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Plan a Sydney to Brisbane Road Trip

Today we want to share our tips for doing the Pacific Coast Drive, aka the iconic Sydney to Brisbane road trip. We reached out to some of our favourite local bloggers for help on this one so we could bring you the best tips for your trip.

If you plan to take a long drive up the east coast of NSW, you likely have lots of questions, not the least of them where to stop along the way.

We asked some local travel writers to share their favourite towns along the Sydney to Brisbane coastal road, and today we bring them to you. Along with answers to all the frequently asked questions we get about hitting the road north.

This East Coast driving route covers 900km

There is a good reason it’s known as the legendary Pacific Coast. It offers everything from pretty coastal towns to stunning beaches and rugged national parks. It’s perfect for a beach holiday or family road trip and a great way for visitors to see beyond the tourist trail.

How to plan your road trip itinerary

We will head north today on our itinerary, but of course, you can reverse this trip and travel from Brisbane to Sydney.

Where should I stop between Brisbane and Sydney?

If you have not already visited the Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley, you can add these to your trip north. This diversion will add three hours to your journey, but if you have the time, it’s a great addition, especially for international visitors or anyone with time for a more extended road trip.

If you don’t want to visit the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley, then skip forward to Newcastle.

Blue Mountains

The UNESCO Heritage wonderland is only 2 hours north of Sydney, and an overnight stay will allow you time to visit the best lookouts and take in a couple of walks. We have written about this area extensively, so check out this article for ideas.

Hunter Valley

If you would like to stock up with some great food and wine before you hit the road, then a detour via the Hunter Valley is an excellent idea.

The Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s premier wine regions.

Be sure to stop at Binnorie Dairy for some of their amazing cheeses. Check out our Hunter Valley trip for more ideas.

Newcastle

Rohini from Why you Wander has discovered this city just a couple of hours from Sydney that is perfect for your first overnight stop on a long journey.

Situated 160km north of Sydney, on the central coast, is Newcastle, which is an easy getaway from Sydney and a great stopover on your way to Brisbane.

Apart from the many beaches perfect for swimming & surfing, there are other things to do in Newcastle, even if you are pressed for time. All these places are quite close to each other, which makes it even easier to get around.

Blackbutt Newcastle Koala
The Koalas are fed every day at 2pm at Blackbutt Reserve.

Newcastle Highlights

  • Nobby’s Light House – this 150 years old active lighthouse is about 800m walk from the car park and a steep climb at the end. It is open to visitors on Sundays from 10am to 4pm, and there is no entry fee.
  • Bogey Hole – a hidden gem. This rock pool is a great swimming hole, away from the hustle and bustle of the popular beaches.
  • Blackbutt Reserve – a great place to see wildlife and also it has got a few picnic areas
  • Fort Scratchley boasts a history of over one hundred years and was built to protect from the attack on the naval vessels. There is no entry fee, and there is an informative guided tour that costs about $13. The walk from the car park through the street with old architecturally designed houses makes it even more attractive.
  • Newcastle Memorial Walk – This 450m walk along the coast links Newcastle’s Strzelecki Lookout to Bar Beach and is beautiful on any day of the year.
Newcastle NSW Memorial Walk
Part of a six-kilometre coastal walk linking Newcastle’s beaches

Stay awhile: If this sounds like a spot, you would like to stay a day or two check out Rydges on the wharf, or Noah’s on the Beach. If you are on a budget, the Ibis Budget is a good option.

Distance from Sydney Newcastle: 163km
Average driving time:
2 hours, 10 minutes

Port Stephens

Leah from The Kid Bucketlist shares the beautiful blue water paradise of Port Stephens.

The region of Port Stephens is a cruisy 2-hour drive north of Sydney and a mere 30 minutes from Newcastle. Nelson Bay, possibly the most visited township in the region, is bursting with amazing places to eat, stay and see. Ideally, stopping here for a night or two best positions you to enjoy everything that the region offers.

Port Stephens offers a pristine beach escape with a marine park right on its shoreline bustling with life, including over 100 resident dolphins. With 26 beaches to choose from, you’re hard-pressed not to find your perfect oasis here.

