Savor the glory of Australia by taking a coastal journey or outback adventure instead of more typical means of transportation. Road trips Down Under are one of the best and most popular ways to experience the wide-open spaces and magnificent scenery of what may very well be the most beautiful spot in the world, especially along the legendary Gold Coast-- a scenic drive that’ll have your wheeling through spectacular beaches, lush national parks, idyllic green hills, and some tiny yet super vibrant off-the-beaten track towns that are full of culture, charisma, and charm.
Let’s just say that epic self-drive vacations or 4WD getaways are definitely the way to go if you’re hoping to cover every length and landscape of the Queensland region near Brisbane. The famed coastal route spans along the Pacific seashore and is the perfect trip for curious travelers looking to experience Australia’s best and brightest sights and sounds. Whether you have a few days to explore, or are lucky enough to have a couple weeks to venture out into the Australian outback, there are an array of options for everyone out there. Here’s a handy dandy guide to seven must-visit spots along your next Gold Coast road trip.
Visit These 7 Beautiful Places On Your Gold Coast Road Trip
1. Great Barrier Reef
Swim, snorkel, sail, and dive to your heart’s content at the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. We know all too well that this Queensland giant is a living masterpiece that’s so humungous that it can actually be seen from outer space! It’s the largest living thing on Earth, a just about 1,243-mile-long ecosystem comprised of thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands made of over six hundred different types of hard and soft coral. Find countless species of colorful fish and mollusks, as well as turtles, dolphins, and sharks galore.
What’s also great to know is that you’ll find tons of stellar hotels and hostels in the middle of all the action. Try starting out in Cairns, known as the gateway to the Reef. It’s a must-go on any bucket list, especially for backpackers hoping to start or finish off any road trip with a bang. The infamous party town is also close to other coastal getaways such as Hervey Bay, Mission Beach, or Port Douglas and is home to a variety of campsites as well. Those looking to chill out should check out Gilligan’s Backpacker Hostel or Travellers Oasis.
Known as the world’s largest sand island, this hotspot is a fantastic place to embrace nature and is just a short ferry ride away from Hervey Bay and Rainbow Beach, both of which are quaint coastal towns offering spectacular things to do.
See humpback whales on their migration in the former and chill out on the shores of the latter before heading over to the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, where you can park that 4WD next to sand cliffs, swim in freshwater lakes, come face to face with native wildlife, and hike through rainforests. Try using the Pacific Coast Touring Route or Great Sunshine Way to experience a unique and essential Australian getaway that’ll have you gawking over everything from rusting shipwrecks and wild dingoes to camping out on the sand dunes under a starry night sky.
3. Sunshine Coast
Though less developed than the actual Gold Coast, this one’s much more sophisticated, as you can spend your days drenched in golden sun while exploring long sandy beaches, surfing clear blue waves, or chilling out in charming little Noosa before visiting the all-time famous Australia Zoo. Try out relaxed stays such as Noosa Flashpackers and get ready for an action-packed vacation just a little over an hour from Brisbane.
The area has four sub-regions-- all with their own unique attractions. Make sure to mosey on towards Hastings Street in Noosa, which is packed with tons of chic restaurants and fashion boutiques, or the Noosa National Park for spectacular coastal scenery and an array of native Australian wildlife. Beach lovers will adore the uncrowded shores nearby, such as Sunshine Beach, Peregian Beach, Sunrise Beach, Marcus Beach, and Coolum Beach.
Speaking of Brisbane, it also happens to be a mecca of adventure waiting for you and your best pals to explore. Combine art and outdoor adventure in Queensland’s capital, which has evolved over the years from a big country town into an increasingly cultured center offering a nice array of museums and attractions. There’s also an urban beach on the lovely Southbank, as well as a winding river that circles the entire town. It’s no wonder why the town is often used by travelers as a home base for day trips and tours in the nearby area.
Explore Moreton Island, Bribie Island, or Stradbroke. Hop on a paddle steamer or ferry down the Brisbane River, or ride through the City Botanic Gardens. You can even take on the Kangaroo Point cliffs if you’re looking for a nice little hike.
5. The Gold Coast
Just south of Brisbane an hour away is the Gold Coast—a.k.a. ‘Surfers Paradise.’ It happens also to be a flurry of glittering high-rise skyscrapers and exciting theme parks that seems a bit tacky to some travelers, but is still super fun to visit. It’s been compared to Vegas on the beach because you can dive head on deep into lively nightlife, international theme parks, and gorgeous coastline all in one spot.
For those not looking to party hard though, try heading further inland to discover three World Heritage-listed national parks: Tamborine Mountain, Springbrook, and Lamington. Make sure to climb Mount Warning for amazing views, or to just spend an entire lazy day enjoying the beaches, shopping, and energy of the Gold Coast. Don’t forget to ride the world-class waves of Broadbeach and Main Beach, or to explore the artificial reef just off Narrow Neck. Kiddies will love the thrills found at the surrounding amusement parks, swimming with dolphins at Sea World, taking on tidal waves at Dreamworld, or watching movies being made at Movie World.
A bit of a party town and a known backpacker hangout, the 74 islands lying between the northeast coast of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef are not just a massive stretch of coral brimming with marine life-- but also a must-go-to for any true Australian road trip.
Airlie Beach is a great jumping off point for exploring this beautiful coastal region. It really is one of the most stunning sights on Australia’s east coast, especially if you get the chance to catch the view from the famous Hill Inlet or to spend some time on Whitehaven Beach. There are also tons of diving and sailing trips that are super popular, as well as rafting adventures if you’re looking for something more wallet-friendly.
7. Byron Bay
Simply one of the most popular stops on Australia’s east coast, it’s got spectacular surf, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, and a cool, bohemian beach lifestyle that’s perfect for those looking for a more alternative vibe. Surf or stroll along Cape Byron to the Byron Bay lighthouse on the most easterly point or take a side trip to nearby Nimbin. Check out the creative and artsy scene in nearby Lismore or go crazy by staying in The Arts Factory, a quirky, hippie lodge.
If you happen to drive through the area between May and November, look out for humpback whales gliding past. There are also chances to channel your inner yogi right on the beach, go hang gliding over a lighthouse, or dig into an eco-conscious dining scene before turning in at a peaceful rainforest retreat close by.
This article was written by Pamela Chan.