Whether you’re heading to Splendour in the Grass (Mud) or chasing the sun to hang out with the hippies/make your annual visit to Cheeky Monkey’s, there’s no need to rush to Byron. Clocking in at about nine hours, the road trip from Sydney to Byron Bay isn’t a leisurely drive, but it’s a scenic one. And you can make it even more memorable by taking your sweet time, and pulling over to explore beaches, lush national parks, and charming towns along the coast.
Pack snacks, bevvies, and some winter woollies, and let’s go for a ride.
KU-RING-GAI CHASE NATIONAL PARK
About an hour out of Sydney, you’ll reach this beyond beautiful national park. It’s the second oldest in Australia, and worth a pitstop. You can hike, bike and bushwalk to your heart’s content, but if you don’t want to get sweaty, settle in for a picnic or BBQ at Bobbin Head. You’ll get to soak up the rainforest and creek scenes, and fuel up before the next stop – because being hangry on a road trip is not a fun time.
Jump on the picturesque Pacific Highway – known as The Legendary Pacific Coast (‘straya) – and in about an hour, you’ll arrive at the Central Coast. If the holiday vibes haven’t kicked in yet, they will now. With its string of pristine beaches and cute coastal towns, it’s as chill as it gets. While Ettalong Beach, Umina Beach, Patonga, Shelly Beach and Terrigal are all pretty pitstops, we love a cheeky stop at Copacabana or Avoca.
In Copacabana, grab a burger or salted caramel hot chocolate at Bar Copa, which is right on the beach, or listen to live music while you eat at Allagai Bay Café. In Avoca, go to Point Café for an all-day brekkie among the palm trees, or sip on strong coffee and tuck into pretty plates at Becker & Co or Like Minds Café. And if you believe that it’s not a road trip without a juicy bacon and egg roll, pick up one at The Fat Goose in Killcare.
It’s a crime to go to the Central Coast without taking a peek at Bouddi National Park. It’s brimming with secret, sandy beaches, cliffs, rainforest, and some of the most glorious coastal walks in the country – and since we’re kinda spoiled for those, that’s saying something! The Bouddi Coastal Trail is an 8km walk that’s home to plenty of wildlife as well as beaches and lookouts, but if that’s simply not happening, try the Maitland Bay Track. It’s a cruisy 1.5km, and winds its way through rainforest and waterways.
Next up: Newy. The once-sleepy town is now a foodie destination and art-lover’s haven, plus it’s surrounded by water, so it has a bit going for it. For a caffeine fix, sink into the cosy couches at Sprocket Roasters or One Penny Black, or warm up with a hot cuppa at The Tea Collective, which has more than 70 brews on the menu. Then, go for gourmet doughnuts at Doughheads. A Newy institution, it has a bunch of creative flavours, such as caramel toast and citrus cheesecake.
Need something more substantial? No worries! Sit down for lunch at The Edwards, Merewether Surfhouse or Talulah Bar, or pick up an enormous burger with all the trimmings at Al’s Beach Hut. If it’s about time for a drink, pop into Foghorn Brewhouse for locally-brewed beer, The Beach Hotel to hang with the salty sea dogs, or The Lass for a bev in the beer garden.
While you’re in the area, you may as well linger a little longer to see the major attractions. You can stroll the clifftop Newcastle Memorial Walk, which offers 360-degree views of the water or wander the laneways plastered with street art (a la Melbourne) in the CBD. And you probably won’t be swimming, but it’s worth checking out the Art Deco-style Ocean Baths.
Power through to Port Macquarie, which is about three hours away – but hopefully all these activities have distracted you from the drive! Bordered by eighteen beaches (overachiever), it’s famous for its beaches, forests and wildlife, and it has a bunch of fab food spots. Let’s be real, a road trip is all about the snacks.
Social Grounds will sort you out with the best coffee in town, and Black Duck with beer. If you’re in the mood for a meal, go to Latin Loafer for tapas and live music, or Drury Lane Eatery for lunch in the leafy courtyard.
Digest with a stroll along the postcard-worthy Port Macquarie Coastal Walk, or make your way to Sea Acres National Park. It’s flush with good views, and they’re best seen from the 7 metre-high boardwalk.
To take your trip up a notch, do the Port Macquarie Camel Safari. In other words, ride a camel along the beach and pretend like you’re in Morocco like everyone else on Instagram.
Hop back in the driver’s seat and in another hour, you’ll be in Coffs Harbour. When you get there, take the compulsory snap with the Big Banana (which, yes, isn’t that big but it was the first ‘big thing’ in Oz and the locals are staunchly proud of it) and make your way to the Clog Barn. It’s a slice of Europe in Coffs, and besides the brightly coloured wooden clogs, its main attraction is a mini replica of a Dutch Village, with windmills, saw mills and trains.
Other than that, you can go for a swim, wander the marina – and if it’s Sunday, check out the jetty markets – or feast on share plates and woodfired delights at Popla Bellingen. Coffs is an adventure hub, so you can also delve into white water rafting or sign up for skydiving (only if you ‘forgot’ your license and can’t drive the last three hours on the road trip!). 😉
Cruise for an hour, and you’ll hit Yamba, a peaceful, pristine beach town. It’s super chill, and known for its year-round warm weather, so you can count on wearing your cossies and denim cut-offs here. Our pick is Brooms Head Main Beach, and you may even spot some dolphins!
The area’s also famous for its prawns and fish, so try to stop at the Yamba Shores Tavern for a seafood feast on the waterfront. If you’re there on a Wednesday, head to the farmers markets to stock up on fresh fruit and gourmet goodies for the last stretch of your trip.
Stay tuned for our guide to Byron Bay!
Wanderlust brought to you by Katia Iervasi