Road trip from Cairns to Sydney
Taking this “Great Inland Way” is really a highway like no other. It is one of the Australians most famous highway tourist road route that travels inland from Sydney, New South Wales to Cairns and Cooktown in Queensland. It has been designated by the Queensland Government as a State Strategic Touring Route. It is almost 3000 kilometre journey along fully sealed roads. From Sydney, it takes in much of central New South Wales before reaching the Queensland border at Hebel. The Queensland part of the Great Inland Way road trip extends to almost 2000 kilometres from Outback Queensland to Coral Sea. Some of the highlights include: Sydney, Bathurst, Orange, Dubbo, Gilgandra, Coonamble, Walgett and Lightning Ridge in New South Wales and Hebel, Dirranbandi, St George, Surat, Roma, Injune, Emerald, Charters Tower, Atherton, Cairns and Cooktown in Queensland. It is an open highway and to appreciate and enjoy some of the most beautiful and pristine gorges and national parks, one must detour from the main highway. It is truly a gem waiting for happy road travellers to adventure into.
The Great Inland Way route has been on my pending list for quite sometime. Taking on this dream destination drive was to experience and explore some of the Australian traditional cities and towns from pristine coastlines to arid outback country lifestyles. Living in Australia, a country that I call home is undoubtedly, one of the best country to explore and I wanted to do it. With over 15,000 Australian towns and cities, it have so many great destinations for holidays. It is a must for me to explore places all over the country from beautiful coastlines to arid inlands and from lush tropical paradise to dessert outbacks. With such diversity, it has something for everyone to enjoy. Australia is such a big country and is the world largest island and sixth largest nation. Many international visitors underestimate how big Australia is and how far it is between our major cities. From every towns and cities, the climate changes from wet tropics to the arid outback. Australia is a country famous for its landscapes of pristine beaches, tropical islands and the rugged outback. With such diversity, I wanted to explore more of the outback and that is just one small part of it.
My six-day road trip adventure began from Cairns to Sydney passing through few outback towns covering almost from 500 to 700 kilometres of driving each day. The Great Inland Way roads are well signed and flat sealed roads. Driving through some of the outback towns, they are away and isolated from the major cities. I have found some of the towns where time has seemingly stand-still. Many of the towns are untouched by mass tourism and this adventure was to experience places where I can still see, feel and taste the real outback towns. It has taken me through landscapes with a diverse mixture of earth agriculture, whitewashed, dry and dusty towns and some of the most beautiful sceneries you’ve ever laid your eyes on. Each town and cities I drove through were very different with unique layers of rich history, culture and lifestyle. Each cities, towns, gorges and national parks with their architectures, food and cultural significances tells a story. Each places with its surrounding sceneries along the highway were worth stopping to have breathtaking views.
Taking this route for the first time, I was wondering how to best spend my time in every town I visited but most outback places visited left me with different unique experiences. Each places had nice gardens, parks, rivers, tea houses and recreational areas to take a seat, breath and relax.
Day 1: Cairns to Townsville - 384 kilometres
My road trip adventure was a hectic itinerary as I was determined to visit many countryside towns, gorges, national parks and many must-see places during my six-day road trip. My first drive along the highway known as the “Great Green Way” between Cairns and Townsville was my taste of the Sugarcane plains and Banana Plantations. Using Cairns as my starting point, I left this lush tropical seaside city of Cairns, known as the Australia’s nature capital, famed for its world-class access to the nation’s biggest drawcards, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest I passed through numerous small beachside and inland towns of Innisfail, Tully, Cardwell and Ingham before arriving in Townsville bypassing beautiful seaside town of Mission Beach. My first break along the Great Green Way before arriving in Townsville was the tiny seaside township of Cardwell for relaxation. The views from the foreshore are stunning.
Cardwell is a small coastal seaside town almost half-way between Cairns and Townsville. It is located 200 kilometres north of Townsville city and is a very popular stop for travellers between Cairns and Townsville. Cardwell has a population of approximately 1400 residents and is very much a small community. This small towns foreshore has been redeveloped and transformed into one of the best place for relaxation after a long hours of driving. This township is the gateway to Port Hinchinbrook Islands known as one of the most stunning hikes in the area and is the biggest island of the Great Barrier Reef which is completely uninhabited. This island is a gem for hikers and campers.
