Lucinda Starr

by Lucinda Starr

posted on January 10, 2024

Australia’s Sunshine State is famous for many things, from world-class snorkelling along the Great Barrier Reef to the lush Daintree Rainforest (Australia’s largest rainforest). But if you want to experience outback Queensland, you need to plan a road trip from Brisbane to Rockhampton.

Kicking off in Brisbane (Queensland’s most populous city), your road trip begins in this bustling riverside city, brimming with boutique shopping, alfresco dining and even world heritage-listed rainforest on your doorstep.

Whether you opt for the scenic Coastal Route or the rugged Inland Route, you’ll experience epic Australian landscapes before reaching Rockhampton (what used to be Australia’s northernmost city, once pitched as the capital city of a new North QLD state).

Sunshine Coast beach pictured in winter, photographed from the north end - a great stop along the Brisbane to Rockhampton drive.

While airlines fly direct daily between Brisbane and Rockhampton, there’s no better way to see the sights of Queensland than with an epic Brisbane to Rockhampton road trip.

In this complete guide, we’ll cover:

  • Expert tips and tricks for planning a seamless Brisbane to Rockhampton road trip
  • The best driving route from Brisbane to Rockhampton
  • A day-by-day itinerary of where to eat, play and stay between Brisbane and Rockhampton
  • Nearby Queensland road trips to add to your itinerary
  • All your burning Brisbane to Rockhampton drive questions answered

An overview of the Brisbane to Rockhampton road trip

Wondering what to expect from the Brisbane to Rockhampton road trip? While it might be a lesser-known Queensland drive, this road trip is easily tackled in just a few days.

Although you can smash out the entire drive in one day, we’d recommend at least two to three days to allow you to detour to lovely beaches, picturesque coastal towns and lush walking trails along the way.

  • Driving time: 8 hours 10 minutes (if opting for the Coastal Route)
  • Driving distance: 701 km (if opting for the Coastal Route)
  • Route options:
    • Express Route via Bruce Highway (A1): 645 km, 7 hours 22 minutes
    • Coastal Route via M1: 701 km, 8 hours 10 minutes
    • Inland Route via the Burnett Highway (A3): 725 km, 8 hours 20 minutes
  • Top spots: Ideally, take the coastal route and split up this road trip over three days, allowing you to make overnight tops in Noosa and Hervey Bay before ending your road trip in Rockhampton City.
  • Expert tips: While the Express Route offers the shortest drive time, you’ll be stuck on the highway for almost your entire drive (which can prove pretty boring after several hours on the road). By opting for the Coastal Route, you can break up your road trip with scenic detours to some of Queensland’s best beaches and swim spots.
  • Best time to drive from Brisbane to Rockhampton: Schedule your Rockhampton road trip between June and October to enjoy mild temperatures (as Rockhampton’s temperatures can climb above 30 degrees Celsius during the hot summer months).

Brisbane to Rockhampton road trip map

A map displaying the coastal Brisbane to Rockhampton road trip route - it also displays additional info such as drive time (8 hours and 8 minutes), and stops along the way.

What you need to know before driving from Brisbane to Rockhampton

Maximise your time and plan ahead for the best road trip experience from Brisbane to Rockhampton. Rather than sticking to the highway, curate your own multi-day itinerary and hug the coast to venture to the golden sand beaches of Noosa, Hervey Bay and beyond.

Brisbane to Rockhampton road trip essentials

Like any drive in Queensland, the Brisbane to Rockhampton road trip can be hot (especially during the summer months of December to February). For the most comfortable driving experience, pack these road trip essentials:

  • Sun protection: Opt for hats, sunglasses and sunscreen (ideally with an SPF of 50+ to block out the harsh UV rays Australia is famous for).
  • Water and food: There are plenty of small towns and service stations to pull into along your drive, but come prepared with plenty of water and snacks to stay hydrated and fuelled.
  • Swimmers: Opting for the coastal route? Don’t miss the chance to take a splash at the rock pools and beautiful beaches along the way (Sunshine Beach in the beautiful coastal town of Noosa is a must-see).
  • Hiking gear: Planning to take a peaceful walk through a coastal track or hiking trail? With an abundance of national parks between Brisbane and Rockhampton, come prepared with hiking shoes in the boot.

