Sydney to Brisbane Road Trip Highlights

The iconic east coast road trip from Sydney to Brisbane, known as the Legendary Pacific Coast, is one of Australia’s top road trips.

Stretching 900kms along the Pacific Coast corridor it has something for everyone: stunning beaches, green rolling hills, beachside towns, riverside towns, wineries, historic sites, the hinterland, wildlife watching, and every water sport imaginable.

It’s a drive we’ve done many times and each time we discover new wonders, new places to stay, and new dining options. Best explored at your own pace in your own vehicle, we recommend taking at least a week, preferably two.

We once spent six weeks camping along the Pacific Coast from our home town Woy Woy to Byron Bay. But recently we packed up the Nissan X-trail and did it for the first time as a family of four and had an amazing time.

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Our Nissan X-Trail

Below are our recommended highlights and places worth spending some time in.

The Central Coast

Just an hour north of Sydney is our home town region of the the Central Coast. Most traveller’s tend to remain on the main freeway and by-pass this beautiful region. But we had to add it in.

Popular destinations include Terrigal which is a trendy and upmarket beach area with tons of cafes, restaurants, fishing, diving, whale watching, and one of the best beer gardens in Australia at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

For the nature buffs, don’t miss a walk in Bouddi National Park which has dramatic coastal views as well as secluded beaches and camping opportunities.

Other places to check out:

  • Avoca
  • MacMasters Beach
  • Copacabana Beach
  • The Entrance
  • Toowoon Bay
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Bouddi National Park
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Terrigal Haven

Newcastle

We have been exploring more of this region recently. The beach side city of Newcastle was voted as one of Lonely Planet’s must see destinations for 2011. With great beaches, inner city pubs with live music, and a thriving restaurant scene, such as Derby street, Newcastle is a happening place.

At nearby Stockton Beach there are the massive Stockton sand dunes offering 4WD tours, sand boarding, and quad biking.

And just north of Newcastle is Port Stephens, a destination with fantastic fishing, beautiful beaches, opportunities for snorkelling and diving and for whale and dolphin watching. Nelsons Bay is the main town in this area.

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Merewether Beach
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Darby street cafes

The Hunter Valley

The wine and food trail known as the Hunter Valley is one of our favourite regions in Australia. With over 140 wineries this is the place you want to go to sample some of Australia’s best wines.

There is also an abundance of great restaurants and cafes for the foodies. And why not incorporate a hot air balloon ride over the valley while you are there? We sure did, followed by a delicious lunch at the popular Harrigans restaurant.

sydney to brisbane

sydney to brisbane

sydney to brisbane

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Seal Rocks

Seal Rocks is a quiet fishing village offering clear bays for swimming, snorkelling, boating and fishing. It’s also a great place to go camping, or simply take a nature walk and enjoy the fresh air.

Or, why not treat yourself to a few nights in a Lighthouse Keepers Cottage with amazing ocean views?

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Seal Rocks Beach

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Seal Rocks Lighthouse
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Lighthouse Beach

The Manning Valley

The riverside towns of Tinonee and Wingham make a nice detour off the coastal road and are within striking distance of the legendary Ellenborough Falls. 

Spend a night or drop in for some arts and crafts at Artisans on the Hill B&B followed by a visit to Australia’s award winning cafe Bent on Food. 

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view from Artisans on the Hill
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Bent on Food deliciousness

Port Macquarie

Port Macquarie is a vibrant and un-spoilt town sitting at the estuary of the Hastings River.

The stunning coastline of the rocky headlands makes it a great place to spend a few quiet days. Or, if you are the active type, the spectacular 9km coastal walk from Town Beach to Tacking Point Lighthouse takes in beaches, headlands, historic sites and rare subtropical rainforest.

With calm waterways, board walks, bountiful fishing, gorgeous National Parks and surfing beaches so many visitors return to Port Macquarie. And don’t miss the spectacular sunsets with a beer in hand from the Royal Hotel right in town on the river.

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coastal walk
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sunset on the river
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the breakwall

South West Rocks

Just a 20 minute detour off the Legendary Pacific Coast Drive is South West Rocks. Surrounded by National Parks and beaches, this small town of 4,000 does not have room to grow which gives it a small town charm and ambience.

