Australia's vast state of Queensland is a brilliant place to visit, with distinct contrasts. Brisbane is a sophisticated metropolitan city, while to the north, the smaller cities of Airlie Beach, Cairns, and Port Douglas are the main jumping-off points for seeing the Great Barrier Reef.

The fastest way to get from Brisbane to any of those cities is to fly, with the trip to Townsville/Airlie Beach lasting about an hour; to Cairns/Port Douglas it will be about a 2.5-hour flight.

Renting a car or a camper van (a very popular way for the locals to see the country) and driving is an option, which allows you to take your time and see more of this gorgeous tropical region; just remember that Australians drive on the left side of the road, which takes some getting used to (for Americans and others who are accustomed to driving to the right). Our local experts are ready to help you make arrangements to rent either an automobile or a camper van.

Taking the train is another way to travel, but that's an overnight trip, with The Spirit of Queensland train leaving Brisbane each afternoon and making stops along the way as it meanders up the coastline, arriving in Cairns 24 hours later. 

Or consider choosing one of our Queensland tours and leave all the logistical planning to us. Our Discover Queensland – 8 Days tour encompasses places from Brisbane to Port Douglas, while the Tropical North Queensland - Hamilton Island, Port Douglas, Cairns, & More – 7 Days begins north of Brisbane, our local experts are happy to arrange your transfers from that city to the start of the tour.

By Plane

Duration: 1 to 2.5 hours

Once you've chosen which part of the Great Barrier Reef you want to see, you'll find frequent flights between Brisbane and either Townsville or Cairns. Choose Townsville to get to Airlie Beach (which will then be a three-hour drive south), the place to easily reach the famed Whitsunday Islands.

Choose Cairns to be in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, where day boats and liveaboard boats launch from the massive dock area there. From Cairns, lovely Port Douglas is about an hour drive north; there you will find the gorgeous 4-Mile Beach as well as many Great Barrier Reef boat tours. Note that Cairns does not have any beaches, it is a town built on mud flats.

By Rental Car or Camper Van

Duration: 12 to 19 hours

It's a long journey from Brisbane to the reef's jumping-off points, but taking the coastline road along Bryce Highway/A1 offers lots to see along the way. Stop in Bundaberg for a taste of their famous rum – and try the luscious mangos that grow there as well. See beautiful Mackay, where Harbour Beach and the Bluewater Lagoon await. Take your time and see the sights, with Airlie Beach being a 12-hour drive, Cairns a 19-hour trip, and Port Douglas 20 hours. With a rental car or camper van, you can keep on going to Far North Queensland and see the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation as well.

By Train

Duration: 24 hours

The journey to the Great Barrier Reef from Brisbane is a slow but luxurious way to travel, as The Spirit of Queensland train hugs the coastline and offers spectacular views and all-inclusive dining. The train features comfortable seats that convert to lie-flat beds, showers, meals delivered to your seat and stops in Airlie Beach, Townsville, and Cairns, with the trip taking 24 hours between Brisbane and Cairns. 


Map of How to Get from Brisbane to the Great Barrier Reef
Map of How to Get from Brisbane to the Great Barrier Reef