One of the best ways to discover the Cairns region is by driving. The area is quite large and there are a number of interesting natural attractions in that can only be accessed via vehicle.


While there are plenty of bus tours and 4WD tours available, there is nothing quite like getting behind the wheel of your own vehicle and tracking down a unique experience.


hiring a car in cairns

To hire a car in Cairns you will need to have a valid driver’s licence and a credit card – as you do for a hotel stay. Usually visitors will also have to be over 21 years old to hire a car or other vehicle.


In Australia we drive on the left-hand side of the road. If you have a valid driver’s licence in English from your own country you can drive throughout Australia. If your driver’s licence is not in English you may need to get a translation or an International Driver’s Licence.


However, an International Driver’s Licence doesn’t mean you can automatically drive in Australia. Most Backpackers or other visitors staying in the area for some time will get an Australian Driver’s Licence if they are going to be staying more than a couple of weeks.


>> For more information on Cairns car hire check out the About Cairns section on driving in Australia


driving in cairns

Speed limits in built up areas in Cairns city range from 40km/hr outside schools to 60km/hr in through streets. Watch for speed limit signs.


Drink driving is a major offence in Australia and people can be pulled over and randomly ‘breath-tested’ by the Police.


Recently the Queensland Police Service has also introduced a ‘random drug test’ which can be taken on the side of the road.


Fines and criminal charges can be quite harsh on people found to be drinking and driving or taking drugs and driving.


Seatbelts must also be worn by all drivers and passengers including children. Babies must travel in special ‘capsules’ and children under 6 years must travel in child car seats.


Other things to be aware of when driving in the Cairns region is that there are both mobile and stationary speed cameras and radar systems and that many red lights (stop lights) will have cameras watching for people running the lights.


Motorcycle riders must wear helmets (except in banks) and bicycle riders must also wear helmets. It’s also illegal to talk on a mobile phone (cell phone, hand phone) while driving.


Speed limits are also strictly enforced and penalties for repeat offenders can lead to losing a driver’s licence and sometimes jail (prison), particularly if involved in a road accident.


>> For more information on Driving Rules and Regulations in Queensland, go to Queensland Transport


tips for hiring a vehicle in cairns

It’s is worth knowing that not all car hire companies offer unlimited kilometres in a standard package.


If visitors go over the designated limit they will be charged extra.


So, if you are planning on doing a lot of driving it can be worth paying a bit extra up front to get that unlimited mileage.


Most cars will be fairly late models and will include air-conditioning.


However if you’re on a tight budget there is a company that specialises in ‘cheap’ vehicles – older models and sometimes no air-conditioning.

Image supplied by Tourism Queensland, Australia


cars & 4WDs

The roads in Australia are generally quite good in most built up areas, however if visitors head towards the Daintree and Cape York region it is recommended that they hire a 4WD (four-wheel-drive) vehicle.


Most car hire companies will inform you of the differences between vehicles and whether or not a certain type of car can be taken to destinations like the Daintree area or Cape York.


Driving around the Cairns region can take some getting used to – distances can be quite vast and take a lot longer than planned. Certainly it can take days to drive from Cairns to the southern capitals.


Driving from Cairns to Kuranda takes about 40 minutes; Cairns to Palm Cove takes about 30 minutes and Cairns to Port Douglas takes about an hour to drive.


If you are heading to the Daintree it can take up to two and half hours to drive and to drive from Cairns to Cooktown – on the recently opened coast road – takes around five hours.


Mission Beach is about two hours drive south of Cairns and it takes about an hour and a half to drive from Cairns City to Atherton.


driving in the outback & remote areas

The main highways and connecting roads around the region are generally well travelled and well serviced, however anyone heading ‘bush’ especially into the interior or north to Cape York should be aware that it is best to prepare.


Visitors are advised to take extra petrol (gas), water, food, tyres and spare parts with them and to ensure that their whereabouts – where they’re headed and when they expect to get there – are known. Visitors can also register their itinerary with the local police in the area or their hotel.


If your vehicle breaks down visitors should always stay with it – you should never move away from the car or 4WD; especially if you are travelling alone. People regularly get lost.


Travellers should always carry a mobile phone with them but you should also be aware the most won’t work in the remote area of Cape York. A satellite phone is worth the investment if you are planning on an extended journey. They can usually be hired with the vehicle or the car hire company will be able to point you in the right direction.


It is also work checking out the road conditions in the areas you plan to visit, particularly during the wet season between December and April when many roads become unpassable in the Cape York area.


Contact the Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ) for more information about road conditions before heading into the great outdoors.


North of Cairns the Captain Cook Highway is sealed all the way to Cape Tribulation so people can use hire cars to drive there. However, any further north and you will need to hire a 4WD vehicle.


campervans, RVs & caravans

There are a number of companies specialising in campervan hire in Cairns.


Campervans range from ‘minivans’ which are large enough for only a couple of people to massive RVs or mobile homes which are as large as trucks and can need a special heavy vehicle licence to drive.


Generally visitors opt for something in-between which can be driven with an ordinary open car licence but which will fit a family.


Decide where you will be travelling – if it’s just up and down the coast on the highways you won’t need a 4WD but if you’re planning on going to Cape York you will need something that can take a bashing.


For Backpackers travelling in the Cairns region there is an office for Wicked Campervans in Abbott St – these vans are distinctively decorated and set up for people who want to move around quickly.

Cairns car hire Directory

AAA1 Cairns Discount Car Rentals
72 Abbott St
P: 61 7 4051 2259

Airport Rent a Car
Cairns Airport
P: 61 3 9335 3355

All Day Car Rentals
Shop 1, 62 Abbott St
P: 61 7 4031 3348

AllCar Rentals
21 Warner St
Port Douglas
P: 61 7 4099 4123

Apex Rent-a-Car
51 McLeod St
P: 61 7 3265 9200

Aus Car Rentals
146-148 Sheridan St
P: 1800 028 881

Aussie Drive & A1 Car Rentals
403 Sheridan St
P: 1300 786 024

Avis Australia
135 Lake St
P: 61 7 4051 5911

Billabong Car Rentals
132 Sheridan St
P: 1800 354 299

Budget Car & Truck Rental
153 Lake St
P: 1300 362 848

Cairns Autorent
137 Lake St
P: 61 7 4051 6077

Cairns Classic Car Hire
7 Winkworth St
P: 0419 651 722

Cairns Leisure Wheels
314 Sheridan St
P: 61 7 4051 8988

Cairns Older Car Hire
422 Sheridan St
P: 61 7 4053 1066

Coolies Car Hire
136 Grafton St
P: 61 7 4041 0566

Crown Car Rentals
Cnr Shields & Sheridan St
P: 61 7 4031 5552

Cruising Car Rental
196A Sheridan St
P: 61 7 4041 4666

Europcar Car & Truck Rental
135 Abbott St
P: 1300 131 390

Four Wheel Drive Hire Service
297-299 Sheridan St
P: 1800 077 353

Gem Rent-a-Car
Yorkeys Knob
P: 61 7 4055 8544