There’s only a small offering of cafes and restaurants, but a whole lot of beauty and relaxation. Wild kangaroos are in abundance by the beach in Little Bay, drive out to Smokey Cape Lighthouse, and visit the historic Trial Bay Gaol. We stayed in a cabin at the Big 4 Trial Bay Caravan Park in the Hat Head National Park and would highly recommend it.

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sydney to brisbane

sydney to brisbane
our friendly kookaburra at the Big4 caravan park

Coffs Harbour

Half way along the  Sydney to Brisbane route is Coffs Harbour, and the drive into Coffs is just gorgeous with its rolling emerald green hills. The Coffs Coast area is big enough in itself to spend a whole week and has something for everyone.

Must dos include:

  • The Jetty and Marina area with a walk to the top of Mutton Bird island to watch the sunset over the marina.
  • A meal and a beer at the sailing club
  • Diggers and Park Beach
  • Take a drive to the riverside town of Bellingen and appreciate the artistic lifestyle and cafes.
  • A nature walk in World Heritage listed Dorrigo National Park
  • The BIG Banana (for the banana split sundae)
  • Grab a coffee in the charming beachside town of Sawtell
  • The Butterfly House (for the kids)
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sunset over the marina
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Dorrigo National Park
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At the marina
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The big banana

Yamba

Yamba lies at the mouth of the Clarence River and has recently won a lot of awards including Best Town in Australia. It has a a laid-back, quasi-bohemian charm and a lovely blend of the old and the new.

There’s the chilled cafes and restaurants that line the main street in town, the charming old Movie Cinema, and the iconic Pacific Hotel that sits on a bluff overlooking the town’s main beach.

Adding to that is world class surfing beaches, a river to fish in, abundant wildlife, world-famous prawns, and a perfect climate. There’s also a fantastic coastal walk you can go on through the National Park to the small secluded Shelley’s beach.

We also recommend heading to the Yamba Tavern for fish feeding and sunset watching, Wato’s Fish and Burger Bar on the corner of the main road, taking a short drive to Angourie, and staying at the Yamba YHA which is a great spot for families.

Hot Tip: Shane’s $10 buck tour from the YHA is legendary!

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Main beach of Yamba
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Angourie

The Macadamia Castle

For a pit stop heading towards Byron Bay, we highly recommend the Macadamia Castle which we believe has the world’s best pancakes. And, for a small fee, you can go out the back and meet kangaroos, wombats and farm animals for your children to get close to and feed.

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Blueberry pancakes

Lennox Head

The scenically beautiful coastal drive between Ballina and Byron Bay brings you to the surfing town of Lennox Head. Lennox Point is noted as being one of the top ten surfing breaks in Australia and for that reason is a mecca for surfers.

It is a pretty laid back and funky place to hang out in with boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.

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Lennox beach    photo credit: – Michael Dawes

Byron Bay

One of the more popular Australian destinations, Byron Bay is famous for its alternative laid back lifestyle, world class people watching, learning to surf schools, and stunning sheltered beaches such as Wategoes Beach. 

The Cape Byron lighthouse is the furthest Easterly point of Australia and can be reached by a beautiful coastal cliff walk. The very popular Byron Bay Bluesfest takes place every Easter, and whilst in Byron make sure you drive to nearby hippy enclave Nimbin, nestled at the foothills of an extinct volcano.

We also recommend a meal at Asia Joe’s and a cold beer and ocean views at the iconic Beach Hotel.

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Byron Bay beach
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Byron Bay lighthouse
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Cape Byron
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Laksa at Asia Joe’s

Kingscliff

This gem of a beachside town, Kingscliff is only a 15 minute drive to the Queensland border. There is only one main street in the town and it is alive with busy cafes, and restaurants. There is also a creek that when the tide is down which sparkles crystal clear for swimming, fishing and water sports.

Grab a memorable coffee from one of the cafes, have lunch at the surf club, check out the groovy bar “Babalou” on the main road, and stroll along the beach front.

