10 Days Road trip from Gold Coast to Great Barrier Reef (Cairns) / by Jenn Wei Hee

A state nearly seven times the size of Great Britain, five times the size of Japan, and two and a half times the size of Texas! That's right! It's humongous! I have always been in awe of the fascination of blue planet, diving in the Great Barrier Reef has been on my bucket list since. What's better than rubber tramping across the second largest state in Australia - Queensland from Gold Coast to the Great Barrier Reef! I went through the journey and learnt it the hard way - inaccurate information, outdated details, took a bad advise from forum; Hence, I've decided to put this road trip into a travel piece that might help you. 

One of the main misconceptions about the Great Barrier Reef is that it is close to everything in Queensland. No, that's not the case, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is quite a distance from Gold Coast. GBR starts off at the Queensland's coastline just north of Bundaberg and runs north to the tip of Cape York about 2,300km. Bundaberg is about 6 hours drive, Whitsundays about 15 hours and Cairns/Port Douglas will take you approximately 24 hours of driving! The usual pictures of GBR on postcard or brochure are mainly from Whitsundays Islands (main areas include Mackay, Airlie Beach, Proserpine) and the Outer Reef off Cairns and Port Douglas. There are also some islands you can travel and spend a night at, Green Island, Lady Heron Island or Fitzroy Island - where you can snorkel right off the beach. 

 An aerial view of Gold Coast towered over by many high-rises. 

An aerial view of Gold Coast towered over by many high-rises. 

Itinerary and Road Map covering 10 days of Gold Coast to Cairns road trip, rubber tramping over 2,022km. Crossing towns, places of interest in sequence from Gold Coast to Cairns. [You can download the hi-res road map here]

 A 10 days (2,022km) road trip from Gold Coast to the Great Barrier Reef (Cairns City); with JetStar flight from Cairns back to Gold Coast. 

A 10 days (2,022km) road trip from Gold Coast to the Great Barrier Reef (Cairns City); with JetStar flight from Cairns back to Gold Coast. 

Average Cost

Accommodations below are based on 2-person stay. Hostel Dorm will cost around AUD20-30 a night and Hostel private room from AUD65 a night onwards. You can also choose to stay in campervan (best with 4 persons) depending on your preferred mode of travel. Another good alternative for raw cultural experience will be Airbnb. 

  1. Gold Coast - Surfers Paradise Backpackers Resort AUD65
  2. Sunshine Coast - Airbnb Master Bedroom with Ensuite (Maroochydore) AUD58
  3. Gladstone - Park View Motel (Gladstone Central) AUD79
  4. Rockhampton - A Cosy Place Close to Everything (Berserker) AUD51
  5. Mackay - Beachfront Self Contained Studio (McEwens Beach) AUD77
  6. Townsville - Frangipani Views (West End) AUD62
  7. Cairns - Double Bedroom Close to Esplanade (Cairns North) AUD39
  8. Cairns - Double Bedroom Close to Esplanade (Cairns North) AUD39
  9. Fitzroy Island - Fitzroy Island Resort (include island transfer) AUD450
  10. Cairns - The Jack Backpackers (Free Dinner!) AUD50
  11. Gold Coast - Beachy Lifestyle, Central Location (Surfers Paradise) AUD72

Foods (per person), a restaurant with table service can cost from AUD15-25, Indian/Chinese take-away about AUD10, fast food cost around AUD9, sandwich cost from AUD5-8. If you'd like to save money, you can get ready meal (bakery/pizza/roasted chicken/chicken wings) from Woolsworths or Coles. A ready meal regular pizza can be as affordable as AUD3.5 on promotion! 

Transportation - a return shuttle from Gold Coast airport to City Centre will cost AUD44 per person, if you are travelling in a group of 3 or 4, it's more economical to hire UBER. We rented a Hyundai Tucson from Europcar for 6 days around AUD800. Telco. Opt for Optus. 

