Yep, 18. Brisbane is spoilt for choice with stunning day trip options – you won’t believe #18! If you’re visiting for the first time and on a time limit, I’d recommend minimum two days in Brisbane and one or two of these easy day trips – the hard part will be choosing which ones! For things to do while you’re in Brisbane, check out my post 48 Hours in Brisbane.
Get back to nature on Fraser Island
6:45am – 7pm Day Tour
It will be a long day, but this tour is the perfect option for those on a tight timeframe. World Heritage Listed Fraser Island is the biggest sand island in the world and home to World Heritage listed rainforest, stunning beaches, dingoes and crystal clear Lake Mackenzie. Most people camp for a week, and no doubt you’ll be planning your return visit before you get on the ferry home.
This week the Federal Court of Australia has granted Indigenous Butchulla people native title rights to Fraser Island. In their language, the island is called K’Gari, which means paradise. The Butchulla people have lived on Fraser Island for 5000 years and will make the best custodians of Fraser Island’s incredible natural environment.
See it all on the Gold Coast
One-way: 1 hour
At it’s best, the Gold Coast is beautiful beaches, great swimming and surf and a mixture of laid-back beach culture and sophisticated indulgences. At it’s worst, it’s Cavill Avenue in Surfers Paradise packed with tourists and tacky nightclubs. The Gold Coast has a mixed reputation, but it’s one of the best places in Queensland if you know what you’re doing.
Spent most of your day at the beach in Burleigh Heads, just ten minutes from Surfers Paradise. Check out cool cafes in Mermaid Beach or more sophisticated dining in sleek Broadbeach and spend the late afternoon picking your jaw up off the floor as you gawk at the billion dollar views from the Skypoint Observation Deck at Q1 – Queensland’s tallest building. Make sure you hang around for sunset and a drink or a bite to eat – the ultimate chew with a view.
Admission to the Skypoint Observation Deck isn’t cheap, at $22 for adults and $13 for children, but the 360 degree views out to the ocean, up and down the coast and back over the Gold Coast’s canals – and waterfront mansions – are definitely worth it.
Slow down on Stradbroke Island
One-way: 20 min ferry
Just a 20 minute ferry ride from Cleveland, on the outskirts of Brisbane, Stradbroke Island is my favourite island in the world. No one rushes on Straddie, and with beaches this stunning, why would you? The stresses of modern life feel a thousand miles away when I’m kicking back on Cylinder Beach or at Point Lookout.
Stradbroke is also the world’s first “Slow Island.” The Slow Cities initiative is an offshoot of the Slow Movement, started by Carlos Petrini in Italy. Read more about Straddie’s slow status here.
Spot waterfalls in Springbrook National Park
One-way: 1 hr 30 mins
Tucked away in the Gold Coast Hinterland, Springbrook National Park forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. The park is split into four sections – Springbrook Plateau, Natural Bridge, Numinbah and Mount Cougal.
In all four sections you can do nature walks and picnic. The shorter tracks in the Springbrook Plateau section is perfect for waterfall spotting – the return circuit that begins at the Tallabana and Goomoolahra picnic areas passes up to nine waterfalls!
Remember – as with ANY nature walk in Australia, go as early in the day as possible. Don’t start a walk late in the day, such as at 4pm, because it can get dark quickly. The earlier the better!
Feed dolphins on Moreton Island
One-way: 75 min ferry
Moreton Island is the third-largest sand island in Australia, drop dead gorgeous and gives you the chance to feed dolphins, at Tangalooma Resort. Hop on a ferry from Pinkenba and collapse onto the white sandy beaches or snorkel around the shipwrecks in the crystal clear water.
Eat your way around Mt Tamborine
One-way: 1 hr
Everybody knows everybody, the local businesses support each other and community ties are strong. Known for attracting quirky and creative residents, the villages that surround the main road weaving around the mountain have a decidely ethereal air.
On one mountain you can find the oldest national park in Queensland and the third-oldest in the entire world, four wineries, a brewery, a distillery, a locally-renowned fudgerie which is generous with the taste tests and a fromagerie that I have not been able to get off my mind since coming home. All of this, tucked up in the mountains half way between Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Chill out on Sunshine Coast Beaches
One-way: 1 hr 22 – 1 hr 45 mins
The Sunshine Coast is my favourite region of Queensland. A string of beach towns spoil visitors for choice when it comes to picking the perfect beach. Mooloolaba has my favourite beach, simply because it’s huge and after five weeks of squishing up on European beaches, I felt like I had the whole place to myself at Mooloolaba.
Noosa, home to the Noosa International Food & Wine Festival, is the most developed and is the furthest away. Maroochydore, Coolum and Caloundra are my favourite other beach towns in the area, all worth a visit.
Picnic on Mt Glorious
One-way: 45 mins
Strap on your walking shoes and escape the city for beautiful Mt Glorious, just X minutes from Brisbane. The scenic drive around the mountain is worth the trip alone! Pack a picnic or stop in at one of the quirky cafes on the way to D’Aguilar National Park’s picnic area. The rainforest walks through the park and very easy and super relaxing, year round.
