll make our way to Queensland's capital, Brisbane, before venturing to the Sunshine Coast and Hervey Bay. From there, it's on to Gladstone, Mackay, and Townsville. Venturing further into Tropical North Queensland, we reach Cairns before ending our Queensland road trip in Port Douglas, where the Daintree meets the Great Barrier Reef.
With your Queensland road trip planner sorted, start your engines; it's time to drive!
1. Gold Coast
Where to Stay on the Gold Coast:
- Oaks Gold Coast Hotel
- Avani Broadbeach Gold Coast Residences
- Oaks Gold Coast Calypso Plaza Suites (located in Coolangatta, 39 minutes drive from Surfers Paradise)
One hour south of Brisbane, on Australia's east coast, sits the famous Gold Coast, Australia's favourite playground. It's a must for family holidays because of its beaches, crystal-clear waters, shopping centres, and limitless entertainment. Staying at the Oaks Gold Coast Hotel is the ideal spot for a classic Gold Coast getaway right in the heart of Surfers Paradise. And there’s a brand-new upscale hotel experience with premium in-room and on-site leisure facilities right down the road at our Avani Broadbeach Gold Coast Residences.
Over in Coolangatta, Oaks Gold Coast Calypso Plaza Suites delivers reasonably priced lodging with all of your favourite cosy touches, with more convenient access to well-known amusement parks. But we already know you've put aside time for the theme parks, so let's look at the roadside attractions to start your Queensland road trip the right way.
Jet Ski Safari
Distance from Hotel: 16-minute drive from Gold Coast Hotel (6.6 km); 21-minute drive from Avani Broadbeach (8.5 km).
You've never experienced a safari quite like this before. Gliding across the water on a Jet Ski Safari, enjoy hairpin bends, tight tidal tunnels, miles of untamed mangroves, and Australian flora and fauna at every turn. Visit lush green fringe islands to meet dolphins, turtles, wallabies and dugongs, the mermaids of the sea! Plus, envious eyes can marvel at the array of mansions and superyachts.
You'll also visit a tropical island resort on South Stradbroke Island, where you can cool off with a bounty of refreshments. Whether you're a speed demon going full throttle or slow and steady, the multiple guides on every trip ensure you get the most from your Jet Ski Safari.
Hot Air Balloon Gold Coast
Distance from Hotel: 49-minute drive from both hotels (42.1 km).
Floating below the clouds, this is Australia's most popular balloon ride. Taking off from O'Reilly's Vineyard Grand Homestead, a Hot Air Balloon ride on the Gold Coast is a fantastic way to enjoy your surroundings and a great change of pace from the road. Enjoy panoramic views of the gorgeous Gold Coast Hinterland's rolling hills from your balloon basket as the early morning sun illuminates the scene, followed by a lavish champagne brunch.
Where to Stay in Brisbane:
Welcome to the capital of Queensland, Brisbane. A fast-growing city, Brisbane is notable for its diverse population, active outdoor lifestyle, and lively urban neighbourhoods. Much like any capital city, there's plenty of history to catch up on, local markets to peruse, beaches to swim in, botanical gardens to wander, various music festivals to dance and let loose, and countless restaurants to tantalise your tastebuds.
And with the promise of near-perfect weather conditions 280 days a year, the River City is an obvious destination during your road trip in Queensland.
Home to 11 apartment-style residences, Oaks Hotels are the ideal destination for your city escape. Once you're done relaxing and living your best life at our many hotel options, we've got you covered with some incredible destinations we didn't feature in our Brisbane bucket list. But rather than limit ourselves to just two destinations, we want to highlight the array of rooftop bars in Brisbane and the immersive Indigenous experiences you won't find in the CBD.
Brisbane Rooftop Bars
Distance from Hotel: rooftop bars are within an approx. 5-10 minute driving distance of Oak’s Hotels in Brisbane.
First on the highlight reel is Lina Rooftop. Boasting 1500 sqm of luxury, with a 30-metre infinity pool bordering the elevated open-air terrace, Lina is indulgence at its best.
Next, we're raising a glass to independent beer brewers and the Valley Hops Brewing rooftop bar above Cloudland.
Thirdly, and finally, is the Turkish Inspired Dirty Sultan. Featuring a Neo-Turkish Streetfood Menu that is the ideal complement to their range of bespoke cocktails, guests can also enjoy a shisha lounge dripping in pastel colours to a soundtrack of hip-hop music.
