One of Australia's great scenic drives, the Grand Pacific Drive is a major scenic road in the Illawarra region of New South Wales. Starting at the Royal National Park, it continues down to Bomaderry and is one of the longest tourist drives in New South Wales at 134 km (83 mi) long.
|Note: Note that the line marking the route on the map is incomplete|
Most other states of Australia do not have their coastal roads as well situated as this one, with the views, the access, the length, and the variety of environments. Driving from Sydney along this route, even only in sections if restricted by time or budget, is an experience that has an impact on most travellers.
If you're the person who dislikes the cold, you might need to carry special clothing for this itinerary — the climate in this area is a lot cooler than it is in Sydney. It can get mildly windy in some coastal parts especially near the southerly part of this route. The route does go through the Royal National Park, so you must pay a park fee of $8 between Sutherland and Otford. However, south of Otford, the road is free to use.
Like many other medium-distance tourist drives, ask whether you want to stop and each and every point of interest along the way, or just the important ones. Stopping at each and every point of interest will certainly take you over half a day, assuming you rush everything, while just visiting the important ones may only take the half the day. You could of course, just whizz through the entire drive, but you would miss out on most things the drive has to offer.
You can do the road in a long day, starting quite early from Sutherland (7AM) and finishing the drive back quite late. If you do so, make sure you are road tripping with someone, or a group of you who can share the driving. There are also options in staying in either Kiama or Wollongong, breaking the trip in multiple days.
If you drive without stopping, then it will take just over 2½ hours. However, during holiday season, this can all change. However, if you were to stop at Wattamola, Bald Hill, Sea Cliff Bridge and some of the Wollongong beaches. It alone can take more than 4 hours. If you continue along heading east of Lake Illawarra, and stop at Kiama, Gerringong and Geroa and the Shoalhaven River, it may take 3 hours alone and the whole day to do explore everything.
There are several modes of travel that are used on the Grand Pacific Drive.
By bus or train
Most of this route is not covered by buses or trains. Buses do operate through Wollongong, but apart from that, it isn't really possible, especially in the Royal National Park.
Some spur sections of the Royal National Park are unpaved. In some parts, it can also be a motorway standard road, especially from Shellharbour to Gerringong.
This route is one of the most bike-friendly routes in New South Wales. In some parts, bikes have a shared path along with pedestrians especially in Wollongong and Kiama. The only places where cyclists have to dismount are in some steep parts of Lawrence Hargrave Drive.
While not its part of the itinerary, most people will start from Sydney and head south for around 45 minutes.
- 1 Royal National Park. Begin your journey from Australia's oldest national park.
- 2 Wollongong. Explore some of the divine beaches here.
- 3 Shellharbour. Experience one of the Southern parts of Wollongong and do some surfing.
- 4 Kiama. Stay back to see both the blowholes in action.
- 5 Jervis Bay. See one of the whitest beaches in the world.
Royal National Park to Wollongong (Thirroul)
- Distance: 52 km (32 mi)
- Time taken: 54 mins no stops, no traffic.
- Routes taken: Farnell Ave, Sir Bertram Stevens Drive, Lady Wakehurst Drive, Lawrence Hargrave Drive
- Speed limit: 40–100 km (25–62 mi)
This is the only section of the road where it's not free to use. As at June 2019, the fees are $8. The road here is mostly a winding route, with sharp bends and steep cliffs, but still a very scenic one to go on. You don't need to be too experienced to drive here, but you need to be a proper driver. The route passes through the famous Wattamola, Wedding Cake Rock, and finally out through Bald Hill Lookout. Once out, then you pass through the internationally known Sea Cliff Bridge, but before that, you pass the small village of Stanwell Park, a famous popular tourist spot for the beaches.
Once past Sea Cliff Bridge, you nearly there to Thirroul, the northern most bit of metropolitan Wollongong.
Wollongong (Thirroul) to Shellharbour
- Distance: 34.1 km (21.2 mi)
- Time taken:
- Routes taken: Lawrence Hargrave Drive, B65
- Speed limit: 50–90 km/h (31–56 mph)
While some might classify this route as "boring", others might like an urban coastal drive. However, this can be classified as the least enjoyable bit of the drive, as the drive here mostly just passes through Wollongong, and Shellharbour.
Shellharbour to Kiama
The northern bit in Shellharbour is mainly just a port of little interest but the M1 Princes Highway can be very scenic and coastal. There's not a whole lot to stop for – Minnamurra is around halfway between the two cities but it mostly resembles like any other coastal settlement with beaches, good for whale watching.
Kiama to Gerringong
While at Kiama, watch the two blowholes in action. Both are incredibly unique in its own way. After Kiama, the road heads back onto the A1 Princes Highway until Gerringong, but the road is more windy, scenic and gets very close to the water. Do be careful though, especially if travelling on the left lane, as there are private properties they may not be easily noticeable.
After the bends, take the exit towards Werri Beach, where the route then continues south.
Gerringong to Bomaderry
This is just a scenic coastal road that passes many beaches and lookouts. There are plenty of beaches, and are sparsely visited so there's a good chance you could have the beach for yourself. However, these are also not patrolled, though you will find a patrolled beach with lifeguards in some of the small towns along the way.
Bomaderry to Jervis Bay
While this is not officially part of the drive, most people continue their journey to Jervis Bay, home to one of the world's whitest beaches: Hyams Beach. People also come down to Jervis Bay to do some surfing, and some go to Beecroft Weapons Range to see some near vertical cliffs.
The crime rate is high in Wollongong and continually increasing. Avoid parking your car on the streets at night. Try to book a hotel/motel that has a closed carpark. There are some side trips on the Royal National Park. Some tracks aren't paved. Carry a satellite phone with you if you're using those side tracks.
- Stanwell Park
- Dharawal National Park (Tharawal National Park)