Tips for a budget road trip from Sydney to Byron Bay

Road tripping from Sydney to Byron Bay doesn’t need to be expensive. From free coastal walks to bucket-list photo ops, great-value eats and affordable stays, here’s where to sleep, eat and adventure on your journey.

Destination NSW

Destination NSW

Aug 2023 -
min read

It’s a must-do – Sydney to Byron Bay with a bunch of friends, seemingly unlimited time, but limited funds. The end destination? It’s often thought to be an expensive one. This guide provides hot (budget) tips on where to eat, stay and find adventure at key stops along the road and at the final stop, making sure your trip doesn’t turn into a bank breaker.  

Fact: if you’re keen to make this journey but don’t have a car, rest assured Newcastle, Port Stephens, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and Byron Bay are all accessible by public transport – either bus or train. 


Stop 1: Newcastle 

Stay: YHA Newcastle Beach is an oceanside hostel, set in a heritage building across from Newcastle Beach. It has free Wi-Fi and surfboard and bodyboard hire, a self-catering kitchen, a laundry and more. Its central location makes it a great homebase when visiting the seaside city.  

Eat: In Merewether you’ll find Modus Merewether, a craft beer brewery with 36 taps pouring Modus’ core range, non-alcoholic options and special sips such as sours and IPAs. It offers a weekday happy hour and value-for-money tasting paddles. After your fill at Modus, head to Larrie’s for a feed of old-school fish and chips by the beach. Go for the locally sourced produce and sustainably caught seafood, stay for the prawn toast and chip butties. Even a budget-friendly holiday can leave room for a spot of luxury, and a cocktail on QT Newcastle’s rooftop fits the bill. Head up for epic river views, Japanese-style interiors, Japanese whiskies, inspired cocktails and snacks.  

Friends ordering food drinks at the bar at Modus Merewether, Merewether

Modus Merewether, Merewether

Do: Top of Newcastle’s adventure list is a swim in its incredible waters. An Instagrammer’s dream is the Bogey Hole, a glistening, hand-hewn ocean pool off King Edward Park. Just a five-minute walk from the YHA is the Canoe Pool. It’s a great spot to wade and sun soak in the shallow water, perfect for inexperienced swimmers and young families. Beyond swimming, Treetops Adventure Newcastle offers unique treetop courses nestled in the Blue Gum Hills Regional Park, and supplies a five per cent discount on your first adventure if you sign up to its mailing list. For a walk on the dark side, hit up Newcastle’s True Crime Tour. The $34 tour provides insights into Newcastle’s crime history over an enthralling 90-minute walk around the city.  

Aerial view of the Bogey Hole, Newcastle

Bogey Hole, Newcastle

Stop 2: Port Stephens 

Stay: Samurai Beach Bungalows Port Stephens YHA is an affordable and comfortable hostel set in lush rainforest, with shared-room accommodation, deluxe double rooms and family options. Find the usual hostel amenities along with a pit-style fire; an outdoor, fully equipped ‘bush kitchen’, and more. 

Eat: Nelson Bay’s Mod Thai is a great option for a good-value meal out, with an extensive range of stir-fry, noodle and curry dishes. It also does BYO. Head to Cheeky Dog in Soldier’s Point for a great open-plan pub experience. Set right on the water, this modern Mediterranean-style outpost deals in classic pub food plus stone-baked pizza, antipasti and weekly specials. 

 High table with two bar stools laden with snacks and rose, Cheeky Dog

Cheeky Dog at Bannisters, Port Stephens - Credit: Cheeky Dog

Do: The Port Stephens area offers a plethora of adventure, and much of it is free. The Tomaree Head Summit Walk, set in the Tomaree National Park, is a 2.2km return walk boasting unparalleled views of idyllic Port Stephens and its coastline. From the top, you can see as far as Cabbage Tree and Boondelbah Islands – the world’s only nesting sites for the endangered Gould's petrel. The Stockton Sand Dunes and Worimi Conservation Lands are also a must-do. The dunes span 32km and are the longest-moving sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, reaching heights of over 30 metres. Explore them on a tour such as Sand Dune Adventures’ quad bike experience with an Indigenous guide, or wander them for yourself on a free self-guided adventure. If you’re looking to surf the dunes, note that a makeshift cardboard board only works on wet sand, so be sure to get your hands on a sandboard or sled, or if not, a thoroughly waxed snowboard.  

Couple enjoying the view on the Tomaree Head Summit Walk, Port Stephens

Tomaree Head Summit Walk, Port Stephens

Stop 3: Port Macquarie 

Stay: Budget, waterside accommodation in Port Macquarie is answered by NRMA Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park. Whether you prefer to hitch the caravan, pitch a tent or relax in a cabin, you’ll be spoilt for choice at this riverside spot. There’s also Ozzie Pozzie Backpackers. Self-proclaimed to be ‘more resort than backpackers’, Ozzie Pozzie has dorms and rooms, a massage suite, swimming pool, kitchen and more. A little further north of Port Macquarie, in Crescent HeadWaves Campground caters to campers, caravanners, camper trailers and camper vans. It's set in pristine bushland and has an on-site cafe.