After leaving beautiful seaside town of Cardwell, I passed through the township of Ingham before arriving in Townsville city to end the first day of my road adventure trip. I had a quick tour and exploration of the city before having a nice dinner at a Thai restaurant in the city. To get a real taste of the tropics in Townsville North Queensland, the gateway to Queensland’s far north, you need to spent at least two weeks to explore the area. This coastal city will leave you feeling energised and alive. Townsville city has a vibrant mix of modern architecture and restored heritage buildings, bustling outdoor cafes, restaurants, boutiques and quirky galleries, all linked by a shady park-lined beach promenade. Yes, it offers a collection of attractions and events to spark everyone’s curiosity. I took a drive up to the top of Castle-Hill to marvel at the 360′ degrees view. It was just breathtaking. Just beneath the protective presence of Castle Hill is the city’s Central Business District (CBD) area, combined with modern fine dinning area and The Strand, waterfront lined with cafes and restaurants. Just a short 30-minutes ferry ride away from Townsville’s mainland is the city’s famous Magnetic Island where many locals and visitors commute each day.
Some of Townsville city’s many attractions apart from art galleries, parks and museums includes:
- The world’s largest living coral reef aquarium – Great place to visit and learn about marine creatures. Once inside, you will immerse yourself in the underwater viewing tunnel offering magical views of a living coral reef and the predators that prowl the water depths. Go and discover the beauty and wonder of the Great Barrier Reef without getting wet.
- Australia native wildlife sanctuary: This Billabong Sanctuary is an Australian native animal wildlife park set in eleven hectares of natural bushland. A great place to learn about Australian native wildlife.
- The Strand – the spectacular Strand beachfront promenade is the most popular place to visit by locals and visitors. Along the waterfront is filled with cafes and restaurants.
- Day trip Ferry ride to Magnetic Island – Go for a hike and explore more of the island or simply relax by the beaches
Most of the attractions are all family friendly places and you can’t leave Townsville without setting foot on these popular local attractions.
Where to Stay?
Townsville not only known as the gateway to the Queensland’s far north but it is also the biggest city in far north Queensland. Townsville has various types of accommodation ranging from resorts, hotels, motels backpacker, holiday houses, apartments, B&Bs and outdoor campings nearby.
Day 2: Townsville to Clermont - 507 kilometres
After leaving the city of Townsville, the gateway to Queensland’s far north, I left behind the coastal cities and towns and headed inland for the dusty and dry country towns and its surrounding environments. My first introduction to the inland township of Charters Towers. Charters Towers is located 130 kilometres south-west of Townsville and is an easy 90 minute drive inland from Townsville. It is one of the most beautiful inland towns in Queensland, with its unrivalled architecture and unique history, Charters Towers is a surprising pleasure and a delight to visit.
Charters Towers became a gold rush town when gold was discovered in December 1871 and during its hay-days in 1880s and 1890s, the town grew and prospered. Today, this town is known for its large number of elegant and historically significant buildings most of which are located on Mosman and Gill Streets. Within the area and in the surrounding streets, there are over 60 buildings of historical significance. There is lots to see and do in this town and you’re able to discover new adventures, fabulous walks, drives that will astound you. Many people think there is nothing to see and do here but you will find yourself staying longer and discovering much longer than you thought.
After spending an hour for fuel break and tour of this amazing inland town, I was away from Charters Towers headed for Clermont intending to stay the second night there, covering almost 400 kilometres. Almost half-way of driving, I arrived in Belyando Crossing Roadhouse situated almost in the middle of nowhere and the only stop between Charters Towers and Clermont. This part of Queensland inland route where you can drive for hours and not see anything more than flat land, kangaroos, cows and the open road. Fuel tank check is essentially vital and other mechanical checks on your vehicle.
