From the fast-paced, hustle of Australia’s big smoke – Sydney - to the cruisier, surfer vibes of Brisbane, there’s way more than just gorgeous coastlines to check out on this 10 hour drive. The transition in culture along the way is quite tangible and that quintessential Aussie drawl just gets thicker the further north you get. Get the cork hats, this is one great way to experience true blue Aussie hospitality in all its forms.
Whatever you choose to do, make sure you stop at Bago Vineyards and get lost in this maze on your way up.
Where to start with Sydney CBD? There are simply too many great places to uncover. But if you don’t have much time, Dawe’s Point is a good place to check out. The opera house and harbour bridge are all within walking distance and you’ll have no shortage of gorgeous harbour views out to the north shore and beyond. Spend the morning walking around Hyde Park, checking out the cockatoos and bats in the trees then head to the historic Rocks area. Weave your way through the laneways and street food markets before stopping for a beer at the Lord Nelson or the Fortune of War (or both!). Both of these drinking establishments claim to be the oldest pubs in Sydney.
From the Rocks area, it’s only a few minutes walk to one of Sydney's most celebrated and awarded restaurants Mr Wong. Their dim sum and crispy roast duck are legendary and perhaps the best anecdote to a busy morning of exploring this bustling seaside CBD.
If you’re a fan of Australia’s legendary Home & Away then you’ll recognise this next stop. Fans regularly flock to Palm Beach to see their favourite actors filming and to take a photo outside the “Summer Bay” surf life saving club.
Even if you’re not a fan of the show, it’s a quintessential beachside Sydney suburb complete with a great surf beach and a dazzling array of multi-million dollar homes. Check out some of the town’s many cafes or take a walk to the heritage-listed Barrenjoey Lighthouse at the end of the peninsula.
Testament to both how rich in Aboriginal heritage this whole area is and how much remains unfound, the team at Walkabout Park uncovered new ancient carvings possibly 1000 years old as late as 2006. And they remain constantly on the lookout for sites yet to be rediscovered. The most famous carving they have is a 50 foot Emu carving. They also have caves with stencilled hand paintings and other historic Aboriginal artworks. The park is about 3 km from the Great North Walk near the Calga Interchange of the F3 Freeway, signposted ‘Peats Ridge’.
If it’s venomous, stingy or bitey, (or indeed if it’s not), you’ll find it at the Australian Reptile Park. An amazing array of Crocs, Spiders, Birds, Lizards, Snakes, Turtles, Tasmanian Devils, Wombats, and Koala (though they’re cuddly not bitey). This is an amazing place to get up close and personal – or just “that’s quite close enough, thank you” with the animals. With plenty of stunning exhibits and conservation messages, this is great for animal lovers or the family and you should expect to spend a few hours to see everything. It’s the home of Elvis, Australia’s most badass Crocodile who, believe it or not, lost two teeth eating a lawn mower. He is an aggressive feeder and never fails to wow the crowds.
The beach-hopping continues with a stop at Terrigal Beach. With it’s very calm surfing conditions, this is a great beach to come to if you want to learn to surf. Book a group surfing lesson with Central Coast Surf School ahead of time to guarantee a spot. There’s also a bunch of cafes and boutique shops lining the boardwalk just above the beach.
Then head on over to Terrigal Haven, a five minute walk from Terrigal Beach, for a picnic lunch. From the Haven, you’ll be able to jump on the walking path that leads around the steep rocky bluff known as the Skillion, where you’ll be able to see over North Avoca beach and beyond to the vast Pacific Ocean.
This is exactly why you’re warned about feeding birds at the beach. 3:30pm, 365 days a year no matter what weather, this is the Central Coast’s most popular attraction. And it began by complete accident. After becoming accustomed to scraps from a local Fish and Chip shop, hundreds of local Pelicans now congregate at the exact same time demanding food and the feeding frenzy that ensues is pretty hilarious to watch. The serious side is that it allows the bird’s to be routinely inspected for injury so it’s a win win all round.
With over 140 wineries to choose from, there’s no shortage of places to try no matter whether you prefer a chardonnay or a glass of shiraz. Head to Hunter Valley institution Mount Pleasant to try wine from from some of the oldest vines in Australia. (Make sure you try both their semillon and shiraz. Apart from your designated driver of course.)
Next head to The Tinklers, a vineyard run by the Tinkler family who have been in the Hunter Valley for the over 100 years. Sit amongst the barrels with a glass of their Viognier, or pick up some fresh produce grown on site. Just picked fresh avocados, citrus, and figs - straight from the cellar door.