Port Stephens NSW Coastal town
Port Stephens has lots of natural beauty and accommodation.

A trip to delight those that love the water and sand is guaranteed! With its azure waters, sandy beaches, dunes, delightful cafes and nearby vineyards, Port Stephens is quite spectacular.

If you choose to stay, visit Worimi Conservation Lands, where you will find both the largest moving coastal dunes in the Southern Hemisphere and the longest beach in NSW.

During whale-watching season, make sure you go whale watching as the success rate at spotting one of the beautiful aquatic mammals is high and don’t miss Cabbage Tree Island’s shipwreck if you love diving.

You’ll just need to watch that you don’t end up staying and forgoing your trip to Brisbane as it is so glorious.

Hot tip – Eat brekkie at Little Nel.

Stay awhile: We stayed a week on our last visit and loved the Shoal Bay Country Club, and we got engaged at what is now Bannisters Port Stephens I can’t wait to go back.

The Shoal Bay Holiday Park has great cabins and glamping tents. For a really special experience, consider a night at Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary in Anna Bay.

Distance from Sydney to Port Stephens: 208km
Average driving time:
2 hours, 34 minutes

Forster

LC Hunter from Birdgehls, a fabulous site for anyone interested in sustainable travel, has lots of great Aussie content on her site and shares a beautiful town on the mid-north coast.

Foster Tuncurry sunset NSW north coast
Forster at sunset: home to a pod of resident dolphins

Forster or Forster-Tuncurry as the area is known, is on the mid-north coast of New South Wales, around a four-hour drive from Sydney.

The region gets its name from its two towns, which are separated by a bridge–Forster, and the much smaller Tuncurry. This is a place for relaxation, for winding down and getting lost in nature.

Go bushwalking in nearby Booti Booti National Park, which is also a popular place for camping. While you are there, don’t miss the Green Cathedral.

Head to one of the area’s pristine beaches for a laze in the sand or a dip in the ocean. Forster Main Beach and One Mile Beach are the two most popular beaches for visitors and locals. Seven Mile Beach within Booti Booti is also a favourite.

one mile beach Foster NSW Coast Road
You can have this beautiful beach all to yourself in Forster

Visit out of season, and you’ll most likely have the entire stretch of sand to yourself. Many of these beaches aren’t patrolled, so do be careful in abiding by beach safety rules.

Fishing is a favoured pastime in the area, with plenty of bait and tackle shops throughout town.

Wildlife is prevalent too. There are all kinds of birdlife, including plucky pelicans, who hang around the waterfront. It’s not uncommon to see dolphins frolicking in the harbour which is a special sight indeed.

Forster-Tuncurry is the perfect place to stop overnight on your road trip from Sydney to Brisbane. Chuck a few choice pieces of meat or veggies on the BBQ, relax and enjoy the serenity of the mid-north coast.

Want more? Birdgehls has shared 21 other great small towns in Australia that are worth visiting on their website.

Stay awhile: There is plenty of holiday accommodation in Forster, but it books out well in advance in the summer.

There are no upmarket hotels or resorts but lots of caravan parks. We recently stayed at Smugglers Cove and it was very well maintained and in a pleasant spot.

Some of our favourites are:

  • Astina Suites – in the centre of town these penthouses have beach views
  • Funky Beach House – with bush and ocean views, this is a brilliant spot to chill

Distance from Sydney to Forster: 301km
Average driving time:
3 hours, 29 minutes

Port Macquarie

We took our first family holiday to Port Macquarie when I was about ten years old. I clearly remember our visit to nearby Timbertown, a heritage park with its own steam train. Port Macquarie has been a favourite beach town for me ever since.

NSW beach at Port Macquarie
Lighthouse Beach at Port Macquarie

At 390km from Sydney Port Macquarie sits between halfway and a third of the way up the coast. It’s best known for its five stunning beaches and consistently wonderful weather. The temperature sits between averages of 12 and 26 year-round, a fact that has made it an attractive destination for retirees and holidaymakers.

