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Traveling to Brisbane and Cairns for 14 days.... recommendations of best things to do

I'm traveling to Brisbane Sept. 25-Oct 9 and, with what is a relatively short stay in such a big country I want to maximize my time with out overloading my stay. Would love fairly specific recommendations. We are looking at a multi-night "live-aboard dive trip" to the barrier reef and a multi-day excursion to fraser island. We are debating between staying in Cairns or Port Douglas and curious about the Daintree rainforest, kuranda scenic railway and skyrail.

I enjoy adventurous activities...adrenaline is good... but love nature, history, indigenous wildlife, architecture, etc... wide range of interests!!

Thanks for any help!


Posted by
977 posts

You will need very minute of this time to make the most of this most beautiful part of the world.
From Brisbane make your way north to Hervey Bay (120 miles) where you can spend the night and take a day trip to Fraser Island.
The Whitsundays are a 'must see'. Hervey Bay to Airlie Beach is about 548 miles. Can easily spend two or three days here. Further north to Cairns about 389 miles. Just a short hop up to Port Douglas from Cairns (42 miles). Worth every minute of the scenic drive along the coast. Several companies do Two Day One night dive trips out of both Cairns and Port Douglas. Personally I prefer Port Douglas to Cairns. Either way the Daintree rainforest, scenic railway/skyrail and indigenous cultural attractions are easily accessed from both places. Mosman Gorge is certainly worth a visit. Sorry I can't help you with the adrenaline rush activities except for the bungey jump near Cairns which I experienced as a spectator.

Posted by
1806 posts

Absolutely Port Douglas over Cairns. I stayed in both and Port Douglas was much nicer. Do stay on Fraser Island vs. Hervey Bay (aka "God's Waiting Room" - and quite possibly one of the dullest places to overnight) instead of trying to do Fraser as just a day trip. Daintree was definitely worthwhile.

Posted by
126 posts

Hello there,

You don’t mention how you plan to travel from Brisbane to the north – Cairns is approx. 1700Km (1020 miles/ 24 hrs non stop) on a not very good two way road – it’s a long long drive and pretty boring most of the way.

As you have limited time I’d suggest flying from Brisbane to Cairns.

Re Fraser Island – to fully appreciate the island you need a four wheel drive vehicle to get around. A couple of options to consider:

Option 1: The fastest way there is to drive from Brisbane to Hervey Bay (300Kms/4hrs), leave the car on the mainland and catch a ferry across to the island and stay at one of the resorts – Kingfisher Bay is quite nice, and then do day trips around the island organised by the resort. The whale watching season ends at the end of October Then return to Brisbane and fly north

Option 2: Drive to Noosa (140Km about 2 hrs) base yourself there and do either a one or two day trip to Fraser Island. Then return to Brisbane and fly north
There’s plenty of accommodation in Noosa at varying price ranges.
The day trips from Noosa take you to the Pacific Ocean side of Fraser so you won’t get to see any whales – they stay on the mainland side of the island.

If you decide to drive to either Noosa or Hervey Bay take the time to drive along the coast from just north of Brisbane. Go north from Brisbane on Highway 1 take the exit to Mooloolaba (Route 70 Sunshine Motorway), exit route 70 and follow the road into Mooloolaba then stay as close to the coast as possible from here to Noosa, route 70 runs parallel to the coast but inland and you miss some great beaches along the way

PS: School holidays in Queensland start on Saturday 20th September for two weeks – so accommodation could be an issue at more popular locations.

PPS: It has been a few years since I’ve been north so will leave that to others to advise. Trip Advisor has plenty of information on North Qld and Fraser Island.

Heron Island is a great dive site too but it’s not far NQ -

Posted by
6788 posts

Difficult to answer since there is so much to do/see and you have very limited time. And OMG, do you mean Sept-Oct of THIS year or next? I hope you mean next, because if not, it is way too late to be planning such details. That said...

I spent about 3 weeks in Australia about a year ago. 1 week of that was on a dive live-aboard. I'll assume you're already a certified scuba diver. IMHO Cairns is good for pretty much one thing: as a jumping off point. Get on one of the top live-abaords. There are two that are consistently rated highest: Spoilsport and Spirit of Freedom. We spent a week on Spoilsport at it was awesome, highly recommended. Important: try very, very hard to do a trip to the OUTER reef, which requires (at least) a multi-day live-aboard. The inner reef isn't horrible, but the easily accessible reefs have taken a huge beating from all the tourists and other near-shore environmental degradation. You'll have a completely different experience on the outer reef. I believe Spoilsport has a half-week trip that includes a flight out to Lizard Island, which is worthwhile and could work more easily into a hurried schedule; SOF may also have something similar. Do it. If you dive, you don't want to miss this.

Other than as a jumping off point, I didn't think too much of Cairns as a destination. We much preferred our days in Port Douglas, which was nicer but a lot more spendy. Many interesting things nearby. We spent a day driving up north to the Daintree, which was pleasant. Did the Kuranda railway/skyrail combo. It was fun and scenic, but expensive.

It can be an expensive place to visit - the Australians are very good at wringing dollars out of their tourists.