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.
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:
- MacMasters Beach
- Copacabana Beach
- The Entrance
- Toowoon Bay
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.