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Sydney To Cairns Drive Complete Itinerary For 2024

Sydney To Cairns 3 Week Road Trip; Ultimate Camper Trip Through Australia

Whether you’re on a gap year or simply have persuaded your boss to take 3 weeks annual leave, this Sydney to Cairns drive 3-week road trip combines beautiful beaches, tropical jungles, vibrant cities, desert dunes and rugged coastline. You can use this awesome Sydney to Cairns itinerary for 2 weeks, 3 weeks or even more to cover the full distance of the road trip.

We picked up our campervan from the rental shop in Sydney and travelled the colossal 2500km to the beautiful town of Cairns. Along the way, you will get to see amazing places like Airlie Beach, Gold Coast, Nelsons Bay and Nambucca Heads. It’s an amazing drive and one of the best you’ll ever do. If you have a campervan you should check out my campervan cooking tips post.

This is your perfect Sydney, Brisbane Cairns and more drive itinerary!

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What is the Sydney to Cairns distance?

The distance from Sydney to Cairns takes you anything from 10 days to 3 weeks. If you’re in a rush you can do the East Coast of Australia coastal drive quickly. However, if you want to see everything, you will want to take your time! There are places to see inland as well as on the coast, this is why you shouldn’t rush the journey.

Australia’s Best Cheap Campervans

Sydney to Cairns map

You will find below the Sydney to Cairns Google map, which shows the quickest route from Sydney to Queensland and then to Cairns. This is a journey is around 2,414 km. However, in this itinerary I’ve created, you will be stopping off at the best places to see on the East coast of Australia so your trip is going to be longer!

This is just an idea of the quickest route possible which takes you through the popular route of New South Wales and then Queensland to Cairns.

Day 1 – 3  – Sydney

Sydney is a city that captured our hearts from the go! There’s so much to see and do that I recommend a few days to enjoy the experience. You will get to see awesome places such as the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains.

Things to do in Sydney

  1. Sydney has always been on my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint. There is so much to see and do in Sydney you’ll be spoiled for choice. We decided to start with a trip up Sydney Tower Observation Deck to get a bird’s eye view of this amazing city and its surroundings. With unrestricted views of the magnificent Sydney Harbour, the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, this is an experience you will never forget. On a clear summer’s day, you can even see as far as the Blue Mountains, now that’s impressive. You could also, check out the Lane Cove National Park on your road trip.

Observation Deck Price = Adult:  26.50AUD             Child (4-15yrs): 17AUD

Location = Sydney Tower, Westfield Centre, 100 Market Street, central Sydney

  1.  No trip to Sydney would be complete without a visit to the famous Bondi Beach. Whether you want to top up your tans, ride the waves, take a stroll around the coast routes or dine at the quirky cafes, Bondi Beach has something for everyone whether you are young or old. We took on the challenge of the Bondi to Coogee clifftop walk, which took us around 2 hours. The views were incredible and made for many Insta shots which are always a bonus! There are also plenty of bays to take a dip and cool off from the hot sun or free BBQs to cook up a perfect picnic.

Price = Free

Location = Bondi Beach, Bondi

  1. Last but not least explore city life. Take a walk through the Botanic Gardens and find your way to Sydney Opera House before heading to Sydney Harbour Bridge or shopping to drop at the many malls and outlets Sydney has to offer. Altogether we walked 10 miles exploring Sydney’s streets and rewarded ourselves with an ice-cold beer at one of Sydney’s quirky cafes.

Price = Free

Location = Sydney City Centre

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Places to stay in Sydney;

Here’s some accommodation for you to stay overnight;

Day 3-4 – Sydney to Nelson Bay (210km/2.5hrs)

Nelson Bay is a coastline town full of picturesque beaches, quirky cafes and exciting water sports, making it a perfect fun-filled adventure destination for everyone to enjoy.

Things to do in Nelson Bay

1. Easily accessible by car, Gan Gan viewpoint offers incredible views overlooking Nelson Bay and beyond.

Gan Gan Viewpoint Price= Free

Location= Lilly Hill Road, Nelson Bay

  1. With a 99% success rate of sighting dolphins, Moonshadow Cruises is a perfect day out for all the family. Enjoy a scenic cruise and learn about these magical animals and their habitat whilst watching them splash around in the clear Australian waters.

