Time: Around 10 days or longer!
Ah the tropics. You just make us all smile
Queensland’s coastal road-trip from “Whitsundays to Tropical North Queensland” is a show-stopper. And with a backyard dripping in world-class icons it’s no wonder.
From the Great Barrier Reef to World Heritage rainforest, mixed with the some of the most laid back locals on the planet – I challenge anyone to take this journey and not find themselves cruising up the highway singing happy tunes in car!
We kick started our adventure in Airlie Beach, the jumping off point for the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef. Head down to Abell Point Marina and get yourself onboard one of the many boat charters for the day.
We did a day trip with Ocean Rafting which took us to two snorkelling locations, plus Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. A few years ago we also chartered a boat with friends for one of the best weeks of our lives!
Whether you like snorkelling or scuba diving or simply a cruise around the islands, you simply can’t come here and not have a peek under the water at one of the natural wonders of the world.
The World-Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure in the world, stretching over 2000km along the Queensland Coast. The Whitsundays are perfectly positioned in the central section of the Great Barrier Reef, and it is the reef itself which gives the islands and coast protection from huge ocean swells, giving it some of the safest and smoothest sailing waters on the planet.
Tens of thousands of brilliantly coloured reef fish, corals, and other marine life live in this environment and the warm, shallow waters are some of the best places to snorkel and discover them.
And take it from us, you can’t come here and not pay a visit to Whitehaven Beach!
It’s not hard to see why it’s regularly voted one of the best beaches in the world. Spanning 7 kilometres, crystal clear waters lap against its blinding white sand that’s made of silica, which not only gives it is super white appearance, but doesn’t absorb the heat so is cool to walk on at all times.
Take the walk up Hill Inlet at the sound end of the beach and enjoy the famous swirling sand views of Whitehaven and the other surrounding islands.
But don’t stop here.. get in the car! And keep heading north
After jumping in the car and leaving Airlie, the drive north is peppered with places to stop – your biggest challenge will be deciding exactly ‘where’ to stop, and for how long!
Airlie Beach to Bowen (78 Kms)
An hour up the road, look out for the BIG MANGO, and you’ll know you’ve arrived in Bowen! Famous for being home to the ‘Bowen Mango’ or “Kensington Pride’, it’s the oldest town in North Queensland. You can literally see its history via the murals scattered about town that cleverly depict the regions rich stories.
The BIG4 Bowen Coral Coast Holiday Park was filled with travellers from far and wide, many staying for a few months each year (I think they have found the secret to life!). And why wouldn’t you – with absolute beachfront location you are free to spend your days here fishing directly off the boardwalk, cooking up the local seafood (if you don’t catch your own), or just enjoying the sublime views.
Our days in Bowen were spent enjoying the quiet life and soaking up the tropics. And for us that meant easy days on magnificent Horseshoe Bay, Bowen’s most iconic beach and a favourite for locals and visitors. A popular snorkelling spot, it’s framed by two granite outcrops, that sparkle in the sun. (There is also a great little café across the road called Meraki Whitsundays!).
And you simply can’t visit Bowen and not sample the produce!
Firstly, taste one of their magnificent mango sorbets! (we got ours from the local farmers market, which is held every Sunday, not to mention the Mango Jam we bought home with us). Bowen Mango Sorbet is the famous treat around here and can also be picked up at the Big Mango Visitor’s Centre.
And secondly, pay a visit to Birds Fish Bar (Bowen Fisherman’s Seafood Co) directly on the wharf, and sample some of the fresh seafood that is caught daily (sit out the back and you can literally watch the boats come in as you feast on your prawns).
Bowen to Magnetic Island (around 200 km’s up the highway, then a ferry across to Maggie)
Two and a half hours up the Bruce Highway and you’ll reach Townsville – a thriving tropical city worthy of any holiday makers time, but we absolutely love what lies just offshore. Take the 8 kilometre ferry ride and you’ll arrive in beautiful Magnetic Island, or ‘Maggie’, as the locals say.
This pristine island is two-thirds covered by national park, making it the perfect home to Australia’s largest colony of koalas which can be discovered by tackling the 25 kilometres of walking trails.
It is also blessed with 23 bays and beaches, with access to the fringing reefs of the Great Barrier Reef and one of the best ways to explore the coastline is with one of the local charter companies.
Heading further north from Townsville, there is one detour from the Bruce Highway that you absolutely must make.
Wallaman Falls (around 160 km’s from Townsville)
Wallaman Falls are the highest, permanent single drop waterfall in Australia. Around 52 km’s west of Ingham, in Girringun National Park, the falls stand at 268 metres, surrounded by forested ridge tops and lush World-Heritage Listed rainforest. Several short walking trails lead to views of the falls, and there are picnic areas too.
Wallaman Falls to Mission Beach (173 km’s)
One of our favourite locations in far north Queensland is Mission Beach. Three hours north of Townsville, this sleepy but charming beach resort is perfect for those looking for the laid-back tropics.
Sandwiched directly between World Heritage Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, Mission Beach is the closest mainland point to the reef, and couldn’t enjoy a more perfect location.
The town itself is relaxed and unpretentious. It’s definitely a place where you kick back a gear and simply enjoy nature at its finest.
Our experience diving on the reef off Mission Beach was first class. Filled with hundreds of colourful fish; our dive spot was sparkling.
Mission Beach to Cairns (approx. 140 km’s)
The final stop is Cairns – the heart of the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest. Alongside its city’s vibrant tropical culture, did you know there are more than 600 tours here every day?! We always find ourselves swimming in the Esplanade lagoon, and cruising around the shops and café’s at the Marina when we are here.
Or of course, you could keep heading north to Cape York…. But that’s another blog!
Have you ever done a road trip along the Queensland coast? Tell us about it in the comments!