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Who else is excited about the trans-Tasman bubble opening soon? For me, it feels like a breath of fresh air being able to travel again, and we can’t wait to get back on the road!

As an ex-Sydneysider, we’ve done the East Coast drive many times, sometimes as a weekend getaway, sometimes as an extended road trip. But there are so many attractions along the coast that we can’t get enough of this legendary Pacific Coast road trip crossing the borders from Sydney to Brisbane.

You could potentially do this road trip in 7-14 days, depending on your schedules. But hey, what’s the rush? Many of the larger cities and towns such as Coffs Harbour, Port Stephens, Port Macquarie, Byron Bay, and Gold Coast can be a destination on its own. So consider travelling to these places separately if you’re in the country for a period of time.

In this post, we will share our jam-packed itineraries covering the best places to stop stretching from Sydney to Brisbane, crossing the borders from NSW to QLD along the amazing East Coast of Australia.

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How long does it take to drive from Sydney to Brisbane?

Sydney to Brisbane is one of the most iconic road trips in Australia. Stretching over 900km along the Pacific Coast, this journey hugs the most beautiful coastline known for epic Aussie adventures. A non-stop road trip from Sydney takes just under 12 hours to get to Brisbane via Pacific Highway.

Is the long drive worth it?

With so many tourist attractions stretching from Sydney to Brisbane, it’s worth breaking up the drive. Explore some of the best coastal towns and draw-dropping landscapes in Australia on the legendary Pacific Coast road trip.

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Sydney to Port Stephens

Suggested Time Frame: 3-5 Days
Recommended Overnight Stays: Central Coast, Newcastle, and Port Stephens

Palm Beach

You may have heard of Palm Beach from the famous Australian soap opera Home and Away. Palm Beach is Sydney’s northernmost point, and although a little detour from the highway, it’s one of the most iconic beaches to check out in Sydney.

Hike up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse, and you will be rewarded with the best panoramic view of the headland. If you’re there in winter, keep an eye out for migrating whales far in the distance, as Barrenjoey Lighthouse is one of the best whale watching vantage points in Sydney.

Recommended Restaurant: The Boathouse Palm Beach

Barrenjoey head lookout panoramic best view Sydney palm beach
Barrenjoey Head, Palm Beach

© Photos by Kida

Mooney Mooney & Hawksbury River

It’s inevitable to drive past Mooney Mooney if you’re travelling via Pacific Highway. Hawksbury River is popular for fishing, so grab some fish and chips or stretch your legs here.

Australian Reptile Park

If you haven’t been to one of the Zoos or Wildlife Parks in NSW yet, be sure to stop by Australian Reptile Park and get a photo with the cuddly koalas!

Australian Reptile Park Wildlife Zoo Entrance
Australian Reptile Park

© Photos by Kida

Somersby Waterfalls & Picnic Area

This waterfall is situated inside Brisbane Water National Park near Gosford. Follow the walking track through the rainforest for a great view of the falls. It’s an easy 500m walk return, but do note the track can be slippery during rainy seasons. There is a free barbecue facility and picnic area nearby if you want to pack some lunch.

Gosford

Gosford is the business hub of Central Coast, quiet on a weekday but a great place to stop for lunch overlooking Brisbane Water in case if you skip the detours above!

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Gosford

© Photos by Kida

Central Coast Pelican Feeding

The Entrance is a must-visit place with great vibes and the extraordinary daily Pelican Feeding show at 3:30 pm. This tradition has been around for 20 years and is still attracting visitors from all over every day. These local pelicans are not shy, so don’t get too close during feeding time!

We love the atmosphere here at Central Coast. It’s a family-friendly town with water fountains and a beautiful view of Yallawa Island. There are many fancy waterfront restaurants and seafood takeaway shops to choose from. And if you decide to stay overnight, explore some of the hiking trails and beautiful beaches.

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The Entrance Pelican Feeding

© Photos by Kida

Lake Macquarie

One of my fondest memories is camping at Belmont Lakeside Holiday Parks at Lake Macquarie. This peaceful town is surrounded by calm water, perfect for family and kids to play with inflatable water toys.

There are many great fishing spots in Lake Macquarie, so stop over and get a taste of the relaxing local lakeside lifestyle here at Lake Macquarie.

Lake-Macquarie
Lake Macquarie

© Photos by Kida

Newcastle

Newcastle is the second most populated harbour city in NSW. Many Sydneysiders come here for a weekend getaway, so Newcastle alone could take up a couple of days to explore.

If you’re a nature lover, you’ll love a walk at Blackbutt Reserve. It’s equipped with a BBQ facility, playground, and native wildlife.

Take a walk along Merewether beach.