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float, to gain all while you give to roam the loads of land remote to travel is to live. - Hans Christian Anderson

GOLD COAST

Gold Coast skyline dominated with towering developments, a place with plentiful to offer - varies from national parks, sandy beaches, theme parks, water activities to shopping! If you're not in hurry and a fan of theme park, I would recommend a 3 nights stay at Gold Coast, here's a good 3 days itinerary. We've pre-booked our rental car on the next day, hence we only get to spend a good one and a half day at Gold Coast. Here's our journey; started the day earlier at 630am, craving for a sumptuous breakfast, walk from our hostel to the Surfers Paradise's esplanade (Cavill Avenue) and realised most of the restaurants open only at 8 or 9am. BUMMER! The choices are scarce, we ended up walking back from Surfers Paradise towards the direction of our hostel where we passed by a breakfast joint earlier, so if you're up early, Chickery Chick is probably your only choice (or make your own breakfast!). 

 After breakfast, we took a UBER towards Mermaid Beach and try a Mini Golf at Putt Putt Golf (appox. 2 hour); Walk over and chill at Pacific Fair for lunch (approx. 1 hour); Head over to Broadbeach, indulged ourselves with Max Brenner's awesome chocolate! (read a book and chill as long as you want). We took a stroll back ( you also can take the train ) to Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets, wait for sunset and had our dinner at the Hurricane's Surfers Paradise. 

After breakfast, we took a UBER towards Mermaid Beach and try a Mini Golf at Putt Putt Golf (appox. 2 hour); Walk over and chill at Pacific Fair for lunch (approx. 1 hour); Head over to Broadbeach, indulged ourselves with Max Brenner's awesome chocolate! (read a book and chill as long as you want). We took a stroll back (you also can take the train) to Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets, wait for sunset and had our dinner at the Hurricane's Surfers Paradise. 

Places of interest: Surfers Paradise, Q1 Observation Tower, Broadbeach (al-fresco cafe), Mermaid Beach, Burleigh Heads (surfing), Tamborine Rainforest, Curumbin Wildlife, Theme Parks, Whale Watching. 

Photography Tips: Towering Cityscape, Street Photography along the central district and coast. Architecture patterns, leading lines of high-rise buildings and interesting subjects along the street or beach. You'll be able to see sunrise from the sea horizon, check the timing for local sunrise, and dress warm. 

 Was following a couple walking towards the beach, the wooden handrail created a frame leads towards the mass subject; suddenly an Australian White Ibis flew in and rested on the handrail, quickly re-frame my shot and captured this candid moment. 

Was following a couple walking towards the beach, the wooden handrail created a frame leads towards the mass subject; suddenly an Australian White Ibis flew in and rested on the handrail, quickly re-frame my shot and captured this candid moment. 

 Surveillance tower strategy was initiated back in the days of 1989 for Gold Coast's long stretches of ocean beaches. There are currently 39 specially designed towers, which are numbered and strategically placed along the 60km coastal strip. 

Surveillance tower strategy was initiated back in the days of 1989 for Gold Coast's long stretches of ocean beaches. There are currently 39 specially designed towers, which are numbered and strategically placed along the 60km coastal strip. 

 A distant quater circle rainbow formed above Peppers Soul, a luxury condominium located on the Surfers Paradise foreshore with spectacular uninterrupted ocean views. 

A distant quater circle rainbow formed above Peppers Soul, a luxury condominium located on the Surfers Paradise foreshore with spectacular uninterrupted ocean views. 

 Love the combination white building against deep blue sky.

Love the combination white building against deep blue sky.

 Green lungs on top of the Gold Coast's luxury homes.

Green lungs on top of the Gold Coast's luxury homes.

 Nearing sunset, lovely long column shadow shaped the main street of Surfers Paradise. 

Nearing sunset, lovely long column shadow shaped the main street of Surfers Paradise. 

 A fan of chocolate or not, Max Brenner is a must try! Dark Chocolate - Suckao Experience, it served in a wooden tray, and melt your own chocolate buttons in a little cup warmed up with tealight candle. The spoon also acts as a straw so you can stir in the chocolate buttons and drink up. Suck - to draw the dense liquid through the metal straw and Kakao - the Spanish word for cocoa beans from pure chocolate drink.

A fan of chocolate or not, Max Brenner is a must try! Dark Chocolate - Suckao Experience, it served in a wooden tray, and melt your own chocolate buttons in a little cup warmed up with tealight candle. The spoon also acts as a straw so you can stir in the chocolate buttons and drink up. Suck - to draw the dense liquid through the metal straw and Kakao - the Spanish word for cocoa beans from pure chocolate drink.

