Road trips are in again.
While empty nesters and young people looking to get away on the cheap may have led the charge in the past, it’s now families embarking on tours of regional areas that make up the largest number of road trip holidaymakers.
Road trips can be tailored to suit your budget – and they’re flexible, efficient and you can take in plenty of sights without splurging too much on entry or tour fees. Road trips for families are a brilliant way to embrace the great outdoors and local flavours while bonding with loved ones and making some lifelong memories.
Queensland, with its 13,352 kilometres of coastline and enormous expanses of Outback has long been a road tripper’s paradise.
Need some family road trip ideas? Here are three Queensland road trip itineraries to inspire your next holiday.
(1) Brisbane to the Whitsundays
The coastline from Brisbane to the Whitsundays takes in some of Australia’s most iconic beaches and townships, making it perfect for family-friendly road trips.
-> Day 1: Brisbane to Bundaberg
Leave Brisbane early to beat the traffic on the Bruce Highway heading north. It’s an easy four-and-a-half-hour drive to Bundaberg so you have time stop at charming country towns such as Eumundi or Pomona, or iconic beach towns like Mooloolaba, Maroochydore or Noosa.
Once in Bundaberg, take the family to Hinkler Hall of Aviation, where the kids can learn about the exploits of Bert Hinkler, the pioneering Australian aviator, or tour the famous Bundaberg Rum Distillery. Later in the day, head east to the exquisite coastal suburb of Bargara, and check in for the night at the family-oriented Kellys Beach Resort.
-> Day 2: Bundaberg to Rockhampton
The three-and-a-half-hour drive to Rockhampton takes you past some brilliant spots, including Seventeen Seventy (if you can spare half an hour for the diversion) and Tannum Sands.
Rockhampton itself is a regional city on the up, its wealth of heritage buildings now complemented by modern restaurants, brewpubs, cafes and the recently completed Rockhampton Museum of Art. Take a break from the heat with a one-of-a-kind subterranean adventure at the Capricorn Caves, before heading out to the coast to Yeppoon – a lovely beach town that will stir your nostalgia for childhood summer days. Set up camp at one of the neat stays in town, which include the retro Surfside Motel Yeppoon and modern Salt, before cooling off in the fabulous Yeppoon Lagoon.
-> Day 3: Rockhampton to Mackay
Drop into Dingles Cafe in the middle of Rockhampton for elevated breakfast and coffee before hitting the road for Mackay, three and a half hours away.
Mackay is a major gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, so make the most of it with a day trip with Wildcat Mackay, which will whisk you around to different islands, with the opportunity to snorkel, paddle board and swim. A little further north, there’s also Cape Hillsborough National Park, a rugged coastal park that boasts rainforest, beaches and rocky headlands covered in hoop pines. If you have the time, travel inland to explore Eungella National Park, a mist-shrouded, forest-clad mountain refuge that’s one of Queensland’s most ecologically diverse parks.
-> Day 4: Mackay to the Whitsundays
From Mackay, it’s just a short 90-minute hop to Airlie Beach, the achingly beautiful town at the heart of the Whitsundays.
This place is, of course, all about the Great Barrier Reef. Take it in with a day trip to the Hardy Reef pontoon with Cruise Whitsundays, or head out on a more laidback adventure to world-famous Whitehaven Beach on the Camira catamaran.
It’s worth ditching the car for a couple of nights and staying on the family-friendly Daydream Island with its Living Reef (in which you can swim with rays and reef sharks), but there’s also plenty to do on the mainland, such as dine at the handsome open-air Northerlies bistro, or explore Conway National Park on two wheels with Whitsunday Segway Tours.
Images courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland.
(2) The Outback Trail
A journey west of Brisbane is one of the most iconic Queensland road trips, and will take you through dramatic scenery, historic towns and vibrant communities. The below Outback Trail itinerary is packed with things to do.
If you're joining us for the Outback Trail this April, this itinerary is for you!