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Kingscliff Beach
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Babalou

The Gold Coast

As you cross the border from New South Wales into Queensland you hit the famous holiday capital of Australia, the Gold Coast. This region sits on a 70km stretch of fine, sandy beach on the Pacific Ocean and has everything you could want.

There is just something about the Gold Coast, including:

  • endless amazing beaches
  • hundreds of restaurants and cafes
  • a happening nightlife scene
  • an active outdoor lifestyle
  • theme parks
  • the rainforest
  • every water sport imagineable
  • scenic drives and walks
  • learning to surf schools
  • shopping
  • spas and retreats
  • hinterland areas
  • 300 days of sunshine

Our recommended spots include Coolangatta, Kirra Beach, Currumbin, Burleigh Heads, and Broadbeach. There is also the high rise capital of the region, Surfers Paradise, which is undergoing somewhat of a transformation for the better.

And whatever your taste or budget, you’ll find every accommodation type to suit your needs.

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Coolangatta Beach
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Surfers Paradise
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at Dreamworld

More Details:

Get all the tips and info you need by checking out the Legendary Pacific Coast website, become a fan on their facebook, and follow them on twitter. 

Get the App: There is a Legendary Pacific Coast App for your iPhone that you can use to see a number of places in your current area along the drive, and where you can eat, sleep and explore.

Craig
Craig Makepeace is the founder of yTravel Blog and has been traveling the world since 2002, first with his wife Caz, and now with his two daughters. Get his free email series on the 4 best ways to reduce travel costs. Follow him on Google+

25 Comments on “Sydney to Brisbane Road Trip Highlights”

  1. Wow, that looks like an awesome coastal drive with so many beautiful places. My brother @BackpackBrits recently did a road trip from Sydney to Cairns with his friends in a Jucy camper. I would love to come back to Australia, when we went to Byron it was freakishly wet weather in summer (Must have followed us from the UK). Lovely photos by the way!
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  2. Great road trip itinerary with so many possibilities. The valley looks beautiful – what a great place for a balloon ride.
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  3. Did you get out for a drive on Stockton? I’ve been there a few times in the past, keen to take our X-Trail there soon (’09 Ti in Silver)
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  4. We have also enjoyed the drive between Sydney and Brisbane many times. We have stayed at many of the places you have mentioned, and each town definitely has a different vibe! And many great beaches…
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  5. Walks on the beach and up in the rainforest, cafes and tasties, flora, fauna and a few iconic locations like Byron Bay Lighthouse mixed in with the odd glass of wine… sounds like the perfect kind of road trip ;)

    Reply
  6. I love that there’s a beach named after me :) And nice to know there are other pancake fiends out there. If you’re ever in NYC, you’re invited to come over for banana chocolate chip macadamia nut pancakes!
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  7. My wife and I are going to visit Australia in november and we are planning to take a road trip. We need to choose between melbourne-sydney and sydney-gold coast but cant decide. Which one is better. We have 2 and a half days to spare.
    We want to drive more on coast-side and drive leisurely with frequent stops. I read that mel-syd coastal drive doesnt have much of coast-side drive. Is it same for syd-gc coastal drive.

    can you please suggest ?

    Reply
    • I would suggest the Sydney to Gold Coast. I think there is a lot more for you to see. There isn’t an awful lot going in the other directiion

      Reply
  8. What a lovely trip…! I read your post and I really enjoyed it. After read your precious post I am curious to see these places. All pictures of your trip are fabulous. Lighthouse Beach and Byron Bay beach looks are gorgeous. I am really grateful for this valuable post and lovely pics.

    Reply
  9. Hi, we (family of four, kids are 8 and 6) will be spending 8 week in Australia in May / June. The current plan is to arrive either in Sydney or Brisbane and then take 4 weeks to drive up to Cairns.
    We have a hard time deciding whether those 4 weeks will be enough to leisurely make it from Sydney to Cairns? Or should we fly into Brisbane and skip the Sydney –> Brisbane section?
    Your opinions would be much appreciated ;-)
    Greetings from Germany!

