Sydney to Cairns Drive
Australia, Travel

The Ultimate Sydney to Cairns Drive & Road Trip Itinerary

The coastal drive from Sydney to Cairns is a must do road trip. Along the way you will come across some of the best beaches in the world, amazing cities, sprawling bushland and even rainforests. The scenery changes in a heartbeat, and there is always something to see.

Before you head on your road trip form Sydney to Cairns, you should plan your trip properly. Having a good itinerary and pre-travel information will make your trip run smoothly, and you will have the time of your life.

Know all the ins and outs of what you need, where to stay and how to travel. Once that is planned, you can then plan your daily routes and stops. There is so much to see along the way from Sydney to Cairns, so planning your visits day by day will help you see everything, and not miss a thing!

Pre-Travel Information

All the nitty gritty stuff that you need to plan before your trip can be a little complicated. Here is a list of the things you need to know, and what you need to plan, before taking your first step on the road from Sydney to Cairns.

The Best Time to Travel from Sydney to Cairns

Cairns has beautiful weather all year round, but between April and September would be the best time to do the road trip. The weather is warm, the sun is out and the humidity is low.  In September, you will miss the school holidays, so the beaches and cities will be quieter if that is what you want.

How to Get From Sydney

Sydney has a fairly large airport, so you will have a few options to choose from when traveling to Sydney. Airlines such as Qantas, Virgin Australia and United Airlines all visit frequently, so it will just be checking up on specials per airline when booking your flight.

Where to Stay from Sydney to Cairns

You will need to stay at different venues throughout your trip, as you will be traveling and not staying in one place for too long. The cheapest option would be to actually travel with a caravan, but there should be some back packers or bed and breakfasts along the way.

How to get around from Sydney to Cairns

As it is a road trip, you will obviously need to travel by car. You will need a decent sized car to fit all of your travel gear inside, and it will need to be reliable. To make traveling easier when doing the long drive, you might want to consider taking a caravan with you.

This will allow you to stay in caravan friendly places along the way and not have to change locations every night or couple of nights. It will give you a familiar place to sleep, and will have a toilet and a small kitchen for you to use along the way as well.

To learn more about purchasing cars in Australia, check out Gumtree.

Do I Need a Visa to Visit Australia?

Travelers from the United States or the United Kingdom will need to obtain a Visa before entering the country. If visiting for less than 90 days, you are able to apply for an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), but you will need to check the Australian Embassy website for the latest Visa information.

Day 1 & 2

Hunter Valley winery

Hunter Valley Wineries

How amazing would it be to kick off your road trip with a winery tour? Hunter Valley has nearly 120 wineries to visit. There is a diverse range of grapes grown and harvested within the valley, meaning there are different wines to be tasted and favored along the way.

Some wineries do have overnight facilities, so you won’t have to get into the car and drive after a very hearty wine tasting. Some of the best wineries to see are: Audrey Wilkinson Winery, Bimbadgen Winery and Brokenwood Wines. You could even pick up some bottles to take home as souvenirs, or to enjoy at picnic spots along the way.

Woy Woy Beach

A beautiful coastal town, Woy Woy has so much to offer. In the town you can find scenic waterways, deliciously fresh seafood and shops at Gnostic Corner. Finish it all with a stroll along the waterfront. It is a refreshing break away from busy cities and has something to attract everyone. You will really feel settled in the coastal town pace. Spend a day walking around the town and finding small activities to do along the way. It is clean, safe and full of small treasures to be discovered by tourists.

Ettalong Beach, NSW

Ettalong Beach

There are many things to do in Ettalong Beach. Although it is a fairly quiet village, it is quickly growing in popularity.  The Ettalong Markets are on a Saturday and Sunday, so it might be worth planning your trip to visit one of these. Ettalong Beach has some of the most beautiful ocean views along the coast, and offers a place to stay. If you are caravanning, there are National Parks where you can stay overnight.

Brisbane Water National Park

Brisbane Water National Park is near Gosford and is an amazing outdoor experience. There are great cycling routes, walks and fishing sports to be found in the resort.  Many people like to go on one of the 8 great walks in the park. The Great North Walk is the most popular, but it is quite long. There are shorter, more manageable walks for those just popping through. It might be worth spending a night or two camping in the Brisbane Water National Park, which will give you a good opportunity to explore the wildlife and natural scenery.

Day 3 & 4

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Port Stephens

Port Stephens is rich in natural beauty. It is known as the “blue water paradise”, and has gorgeous marine views. It is divided into different regions: the Tomaree Peninsula, the Golden Bight and the Tilligerry Peninsula. There are a collection of bays to visit in Port Stephens:

Fingal Bay: Walk across ‘the spit’ to land up at the burnt out ruins of the lighthouse residence. The beach at Fingal Bay is a beautiful, sprawling beach-wonderland.

