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Sydney To Cairns Road Trip – 7 Things To Know BEFORE You Go!

Planning a Sydney to Cairns road trip? Well here are 7 things to you need to know before you go – inc travel times, itineraries and more!

If you’re travelling Australia then a Sydney tp Cairns road trip is a must – the East Coast of Australia is packed full of epic places to see and awesome things to do.

So whether you’re an Aussie exploring your backyard or a world traveller looking to explore the land down under, here are 7 things you’ll need to know about putting together your perfect roadtrip and making the most of the Sydney to Cairns coastline…


Sydney To Cairns Road trip – 7 Things You Need To Know

Driving distances

So if you’re busy planning a Sydney to Cairns road trip the first thing you really need to be aware of are your driving distances, Australia is a big place after all and if you’re hitting up most of the major stops you’ll be clocking up nearly 5,000km on the road!

Of course you’ll be tailoring in things to suit your own pace and stops, but here are a list of the main stretches so you can factor drive time into your plans:

  • great ocean road australia melbourne backpacker travel campervan (1 of 22)Sydney to Newcastle = 170km, 2 hours
  • Newcastle to Port Macquarie = 244km, 2 hours 43 minutes
  • Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour = 153 km,1 hour 39 mins
  • Coffs Harbour to Yamba = 131km, 1 hour 27 minutes
  • Yamba to Byron Bay = 127km 1 hour 36 minutes
  • Byron Bay to Surfers Paradise = 93.5km 1 hour 20 mins
  • Surfers Paradise to Brisbane = 76.4km 1 hour 7 mins
  • Brisbane to Noosa = 135km 1 hour 57 mins
  • Noosa to Rainbow Beach = 117km, 1 hour 39 mins
  • Rainbow Beach to Agnes Water/1770 = 321km 3 Horus 43 mins
  • Agnes Water to Airlie Beach = 706km 8 hours
  • Airlie Beach to Townsville = 273km 3 hours 19mins
  • Townsville to Mission Beach = 235km 2 hours 52 mins
  • Mission Beach to Cairns = 139km 1 hour 53 mins

As you can see most stints are pretty manageable an under 2-3 hours, however if you’re short on time you might want to pack in some bigger drive days to tick off the best destinations along the East Coast Australia route…but we’ll get to itineraries in a moment!

But for example if you’re not worried about much between Sydney and Byron Bay you can crack out that entire drive in about 8 hours!






Campervan v Car Hire v Bus

One of the most common questions I get asked about planning a Sydney to Cairns road trip is the best way to travel the East Coast of Australia, so lets run through the 3 main road trip options:


great ocean road australia melbourne backpacker travel campervan (1 of 22)Less for road trippers, more just to throw it out as an option, but the Greyhound or Premier Bus are certainly one of the easiest and most cost efficient ways to tackle Sydney to Cairns. So if you’re going solo this is the one I’d recommend

Car Hire

If you’re looking at car hire in Australia there are 3 things you need to keep in mind. First there’s the initial car hire cost – generally speaking the further ahead you book, the cheaper this is, so be organised on this front!

Secondly is fuel cost – a lot of people overlook how quickly this can mount up. Most car hire sites have an average fuel consumption – so do the maths against your route (5,000km to be safe!) and an average fuel cost for unleaded petrol at around $1.30 a litre.

The final part is accomodation. If you’re travelling by car you’ll also need a place to crash. Expect to pay around $100+ a night for a private room, around $30-40 for a hostel room, or you could bring a tent along and get it down to about $25-30 a night for a tent pitch.




Campervan Hire

Campervan hire in Australia is another epic way to tackle your Sydney to Cairns road trip – and if you have the budget this would be my recommended way to travel.

Much like with car hire, you’ll need to factor in price and fuel cost.

Another thing people tend to overlook with Campervan hire in Australia is also accomodation cost. Australia has clamped down on free camping in recent years, so in most locations (especially key spots like Byron, Gold Coast and Airlie Beach) there’s some hefty fines in place.

With that in mind you’ll need to factor in campsite cost, which run from about $25-$40 per night depending on location and time of year.




How Long To Take & Sample Itinerary

And of course the other big factor in planning your Sydney to Cairns road trip is how long should you take?

In theory you can smash the whole thing out in 26 hours – but honestly that would be a pretty miserable road trip and completely defeats the object of doing it all, you’ll be spending all that time staring at the highway and not enjoying the awesome destinations along the East Coast!

2 Week Road Trip Itinerary

Honestly, at the absolute minimum I’d say you need a 2 week Sydney to Cairns road trip itinerary to really start making the most out of your adventure.

  1. top travel experiences australia byron baySydney > Coffs Harbour
  2. Coffs Harbour > Yamba
  3. Yamba > Byron Bay
  4. Byron Bay
  5. Byron Bay > Noosa
  6. Noosa > Rainbow Beach
  7. Fraser Island
  8. Fraser Island
  9. Rainbow Beach > Agnes Water/1770
  10. Agnes Water/1770 to Airlie Beach
  11. Whitsunday Islands
  12. Whitsunday Islands
  13. Airlie Beach > Mission Beach
  14. Mission Beach > Cairns

As you can see this 2 week itinerary also includes enough time for an overnight tour on both Fraser Island and the Whitsunday Islands – two of the best trips on the East Coast. If you did want to free up some extra time for some other stops you can also swap this over for day trips, which would give you another couple of nights to play with.

Read more about my full 2 week itinerary here



3 Week Itinerary

Got a bit more than 2 weeks to play with? Well this 3 week Sydney to Cairns Roadtrip itinerary gives you a few more overnight options, including a trip out to Magnetic Island which is well worth it! 

