Byron Bay to Cairns Road Trip Itinerary: Must See Destinations

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Byron Bay to Cairns Road Trip Itinerary: Must See Destinations

There is definitely no better way to explore the incredibly vast terrain of Australia than by van. Spending hours on end while not-so-eloquently crammed into a sleeper van, allows you to fully experience everything the east coast has to offer. From diverse wildlife and epic sunrises, to small beach towns and friendly locals, Australia is a road-trippers dream. While you might grow tired of wondering where your next shower will come from, you will most definitely not get bored of looking out your window.

Below, I’ve included our road trip itinerary, as well as why we recommend adding each destination to your road trip bucket list. Happy camping!

Stop #1: Byron Bay

Byron Bay is the epitome of cool surfer towns. Everyone here has a laid back, happy vibe that’s insanely contagious. Spend a couple of hours here and you won’t want to leave. Head to Jonson Street to revel in the backpacker scene or out to Cape Byron State Conservation Park to be wow’d by inspiring views. Our favorite part of our stop in Byron was watching the sunset from the park, where we not only spotted dolphins surfing in the swell but also several humpbacks breaching in the background. Don’t just stop at the lighthouse, but, instead, take a stroll down to the beach where you’ll find a private cove and the perfect spot to watch the last light.

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Stop #2: Minyon Falls

Distance from Byron Bay: 20 Miles| 45 minutes

Before heading north we decided to take a quick 45 minute detour west to Minyon Falls, and, man, were we glad we did! Upon first arrival it appears as though the only way to view the waterfall is from a platform overlooking the top of the falls; however – if you’re up for it – you can take a steep trail down to the base to see the 300 foot cascade in all of its glory. Best part is, you might even have the view all to yourself.

Stop #3: The Glass House Mountains

Distance from Minyon Falls: 154 Miles| 3 hrs 18 minutes

Per recommendation of our Aussie friend, we made our next stop in the Glass House Mountains with the hope of getting some rock climbing and hiking in. Unfortunately, we were not able to climb because, for once, we decided to “wing” our trip and not book anything in advance (*note to self, never doing that again*) and they were all booked for the day we were passing through! We were able to do some epic hiking, though, and highly recommend wandering around the volcanic mounds as they paint quite the surreal picture against the leveled backdrop. Oh, and it was here that we spotted our first kangaroo!

Stop #4: Noosa

Distance from Glass House Mountains: 53 Miles| 1 hr 7 minutes

Noosa is what vacation dreams are made of. With its fine dining, beach-front stores and river cruises, you’ll be planning out your retirement before sundown. While the town doesn’t necessarily scream backpacker it does have treat-yo-self written all over it. Here, a sunset river cruise is a must. We hopped on a $10 first-come-first-serve boat and couldn’t be happier. What’s better than a $3 wine and front row seats to a sunset? Before heading out, make sure to grab dinner at the picturesque, waterfront Noosa Boathouse for pristine views and *another* glass of wine. Who’s counting?

We also loved our walk through the Noosa National Park. It’s a beautiful place to take a hike, catch some waves, or spot the elusive koala.

Stop #5: Hervey Bay + Fraser Island

Distance from Noosa: 98 Miles| 2 hrs

Hervey Bay is the launching point to the mesmerizing Fraser Island. While we were unable to fit in a trip to Fraser Island, it is definitely a destination to add to your list if you can spare the couple of days and cash. Had we rented a 4WD vehicle we would have been there in a heartbeat but, alas, we will have to save it for another time! During the winter months, Hervey Bay is also an incredible place to spot humpback whales. Any other time, use this charming town to slow down a bit, visit a beer garden and catch a sunset from the pier.

Stop #6: Seventeen Seventy (1770)

Distance from Hervey Bay: 147 Miles| 2 hrs 43 minutes

Seventeen Seventy was a destination that got added to our list after we had already arrived in country. Several locals had recommended we stop in the quaint town before heading north to Airlie. Looking back, my favorite night on our road trip was camping in Seventeen Seventy. There isn’t much to do in this small town but its charm will win you over, most definitely. Here, we rented a double kayak and spent the morning paddling around at low tide – we were even lucky enough to encounter dolphins!


Stop #7: Cape Hillsborough National Park 

Distance from Seventeen Seventy: 380 Miles| 6 hrs 55 minutes

Make sure to get comfy and settle in as the distance between 1770 and Cape Hillsborough is the longest stretch along this road trip itinerary. Rest assured, though, the National Park will not disappoint. We raced against the clock to arrive on the shores of the park in time to witness the famed kangaroos.  Accustom, as we’ve grown over the years, to being the only travelers up with the sun we were surprised to see so many others already on the beach when we arrived. At first, we were taken aback by the crowd of people gathered around a park ranger and several kangaroos because we were not aware of the Park’s conservation effort to protect the animals. As this spot grew in popularity, so did the mishandling of the animals (feeding, getting too close, etc). In response to this, the park now monitors the sightings and interactions with the kangaroos by trying to inform and educate those visiting.