Nelson Bay: Nelson Bay is a coastal resort that is popular with tourists. It is the largest town in Port Stephens, but still holds charm. The diving and snorkelling here is among the best in the world, and the there is an aquatic reserve with incredible marine life in the tiny promontory of Fly Point.

Shoal Bay: Beautiful scenery and nature meet in this beach. The holiday park located in Shoal bay has catamarans, surf skis, sailboards, canoes and paddleboats on hire. There are also places that offer water skiing and paragliding, and a big game fishing competition held each February.

Port Macquarie: Port Macquarie has an incredible 17 beaches. There are many attractions such as the Koala Hospital, river cruises and Billabong Zoo. You can choose between 4.5 star hotels that offer pure luxury, to humble camping locations at the beach.

Day 5 & 6

The "Big Banana"

Giant Banana in Coffs Harbour

The Big Banana is an amusement park that is well-known among tourists and locals alike. The name comes from the amusement park being set among a banana plantation. The attractions include a walk-through giant banana, a downhill toboggan ride, a water park, a skating ring and the World of Bananas educational experience. It will add a little bit of excitement and fun to your trip, and you can even touch in with your inner child on one of the themed rides or water slides.

Forest Sky Pier

You will be able to experience the most incredible panoramic views from The Forest Sky Pier. It is an architectural feature that looks over Coffs Coast and Hinterland. It is levered over the edge of the Sealy Lookout in the Orara East State Forest and casts over 22 metres of rainforest, 15 meters above the forest roof. It is a quick 10 minute drive off the Pacific Highway, which has beautiful views of the forest and banana plantations along the way.

Dolphin Marine Magic

This attraction is the only zoological park in New South Wales that houses dolphins. There are two presentations each day. You can take part in a hands-on experience with the animals, all in the aim to educate guests and inspire them to make their own impact in the conservation of the marine environment. The park has weather-friendly facilities, so it is also a great option for rainy days. The Marine Discovery Presentation gives interesting and fun information about the animals that live at the park, and shows that exhibit the natural talents of the seals and dolphins. Guests are also shown the dangers of litter and marine debris, and what they can do to help stop it. There is also a Dolphin Lagoon and Seal Lagoon that guests can visit and interact with these incredible animals.

It is an awesome place to visit in order to learn about the marine life around you on your trip, and get up and close with the cutest dolphins and seals around.

Byron Bay Lighthouse.Australia.

Byron Bay

Byron Bay is a beautiful coastal town. A visit to the Cape Byron Lighthouse is a must, and it is Australia’s most easterly point. The town boasts amazing beaches, unique shopping experiences and tasty dining options. The town also holds world-class festivals and really has a communal feel. There are quiet hinterland towns and busy seaside villages. You might want to take a day or two to visit these different regions, to take in the uniqueness of each little spot. Taste the locally caught, fresh seafood and enjoy the magnificent views along the coastline, while mingling with the locals.

Day 6 & 8


Glass House Mountains

The Glass House Mountains are made from thirteen hills that abruptly rise above the coastal plain in the Sunshine Coast. The highest hill is Mount Beerwah, but the most presentable is Mount Tibrogargan, which many people think looks like a face staring east to the ocean. The Glass House Mountains are found near the Beerburrum State Forest, close to Steve Irwin Way. The Mountains are volcanic peaks that were formed by intrusive plugs, an ode to volcanic activity that happened nearly 27 million years ago. They are a sight to see and look odd peeking out of the otherwise flat landscape.

Koala at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

When in Australia, you have to see some Koalas. The Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is the first of its kind, and it is also the largest koala sanctuary in the world, homing over 130 koalas. Not only will you be able to get up close with a koala, you can also hand feed kangaroos and a wide range of natural wildlife found in Australia. The animals are all found in natural settings, reminiscent of their natural habitat. Lone Pine reserve lets their guests meet the animals and experience the natural habitats, learning more about native Australian wildlife. They look to help guests understand that conserving and protecting wildlife should be a main priority, and it is just a really great experience overall.

Also see The Top 10 Wildlife Destinations in the World

Brisbane’s South Bank

This destination is known for its outstanding green space, its busy events-life and delicious dining experiences. Spending two days or more experiencing South Bank will give you time to explore the great parts of the city. Swim along the water’s edge, take part in the free barbeques, picnic in one of the picnic spots, and take a walk or cycle along the riverfront. There is much sightseeing to be done at the vibrant Arbour or the Nepalese Pagoda. South Bank also boasts a cultural vibe, and is considered the cultural heart of Brisbane. There is always something on, art exhibitions, comedy, music shows, dance shows and theatre productions.

Sunshine Coast

The Sunshine Coast deserves to be explored. It is absolutely breath-taking, and there is so much to see. It extends from the city of Caloundra to the Great Sandy National Park. It is packed with quaint villages, awesome surf spots and untouched hinterland. There are many different fashion boutiques and art cafés to visit along the way.