The Belyando Crossing approximately 230 kilomettres south of Charters Towers on the Gregory Development Road is where the highway crosses the Belyando River. The only roadhouse located at Belyando Crossing offers a shady picnic area to the travellers passing through. Also, it has a rest area where travellers can stop for a break. For those road travellers who want to break their road trip into two days, especially caravans, there is basic caravan park on the hill behind the service station where fuel and food is available.
After driving for many kilometres and hours, I finally reached the coal mines near Clermont, the only sign of habitation on the entire of my journey, apart from the cattle stations. I spent my second night here with a nice dinner at the local motel before retiring.
The township of Clermont is diverse and has a devastating history. It is a rich agricultural community but have a history of gold fossickers where many come to find and seek fortune. Yes, this town of Clermont is one of the historic towns in Queensland, northern part of Australia. It has a colourful past, rich in drama and laced with tragedy where travellers had to stay longer to feel, see and learn about this historical town. In 1916, this town had a devastating flood which killed 65 people. The parkland where the town was once located called “Hoods Lagoon” is now a parkland and it is a great place for travellers to stop. The park is a relaxing venue with barbecue, picnic tables and toilet facilities. It is a beautiful sport and a very family friendly environment. The footpaths and boardwalks around the Lagoon enable visitors to explore more of the numerous memorials which gives you the history of Clermont’s past. It is a very popular and picturesque backdrops for photography.
For those curiosity travellers may get the metal detector out, in search for gold nugget. It is a gem for Gold fossickers and you have to call into Clermont Detectors at the Caravan Park for a fossickers licence with more information of the available areas.
Having a quick tour of the this town gave me a feel of the frontier atmosphere that are still can be found in the area without having to look for too long. Hidden amongst the new prosperity are the remnants of earlier times, from the days of gold rush and copper mines, timber-getters and shearers, stockmen and squatters. Today, mining development brought many of the customer comforts of the town and more lively but the attitude of the local people are still one of the rugged individualism.
Some of the interesting attractions that a must-do visits in Clermont includes:
- Clermont Historical Centre – Located just 2 kilometres north of Clermont and has a display of more than 8000 artefacts reflecting the dramatic history of the town, from tragedy to prosperity. Worth visiting and learning about this history that will blow your mind away. It is just surreal.
- Another major attraction to visit further out of the town about 23 kilometre is the world’s largest seam of steaming coal located at Blair Athol. The tour of the mines are conducted with bookings through the Information Centre.
Where to Stay?
Apart from Caravan parks, there are variety of places to stay from backpackers to motels. However, it is wise to make an accommodation reservation prior to your arrival as most of the stay-over places can be limited.
Day 3: Clermont to Emerald - 115 kilometres
After learning about the Clermont’s turbulent history, I departed for Emerald but without leaving the town with a visit to the memorial that marks the height of the 1916 floodwaters on the corner of Capricorn and Drummond Street. With just a distance of 115 kilometres, the drive from Clermont to Emerald was an easy short drive. I arrived early in Emerald just before fighting the locals on their daily commute where I was to spent my night there. I spent most of the day self-drive, exploring this country town.
Emerald is a thriving rural town and is the largest country town. This town is the main hub of the Central Highlands and gateway to one of the largest sapphire fields in the southern hemisphere. Since its establishment in 1879 as the base for the railway line, it has slowly grown into one of the major regional centres. This major country town has a number of industries in agriculture and mining. There is an extensive coal mining in the area which is a major source of revenue for the town’s economy It is also very big in the agricultural industry – that is cotton and grain growing.
Everything you wanted to see and do in Emerald township are within driving distance. You don’t have to drive to far distance to find what you are looking for.
With very little mass tourism in the town but there are layers of attractions from restored historical features to modern natural attractions. One has to spend a week or two to really experience this township’s history and natural attractions. On of the “must-see” attraction in town includes:
- National Trust Listed Railway Station – This station was built in 1900 and restored in mid 80’s. It features wrought iron lacework and pillared portico. It is a spectacular sight and cannot be missed.
