Sydney - Central Coast - Hunter Valley - Port Stephens - Coffs Harbour - Byron Bay - Gold Coast - Brisbane - Fraser Island - Bundaberg - Rockhampton - Mackay - Townsville - Cairns
Australia is a big country with a fondness for Big Things – super-sized sculptures commemorating everything from prawns and pineapples to native animals and Ned Kelly. You'll find them all along the spectacular Pacific Coast Touring Route, which stretches all the way from Sydney to Cairns. Weave through the Hunter Valley, Byron Bay, the glittering Gold Coast and see the World Heritage-listed wonders of Fraser Island and Great Barrier Reef. Stop to snap the Big Banana, a giant gumboot, a herculean pelican and many more larger-than-life monuments along the way. Whether you consider them highway art or just humorous, the Big Things are worth spotting on this stunning Australian road trip.
At a glance:
- Sydney - Central Coast (1.5 hours)
- Central Coast - Hunter Valley (1 hour)
- Hunter Valley - Port Stephens (1.5 hours)
- Port Stephens - Coffs Harbour (4 hours)
- Coffs Harbour - Byron Bay (3 hours)
- Byron Bay - Gold Coast (1 hour)
- Gold Coast - Brisbane (1 hour)
- Brisbane - Fraser Island (3.5 hours, 1 hour ferry)
- Fraser Island – Bundaberg (1 hour ferry, 1.5 hours)
- Bundaberg - Rockhampton (3 hours)
- Rockhampton - Mackay (3.5 hours)
- Mackay - Townsville (4.5 hours)
- Townsville – Cairns (4 hours)
Sydney to Central Coast
Leave Sydney’s leafy northern suburbs behind for the relaxed, beach-blessed Central Coast. The ratio of people to sand here is all in your favour. Check out Woy Woy and family-friendly Ettalong Beach, both gateways to Bouddi and Brisbane Water national parks. Follow the bushwalking trails and see ancient Aboriginal rock art. Further north you’ll find the sleepy surfing haven of Avoca Beach and Terrigal, where you can try beach fishing or check out the growing dining scene. Slip into sandy, barefoot mode at Bateau Bay or secluded Toowoon Bay, fringed by a wildlife-rich hinterland. Both bays are close to the bustling holiday town of The Entrance. Water-ski on Tuggerah Lake, behind the town, or surf, swim and fish from the ocean beaches out front. When you’ve finished exploring, stay overnight in any one of the Central Coast towns. Local accommodation ranges from luxury hotels and houses to B&Bs, camping grounds and caravan parks.
Central Coast to Hunter Valley
Drive through Newcastle, stopping to see the Big Mosquito (mozzie if you’re speaking Aussie) on Old Maitland Road. Surf at Nobby's Beach, swim at Bar Beach, hang-glide at Dixon Park or scuba dive the many wrecks near Newcastle Harbour. Grab a bite or get a caffeine fix along Queens Wharf before heading into the Hunter Valley. There are some 120 wineries here and you’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the giant wine bottle in Pokolbin. The neck forms a chimney for the open fire contained within. Buy straight from cellar doors in the rolling hills of Lovedale or taste handcrafted-wines in the tranquil village of Broke. If you’re after adventure, try a tandem skydive, go bushwalking in Yengo National Park or float over the vineyards in a hot air balloon. Spend the night in a boutique guesthouse in Lovedale, Cessnock or the historic town of Wollombi.
Hunter Valley to Port Stephens
Detour inland to see the world’s biggest sundial in Singleton and the Big Blue Heeler in Muswellbrook. Or head directly north for Port Stephens, a holiday haven with 26 beaches and a mountainous, rainforest-fringed peninsula. Drive to the Nelson Head Lighthouse or walk to the top of Tomaree Headland in Tomaree National Park. Both spots offer panoramic views over the bay. Join a dolphin-spotting cruise from Nelson Bay or snorkel with bright, spritely fish at Fly Point. Quad bike or 4WD over the vast sand dunes of Stockton Beach or take the ferry to Tea Gardens. Nearby you’ll find lovely ocean beaches and the top fishing spot of Myall River. Tuck yourself away for the night in quiet Anna or Fingal Bay or enjoy resort-style relaxation a few minutes from Nelson Bay Marina.
