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The ultimate here-we-come Brisneyland road trip from Sydney
Known as the Legendary Pacific Coast, the 900-plus-kilometre drive from Sydney to Brisbane truly has something for everyone – from endless beaches and rolling green hills to hinterland adventures and every water sport exploit imaginable. So don’t just fang it there as fast as you can – this trip’s better off savoured in leisurely little stop-off bites, with overnighters where you just darn feel like it.
Sydney to Terrigal – 1.5 hours
Yes, it’s a bit off the main drag, but why not start your road trip with a dip at Copacabana Beach, a bushwalk at Bouddi National Park or a paddle board at Avoca, before continuing on to coastal Terrigal for a mid-morning coffee on the waterfront. If you’re a keen angler, you may also want to spend a few hours here fishing or take a stroll up to The Skillion (a local landmark) for great views along the coast.
Terrigal to The Entrance – 20 minutes
Travelling north, you’ll hit the Entrance, a spot bounded by beaches, lakes and lagoons (perfect for water-skiing or windsurfing), and here you can simply bliss-out in the sunshine, stick around for the daily pelican feeding in the afternoon or take a walk to the Norah Head Lighthouse for some whale watching during the winter months.
The Entrance to Lake Macquarie – 45 minutes
Another 45 minutes up the road you’ll find Lake Macquarie, where you can take a kayaking tour, explore the sea caves and rock pools of Caves Beach or enjoy a stroll through beautiful Wallarah National Park, before heading north-west to the famous food and wine region of the Hunter Valley.
Lake Macquarie to the Hunter Valley – 1 hour
With over 160 boutique wineries dotted through this region, you’ll have oodles of ops here to pick up a cheeky bottle of Hunter Valley red, pig out on a home made cheese platter or take a hot air balloon ride over the valley (not cheap, but worth the coin).
Hunter Valley to Newcastle – 1 hour
Australia’s second oldest city, Newcastle has a couple of renowned beaches (including Mereweather and Nobbys), a nature boardwalk perfect for a stroll with the bae, and a heap of cultural sites including the Newcastle Museum and Fort Scratchley (for history-loving nerds).
If all of these are a little on the tame side, take a drive to nearby Stockton Beach where you can sand board, quad bike or 4WD yourself silly on its 40-metre-high sand dunes.
Newcastle to Port Stephens – 30 minutes
More beach action is to be found here and fantastic ops for snorkeling, diving and dolphin watching in Nelsons Bay. You can also capture some great selfie shots at the headland, sample a frothy Port Stephens Whale Ale, or take a tour of the Worimi Conservation Lands for an insight into this amazing natural sand dune system.
Port Stephens to Seal Rocks – 1.5 hours
A quiet little fishing village north east of Port Stephens, Seal Rocks offers adventure seekers great surf at Lighthouse Beach, wonderfully clear bays for splashable fun and memorable diving for the adrenalin nuts. Boasting over 15 different dive sites, it’s also home to two historic shipwrecks where you can come face to face with marine life including stingrays, red snappers and grey nurse sharks.
Seal Rocks to Forster – 45 minutes
The vibrant town of Forster offers perfect fish and chip eating locations, including at The Tanks’ natural rock pools, and ample opportunities for paddle boarding on the aqua blue waters of Wallis Lake (also renowned for its fresh local oysters).
If markets are your thing, then the weekends here are when you should ambush the beautiful crafts and fresh, local produce of the Forster Farmers Markets, the Tea Gardens Village Markets and the Blackhead Bazaar.
Forster to Barrington Tops – 2 hours
For a great detour of the coastal road, head inland to the Manning Valley, where you’ll find one of the longest single drop waterfalls in the Southern Hemisphere (the striking Ellenborough Falls), then continue on to Barrington Tops, where you can book a guided kayaking tour of the river or take a leisurely scenic drive around the Bucketts Mountains area.