Brisbane First Nation Experiences
Distance From Hotels: 11-minute drive from most Oaks Hotels in Brisbane (3.3 km).
Well before European settlement, the area we now call Brisbane was well-inhabited by the Turrbal people, the traditional owners and custodians of the land. Named Meanjin, or spike, for its central location, the Aboriginal culture left its mark via the many pathways and tracks that form the basis of the city's road infrastructure.
Beyond the concrete jungle are various First Nation Experiences stretching from Elimbah Creek in the north, south to the Logan River, and inland as far as Moggill. Since we can't include them all, we recommend participating in a Welcome to Country Ceremony with the Turrbal Tribe while visiting the Ningy Ningy Cultural Park in Kippa-Ring.
3. Sunshine Coast
Where to Stay on the Sunshine Coast:
Distance from Hotel: 28-minute drive from Oasis Resorts (17.2 km); 8-minute drive from Seaforth Resort (3.1 km).
Visiting Sunreef Mooloolaba equals scuba diving, snorkelling with turtles, swimming with whales (or whale watching in the winter), ocean jet skis, stand-up paddle boards, and kayak hire. As the only PADI 5-Star Dive Center on the Sunshine Coast and the largest marine tourism operator in South East Queensland, Sunreef Mooloolaba has some of the most unforgettable experiences. It's no wonder they call it the home of ocean adventure.
Glass House Mountains National Park
4. Hervey Bay
Where to Stay in Hervey Bay:
Hervey Bay is a charming three and a half hour's drive north of Brisbane, making it a convenient road trip location in Queensland. Nestled between the mainland and World Heritage-listed K'gari (formerly Fraser Island), this little coastal town is a year-round tourist hotspot with beautiful cafes, 14 kilometres of sandy beach, and world-famous whale-watching tours. With resort-style lodging available at Oaks Hervey Bay Resort and Spa on the main esplanade, stopping here before your next attraction is a must.
Whale Watching - Hervey Bay Marina
Distance from Hotel: 5-minute drive (1.9 km).
Every year, from June to November, humpback whales visit the warm waters of the Australian east coast to relax, play, and give birth before continuing their annual voyage to and from the Antarctic. Known as the whale-watching capital of Australia and the first whale heritage site in the world, Hervey Bay offers tourists the best opportunity to see these tail-slapping beauties in all their splendour.
Distance from Hotel: 4-hour, 38-minute drive (120 km).
K'gari, sits just outside of Hervey Bay, offering various travel and sightseeing choices by land, sea, or air. K'gari is the largest sand island in the world, home to freshwater lakes and creeks, as well as untamed bush trails, lush rainforests, and the breathtaking splendour of Lake McKenzie. A priceless piece of Australia's natural and cultural legacy, K'gari is preserved for the enjoyment and appreciation of all.
Where to Stay in Gladstone:
Ideally located in the Southern Great Barrier Reef's centre, Gladstone is home to coral cays, tropical islands, surf beaches, and rivers of all kinds of fish. Renowned for its vibrant, urbanised city centre, Gladstone is also the location of Queensland's biggest multi-commodity shipping port.
While that's certainly impressive, we have far better destinations and attractions for you to visit during your Queensland road trip. After a quick rest at the Oaks Gladstone Grand Hotel, located in the heart of Gladstone CBD, we're venturing out for more laid-back activities than those included in our 7 best things to do in Gladstone list.
Bundaberg Rum Visitor Experience
Distance from Hotel: 2-hour, 15-minute drive (190 km).
Thanks to an $8.5 million upgrade to the home of Bundaberg Rum, the Visitor Experience at Australia's most awarded rum distillery is more than an array of rum tastings available at the Bundaberg Rum Tasting Bar, although that's definitely a highlight. It's a story about the lifeblood of Queensland: sugarcane, which is combined with the "rich, red volcanic soil of the local Bundaberg area".
Two hours and 15 minutes away from the hotel, you can experience it all via the museum and distillery experience, blend your own rum or take a self-guided tour with a complimentary tasting of their top-shelf range to close out the tour.
Tondoon Botanic Gardens
Distance from Hotel: 10-minute drive (7.1 km).
You don't have to go into the heart of the rainforest to be amongst flora and fauna. You won't even have to go as far as Bundaberg, either. Unique plant species from Tropical North Queensland and the Port Curtis Region can be found in the Tondoon Botanic Gardens, just 11 minutes from the hotel.