There are a couple of great free attractions here that you can easily see on a short visit, including the Koala Hospital and the Sea Acres Rainforest Centre that is part of the National Park. The centre has an excellent cafe, be sure to order the smashed avo if you have not tried it anywhere yet. They do a great version. There is a boardwalk area that does have an entry charge, but it is lovely.

If you are travelling with kids Shelly Beach, just near the Sea Acres National park has a great rock pool. If you stay two days, consider the 10km coastal walk that takes in all the Port Macquaries beaches and will certainly give your legs a good workout after all those hours sitting in the car. Your camera will enjoy it too!

Check out 8 ways to have fun with kids at Port Macquarie or what we got up to on our last visit.

Stay awhile: We stayed at Rydges last time, it’s directly opposite the Breakwall and surrounded by shops and cafes. Ibis Styles is good for a quick stopover. For a quiet caravan park, we loved our visit to Flynn’s Beach Caravan Park, but if you have kids the NRMA park is probably a better choice.

Distance from Sydney: 386km
Average driving time: 4 hours 10 minutes

South West Rocks

Kathy Marris from Fifty Shades of Age shares her favourite spot on this stretch of coast.

One of the gems of the Pacific Coast drive is the coastal town of South West Rock. Located near the mouth of the Macleay River, it’s approximately 40 kilometres from Kempsey on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

South West Rocks NSW Coast
South West Rocks

We’ve spent many a Christmas Holiday staying in a cabin in the Horseshoe Bay Caravan Park with our kids and found that it is a holiday town that has everything.

Firstly, it has amazing beaches like the safe, sheltered cove of Horseshoe Bay perfect for small children; the long stretch of open beach at Front or Main Beach that is great for a beach stroll; or Trial Bay Beach, where families camp in the National Park and swim and surf at their leisure. 

If you’re into bushwalking and uncrowded beaches, they are plentiful in Arakoon National Park and Hat Head National Park, near South West Rocks. Plus, there is a very scenic lighthouse and lookout at Smoky Cape that overlooks the exquisite Gap Beach.

For history Buffs Trial Bay Gaol ruins take pride of place set on the cliffs at Trial Bay and are worth a visit. Taking 13 years to build, the gaol opened in 1886 and was an internment camp in the First World War for people of German descent living in Australia. The gaol grounds have their own resident population of kangaroos that graze on the grassy surroundings.

All of this is available only a short driving distance from the township of South West Rocks. Plus the town itself offers fantastic facilities like shops, cafes, restaurants, a pub and a Country Club. There are many accommodation options as well, with two caravan parks, holiday units and hotels.

But what I love the most about South West Rocks is the pine tree-clad, grassy headland where you can simply sit and take in the views to either Horseshoe Bay or Main Beach. You can even grab a snack at the conveniently located kiosk on the headland and sit on the grass or at one of the picnic tables.

Stay awhile: You can find lots more about South West Rocks on Kathy’s website. Or check out the range of accommodation here. 

Distance from Sydney to South West Rocks: 455km
Average driving time: 4 hours 52 minutes

Coffs Harbour

Natalie & Steve of Curious Campers share a local favourite and home of Australia’s first “big” thing.

Coffs Harbour, or ‘Coffs’, is roughly halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. It has enough to see for an overnight stay from an iconic Australian ‘big’ attraction to amazing wildlife.

Coffs Harbour main attraction Big Banana
One of the first “big things” the Big Banana opened in 1964

Coffs is home to one of Australia’s best known big things – the Big Banana. These days, the Big Banana is more than a giant piece of fruit – it’s a fun park too. It has everything from water slides and tobogganing to ice skating and mini-golf. Kids will love it!

It is a great place for wildlife experiences. If you are there between May and November, we highly recommend going on a whale-watching cruise. We went in June, and there were whales everywhere. We had many close-up whale encounters.

Coffs Harbour is a great spot for whale watching

The Dolphin Marine Conservation Park also lets you get close to some marine life. The animals here were rescued or born at the centre. Expect to have interactive experiences with dolphins and seals. If too much marine life is not enough, visit the Solitary Island Aquarium. It showcases the area’s marine life, has talks and interactive displays.

For something different, a bit quirky, check out the Clog Barn. At this family-run attraction, you can see clog making a miniature Dutch village, and of course there is the clog barn. I guarantee you’ve never seen so many clogs!

A final tip – watch a sunset from Muttonbird Island. It is a spectacular view and a great way to finish your day in Coffs Harbour.

The Curious Campers also went whale watching on the Nullabor, and it looks like an amazing experience.

Stay awhile: The Big 4 Park Beach is a good option, especially if you have kids, an amazing playground and family-friendly facilities. Nearby Woolgoolga Beach is lovely too and a bit quieter than Coffs.

Distance from Sydney Coffs Harbour: 527km
Average driving time: 5 hours 28 minutes

Yamba

Toni Broome from 2 Aussie Travellers tells us why we should take some time for a stop in Yamba.

Yamba is an ideal stop on an Australian east coast road trip located 9 hours north of Sydney and 3 hours south of Brisbane.

Yamba Beach NSW Coast road to Brisbane
Yamba Beach

It’s not too much of a detour from the highway which makes it suitable for a brief stop in transit, but it’s even better if you can set aside a few days for exploring in this unassuming and beautiful surf town.

When in Yamba, a walk out along the break wall at the mouth of the Clarence River is a must. If you have little time, grab a coffee or some of the excellent local fish and chips and bringing them down to the waterfront, then stretch your legs with a walk. 

The break wall runs between Whiting Beach and Hickey Island, offering a great perspective for sunrise and sunset. Dolphins and seen from shore daily and we’ve also watched a New Zealand fur seal frolicking in the waves and entertaining the surfers.

With a little more time, head towards Angourie. There are many beaches and bays worth stopping in, but a couple of highlights are the blue and green pools that have been a popular picnic and swimming spots here since 1899. 

Continue down the road to the northern end of the Yurigir National Park. The park stretches 65 km down the coastline from here, but even if you can only walk the first few kilometres of the coastal trail, it is highly recommended for the fabulous views and wildlife spotting.

There is still plenty more to do in Yamba, so don’t overlook this gorgeous coastal town on your next east coast road trip.

Stay awhile: If you want to stay awhile in Yamba and why wouldn’t you, you will find everything from a great youth hostel to budget beachside hotels and resort-style apartments and a fabulous family-friendly caravan park.

Distance from Sydney to Yamba 664km
Average driving time: 7 hours 3 minutes

Byron Bay

Katie from The Accidental Australian spent some time in Byron Bay and shares her tips on stopping here.

Byron Bay, one of Australia’s most quintessential beach towns, is in northern NSW, about two hours south of Brisbane. It’s worth at least an overnight stop, if not a few days- it’s so lovely, you may find it hard to tear yourself away!

The pristine, clear beaches within the town of Byron make it a popular location for anyone on a road trip, especially backpackers, but beyond the main beach of Byron is Wategos Beach, about a 20-minute walk from town. Although it’s an exclusive Byron suburb, the beaches are public and open to everyone (as are all beaches in Australia), and BBQ facilities make it a perfect place for a picnic or lunch.

The iconic Cape Byron Lighthouse, the easternmost point of mainland Australia, also makes a great destination for a coastal walk from town. Surfing, sea kayaking, diving, and snorkelling are all popular in the area, and divers especially will love the region for its population of grey nurse sharks at Julian Rocks. 

Byron Bay waterfall NSW
Killen Falls at Byron Bay

If you have time, consider adding a visit to Killen Falls, a serene waterfall and swimming hole just outside of town, or venture further into the hinterland and explore some of the area’s national parks as Broken Head Nature Reserve or Arakwal National Park.

There are plenty of bars and restaurants in town to suit all budgets, and you’ll find a mellow, laid-back vibe all around Byron. 

Check out Katie experience of kayaking with the dolphins in Byron Bay.

Stay awhile: There are also some fantastic places to stay, from caravan parks and hostels to luxurious rooms bound to impress.