Port Stephens to Coffs Harbour
From Port Stephens, it’s a lengthy but worthy detour inland to Barrington Tops National Park – a World Heritage-listed wilderness of subtropical rainforest and extinct volcanic peaks. Canoe pristine rivers, horse ride mountain trails, bird watch and bushwalk. You can even extend your stay with a night or few in a spa lodge or secluded cabin. Alternatively, stick to the highway and some gorgeous coastal detours. Fish or scuba dive from Seal Rocks, enjoy Forster’s beaches and visit dramatic Ellenborough Falls near Taree. See the fierce-looking Big Axe in Kew and ride a camel along Port Macquarie’s Lighthouse Beach. Dive, snorkel or deep sea fish from South West Rocks and chill out on the white, uncrowded beaches of Nambucca Heads. Drive on to Coffs Harbour and you’ll not miss The Big Banana – which has been stopping traffic since 1964. This lovely coastal city is also home to a Big Slurpee (iced drink).
Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay
Have breakfast on the beach, before exploring the plethora of adventure activities found on the Coffs Coast. Kayak through Bongil Bongil National Park or go white water rafting territory in Nymboida National Park. Fish or scuba dive in the Solitary Islands Marine Park. Alternatively, turn south west for the leafy hippy village of Bellingen and walk through waterfalls and Gondwana rainforest in Dorrigo National Park. Further north, stop for a coffee in the charming provincial city of Grafton, cruise next to dolphins on the Clarence River and ride a heritage steam train across the mountains in Glenreagh. Re-join the Pacific Highway and head through bustling Ballina, where the Big Prawn promotes the town’s reputation for fresh seafood. Ride the rolling waves at Lennox Head or cruise the Richmond River before heading into Byron Bay for the evening.
Byron Bay to Gold Coast
Don’t miss a stroll along Cape Byron to the Byron Bay lighthouse on Australia’s most easterly point. Sunrise is particularly magical if you can get up early enough. Look out for humpback whales gliding past between May and November. This bohemian beach paradise is also the place to swim with dolphins, learn to surf, try yoga on the beach or hang glide over the lighthouse. Load up on produce from the organic markets, check out the eco-conscious dining scene or find inner peace at a rainforest retreat. It’s a scenic 90-minute drive from here to the Gold Coast, where the big things aren’t just confined to beaches, buildings and theme parks. See the Big Golf Ball in Broadbeach, the big Hard Rock Café guitar in Surfers Paradise and the Big Pie in Yatala. Stay overnight in a high rise by the sand of Surfers Paradise or a hinterland retreat.
Gold Coast to Brisbane
Spend the day enjoying the beaches, shopping and irrepressible energy of the Gold Coast. Ride the world-class waves of Broadbeach, Kirra and Main Beach. Or lie on the golden sand of Surfers Paradise, where afterwards you can trawl the shops, cafes and restaurants of lively Cavill Avenue. Snorkel or dive the wreck of the Scottish Prince off Main Beach or explore the artificial reef just off Narrow Neck. Inland lie three World Heritage-listed national parks: Tamborine Mountain, Springbrook and Lamington. For theme park thrills, swim with dolphins at Sea World, watch movies being made at Movie World and survive the mother of all tidal waves at Dreamworld. Once you’ve dosed up on fun, do the hour drive to sub-tropical Brisbane. See the Big Paperclip in Brisbane’s West End or drive west to the Lockyer Valley to get your picture taken with the Big Red Elephant.
Brisbane to Fraser Island
Hit the highway and head north to the Sunshine Coast, a hot-spot of Big Things. See Beerwah’s Big Mower and the 16m high Big Pineapple at the Woombye pineapple plantation. Drop by Nambour for the Big Macadamia nut or bow to the Big Cow in Yandina. Head through Noosaville, where the Big Pelican sits contentedly next to the Noosa River. Contrast Mooloolaba’s Big Sausage with the Big Stubby in Noosa, a resort town better known for its stylish boutiques, bistros and beachfront apartments. See a larger-then-life Ned Kelly in Maryborough, Queensland's oldest provincial city before arriving in the whale-watching town of Hervey Bay. North of Rainbow Beach, boats leave for World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. Hire a 4WD or join a tour to see the inland lakes, lush rainforest and colourful sand formations. Extend your stay with a few nights in a resort, cabin or tent on the beach.
