Australia is widely – and rightly – regarded as one of the finest road trip destinations in the world. Its sheer size, diversity of landscapes, and seemingly endless coastline offers a catalogue of incredible drives.
The Grand Pacific Drive, found just south of Sydney in New South Wales, is undoubtedly one of the best, yet is often overlooked in favour of the more famous Great Ocean Road. Its 140-kilometre length makes the Grand Pacific Drive delightfully manageable, and along the way you’ll be treated to jaw-dropping ocean views, rainforests, charming coastal towns and cities, and much more besides. Even better, when you finish the route it’s easy to loop back to Sydney via more unforgettable locations, or keep the adventure going by heading further south.
There’s so much to see along the way that we recommend hiring a motorhome, so you can enjoy the road trip entirely at your own pace. Here are the Grand Pacific Drive stops you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
Royal National Park
The Grand Pacific Drive kicks off just an hour south of central Sydney in the beautiful Royal National Park. This is your first glimpse of the glittering coastline, and there are numerous opportunities to spot whales and dolphins, as well as adventurous walks through the bush. Camping facilities here make it easy to stay overnight so you can kick off your drive bright and early.
Royal National Park, NSW
An hour of uncompromisingly gorgeous ocean views still won’t prepare you for the beauty of Wollongong. This charming seaside city sits squarely between an apparently endless chain of beaches and the striking, rainforest-capped Illawarra escarpment. It’s a great spot for relaxing on a golden-sand beach, or to climb the escarpment to snap Instagram-worthy views. Allow yourself at least a few hours to admire the landscape, explore the city sights, and refuel at any of a wide range of cafes, bars, and restaurants.
Wollongong Lighthouse and Harbour, NSW
Your next major stop takes you across the Lake Illawarra estuary and into the city of Shellharbour. Stop here a while to explore the littoral rainforest of Bass Point reserve, dive deep into a World War II shipwreck, or try your hand at carving the waves on some of the best surf beaches in the world, including The Farm and Mystics in the Killalea State Recreation Area. If you lose track of time, a nearby campground makes it easy to stay the night.
Shellharbour, Killalea State Park, NSW
Just as you might be thinking the Grand Pacific Drive can’t get any more magnificent, you reach Kiama. The village itself is as picturesque as they come, but it’s the surrounding coastal beauty that will win your heart: the ocean spouting twenty metres into the air from the famous blowhole under the watchful eye of the lighthouse, the gentle walking tracks around Bombo, and the cascading waterfalls and tranquil streams of Minnamurra Rainforest are all unmissable. You’ll have a tough time getting back in your car after this.
Minnamurra Rainforest, NSW
Shoalhaven is actually numerous Grand Pacific Drive stops rolled into one ravishing region, giving you plenty of choices for what you see next. Need to relax? Stick to the coast and the white-sand beaches of Shoalhaven Heads and Mollymook Beach, or meet friendly kangaroos at Pebbly Beach. Still in the mood to explore? Head inland to explore the lush hinterland, try rafting in Kangaroo Valley or wandering through numerous pristine national parks. Shoalhaven can be whatever you want it to be. Allow yourself plenty of time to enjoy its wonders.
Kangaroo at Pebbly Beach, NSW. Credit – Destination NSW
We’re cheating a little here, as Jervis Bay is part of the Shoalhaven region, but this huge oceanic bay to the south of the area is well-deserving of its own mention. Its beaches are among the whitest in the world, and you simply have to find some time to enjoy the water, whether you take a quick dip or hire out kayaks or paddle boards. If you’ve had a long trip, this is the perfect place to unwind.
Jervis Bay, NSW
Technically, you’ve reached the end of the Grand Pacific Drive. But there’s still so much more to see! Even if you’re tired of impossibly perfect beaches and coastal views (trust us, you won’t be), Eurobodalla offers the dazzling green backdrop of the Clyde River, diving and snorkelling in Bateman’s Marine Park, the quaint National Trust village of Tilba, and the chance to swap four wheels for a boat to visit Montague Island and its colonies of penguins, seals, sea lions, and more.
Seals underwater off Montague Island, NSW
The Sapphire Coast
Honestly, it just keeps getting better. The Sapphire Coast is a natural wonderland, much of it classified by UNESCO as a World Biosphere Reserve. That means you’ll find some of the most gloriously untamed nature in the state, from immaculate beaches – 83 of them in total! – to unspoilt rainforest. Coastal villages offer the chance to explore the area’s whaling history and sample some of the best seafood you’re ever likely to eat.
Sunrise at Tuross Head beach, the Sapphire Coast, NSW
This last stop should be considered a bit of an alternate, as you’ll only see it as part of the Grand Pacific Drive if you loop back to Sydney at the end or take an inland detour from Wollongong.
Southern Highlands, NSW
It’s worth the time, the Southern Highlands offering something truly different to any other stop on the drive so far. Away from the coast, the landscape is all rolling hills and lush wildlife, dotted with charming towns that offer ideal spots to rest, as well as beautiful gardens, galleries, and museums. Stop in Berrima to visit Australia’s oldest continuously licensed pub, the Surveyor General Inn. After such an epic road trip, you deserve to kick back with a drink.
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Image credit: Destination NSW