 Evening at the Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets. 

Evening at the Surfers Paradise Beachfront Markets. 

 Hang out at the Esplanade Surfers Paradise after dinner;, get your prime lens ready for a "bokehlicious" Street Photography!

Hang out at the Esplanade Surfers Paradise after dinner;, get your prime lens ready for a "bokehlicious" Street Photography!

 Surfers Paradise is like a cradle to Gold Coast's finest busking and street performance - the epicentre of Queensland's street performing culture. They even host a yearly street entertainment championship at Surfers Paradise.  

Surfers Paradise is like a cradle to Gold Coast's finest busking and street performance - the epicentre of Queensland's street performing culture. They even host a yearly street entertainment championship at Surfers Paradise.  

 The next morning, i head out at 4.30am to catch the twilight before sunrise. Flock of Silver Gulls formed a visual mass in the foreground, the shoreline shaped a leading line in the mid-ground, the signature towering skyline defined the background of Gold Coast and reflected.

The next morning, i head out at 4.30am to catch the twilight before sunrise. Flock of Silver Gulls formed a visual mass in the foreground, the shoreline shaped a leading line in the mid-ground, the signature towering skyline defined the background of Gold Coast and reflected.

 Managed to catch the sunrise at 5.18am.

Managed to catch the sunrise at 5.18am.

 Wake up and smell the waves. 

Wake up and smell the waves. 

SUNSHINE COAST

Our first stop, two and a half hour drive from Gold Coast to Sunshine Coast. We head straight to Noosa, a little surf town on the Sunshine Coast, it stretches from Caloundra all the way up to Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park. Noosa is the perfect addition to our road trip, it offered our first sighting of Australia's wildlife in their natural habitat! We did the coastal route within the park, if you're at the right time of year - whale and dolphin sightings aren't uncommon. There are a lots of bays and benches to take rest along the way so do pack in water, snacks, and swimmers if you fancy a dip. 

Places of Interest: Noosa National Park, Sunshine beach, Maroochydore (urban centre of Sunshine Coast), Fraser Island. 

Photography Tips: There are several lookout points where you'll be able to see sunset from Noosa National Park, take a beer, picnic and enjoy the gorgeous view. Lookout for wildlife, whale, dolphin, koalas, python and turkey? 

 Noosa National Park - Coastal Route.

Noosa National Park - Coastal Route.

 Wild Koala munching on eucalyptus leaves or is he? Dozing off?

Wild Koala munching on eucalyptus leaves or is he? Dozing off?

 A sunbathing wild python.

A sunbathing wild python.

 Wild Australia Brush Turkey or just a confused chicken? 

Wild Australia Brush Turkey or just a confused chicken? 

 Dolphin Point Lookout at Noosa National Park.

Dolphin Point Lookout at Noosa National Park.

 Sunset at Noosa National Park, coastal track between Boiling Lookout Point and Dolphin Lookout Point.

Sunset at Noosa National Park, coastal track between Boiling Lookout Point and Dolphin Lookout Point.

 Dinner at Noosaville Fish Market.

Dinner at Noosaville Fish Market.

 Seafood Pack AUD17.70; 3 fish bites, amazing battered scallops and fresh oysters! 

Seafood Pack AUD17.70; 3 fish bites, amazing battered scallops and fresh oysters! 

GLADSTONE

Planning for a road trip from Gold Coast to Great Barrier Reef is exceptionally time consuming, no thanks to the overwhelming but outdated travel information. We had heeded the advice from 2 different internet sources (Trippy.com & a random blog) where both highly recommended a night stay at Ban Ban Springs. It's just a 2-hour drive from Sunshine Coast to Ban Ban Springs, thus we have spent our morning longer at Maroochydore and hit our road slightly late. When we got to Ban Ban Springs, it wasn't a town as we were expecting but a small sacred site for Wakka Wakka indigenous people, a tree and a rest house located at the junction of Burnett and Isis Highways. You can't really spend a night here, not unless you're traveling with campervan. I should've known the advice sounded fishy for not being able to find a single Airbnb listing at Ban Ban Springs. We had to re-arrange our itinerary for the day, tried our phones but limited EDGE services at Ban Ban Springs. Wing it and drive to whichever town sign come up along the way. Stopped by Gin Gin for lunch and re-arrange our destination and the town to spend the night at. 