Fraser Island to Bundaberg
Cross back to the mainland and continue your journey to Bundaberg, historic sugar cane city and gateway to the southern Great Barrier Reef. A Big Rum Bottle stands proudly outside the town’s famous rum distillery, while the nearby Big Barrel doubles as an interpretative visitor centre. Wander past the gracious colonial buildings or take a cruise down the Burnett River. Just 15 minutes away is Mon Repos Beach, home to the largest population of loggerhead sea turtles in the South Pacific. You can see them nest and hatch between November and February. Offshore, Lady Musgrave and Lady Elliot islands are great for snorkel and diving. The coral reefs and cays shelter colourful fish, turtles, giant clams, sea stars, corals, anemones, eels, sponges, dolphins and a large population of manta rays. Swim or fish at Elliot Heads, dive from Coral Cove and Innes Park or spot kangaroos in Woodgate Beach.
Bundaberg to Rockhampton
Drive through Miriam Vale, where a Big Queensland Mud Crab is perched on top of a petrol station. Head into the scenic beachside Town of 1770, named after the year it was discovered by Captain Cook. On a detour inland, you can bushwalk the lush rainforest of Cania Gorge National Park and marvel at the ancient Mystery Craters in Eurimbula National Park. Next stop is the green city of Gladstone, surrounded by rainforest gorges, lakes and beaches stretching to the Great Barrier Reef. Arrive in Rockhampton, where the Big Bull represents Rockhampton’s reputation as Australia’s beef capital. Less renowned is the city’s Big Dugong. After checking out the Big Things, snorkel at Shelving Beach, Monkey Point or Clam Bay or wander the Botanic Gardens. Take a coral cruise to Great Keppel Island or stay for a few nights to really enjoy the luscious tropical scenery.
Rockhampton to Mackay
Head to the Capricorn Caves, spectacular above-ground caves in a limestone ridge. Drive north past Kinka Beach and the Big Whale. Take a rest break in the charming tropical village of Yeppoon, gateway to the Capricorn Coast and Byfield National Park. Here you can birdwatch, bushwalk through rainforest and fish from the beach. Stop in the small town of Sarina to see the Big Cane Toad before heading into relaxed Mackay. Lunch at the scenic marina and stroll past the city’s heritage buildings. Chill out on the empty city beaches or along the coastline of Cape Hillsborough National Park. You’ll meet possums, kangaroos, bush turkeys and echidnas, but not many humans. You could do a day trip to Carlisle Island in the southern Whitsundays if you have the time. Or don a mask and flippers and explore the Llewellyn shipwreck near deserted Scawfell Island.
Mackay to Townsville
Detour west to the subtropical oasis of Eungella National Park. Back on the coast you’ll pass through Proserpine and Airlie Beach, both mainland gateways to the Whitsundays. Cruise the pristine waters on a tall ship or explore some of the 74 palm-fringed islands on a charted sailboat. Don’t miss Whitsunday Island and the white, silica sands of Whitehaven Beach. Join a jet ski eco-safari or take a scenic seaplane or helicopter flight over the islands and reef. Sea kayak next to dolphins, dugongs and rare green turtles. Head up the coast to Bowen, where the Big Mango signals the start of tropical fruit country. The scenery is all lush mango orchards and green sugar cane fields on the drive into Townsville. Check out the Big Brolga – a native Australian bird – on Townsville’s southern edge. Wander the scenic beach promenade, soak up the balmy nightlife and take a catamaran to the beaches and national parks of Magnetic Island.
Townsville to Cairns
Known as the Great Green Way, this 350 kilometre journey takes you through 12 national parks and over 20 tropical islands. Take a side trip and drive through the living museum of Charters Towers, detour to Paluma National Park or explore Tyto Wetlands near Ingham. Stop to see the Big Crab in Cardwell and visit Wallaman Falls, Australia's highest single drop waterfall. Check out the Chinese temple and art deco buildings in Innisfail and go white water rafting in Tully Gorge National Park. Tully’s huge golden gumboot is an attempt to immortalise their status as Australia’s wettest town. Explore Hinchinbrook Island, Australia’s largest island national park, and see the Big Cassowary towering over tourists on Mission Beach. Drive into Cairns, where the Big Marlin welcomes you to the Marlin Coast. A must-do day trip is the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest. Along with an incredible range of plants and animals, this ancient rainforest shelters the Big Barramundi and the Big Crocodile Head.