Petrol stations and EV chargers along the way

Need to refuel? Look out for petrol stations located in major towns and cities such as Brisbane, Coolum Beach, Hervey Bay, Agnes Waters and Gladstone. Always refuel when you get the opportunity to avoid running low on petrol.

Mark’s Audi Q3 on Turo in Brisbane – A great option for the Brisbane to Rockhampton road trip.

Driving an electric car? You’ll be able to recharge at a number of charging stations throughout Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast, Gympie, Maryborough and Hervey Bay.

Tip from the author: Find your nearest EV charging station between Brisbane and Rockhampton using PlugShare, a free interactive map for electric charging stations Australia-wide.

Staying safe during your road trip

Several portions of the Brisbane to Rockhampton road trip pass through rural or regional areas (such as towns around Gympie and Maryborough).

When outside of major towns and cities, avoid driving at dusk, dawn and after dark as this is when wildlife is most active. To avoid collisions with animals on the road, drive with caution and reduce speed.

The best driving route from Brisbane to Rockhampton

You have three driving route options to travel from Brisbane to Rockhampton:

  • The express route: the shortest driving time and distance but the least scenic option, best for those who are short on time and looking for the fastest way to get from A to B.
  • The coastal route: the most scenic option hugging the East Coast of Queensland, best for those who want to experience the best beaches and coastal scenery of Queensland.
  • The inland route: the most authentic country driving experience in Queensland, best for those looking to explore historic small towns.

While we don’t like to play favourites, it’s hard to beat the coastal route from Brisbane to Rockhampton. Whether you want to spot wild dolphins or humpback whales, experience turtle season, swim in a safe patrolled beach or enjoy a coastal picnic with the whole family, following the coast treats you to an abundance of stunning views, natural attractions and outdoor activities.

Below, we break down your day-by-day road trip itinerary from Brisbane to Rockhampton, including where to eat, drink, play and stay along the way.

Stop 1. Brisbane to Noosa

With just two hours on the road today, why not set off early to make a few stops along the way from Brisbane to Noosa? Noosa is a great location and one of Australia’s most popular beachside destinations, there’s no shortage of idyllic islands, sand dunes, and picnic spots to visit along the way.

  • Drive time: 2 hours
  • Drive distance: 160 km
  • Top attractions:
    • Bribie Island: Just 80 km (90 minutes) from Brisbane, the small 8km-wide Bribie Island is part of the Moreton Bay coastline and is connected to the mainland by a road bridge (perfect for a day tour).
    • Australia Zoo: Hit the M1 from Brisbane for just over an hour, and you’ll reach Australia Zoo, founded by the beloved crocodile hunter Steve Irwin. Don’t miss the 12 pm Croc Show, held daily at the Crocoseum!
    • Sunshine Coast: Along the Sunshine Coast, experience over 100km of iconic coastline and lush hinterland hills from Caloundra to Cooloola. Surfers and swimmers, don’t miss Coolum Beach or Mooloolaba Beach.
    • Hastings Street: Once you arrive in Noosa, take a splash at Main Beach before heading to the main street (Hastings Street) for unmissable drinking, dining and shopping opportunities. Hot tip: make sure to follow Hastings Street Noosa on Instagram for the latest news, surf reports and special events happening along this street.
    • Noosa National Park: Soak in stunning views of Noosa Headland in this incredible coastal national park, boasting eucalypt forest wetlands and even dense rainforests.
  • Where to eat and drink:
    • Cafe Le Monde, a Noosa brunch institution since 1986
    • Sails Restaurant, a Hastings Street beachfront dining spot since 1994
    • Bang Bang Noosa for cracking cocktails, Asian street food and wok-fried hits
    • Season Restaurant for a seafood-focused menu from an airy outdoor terrace
    • Noosa Beach House, arrive early to enjoy a pre-dinner drink at the bar
  • Where to stay:
    • $ – Villa Noosa Hotel (from $154 per night)
    • $$ – Noosa Heads Motel (from $321 per night)
    • $$$ – Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort (from $672 per night)

Stop 2. Noosa to Hervey Bay

Ready to experience the Fraser Coast? Hit the road for a short two-hour drive from Noosa to Hervey Bay, the world’s whale watching capital. Fun fact: Hervey Bay has recently been named a Whale Heritage Site, making it a must visit for sweeping views of the coastline and an abundance of unforgettable day trips (don’t miss the World Heritage-listed K’gari, Fraser Island).