Barrington Tops to Camden Haven – 2.5 hours
Heading back out towards the coast, stop in at Camden Haven for an adrenalin-filled paraglide, tackle the strenuous Laurieton bushwalking track or hire a tinny and fish for freshwater bass, bream and flathead on the river (there is a reason this area’s called fisherman’s paradise).
Camden Haven to Port Macquarie – 30 minutes
The vibrant, coastal community of Port Macquarie is situated at the estuary of the Hastings River, and is a must-see destination for lovers of all things adventure-like, including those into abseiling, go-karting and horse riding. It’s also a nirvana for surfers, with 17 beaches around the region including Town Beach (waves up to 2.5 metres cater for all abilities) and Lighthouse Beach (great for the intermediate surfer with its short, powerful rides).
Port Macquarie to South West Rocks – 1 hour
At the entrance of the Macleay River you’ll find charmingly tiny South West Rocks. Surrounded by beaches and national parks, here you can take a drive out to the Smokey Cape Lighthouse, visit the historic Trial Bay Gaol or shake paws with a few wild kangaroos by the beach in Little Bay. And a must for divers is the 125 metre-long Fish Rock, one of the only dive-through caves in Australia, where you can get up close and personal with turtles and grey nurse sharks – from a safe distance! .
South West Rocks to Coffs Harbour – 1.5 hours
Heading north, take a quick trip inland for a traverse of the 70 metre-high Skywalk at Dorrigo, then head back out to coastal Nambucca Heads for a glimpse of a frolicking whale or two between June and October.
Next stop is Coffs Harbour with its Big Banana attraction and a heap of jetty-based activities including deep sea fishing, beach camel rides and stand-up paddle boarding. Here you can grab a surf lesson on the northern beaches before really getting the blood pumping with an exhilarating skydive.
Coffs Harbour to Yamba – 2 hours
Heading north-west, make your way to the gorgeous provincial city of Grafton for a culture hit (galleries galore), check out the deep sea diving opportunities in the Solitary Islands Marine Park or check out Angourie’s Green and Blue Pools (yes they are!)
Next up – Ballina. Eleven uncrowded beaches will delight here (including Shelley’s), as well as the renowned surf breaks, world-famous prawns, and sublime national park walks.
Yamba to Tweed Heads – 2 hours
Heading north again, make an inland stop at inspiring Lismore (it’s home to more buskers and artists per capita than anywhere else in Australia) before checking out rainforest-packed Kyogle, with its two heritage-listed national parks, and enjoying a scenic drive over the McPherson Ranges.
Then it’s on to vibey Byron Bay. Surf the luminous waters of Clarkes Beach, take a walk to the most easterly point of the Australian mainland (Byron Bay Lighthouse) and hang out with the backpackers, musicians and ageing hippies in one of the raw food cafes.
Byron Bay to Tweed Heads – 1 hour
Leaving Byron, head north-east to the scenic delights of the Tweed River and Mount Warning, stop in at Kingscliff for a spot of boutique shopping, or hire a runabout (and a rod) and drop in a line in the crystal clear waterways of Cudgen Creek.
Tweed Heads’ golden beaches are next and for something a little more exhilarating, book a diving tour of Cook Island. Located 600 metres from Fingal Head, this is a virtual marine paradise and a permanent home for everything from green turtles and Leopard sharks to spotted eagle rays and wobbegongs.
Tweed Heads to Gold Coast – 30 minutes
Crossing the border from NSW to sunny Queensland, you’ll hit the famous holiday capital of Australia, the glittering Gold Coast. Perched on a 70-kilometre stretch of coastline, it houses some of the most popular surf breaks in Australia including at South Straddy, The Spit, Main Beach, Surfers, Burleigh Heads, Kirra, Coolangatta and Snapper Rocks.
Every water sport imaginable can be enjoyed here, along with a happening nightlife scene, hundreds of restaurants, and of course, Australia’s most famous theme parks – Dreamworld, Sea World and Warner Bros. Movie World. Bring it!
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