Drive to Nobbys Head, and enjoy a leisure stroll along Nobbys Road to soak in the views of Horseshoe Beach and Nobbys Beach. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get to the Lighthouse.

Last but not least, do the Memorial Walk before heading back onto the Pacific Highway.

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Newcastle

© Photos by Kida

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Anna Bay

Just before reaching Port Stephens, Anna Bay is worth a stop. You can find many unique Ozzie experiences here. This place is known for its dunes, so you must try sandboarding and take a 4WD tour. Camel rides with Oakfield Ranch are among the top things to do in this region, especially for first-timers.

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Anna Bay Sandboarding

© Photos by Kida

Port Stephens

Port Stephens is a main coastal town on the Pacific Coast. It’s our recommended destination to settle for a night or two. This town is known for its beautiful bays and beaches, water sports, dolphin & whale watching cruises, and snorkelling or scuba diving tours.

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Port Stephens

© Photos by Kida

Port Stephens Top Things To Do

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Port Stephens to Coffs Harbour

Suggested Time Frame: 2 Days
Recommended Overnight Stays: Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour

Seal Rocks

At first, this place didn’t stand out to us, but we were mesmerised by the beautiful Myall Lakes National Park at Seal Rocks after further exploration.

If we ever get to come back, we would book a stay at Reflections Holiday Parks. If you’re someone who can never get enough of beaches, then Seal Rocks is a must stop.

Seal Rocks beautiful beach and sea landscape with mountain backdrop
Seal Rocks

© Photos by Kida

Forster

This cute little family coastal town has great vibes around the Coolongolook River. Locals love chilling on the beach and playing in the parks with kids.

There are some really nice waterfront restaurants like The Tartt Cafe, Hamilton’s Oyster Bar, and The Sicilian. Check out 9 Mile Beach before heading back on the road.

Forster bridge lake water
Forster

© Photos by Kida

Port Macquarie

This is another major coastal town worth a few days of exploring. There are so many things to do here in Port Macquarie, you could easily spend 3 days soaking up the sun.

Port Macquarie is one of our favourite weekend getaway destinations for years. Hire a jet ski or go on a fun ride at Port Jet, kayak on Hastings River, ride a camel on the beach, visit the Koala Hospital, and take a scenic cruise.

3 groups of people doing Camel ride on the beach in Port Macquarie
Camel Riding on the Beach, Port Macquarie

© Photos by Kida

Hat Head

If you have some extra time, stop by Hat Head. Hat Head is a small coastal town with a long stretch of beach. You can drive up to Captain Cook Lookout and walk up to Smoky Cape Lighthouse.

Nambucca Heads

There are 2 lookouts for a view of Nambucca River – Pilot Lookout & Rotary Lookout. It’s one of the mid-point destinations to stay overnight if you’re on a road trip to and from Brisbane. Walk the V-Wall Outdoor Gallery, where people paint their heartfelt messages on the rocks along the boardwalk. Some of them are actually very inspiring.

Numbucca Head The V Wall personalised decorated graffiti rocks by the water
The V Wall, Numbucca Head

© Photos by Kida

Coffs Harbour

Halfway Point Between Sydney & Brisbane

Coffs Harbour is the halfway point between Sydney and Brisbane. Many tourists come to Coffs Harbour just to take a photo with the iconic Big Banana, but there is so much more to do in Coffs Harbour.

Walk along Jetty Beach, drive up to Forest Sky Pier and Korora Lookout. Watch birds up-close at Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve. Smooch with a dolphin or a seal, and feed a penguin at Dolphin Marine Magic.

Browse through the list of activities to do in Coffs Harbour for your inspiration on Viator.

The Big Banana iconic photo spot Coffs Harbour
The Big Banana, Coffs Harbour

© Photos by Kida

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Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay

Suggested Time Frame: 1-2 Days
Recommended Overnight Stays: Byron Bay

Grafton

If you continue driving up north along the Pacific Coast towards Byron Bay via Pacific Highway, you will come across Clarence river – the largest river on the eastern seaboard. There isn’t a lot to see apart from regional landscapes and rural towns. So if the drive gets too long, you can make a small detour to the historic town of Grafton.

Ballina

Ballina has the closest airport to Byron Bay and is known for its iconic Big Prawn on River St. Don’t miss the one and only Macadamia Castle and Animal Park. You can find a whole list of things to do on Discover Ballina.

Byron Bay

We love the bohemian and gypsy beach vibes at Byron Bay. Byron Bay has so much to offer, from breathtaking encounters with nature to guided tours and adrenaline activities. You will be spoiled for choice here.