Moonshadow Cruise Price = From AUD 25

Location = Stockton Street, Nelson Bay

  1. Take a hike through Tomaree National Park and enjoy scenic views whilst keeping your eye out for Australia’s beloved koalas. Why not visit Point Stephens Lighthouse or Tomaree Head Fortifications and learn about the vibrant history of Tomaree National Park?

Price = Free

Location = Tomaree National Park, New South Wales

Australia’s Best Cheap Campervans

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Where to stay Nelson Bay

Let’s check out some cool places to stay;

Day 4-5 – Nelson Bay to Port Macquarie (250km/3hrs)

Port Macquarie is a coastline town perfect for soaking up the Aussie sun on the white sandy beaches or enjoying tasty food at numerous restaurants.

Things to do in Port Macquarie

  1. Take a trip to the world’s first Koala Hospital to see how dedicated the team are to rescuing and rehabilitating koalas throughout Australia, as well as promoting practices to conserve their habitat. You can even adopt your koala and support the hospital to get these animals back into the wild safely.

Koala Hospital Price = Free although donations are appreciated

Location = Lord Street, Macquarie Nature Reserve

  1. There are plenty of coastal walks throughout Port Macquarie that can be started anywhere along the shoreline. We started from the town centre and followed the path for around 5km passing several white sandy beaches, lookout points and a café to rehydrate and replenish!

Price = Free

Location = Port Macquarie Town Centre

  1. Grab a map from the visitor information centre in Port Macquarie town centre and follow the Koalas Sculpture Trail to spot over 56-metre high fibreglass koala sculptures. There aren’t many places in the world that have hand-painted sculptures dotted around a town. This incredible scheme aims to bring a sense of fun whilst celebrating Australia’s iconic animal – the Koala!

Price = Free

Location = Port Macquarie Visitor Centre, Clarence Street

Australia’s Best Cheap Campervans

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Where to stay in Port Macquarie

Looking for hotels in Port Macquarie? Let’s check some out;

Day 5-6 – Port Macquarie to Nambucca Heads (120km/1hr)

Nambucca Heads is a sleepy coastal town off the beaten track and overlooked by many travellers and I don’t know why! It was one of our favourite places on our Sydney to Cairns Road Trip.

Things to do in Nambucca Heads

  1.  Walk along the Nambucca V-Wall where the Nambucca River meets the ocean to create an unbelievable view. It’s also encouraged to leave a personal message on the break wall gallery and read other holiday memories. There’s plenty of parking and it’s right across from the V-Wall Tavern, making it for a pit stop pint!

Price = Free

Location = 52 Wellington Drive, Nambucca Heads

  1. Nambucca Heads has plenty of lookout points, but Captain Cook has to be our favourite. It’s a short drive from the town centre and there are plenty of parking spaces, making it perfect to stop on a picnic with a view.

Price = Free

Location = Ridge Street, Nambucca Heads

  1. Relax at Shelly Beach and soak up the sun before taking a dip in the cool calm waters.

Price = Free

Location = Ridge Street, Nambucca Heads 

Cheap Campervan Availability
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Where to stay in Nambucca Heads

Let’s look at some of the best accommodation in Nambucca heads;

Day 6-7 – Nambucca Heads to Bryon Bay (300km/3.5hrs)

Byron Bay is a quirky town best known for its laid-back surfer attitudes, impressive sunsets and cool coffee shops. My only advice is to arrive early, parking can be a nightmare as the town gets busier during the day. There are many top things to do in Byron Bay while you’re there!

Things to do in Bryon Bay

  1. Byron Bay is the perfect place to try your hand at surfing. Whether you’re a beginner or a top-level pro, anybody can catch a wave here. The most famous break is ‘The Pass’, however, this is solely for experienced thrill seekers.

Byron Bay Surf Board Rental Price = Free if you have your board. Prices for board hire start from AUD 10 a day

Location = Clarkes Beach

  1. Visited the eastern point of Australia and took in the Cape Byron Lighthouse trail. The walk begins at Byron’s Main Beach and will take around 45 minutes each way and you’ll be welcomed by amazing views of the rugged coastline.

Price = Free

Location= Cape Byron Lighthouse, Bryon Bay

  1. Explore Bryon’s best markets, the most popular being Bryon Bay Artisan Market (October-March every Saturday), Bryon’s Bay Market (first Sunday night) and Byron Bay Farmers Market (every Thursday morning). You can pick up some quirky souvenirs, and fresh food and even enjoy some live music with a tasty cocktail.

