Driving from Melbourne to Cairns? Tackle Queensland’s Leichhardt Way
Be prepared for a kaleidoscope of scenery diversity as you travel the Leichhardt Way – one of the fastest ways to travel from Melbourne to Cairns, with this section getting you as far as the Southern Great Barrier Reef in Rockhampton. (From there, you might like to take this route.)
Following in the tracks of one of Australia’s intrepid early explorers, Ludwig Leichhardt, the country roads and relaxed pace allows more time to stop off and enjoy some of the Outback’s lesser-known towns.
Day 1: Goondiwindi to Miles (225km / 2hr 30m)
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the Queensland border. Say hello to Goondiwindi, on the banks of the McIntyre River – a significant agricultural hub and spiritual home of the 1970s thoroughbred racing champion Gunsynd, “The Goondiwindi Grey”.
Don’t leave without having a beer – or at least just taking a photo – at the beautiful and historic Victoria Hotel.
The highway then heads north through Moonie, once “the oil capital of Australia”. End the day by experiencing a taste of pioneer life at the Miles Historical Village.
If you don’t quite make it to Miles, pull up for the night is Caliguel Lagoon, seven kilometres south of Condamine. With free camping, great fishing and – during late summer and autumn – rare purple water lilies in bloom, you couldn’t ask for a more picturesque spot to catch some zzzs.
Day 2: Miles to Theodore (223km / 2hr 30m)
Get the blood pumping this morning on a peaceful walk along the Dogwood Creek Walking Track. Or, if you’re visiting in spring, un-hook the van and take a drive along one of the Wildflower Trails.
Try the Gurulmundi (info and map available from the Miles Visitor Information Centre), which will take you on a 106km loop from Miles, crossing the Dingo Barrier Fence – the longest continuous fence in the world stretching some 10,000km – and past fields of flowers and back again.
From Miles, the drive north takes you through Taroom, home of a Heritage-listed, 300-year-old coolabah tree that explorer Ludwig Leichhardt carved his initials into during his trek through the region in 1844. As you leave town, check out the Steel Wings windmill – one of only two known windmills of its type still in working order.
Then, it’s another hour on the highway to beautiful Isla Gorge National Park, which has a perfect picnic spot overlooking the gorge.
Twitchers, keep watch for spiny-cheeked, brown, white-eared and blue-faced honeyeaters when the eucalypts, wattles, grevilleas and boronias are in flower. If history is more your thing, check out the hand-paved road near Flagstaff Hill, which was built in the 1860s by hand and used to carry wool from Roma to the port of Rockhampton.
Day 3: Theodore to Rockhampton (207km / 2hr 25m)
Make a stop in Theodore this morning, sitting pretty on the Dawson River. Lay out a picnic blanket at Hewitt Park, which surrounds the water tower or head to Rotary Park in 5th Avenue for a view over Castle Creek to enjoy while you have a cuppa.
You’re edging closer to the Tropics now, but surprisingly, the township of Banana was named after a dun-coloured bullock, not the bendy yellow fruit. Banana was used by stockmen to help herd wild cattle into holding yards in the 1860s and a statue commemorates him in the main street.
Mount Morgan was founded during the 1882 gold rush and the precious metal was still being mined here up until as recently as 1981. Take the opportunity to tour the old open-cut gold and silver mine or, step back a further 150 million years in time to see dinosaur footprints in the Mount Morgan clay caves.
From Mount Morgan, it’s only a short drive to Rockhampton where the only thing better than a counter meal is one that comes with an indoor rodeo, at the Great Western Hotel. If you decide to stick around in Rocky for a few days, here are nine things to do to get you in the holiday moooood.
Tonight, why not treat yourself to a night out of the van at the Denison Boutique Hotel.
Day 4: Rockhampton to Yeppoon (40km / 35m)
After travelling through the Outback, it’s time to detour to the coast and meet the white beaches and isolated bays of Yeppoon. Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, this slice of the Capricorn Coast is a perfect spot to park the van and unwind.
While you’re in town, do a spot of fishing or meet a saltwater croc at Koorana Crocodile Farm. You’ll be able to see baby hatchlings from March to May, while guided tours run daily at 10:30am and 1pm.
Don’t want the road trip to stop?
- Keep exploring with this Beef to Reef itinerary.
- Head further north along the Pacific Coast Way to Cairns.
- Or check out 12 more Queensland Drives in this free ebook.