Places of Interest: Woolonga, Gin Gin, Tannum Sands, Gladstone Memorial Park, Gladstone Fish Market, Gladstone City Centre

Photography Tips: If you're like most photographers, you try to avoid lens flare, and when you have that senior moment, you probably just delete the photo and grieve. I like lens flare and embrace it. Here are some tips in getting a soft lens flare; the best time to get a moderate lens flare is within half an hour after sunrise or half an hour before sunset. Mount on a prime lens, remove your lens hood, switch to the largest aperture, high shutter speed, point your camera direct into the sun, let there be light. 

 Despite our little mishap, the foods here brighten our day! 

Despite our little mishap, the foods here brighten our day! 

 Love the crab sandwiches here! Probably the best fresh crab sandwiches i ever had! 

Love the crab sandwiches here! Probably the best fresh crab sandwiches i ever had! 

 Finally arrived at Gladstone in the evening, we managed to book a motel from our phone along the journey. Prime lens, f1.4, direct sunlight - let the lens flare. 

Finally arrived at Gladstone in the evening, we managed to book a motel from our phone along the journey. Prime lens, f1.4, direct sunlight - let the lens flare. 

 We spent the evening walking around the Gladstone memorial park and city centre. 

We spent the evening walking around the Gladstone memorial park and city centre. 

 Had our dinner at Ribs and Rumps! 

Had our dinner at Ribs and Rumps! 

 Polite and helpful staff, great environment and a decent rump. 

Polite and helpful staff, great environment and a decent rump. 

 Not the best beer but a nostalgia moment of Tasmania.

Not the best beer but a nostalgia moment of Tasmania.

 Gladstone Fish Market retails opens as early as 8.30am on the weekdays; but the food van (Hot Box) only opens from 11am to 2pm and 5pm to 8pm. Good reviews on the food van's fish and chips, gutted we were unable to try it. 

Gladstone Fish Market retails opens as early as 8.30am on the weekdays; but the food van (Hot Box) only opens from 11am to 2pm and 5pm to 8pm. Good reviews on the food van's fish and chips, gutted we were unable to try it. 

 We got the fresh oysters and cooked prawns from the market retails for breakfast, super fresh and delicious! 

We got the fresh oysters and cooked prawns from the market retails for breakfast, super fresh and delicious! 

ROCKHAMPTON

The journey from Gladstone to Rockhampton was an easy 1.5 hrs ride. However, in Australia everything seem just a little bit more; animals are cuter, insects are deadlier and somehow the roads are longer and boring-er even for a 1.5 hrs drive. Queensland government has erected trivia signs in fatigue zones to keep drivers alert and reduce crashes and fatalities; Floral emblem of Queensland, first premier of Queensland, how long to go mum? The trivia keeps us entertained all the way to Rockhampton! Rockhampton or Rocky is a charming town with a historical architectural streetscape, we went right to the city centre, parked our car at Quay Street and strolled along the CBD grid. 

Places of Interest: Botanic Gardens, Heritage Village, Quay Street, Dreamtime Culture Centre, Rockhampton Art Gallery, Mt. Archer (if you have enough time) 

Photography Tips: Less is more, a minimalist technique characterised by spareness and simplicity. Before framing the shot, use simple lines, geometric patterns, strong shadows, contrasting colors or lone subject, decide what to leave out of the frame to make stronger image. 

 We were supposed to visit the heritage village, and saw this along way. We have extremely limited choice in dogs' supplies back home in Malaysia, so we decided to take quick pit stop to get something for our dog. Then we saw another pet store after Pet Barn, we ended up visiting a lot of pet shops at Rockhampton. Our dog is a happy dog.

We were supposed to visit the heritage village, and saw this along way. We have extremely limited choice in dogs' supplies back home in Malaysia, so we decided to take quick pit stop to get something for our dog. Then we saw another pet store after Pet Barn, we ended up visiting a lot of pet shops at Rockhampton. Our dog is a happy dog.