-> Day 1: Brisbane to Dalby
Start your trip with an easy two-and-a-half hour drive to Dalby, which takes you through some of the state’s most productive farmland. Dalby itself is a buzzy centre – to get a sense of its history, stop by Dalby Pioneer Park Museum to check out its colonial buildings and vintage machinery.
-> Day 2: Dalby to St George
In the morning, pitstop at Urban Paddock Cafe in the middle of town for breakfast and a coffee before hitting the road for St George, three hours away. There’s a stack to do in and around this pretty little town on the Balonne River, but block out some time to rest your bones in the Balonne Artesian Thermal Hot Springs, a spacious modern thermal pool precisely heated to 34 degrees Celsius.
Later, drive half an hour south of town to discover the Nindigully Pub, Queensland’s oldest hotel, which was issued its liquor licence way back in 1864.
-> Day 3: St George to Cunnamulla
Start your day with some goodies from St George Bakery to fuel a three-hour trip along Route 49 to Cunnamulla.
A must-do here is to get a photo with the Cunnamulla Fella, a statue erected in honour of the famous song sung by Slim Dusty, but it fronts a brilliant gallery and museum that help decipher the history of this small country community.
Cunnamulla is also the gateway for the spectacular Currawinya National Park, an important inland waterbird habitat, and road trips for families out this way aren’t complete without a stay at Charlotte Plains Station, a 28,000-hectare working sheep station that’s famous for its artesian bore baths.
-> Day 4: Cunnamulla to Charleville
About two hours north of Cunnamulla, the buzzy centre of Charleville has become a modern magnet for Outback adventurers.
The Charleville Cosmos Centre and Observatory is an after-dark essential – its impressive collection of telescopes and skilled guides make the most of the remarkable blanket of stars that comes out once the sun goes down. In the daylight hours, visit WWII Secret Base, a modern interactive museum that taps into the town’s wartime history as a maintenance centre for US armed forces.
-> Day 5: Charleville to Tambo
Prepare for a total change of pace when you head for Tambo, two hours north of Charleville along the Matilda Way. Known as Queensland’s “Tidy Town”, Tambo is a unique little place with a beautiful landscape. It’s worth taking yourself on a walk along the Barcoo River and around the town’s historic buildings, but be sure to stop in at Tambo Teddies, a quaint little weatherboard shop that’s famous for its handcrafted sheepskin teddy bears.
If you have time – and a four-wheel drive – hit the Wilderness Way, a 320-kilometre round trip that takes in a landscape of deep gorges and vast chalk-coloured cliff lines known as “the rooftop of Queensland”.
-> Day 6: Tambo to Roma
Set off early for today’s four-hour drive, which will deliver you to Roma, one of Queensland’s most storied country towns. Time your visit for a Tuesday, when the Roma Saleyards come alive with auctioneers and graziers shifting cattle, but there’s also an interpretive centre that’s open seven days a week.
Elsewhere in town, a visit to Roma isn’t complete without a meal at the iconic Queens Arms Hotel and, if you have a spare day, consider detouring north to spend a night at the dramatic Carnavon Gorge, which is just a three-hour drive away.
-> Day 7: Roma to Chinchilla
From one major rural centre to another, Chinchilla – two hours away along the A2 – is known as the “melon capital of Australia”, but there’s also a stack of history and culture to explore here.
The Chinchilla Historical Museum is an essential stop – a terrific collection of original buildings, steam engines, vintage cars, period costumes and historical relics. Give yourself at least a couple of hours here. There’s also Chinchilla’s cultural precinct and the fabulous Lapunyah Art Gallery, which boasts works by Hugh and Anthony Sawrey, Rex Bacchus-Smith and Tom McAulay, among many others. For an Instagrammable moment, snap a photo in front of the Big Melon on your way out of town.
-> Day 8: Chinchilla to Toowoomba
It’s a straightforward two-hour drive to Toowoomba, Australia’s second largest inland city after Canberra.