Price = Free

Location = Butler Street, Byron Bay

Australia’s Best Cheap Campervans
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Hotels in Byron Bay

Day 7-8 – Byron Bay to Nimbin (78km/1hr)

Nimbin has a pretty cool history and is now renowned for its famous hippie vibe, where people celebrate a life revolving around marijuana.  It’s a unique town in Australia and worth a visit especially if you like street art, reggae music and partying!

Things to do in Nimbin

1. Make your candles at the Nimbin’s Candle Factory or buy some of their unique handcrafted ones to take home.

Price= Free

Location= Unit 5 Old Butter Factory, 2 Blue Knob Road

  1. Visit the Nimbin HEMP Embassy and learn all you need to know about marijuana. Even if marijuana isn’t your thing, it’s still an interesting attraction in Nimbin!

Price = Free

Location = 51 Cullen St, Nimbin

  1. Enjoy smashed avocado on sourdough toast at the Bush Theatre Café whilst watching the world walk past.

Price= Breakfast starts from AUD 10 at the Bush Theatre Cafe

Location = 2A Blue Knob Rd, Nimbin

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Hotels in Nimbin

Day 8-9 – Nimbin to Gold Coast (100km/1.5hrs)

The Gold Coast is a classic holiday destination for both locals and tourists, where you’ll never get bored. You can even come away from the coast and visit the awesome Purling Brook Falls in Springbrook National Park.

Things to do in Gold Coast

  1. Let your inner child come out and visit Warner Bros Movie World, Sea World and Wet&Wild for an action-packed day out.

Price for tickets = From AUD 129 for all 3 theme parks

Location = Pacific Mwy, Oxenford QLD 4210

  1. Try your hand at surfing at the famous Surfer’s Paradise Beach. There are plenty of surfing schools to choose from or simply hire your board.

Price of surfboard rental at Surfer’s Paradise = From AUD 25 for 2 hours

Location = Surfers Paradise Beach

  1. Take on Australia’s highest treetop adventure park, The Tree Top Challenge at Tamborine Mountain and fly through 9 acres of amazing tropical forest.

Price = From AUD 55

Location = Cedar Creek Falls Rd North Tamborine Queensland

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Hotels in the Gold Coast

Day 9-10 – Gold Coast to Brisbane (80km/1hr)

Brisbane holds the title of Australia’s largest city home to 2.4 million people and has the perfect climate with hot humid summers and relatively dry warm winters. This tropical city is booming right now with vibrant nightlife, world-class restaurants and action-packed activities for any type of traveller. There are plenty of awesome things to see between Sydney to Brisbane.

Things to do in Brisbane

  1. 1. Visit Australia’s first and largest koala sanctuary, Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. You’ll have the opportunity to meet over 130 koalas and learn about the conservation efforts to save these furry creates, as well as meet more of Australia’s native animals such as kangaroos, dingo and the Tasmanian devil!

Price = From AUD 42

Location = 708 Jesmond Rd, Fig Tree Pocket, Brisbane

  1. Climb the iconic Brisbane Story Bridge to get a 360 degree of this magical city, including the impressive skyline, Glass House Mountains and the Scenic Rim Mountains. As one of only 3 bridges in the world you can climb, this certainly will be a unique and memorable experience.

Brisbane Story Bridge Price = From $129 AUD

Location = 170 Main St, Kangaroo Point

  1. Take a day trip to Moreton Island, one of Australia’s largest sand islands and snorkel in the clear shallow waters and spot an array of bright-coloured fish and coral or take a dip in the relaxing champagne pools and watch as the water bubbles around you.

Price = From $84 return ferry trip from Brisbane to Moreton Island

Location = Moreton Island

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Hotels in Brisbane

Day 10-12 – Brisbane to Noosa Heads (150km/2hrs)

Now it’s time to carry on from Brisbane to Cairns on your drive stopping at Noosa Heads. Noosa Heads has become an ideal holiday destination for travellers over the recent decades and has built an impressive infrastructure to cater to the needs of thousands of visitors every year. Whether you’re looking for remarkable surfing, sheltered cove beaches, shopping, music events or energetic nightlife, Noosa Heads has it all!

Things to do in Noosa Heads

  1. 1. Take a stroll through the picturesque Noosa National Park and snap the perfect Insta shot, you may even be lucky and stop a wild koala! There are plenty of covered beaches along the way to have a break and relax in the sunshine, just remember to take plenty of water to keep hydrated.

