How to plan your dream road trip along the Pacific Coast Way
It’s a journey that deserves to be savoured slowly. Discover fine food and local wines, wander country towns and rural markets, or go right off the beaten track and reconnect with nature.
Whether you take 8 days or 8 weeks, you’re in for a real treat. Here’s some inspiration to get you on the road.
Before you head off: Explore the Gold Coast and Brisbane
On the way, if you’re starting from the Gold Coast, grab a morning coffee and catch a wave. If you’re really adventurous, take a pit stop in the Hinterland and breathe in the rainforest air.
Arrive in Brisbane around lunchtime and grab a bite to eat at Howard Smith Wharves before hitting the open road.
Day 1: Explore hinterland villages and beachside towns on the Sunshine Coast
Wave goodbye to the hustle and bustle of Brisbane and start your journey north. First stop: the Sunshine Coast.
Take a detour through the verdant hills of the Sunshine Coast hinterland and sample fresh-picked produce in the mountain villages of the Blackall Range. Then, head for the coast to soak up the cafe culture of Noosa’s Hastings Street. If you’re in the 4WD, take the Great Beach Drive north in time to catch the sun set over the multi-coloured cliffs of Rainbow Beach.
Day 2: Make friends with the local marine life in Hervey Bay
Time your visit to coincide with whale-watching season to see humpback whales and their newborn calves frolicking in the bay’s warm, protected waters. Wander the shore with your binoculars or hop aboard a whale watching tour for an unforgettable up-close encounter.
If you’ve time to spare, spend a day (or three, or four) discovering World Heritage-listed Fraser Island. Cool off in freshwater swimming holes, practice your beach driving skills on the endless sand highways, then pitch your tent under a blanket of stars.
Continue north to reach Bundaberg, home of the world-class Bundaberg Rum Distillery. Find out what goes on behind-the-scenes, sample a tipple or two and even create your own rum blend. Don’t leave town without visiting Mon Repos, the South Pacific’s largest sea turtle rookery.
Day 3: Get schooled in local history near Bundaberg
Jump back on the road and follow the coast north to uncover the quiet charms of the Town of 1770 (the first landing point of Captain Cook).
Brush up on 1770’s colourful history aboard the equally colourful LARC, an amphibious bright pink tour bus. Cruise along deserted sandy beaches and through pristine estuaries as you hear stories of the town’s early settlers. Spot seabirds, turtles, dolphins and more as you navigate the waterways in the hands of your expert guide.
Day 4: Tour ancient caves and historic homes on the Capricorn Coast
Just an hour and a half’s drive north finds you in Gladstone, the gateway to eco-resort Heron Island. (If you feel like taking a break from the road, it’s the perfect place to spend a few extra days.)
From there, it’s on to Rockhampton, where colonial architecture lines the streets and the Fitzroy River winds through town. Explore the city’s historic wharves, wander through the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens and admire the grand old buildings of Quay Street.
Drive to the summit of Mount Archer for a panoramic view of the town, before heading north for a guided tour of the tunnels and shafts of the Capricorn Caves.
Day 5: Swim in freshwater gorges on route to Mackay.
Congratulations, your road trip is almost at the halfway point! Today, get back on the Pacific Coast Way for the scenic 400km journey north to Mackay. Veer west to Eungella National Park for a refreshing dip in the waters of Finch Hatton Gorge (be sure to keep your eye out for the resident platypus).
Soak up the scenery on the final stretch to Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands, where you’d be forgiven if you choose to linger a little longer. Spend a few days island-hopping, charter a boat and practice your sailing skills or take a scenic flight to beautiful Whitehaven Beach.
Day 6: Improve your local knowledge in Townsville
Stop off at the Billabong Sanctuary south of the city for some up close encounters with Australian wildlife. (You can even feed a giant saltwater croc – if you dare). Then, spend the afternoon uncovering Townsville’s many charms.
History buffs can learn about the city’s wartime history and Aboriginal heritage at the Jezzine Barracks and the Museum of Tropical Queensland. Nature lovers won’t want to miss the colourful live exhibits of the Reef HQ Aquarium. Foodies should head straight to City Lane to sample Korean, Greek and Japanese flavours washed down with local craft beers.
Day 7: Hike to the summit of Dunk Island
While there, take the Mission Beach Water Taxi over to stunning Dunk Island – or Coonanglebah to use its Aboriginal name. Translated, it means ‘the island of peace and plenty’ and it won’t be long before you understand why. If you’re reasonably fit, hike to the summit of Mount Kootaloo (it’s a 7km round trip) for spectacular views across the bay.
Back on the mainland, watch the sun set from a front-row seat at Bibesia Restaurant at Castaways Resort and Spa.
Day 8: Wander the grounds of a Spanish castle south of Cairns
With less than 140kms to go, you’ve still got time to squeeze in a few more stops on the road to Cairns.
First, wander through the Spanish-influenced castle and tropical gardens of Paronella Park, created by Jose Paronella in the 1930s. From there it’s just a 20 minute drive north to Innisfail, known as the art deco capital of Australia. Take a stroll through the elegant streets filled with art deco buildings, before driving on to your final destination, Cairns.