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Sydney to Brisbane road trip highlights

Aerial shot of sun rising over the Newcastle Ocean Baths.

If you have a rental car and are looking to experience Australia’s east coast, a road trip from Sydney to Brisbane is one of the most popular ways to do so. While you can do the drive in as little as twelve hours, with a week you’ll be better able to appreciate the beautiful coastal scenery and the many interesting towns that are dotted along the way. With this in mind, VroomVroomVroom would like to share some ideas on how to get the most out of your east coast road trip.

Visit some Hunter Valley vineyards along the way.

Sydney to Brisbane road trip map

Calm waters on the Hawkesbury River.

Day 1: Start your epic journey by the waters of the Hawkesbury River

You won’t have left Sydney’s iconic skyline behind for long when you reach the first stop on your road trip to Brisbane — the slow flowing waters of the Hawkesbury. The river is surrounded by three national parks and flows into the scenic Broken Bay and then the Pacific. Fishing, sailing and other water sports are all popular activities here, but if you have limited time, try to visit Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. It is one of the most popular parks in the area, and its attractions include beautiful bushland, lovely walks and interesting Aboriginal paintings.

A popular beachside stop, a little to the north of Broken Bay, is the holiday destination of Terrigal. It offers great surf beaches, terrific seafood and there are plenty of other beaches in the area worth exploring.

Day 2: Visit Nobbys Lighthouse in Newcastle

As you make your way through Australia’s popular Central Coast region, be sure to stop in at Newcastle. The city boasts five stunning beaches, with the most popular being Nobbys Beach. Established in 1854, Nobbys Lighthouse is one of the city’s many historical landmarks that are well worth a visit, though do note you will need to walk the last stretch to reach it.

Away from the beach but still at night, Newcastle has a thriving music scene that keeps its huge student population awake into the late hours. If you’d prefer some good dining options, head to Darby Street.

Other great things you can do in and around Newcastle include enjoying a sunset at Lake Macquarie, getting up close with native fauna at Blackbutt Reserve, going on a Hunter Valley wine tour, or enjoying a romantic picnic at King Edward Park.

Nobbys Head Lighthouse from above.
A yacht sailing past Yacaaba Head with a seagull flying by.

Day 3: Enjoy a close encounter with some friendly Port Stephens dolphins

Only a few hours drive from Newcastle lies Port Stephens, which is particularly well known for its dolphins. If you have ever wanted to see dolphins in their natural habitat, Port Stephens is a great spot to do so as a population of bottle-nosed dolphins often linger near the coast. You might be able to spot dolphins from dry land, but many choose to do one of Port Stephen’s many dolphin-spotting cruises to get a closer look.

If you are looking for other fun things to do, there are plenty of activities to choose from around Port Stephens. You could go hiking to Mount Tomaree, explore some nearby beaches, perhaps a spot of quad biking or tobogganing at Toboggan Hill Park in Nelson Bay, or see the koalas and native birdlife at Tilligerry Habitat.

Day 4: Catch a wave in Port Macquarie

Port Macquarie is no slouch when it comes to activities, and as it is almost surrounded by water it should come as no surprise to learn that water sports are a popular past time. While it is famous for its bodyboarding, you can also go surfing and windsurfing, and there is no shortage of sandy beaches to take a long walk on. Port Macquarie is a very popular destination for families and there is plenty of good eating and drinking to choose from.

If you’re looking for a similar feel to Post Macquarie, but not as big a centre, it might be a good idea to continue along the highway to Nambucca Heads — or stop there too! It is a beautiful seaside town with a welcoming village vibe and some terrific beaches to choose from.

Coastal scenes at a beach near Port Macquarie.
Kangaroos enjoy some sea views near Coffs Harbour.

Day 5: Visit the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour

Another hotspot for those driving from Sydney to Brisbane is the Coffs Harbour. Aside from its gorgeous beaches, the city is also known for the Big Banana monument and amusement park, which was constructed in 1964. This has become one of Australia’s first Big Things along with the Big Apple, Big Avocado, Big Bench, Big Bowl, Big Bottles, Big Flower and many more.

Other cool things to do in Coffs Harbour include visiting the Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve, Forest Sky Pier, Clog Barn and the Butter Fly House. Taking a camel ride with Coffs Coast Camels, skyding with Coffs Skydivers and scuba diving with Jetty Drive. Just an hour drive from Coffs Harbour is the gorgeous Dorrigo National Park located only 5 kilometres east of Dorrigo.

Day 6: Catch sunrise in Byron Bay Lighthouse

The north east corner of New South Wales is home to interesting towns like Bangalow, Mullumbimby, and of course Byron Bay. You may also want to stop in at unique towns like Mooball, where telephone poles and service stations are painted with dairy cow patterns, or experience the alternative vibes of Nimbin.

Some other mandatory things to do when in Byron Bay are seeing the Lighthouse, learning to surf, ocean kayaking as well as driving out to the hinterland. The area is also home to rolling hills, pretty beaches, rainforests, spectacular bushwalks and a chilled out atmosphere. The local pub scene is also worth checking out. A few great options include the Byron Bay beach Hotel, the Nimbin Hotel and the Tumbulgum Tavern.

Sunrise at Byron Bay Lighthouse.
A whale frolics offshore.

Day 7: Make the most of the Gold Coast

Driving past Tweed Heads, you’ll eventually find yourself in the vibrant Gold Coast. There are numerous things to explore, with the Gold Coast boasting stunning beaches, lush rainforest, waterfalls, theme parks and more.

Day 8: Surfers Paradise and Brisbane

Another popular destination before Brisbane is Surfers Paradise, where there are plenty of opportunities to spend money, including at the Star Goast Coast casino. Or, if the casino doesn’t appeal, experience the lively nightlife along Orchid Road.

When you reach Queensland’s capital city of Brisbane, explore Southbank, the West End, walk along the Brisbane River and try some of the great local restaurants. For a chic suburb, head to Bulimba, or try Milton for good food. Rosalie is a great option for delicatessens and innovative cuisine, and for boutique shopping explore Fortitude Valley.

Catch an early morning wave at Surfers Paradise.

Top things to do

Of course, the biggest attraction in the Gold Coast is its spectacular beaches, as well as the famous stretch of sand at Surfers Paradise. Make sure also to get your heart racing at famous theme parks including the Sea World. Warner Bros. Movie World, Outback Spectacular and Wet’n’Wild.

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