- Botanical Gardens – This botanical gardens are located not far from the town’s centre and on the banks of the Nogoa River which covers an area of 42 hectares is something that no visitors expect to see in an outback country town. The Gardens are home to 12 different themed plant communities, most representing plant species that are native to the region. These gardens are the perfect local place for a picnic and for visitors to enjoy.
- Gem Fields – For curiosity travellers, take a visit to the gem fields nearby to the west of the town like I did. Two places of interests are Sapphire and Rubyvale.
- Lake Maraboon and the Fairbairn Dam – Just a short drive from the town centre is the lake and the dam. This dam has been built for the cotton industry water supply and holds more water than Sydney Harbour. Be sure to see it to know why it is true. This is a perfect place to relax and have a picnic.
Where to Stay?
The township of Emerald is the largest country town and is a popular over-night stay for many travellers that are travelling by caravans, campers, self-drive travellers and truckies. With its huge agriculture and mining industry, the township has various accommodations to suit all budget travellers from motels, campers, caravan parks to backpacker accommodations. Be sure to make reservations in advance as most cheap accommodations can be busy, especially when most miners and farm workers frequently book this places.
Day 4: Emerald to St George - 597 kilometres
The next day, I left for St George in the early hours of the morning for my next over-night stop as I wanted to spend more time exploring Carnavon Gorge within Carnavon National Park. It is a place that every travellers should see. With a stop-over in the country town of Injune and Roma was worth stopping not only to break up the journey but to explore and learn more about the place.
This tiny country town of Injune is just more than a tiny town along the “Great Inland Way” route. This town is a great base for those wanting to explore the national parks of the region with breathtaking scenery, walking tracks and beautiful flora and fauna that cannot be seen anywhere in the world. It is just so unique to the area. With minimal time spent in the town, I detoured off the main highway to the secluded location – Carnavon Gorge.
This place will give you an experience that you will never get anywhere in the world. Falling in Love with Carnavon Gorge is easy to do and I loved it. This is where I came to find peace, beauty, tranquility and hint of adventure. This national park is renowned as one of Australia’s most spectacular wilderness areas and important Aboriginal cultural sites. The images taken shows below speak for themselves about the place. This gorge truly has the stunning landscapes and must say, it is the secret Jewel of Australia. To fully appreciate the beauty and diversity of this park, you will need at least a week to immerse yourself. It is a place where you can take a walk among the untouched and pristine environment, hike and camp in the park’s camping areas.
Leaving Carnavon Gorge, I felt quite relaxed and re-energise within myself. I continued my journey to Roma Where I had a good rest at a recreational area while enjoying a chat with plenty of happy travellers. Roma is an attractive town and is a thriving community. It lies at the heart of a rich sheep and cattle grazing area and not only boasts the largest cattle market in Australia but the southern hemisphere’s largest sale yards. I had a quick self-drive tour of the town but Roma deserves an over-night stop to take in all it has to offer. Yes, it has so much to offer and I was amazed of what I have seen in this town.
With the quick tour of the town, I have seen Roma has so much to offer. There are number of things to see and do which includes:
- Roma Visitor Information Centre – Located in The Big Rig Complex. This complex is a must see for all who visit Roma. Experience in this place is not to miss by travellers and visitors passing through. It has interpretive panels, audio and other visual presentations and fully restored historic rigs and equipments. The history to present is just incredible.
- Romavilla Winery – Queensland’s first wine making enterprise.
- Heroes’ Avenue – To get a real feel of the town itself, take a walk along the heritage-listed Heroes’ Avenue, which is planted with more than 100 bottle trees. Each tree is a memorial to local solider who have lost their lives in WW1.
- Mount Abundance Homestead – The homestead has important links to early explorers and was built in 1860 which is the site of the region’s first settlement.
- Meadowbank Museum – I must say, this was my highlight to visit in Rome and highly recommends to any visitors to visit this place. The museum has one of the finest and most unusual collections of memorabilia in the country. Of particular interest is the deadly ‘man trap’ used to trap Aborigines who were stealing cattle. It is a huge and ugly variation of a rabbit trap devised to break the leg and almost impossible to open once caught in it. The rest, you need to visit it to experience and learn about the past.
Where to Stay?
