Pacific Coast Drive

The Pacific Coast begins at Cape Howe, which marks the eastern extremity of the state border of Victoria and New South Wales, and extends to the northern tip of Australia - Cape York in far North Queensland. It was along this coast that Lieut. James Cook travelled on his epic voyage of exploration in 1770, mapping as he went and documenting for the first time the country that became known as Australia. This drive mirrors his journey, through Cook saw it all from a different perspective - he traversed the coast by sea.

These days it is possible to follow the east coast of Australia most of the way on sealed bitumen roads, starting at the old whaling town of Eden on the NSW south coast, and ending at Cooktown in north Queensland. This drive utilises these ribbons of bitumen, but begins in Melbourne to allow the whole drive from Melbourne to Sydney via the Princes Highway to be included.

Two alternative inland return routes are suggested, however if money and/or time is an issue, you may consider hiring a motor vehicle and driving one way, leaving the vehicle at Cairns if travelling north, or at Sydney or Melbourne if travelling south, before flying home or on to your next destination.

Of all the long distance drives I have done in Australia, this would have to be one of the most memorable. It passes through or close to some of the best coastal and inland scenery in the three states on Australia's eastern seaboard (Vic, NSW and Qld), it includes Australia's three largest cities, as well as Australia's most visited holiday and tourist destinations (except for Uluru). It also affords the opportunity for Australians to 'taste and see' holiday destinations outside of their home state with a view to finding specific places to return to at a later date for a closer look.

In a nutshell, this drive showcases much of what people come to or travel Australia to see, all in one simple drive that can easily be handled by the average family car with 2 or more people sharing the driving. Furthermore, it can all be fitted into an annual vacation, or within a school holiday period as a one-way drive using a hire vehicle, with a flight home at the end. Those daunted by such a long drive will find travelling just a few sections an equally rewarding experience.

Location: the east coast of Australia

Length (total): Melbourne to Cooktown: 3,944 km
Length (by section): Sydney to Cairns: 2,407 km
Melbourne to Eden: 556 km/7 hours
Eden to Sydney: 478 km/7 hours
Sydney to Brisbane: 926 km/12 hours
Brisbane to Townsville: 1,335 km/18 hours
Townsville to Cooktown: 649/9 hours.

Stanwell Tops

Suggested return journey: return inland from Cairns via the Kennedy Highway to Four Mile Scrub National Park; Kennedy and Gregory Developmental Roads to Millchester, Gregory Developmental Road to Clermont; Gregory Highway to Springsure; Dawson Highway to Rolleston; Carnarvon Highway to Surat; Surat Development Road to The Gums; Leichhardt Highway to Goondawindi: Bruxner Highway to Tenterfield; New England Highway via the Hunter Valley to Newcastle; Pacific Highway to Sydney; Hume Highway to Melbourne.

An alternate inland route, which is shorter and on bitumen all the way, is to follow Bruce Highway south from Cairns to Townsville; take Flinders inland to Charters Towers; south along Gregory Experimental Road and Gregory Highway to Springsure via Clermont, Capella and Emerald; Dawson Highway to Biloela; south along Burnett Highway to Kingaroy; Bunya and Warrego Highways to Toowoomba; New England Highway to Newcastle via Warwick, Armidale, Tamworth and the Hunter Valley; Pacific Highway to Sydney; Hume Highway to Melbourne.

Features/attractions: coast towns and resorts of the NSW South Coast, Central Coast and far North Coast; the Gold Coast; Brisbane; the Sunshine Coast; the South Burnett region; Capricornia Coast; The Whitsunday Islands; other islands of the Great Barrier Reef; Cairns; Atherton Tablelands; Daintree rainforests

Minimum duration (one way): 7 days

What You Will See:

Melbourne to Bega: take Princes Highway out of Melbourne and travel east through Gippsland. This route passes the turn-offs to Phillip Island; the Victoria snowfields; Wilsons Promontory; Gippsland Lakes and passes through Traralgon, Morwell, Sale, Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale, crossing the NSW border inland near Genoa. On the way in to Eden is the turn-off to Ben Boyd National Park (picturesque Twofold Bay; Boydtown historic ruins).

