Plan Your Trip

Ultimate Guide to Driving the Great Barrier Reef

1705km (one way)

Car or Camper

Bundaberg to Cairns

Year round

At approximately 350,000km2 in size, and stretching 2,300km along the Queensland coast (about the size of 70 million football fields or the size of Japan), the Great Barrier Reef is the biggest single structure on the planet made by living organisms. It is the only living structure on earth that can be seen from outer space and the first coral reef eco system in the world to be awarded World Heritage status.

The Great Barrier Reef offers exceptional visitor experiences from every angle – underwater, above water, in the air, or on land. With the best local guides in the world, popular ways to experience the Great Barrier Reef include scuba diving, snorkelling, cruising, sailing, island resorts, coastal land and waterways tours or with a scenic flight.

So, check out one of Australia’s epic road journeys and enjoy the near constant companion, the Great Barrier Reef–it’s a once in a lifetime experience not to be missed!



Bundaberg to Town of 1770

Your drive starts in the town of Bundaberg, home to the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. Sign up for the Bundy Icons Tour (it’s about much more than just Rum). Every chance you get, indulge in exceptional local cuisine. If you’re visiting December through to March, drop into Mon Repos Turtle Rookery and witness nesting or hatching turtles.

All aboard the 1770 LARC for an amphibious cruise across sandy beaches and estuaries to remote Bustard Head Lighthouse in Eurimbula National Park. Get comfy for a truly spectacular sunset. More time here? It’s another jump-off point for Lady Musgrave Island.


Great Keppel Island

Get up nice and early and make your way to Bluff Point lookout to catch the sun rise over the Keppel Islands as turtles bob past. Take a day-trip to Great Keppel Island and claim some prime beach real-estate for a day of swimming, sunning and reef snorkelling. Dive in for skiing, tubing, kayaking or jet-skiing. Got some spare time? Try a stroll along Yeppoon’s esplanade and explore the beach-chic cafés and boutiques.

Can’t bear to leave? Find a coast or island stay and kick back for the night.


Sarina to Cape Hillsborough

Before you reach Mackay, the sugar capital of Australia, stop in at the Sarina Sugar Shed – Australia’s only miniature sugar mill and distillery. Take a tour and discover how sugar is grown, milled and distilled. Don’t forget to taste-test some of the delicious products on-site, yum! Head on into Mackay and live it up with fine dining and boutique shopping.

Road-trip an hour west of Mackay to Eungella National Park for amazing waterfalls, breathtaking gorges and elusive wildlife all wrapped up in Australia’s longest stretch of sub-tropical rainforest. Keep your eyes peeled for one of our most iconic animals – the platypus.

Wind your way back to the coast and spend the evening relaxing at ultra-scenic Cape Hillsborough. Looking for somewhere comfy to rest your head right where you are? Try the Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park.


Cape Hillsborough

Wake up early to share the sunrise on the beach with wallabies and kangaroos. Treat yourself to a day exploring bushwalking tracks, swimming or fishing, then indulge in our local produce at the nearby teahouse. Kick back for one last night in Cape Hillsborough before heading to The Whitsundays.


Airlie Beach to Collinsville

Driving from Airlie Beach, you soon reach Conway National Park. Stretch your legs on a bushwalk, then stop for a dip at Hydeaway Bay, ahead of feasting on seafood from the Seafood Co-op and homemade fudge from Le Sorelle Coffee House and Florist in Bowen.

You’ll want to savour every sight on the hour-long drive from Bowen to Collinsville. Pull-over to grab fresh-plucked produce from roadside farmgates and stop for some grub at the historic Bowen River Hotel before checking into the Pit Pony Tavern in Collinsville.


Collinsville to Townsville

Spend the morning exploring Collinsville, snapping Instagram pics with the pit ponies, before delving into mining heritage at the Coalface Experience Museum. On the way to Proserpine, fish for barramundi at Lake Proserpine and get your daily dose of retail therapy with the many boutiques on offer in town.

After a few hour’s drive, stretch your legs and get your bearings in the thriving city of Townsville with a stroll up Castle Hill to take in the sunset, before heading back to the city for dinner.


Townsville to Magnetic Island

Recharge with brekky and ocean views on The Strand. Zero in on underwater wonders at Reef HQ Great Barrier Reef Aquarium then pop next door to fire the old cannon at Museum of Tropical Queensland.

Rewind to island time – head across to Magnetic Island. You can day-hire a topless car to go spotting koalas, snorkelling the fringing reefs, hand feeding rock wallabies and putting your feet up at one of our 23 bays and beaches. You might not be able to fit everything in the one day, so stay the night in one of the many accommodation options on the Island.


Paluma to Mission Beach

Swap islands for waterfalls in the rainforest village of Paluma, just north of Townsville. Dip into refreshing water under the stone bridge at Crystal Creek.

Yet to see Wallaman Falls? Head just a short drive north and be prepared for jaw dropping sights. At 268m, this sheer drop waterfall is the tallest in the southern hemisphere. After you’re done at the falls, settle into Ingham to sample gourmet offerings of local Italian inspired delicatessens.

In sun-kissed Cardwell, wander the seafront’s Interpretive Walk and browse the Bush Telegraph Station and Museum while inhaling a stunning vista of Hinchinbrook Island. Come evening, stroll along the golden sands of Mission Beach – birthplace of the Great Barrier Reef.


Mission Beach

Wake to a hearty breakfast at an eclectic café in Mission Beach Village Green (aka the centre of town) before cruising out to the reef. Snorkel or dive amongst colourful marine life of the Coral Sea, topped with a secluded island banquet of seafood and tropical fruits before heading back to the mainland and settling in for the night.

DAY 10

Mission Beach to Innisfail

Head to Kurrimine Beach and cruise the Canecutter Way to find Murdering Point Winery and the Spanish-themed Paronella Park. Take a self-guided tour of Innisfail’s art deco façades, enjoy an evening meal at one of Innisfail’s eateries before retiring to one of the many accommodation options.

DAY 11

Innisfail to Cairns

The final leg of your journey is a quick hour-long drive to Cairns, the “capital” of Tropical North Queensland. This buzzing coastal city is famous for its picturesque esplanade, lively bars, vibrant food scene and laid-back lifestyle.

Optional Detour – Atherton Tablelands

Continue along the Great Barrier Reef Drive as it winds along the edge of the Coral Sea past unspoilt beaches stunning waterholes. Stop in at Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge on your way. Catch the cable ferry across the Daintree River to Cape Tribulation.

Have breakfast with the birds and hit the road to the cool high country of the Atherton Tablelands. Here you can enjoy immense taste experiences from tropical fruits to coffee and cheeses. You might need more than a day to get the full Tablelands experience, but a trip around the Waterfall Circuit is a must do, and don’t forget to make a stop at Lake Eacham before checking out the trendy shops and cafes of Yungaburra.

Head back towards the coast along the Palmerston Highway and walk high in misty clouds on the Mamu Tropical Skywalk.