  • Drive time: 2 hours 5 minutes
  • Drive distance: 159km
  • Top attractions:
    • Gympie: Explore the great sandy hills of Rainbow Beach, explore the historic heritage buildings along Mary Street, visit the Gold Mining and Historical Museum or tackle the Gympie Region Heritage Trail.
    • Whale watching at Hervey Bay: Visiting between June and November? Spot humpback whales on their annual migration, with a stack of local tour companies offering day trips (such as Blue Dolphin Marine Tours, an eco-friendly sailing vessel delivering intimate whale encounters for just 24 passengers per tour).
    • Urangan Pier: Explore one of the longest piers in Australia, stretching close to 1km into the ocean.
    • Fraser Island: Just a short ferry ride away is K’gari, the largest sand island in the world.
  • Where to eat and drink:
    • Enzo’s on the Beach for all-day dining and live music on Sundays
    • The Dock Hervey Bay for unmissable tapas-style eats
    • Cody’s Coffee Shack for some of the best coffee on the Fraser Coast
    • Banksia Seafood and Grill for an award-winning casual fine dining experience
  • Where to stay:
    • $ – Woolshed Eco Lodge (from $85 per night)
    • $$ – Quarterdecks Retreat (from $201 per night)
    • $$$ – Absolute Beachfront Luxury Entertainer – Dundowran Beach (from $1,425 per night)

Stop 3. Hervey Bay to Rockhampton

Today might be your last day on the road, but it’s also the longest day of driving. While it does prove to be a bit of a detour, head off the highway to Agnes Waters and Seventeen Seventy (coastal towns located in the Gladstone Region) in the Southern region of the Great Barrier Reef.

  • Drive time: 4 hours 20 minutes
  • Drive distance: 382 km
  • Top attractions:
    • Agnes Waters and Seventeen Seventy (a.k.a. 1770): These two small coastal towns are well worth the detour, offering pristine beaches, abundant wildlife, rainforest walks and plenty of kayaking opportunities. A great spot for families looking to entertain the little ones!
    • Bundaberg: From turtles to world-class rum, the historic sugar cane city of Bundaberg offers something for everyone. Whether you visit the Bundaberg Distillery or take a stroll through the Bundaberg Botanic Gardens, you’ll be in for a treat.
    • Gladstone: Why not extend your trip with an overnight stay in the coastal town of Gladstone? It’s the gateway to the Southern Great Barrier Reef and home to stunning spots like Heron Island and Lady Musgrave Island.
  • Where to eat and drink:
    • Gin Gin Bakery offers some of the world’s best cream buns and pies right on the highway
    • Round Hill Road Pizza in Agnes Waters for incredible pizzas using fresh, local ingredients
    • Bert’s Restaurant and Bar in Bundaberg for the best cocktails in Bundaberg
    • The Boathouse Rockhampton for waterfront dining and a casual, seafood-focused menu
  • Where to stay:
    • $ – Criterion Hotel-Motel Rockhampton (from $95 per night)
    • $$ – Rockhampton Palms Motor Inn (from $158 per night)
    • $$$ – CocoBrew Boutique Apartments (from $230 per night)

Top things to see and do in Brisbane

From South Bank to Fortitude Valley, Brisbane offers something for everything. Expect top-notch inner-city restaurants, lush hinterland walks and even pristine tropical beaches.

Looking for the best things to experience in Brisbane? Before you head off on your road trip from Brisbane to Rockhampton, consider ticking off a few must-see spots in Brisvegas:

  • Explore the Brisbane Riverwalk and cycle, run or walk from New Farm to Howard Smith Wharves.
  • Experience contemporary art and culture at the Brisbane Powerhouse.
  • Gain a unique perspective of the city with a two-hour Story Bridge Adventure Climb.
  • Visit Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the world’s first and largest koala sanctuary.
  • Take a walk through the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, which are open daily from 8 am to 6 pm in summer and 8 am to 5 pm in winter.

Top things to see and do in Rockhampton

Completed your drive from Brisbane to Rockhampton? Welcome to Queensland’s bustling beef capital. Did the six iconic bull statues dotted around the city give it away?