Here are our top bucket list to tick off in Byron Bay:

  • Follow the Cape Byron walking track up to the Lighthouse for a sweeping view of Byron Bay.
  • Enjoy the sun amongst beautiful bikini bodies on Belongil Beach.
  • Blend in with the hippie-chic lifestyle on Johnson St, check out some of the boutique shops, and people watch at a cafe!
  • Don’t miss the Sunday Market!
Byron Bay Lighthouse panoramic turquoise view of ocean
Byron Bay Lighthouse

© Photos by Kida

It’s worth mentioning, there’s a little farm-themed restaurant The Farm Byron Bay not too far from Byron Bay. It’s a restaurant nestled within an animal farm, kids will love playing here while you enjoy some lunch. There is a market, playground, and excellent food, making it a great stop whether you’re coming into Byron Bay or en route to Brisbane.

The Farm Restaurant nestled in an animal farm
The Farm Byron Bay

© Photos by Kida

Byron Bay is one of the major destinations that’s worth a weekend stay.
Find your perfect accommodation in Byron Bay below.


Interactive Packing List for Every Vacation

If you need a packing list for things like travel essentials, baby bag, beach vacations, camping, clothing and toiletries, be sure to use The Ultimate Interactive Packing List we’ve compiled for families just like yours.

This packing list is interactive, meaning you can tick them off after you pack to make sure nothing is left behind!

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Byron Bay to Brisbane

Tweed Coast Road

Rather than driving on Pacific Hwy, make a turn at Wooyung Road and drive on Tweed Coast Road next to a long stretch of sand. You’ll pass Potts Point and Pottsville – a little coastal town. Then stop by Hastings Point Lookout for some panoramic coastal view.

Hastings Point Lookout beautiful coastal view with reef rocks
Hastings Point Lookout

© Photos by Kida

Tweed Heads & Coolangatta Beach

We drove past this beautiful little coastal town, and it took our breath away. Surrounded by Terranora Creek and Tweed River, the water here is glistering. We would definitely consider staying here for a change next time! It’s one of those hidden gems that is under-rated.

Burleigh Head National Park

Burleigh Head is a family-friendly coastal suburb before reaching Gold Coast. Have a picnic at Justins Park and take a short hike up to Tumgun Lookout. You can see the silhouetted skyline of Gold Coast in the far distance. Walk along the beach, and try the award-winning California Tacos!

Burleigh Head beach with Gold Coast skyline silhouette background
Burleigh Head

© Photos by Kida

Gold Coast

Almost reaching our final destination, you could actually decide whether you want to base yourselves in Gold Coast or Brisbane. Our family prefers Gold Coast much more as we love staying close to the beaches and away from the urban cities’ hustle and bustle.

Gold Coast luxury houses on the river with boats and skyline
Gold Coast

© Photos by Kida

There are so much to cover on the Gold Coast that our family was left with many bucket list activities unchecked after a 4-day stay.

Gold Coast is known for having the best theme parks in Australia: Sea World, Dream World, Movie World, Wet’n’Wild, and Country Park just to name a few.

We will cover Gold Coast in a separate blog post. In the meantime, check out these amazing travel deals or head on over to Destination Gold Coast for some ideas.

We’re a family of beach lovers, so we would personally recommend staying on the Gold Coast for a few nights before heading further up north or going back home. You can search for a hotel on the Gold Coast below.

Stradbroke Island & Point Lookout

Whether you’re staying on the Gold Coast or in Brisbane, consider an island getaway to Stradbroke Island, also known as Straddie. This is a paradise for island lovers. Check out Stradbroke Island’s website for more info!

North-Stradbroke-Island
North Stradbroke Island
Photo © Viator

Brisbane

Finally, our Pacific Coast road trip from Sydney to Brisbane is coming to an end.

We spent 3 days in Brisbane before making our way back to Sydney, you can read about our relaxing babymoon vacation in this post here: Brisbane Top 10 Most Relaxing Things To Do.

Alternatively, browse through the highlight attractions and tours in Brisbane here.

Mount Coot-Tha Lookout sweeping view of Brisbane City
Mount Coot-Tha Lookout

© Photos by Kida


The Top 8 Pacific Coast Road Trip Stops

Mom holding baby looking at Sydney Opera House and Harbor with travel luggage

1. Central Coast
2. Lake Macquarie
3. Newcastle
4. Port Stephens
5. Port Macquarie
6. Coffs Harbour
7. Byron Bay
8. Gold Coast


Final Thoughts

We did this Australian East Coast drive from Sydney to Brisbane as our babymoon getaway. We really enjoyed this epic Pacific Coast road trip and felt like there were way too many hidden gems that we missed along the way.

Some say ‘a beach is a beach’, and they’re all the same after a while. For me, I could never get sick of this beautiful blue planet. Perhaps one day, our family of 4 could fulfil the Australian dream of hiring a campervan and drive around Australia’s coastlines without a return date.

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