Slow travel: 8 days cruising the Pacific Coast Way

The Pacific Coast Way, which stretches between the Gold Coast and Cairns, is a 1784km road trip like no other.

No two days will be the same as you drive through Queensland’s farmland, canefields, rainforests and towns… whichever direction you’re going in.

It’s a journey that deserves to be savoured slowly, taking side trips on a whim, lingering over sunset drinks, and walking on sandy white beaches, always with the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.

Discover fine food and wine, antique stores, country pubs, waterfalls and rock pools, and nature at its finest. It’s all waiting out there on the road…just like these other Great Queensland Drives.

Day 1: Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast (105km)

Noosa Sunshine Coast | The Pacific Coast Way road trip

Start with a short hop, just a couple of hours up the highway from the sunshine capital, where the beaches call.

From Caloundra to Noosa, the Sunshine Coast offers plenty to explore. Enjoy waterfront dining, championship golf courses, day spas, shopping and more in the resort towns that cling to the coast – or head to the green of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland to explore the mountain villages of the Blackall Range.

If you’re 4WDing, take the Great Beach Drive north to Rainbow Beach, so named for the multicoloured cliffs that loom above the beach in shades of ochre, mustard, and rust.

Day 2: Noosa to Bundaberg (250km)

Pacific Coast Way | Fraser Coast

Head north through Gympie, once called “the town that saved Queensland” when the 1867 discovery of gold came in the nick of time as the colony faced devastating drought and falling wool prices.

At Hervey Bay – if you’re here from June to October – take time for some whale watching, as the humpback “highway” swings into action off-shore. Hop over to World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island, for the day (or longer).

Heading north again, a visit to Bundaberg isn’t complete without a stop at the world-class Bundaberg Rum Distillery, where you can sample the product, take a behind-the-scenes tour, or even create your own blend (and have your name on the label).

At the South Pacific’s largest turtle rookery on Mon Repos Beach, watch turtles laying their eggs and the hatchlings staggering toward their first ocean swim a few months later (between November and March).

Day 3: Bundaberg to 1770 (129km)

Seventeen Seventy | The Pacific Coast Way road trip

Take a detour off the highway to discover the tranquil charms of Agnes Water and Town of 770, the latter named by Captain Cook for the year he discovered this gorgeous spot. In fact, you could easily spend a couple of days here!

At Agnes Water, don’t miss the cool green of the Paperbark Forest Walk and then cap it off with lunch at Getaway Garden Café, a sort of mini-botanical garden setting. Spend some time at beautiful Chinaman’s Beach, where you might just be the only people on the beach.

Hit the water for a gentle kayak tour with 1770 Liquid Adventures. Guide Simon – whose faithful canine companion Bailey sometimes comes along for the ride – will show you all the best spots, and if you’re lucky, you might even spot some dolphins.

Another must in 1770 is an outing aboard the very pink LARC, an amphibious vessel that cruises across deserted sandy beaches and pristine estuaries to Bustard Bay, Round Hill Creek and the fringe of Eurimbula National Park, spotting birds and marine life and learning about the ecosystems of the region’s underwater neighbour, the Southern Great Barrier Reef.

Day 4: 1770 to Yeppoon (272km)

Yeppoon | The Pacific Coast Way road trip

Just 50km north is Gladstone, the jumping-off point for Heron Island, and then it’s on to the “beef capital of Australia”, Rockhampton, where colonial-style architecture lines the streets and the Fitzroy River winds through town.

Stretch your legs in the Rockhampton Botanic Gardens and local zoo, and grab a bite to eat at Artisan Gluten Free Bakery, offering (as the name suggests) only gluten-free goodies and organic coffee. If you’re in town on a Wednesday or Friday night, head to the Great Western Hotel’s weekly rodeo for some cowboy action.

Just outside “Rocky”, the Capricorn Caves are a cool retreat from the heat. Take a fascinating tour with a Savannah Guide before emerging into the sunshine again to continue your drive.

End the day a bit further north, at Yeppoon. Have dinner at the Keppel Bay Sailing Club on Main Beach, with views across Rosslyn Bay to Great Keppel Island.

Day 5: Yeppoon to Airlie Beach (498km)

Airlie Beach | Pacific Coast Way

Photo by @saltywings

Tuck into a hearty breakfast at the Waterline Restaurant, overlooking the boats at Keppel Bay Marina, before hitting the road again.

Take a break at Mackay where Finch Hatton Gorge is the place for a freshwater dip and Eungella National Park might provide a glimpse of a platypus.

Meander on to Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays, where you can island-hop, spend a few hours on the water with Whitsunday Sailing Outrigger or take a scenic flight to beautiful Whitehaven Beach.

Day 6: Airlie Beach to Townsville (276km)

Castle Hill Townsville | The Pacific Coast Way road trip

Track through Bowen (or stop for a swim at Horseshoe Bay), Home Hill and Ayr, savouring the countryside as you head towards Townsville’s many attractions. Just south of the city, stop off at the Billabong Sanctuary – you can’t miss it on the highway – to check out our Aussie wildlife (for a fee you can even feed a giant saltwater croc).

Make time to explore the Jezzine Barracks‘ coastal parkland, home to a stunning array of outdoor artworks and moving memorials honouring the city’s wartime history. And then there are the old favourites: the Museum of Tropical Queensland – don’t miss the treasures from the shipwreck Pandora – and Reef HQ Aquarium, where the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef are explained and thousands of fish swim in a giant coral reef exhibit.

Day 7: Townsville to Mission Beach (235km)

Mission Beach | The Pacific Coast Way road trip

Start the day with a walk to the top of Castle Hill – if you’re feeling fit – or a stroll along The Strand.

Back in the car, head for Mission Beach, with its swaying palms and long stretch of golden sand. Keep an eye out for cassowaries along the way, too!

The Mission Beach Water Taxi runs return trips to and from Dunk Island (take a picnic!), and for the best views in town head to the top of Bicton Hill at Bingil Bay. At sunset, grab a front-row seat at Bibesia Restaurant at Castaways Resort and Spa or chill out at one of Mission Beach’s many cafes and restaurants.

Day 8: Mission Beach to Cairns (139km)

Cairns | The Pacific Coast Way road trip

Two hidden surprises await on your last day on the road: take in the romance of Paronella Park, the castle-like edifice and its wondrous gardens, created by Jose Paronella in the 1930s, then stroll the streets of Innisfail, often called the art deco capital of Australia for its high concentration of elegant art deco buildings, including the stunning Shire Hall.

After a week on the road, your final destination is Cairns, tucked between the hills and the Coral Sea, with a plethora of attractions and the lure of the Great Barrier Reef just offshore.

Have you ticked off the Pacific Coast Way? Share your road trip highlights in the comments below.

If you’re up for more driving adventures, check out these Great Queensland Drives: