A coastal drive from Sydney to Brisbane (or the reverse) is one of the most popular and sought-after road trips in Australia. This self-drive itinerary is a famous journey spanning 1000kms along the Legendary Pacific Coast. The scenic drive takes you on an adventure through lush national parks, stunning beaches, rolling green hills of the hinterland, and small yet vibrant off the beaten track towns full of charisma and authentic Australian culture.
Having experienced the legendary Sydney to Brisbane drive ourselves a number of times over the last 2 years, we can honestly say that it’s the perfect trip for the curious traveler looking to experience Australia past the major sights and attractions. Whether you only have a few days to explore the Pacific Coast, or are lucky enough to have 2-3 weeks, there is an option out there for everyone. This is the outline of my suggested stops along the way.
Sydney – 2 days to 1 week
The large sprawling cosmopolitan city of Sydney lures in millions to its culture seeped neighbourhoods, enchanting harbour, pristine beaches, and a buzzing food and entertainment scene. Dedicate a few days to Sydney’s biggest attractions, like the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Taronga Zoo, Darling Harbour, Opera House, and Bondi Beach, but then stay a while and follow local’s tips for visiting Sydney to discover what makes Sydney one of the greatest cities in the world!
Gosford – 1 day
Located just an hour away from Sydney, Gosford is a great first stop on the road trip along the famous Pacific Coast. The city is the administrative centre of the Central Coast area and has a population of just over under 4,000 people. There is not a whole lot to do or see in Gosford itself, but the nearby Australian Reptile Park, one of the best wildlife parks in Australia, is what makes this a well worth stop. The park is open from 9am – 5pm 364 days a year and is located just 3kms from Gosford. Tickets are $33/adult and $20/concession.
Lake Macquarie – 1 day
Lake Macquarie is Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lagoon that covers an area of 110kms. It’s an impressive and beautifully tranquil body of water, peppered with sailboats all around its perimeter. Life on the shores of Lake Macquarie is slow paced and drastically different from the hustle and bustle of Sydney. The residents of the area are some of the nicest and friendliest we have met on our travels yet!
There are dozens of small towns dotted around the lake, each one offering a unique way to take in the beauty of Lake Macquarie. We choose to stop in Toronto, an obvious choice for us, given that we grew up in Toronto, Canada, but there are 19 other stops worth considering. No matter which town you end up choosing, you can count on strolling along the foreshore, having a picnic in the park, or relaxing in the afternoon drinking tea in a lakeside cafe.
Hunter Valley – 1-3 days
Hunter Valley is not just a stop for wine lovers! It’s a place to sample local produce, get lost in the beautiful Australian countryside, or relax and unwind. It will pleasantly surprise you with fantastic dining options that are easy on the wallet and delightful on the palate. You will also find lots of entertainment options, and of course, the best wine in Australia! Well, in our opinion, anyway!
If you love discovering new wineries and want to sample a good selection of wines from the region, give yourself at least 2-3 days to explore Hunter Valley. But if wine doesn’t tickle your fancy, a stopover for a day will be enough to take in the views, enjoy some great food, and take part in some local entertainment.
Newcastle – 2-3 days
We only spent 2 days in Newcastle, but this great city really surprised us, so much so that we went as far as to call it Australia’s Most Underrated City. The locals totally agree and love the fact that Newcastle constantly surprises travelers with all it has to offer. Newcastle is full of culture, history, and stunning landscapes while boasting a charismatic funky atmosphere and a developing artistic side. Oh, and did we mention, it’s super laid back and easygoing too?
Stay for at least 2 days, but if you can spare it, stay longer… we promise you won’t get bored!
Port Stephens/Nelson Bay – 1-2 days
Don’t make the mistake of typing “Port Stephens” into Google Maps and ending up searching for breathtaking coastal scenery in the middle of the forest across the bay. We did that. Oops!
Instead, navigate yourself to Nelson Bay where you can spend a few days sunbathing on One Mile Beach, walking up to the top of Tomaree Summit (only 1- 1.5 hours return trip), sand duning at Stockton Sand Dunes, and enjoying some great local wines and food.
Tea lovers, make sure you stop by Medowie Macadamias for some afternoon sweets and a good pot of tea.
Port Macquarie – 1-2 days
Port Macquarie is another pleasant surprise on the Sydney to Brisbane drive route that’s definitely worth a day or two of your itinerary. It’s a small little town of less than 50,000 people, but one that offers a vast number of activities for all types of travelers.