The Eumundi Market is a must for art lovers, while golfers and surfers will adore the holiday town of Coolum. While you are in town, you must try one of the top restaurants found in Hasting Street and take in the views of the Glass House Mountains. You haven’t properly explored the route from Sydney to Cairns if you don’t take a trip along the Sunshine Coast. It is everything is promises to be, with the most amazing views and scenery to be seen along the way.


Day 9 & 10

Noosa beach


Noosa National Park

Take a trip through Noosa National Park to appreciate the Noosa Headland coastal scenery. Close to the park are Lake Weyba, Coolum and Peregian. Within the park are eucalypt forests, melaleuca wetland, woodland, colorful wallum heathland and vine-strewn rainforest. It is a wildlife sanctuary, protecting the natural wildlife within. The park gives you a great chance to take a break from the hectic traveling and truly appreciate the incredible flora and fauna found in Australia.

Arilie Beach

If you are looking for a vibrant, active destination, Arilie Beach should be on your next-stop list. Water activities are always on the go and there is so much to do, there are even outdoor activities that take place in the abundantly green rainforest on the Whitsunday Coast. It is the perfect holiday get away, with cafés, shops and boutiques dotted along the main street. Enjoy local seafood served at one of the alfresco restaurants, as well as fresh, handmade tapas, all made with local produce. It really is a place to kick back and enjoy.

Day 11 & 13


Reef HG Aquarium

The Reef HG is the world’s largest living coral reef aquarium, and is one of the only places that you can experience the Great Barrier Reef without getting in the water. Acting as the National Reef Education, it fulfills more for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority than just a cool aquarium.

They have impressive exhibits that are ever changing, showcasing different rare and interesting creatures that can be found in the Great Barrier Reef. The 2.5 million liter coral reef exhibit is breath taking and has to be seen up close. The aquarium also has the Waterview Café which offers up a variety of snacks and drinks for visitors. The Reef HQ Aquarium also holds the Reef-in store, which gives visitors the opportunity to buy a souvenir of their visit.

Mission Beach

Mission Beach is the perfect romantic getaway, or even just a destination to escape busy life. It is a beautiful coastal region made up of four beach villages, connected together by 14km of golden beach. The four beaches have a range of accommodation options for travelers, from luxury hotels to rainforest getaways. There is a destination for everyone, and a range of activities from calming walks to extreme sports like skydiving and white water rafting. There are always events happening such as festivals and shows. You can spend the day walking around enjoying the natural scenery, and then spend the night enjoying the local nightlife.

SkyRail Rainforest Cableway 9

Skyrail Rainforest Cableway

You will need to set at least half a day aside for the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway. You can choose between a half day and full day tour, and spend the time taking in the natural beauty of the ancient rainforest. There are 114 gondolas, which means the total capacity of the skyrail is 700 people per hour.  

You can also choose to sit in one of 11 Diamond View glass floor gondolas, where 5 people can sit and look down at the rainforest below. The cableway is a total of 7.5km long. It can move at a speed of 18km per hour, but it usually operates at a much slower speed for guests to take in the scenery. The highest station out of the 32 is 545 metres above sea level, and the steepest section of the skyrail is a slope of 19 degrees. It is the perfect way to take in the Tropical landscape and scenery of North Queensland.

Tully River

Not only is the Tully River beautiful to look at, but it offers some exciting white water rafting. It is known as one of the best white water rafting destinations in Australia and New Zealand. A highly trained river guide controls each boat, who will teach you proper white water rafting techniques throughout the day, and will also inform you about the history of the landscapes, with a few interesting facts thrown in.

The white water rafting experience is a great rush, and it can be experienced all year round as the yearly temperature ranges from 25 to 33 degrees Celsius. Just remember to wear clothes you wouldn’t mind getting wet, and wear tons of sunscreen. It is also a good idea to take a change of clothes; you don’t want to be stuck in wet clothing after your rafting.

The Great Barrier Reef - 189

Barrier Reef

There really could be no better way to end your road trip than by ending it off at the Great Barrier Reef. It is Australia’s great natural wonder, and is absolutely breath taking. It is the world’s largest living coral reef and is home to an abundance of marine life. There are over 3000 individual reef systems and coral cays within the Great Barrier Reef. Due to its beauty and uniqueness, it is one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the world.

At the Great Barrier Reef, you can enjoy snorkeling, scuba diving, helicopter tours, self-sail bare boats and even glass-bottomed boats. You can even take part in one of the educational trips that are done in a semi-submersible, or treat yourself to a cruise ship tour or indulge in some calming whale watching. Your trip from Sydney to Cairns will not be complete if you do not stop at the Great Barrier Reef. You can spend countless days taking in the sights, and truly appreciate how incredible it actually is.

Also see: The Ultimate Guide to the Australian Open in Melbourne


Sydney to Cairns Drive and Roadtrip

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