10 Top-Rated Day Trips from Brisbane
When it comes to day trips from Brisbane, travelers are spoilt for choice. Three of the world's largest sand islands shimmer just offshore with beautiful blonde beaches and quirky wildlife. In the lush hinterland, nature lovers can explore walking trails through World Heritage wilderness areas with rainforests, rivers, waterfalls, and a dazzling diversity of birds. Wildlife scores top billing on many of these trips. Kangaroos, koalas, king parrots and pademelons are just some of the charismatic creatures that make their home in the national parks, and a visit to Australia Zoo is a must for animal lovers and fans of the legendary Aussie conservationist, the late Steve Irwin. Add quaint mountain villages, the golden beaches of the laid-back Sunshine Coast, and the glitzy Gold Coast, with its posh boutiques and popular theme parks, and it's easy to see why Brisbane makes a great base for exhilarating Queensland adventures.
1 Australia Zoo, Beerwah
About a 45-minute drive north of Brisbane, Australia Zoo is a must-see for animal lovers, especially fans of the late Steve Irwin, the famous Aussie wildlife conservationist. Continuing Steve's legacy, Australia Zoo has a strong focus on conservation and education. Spread across 110 acres, it's home to a charismatic cast of Aussie animals as well as a host of exotic beauties such as Sumatran tigers, elephants, cheetahs, zebras, and rhinos. In addition to all the fascinating animal exhibits, the Crocoseum hosts popular live shows every day including crocodile feeding demonstrations and animal shows starring birds of prey, otters, and koalas. Other zoo highlights include camel rides and the chance to hand-feed kangaroos and giraffes and pat koalas. Roving animal handlers greet guests with wombats, cockatoos, and baby crocs, allowing more close-up encounters. You should plan on at least a full day here, and for an extra fee, you can add a visit to the animal hospital, with funds supporting their healing work. Wear your walking shoes, and be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen, refillable water bottle, and rain jacket.
2 Surfers Paradise
Surfers Paradise, with its glamorous beaches and glittering surf, is a tourist hub in the heart of the Gold Coast, about two hours' drive south of Brisbane, that buzzes with life at any time of year. High-rises and hotels line the sun-soaked sands of Surfer's Paradise Beach, and designer boutiques beckon from modern shopping malls a few blocks away. Cavill Avenue is the shopping and entertainment core. For spectacular bird's eye views of the coast, zoom up to the SkyPoint Observation Deck or sign up for the heart-pumping SkyPoint Climb. You can also hop aboard a canal cruise to see the homes of the rich and famous. In the surrounding area are a dizzying array of theme-park attractions including SeaWorld, Warner Bros. Movie World, and Dreamworld, while wildlife lovers can commune with cuddly Aussie creatures at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.
3 Springbrook National Park
Spectacular Springbrook National Park, about 100 kilometers south of Brisbane, is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, a wonderland of ravishing natural beauty and ancient flora and fauna. Gushing waterfalls, cool creeks, rugged volcanic canyons, rainforests, and fragrant eucalyptus trees spark all the senses and provide the perfect counterpoint to a city-based stay. The best places to appreciate the park's beauty are at panoramic viewpoints such as Canyon Lookout, with its views of the entire Gold Coast, and the appropriately-named Best of All Lookout, with jaw-dropping vistas all the way to New South Wales, as well as a glimpse at a stand of ancient Antarctic beech trees. You can also hike trails with beautiful views over the volcanic gorges and valleys, ranging from short 300-meter cliff-top jaunts fringed by cycads to longer circuit hikes. A favorite is the four-kilometer Twin Falls Circuit overlooking two waterfalls flowing like bridal veils. Other park highlights are the breathtaking Purling Brook Falls Lookout; a colony of glow worms; and the Natural Bridge, an eroded rock bridge and cave through which a creek and waterfall flow. Besides hiking, other popular activities in the park include birding (listen out for the elusive lyrebird), horseback riding, and picnics. On your return trip, try taking an alternative route to soak up as much scenery as possible.
4 Moreton Island
About 75 minutes by ferry from downtown Brisbane, Moreton Island is a stressed-out city slicker's dream day trip. The stress detox begins as soon as you say goodbye to the city traffic and step aboard the ferry. Moreton Island is the world's third largest sand island, and it lures nature lovers with its lovely dune-backed freshwater creeks and lagoons, long blonde beaches, and colorful wildflowers. About 98 percent of the island is protected as a national park. One of the most popular activities on the island is snorkeling or diving the 15 shallow-water wrecks, which lie just off the beach. Other highlights include hand feeding wild dolphins at the Tangalooma Island Resort; gazing out at breathtaking blue-water views from Cape Moreton Lighthouse; whale watching cruises; sea kayaking; fishing for tuna, kingfish, and snapper; sand boarding; quad biking; and four-wheel drive adventures.