Roma offers a variety of accommodation to suit all budget travellers. There is camping available and campers can inspect the museum during their stay.
St George like many other typical Queensland rural towns is filled with so much history and is worth more than just an overnight stop. The town itself is located on a river – The Balonne River and is the heart of St George. It is known as the fishing capital of inland Queensland because of its location on the vast flatlands in the Darling Downs stretching out beyond the Great Dividing Range. This town is primarily a service centre for the surrounding wheat, sheep and cotton farmers. It also have fruits and vegetables and beef that make up useful contributions to the local economy. With wide streets lined with trees and heritage buildings dating back to the 1880’s add to the town’s country feeling. From the moment you arrive to the time you leave, this town relaxes the senses in all the right ways. I know why, I didn’t want to leave this town in hurry.
St George town situated on the river makes it an attractive town in an idyllic setting. A place to explore a little longer includes:
- Since the town is perched on the banks of the might Balonne River, it is just a great place to stretch your legs and take in the breeze on the shady riverbank walkway flanking the town.
- Visit Steve Margaritis and be amazed at his talent for carving emu eggs. When you see it carved into a stunning, illuminated piece of art
- Indulge yourself at Riversands Winery and Cafe while in town
- Learn more about the local cotton and grape industry by taking a tour of the Cotton Farm and Winery
- Visit the immaculate museum with plenty to admire with the complex
- Take a town tour and explore the murals
- St George Heritage Centre
- Aboriginal Bush Garden
- Picnic on the grassed river banks near the centre of town
- Visit the Beardmore Dam or Jack Taylor Weir, both are great spots to picnic and throw in a line. It is a gem for every angler and you won’t be disappointed either.
- Dirranbandi Family Fishing Classic, the annual St George Family Fishing Competition
- Yellow Belly Country Music Festival, which keeps the family and everyone entertained
Where to Stay?
St George is a town that has various types of accommodations ranging from camping sites, backpacker, caravan parks, B&B and motels
Day 5: St George to Moree - 240 kilometres
Moree, over 200 kilometres further on from St George is my next stop. Leaving, Queensland State crossing over to the tiny township of Mungindi. This town is uniquely situated on both sides of New South Wales and Queensland border. The drive from St George to Moree is nothing more than miles and miles of operational farmlands from cotton, wheat, wool to dairy farming.
This tiny town with an approximate population of 700 people, is quite unique as it is the only border town in the Southern Hemisphere with the same name in two states, just divided by the tiny Barwon River. The township also uniquely have two Police stations, one in each state. The schools are in New South Wales and the hospital is situated in Queensland side. This tiny community is a vibrant place as it is renowned for its enthusiasm in bringing world class festivals and events to the local area. It has a lot of history that is worth spending few hours before continuing your journey.
Arriving in Moree just before the peak period as locals, farm-workers, truckies and caravaners commute, I unpacked quickly and headed for the hot-springs for the rest of the day. The township of Moree is rich with black soil plains and you will know why the area is an ideal for farming cotton, wheat, beef cattle, olive groves, vineyards and pecans. It is not only a farming country town but it is also one of the largest farm machinery distribution centres in the country. The location of the town is near the Mehi River and during the wet season, the town get flooded regularly over the years. The main streets are lined with beautiful heritage buildings.
There are plenty of attractions in Moree and the list is endless. Spent a week or two to explore and have a feel about this town. Since the town being located near the Mehi River means that the town has numerous attractive riverside parks and reserves which are worth taking a stroll. Some of the attractions include:
- Mary Brand Park – It is a pretty riverside picnic spot and also there is walking tracks as well known as Barry Roberts Walk which is highly recommended.
- Stahmann Pecan Nut Farm Trawalla – It is the largest pecan farm in the Southern Hemisphere and you won’t be disappointed on this tour.
- Cotton and gin farm tour – Moree is Australia’s richest cotton-producing region and taking this tour will give you an insight some of the unanswered questions about the cotton industry
- Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre – The town is famous for its Artesian Spa and is my favourite spot. This place attracts thousands of visitors who flock the spa centre each year to enjoy the soothing thermal springs and people seeking health-giving waters. You can’t leave Moree without have a bath at the spa. It is an idyllic place for relaxation, rejuvenation and a great place to discover the therapeutic benefits of the mineral-rich waters.
