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Australia's east coast: 10 day road trip itinerary from Brisbane

Australia’s east coast: 10 day road trip itinerary from Brisbane

I’ve visited Brisbane and southeast Queensland a handful of times before, but only as a kid.

It’s been over 10 years since I was last in Australia’s sunshine state, so when I heard that our American friends from NYC were interested in a trip down under, I considered this a perfect opportunity for me to re-explore some of those destinations plus visit a few new ones.

With the help of our friend Tim who once lived in Brisbane, I excitedly began planning an itinerary for our group to do a road trip up Australia’s east coast. Our leisurely drive from Brisbane would head up to the Great Barrier Reef via some islands and coastal towns along the way, before flying south to Sydney for a few days of city exploring.

I promptly informed our American friends that we would need a minimum of 2 weeks for the trip, preferably longer. They received my advice and then went ahead to book 12 days in Australia. Total.


Anyone who has visited Australia will know that this country is huge, and each destination is not particularly close to the next. Our full itinerary was just not possible to complete in 12 days.

Tim and I discussed our options, and reluctantly ended up cutting the reef from our itinerary as there just wasn’t enough time to drive all the way up the coast. Lucky there are still plenty of amazing destinations to visit around southern Queensland, so our American friends will still get a truly Australian experience.

The trip through Queensland and New South Wales starts this week, and will include all of the following destinations – here’s our 10 day road trip itinerary from Brisbane to see Australia’s east coast!

Australia's east coast road trip map

7 fun and photogenic things to do in Brisbane

Day 1: Brisbane

Rob and I are actually travelling to Brisbane a week before our American friends arrive to do a little working holiday there before the road trip officially starts. We’ll spend some time exploring the city and hanging out around our Airbnb in Fortitude Valley.

Once the weekend comes about, we’ll do a day tour from Brisbane to Moreton Island, where we plan to snorkel around the Tangalooma shipwrecks and hand feed wild dolphins (sounds amazing, right!?).

Secluded swimming hole in northern New South Wales, Australia

Days 2-3: Ballina + Byron Bay

Our friend Tim has family in Ballina, so we’ll grab our rental car then our group will head south from Brisbane to spend a few days exploring the northernmost part of the state of New South Wales. This area is known for its amazing beaches and gorgeous natural scenery (including the swimming hole pictured above!).

We’ll also visit the little hippie/surf town of Byron Bay, which is a draw for tourists as it’s supposedly too adorable to handle. I can’t wait to immerse myself in the laid-back beach vibes!

Tweed Valley mountain house, NSW Australia

Days 4-5: Gold Coast

Queensland’s famous Gold Coast is a hot spot for visitors, but to be honest, this destination is fairly mainstream. Instead, we’ve decided to head inland to the Tweed Valley to stay in a mountain homestead.

I’m looking forward to seeing the local wildlife (hopefully some kangaroos!), maybe visiting a nearby waterfall or a vista point, and generally relaxing in the Australian countryside.

Days 6-7: Sunshine Coast

After the Gold Coast, we’ll head straight on up to the Sunshine Coast (or “Sunny Coast” as it’s known to us Aussies). This destination has some of the best beaches around, and it lives up to its reputation with plenty of days filled with sunshine.

Our plan is to stay somewhere near Maroochydore or Noosa. We might spend some time on the river, maybe do some surf lessons, and possibly do a day trip if we can gather the energy to leave the relaxing oceanside.

Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island

Days 8-9: Fraser Island

Fraser Island is a destination that I’ve wanted to visit for a long while. Situated about 4 hours drive north of Brisbane, Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and had loads to offer visitors.

After taking the ferry across from the mainland, we’ll settle in to our amazing vacation home at Kingfisher Bay Resort, then spend the next day renting 4WD vehicles to drive around the massive island. The day’s activities will include floating in rock pools, swimming in freshwater lakes, seeing beached shipwrecks, and hopefully spotting some dingoes.

Day 10: Brisbane

The next day we’ll drive back to Brisbane then spend the night before flying out to Sydney for a few more days of city sightseeing.

Australia's east coast road trip map

Extended version:

If you have more time in Australia (and you really should plan to spend more than just 10 days in this beautiful country!) then here’s some extensions of the east coast itinerary. Keep in mind that you can choose to fly or drive within Australia, but the distances are probably longer than you think so both of these extensions may require domestic flights.

Sydney – Our American friends will be doing this extension on their trip to Australia. You can fly direct to Sydney from Brisbane (BNE), Sunshine Coast (MCY), Gold Coast (OOL), or Ballina (BNK) airports. If you have a few more days, then you could do this Brisbane to Sydney road trip or my Byron Bay to Sydney road trip instead.

I have plenty of suggestions for activities in Sydney, and if you have enough time, I’d definitely suggest some day tours or overnight trips out to the Blue Mountains or Canberra.

Great Barrier Reef – The Great Barrier Reef is huge (like, seriously huge) and it stretches down much of the coast of Queensland. This natural wonder is incredibly beautiful and is also at risk of destruction through global warming and ocean pollution, so get in quick if you want to see it before it’s too late.

You can fly north from Brisbane to Airlie Beach (PPP) or Hamilton Island (HTI) airports to visit the south end of the reef, or fly up to Cairns (CNS) airport to access the north end.

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