5 Noosa Heads
On the Sunshine Coast, about two hours north of Brisbane, Noosa is a favorite destination for Aussies seeking a relaxing beach escape, with its fantastic restaurants, wildlife-rich wilderness, and glorious golden beaches. Surfers, swimmers, and sunbathers alike head to Noosa's Main Beach to frolic in the blue-green waves and bask on the soft sands. Overlooking this alluring stretch of coast and sparkling Laguna Bay, a walking trail threads along the rugged headland in Noosa National Park, where brush turkeys snuffle in the bush, and snoozy koalas cling to eucalyptus trees. A five-minute stroll from the beach lie a string of fantastic restaurants, cafes, boutiques, and galleries along upscale Hastings Street. Other popular activities in the area include casting a line in the fish-filled Noosa River and shopping for souvenirs and fresh local produce at the popular Saturday Eumundi Markets, Australia's largest arts and crafts market, about a 15-minute drive from Noosa.
6 North Stradbroke Island
Affectionately known as "Straddie" by the locals, North Stradbroke Island offers many of the features travelers love about Australia: beautiful beaches, great surf, and quintessential Aussie wildlife. It's the second largest sand island in the world (after Fraser Island) and lies about an hour by car and ferry from Brisbane, across the blue waters of Moreton Bay. A great place to start a tour here is the scenic North Gorge Walk, a seaside trail and boardwalk around the headlands to Point Lookout. This panoramic viewpoint is a fantastic spot to look for marine life such as dolphins, sharks, turtles, manta rays, and even whales from May through October. On land, you might also spot some of the island's resident kangaroos and koalas. After the walk, you can cool off with a dip at one of the island's sweeping white-sand beaches or freshwater lakes. Other popular activities include deep-sea fishing, beach and rock fishing, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, sea kayaking, and surfing. Three tiny townships on the island offer cafés, restaurants, and a sprinkling of historical attractions, if you can tear yourself away from the surf, sand, and sea.
7 Lamington National Park
About a two-hour drive from Brisbane, World Heritage-listed Lamington National Park, amid the emerald peaks of the Borders Ranges, is a haven for nature lovers and birders. Luxuriant rainforest punctuated by waterfalls provides the perfect setting for hiking trails and a diversity of fascinating wildlife. The park is famous for its resident bowerbirds that build elaborate arches adorned with bright blue objects to impress the females. About 190 other bird species also make their home here, including squadrons of brilliantly-hued king parrots and crimson rosellas that alight on anyone who dares to stretch out their arms. Other wildlife frequently spotted include small marsupials such as red-necked pademelons and long-nosed bandicoots. Most visitors here take the twisty road up to O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, a guest house, spa, and restaurant. From here, you can explore the park on O'Reilly's Tree Top Walk, a series of suspension bridges and walkways strung through the canopy about 16 meters above the rainforest floor. Don't forget to bring a rain jacket.
8 Tamborine Mountain
Tamborine Mountain, about an hour's drive from Brisbane in the Gold Coast Hinterland, offers an appealing balance of nature and culture. In Tamborine National Park, tranquil rainforests, eucalyptus forests, and waterfalls provide a refreshing dose of subtropical wilderness, while the nearby town of Mount Tamborine brims with boutiques, craft shops, and art galleries. You can start your day with a bird's-eye view of the lush rainforest on the 45-minute Rainforest SkyWalk guided canopy tour, listening out for lyre birds. Afterwards, a short bush walk to Curtis Falls reveals the soothing sounds of these peaceful cascades. The town of Mount Tamborine is a haven for foodies. Stop here to feast on fresh local produce at one of the town's cafés or tearooms, and top off your day with a cooking class, some gallery gazing, or a pampering spa treatment. The Mount Tamborine glow worm caves are also a popular side trip, and the Tamborine Mountain Botanic Gardens is a hit with green thumbs.
9 Montville and Maleny
Less than a 90-minute drive from Brisbane, Montville and Maleny offer a cool mountain escape from the mid-summer heat with their quaint village charm and cute cafés. Maleny is a dairy-farming town with a hippy streak, but both towns are made for strolling. Craft shops, art galleries, boutiques, woodworking shops, and other specialty stores provide an excuse to stock up on souvenirs, and the Bavarian and English-style cottages infuse an Old World feel. Other popular activities in the area include local cheese tastings and gallery gazing. You can also walk to beautiful Kondalilla Falls in Kondalilla National Park, take a scenic drive along the Blackall Range Tourist Drive, or soak up the views of the Glasshouse Mountains from panoramic viewpoints.
10 Bribie Island
The smallest of the three sand islands off Brisbane and the only one connected by a bridge, Bribie Island offers a 4WD beach adventure about an hour's drive from the city. Driving along the surf-washed eastern beaches here is a favorite pastime, although 4WD vehicles are not essential to visit the island. Other popular activities include kayaking, windsurfing, fishing, and kitesurfing, as well as swimming and sunbathing along the calm, sandy bay on the island's western side. The Pumicestone Passage separates the island from the mainland, with gorgeous views of the Glasshouse Mountains, and it's a popular playground for water sports such as boating and fishing, as well as wildlife spotting. Dugongs, dolphins, turtles, and seabirds are frequent visitors to these mangrove-fringed waters. On land, kangaroos, emus, and dingoes live in Bribie Island National Park, and the island is home to more than 350 species of birds. For a brief overview of the island's history, stop by the free Bribie Island Seaside Museum.