Where to Stay?
There are plenty of places to stay to suite various budgets, ranging from caravan parks and classic country pubs to motels.
Day 6: Moree to Sydney - 621 kilometres
Spent only 2-days in Moree and loving it, I felt like I have been living here for years. With long distance of driving, covering more than 600 kilometres to reach Sydney, I planned to stopover in few towns and cities along the way. Hitting the open road, I drove through beautiful countryside towns of Gunnedah, Narrabri, Musswellbrook, Singleton, Maitland and Australia’s seventh largest city and second most populated area in the Australian state of New South Wales – Newcastle before reaching my final destination – Sydney.
This country town of Gunnedah is the main hub of one of Australia’s richest agricultural regions – the Liverpool Plains. It is a large service town and it has everything for every travellers passing through to refill before continuing their road journey. It has variety of supermarkets, a choice of pubs and bistros and few great parks to stretch your legs. It has few additional attractions if you plan to stretch your break for a day or two. They is plenty of accommodation in the town. You will marvel at the beauty of the district and enjoy the hospitality and comfort that only the country local people can offer. Their genuine smiles and the natural beauty of the landscape paint a picture of real country Australia.
This country town cannot be missed as pass through. It is the centre of a major cotton growing industry apart from other agricultural industries in the area – wheat and beef. Spend few hours exploring the sights in and around Narrabri and you will be amaze to see the attractions the town offers. It includes, Mount Kaputar National Park, the Australia telescope Compact Array and other agricultural centres.
The township of Maitland is both impressive and interesting town to explore. It is realistically, two township town. There is Central Maitland with its impressive High Street with lined with heritage buildings and charming mall – The Levee. The other is East Maitland. Both townships have are very impressive and is a place visitors need to see and explore their rich heritage. Maitland has always been the principal town of the Hunter Valley, renowned for its famous winery in Australia.
The city of Newcastle is a destination that every visitor’s dream. Just 3 hours drive north of Sydney is the sunny-natured Newcastle. This town is anchored in indigenous and convict history and is filled with entertainment and attraction for everyone. From surfing beaches, hand-cut sea pools, a coastal fort to contemporary bars skirt the city’s harbour. The museums and artisanal restaurants lie at its heart. No wonder, I love this city and I have certainly ticked it off my list.
Taking a big breath when you arrive in Sydney – you are in one of the Australia’s major and busiest city and is the gateway to two of the world’s iconic architectural structures – The Sydney Harbour Bridge, The Opera House and the famous Bondi beach which lies in the heart of it. It is the end of my journey and what a place to finish the might Great Inland Way and it couldn’t get any better.
In this typical modern city, you will almost find anything that suits your need and interest from shopping, food, entertainment, restaurants, markets, wines to all styles of accommodations (1 star – 5 star) and the list is endless. There is something for everyone.
Being one of the busiest city in Australia, there is an abundance of attractions for everyone. Sydney is a world-class destination with so many spectacular zoos, parklands, beaches, historical centre and more. Some of the most popular attractions where millions of visitors come to Sydney to visit includes:
- Sydney Harbour Bridge
- The Opera House
- Taronga Zoo
- Bondi Beach
- The Blue Mountains
- Ferry Ride to Manly Beach
- The Gap
Where to Stay?
There are variety of places to stay and you need to find something that suit your style and budget. The accommodation range from 1 star to 5 star and you’re expected to find things more expensive than country towns.
From Personal Perspective:
I have found out that there are lots of reasons why I had to take a few days on this road trip and to make it more about the journey than the destination. This was the only one way to truly get a taste of the country towns. Also, by embarking on a Cairns to Sydney – Great Inland Way drive to get acquainted with the countryside. This Great Inland Way has taken me on a journey infused with exhilarating natural experiences and breath-taking beauty. The Great Inland Way runs through some of the finest scenery in the world and gave me an experience that I will never get anywhere around the world.