In my opinion, Port Macquarie is truly a nature lovers paradise. It is home to 17 different beaches, each one unique and striking in their own way. Port Macquarie is a great place to give surfing a go, explore rock pools, or spend an afternoon kayaking along the Hastings River. If you have the time, be sure to explore Port Macquarie’s beautiful coast on a 9km Coastal Walk from Town Green to Lighthouse Beach. So kick back, and give yourself a few days to explore and take in everything that this town has to offer, or you’ll be kicking yourself that you didn’t later on.
Port Macquarie is officially one of our favourite towns on this itinerary! A must-do!
Coffs Harbour – 1-2 days
Coffs and us…well, we didn’t really get along. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the lack of our enthusiasm to go beyond the Big Banana Amusement Park and discover the lesser known sights in Coffs Harbour, but this town really fell flat for us on our road trip. We left without seeing much.
Should you skip it? Probably not. Afterall, Coffs Harbour is one of the most popular holidays destinations along the Pacific Coast, claiming to have everything from World Heritage National Parks and sandy beaches to beach camel rides and vodka tastings.
If the vibe agrees with you, stay for a few days, otherwise, spend a day checking out a few activities and move on.
Woolgoolga – 2-3 days
This stop isn’t about Woolgoolga town at all, although I’m sure it is lovely in its own way. This is your chance to visit Arrawarra Beach also known as Spot X, the location of Australia’s famous Mojo Surf Camp. It was here back in 2010 that I first surfed my first wave to shore, overwhelmed by the feeling of excitement and sheer disbelief in my own abilities (or what I thought was a lack thereof).
It’s a great place to meet other travelers, incredibly social, laid back, and is literally everything you ever pictured Australia to be. You’ll spend your mornings working on your surfing skills, afternoons lazing around in a hammock, and evening sharing a meal/drinks and travel stories over a campfire with new travel buddies. The days will fly by, so budget accordingly.
Yamba – 1 day
Until recently we had never even heard of Yamba, but boy were we glad that we discovered it! Yamba is a sleepy fishing town with beautiful beaches, fantastic surf spots, and a laid back atmosphere. It’s another secret gem on the Pacific Coast that’s definitely worth a stop on a trip from Sydney to Brisbane.
The highlight of our stop was a visit to the Yamba Ice Creamery and a chance to indulge in the best ice cream in Australia. (As voted by us!)
Byron Bay – 2-3 days
Byron Bay is one of the top destinations for backpackers in Australia, and we won’t be the only ones to add it to your “must visit” list. It’s one of the best beach towns in Australia (maybe even the best) with an amazing vibe, great restaurants, boutique shopping, fantastic beaches, and everything in between. We love Byron. We fell in love in Byron. IWe got engaged in Byron. Byron will always be a very special place for me.
It’s a town we can go back to again and again without ever getting tired of its charm and appeal. We suggest you plan to spend at least 2-3 days in Byron, but we won’t be surprised if you end up hanging around for a LOT longer.
Gold Coast – 2-3 days
The city of Gold Coast is an urban area of approximately 35kms that stretches along the coastal suburbs from Paradise Point to Tweed Heads. Gold Coast is home to some of the best beaches in Queensland and a few of the best beaches in all of Australia. It’s a popular area with families, travelers, and surfing enthusiasts.
There are over 30 different beaches in the Gold Coast, each one more beautiful than the other, but for reasons unknown to me, most tourists flock to Surfer’s Paradise. Don’t! Instead, head to the lesser known, more local spots, like Coolangatta, Burleigh Heads or Broadbeach.
End in Brisbane: 2-3 days
Your epic Pacific Coast road trip may come to an end in Brisbane, but your Australia adventures should not. Queensland is a beautiful state and a Brisbane to Cairns road trip is just as famous and loved by backpackers as the legendary Pacific Coast adventure.
Whether you continue your journey up north or finish the drive in Brisbane, make sure you leave a few days to explore Brisbane, especially our “home away from home” in West End, the Australian Zoo, and the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Total Time Required:
14-24 days excluding time in Sydney
Total Driving Time:
15 hrs 34 mins
Short on time?
Don’t fret, you can still experience the Pacific Coast even if you don’t have the luxury of 2-3 weeks or more. Here is my advice:
- Pick and choose the stops that interest you the most. If you only have 1 week, cut the number of stops by 3. Don’t try to squeeze in everything. It’s not an episode of the Amazing Race.
- Reduce the number of days you spend in each town
- Consider driving in the evenings or early mornings to avoid wasting the day on the road
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