Distance from Sydney to Byron Bay: 766km
Average driving time: 8 hours 17 minutes

Frequently asked questions about the Sydney to Brisbane road trip

How long to drive from Sydney to Brisbane?

The non-stop drive between Sydney and Brisbane is 10.5 hours. If you really need to do this trip in a hurry, then I suggest two drivers. If you are making a return trip, consider coming back to Sydney via the New England Highway, which takes a little longer but offers gems of its own.

What is the driving distance from Sydney to Brisbane?

If you follow the coast road, the trip from Sydney to Brisbane is 920km, along the inland highway it is 974km.

How many stops should you make on the trip between Sydney and Brisbane?

This depends on how many days you have:

Got three days
I would stop at one of the mid-North Coast towns for the first night. Drive Sydney to Port Macquarie, where you can visit the Koala Hospital. Day two head to Coffs Harbour for lunch before continuing on to Byron Bay for your second night. It’s less than a two-hour drive to Brisbane from here, so spend most of the day visiting Byron and surrounds before moving on.

Have five days
Drive to Port Stephens (2.5hrs) for your first night in paradise you could easily spend a couple of days here or move on to South West Rocks (3.5hrs) after one night. Enroute to South West Rocks stop off at Port Macquarie and check out the Koala Hospital. After a good night’s rest, start your long drive, Byron Bay stopping off at Yamba for lunch. Make a pit stop at the Big Prawn in Ballina before you reach Byron (4hrs).

Seven days to spare
Seven days is a nice leisurely time to complete the Sydney to Brisbane trip. You could do the Blue Mountains/Hunter Valley detour mentioned above or head straight to Newcastle for lunch. Choose your stops from the list of towns above, but try to include South West Rocks or Yamba for a quieter option.

Choosing the best towns to stop depending on your group

Travelling with kids – The best family-friendly stops are Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour.

Adventure-lovers – Byron Bay is the best known action-packed town along the way. If you want something more low key (and possibly cheaper) consider Port Stephens.

For Foodies – Newcastle is one of the current hotspots for food lovers. Rick Stein’s Bannisters in Port Stephens, is a great choice. Further north, Bellingen and Yamba both have a lot to offer.

Honeymooners or romantics – We got engaged at Port Stephens almost two decades ago, so it is a special place for us, but the sunsets and waterways here make it a perfect spot for romantics. Check out the Anchorage in Port Stephens, or further north the Akuna Beach Resort Coffs Harbour, and the outstanding Crystal Creek Resort in the hinterland near Byron Bay.


Looking to splurge
Salt at Shoal Bay, Port Stephens, Halcyon House in Cabarita (near Byron) are great options.

Which big things will I find on the Sydney to Brisbane road trip?

The Big Banana, one of the first of Australia’s Big Things, but you will also find the Big Bill in Wauchope, The Big Oyster in Taree, the Big Prawn at Ballina and the Big Avocado along the road between Sydney and Brisbane. You can find out about all the Big Things here.

Are there free camping spots along the Sydney to Brisbane road

Looking to keep the budget down on this part of your holiday? Spending a couple of nights at a campsite will help. There are actually not a lot of free camping spots along this coastal route. The Tuncurry Sports club has a $10pp per night site for self-contained motorhomes – we stayed one night and it was good.

You need to be careful to obey any local “do not camp” signs as some local councils are very strict, and fines can be significant. Byron Bay is one spot you should be very careful.

The Wiki camps app is an excellent investment and works on all devices on and offline.

Is the time difference between Sydney and Brisbane?

During daylight saving (October to April) there is a one hour time difference, with Sydney being 1 hour ahead.

Do you need to book accommodation ahead between Sydney and Brisbane?

Not always, no, but during the NSW and QLD school holidays and the Peak summer season from November through to February, it is essential. This coast is very popular with Australian families and books out months in advance.

Our map for the Sydney to Brisbane Road Trip

We have put together a map of the major towns, attractions and our favourite accommodation along the way. Blue for towns, Pink for attraction and green for beds!

Got a Question?

If you have questions, pop over to our Facebook group and ask a local for advice.

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