I’m assuming it’s not everyday you drive up and down the Bruce Highway between Townsville and Brisbane.
I mean, I hadn’t planned on doing the drive myself. However, a couple of things happened and instead of flying to and from Townsville, I had to drive.
Fortunately for you, the trip has given me an opportunity to put together another travel tip blog post, so I can give you my unique insight on another one of Australia’s big road trips.
Now, I should probably forewarn you… The 1300km journey along the Bruce Highway between Townsville and Brisbane is going to take you at least a two days. That said, if you’re going to stop at all of the places I recommend in this post, it’ll probably take you even longer than that. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to make the trip. It’s a big couple of days in the car.
There is an alternate inland route, which really isn’t any faster and offers much less to see and do. However, it does avoid some of the road work frustration that you have to put up with on the Bruce Highway. So that’s something to keep in mind planning your trip.
When I made the trip I left Townsville early, like 4am early. It took me 11 hours to get to Rockhampton with only short-ish stops at these places. It was then another 13 hours to Brisbane with the detours I took. Just a bit longer than Google Maps suggests the trip will take.
I would recommend that you make your first stop in Bowen. It’s a good opportunity to tick off one of the “Big things around Australia” with the Big Mango (Pro tip: there are actually two Big Mango’s in Bowen, one at the visitors center and a slightly smaller one by the waterfront).
At two hours into the trip its a good time to stop, stretch the legs and grab some breakfast. Just don’t get there too early, nothing is open before 6am.
Airlie Beach, Queensland
This one is a bit of a detour off the main road, but Airlie Beach is a popular tourist and backpacker destination, right next to Hamilton Island and the Whitsundays. It’s probably worth spending much more time here than the hour I spent, but it’s good place to take in the scenery of this part of the country.
If I were you, and you had plenty of time, I would suggest making this one an overnight or two-day stopover. Take the opportunity to take a boat tour out to one of the islands if you can or even dive the Great Barrier Reef. Airlie is perfectly setup for tourists and has plenty to offer.
Here’s some of the accommodation options around Airlie Beach.
Two hours south of Bowen (a bit longer if you stop in at Airlie Beach) is the next major stop, Mackay. Right in the center of sugar cane country good place to stop for some sweets. It’s also the last big town before Rockhampton another 350km’s or so down the road, making it the perfect place to refuel yourself and your car to get ready for a long stint in the car.
There isn’t much else to see and do in Mackay, it tourist attractions are the National Parks in and around the area, if you have the time.
Rockhampton is where I chose to stop overnight on my trip, purely because it’s halfway between Townsville and Brisbane. That said make sure you plan your trip so you’ve got a little bit time to check out the historical architecture around the city, which can easily be missed if you don’t know to look out for it. Make sure you head into the heart of the city and look out for it.
It’s also well setup as a halfway stop on the trip. Plenty of hotels and motels. Just be careful, you do get what you pay for in terms of accommodation (yes, I did learn this one the hard way). It’s worth taking a detour from the Bruce Highway and getting a place to stay little bit further away from the main road or the overnight trucks will keep you awake all night.
Now, you can save yourself a bit of time if you skip Gladstone, the Bruce Highway does bypass it, but it’s the last major coastal town on the trip down to Brisbane.
If you do decide to drop in to Gladstone you’ll be rewarded with some amazing heritage listed buildings, similar to Rockhampton, and stunning beaches. It’s also a great place to grab some breakfast, there isn’t a lot in the way of big towns on this southern section of the Bruce Highway. So most of the options on the direct route are small town truck stops, particularly early in the morning.
Another one that’s a bit of a detour, but Bundaberg is famous for one thing, it’s Rum distillery. If you are into that sort of thing it’s definitely going to be worth the detour for you, but it does add at least an hour (just in driving time) to the trip.
Again, this section of the Bruce Highway doesn’t have a lot in the way of major towns so if you are looking to break up the trip, these detours are well worth it. I’d suggest that you choose between Gladstone and Bundaberg for stops though, particularly if you’re in a hurry.
Gympie marks the end of where the Bruce Highway is just a multilane road and turns into a proper motorway. In planning your trip, it’s place to stop refuel yourself and your car before you try to tackle the motorways and associated traffic on the trip into Brisbane.
Sunshine Coast, Queensland
The funny thing about the Bruce Highway is it goes from not much to a whole lot in a very short section of the trip. With the Sunshine Coast being such a popular tourist destination for locals of Brisbane, there is a short section of the road between Forrest Glen and Palmview that will give you plenty of options of things to do.
If you’d like to tick off another one of the “Big things around Australia”, the Big Pineapple is a short detour off the highway at Woombye. If you’d like to stay on the Highway then just down the road (no more than another 10 minutes drive) is Aussie World and the former “Ettamogah Pub”, it’s still open it just has a different name now. Aussie World is probably better for your kids, while the pub is probably better for you. However my personal recommendation is to drop into Beefy’s Pies if you are looking for something to eat.
Planning on continuing your drive down to Sydney? Make sure you check out my blog post about the trip down the Pacific Highway as well.