 Excellent bagel and coffee at the Two Professors around the corner of William St. (Rockhampton's CBD) 

Excellent bagel and coffee at the Two Professors around the corner of William St. (Rockhampton's CBD) 

 Freshly baked bagel and quality latte! 

Freshly baked bagel and quality latte! 

 A shaft of sunlight streams through the window into the cafe, lovely setting. 

A shaft of sunlight streams through the window into the cafe, lovely setting. 

 Historical building at Quay Street. 

Historical building at Quay Street. 

 Headricks Lane, a renovated restaurant in an old building with modern fittings.

Headricks Lane, a renovated restaurant in an old building with modern fittings.

 Evening at Rockhampton Botanic Garden. 

Evening at Rockhampton Botanic Garden. 

 Picnic at the Botanic Garden. 

Picnic at the Botanic Garden. 

 Sunset at the Botanic Garden. 

Sunset at the Botanic Garden. 

 Rule of third, golden ratio, leading line; Break the rules! The plane sits right in between the contrast of a mighty tree vs a tree with spreading branches without leaves 

Rule of third, golden ratio, leading line; Break the rules! The plane sits right in between the contrast of a mighty tree vs a tree with spreading branches without leaves 

 The zoo at the Botanic Garden was already closed when we were there for the evening, we decided to head back to the zoo on the next morning. Here's a dog, pondering his life as a Dingo. 

The zoo at the Botanic Garden was already closed when we were there for the evening, we decided to head back to the zoo on the next morning. Here's a dog, pondering his life as a Dingo. 

 Adorable Koala bear! 

Adorable Koala bear! 

 Short legged, muscular marsupials native to Australia! Nancy the fancy wombat! 

Short legged, muscular marsupials native to Australia! Nancy the fancy wombat! 

MACKAY

Mackay is a vibrant exciting tropical city, booming from richness of sugar and mining. Early pioneers brought sugar cane to the region and began an industry of Queensland's largest sugar producing town. A destination that brings nature to life, from beach-lounging kangaroos, wallabies at Cape Hillsborough National Park and elusive platypus at Eungella National Park. Here, we got our first glimpse of the Great Barrier Reef from the Airlie Beach - a gateway to Whitsundays, is just one in a half hour drive from Mackay town. We booked a private studio by the beach from Airbnb, definitely one of the best Airbnb during our trip at Queensland. Our Airbnb is 15 minutes away from main town, where we drive through a scenic jaunt past the sugar-cane fields to our studio by the beach. 

Places of Interest: Cape Hillsborough National Park, Eungella National Park, Airlie Beach, Whitsundays (Great Barrier Reef) 

Photography Tips: McEwens Beach at Mackay is the perfect location to see Milkyway, set your camera to Manual, turn to the largest aperture your wide lens can go, start with ISO3200, and follow the shutter 500 Rules to guesstimate your shutter speed (500/lens focal length); for example, i was using a 20mm lens, my optimal shutter speed will 500/20=25 seconds. 

 Rockhampton to Mackay is one of the most boring 3.5 hrs drive. Take a rest if tired, survive this drive, you're a hero! 

Rockhampton to Mackay is one of the most boring 3.5 hrs drive. Take a rest if tired, survive this drive, you're a hero! 

 Again, there are online tips recommended a stop for bites at Clairview (2.5hrs from Rockhampton), ignore that, go a little further from Clairview, take a bite and stretch your legs at Flaggy Rock Cafe. A total life saver! There's hardly any cafe or restaurant along the journey from Rockhampton to Mackay, Flaggy Rock Cafe located on the right side if you're driving from Rockhampton to Mackay, worth the rest. 

Again, there are online tips recommended a stop for bites at Clairview (2.5hrs from Rockhampton), ignore that, go a little further from Clairview, take a bite and stretch your legs at Flaggy Rock Cafe. A total life saver! There's hardly any cafe or restaurant along the journey from Rockhampton to Mackay, Flaggy Rock Cafe located on the right side if you're driving from Rockhampton to Mackay, worth the rest. 

 A local chain fixing up heaping gourmet burgers with eclectic fillings and fun names, Burger Urge at Mackay Town.