Broulee Island

Bega to Sydney: this section passes through the sleepy towns of Pambula, Merimbula, Bega (cheese factory) and the turn-off to Tathra (historic wharf). From Bega or Tathra the coastal road is recommended. It takes in Mimosa Rocks, Wallaga Lake and Bermagui. The highway is re-joined near the quaint villages of Tilba Tilba and Central Tilba. Continue north to Tarooma and Moruya, where again the recommendation is to take the coastal road via Broulee to Bateman's Bay alongside one of the most picturesque sections of the NSW coastline. Before reaching Nowra, the road passes through Ulladulla and the turnoffs to St. Georges Basin and the Jervis Bay region, which have much to offer the visitor in the way of scenery and places to see. Pacific Highway continues north to Sydney via Wollongong and the Shoalhaven and Illawarra districts.

Hawkesbury River

Sydney to Brisbane: proceed north via Pacific highway to Newcastle via the Central Coast. Follow Pacific Highway north to the Qld border, passing through the coastal resort towns of Nelson Bay, Forster/Tuncurry, Port Macquarie, Nambucca Heads, Coffs Harbour, Yamba, Evans Head, Ballina, Byron Bay (the most easterly town in Australia), Tweed Heads and the inland towns of Kempsey, Taree, Grafton, Maclean and Murwillumbah (Mt. Warning). Across the Qld border are the string of coastal resort towns which make up the Gold Coast, and the forested mountains of the Gold Coast hinterland.

Hervey Bay

Brisbane to The Whitsundays: Proceed north via Bruce Highway, passing the Sunshine coast hinterland on the left and Sunshine Coast townships on the right. Beyond the historic towns of Gympie and Maryborough is Hervey, the step-off point for whale watching, Fraser Island and Tin Can Bay (wild dolphin feeding). At Bundaberg the highway travels inland through sugar cane growing country and the towns of Gin Gin, Childers and Miriam Vale. A detour to the coastal towns of Agnes Water and 1770 is highly recommended. After Gladstone and Rockhampton and the coastal resort town of Yeppoon, the highway moves inland again for the least interesting sector of this drive. Bruce Highway rejoins the coast at Mackay. At Proserpine, a sugar town on the way to Bowen, is the turn-off to The Whitsunday Islands.

Hamilton Island

The Whitsundays to Cooktown: Return to Prosperpine and take Bruce Highway north towards Bowen. After Bowen, the next major town is Ayr, some 83 km from Townsville (Magnetic Island). The drive north from Townsville to Cairns passes through Ingham, Cardwell (Hinchinbrook Island), Tully (waterfalls; turn-off to picturesque Mission Beach and Dunk Island), Innisfail, Babinda (Babinda Rocks) and Gordonvale on the southern outskirts of Cairns. Cairns is the tourist centre for the far north coastal region, and tours to the Gt Barrier Reef, Kuranda and the Atherton Tablelands depart from Cairns. Cook Highway north leads to Mossman (Mossman Gorge; Daintree rainforests), Port Douglas, Cape Tribulation and the Heritage listed Daintree Rainforests.

Mission Beach

Driving to Cooktown on the sealed Peninsula Developmental Road involves a slight double back from Mossman to the old mining town of Mt. Molloy, then north to Cooktown. The Coast Road through Cape Tribulation is 81 km shorter but is unsealed for 80km, and may be closed during the wet season. Cooktown is as far north as the bitumen goes. The tip of Cape York (686 km north of Lakeland Downs), can only be reached by 4-wheel drive vehicle, and only then in the dry season. The section of Peninsula Developmental Road that leads to the tip of Cape York branches off the Cooktown road at Lakeland Downs.

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