If you are looking to rent a van to Travel Australia on a budget, all while experiencing the very best things to do on Australia’s east coast, then check out this budget-friendly Cairns to Sydney road trip.
Cairns to Sydney campervan road trip is one of the best ways to see the east coast – including some of Australia's biggest cities, as well as exploring some lesser-known gems along the way. If you plan it right (using a road trip itinerary planner like the thl Roadtrip app it can also be a cost-effective way to experience this popular Australian coastline. To help, we have put together the ultimate Cairns to Sydney road trip – including the best things to do, as well as the best camping spots between Queensland and New South Wales. So if you're looking for some budget-friendly travel inspiration with an adventurous edge, we have you covered with this once-in-a-lifetime Australia road trip. Let’s dive in.
Cairns to Sydney
Best Time of the Year
All year round
- Noosa National Park
- Mooloolaba Beach
- Tomaree Headland
- Luna Park
Cairns to Townsville
Distance 347km - Driving Time 4 hours 25 minutes
Kickstart your adventure by picking up your motorhome from Mighty Cairns. After doing a little sightseeing in this tropical city and stocking up your campervan kitchen with road trip snacks, it's time to hit the road. On the drive south plan a stop for lunch at Pipers Lookout to soak up the granite mountains with a meal from your campervan. If you have time, do not miss a detour to explore Paluma Range National Park to see the stunning rainforest fringed waterfall or the Crystal Creek floodplain.
The next stop is Townsville. This urban escape is a hub for history, and culture and its proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. While in town don’t miss the chance to take a stroll along The Strand, challenge yourself to climb up The Goat Trail at Castle Hill, and stop by the Museum of Tropical Queensland.
Where to stay when you arrive: BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Townsville
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Townsville to Mackay
Distance 386km - Driving Time 4 hours 35 minutes
After saying farewell to Townsville, begin the morning with a scenic drive towards Mackay. But not without a stop to take a quick dip at one of the many beaches at Airlie Beach! This little coastal town has some of the most stunning beaches and the gateway to the Whitsundays. If you have a little more time, this is the perfect place to base yourself to explore top Australian attractions such as Whitehaven Haven Beach and Hill Inlet.
However, if you can’t stay - don’t worry! Once in Mackay, there is plenty more to do. You can spend the rest of the day bringing out your inner child at Bluewater Lagoon, exploring the exhibitions at Artspace Mackay, and meandering through the cultivated gardens at Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens.
Where to stay when you arrive: BIG4 Mackay Blacks Beach Holiday Park
Mackay to Rockhampton
Distance 336km - Driving Time 3 hours 50 minutes
After another morning of driving, it's time to explore the smorgasbord that is Rockhampton! The first stop is Mount Archer National Park. This beautiful park offers plenty of walking trails through lush forests, as well as the Nurim Circuit – a treetop boardwalk — which gives visitors stunning views of the surrounding area. If you're looking for the opportunity to meet some of the Australian wildlife in person, head over to Rockhampton Zoo where you can meet kangaroos, koalas and all kinds of other native animals from around Australia. To unwind after a long day of excitement, finish the day with a stroll around the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens.
Where to stay when you arrive: Riverside Tourist Park
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Rockhampton to Noosa Heads
Distance 531km - Driving Time 6 hours 20 minutes
The drive from Rockhampton to Noosa Heads is one of the longest so far, so get an early start to make the most of the day. Luckily you can break up this long journey with a stop at Tina Berries in Bundaberg for an ice cream or two! Once you arrive in Noosa National Park, it's time to stretch your legs. So grab your best walking shoes to venture out for some hiking in the rainforest. Then, take the opportunity to do some holiday shopping on Hastings Street and finish the day by visiting Noosa Main Beach for an afternoon dip in the ocean.
Where to stay when you arrive: Noosa River Holiday Park
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Noosa Heads to Gold Coast
Enjoy a shorter driving day today as you meander your way from the laid-back Noosa Heads to the vibrant hub of the Gold Coast. Along the way stop by Mooloolaba Beach on the Sunshine Coast for one final slice of this laid-back paradise. Then get ready to embrace the vibrancy and ambience of the Gold Coast.
Once you arrive, there are plenty of top attractions and sights to see. The first stop on ticking off the best things to do on the Gold Coast is to watch and feed lorikeets at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. Once you have finished, pack up a picnic to enjoy down at Burleigh Head National Park (and maybe even try to catch the sunset!). If you find yourself here on Wednesday, Friday or Saturday, be sure to stop by the Miami Marketta to enjoy the sweet aroma of the global street food market as well as the booming live music that brings this place to life! This is easily one of the best things to do on the Gold Coast and not to be missed.
Where to stay when you arrive: Nobby Beach Holiday Village
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Gold Coast to Byron Bay
Byron Bay is a beautiful town with an equally beautiful beach, and it's only a short drive from the Gold Coast. Once you arrive, make the most of the day by heading straight to Surf and Bike Hire to rent bikes. They'll set you up with everything from mountain bikes to cruisers – whatever suits your fancy! The company also offers guided tours around Byron Bay so that even if you aren't familiar with the area, you can still explore safely at your own pace.
If you're feeling adventurous (and don't mind getting wet), hike up Minyon Falls for some incredible views of the surrounding rainforest. Then, after a big day of exploring, spend the remaining hours of sunlight relaxing by swimming at Lake Ainsworth before heading back into town for dinner at one of Byron Bay's many restaurants.
Where to stay when you arrive: Discovery Parks Byron Bay.
Byron Bay to Port Stephens
Distance 620km - Driving Time 6 hours 30 minutes
After you've had your fill of the Byron Bay beaches, it's time to head south towards Port Stephens. The first stop of the day is in Coffs Harbour on the New South Wales coast. Here you can explore the Headland Forest Sky Pier and walk through its canopy walkway. Then, continue south towards Port Stephens.
This laidback town is overflowing with beautiful beaches, pristine waters and stunning sand dunes. Some of the best things to do include walking along Tomaree Headland to admire the picturesque ocean views, relaxing by the dunes on Birubi Beach, and visiting the Point Stephens Lighthouse.
Where to stay when you arrive: Ingenia Holiday Parks One Mile Beach.
Port Stephens to Sydney
Distance 208km - Driving Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Today marks the final day of this epic coastal Australia road trip. After a final 2 hours of driving, it's time to take advantage of your last day exploring this popular Australian city. Start with a Sydney sights free walking tour of the city to explore some of the most iconic sights in Sydney, including the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Then, head over to Luna Park for a little carnival fun! Last but certainly not least, visit the Art Gallery of NSW. Here you can explore the huge collection of incredible art collections from around Australia and abroad. Then, if you have time, be sure to check out Ku-ring-gai National park. This is one of the most underrated national parks in Australia and is well worth a visit. For more ideas on budget-friendly things to do in Sydney, check out the 25 fun and free things to do in Sydney, Australia guide.
Then, with a wide grin and camera packed with memories, it’s time to return your camper to the Mighty Sydney campervan branch and begin the journey home.
Want to try this road trip itinerary?
There you have it – the ultimate budget-friendly Cairns to Sydney itinerary! Whether you are chasing rainforests, beaches, national parks or the hustle and bustle of Australian cities, this itinerary has it all. Ready to start planning your Australian campervan getaway? Book your Mighty campervan online today. For more tips on how to stretch your travel budget, easy campervan recipe ideas and more, check out the Mighty blog.