A local chain fixing up heaping gourmet burgers with eclectic fillings and fun names, Burger Urge at Mackay Town.

 Lamberts Lookout perched above Lamberts Beach provides an excellent vantage point to view the spectacular coastline, including passing whales during migration season. 

Lamberts Lookout perched above Lamberts Beach provides an excellent vantage point to view the spectacular coastline, including passing whales during migration season. 

 The Airbnb, a self contained unit, private outdoor area, BBQ and outdoor seating. 

The Airbnb, a self contained unit, private outdoor area, BBQ and outdoor seating. 

 Interior of Beachfront Self Contained Studio at McEwens Beach, Mackay. 

Interior of Beachfront Self Contained Studio at McEwens Beach, Mackay. 

 Our Airbnb backyard! McEwens Beach.

Our Airbnb backyard! McEwens Beach.

 The neighbour's pet! 

The neighbour's pet! 

 Milkyway at McEwens Beach, Mackay. 

Milkyway at McEwens Beach, Mackay. 

 Cape Hillsborough National Park is about 45 minutes away from Mackay, it might seem a bit daunting once you've arrived at the entrance due to the darkness, drive all the way to the end of the park, you can park in front of Cape Hillsborough Resort and Mackay Caravan Parks. Then just make your way towards the beach.

Cape Hillsborough National Park is about 45 minutes away from Mackay, it might seem a bit daunting once you've arrived at the entrance due to the darkness, drive all the way to the end of the park, you can park in front of Cape Hillsborough Resort and Mackay Caravan Parks. Then just make your way towards the beach.

 Make sure to arrive at Cape Hillsborough before sunrise, the park ranger starts his briefing about the park and the wildlife, then feed the wild wallabies and kangaroos right after that. 

Make sure to arrive at Cape Hillsborough before sunrise, the park ranger starts his briefing about the park and the wildlife, then feed the wild wallabies and kangaroos right after that. 

 The view of Pioneer Valley! Eungella National Park.   Sunrise at Cape Hillsborough is around 5.15am (double check sunrise time), i'd suggest to leave the national park before 6.45am if possible. Start your journey to Eungella National Park (look up for "Platypus Lodge Restaurant"), it'll take 1.5 hrs, get there before 8.30am will be ideal. This is because Platypus' active time is from 7am to 9am, and you don't want to miss that. 

The view of Pioneer Valley! Eungella National Park. 

Sunrise at Cape Hillsborough is around 5.15am (double check sunrise time), i'd suggest to leave the national park before 6.45am if possible. Start your journey to Eungella National Park (look up for "Platypus Lodge Restaurant"), it'll take 1.5 hrs, get there before 8.30am will be ideal. This is because Platypus' active time is from 7am to 9am, and you don't want to miss that. 

 There wasn't any information about platypus' active time; we actually got to Eungella National Park (Platypus Lodge Restaurant) at 9.30am, we were so lucky the instant we arrived at the viewing platform, an elusive platypus emerged! 

There wasn't any information about platypus' active time; we actually got to Eungella National Park (Platypus Lodge Restaurant) at 9.30am, we were so lucky the instant we arrived at the viewing platform, an elusive platypus emerged! 

 Twice! 

Twice! 

TOWNSVILLE

Tucked between Airlie Beach (Whitsundays) and Cairns, Townsville is the perfect mix of urban jungle and scenic nature. A major gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, the wet tropics and the Queensland outback, a vibrant city sitting around the Castle Hill. 

Places of Interest: Castle Hill, Breakfast at Sandwich Express (town centre), Brunch at Jam Corner, Magnetic Island, Reef HQ Aquarium, Wallaman Falls (2.5 hrs drive from Townsville). 

Photography Tips: To avoid aquarium distortion, fix on a shorter telephoto lens (85mm or above) to isolate your subject. Place your camera parallel to the glass wall of the tank. Turn off on-camera flash to prevent reflections. Focus on nearby creatures, the more water in between your camera and subject, the softer the subject will be. 

 Queens bay at Bowen.

Queens bay at Bowen.

 A lovely Airbnb at Townsville, located at the side of Castle Hill with gorgeous view across city towards Mt. Stuart. 