Known for the natural beauty of its highlands location, a stroll along its tree-lined streets and through the famous Queens Park and Botanic Gardens – perhaps with a pastry and coffee from the slick Baker’s Duck cafe in hand – is a Toowoomba must-do. But also head into the centre of town to check out the street art scattered throughout its laneways – it’s a good way to explore the city and hints at the transformation underway in this major country centre.
Toowoomba’s size makes it a good place to dwell for a couple of days at the end of your journey. Wander the city, or go on some mini South East Queensland road trips to quaint towns such as Crows Nest, Allora and Cambooya.
3. The Central Outback Trail
This one’s for the Central Queenslanders – heading out west from Rockhampton is a trip that will take you deep into the red heart of Queensland. It’s one of the state’s best road trips for families.
-> Day 1: Rockhampton to Blackwater and Emerald
It’s a two-and-a-half hour drive along the Capricorn Highway to Emerald, but add into the schedule a diversion at Charlevue Road to discover Blackdown Tableland National Park – a primordial place of deep gorges, spectacular lookouts, scenic waterfalls and cultural sites of the local Ghungalu people.
It’s nature that’s the big attraction in Blackwater and Emerald, with the former boasting a brilliant Japanese Gardens and the latter a terrific 42-hectare Botanic Garden that’s home to 12 different themed plant communities. Both are a great location for a family picnic.
-> Day 2: Emerald to Blackall
It’s another three and a half hours on to Blackall, a pretty little town that services the surrounding grazing industry. This is an art and cultural hub for central Outback Queensland and there’s a neat sculpture trail across town that’s worth checking out.
Afterwards, throw on your bathers and relax in the heated waters at the Blackall Aquatic Centre, which has a 50-metre pool heated to 30 degrees Celsius, and two spas to unwind in after a long day’s drive.
Blackall is also a terrific jumping off point to explore Idalia National Park, an 80-minute drive southwest of town, where dramatic escarpments rise above the mulga woodland to afford brilliant Outback views.
-> Day 3: Blackall to Longreach
A two-hour drive north and then west, Longreach is arguably Queensland’s most famous country town.
Two attractions dominate the town’s cultural scene – the Qantas Founders Museum and the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame – but there also terrific places to eat, such as The Welcome Home, a cafe and restaurant, and some unique glamping style accommodation in the form of Mitchell Grass Retreat.
-> Day 4: Longreach to Winton
Best known as the home of Waltzing Matilda, Winton is an easy two-hour drive northwest of Longreach.
The Waltzing Matilda Centre has a few attractions under one roof. Not only is it a museum detailing the history of the song, but also an art gallery, an exhibition space, and a museum outlining the Great Shearers Strike of 1891 and the birth of Qantas.
The other must-do in Winton is the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, a brilliant facility 20 minutes out of town that highlights the region’s cretaceous history. There are a number of guided tours, which take in fossil preparation, a collection room and the March of the Titanosaurs, a 54-metre-long exhibit that displays real life dinosaur footprints discovered on a nearby property.
Finally, in the evening take the family to a flick with a difference at The Royal Open-Air Theatre in Winton, a beautiful old cinema that dates back to 1918 and plays both modern features and classic films under cloudless Outback skies.
-> Day 5: Winton to Mount Isa
Leave early for Mount Isa, as it’s a hefty five-hour drive away from Winton via Kyuna and Cloncurry.
Best known as a major centre for the mining industry, Mount Isa also features some breathtaking geographical beauty. You’ll arrive in time for sunset at the Lake Moondarra reservoir, a 15-minute drive out of town. Pack a twilight picnic and watch as the sun glints off the still waters and scrub covered red-rock hills.
Finally, finish one of the best Queensland road trips with the Hard Times Mine Tour, which will let you get to grips with the history and equipment of Mount Isa’s biggest industry – you can even try your hand at an air-leg drill.