The Ten Best Summer Day Trips Out of Brisbane
Beaches, waterfalls, rainforests and baby turtles are just a stone's throw away.
December 03, 2021
There's something about the onset of sunnier weather and the urge to stray past our comfort zones. Once the brief spell that Brisbanites call winter passes each year, our feet start itching to range beyond the city limits, down winding highways and in search of adventure.
Thankfully, southeast Queensland — and northern New South Wales, too — delivers plenty of places that trekkers should and do journey to for a day of fun in the sun. For those with a bad case of wanderlust, we've compiled a list of top picks. Be warned, you probably won't be able to stop at just one.
While there are no restrictions on travelling in Queensland, the Sunshine State does still have border rules in place with other states. Please check websites before making any plans.
FOR SAND, SNORKELLING AND SHIPWRECKS: MORETON ISLAND
When a certain advertising campaign asked "where else but Queensland?", it could've been referring to the state's island problem — because deliberating over which scenic offshore landmass to visit is the kind of issue that only the lucky are blessed with. The active and outdoorsy already know this, with a trip to Moreton Island at the top of their must-do (or must-do-again) list.
Snorkelling and submerging at the iconic Tangalooma Wrecks dive site is the main attraction, as well as peering out from the historical lighthouse and playing in the sand. If your imagination is firing, you can pretend you're exploring Titanic-like shipwrecks, fantasise about reliving your childhood Round the Twist dreams and conjure up visions of Dune, all in one spot.
Moreton Island is 90 minutes from Brisbane via the Micat ferry (prebooking essential).
FOR MARVELLING AT A WATERFALL: QUEEN MARY FALLS
Sometimes, you just have to ignore the wisdom of memorable 90s tracks and go chasing waterfalls. One of Queensland's best is located in the Main Range National Park — in the Warwick region, and 11 kilometres east of the town of Killarney, to be precise.
To get to Queen Mary Falls, you'll walk along a two-kilometre return circuit, which takes around 40 minutes. The trek will get you from the leafy base to the top of this towering wonder, complete with a spectacular view down its 40-metre drop from the lookout at cascade's apex. You'll also find a picnic and barbecue area, because who wouldn't want to soak in this rainforest wonder for as long as possible? A tip: bring your comfiest, sturdiest walking shoes, because getting so close to the spray results in some rather slippery rocks.
Queen Mary Falls is about two hours from Brisbane.
FOR WINE-FUELLED PICNICS: STANTHORPE
Are you a beach grinch? If so, you're going to want to day trip in the western rather than eastern direction. And while you're roaming away from the Queensland coastline, you probably want to make a beeline for Stanthorpe, where the focus isn't on splashing about but on cheese and wine.
The area isn't called vino country for no reason, and with more than 50 cellar doors to choose from, you won't be lacking for something to do. Of course, plonk isn't the only precious stuff the town is known for, with its birth actually owed to minerals and a mining rush. Unfortunately, fossicking for topaz and quartz isn't possible at the time of writing, but if you do want to do something a little more active, you can track down huge granite boulder towers in Girraween National Park, a giant stone pyramid in the nearby village of Ballandean or get lost in the Granite Belt Maze.
Stanthorpe is a three-hour drive from Brisbane along the National Highway A15.
FOR AN ALL-IN-ONE ISLAND GETAWAY: NORTH STRADBROKE ISLAND
If you've lived in Brisbane long enough, you've been to Straddie at least once — and there's a reason it's a day-tripper's favourite destination, especially when the weather is fine. The second-largest sand island in the world (after nearby Fraser Island) offers variety that defies its island status, spanning five main beaches for surfing and sunbathing, plus freshwater lakes for paddling through, wetlands to stomp around in and a lookout to spot whales from.
Plus, the two-kilometre Mount Vane walking track boasts plenty of highlights, including 360-degree views of Moreton Bay and Quandamooka country. Once all that frolicking around in nature has you seeking a brief sojourn, a stopover at the famous local pub — Stradbroke Island Beach Hotel — is a must.
North Stradbroke Island is two hours from Brisbane along Old Cleveland Road.
FOR SWIMMING WITH MARINE LIFE: BUNDABERG AND BARGARA
If you can handle an early morning start, a late arrival home and a bit of extra time in the car, then you really should make the drive to Bundaberg and Bargara at least once. Just don't expect bustling shopping strips and a thriving cafe scene, because you won't find them here.