The gardens are on an 83-hectare tract home to many plants and animals. Discover beautifully maintained gardens tucked into Mount Biondello by taking a trip through the Japanese Tea Gardens and along the many walking paths around the grounds. Each week, the gardens are open for free guided tours alongside free picnic spaces with electric barbeques, tables, chairs, restrooms, and a children's playground. And if you're visiting in June, stick around for Ecofest, one of the Nation's biggest environmental awareness events.
Where to Stay in Mackay:
The Mackay region, located in the centre of Queensland's coast, extends from remote offshore islands via golden sand beaches and lush subtropical rainforests. The historic town is a year-round favourite due to its subtropical temperature, an abundance of heritage-listed Art Deco structures from the 1920s, and closeness to the Eungella National Park and Airlie Beach.
Our Mackay-based hotels, Oaks Mackay Carlyle Suites and Oaks Mackay Rivermarque Hotel, each offer cosy, economical lodging with all your favourite homey features and your choice of apartment-style or hotel-style accommodation. Whether you've only got 48 hours in Mackay or a whole week, these are the places you need to visit while you're here.
Eungella National Park
Distance from Hotel: 1-hour, 16-minute drive from Carlyle Suites (86.5 km); 1-hour, 18-minute drive from Rivermarque Hotel (86.2 km).
This mist-shrouded and forest-clad mountain refuge, perched high above the surrounding plains, is one of Queensland's most biologically varied parks, home to 860 plant species and a wonderful assortment of fauna. An hour and 15 minutes by car, the 80km drive will weave along the Eungella road into the main township. Even if you never step out of your vehicle, the winding road that carves up and down the steep face of Clarke Range is sure to get your adrenaline pumping. But caravan drivers, take it slow.
Once there, you'll have access to more than 20km of walking tracks inside the national park, including the starting point for the 56km long Mackay Highlands Great Walk. Luckily you won't need to walk the entire length to see the many notable stops along the way, including Finch Hatton Gorge, Peases Lookout, Goodes Lookout (in Eungella), Pine Grove, Sky Window and Broken River.
Distance from Hotel: 1-hour, 56-minute drive from both hotels (151 km).
Less than a two-hour drive along the Bruce Highway from Mackay's main town will take you to the tropical resort city of Airlie Beach, where the shoreline is flanked on one side by the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef, providing breathtaking vistas of the Coral Sea, and on the other by the lush, rainforest-covered hills of Conway National Park.
The warm weather throughout the year is worth the journey, while the palm-lined beaches and waterfront parks mean fun-filled days on the beach. The smorgasbord of outdoor dining options will tantalise tastebuds while the thriving market atmosphere is not to be missed.
Where to Stay in Townsville:
The unofficial capital of North Queensland, Townsville, is a historic coastal city born from the Australian gold rush. But although the hope for quick riches has come and gone, Townsville is home to a wealth of must-see destinations easily accessible by car. Jumping off our previous list of things to do in Townsville, we've got two more activities to complete your road trip in Queensland.
With your option to stay at either the Oaks Townsville Metropole Hotel with marina and Magnetic Island views or the centrally located Oaks Townsville Gateway Suites, you'll be within walking distance of The Strand and only a twenty-minute drive to the Billabong Sanctuary, our picks for road trip destinations in Townsville.
Distance from Hotel: 5-minute drive from Metropole (2.3 km); 7-minute drive from Gateway Suites (2.6 km).
Sometimes the most obvious destinations are the best, and The Strand is no exception. Stretching 2.2 km along the coastline is a world-class beachfront promenade custom-built for the sole purpose of enjoyment.
Known simply as The Strand, visitors can walk up and down the palm-tree-lined bike and stroll its many pathways, go for a swim at one of the many beaches (without the fear of getting stung by marine stingers), chow down on some local grub at any of the attractive picnic areas, or tickle their taste buds inside any of the restaurants and bars.
Distance from Hotel: 16-minute drive from Metropole (17.9 km); 17-minute drive from Gateway Suites (18.3 km).
After exploring the promenade, hop back in the car for a journey to the Billabong Sanctuary, where you'll enjoy a charming array of native Australian creatures. You can get up close and personal with koalas, kangaroos, cassowaries, crocs, dingoes, wombats, and other native Australian wildlife. Highlights include holding a snake, hand-feeding kangaroos and wallabies, and cuddling with koalas and wombats.
Update your trivia knowledge with fascinating animal facts thanks to regular daily presentations and keeper talks, including a croc feeding display and a free-flight bird show. Whether travelling with family, friends or someone special, wildlife makes for a wondrous travel experience.
