The ultimate 8 day road trip from Brisbane to Cairns
It’s Queensland’s answer to Route 66, only 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.
If the thought of exploring this World Heritage-listed wonderland by road doesn’t have you packing the car as you read this, the promise of luxury islands, remote beaches and hallowed snorkel sites certainly will.
Consider this your remix to ignition – 8 days driving the Pacific Coast Way from Brisbane to Cairns.
Day 1: Brisbane to Sunshine Coast
Your east coast odyssey begins by swapping Brisbane City for coastal charm – touching 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 bevvies – the perfect ingredients for a gourmet picnic with scenic views.
If you want to go all TLC and chase waterfalls, you’re in luck my ’90s music-loving friend. For a quick trip, our pick is Serenity Falls in Buderim Forest Park, because the walk in to find them is so quick you’ll barely have enough time to bust your Daryl Kerrigan and ask “how’s the serenity?”
Laden with armfuls of local snacks to fuel your road trip, arrive into Noosa in time for sundowners and dinner at one of the restaurants that prove why Noosa is more than just a beach town, but a culinary capital.
Want more: If you find yourself falling in love with Noosa, kick on with this 48-hour itinerary. Afterall, the open road will still be there tomorrow.
Day 2: Noosa to 1770
Leave the bright lights of Noosa behind (after a dip in Noosa National Park‘s fairy pools), and head north to Seventeen Seventy, Australia’s only town named after a number. In fact, Seventeen Seventy is the largest number that a town is named after in the world – take that Eighty Eight, Kentucky!
Funny name aside, today is all about catching sunrise over the water in Noosa, and sunset over the water in Agnes Waters – a rare treat in Queensland, thanks to a headland that faces west.
Overnight: Agnes Water.
Day 3: 1770 to Cape Hillsborough
Surfs up in Seventeen Seventy! Here you’ll find the northern most break in Australia here, which is lucky because a dose of salt water is the perfect antidote to the longest day in the car on this road trip journey.
Today is about putting 600 kilometers on the clock to Mackay’s Northern Beaches, so all that’s left to do today is make like Rihanna – and shut up and drive.
Of course, just because you’re car-bound, doesn’t mean all adventure stalls.
As Erol Ozan once said – “some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost” – and we think photographing the rolling sugar cane fields that surround Mackay, is just the kind of adventure Ozan was referring to.
Overnight: Cape Hillsborough
Want to stretch your legs? Check out these hikes around Mackay
Day 4: Cape Hillsborough to Airlie Beach
Two beach babes, Bridgette and Emmy-Lou, might have put Cape Hillsborough on the map, but it’s the daily guarantee of seeing this mob of macropods that keep Cape Hillsborough on the tourist map. A quick chat to the backpackers who line the beach each morning is proof that word of this sunrise spot has made it as far as Germany, or maybe that’s just the power of Instagram?
Why these roos and agile wallabies come each morning to Cape Hillsborough, no body knows – but it’s more about epic sunrise photos than science for most tourists anyway. Get down to the beach before 6am to catch them in action – but don’t forget to check out these other sunrise spots too if you’re an early riser!
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 the stuff that Instagrammers dreams are made of. Expect a whiter than white beach and blue and turquoise swirls – the kind of colours that belong on a postcard, but exist in real life in the Whitsundays.
Overnight: Airlie Beach
Day 5: Airlie Beach to Ingham
I challenge you to find another place in the world where one of the world’s best beaches and Little Italy are separated by less than 400-kilometers. Today you’ll be drive the stretch of road which separates this odd couple, Airlie Beach and Ingham.
With the same determination of Thelma and Louise en route to Mexico, ditch palm trees for pasta, and brace yourself for Italian deli meets, frozen treats from Frosty mango and fresh pastas that are made by nonna.
More than this though, you’ll be in pole position to discover Wallaman Falls at first light tomorrow.
Want more: Pay a visit to Australia’s sunniest city, Townsville with this itinerary.
Day 6: Ingham to Mission Beach
Brace yourself for wow factor, Wallaman Falls wow-factor. This is the tallest single drop waterfall in Australia and the kind of landform that makes you double take. It’s not the kind of geological landform you’d expect to find harboured in Townsville’s north west.
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- surely Queensland’s best #emojiinthewild.
Once your mind has been blown, hit the road 170km north for a Castaway experience that won’t have you calling for Wilson any time soon.
Your mission in the appropriately named Mission Beach is simple – capture the magic of the palm trees and white sand which line the 14-kilometers of fringing reef and beach.
Overnight: Mission Beach
Day 7: Mission Beach to Atherton Tablelands
Take your seat at the Atherton Tablelands. Here, the high altitude and volcanic soil makes for a veritable smorgasbord everywhere you look. From dairy cows, to tea plantations and everything in between – this is a must stop for those who book holidays with their taste buds.
Not just a destination for eating, it’s one for exploring- the waterfall circuit, curtain tree fig and Mt Bartle Frere will keep you busier than a worker bee if you want to check all three out.
A day’s exploration is best rewarded with a night of romance and relaxation – and Mt Quincan Crater Retreat, the treehouse style accommodation on the Tablelands, is just that.
Overnight: Atherton Tablelands
Want more: We don’t blame you. Kick on the Tablelands with this itinerary.
Day 8: Atherton Tablelands to Cairns
The early bird might get the worm down south, but in Mareeba, it’s not about invertebrates but hot air balloon rides over the ancient volcanic craters of the Atherton Tablelands. Picture you, a basket and sunrise over rolling green hills, farmland and dairy farms.
Finishing the trip on a natural high, return your car, head to the airport and prepare to head home. East coast odyssey, check! Memories, check, check! Thousands of #thisisqueensland photos, check, check, check!