Traveling the 1,500 miles (2,414 kilometers) from Sydney to Cairns, the main gateway to the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland, can be accomplished by plane, train, bus or car, with flying being the quickest way to make the trip. Traveling instead to either of the reef's southern hubs (Townsville or Airlie Beach) makes for a somewhat shorter journey at around 1,200 miles (1,931 km) with similar transport options – plane, train, bus, or automobile.
Renting a camper van is another way to slowly make the trip north; that's a popular way for locals to see Australia, especially in the summer months. Our local experts can help you with arranging a rental, which is a great way to see the country if you have plenty of time available. Remember that gasoline is sold by the liter here, which means it takes 3.75 to equal one gallon of gas.
Consider letting our experts take care of all your transfer needs between Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef by choosing one of our comprehensive sightseeing tours of Australia. Australia Highlights: Sydney, Cairns, & The Outback - 7 Days includes time to discover both places, as well as the wild beauty of Uluru in the Outback; or choose Highlights of Australia - 9 Days, which gives you more time to explore those three places in more depth.
Duration: 3.5 hours
A number of different airlines fly nonstop from Sydney to Cairns, including Qantas, Virgin Australia and Jetstar. Virgin Australia and Jetstar will whisk you nonstop to Townsville in less time (about 2.45 hours).
By Rental Car or Camper Van
Duration: 27 hours
Driving from Sydney to the Great Barrier Reef by rental car or camper van is a long journey, best done at a leisurely pace. There is much to see along the East Coast of Australia, both along the shoreline and further inland, so plan to take at least a few days following either driving route for your trip. Stops in Byron Bay, Surfer's Paradise, Brisbane, and Airlie Beach are just some of the beautiful spots along the coastal route on highway A1 as you head to the far north. Once you reach Cairns, stop there to catch a boat out to the reef, then continue on to the lovely artist's enclave of Port Douglas and on to the Daintree Rainforest and Cape Tribulation.
Duration: 40 hours
There is no high-speed train chugging north from Sydney toward the Great Barrier Reef access points to the far north, which means choosing a train trip is a long journey. You'll wend along the eastern coastline, so the views will be wonderful. Most trains have dining cars, and some, like the Spirit of Queensland trains that you can catch in Brisbane, have lie-flat sleeper seats, similar to the kinds of seats you see in business or first class on an airplane. There are showers on board as well.
Duration: 2 days
Taking the bus north from Sydney is a long trip, best accomplished in stages. Go from Sydney to Brisbane (a 16-hour ride) then wend your way slowly north to Cairns, which adds another 29 hours to this journey. As the cost of the trip is comparable to catching a 3.5-hour flight, this method is the least appealing way to travel.