Enjoy a much more chilled pace, with a few more non drive days so you can make even more of what the East Coast has to offer…

  1. fraser island tag along tour nomads australia queensland backpacker reviewSydney > Coffs Harbour
  2. Coffs Harbour > Yamba
  3. Yamba > Byron Bay
  4. Byron Bay
  5. Byron Bay > Surfers Paradise
  6. Surfers Paradise > Noosa
  7. Noosa
  8. Noosa > Rainbow Beach
  9. Fraser Island
  10. Fraser Island
  11. Rainbow Beach > Agnes Water/1770
  12. Agnes Water/1770 to Airlie Beach
  13. Whitsunday Islands
  14. Whitsunday Islands
  15. Airlie Beach > Townsville > Magnetic Island
  16. Magnetic Island
  17. Magnetic Island > Townsville > Mission Beach
  18. Mission Beach
  19. Mission Beach > Cairns
  20. Cairns
  21. Cairns

Read more about my full 3 week itinerary here



4 Week Itinerary

Personally the 4 week road trip itinerary would be what I’d be aiming for if you have the time and budget to play with. It just give you heaps more time to explore, enjoy and also gives you some downtime too – rather than driving every other day.

Byron bay australia backpacker east coast guide
Byrons An Awesome Spot – If You Have Time To Enjoy It!
  1. Sydney > Coffs Harbour
  2. Coffs Harbour > Yamba
  3. Yamba
  4. Yamba > Byron Bay
  5. Byron Bay
  6. Byron Bay
  7. Byron Bay > Surfers Paradise
  8. Surfers Paradise > Brisbane
  9. Brisbane > Noosa
  10. Noosa
  11. Noosa > Rainbow Beach
  12. Fraser Island
  13. Fraser Island
  14. Rainbow Beach
  15. Rainbow Beach > Agnes Water/1770
  16. Agnes Water/1770
  17. Agnes Water/1770 to Airlie Beach
  18. Whitsunday Islands
  19. Whitsunday Islands
  20. Airlie Beach
  21. Airlie Beach > Townsville > Magnetic Island
  22. Magnetic Island
  23. Magnetic Island > Townsville > Mission Beach
  24. Mission Beach
  25. Mission Beach
  26. Mission Beach > Cairns
  27. Cairns
  28. Cairns
  29. Cairns

Read more about my full 4 week itinerary here



6 Weeks For Total Flexibility

If you want to go all out with your road trip 6 weeks + is going to give you total freedom and flexibility. With this amount of time you can throw a lot of the itinerary planning out of the window, relax and take things as they come.

It’ll also give you plenty of time to get of the beaten track and enjoy some of the lesser known destinations along the East Coast.




Best Time Of Year

So when is the best time for a Sydney to Cairns roadtrip? Well a lot of this really comes down to the amount of time you’ll be spending on the road. If you’ve got 4 weeks or more kicking things off at the end of Aussie summer around Feb/March/April will mean you follow the best of the weather up the coast, leaving behind the chillier Sydney days!

Obviously winter time is off season for most of the coast, which means accomodation is cheaper and everythings a little more quiet too.

Full peak season from Nov > Jan is going to give you the best of the weather, but also the crowds too, so it really depends on the type of vibe you’re after.

Personally my favourite time to travel (anywhere in the world, not just Australia!) is shoulder season – it’s a slight compromise on the weather front, but usually has the benefits of lower pricing and less people!

For Sydney to Cairns this would be October or April time.






Top Things To Do

Ok so we’ve got all the boring essentials like drive time and campsites out of the way – now on to the fun stuff, all the epic things to do along the coast and the whole reason you’re planning a Sydney to Cairns roadtrip!

Now the flexibility of driving up the coast means you’ve got heaps of extra stops you can fit in that you wouldn’t have via the Greyhound Bus, so here are some of my top East Coast trips and tours as well as some awesome stops en-route you can check out or add into the mix:

  • best places to travel in australia byron bay new south walesHunter Valley wine tour
  • Blue Mountains
  • Port Stephens
  • Corindi Beach
  • The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour
  • Koala Hospital Port Macquarie
  • Surf lessons in Yamba
  • Surf lessons in Byron Bay
  • Dolphin kayaking in Byron Bay
  • Scuba diving Julian Rocks
  • Nimbin
  • Whale watching in either Byron Bay or Hervey Bay (May > Oct)
  • Gold Coast theme parks
  • Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Noosa National Park walk
  • Noosa everglades canoe tour
  • explore tropical north queensland australia cairns mission beachFraser Island (day trip or overnight option)
  • Whitsunday Islands (day trip or overnight option)
  • Snorkelling on Magnetic Island
  • Wild koala and rock wallaby spotting on Magnetic Island
  • Skydiving at Mission Beach
  • Barrier Reef day trip from Cairns
  • Drive the Cairns waterfall circuit into the Atherton Tablelands
  • Bungy jump in Cairns

And of course there are heaps of other stops and tours en-route too. If you’ve added any in or have already done a few add them in the comments below and I’ll add them to the list! 





Further North

And of course once you’ve made it up to Cairns there’s no reason to stop there, especially if you have a few extra nights to play with!

Any easy day trip from Cairns is Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation, which are well worth fitting into your itinerary. Cape Tribulation is famous as the only spot in the world where two World Heritage sites meet – the Daintree Rainforest and Great Barrier Reef, so make sure you check out all the natural beauty on offer up there.

If you don’t fancy driving you can also jump on a day trip from Cairns too, which will take in all the must see sites and also offers and overnight option as well.


Are you planning a Sydney to Cairns roadtrip?

Let me know if you have any other questions!

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