What you will find is a picturesque area surrounded by national park on one side and beach on the other, with the two towns — a mere 13 kilometres apart — separated by sugarcane fields. When you can do things as diverse as tour the Bundaberg Rum factory, spy nesting turtles at the Mon Repos Conservation Park (which scored a $22 million redevelopment a few years back) and swim with marine life, who needs the usual tourist haunts?
Bundaberg is four hours from Brisbane along the M1.
FOR GETTING ACTIVE ON THE BEACH: RAINBOW BEACH
Yearning for a coastal spot off the beaten path, but don't know where to head? Afraid that most of Queensland's stunning beach spots have become busy tourist meccas? Located just past Gympie, Rainbow Beach might actually be that dream spot you've conjured up. Taking its name from the multi-coloured dunes that line its shores and stem from deposits of minerals such as rutile, ilmenite, zircon and monazite, the former sand-mining site turned Sunshine Coast holiday town is quaint, gorgeous and just the right kind of quiet.
Looking like it belongs on a postcard, it's perched on the edge of the Great Sandy National Park and boasts all the outdoor activities you could want. Fancy a 4WD down the beach? A horse ride in the ocean? A kayak, hang glide and paraglide? You'll find it all here.
Rainbow Beach is about three hours from Brisbane via the M1.
FOR TREKKING THROUGH A RAINFOREST: SPRINGBROOK NATIONAL PARK
Going beachy isn't the only way to have a wet and wild day trip in the driving vicinity of Brisbane. In fact, you can head to Springbrook National Park and not even get your feet damp — and remain perfectly happy about it. Revelling in the great outdoors, you'll be distracted by the many rainforest-set walking tracks and lookouts, and by feasting on the picnic you brought along — not to mention waiting until dark to spy a peek at glow worms.
If you want a splash of H2O, however, the rock bridge, plunging waterfall and arched cave that comprises the Natural Arch is the place to head to. You can't swim there, but you can marvel at its crisp air and overall coolness.
Springbrook is a two-hour drive from Brisbane along the Pacific Motorway.
FOR ART, CUCKOO CLOCKS AND MOUNTAIN VIEWS: MONTVILLE
Sometimes, the best thing about a day trip is the change of scenery. At Montville, the mountainous sights really are something to behold — and something vastly different from Brisbane as well. When you're not soaking in the view, including while enjoying a meal, you could be browsing galleries, shopping for opals and hearing the chimes of cuckoo clocks in the Sunshine Coast hinterland's main strip.
To make a real day of it, go the long way round, stop by Kondalilla Falls for a refreshing dip on the way into town, then drop into one of the vineyards on your way home. Yes, you do need wine as a souvenir.
Montville is one hour and 40 minutes from Brisbane along the M1.
FOR BOATING, FISHING AND BARBECUING: LAKE WIVENHOE
If your only experience with Wivenhoe Dam is hearing about its levels in times of drought and restrictions, then prepare to visit somewhere both peaceful and practical. The water reserve one hour northwest of Brisbane is the kind of spot where you can easily spend a day doing little but relaxing, making it the ideal way to while away part of a weekend.
Head to either the Hays Landing or Billies Bay recreation areas to swim, potter around in your non-fuel-powered boat (if you happen to know someone who has one), fish (though you'll need a permit), or simply laze around in the fresh air. Don't forget to bring a stock of food that you can grill on the barbecue, too, to complete what we have to call a damn good outdoor experience.
Wivenhoe Dam is a one-hour drive from Brisbane on the M2.
FOR GIANT PRAWNS AND FINE DINING: BALLINA AND BYRON
Under the current COVID-19 border restrictions, there are rules in place regarding entering Queensland from New South Wales. Check the requirements before you make the journey — or bookmark this for later.
Jumping in a car with your mates and coasting over the border to one of New South Wales' lesser-known spots — now that's a Brisbane rite of passage. You can basically throw a pin at a map of the northern coast and find a great beachside place to visit, but only one is the home of the big prawn. Yes, really.
Ballina also boasts a historic waterfront trail where spotting dolphins isn't unusual, plus the kind of rolling surf that laps at the mouth of the town's river and makes for gentle watery fun. The Australian Seabird Rescue, Research, Rehabilitation and Coastal Education Centre and the Macadamia Castle also feature among Ballina's attractions, for those fond of animals, nuts or both. Then, on the way back up to Brissie, stop by Crystalbrook Byron for a happy hour cocktail by the pool.
Ballina is a three-hour drive from Brisbane along the Pacific Motorway.
Top image: Tourism and Events Queensland.