    Reply
    • Hi UWe,
      You can do the Sydney to Brisbane in a week although it would be slightly rushed. I would choose no more than 3 places to stop at if you were going to do that. I don’t know too much about the Brisbane to Cairns drive as I’ve never done it, although it is really long!! Sydney is such an amazing city, it would be a shame to miss it, but if you want don’t want to be too rushed then I would probably suggest cutting out the Sydney to Brisbane.

      Reply
  10. Hello, me and my family (consisting of 3 children aged 2, 3 & 5) will be flying into Sydney from the UK on Boxing Day and then driving up to Cairns. We will be staying in Sydney for 2 nights/3 days and then heading up the coast. I have had to book accommodation for New Years Eve and Day as I was concerned that we wouldn’t find anything if we just turned up at places for those particular nights. I have booked an appartment in Surfers but am now concerned that our journey from Sydney to Surfers will be too rushed as it only gives us one night to stay somewhere on the way up to the Gold Coast. Your advise would be much appreciated…. If you think an alternative would be better could you please suggest accommodation for all 5 of us as well – we are not on a tight budget but it has to be reasonably priced. I have looked at a number of hotels etc. but there doesn’t seem to be alot of availability at that time of year!

    Reply
  11. Marissa Le Blanc

    My bf and I are flying into Brisbane and we are trying to decide whether we should go North to Cairns or South to Sydney. We have only 6 six days and will be renting a jucy van. We would like to see as much as we can. My bf surfs and I just want to see beautiful scenery. Any thoughts?

    Reply
    • Tough choice. I think 6 days to drive to Cairns will be too rushed. It’s a lot further than you realize. If your bf surfs then he will find better surf from Brisbane to Sydney. And 6 days you can do it more comfortably, although you will still be moving quite a bit. And the scenery is beautiful.

      Reply
  12. Lais Siqueira

    Great post Craig! I’ll be doing a very similar trip from Gorokan to Brisbane in October, and I was looking for some inspiration where to stop along the way.
    One thing has concerned me, do I need to have a 4WD to do the coast road from Sydney to Brisbane. I’ve read in some places that after Port Macquarie I’d need a 4WD to continue on the coast road. Is it true? How bad are the roads? Or I’ll use the highway and get off from it on particular exits to visit the villages?

    Reply
    • No you won’t need a 4WD. The roads are very good. It’s only if you want to drive on the beach.

      Reply
  13. Hi there! I am planning to fly to Sydney this June with my family ( 3 children aged 8, 13, 15). We only have 9 days to visit Sydney and Brisbane (including Gold Coast). Any sugestions how long we have to stay in each city? Should we drive or fly from Sydney to Brisbane? We plan to fly back home from Brisbane. Thanks for your help.

    Reply
    • I wouldn’t worry about visiting Brisbane,at least not for long. As far as a tourist city, there isnt much to see and do. IT’s more of a liveable place. I’d focus more on Sydney and Gold Coast. For 9 only having 9 days, I’d fly between the cities. It’s about a 10-12 hour drive and its’ best to do it if you have time to stop off at places along the way as there is so much to see and do. I’d do maybe 4 days Sydney and then the rest around the Gold Coast area- the weather will be warmer.

      Reply
  14. avidtraveller

    Just make sure whenever you are traveling that you use proper accommodation to stay in as there are heavy fines for sleeping in vans and cars in and around the Gold Coast especially :)

    Reply
  15. Elaine

    Hi, your blog is great and has been very helpful in planning our upcoming trip in July. We (me, hubby and 9 year old son) are flying to Sydney and then driving to Brisbane, taking in many of the places you mention. Thinking of flying back to Sydney, so we will be taking about 9 days to drive from Sydney to Brisbane. What time of year did you take your trip? Bit worried about the weather in July as a lot of the places to visit are beaches. Also any suggestions on places to stay/visit? Thanks

    Reply
  16. Amazing guys! I follow you on Instagram and am now looking at a QLD trip, and possibly making it a drive (we are Melbourne based though) but this part was really handy! Thanks for all the tips xx

    Reply
  17. OH my!! I stumbled upon your blog while researching where to drive up the coast. My husband and I are visiting Australia next June for two weeks and enjoy driving. I think we will have to do this, the scenery is unbelievable! How long would you recommend to spend on this out of a two week itinerary? Thanks!!

    Reply
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