A road trip up the east coast of Australia is easily the best way to see some of the prettiest coastline in the world. Yeah, you can jump on a Jetstar and be in another state in an hour, but our highways were made for leisurely drives and romantic detours. To save you the work, I have planned the perfect road trip for you, allowing you to see all of the best things up the Pacific Ocean Coast along your way.
I couldn’t tell you anything about Sydney that hasn’t been written already. It is a magical city with the best beaches of any metropolis on earth. Bondi and Coogee are fine, but the locals will tell you that it’s the secret beaches where the real chillaxing action is at. There is a fantastic list here of The Ten Best Secluded Beaches in Sydney. Personally, I adore visiting the Ku-Ring-Gai National Park and all of the gorgeous waterside spots including Resolute Beach. You can learn more about what this incredible park has to offer here.
2.5 hours from Sydney
Newcastle and The Hunter Valley
After a couple of hours on the M1, you will find yourself at the spot Novocastrians refer to as Newie (get down with all that lingo, kids). Newie is a gorgeous town and as Australia’s second oldest city, it is full of history and fabulous architecture. Pop down to Nobby’s Beach for a swim, and definitely check out The Bogey Hole (also have a giggle at Newie’s silly names). Settlers carved this pool into the rocky cliffs in the 19th century. Just look at how gorgeous it is.
For some stunning, and highly praised brunch, head into the East End Hub on King Street. The place is bustling, lively, and the food is beautiful and surprisingly affordable for the quality and presentation. My favourite spot in Newie is the unique Brazilian BBQ port called MEET. The food is insane, the drinks on point and the atmosphere is phenomenal.
Before you move on from this part of NSW, you better make time for a glass of Cab Sav. With 150 wineries to choose from in the Hunter, you might as well make the most of it, leave the car at the hotel so you can sip instead of spit, and take a wine tour. The NSW tourism website has a lot of options for you here and Two Fat Blokes are one of the most well-reviewed tour companies on the list. Book a van, and get to know some grapes.
1 hour out of Newcastle
Probably the best spot in NSW for scuba and snorkelling, Port Stephens has been dubbed “Australia’s blue water paradise”. With water comparable to the most desirable SE Asian beaches, it is a miracle that Australians go overseas at all. The coast is also known as the shipwreck capital of Australia, which makes for amazing photography and wreck dives. Fingal Bay, Nelson Bay and Shoal Bay are the main locations. Check out this list of tour companies who will give you everything from dolphins and parasailing to helicopter rides. They even have horse and camel rides. For the most luxurious and beautiful lunch right on the water, book a table at Little Beach Boathouse before moving on to your next stop.
2 hours from Port Stephens
Forster, The Great Lakes
One could arguably spend weeks exploring the broader Great Lakes area, but on this imaginary road trip, we will just stop in for a spot of fishing. Drive all the way up to Forster and find a small boat tour company like Forster Fishing Charters or Forster Estuary Charters to take you on a relaxing, lake tour and fishing trip. Catch yourself a few flathead then head down to Main Beach and use the barbeque facilities and cook them up with a side of chips and some salads from Beach Street Seafoods. Perfection.
1 hour and 15 minutes from Forster
As with all of the Pacific Coast, Port Macquarie is all about white sandy beaches, and the café lifestyle. However, let’s make this stop about Koalas. Because koalas are awesome.
Starting out at the Billabong Zoo, meet Blinky Bill and all the rest of the animals; from big cats, giant snakes, crocs, wombats, and adorable fennec foxes. After the zoo, you will need some lunch, drive up the Sea Acres Rainforest Center to have lunch up in the trees at the Rainforest Café. While at the visitors centre, learn a bit about the Hello Koalas and pick up a town map so you can track them all down. Head back into town after lunch and begin your koala hunt. Gotta catch em all!
Before you leave Port Macquarie, you need to visit the Koala Hospital where you can adopt a furry little guy and sponsor his health care needs, food supply, and release back into the wild so that he can live a long, cuddly life. At 3 pm each day, you can join a guided tour and see the koalas have dinner.
1 hour and 10 minutes from Port Macquarie
South West Rocks
This is a short one, just one thing you really need to stop here for. Stay overnight in the Smoky Cape Lighthouse B&B. Wake up to the most amazing views in a real, working lighthouse built in 1891. Cool.
1 and a half hours from South West Rocks
The unofficial halfway point between Sydney and Brisbane, Coffs is bananas!
Get started with a slice of banana bread and a cup of the best coffee on the coast at Artisti Coffee Roasters. Fueled up, drive up the Big Banana itself and spend some time at the fun park. They have toboggans, mini golf, laser tag, ice skating and even a water park (or just take hilarious photos of yourself with the banana)
Do not miss a visit to Dolphin Marine Magic. The Pet Porpoise Pool opened back in 1970 and as kids in the 80s growing up on the central coast, we went there dozens of times to swim with the dolphins and get kisses from giant walruses. The name has changed but they are still doing amazing things for in the areas education, conservation, rehabilitation and rescue work.
3 hours from Coffs Harbour
Though Byron has grown up a lot, it still holds onto its hippie roots. Plenty of vegetarian restaurants provide an ethical lunch choice, drum circles on the beach at night entertain, and cheap hostels abound for budget travellers. There is no shortage of dream catchers and tie-dye for sale at shops manned by old white guys with dreadlocks. The lighthouse is Australia’s most easterly point on the mainland though, so that’s cool.
Eighth and Final Stop
1 hour 20 minutes from Byron Bay
The Gold Coast
You made it!
This is where New South Wales suddenly becomes Queensland and the natural beauty is never ending. There is so much to do here; you might want to stay a few days. Everything from water activities, nature walks, adventure sports, food & wine tours, even hot air ballooning, anything you can think of is doable. Have a look at the Gold Coast tourism website for some ideas.
It’s called Surfer’s Paradise for a reason. Young, tanned, athletic types swarm to this part of Australia to surf and play. The party scene is huge, especially during Schoolies Week (don’t visit at that time unless you love the company of inebriated teens).
When in Rome, you might as well have a few cocktails. See the list of nightlife venues around Surfers here.
Goldie is about the parks, these include; the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, The David Fleay Wildlife Park, Australia’s Sea World, Warner Bros Movie World, Wet’n’Wild, and Dreamworld. Get your adrenalin on and tackle them all. There are multi-park passes available online.
Don’t stop there though, keep going up to Brisbane, then the Sunshine Coast, and why not just drive all the way up to Cairns while you’re at it. Have run road tripping!
13 hours 45 minutes
Other towns to stop at if you have the time:
Gosford, Nambucca Heads, Urunga, Wooli, Yamba, Evans Head, Ballina, Tweed Heads.