Go wild at Australia Zoo
One-way: 1 hr 5 mins
Steve Irwin’s legacy lives on at Australia Zoo. The zoo has a range of animals from all over the world, but the highlight of my day was the midday show and the special croc show in the afternoon. Unlike every other zoo or theme park I’ve ever visited, Australia Zoo has really good food, so you don’t need to stress about bringing something edible. Read more about Australia Zoo here.
Hike in Lamington National Park
One-way: 1 hr 47 minutes
Lamington National Park is also part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia and is known for its diversity of wildlife and ancient trees and plants. There are more than 500 waterfalls and more than 150km of walking trails in the park, so there is plenty to see!
If you want to make a longer stay out of it, stay at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat.
Escape the city on Bribie Island
One-way: 1 hr 20 mins
I’ve done more day trips to Bribie Island than I can count. It’s connected to the mainland by a bridge, so there’s no need for ferry-hopping and it has a great patrolled beach. It’s not summer till I’ve eaten fish and chips by the beach on Bribie!
Indulge in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland
One-way: 1 hr 30 mins
Together the townships of Montville, Mapleton and Maleny is a foodie’s paradise. Stop in at Strawberry Fields at Palmview on the way to the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, and make sure you visit Chocolate Country, Poet’s Café, Flame Hill Winery, Fudgyboombah’s and Castle Glen Distillery in Montville.
Maleny’s chilled out main street is a great place for a morning wander, especially if you’re stopping in at Colin James Fine Foods for their multi-award winning ice cream.
It’s a beautiful drive from Brisbane and the towns have beautiful views over the Glasshouse Mountains – particularly Main Street in Montville.
If you want to make a weekend of it, I recommend staying at Roseville House B&B.
Go whale watching
One-way: 45 mins
Every year between June and November (one week left!), you have the chance to spot the majestic humpback while just off the coast of Redcliffe. Tours depart Redcliffe Jetty at 9:30am and you’ll be back on land by 2:30pm. I saw more whales than I can count and loved EVERY minute of it!
Whale sightings are guaranteed and the luxury, eco-friendly catamaran is comfortable for guests and quiet enough for whales to swim right up to the boat. Hervey Bay is Queensland’s most famous whale watching region, but it’s a much longer drive and would be difficult to do as a day trip.
Brisbane Whale Watching is the only tour in the Redcliffe area, which means it’s much easier to get close to whales. Boats are legally limited from crowding around whales, so if there are already three boats near a whale, all the others have to keep their distance. This is never a problem with Brisbane Whale Watching!
Read more about my whale watching experience & see photos here
Bliss out in Byron Bay
One-way: 1hr 50 mins
Byron Bay is a beautiful and popular beach town in Northern NSW, known for it’s super chilled out beach culture. It’s a longer drive, but it can be done. Spend your day wandering through the hippie shops, at the beautiful beach and end it watching sunset under the lighthouse at Cape Byron. Easily the most beautiful sunset I’ve seen in Australia.
Enjoy the sea breezes at Redcliffe
One-way: 45 minutes
Growing up, my friend had the coolest old holiday house here, so I’ll always have a soft spot for Redcliffe. This quiet beach community is a great place to get out by water and enjoy the fresh sea air.
Meet sharks and seals at Underwater World
One-way: 1 hr 15 mins
Underwater World is a great aquarium on the Sunshine Coast, in Mooloolaba. It’s recently undergone a huge refurbishment and has lots of new “zones”, as well as old favourites like the seal show, walk-through aquarium tunnel, tidal pools where you can reach in and stroke a starfish and shark diving options.
Get your thrills at Gold Coast Theme Parks
One-way: 40-60 mins
This could really count for three daytrips, since you can easily spend a day at each park. The Gold Coast is the theme park capital of Australia as it’s home to Sea World, Dreamworld, White Water World, Wet ‘n Wild and Movie World.
Sea World is my favourite because it caters to everyone – you don’t have to be six years old or an adrenalin junkie to get a kick out of watching fairy penguins gracefully zoom through the water or polar bears taking a dip. There are rides for tiny tots and thrill seekers too, so you’ll keep everyone happy.
Dreamworld is home to the Big 5 Thrill Rides, Tiger Island and Wiggles World and Nickelodeon Kids Central, just to name a few.
If you want to hit up all of the theme parks, you can get a three-park pass for Movie World, Sea World & Wet ‘n Wild, or passes for Dreamworld & White Water World (adjacent to each other).
Tip – BYO food, theme park food is ridiculously overpriced and not very tasty.
Visit the Great Barrier Reef
6:30am – 4:45pm
Yes, you can see the Great Barrier Reef in one day from Brisbane and be back in time for dinner. This one ain’t cheap, but it’s certainly worth it. Lady Elliot Island is on the southern Great Barrier Reef and is off the coast of Bundaberg.
Cairns is the jump off point for most people visiting The Great Barrier Reef, but as it stretches for 2,300 kilometres there are dozens of place to experience this natural wonder. The reef stretches from just beyond the tip of Cape York in the north, all the way south to Lady Elliot Island just off the coast of Bundaberg. Not only do you get to see the largest natural structure in the world, so big that it’s visible from outer space, but you also get rewarded for your early wake up call with this view during your scenic flight to the island.
This tour is run by Lady Elliot Island, you can read about it here.