Couple on beach, Fraser Island, Queensland © Tourism & Events Queensland
The Pacific Coast Way: a must-do Gold Coast to Cairns road trip
With the rainforest on your left and the reef on your right, enjoy some of the best experiences Queensland has to offer as you head north on an epic road trip to Cairns.
When it comes to road trips, they don’t come much more epic than the Pacific Coast Way, stretching 1,800 kilometres (1,118 miles) between the Gold Coast and Cairns in Queensland. Drive between reef-fringed beaches, lush farmland and dramatic gorges, and experience the ever-changing menu of laid back towns, delicious fresh produce, and authentic Queensland hospitality.
Day 1: Gold Coast to Brisbane
Before you hit the road, take the time to savour the Gold Coast’s charms, beginning with the beach. There’s also the Gold Coast’s magical hinterland, where you can stroll among the tree canopies and find hidden waterfalls. Head north towards Brisbane, stopping off for a bite and sundowner at Howard Smith Wharves, right under Story Bridge.
Day 2: Brisbane to Sunshine Coast
On today’s short trip to the Sunshine Coast, you’ll soon see the spectacular Glass House Mountains explode skyward from the flat plains. Close by is Maleny, home to crafty types, musicians and farmers. Visit the Maleny Cheese factory to stock up for a picnic. Next, stop at Noosa where you can go for a hike through the national park overlooking the coastline, or catch a wave at Little Cove. Enjoy dinner with a view at the iconic beachside Mooloolaba Surf Club's Boathouse Restaurant.
Day 3: Sunshine Coast to Hervey Bay
From Noosa, it’s onto Australia’s whale-watching capital – and recently named Whale Heritage Site – Hervey Bay, on the doorstep of K’gari (formerly Fraser Island). Between July and early November, spend a day watching humpbacks with newborn calves, or hop on the ferry to explore the World Heritage-listed K’gari.
Day 4: Hervey Bay to Bundaberg
Today, set off on the Bruce Highway before stopping at your next destination, Bundaberg. The Southern Great Barrier Reef starts here, so make sure you visit one of the reef's beautiful islands to discover the abundant marine life of the area. On both Lady Elliott Island and Lady Musgrave Island, you can swim with resident turtles.
Day 5: Bundaberg to Gladstone
Setting off up the coast today you’ll roll into the seaside village of Seventeen Seventy, otherwise known as Town of 1770. About 130 kilometres (81 miles) north is Gladstone, where you can discover the city’s heritage at the Gladstone Maritime Museum or climb Mount Larcom for 360-degree views. For a Southern Great Barrier Reef experience like no other, head out to the eco-resort, Wilson Island.
Day 6: Gladstone to Yeppoon
You can’t miss today’s entrance to Rockhampton – the beef capital of Australia – as an imposing statue of a bull greets visitors to the city everyone calls “Rocky”. Stroll beside the Fitzroy River past Quay Street’s many ornate heritage buildings. The city’s 130-year-old Botanic Gardens are equally magnificent. Next, make for Yeppoon, the heart of the Capricorn Coast, and head underground into the spectacular Capricorn Caves.
Day 7: Yeppoon to Mackay
In the Pioneer Valley, west of Mackay, you’ll find the stunning Eungella National Park, where you can spot a platypus or go for a hike through lush rainforest. The valley is also home to the Pinnacle Pub and its famed pies.
If you have time, drive 1.5 hours to Cape Hillsborough National Park where you’ll discover a natural phenomenon worth an early rise. Here, a plethora of different wallaby species gather every morning.
Day 8: Mackay to the Whitsundays
Departing from Mackay, your next stop is the Whitsundays. When you arrive in Airlie Beach, the gateway to the Whitsundays, you won’t want to leave. This is picture-postcard territory, with glorious bays opening up into an ocean peppered with some 74 islands. On the largest of them all, Whitsunday Island, you’ll find Whitehaven Beach; seven sparkling kilometres (4.5 miles) of brilliant white silica sand – and often several manta rays.
Day 9: Whitsundays to Townsville
Rise early and being the journey to Townsville. Once you've arrived, head over to the Museum of Underwater Art where you'll discover works of art submerged beneath the ocean. The city is also the gateway to Wallaman Falls, the largest single-drop waterfall in Australia, and Magnetic Island, a national park haven only eight kilometres (five miles) offshore. On “Maggie” – as the locals call it – you can snorkel and kayak (look out for turtles and dugongs), or see if you can spot some of the resident koalas or rock wallabies while taking a stroll along the Forts Walk.