Price = Free

Location = Park Rd, Noosa Heads

  1. Shop till you drop at Hasting Street, with a range of restaurants, bars, gift shops and boutiques, you’ll never get bored.

Price = Free

Location = Hasting Street, Noosa Heads

  1. Take a relaxing horse ride through Lake Weyba, a hidden gem of Noosa Heads and spot the abundant wildlife in this tranquil environment. Don’t forget to bring your camera as there’s always time to stop and get some great pictures to great memories for life.

Price = AUD 90 for 1hr

Location = Lake Weyba – 22 Wills Road

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Hotels in Noosa Heads

Day 12-14 – Noosa Heads to Fraser Island (180km/2hrs)

Explore the wonders of Fraser Island, where wild sandy beaches meet rugged tropical rainforests and crystal clear freshwater lakes. Fraser Island is truly not one to be missed! You can either book a designated 4×4 tour from Hervey Bay or take your vehicle and tackle this rugged island on your own. Passenger and vehicle ferries between Hervey Bay and Fraser Island run throughout the day and take around 30 minutes.

Things to do in Fraser Island

  1. Take a swim in Australia’s most unique wonder, Lake Mckenzie, a perched lake made entirely of rainwater giving a crystal clear appearance.

Price = Free

Location = Lake Mckenzie Road

  1. Drive along a 75-mile beach, Fraser Island’s very own highway. It’s not just the impressive length of this beach that makes it a number one attraction in Queensland, but it’s where you’ll also find Maheno shipwreck, the popular swimming spot known as Champagne Pools and the striking volcanic rock formation of Indian Head. The beach itself is not a safe place to swim due to dangerous currents and a large shark population and watch out for the ever-changing tides and ambling tourists!

Price = Free

Location = Fraser Island

3. Chill out at Eli Creek, a crystal clear lazy river sitting between the ocean and hills. Toilet facilities and a man-made boardwalk are taking you to the starting point of the river. Be sure to take a floatable ring and cold beer and enjoy an afternoon of splashing about in the water. Remember to sit all your rubbish with you as dingos often roam the areas.

Price = Free

Location = Eli Creek

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Hotels in Fraser Island

Side note – Do you take photos yourself and want to get into a little travel photography? Then check out this camera – it’s cheap, takes a great photo and has great ratings!

Day 14-17 – Fraser Island to Airlie Beach (800km/9hr)

This is the main stretch of your Sydney to Cairns 3-week itinerary, yes it might be a long and tiring drive, but it’ll be worth it to experience the wonders of Airlie Beach. The main reason people visit Airlie Beach is to gain access to The Great Barrier Reef, but it’s also home to the world-famous Whitsundays.

Things to do in Airlie Beach

  1. Island hop around Whitsundays and explore some of the most beautiful beaches in the world such as the award-winning Whitehaven Beach and Betty’s Beach. Whitsundays is only accessible by boat, plane or helicopter, so depending on your budget will depend on your choice. There are plenty of tours including both day trips and overnight trips from Airlie with backpacker budget options, to luxury accommodation. It’s best to book in advance, especially during peak seasons as Whitsundays tours often get booked up.

Price = From $115 for a day tour

Location = The Cove Road, Airlie Beach

  1. Explore the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday from above with a scenic flight. You’ll get to see sights such as the iconic Heart Reef, Whitehaven Beach and the swirling sands of Hill Inlet.

Price = From AUD 249 for 60 minutes

Location = Shute Harbour Road, Airlie Beach

  1. Take a dip in the Airlie Beach Lagoon situated in the heart of the town, where you can sunbathe on the grassy verge or find a shady spot and read a good old book.

Price = Free

Location = Shute Harbour Road, Airlie Beach

amazing airlie beach

Hotels in Airlie Beach

Day 17-18 – Airlie Beach to Townsville (250km/3hr)

Townsville is the perfect destination to visit Magnetic Island, as well as enjoying some sunny weather, friendly people and stunning scenery.

Things to do in Townsville

  1. Take a ferry and enjoy a day trip to Magnetic Island to enjoy snorkelling at Nelly Bay or take a hike around the Forts Trail where you can spot wild koalas and learn about WW11 history.

Price = $7.20 AUD for an all-day bus ticket & $33 AUD for a return ferry ticket

Location = Magnetic Island

  1. Drive up to Castle Hill, a giant pink granite mould in the centre of Townsville to enjoy 360-degree views of this amazing Aussie town.

Price = Free

Location = Castle Hill Road, Townsville

  1. Stroll along The Strand, Townsville’s thriving 2.5km beachfront and enjoy the plentiful waterfront restaurants, ice-cream parlours and kids’ play areas. Take a swim in the ocean, explore the rock pools, test your balance on a paddleboard or have a go at skydiving, there is something for everyone.

Price = Free

Location = The Strand, Townsville

The magnetic island Alma Bay

Hotels in Townsville

Day 18-19 – Townsville to Mission Beach (230km/2hr)

Situated between Townsville and Cairns, Mission Beach is a perfect pit-stop destination to relax and unwind before the last leg of your journey. If you’re more of an adrenaline junkie, don’t worry we’ve got you covered, there are plenty of activities from white water rafting to tandem skydiving.

Things to do in Mission Beach

  1. Enjoy a spectacular sunrise on Mission Beach, it’s worth the 5 am wake-up call!

Price = Free

Location = Mission Beach

2. Enjoy spectacular views on the Kennedy Walking Trail, an 8km boardwalk passing beautiful beaches with views of offshore islands and rocky coastlines.

Price = Free

Location = Kennedy Esplanade, parking at the South Mission Beach boat ramp

  1. If you love tropical birds and butterflies visit Djiru National Park, a tropical jungle with numerous walkways and picnic areas for all the family to enjoy.

Price = Free

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Hotels near Mission Beach

Day 19-21 – Mission Beach to Cairns (130km/1.5hr)

You’ve reached your final destination, the gate away to the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns.

Things to do in Cairns

  1. If you want a different perspective of the rainforest try out the Skyrail Cable Car, a 7.5km scenic gondola through the Barron Gorge National Park.

Price = AUD 55 for a one-way Skyrail Experience

Location = 6 Skyrail Drive, Smithfield

2. Take the short drive to Palm Cove a relaxing seaside town, where you can enjoy the beautiful golf courses, world-renowned spas, award-winning restaurants and water sports activities.

Price = Free

Location = Palm Cove

  1. Visit Josephine Falls, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Tropical North Queensland that has been used for TV commercials!

Price = Free

Location = Josephine Falls Walk, Bartle Frere

Hotels in Cairns

Once here, you can check out the best things to do Cairns for an itinerary of epic things to do!

Sydney to Cairns Flights

You can get a Sydney to Cairns flight if you don’t want to do this East Coast of Australia itinerary.

How long is the flight from Sydney to Cairns?

The flight will take between 3-4 hours, as you will know Australia is a big country so the flight times are generally long! It’s crazy I know, back in England I can fly from Manchester to London in under an hour.

How much is the Sydney flight to Cairns?

The plane ride will cost you about $ 220 AUD.

Sydney to Cairns train

If you’re thinking of getting the Sydney to Cairns train, there’s not a train that goes direct from the Sydney Train Station to the Cairns Train Station. So, you’ll have to get the train from Sydney to Brisbane Train Station and then carry on up to Cairns. However, I would miss the train ride and do this East Coast drive itinerary!

Cheap campervan rental

Wondering which company to hire your campervan from? Without a doubt, one of the best is SPaceships hire!

  • It’s free to make changes to your book before the day of pick-up (subject to availability)
  • You can cancel your booking for free (until 14 days before pick-up)
  • You can manage your booking yourself via the Online Check-in Portal: add or remove accessories, add an extra driver for free and more.
  • All cooking & sleeping gear is included. No need to bring any of that stuff yourself.

This Aussie crew will do their best to make sure you’ll have the best road trip experience in Australia!

Check Campervan Availability

Final Thoughts

There we have it!

You now have everything you need for your Sydney to Cairns the itinerary. This is one of the number one travel itineraries for Australia! You will love it!

If you’re thinking about going to Melbourne, you can check out my Sydney to Melbourne post.

If you’re visiting Australia, you will need to get a visa, and I know getting an Australia visa is not easy. But using the right company will make sure you have an easy time!

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Many people laugh when you tell them it’s possible to make money online – believe me – it’s possible! I along with plenty of other bloggers – make a nice income from the laptop.

If this is you, check out my How to Start a Travel blog guide!



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