Backpack Queensland: The must-do Brisbane to Cairns road trip
I came to Australia with the aim of exploring this massive country, having dreamed of living here since my ’round-the-world trip began back in 2007. Coming from Brazil, Australia always seemed so far away so I knew when I eventually arrived Down Under I would need to stay a while to be able to see everything!
Living in Byron Bay at first, I couldn’t stop looking at photos of everything that lay waiting for me in Queensland. I decided I couldn’t wait any longer to pack my backpack and head north: I had to do my East Coast road trip NOW!
Before arriving in Australia I didn’t really know many names of the places I wanted to visit, but during my first three months I met many people, all of whom had somewhere to recommend. So, when it came to planning my trip it seemed so easy!
The stops along the East Coast jumped out of the map at me, having heard a story about many of the places that I would go to. That being said, many surprises were waiting as I travelled, so I’m glad I kept my plans flexible enough to add in extra activities along the way.
And so it began, my month long road trip north from Brisbane to Cairns…
Brisbane is the largest city in Queensland so make the most of it, as you won’t get that ‘big city feeling’ again as you travel north! There’s a free ferry that takes you across the river, a man-made beach in the centre of town and even soccer games to be seen at Suncorp Stadium. As a big soccer fan, I was pleased my stay coincided with a Brisbane Roar match!
Fraser is the biggest sand island in the world and is home to some of the most beautiful lakes I’ve ever seen. Most backpackers head there to drive around in 4x4s, through the trees on dirt tracks and along the beaches before stopping off at one of the many campsites for a good old fashioned BBQ and a couple of nights in a tent.
1770 & Agnes Water
This place was a bit of a surprise for me. I didn’t know much about it, but it seemed like a cool spot to chill for a few days and Southern Cross Backpackers absolutely delivered on that! Set in 16 acres of land complete with a lake, this hostel felt like more of a resort!
This was also the place that I became a bad-ass biker for the day on the Scooter Roo tour, riding around with fake tattoos and leather jackets complete with flames!
What made my stay especially memorable was the sunset kayak tour I did with 1770 Liquid Adventures.
We had a leisurely cruise around the beautiful inlets, which was amazing in itself, but what made it one of the highlights of my East Coast trip was Simon, our tour guide. He told us everything we could possibly wish to know about the surrounding areas and did his best to find as much wildlife as possible to show us as the sun turned orange in the sky.
If that’s not enough for you, Agnes Water is also home to the cheapest surf lessons along the coast at $17 each – perfect for beginners!
This is one of the more well known and popular trips along the East Coast with good reason. I sailed around these 74 tropical islands situated between the Australian mainland and the Great Barrier Reef for three days and loved every minute!
With the chance to visit Whitehaven Beach, one of the most beautiful in the world; Hill Inlet, an incredible lookout point; and various snorkelling spots, there’s little chance of anybody going back to land disappointed!
This place is all about the wildlife, and that’s exactly why I was there! On my first day, I headed up to the Forts Walk in the hills and after a short 10-minute stroll came face to face with one of the cuddly locals!
This cute koala was sat in a tree, chilling out just metres from the hiking trail and seemed completely unfazed as I snapped a picture.
From there, I headed to Arcadia Bay to visit the rock wallabies who live there. They were very inquisitive and happy to come and say hi as soon as I arrived!
Getting around the island is pretty easy by bus, but it’s even more fun if you can find a group of people to rent a car with and cruise around. After a busy day I went back to Base Backpackers, which offered views over the water like no other hostel I’ve been to and also has the cheapest PADI Scuba Diving course in Australia.
I arrived here with one thing on my mind: Skydiving. I’d heard a lot about the feeling you get jumping out of a plane from friends, and had always thought about it but never plucked up the courage to do it myself. All that changed when I heard that Mission Beach offers skydives from 14,000 feet overlooking the Great Barrier Reef and the forested mainland, free-falling for a full minute before cruising down to land on the beach!
I watched the people in front of me disappear one by one until it was my turn… We jumped, and I screamed! Falling, falling, falling I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I took in the incredible and unique view offered up to me. My natural reaction upon safely landing on the beach was, “I want to do that again!”.
Approaching Cairns by bus was pretty special – lush greenery and rolling hills as far as the eye could see! I headed out to explore the hills, waterfalls and lakes of Atherton Tablelands with Barefoot Tours and their smiley, music-loving, story-telling guide Brett (who was an absolute legend).
Sliding down rocks, swimming under waterfalls and leaping into the lakes was even more fun that I expected and not to be missed!
Cairns & the Great Barrier Reef
I saved the most famous part of the coast for last: the world renowned Great Barrier Reef! Having become a certified SCUBA diver in Central America last year, I decided to head out to see what the underwater world looks like on this side of the world and I wasn’t disappointed!
I completed my first night dive and met an extremely cool green turtle as I glided over and through the brightly coloured coral. If you’re not yet qualified, you can even do your certification onboard one of the many liveaboard boats that depart from Cairns every day.