The ultimate 8-day road trip from Brisbane to Cairns
They build things bigger in the Sunshine State. The Pacific Coast Way is no exception, and this famous Queensland road trip from Brisbane to Cairns is no mean feat.
Stretching over 1800km of tarmac, this highway connects Coolangatta and Cairns as Queensland’s Route 66. Instead of crossing a country, the Pacific Coast Way runs the length of one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef. Along this stretch you’ll find luxury islands, remote beaches, and snorkel sites where you can meet the reef, making it one of Queensland’s most incredible road trips.
Travel the length of the state in just over a week. Here’s how to drive the Pacific Coast Way from Brisbane to Cairns in just eight days.
Day 1: Brisbane to Sunshine Coast
Your first step on the east coast odyssey begins when you leave Brisbane City behind and setting out for the coast. Touch your tyres on ancient volcanic peaks, lush rainforests and ocean-front National Parks with box-office views.
The Sunshine Coast Hinterland is the greenhouse of south-east Queensland, packed with fresh dairy produce, berries and local brews. Even a short venture around local producers will equip you with the ingredients for a gourmet picnic, best enjoyed before scenic views.
For a quick detour, head to Serenity Falls in Buderim Forest Park. The walk to the water is nice and short so you can have a refreshing dip and get back on the road with time to spare.
After fuelling up on local snacks, arrive into Noosa in time for sundowners and dinner at one of the restaurants that prove why Noosa is the culinary capital of the Sunshine Coast. If you want more time with Noosa, feel free to stop here for a few days and get to know the area.
Drive time: 1hr 20m
Day 2: Noosa to 1770
Before leaving Noosa for good, take a dip into the Noosa National Park‘s fairy pools, then head north to Seventeen Seventy. Notable for being Australia’s only town named after a number, Seventeen Seventy is in fact the largest number that a town is named after in the world.
Today is all about catching sunrise over the water in Noosa, and sunset over the water in Agnes Waters – a rare sight in Queensland, thanks to a headland that faces west. Today’s driving time is almost four and a half hours so there’s plenty of time to explore Agnes Waters before sundown.
Drive time: 4hrs 20m
Overnight: Agnes Waters.
Day 3: 1770 to Cape Hillsborough
Seventeen Seventy is where you’ll find the northernmost break in Australia, which is lucky because a dose of salt water is the perfect antidote to the longest day on the road for this journey.
It’s 600 kilometers between Seven and today’s destination in Mackay’s Northern Beaches. Of course, just because you’re car-bound, doesn’t mean adventure stalls.
Mackay is famous for rolling fields of sugar cane, so go off route and let yourself get a little lost when they shimmer into view. After such a long day on the road, make sure to give your legs a good stretch on one of Mackay’s hiking trails.
Drive time: 7hrs
Overnight: Cape Hillsborough
Day 4: Cape Hillsborough to Airlie Beach
The major draw for stopping at Cape Hillsborough is an almost mythic daily phenomenon that happens at sunrise. Every morning, dozens of wallabies venture out from the national park and come down to the shoreline at Casuarina Beach. Get up early and head down before dawn to catch them in action.
Whitehaven has been crowned world’s best beach a few times over and it’s easy to see why. Made of 98% silica sand, it’s dazzling white shores strike a stark contrast with the Whitsundays’ famous turquoise swirls. It’s an enchanting sight, so we won’t blame you if you decide to stay a little longer in the idyllic blue and spend a few days on Hamilton Island or Airlie Beach.
Drive time: 1hr 30m
Overnight: Airlie Beach
Day 5: Airlie Beach to Ingham
Where else on Earth could you find one of the world’s best beaches separated from Little Italy by less than 400-kilometers? Today you’ll drive the stretch of road that separates this odd couple, Airlie Beach and Ingham.
In the 1890s, Ingham became known as the Italian epicentre of Queensland thanks to an influx of immigrants. With many of Ingham’s residents being of Italian descent, this Italian influence is still felt keenly today.
If you time your trip to coincide with the first weekend of August you’ll be one of thousands of people flocking to Ingham for the Australian-Italian Festival. The event highlights Ingham’s cultural background and cements ties between Ingham’s Italian locals and Italy.
Ingham is just a short drive from Townsville if you wanted to visit Australia’s sunniest city.
Drive time: 4hrs 16m
Day 6: Ingham to Mission Beach
At first light, head down to Wallaman Falls. This is the tallest single drop waterfall in Australia and the kind of landform that makes you do a double take.
Save time for the two hour walk to the bottom of the falls to experience the full force of this 268m drop. Most days you’ll even see a full rainbow through the falls mist.
Drive time: 1hr 25m
Overnight: Mission Beach
Day 7: Mission Beach to Atherton Tablelands
Taking off from the coastal pleasures of Mission Beach and head inland towards the Atherton Tablelands. Here, the high altitude and volcanic soil help to cultivate some of Queensland’s most prized produce. Everywhere you look is the proof of the fertile plains. From dairy cows, to tea plantations and everything in between.
Not just a destination for eating, it’s also one for exploring. The waterfall circuit will take you around the region’s most inspiring falls, while the Mt Bartle Frere trail will send you up the highest peak in Queensland.
After all that, a night in the treehouse style accommodation of Mt Quincan Crater Retreat is just what you need to recharge ahead of the final leg. If you need a bit more time in the Tablelands, check out these local waterfalls.
Drive time: 1hr 50m
Overnight: Atherton Tablelands
Day 8: Atherton Tablelands to Cairns
It’s just one and a half hours between the Tablelands and Cairns, so take your time getting up today.
Sandwiched between the ancient roots of the Daintree Rainforest, and the world-heritage listed corals of the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns is best known as the jewel in the north.
Stay a while, soak up the surrounds and get to know the locals.
Drive time: 1hr 22m