Caravan park with view of the ocean, NRMA Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park

NRMA Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park, Port Macquarie - Credit: NRMA Port Macquarie Breakwall Holiday Park

Eat: Brooklyn's Burger Bar makes a mean burger. Find options inspired by countries the world over, including a Nashville fried chicken number; a smoked brisket burger; and the ‘ultimate Aussie’ with bacon, a fried egg and beetroot relish. It also does hotdogs, shakes and loaded fries. For more of a splurge option, Bar Capone, a modern speakeasy-style bar, is your answer. Enter for classic cocktails with a side of burgers and fried-food goodness.  

Do: The Sea Acres Rainforest boardwalk is an entry-level 1.3km walk through the rainforest canopy. While a small fee garners entry, the opportunity to see animals such as goannas and diamond pythons makes it worthwhile. Port Macquarie's coastal walk is a 9km one-way walk where you’ll pass historic sites, see coastal scenery and wander through rainforest. If fauna is more your thing, then a visit to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital shouldn't be missed, especially because self-guided tours of the facility, educational displays and koala yards are free. If you’re feeling generous, given recent habitat loss due to the 2019 bushfires, donations or koala adoptions (metaphorical, no one can take a koala home) are always welcome.  

Aerial view of Port Macquarie Lighthouse, Port Macquarie

Port Macquarie Lighthouse, Port Macquarie

Stop 4: Coffs Coast  

Stay: Reflections Holiday Parks Coffs Harbour blends inner-city convenience with idyllic surroundings. Here you’ll find unpowered camping, powered slab and grass sites, and basic and standard cabins. Plus, most of the park is pet friendly. Woopi Backpackers is a family-run Woolgoolga hostel, just a five-minute walk from Woolgoolga Beach and a short drive from Coffs Harbour. Stay here for a range of room styles plus complimentary breakfast.  

Couple sitting outside caravan at Reflections Holiday Parks Coffs Harbour, Coffs Harbour

Reflections Holiday Parks Coffs Harbour - Credit: Reflections Holiday Parks Coffs Harbour

Eat: The Glenreagh Bakery is a 35-minute drive inland to Glenreagh and well worth the trip. The self-proclaimed ‘destination bakery’ prepares all its goods on-site, including the best pies (it’s won awards for them) on the Coffs Coast, savoury scones, eclairs and much more. Back in Coffs, drop into the fish shop at the Coffs Harbour Fisherman’s Co-op for the catch of the day. 

Do: If crossing off some of NSW’s ‘big things’ is on your hit list, then a visit to the Big Banana Fun Park is essential. Stop by for a silly, no-cost photo op with a giant banana sculpture, or head indoors to experience the jumbo slide and the mini-golf course (payment required) and its signature banana split. If you’re looking for more adventure, check out Wajaana Yaam Gumbaynggirr Adventure Tours. Wajaana Yaam’s offering includes stand-up paddleboarding, walking and cultural tours, and all guides are Aboriginal people who have strong familial ties to Gumbaynggirr Country. While places for the five-hour cultural tour begin at $100, it offers great value as participants are privy to First Nations knowledge, plus the tour includes morning tea and lunch.  

Friends enjoying the The Big Banana Fun Park, Coffs Harbour

The Big Banana Fun Park, Coffs Harbour

Stop 4: Byron Bay 

Stay: Wake Up! Byron Bay – a modern, bright and bohemian hostel – is one of the most affordable spots to stay in Byron. Opposite Belongil Beach, and just a 15-minute walk from the town centre, it has shared dorms and private rooms, an on-site restaurant and bar, a spacious courtyard, plus all the hostel mainstays including shared bathroom facilities and free Wi-Fi. Across town at the waterfront Reflections Holiday Parks Byron Bay, find camping and caravanning sites, cabins, tiny homes and superior ocean-view villas.  

Front entrance with bikes at Wake Up! Byron Bay, Byron Bay

Wake Up! Byron Bay, Byron Bay - Credit: Wake Up! Byron Bay

Eat: Just a 10-minute walk from Reflections is Top Shop, a local favourite. This former 1950s milk bar serves acai bowls, smoothies, burgers and more from its corner shop space. Perch yourself on the grassy knoll while you tuck into your mid-morning snack. In town, Miss Margarita dishes up Mexican cantina classics and has a daily happy hour of $15 margaritas and $6 Mexican beers. A little further out of town in Brunswick Heads is Birds of Paradise. This bougie rotisserie chicken shop sells chicken-and-chip combos, chicken rolls (the toppings and flavours change regularly) and house-made ice-cream.  

Friends drinking coffee outside Top Shop Cafe, Byron Bay

Top Shop Cafe, Byron Bay 

Do: A trip to Byron isn’t complete without a sunrise walk to the Cape Byron Lighthouse. The Cape Byron walking track begins at Main Beach and snakes up to Cape Byron headland, (the most easterly point on the Australian mainland) through the rainforest and bushland of the Cape Byron State Conservation Area. A little further up the coast near Kingscliff is Tropical Fruit World. The 80-hectare working farm grows more than 500 unusual tropical fruits and boasts views of the region’s tallest mountain, Wollumbin Mount Warning. Tropical Fruit World provides farm tours (prices starts at $35) and has a seasonal fruit market that’s free to enter.  

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