3 February 2016
The iconic East Coast road trip from Sydney to Brisbane is officially known as the Legendary Pacific Coast, and is one of Australia’s top road trips stretching 900kms along the Pacific Coast corridor.
This drive has something for all the family; stunning beaches, green rolling hills, beach and riverside towns, wineries, historic sites, the hinterland, wildlife watching, and every water sport imaginable. Below are our recommended highlights and places worth spending some time in.
An hour north of Sydney is the Central Coast, a beautiful region that makes for a great detour off the highway. One of the most popular towns is Terrigal, a stylish beach town with plenty of cafes, fishing, diving, whale watching, and one of the best beer gardens in Australia at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Other highlights include the coastal walk in Bouddi National Park which has dramatic coastal views, Avoca Beach, MacMasters Beach, Copacabana Beach, and the pelican feeding at The Entrance and Toowoon Bay.
In 2011 the beachside city of Newcastle was voted as one of The Lonely Planet’s must see destinations. With great beaches, ocean baths, inner city pubs and a thriving cafe scene, such as Derby street, Newcastle is a vibrant and happening place. At nearby Stockton Beach you will find massive sand dunes offering 4WD tours, sandboarding and quad biking. Just north of Newcastle is Port Stephens, a destination with fantastic fishing and opportunities for snorkelling, diving and whale and dolphin watching. The annual whale migration runs from May to November every year with peaks in July and September.
The wine and food trail known as the Hunter Valley is one of our favourite regions in Australia. With over 150 wineries, this is the place you want to go to sample some of Australia’s best wines. There’s an abundance of great restaurants and cafes for the foodies, you can enjoy a round of golf, a spa treatment, or a long lunch. The Hunter Valley is well known for its “Day on the Green” and the kids will enjoy the Hunter Valley Gardens.
Family friendly Seal Rocks is a quiet fishing village off the highway. This beautiful space offers clear bays for swimming, snorkelling, boating, fishing and is also a top spot for camping. If you’re looking for a unique stay that all the family will love, you can even treat yourself to a stay in a Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage at Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse, an amazing place with amazing ocean views to match.
The town of Port Macquarie is worth a few days of your time. Vibrant yet unspoilt, Port Macquarie sits at the estuary of the Hastings River and along the stunning coastline. If you’re the active type, the spectacular 9km coastal walk from Town Beach to Tacking Point Lighthouse takes in beaches, headlands, historic sites and rare subtropical rainforests. The popular Koala Hospital and Billabong Wildlife Park are great for the kids, and also on offer is bountiful fishing, gorgeous National Parks and surfing beaches. Don’t miss the spectacular sunsets, best taken with a cold drink from The Beach House right on Town Green by the river.
A 20 minute detour off the Legendary Pacific Coast Drive brings you to South West Rocks, a town surrounded by National Parks and beaches. There’s a small town charm and ambience with a small offering of cafes and restaurants, but a whole lot of beauty. See wild kangaroos in abundance by the beach in Little Bay, drive out to Smokey Cape Lighthouse, and visit the historic Trial Bay Gaol.
Halfway along the Sydney to Brisbane route is Coffs Harbour, a region big enough to devote a whole week to and a destination that has something for everyone. Check out The Jetty and Marina area with a walk to the top of Muttonbird Island Reserve to watch the sunset over the marina. Visit the Butterfly House, Diggers and Park Beach, and a quick visit to the BIG Banana (especially for the banana split sundae). Take a drive to the riverside town of Bellingen, not far from Coffs Harbour, to appreciate the artistic lifestyle and the weekend markets. Grab a coffee in the charming beachside town of Sawtell, and go for a nature walk in World Heritage listed Dorrigo National Park.
Yamba lies at the mouth of the Clarence River and has a laid-back, quasi-bohemian charm with a lovely blend of the old and the new. There’s the chilled cafes, the charming old Movie Cinema, and the iconic Pacific Hotel overlooking the town’s main beach. Plus, you’ve got world class surfing beaches, a river to fish in, world-famous prawns to eat, and a fantastic coastal walk through the National Park to secluded Shelley’s Beach. Head to the Yamba Tavern for fish feeding and sunset watching, and take the short drive to Angourie.
Not a town, of course, but the kids will love this for a pit stop. We believe the Macadamia Castle has Australia’s best pancakes – think triple stack with macadamias! And you can also go out the back and meet kangaroos, wombats and other farm animals, plus have a round of mini-golf.
Probably the most popular destination along the route, Byron Bay is that laid back beachside town famous for surfing, its alternative lifestyle, world class people watching, and healthy eating. Don’t miss the coastal walk to Cape Byron lighthouse (the most easterly point of mainland Australia), a sunset beach walk, Wategos Beach, the Sunday Markets, and the ever-popular Byron Bay Bluesfest that takes place every Easter!
Kingscliff is a gem of a beachside town in northern NSW, and only a 15 minute drive south of the border. It’s a one street town, but alive with busy cafes and restaurants and sits on the family friendly beach. A top spot for lunch or dinner is either the Beach Hotel, the Surf Club or the Bowling Club. Nearby Salt Beach offers more upmarket restaurants, and the kids will love swimming and kayaking in crystal clear Cudgen Creek.
How much time do you need to drive the Legendary Pacific Coast?
I suggest setting aside a minimum of 10 days, preferably two weeks, for making the most of this drive and having enough time to explore each place properly.