A lovely Airbnb at Townsville, located at the side of Castle Hill with gorgeous view across city towards Mt. Stuart. 

 Clean and modern shared open-plan living space. 

Clean and modern shared open-plan living space. 

 Hands down, one of the best Fish and Chips i've ever had, Tobin Fish Tales. (iPhone photo)

Hands down, one of the best Fish and Chips i've ever had, Tobin Fish Tales. (iPhone photo)

 Tobin Fish Tales. (iPhone photo)

Tobin Fish Tales. (iPhone photo)

 Was supposed to do the Castle Hill hike but we were too tired and lazy, got up late and head the Reef HQ Aquarium on the next day. Clown fish! 

Was supposed to do the Castle Hill hike but we were too tired and lazy, got up late and head the Reef HQ Aquarium on the next day. Clown fish! 

 What-chu-ma-gonna-call fish at the Reef HQ Aquarium.

What-chu-ma-gonna-call fish at the Reef HQ Aquarium.

 Jellyfish at Reef HQ Aquarium. 

Jellyfish at Reef HQ Aquarium. 

CAIRNS!!!

The Great Barrier Reef stretches more than 2,300km along the coast of Queensland's coastline, begins at the tip of Cape York peninsula in the north and extending down to Bundaberg in the south. Almost 6 days on the road we have finally arrived at Cairns, getting our first real taste of the Great Barrier Reef! Cairns is more commercial with hectic tourist scene, heard Port Douglas is more sophisticated and upmarket, i have not been there so can't comment much what you are likely to do from there. 

Places of Interest: Diving at the Outer Reef, Esplanade Boardwalk, Daintree Discovery Centre, Kuranda Rainforest Tour, Green Island, Fitzroy Island, Lady Heron Island, Cape Tribulation (where Reef meets the Rainforest) or just chill out.

Photography Tips: One of the biggest challenges in photography is managing the light in your scene. Contrast is absolutely tough to manage on bright days, a graduated neutral density filter (ND grads) will be useful in manoeuvre these kind of situation to balance between dark foreground and bright background or vice versa.  

 Our Airbnb for 2 nights at Cairns, love it! 

Our Airbnb for 2 nights at Cairns, love it! 

 Europcar allows us to return the rental car a day late without additional cost, we returned the rental car at Europcar Cairns City, it's just a 7 minutes walk to Reef Fleet Terminal where all GBR tours or cruises depart.  

Europcar allows us to return the rental car a day late without additional cost, we returned the rental car at Europcar Cairns City, it's just a 7 minutes walk to Reef Fleet Terminal where all GBR tours or cruises depart.  

 We departed from Reef Fleet Terminal (Cairns) it took about 90 minutes from terminal to the Outer Reef. The boat will dock at a giant floating platform - pontoon which become your home for the day. Here in the Outer Reef (pontoon), you can have buffet lunch, take a fresh shower, check out the underwater observatory, go on tours in semi-submersible, snorkel, dive and helmet dive. (iPhone photo) 

We departed from Reef Fleet Terminal (Cairns) it took about 90 minutes from terminal to the Outer Reef. The boat will dock at a giant floating platform - pontoon which become your home for the day. Here in the Outer Reef (pontoon), you can have buffet lunch, take a fresh shower, check out the underwater observatory, go on tours in semi-submersible, snorkel, dive and helmet dive. (iPhone photo) 

 We couldn't take any picture at all while we were diving, i'll dwell on "the why" next, that's me snorkelling at the Outer Reef after our dive.

We couldn't take any picture at all while we were diving, i'll dwell on "the why" next, that's me snorkelling at the Outer Reef after our dive.