While we were initially saddened by this once organic interaction with nature, we understand the reality and impact of tourism on our World’s most beautiful places and species. Please take this as a reminder to always travel responsibly, environmentally, and ethically.


Stop #8: Airlie Beach & The Whitsundays 


Distance from Cape Hillsborough: 78 Miles| 1 hr 32 minutes

Airlie Beach completely lived up to its name with its infectious and youthful atmosphere, tempting beer gardens and friendly locals. Truth be told, we only stopped over in Airlie because its of access to the Whitsundays and before we knew it we were sharing a table and pitchers of beer with a group of locals and bar hoping along with them to some of Airlie’s hidden gems. The night didn’t make for the most steady of stomach’s the next morning but it was definitely a night we will remember!

While in Airlie, visiting the Whitsundays is a no brainer – easily the most stunning sight we witnessed on our road trip. We sailed to the islands with Sailing Whitsundays and joined their day tour on the Providence V sailing boat. I cannot recommend this tour enough! The boat was stunning, and the crew personable. On this tour, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the famed Whitehaven beach, hike up to the Hill Inlet lookout and hope off at a snorkel spot, if you choose.

Stop #9: Townsville 

Distance from Airlie Beach: 78 Miles| 3 hrs 12 minutes

Townsville was the biggest city we stopped in on our journey north and proved to be a nice change of pace from the grungy van life. The main draw for us here was seeing the city at sunrise from Castle Hill. It was a steep, but quick, trek that will get your heart pumping. The views from the top were breathtaking and definitely worth the 5:00 a.m. wake-up call.

BONUS: If you’re divers like us, consider diving the Yongala, one of Australia’s most famous wrecks. You can access the wreck out of Townsville or Alva Beach, thought Alva will entail a much shorter boat ride. Happy diving!

Stop #10: Jourama Falls

Distance from Townsville: 58 Miles| 1 hr 15 minutes

Jourama Falls was a stop not on our list, but rather a last minute exit veer-off. A destination we had originally overlooked quickly became one of our favorite stops! Jourama falls is a series of cascading waterfalls tumbling down the gorge. A quick hike will take you to a viewing platform where you can marvel at the multi-tiered falls from above. However, if you’re up for it, I recommend heading down to the pools at the base of the falls and taking a quick – freezing – dip. We were so cold and filled to the brim with adrenaline that we couldn’t stop laughing.

Stop #11: Wallaman Falls

Distance from Jourama Falls: 49 Miles| 1 hr 22 minutes

Another breathtaking waterfall you just can’t skip is Wallaman Falls. Several tourist flock to this destination to view Australia’s tallest single-drop waterfall. While the view from the top is spectacular enough to warrant a stop in itself, beat the crowds and opt to take the Djyinda Walk (2 mi) to its base. From the bottom, you’ll experience the full force of the stunning waterfall and will, most likely, have the surreal experience all to yourself.

Stop #12: Atherton Tablelands + The Waterfall Circuit 

Distance from Wallaman Falls: 154 Miles| 3 hrs 14 minutes

The Atherton Tablelands is a mecca for waterfall lovers. We spent an entire day exploring all the stunning falls and testing our courage as we dived into the pristine, ice-cold pools. We loved it so much we wrote an entire blog about it!

While the official waterfall circuit consist of three falls – Millaa Millaa, Zillie and Ellinjaa – the area is full to the brim with drool-worthy waterfalls. Make sure to check out our other post highlighting all of our favorite ones!

Stop #13: Cairns + The Great Barrier Reef 


Distance from Atherton Tablelands: 150 Miles| 4 hrs 14 minutes

Finally, the stop that brought us all the way to Australia in the first place, Cairns! Well, not Cairns, particularly, rather its convenient access to the Great Barrier Reef. Diving the GBR is on every diver’s bucket list and for good reason. Thanks to ProDive Cairns we spent four days and 3 nights completely encompassed by the reef. Regardless of where you’ve been diving in the World, the Reef is a sight to be seen. Every diver – or snorkeler – visiting Australia should save the time (and money) to book a GBR tour. Be aware that snorkeling tours will be more crowded and explore the inner reef, while live boards and diving charters will keep the numbers smaller and give you access to the untouched, outer reef.  Splurge if you can – after all, it’s not everyday that one gets to explore the largest reef system in the World!

Looking back, I’m confident that one could spend their whole life in Australia and never even scratch the surface of what the country has to offer. While exploring the country via van takes longer, it allows you take in the vast landscape, encounter wildlife and meet a friend or two along the way.

Do you have a favorite spot in Australia? Tell us about it below!

Until next time, keep adventuring x


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