Situated in the heart of the Fitzroy Basin (Australia’s second largest river system) and rubbing shoulder with the Berserker Ranges, Rockhampton boasts world-class mountain bike trails, treetop boardwalks, ancient caves and unique farm stays.

Not sure what to tackle next? Here are our top picks for the best things to do in Rockhampton:

  • Head underground to explore Capricorn Caves and head to the guided Cathedral Cave tour (held hourly).
  • Get up close and personal with over 30 species of native and exotic animals at Rockhampton Zoo.
  • Venture to Mount Archer National Park and tackle the new Nurim Circuit Elevated Boardwalk (extending 25 m off the side of Mount Archer).
  • Visit the Rockhampton Museum of Art (first opened in 1967) for a taste of the region’s arts and culture.
  • From free camping to waterfall walks and a kid-friendly playground, Kershaw Gardens has it all.
  • Experience one of the oldest public gardens in Queensland with a visit to the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens.

Nearby Queensland road trips to add to your itinerary

Why let your road trip come to an end? Throughout Queensland, there are plenty of day trips and multi-day road trip adventures waiting for you, including:

  • Yepoon to Agnes Waters: 3 hours 15 minutes, 270 km, day trip.
  • Hervey Bay to Yeppoon: 5 hours, 425 km, 1 to 2-day trip.
  • Rockhampton to Noosa: 6 hours, 511 km, 1 to 2-day trip.
  • Brisbane to Gladstone drive: 6 hours 15 minutes, 543 km, 2 to 3-day trip.
  • Brisbane to Mackay: 11+ hours, 980 km, 6 to 8-day trip.
  • Brisbane to Townsville drive: 15+ hours, 1,361 km, 8 to 10-day trip.
  • Brisbane to Cairns: 19+ hours, 1,679 km, 8 to 14 days.

Looking for more inspiration? Discover 17 of the best road trips from Brisbane.

Brisbane to Rockhampton drive: frequently asked questions

Can you complete the Brisbane to Rockhampton drive in reverse?

Absolutely! Simply reverse this itinerary to drive from Rockhampton to Brisbane over three days.

What other modes of transport can you take from Brisbane to Rockhampton?

There are a number of ways to travel from Brisbane to Rockhampton, including:

  • Driving with your own car or a hire car in Brisbane on Turo (8 hours 10 minutes)
  • Flying from Brisbane Airport to Rockhampton Airport (1 hour 20 minutes)
  • Taking the Tilt Train from Brisbane to Rockhampton (7 hours 45 minutes)

If speed is your priority, flying is the quickest way to get from A to B. However, driving from Brisbane to Rockhampton is the best way to experience Queensland’s best coastal spots.

How long is the Brisbane to Rockhampton drive?

The road trip from Brisbane to Rockhampton is 8 hours and 10 minutes (if following the scenic coastal route). This trip is best spread over three days to allow plenty of time to rest, recharge and reconnect with nature, however you can also complete it in a single day.

Michael’s Hyundai iMAX on Turo in Brisbane – A great option if you’re taking the whole fam with you!

Final advice for the Brisbane to Rockhampton drive of a lifetime

Ultimately, a QLD road trip from Brisbane to Rockhampton is a must-try experience.

Want to secure the perfect ride for your Brisbane road trip? With Turo, you’ll find unique cars you can’t find anywhere else, ready to be delivered to you from a local Turo host. Browse cars on Turo and rent a car in Brisbane from a local host.

Do you want to start your car-sharing business? With Turo, you can sign up online in minutes and start earning income from your spare ride. Find out more and rent your car out on Turo.

Lucinda Starr

Lucinda Starr

Lucinda is a Sydney-based content specialist and avid road tripper. Having travelled across Asia, North America and the South Pacific, she's experienced everything from glamping in a Yurt in -30 degrees in The Yukon, snorkelling in the open seas of Vanuatu and hiking the rocky alps of Kamikochi in Japan. She's currently planning her next overseas adventure, a toss-up between a classic #EuroSummer or a multi-day trek through Nepal.

A photo of the historical site of Port Arthur, a must visit road trip stop on the Launceston to Hobart drive.
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Russell Falls, a popular road trip stop along the Strahan to Hobart drive.
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