Where to Stay in Cairns:
The charming city of Cairns has far more to offer than just a pitstop before the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest–stunning cultural attractions, brilliant cafes, bustling markets and plenty of other cool things to do in Cairns.
If you've already devoured our list of summer activities in Cairns, you'll need a new destination to visit on your road trip through Queensland.
So where are we driving to first? Starting at the Oaks Cairns Hotel, complete with a rooftop restaurant and a bar with ocean views, all within walking distance to The Pier, we're visiting ancient and natural wonders.
Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park
Distance from Hotel: 3-hour drive (212 km).
You're about to visit a 400 million-year-old landscape that was previously underwater. An ancient environment chiselled out by a shallow sea, the Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park is home to limestone caves filled with stalactites, stalagmites and flowstones alongside small galleries of Aboriginal rock art. At 212 km from the hotel, it's about a three-hour drive to reach the rocky outcrops of Chillagoe.
The caves are best experienced through the expert eyes of the local rangers. Operating daily, visitors can marvel at the underground, caves and caverns amongst the park's rich natural and cultural heritage. For the adventurous amongst you, take the nine-kilometre return track to Royal Arch Bluff or the short 440-metre return track to Balancing Rock for even more cave exploration and Aboriginal art sites.
Tchupala Falls and Wallicher Falls
Distance from Hotel: 1-hour, 30-minute drive (114 km).
An essential component of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area is Wooroonooran National Park. An hour and a half away from the hotel, this region is valuable and vital to the area because of its rich soils, which support some of the oldest rainforests, and its unusually wet climate.
From the trackhead, there's another equally delightful trek to Tchupala Falls. This waterfall is a treat for the eyes from the lookout. But for a closer look, you can descend a flight of concrete stairs to observe the lower falls as they cascade over two large falls. Double back to the y-junction near the start of the trails to reach Wallicher Falls for another glorious view.
9. Port Douglas
Where to Stay in Port Douglas:
Flying into Cairns means you're only an hour away by car from Port Douglas, bringing you closer to the Daintree Rainforest - the oldest rainforest in the world - and the Great Barrier Reef, arguably Australia's greatest natural wonder.
Staying at Oaks Port Douglas Resort means cocktails by the lagoon-style pool and massages at the on-site spa. Located along Port Douglas Road, it's only a short drive to the iconic Four Mile Beach. Plus, there are plenty of local shuttle services to help you get in and out of town.
Since we've already covered several bucket list tourism options throughout Tropical North Queensland, let's look at the must-see places and activities that are only a road trip away.
Cooper Creek - Cape Tribulation
Distance from Hotel: 5-minute drive (3.6 km).
Don't let Captain Cook's pessimistic name-calling get you down; Cape Tribulation is one of the most stunning destinations in Port Douglas, giving you access to rainforest and the reef. To get there, drive along Cape Tribulation Road and over the river with the help of the Daintree River Ferry. Once you disembark, the forest is your oyster. Just driving through the rainforest is a delight in itself.
But if you need a little help getting started, our first recommendation is a corner of Cooper Creek situated along Turpentine Road below the Heritage Lodge and the cheekily named On The Turps Restaurant (where the beers are cold and the food is delicious).
Only an hour and a 22-minute drive from the hotel, the natural crocodile-free oasis is easily accessible via a small path from the restaurant. Winding down the mountain on its way to the sea, the clean, pristine waters of Cooper Creek will offer every guest a relaxing, refreshing experience in the heart of the Daintree.
For more refreshments, stop by the Daintree Ice Cream Company and try their Signature Cup for mouthwatering exotic flavours from their fruit orchard.
Distance from Hotel: 1 hour, 18-minute drive (66 km).
Road trips don't always need far-flung destinations to be worthwhile. Sometimes the best places to visit are right in the middle of town, just four minutes away by car. Every Sunday, Market Park, adjoining Anzac Park on the inlet at Wharf St Port Douglas, is overflowing with market stalls selling all sorts of goodies from arts and crafts, jewellery, fruit and vegetables, glassware, books, coffee, boats, and plenty more.
The Port Douglas Markets are a proud symbol of the area and are known for their exquisitely crafted goods. Established 20 years ago, the former 'Cotter's Market' is a lively event that is well worth the car ride. It's also just a stone's throw away from St Mary's By The Sea Church, one of the most stunning wedding venues.