 So, like every beloved tourists, i bought an underwater casing for my phone hoping to document life underwater, after a serious chain of research,  here ,  here  and  here  a 4.7 rating on Amazon, i've finally decided to invest in the Vansky Floatable Waterproof Case Dry Bag. It's probably one of the worst investment i've made in my life. It's an absolutely nightmare to manoeuvre, the touch on the buttons was almost impossible in the water. It couldn't register when i pressed the icons or picture buttons and i often had to take it out of water while snorkelling in order to adjust it. It was aggravating! Another couple had hard plastic cases on the outside to control the icons, and they have no problem manoeuvring underwater. If i have to do this again, i won't trust the review from MacWorld, Wisebread, read only the bad reviews on Amazon, and i'll get those hard plastic casing type or a go-pro. (iPhone photo)

So, like every beloved tourists, i bought an underwater casing for my phone hoping to document life underwater, after a serious chain of research, here, here and here a 4.7 rating on Amazon, i've finally decided to invest in the Vansky Floatable Waterproof Case Dry Bag. It's probably one of the worst investment i've made in my life. It's an absolutely nightmare to manoeuvre, the touch on the buttons was almost impossible in the water. It couldn't register when i pressed the icons or picture buttons and i often had to take it out of water while snorkelling in order to adjust it. It was aggravating! Another couple had hard plastic cases on the outside to control the icons, and they have no problem manoeuvring underwater. If i have to do this again, i won't trust the review from MacWorld, Wisebread, read only the bad reviews on Amazon, and i'll get those hard plastic casing type or a go-pro. (iPhone photo)

 This is the only picture i managed to take underwater, i tried to focus by touching on the screen, it just couldn't register. Damn you Vansky! 

This is the only picture i managed to take underwater, i tried to focus by touching on the screen, it just couldn't register. Damn you Vansky! 

 Diving, snorkelling at the Outer Reef will take up most of your day, you'll arrived back at Cairns in the evening. We took a stroll along the Esplanade Boardwalk, spent the night chilling by the coast and dinner over at Pedro's Pizza! Love it!

Diving, snorkelling at the Outer Reef will take up most of your day, you'll arrived back at Cairns in the evening. We took a stroll along the Esplanade Boardwalk, spent the night chilling by the coast and dinner over at Pedro's Pizza! Love it!

 We head over to Reef Fleet Terminal again on the next morning, escape to Fitzroy Island! A tropical island on the Great Barrier Reef located just 45 minutes by high-speed ferry from Cairns' Reef Fleet Terminal. 

We head over to Reef Fleet Terminal again on the next morning, escape to Fitzroy Island! A tropical island on the Great Barrier Reef located just 45 minutes by high-speed ferry from Cairns' Reef Fleet Terminal. 

 From the summit of Fitzroy Island, you'll be able to see reefs surrounding Fitzroy Island, these are the fringing reef formation, a type of reef that grows seaward from the shore, they formed borders along the shoreline and surrounding island. Barrier reefs are similar to fringing reefs in that they also border a shoreline; however, instead of growing directly out from the shore, they are separated from land by an expanse of water. 

From the summit of Fitzroy Island, you'll be able to see reefs surrounding Fitzroy Island, these are the fringing reef formation, a type of reef that grows seaward from the shore, they formed borders along the shoreline and surrounding island. Barrier reefs are similar to fringing reefs in that they also border a shoreline; however, instead of growing directly out from the shore, they are separated from land by an expanse of water. 

 Spend your day doing as much or as little as you please; relax on the beach, swim and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef, take a glass-bottom boat tour, islands hopping... We explored the island by foot, we did the summit hike (approx. 2 hrs), the route to the summit is pretty easy with the self-guided booklet provided by the resort. 

Spend your day doing as much or as little as you please; relax on the beach, swim and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef, take a glass-bottom boat tour, islands hopping... We explored the island by foot, we did the summit hike (approx. 2 hrs), the route to the summit is pretty easy with the self-guided booklet provided by the resort. 

 Breathtaking view from Fitzroy Island's summit. 

Breathtaking view from Fitzroy Island's summit. 


We took a flight from Cairns back to Gold Coast, and back home. That sums up our 10 days road trip. Often i find myself in a situation where i struggle to gather photography information when i travel to a new destination. I hope this piece of Travel Photography from Gold Coast to the Great Barrier Reef will be able help you in preparing for your next photography adventure. 

When I was a child, I used to read travel books or NatGeo magazines voraciously. I would read page after page and obsess over stories and images. Only when I started traveling did I realise what the travel quote “it’s better to see something once than hear about it a thousand times.” As a travel photographer, I try my hardest to frame places and destinations from my point of view to viewers. However, there are just some things and experiences that are too beautiful to paint in picture. So, what are you waiting for?
— Jenn Wei