Before you leave Hunter, head to the Small Winemakers Centre, opposite Brokenwood to sample some wines you’re not going to find anywhere else. Small-batch and up and coming winemakers who are too small to have a cellar door showcase their wines at the centre.
There’s no better way to explore Newcastle’s cultural and natural landmarks as well as its indigenous and convict history than on this 5km coastal walk. Stretching from the lighthouse at Nobbys Headland to the coastal wilderness of Glenrock Reserve, look for the yellow information signs which will tell the stories of this area’s history as you pass by on your way to Bathers Way. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to stop for a swim and there are lots of great cafes and restaurants where you can rest and refuel.
Highlights along the path include Nobbys breakwall, whose foundations up, against the roaring surf, were quarried and laid by forced convict gangs, and the chance to spot dolphins and whales coasting by. We’d also recommend walking through the Art Deco pavilion at Newcastle Ocean Baths where you’ll be able to stop to soak in a saltwater pool.
The team at Irukandji are truly dedicated to protecting all forms of life in the ocean and their enthusiasm is infectious. Kids absolutely love this place and will learn a lot from the friendly and engaging staff. But let’s not beat around the bush, you want to get in the water with huge rays and up to 190 sharks? Yes, of course you do, what’s the worst that could happen, right? No reason to freak out, the Rays are completely harmless and in fact are practically affectionate, like giant under water, winged puppies. In winter, the quietest times to visit are on weekdays or prior to 12 pm or after 2pm, in summer, prior to 10 am or after 3 pm.
The Sydney Rock Oyster (Saccostrea glomerata) are among the best in Australia and, unsurprisingly, they are plentiful in Oyster Cove, just a short trip from the Pacific Motorway. There’s a host of wholesale oyster suppliers like Oysters Direct, Alldinga or XL Oysters to name a few and the best restaurant to eat these saucy little bi-valves is The Poyers café, were they serve Port Stephens Oysters 6 delicious ways. Haven’t tried one? This is a good time to start.
The beaches and beautiful turquoise waters in and around Forster are enough of an attraction but aboard the newest and probably the most impressive whale boat in Australia Amaroo cruises guarantee a whale sighting during whale season (June to November) or your money back. The crew are friendly and give you a pretty accurate prediction about spotting a Humpy (Local lingo for a Humpback) While a respectful viewing distance is observed it’s been known for curious Humpy’s to breach breathtakingly close.
Getting lost in the bush is far from an ideal situation in Australia, unless you’re at Bago Maze, where it’s par for the course. Set on the grounds on Bago Vineyards, this sprawling and surprisingly tranquil attraction is the largest hedge maze in New South Wales. For those not driving, you’ll find the maze gets increasingly difficult, especially after sampling some of the Bago Vineyard wine – the chilled Jazz Red is recommended and all bottles are very affordable. Beautifully presented, lush and overall an “amazing” way to spend the afternoon.
After all of that lovely wine and food, it’s time to stretch your legs with a 9km coastal walk along the rocky headlands of Port Macquarie. This walk includes beaches, headlands, historic sites and a subtropical rainforest. After all of that walking, you’ve earned a beer at The Beach House. This bustling beachside pub is the best place to watch the sunset over the water.
With unabated views over the Tasman Sea the Tacking Point lighthouse lookout offers some stunning picture opportunities, but it’s also the spot locals use to whale watch completely free of charge instead of a charter boat options. Whales and Dolphins are often easily spotted from the lookout, but naturally binoculars will improve the experience. Seasons match the paid whale experiences, with the best activity June to November. And even if there’s no visible whale action the lighthouse monument itself will impress.
Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you Pizza and that’s pretty much the same thing. And that’s certainly applicable to Embers Restaurant. These are the real-deal woodfired meals with our favourite, Pizzas, slow cooked over coals of aromatic Australian timbers in a hand built wood oven and made using only the best ingredients. Artisan meats from across Australia, fresh local oysters and seafood, hand mixed pizza cheeses and herbs grown in the restaurant garden are utilised and the resulting slice is unbelievably good. #droool.
Warning – tragic banana puns ahead. An icon for over 50 years the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour is more than an enormous monument and hilarious photo opportunity. It’s a bunch of fun. The venue is a great family amusement and water park with slides or play areas suitable for kids of all ages, a toboggan course, candy factory, 36-hole miniature golf, opal centre, plantation walk, ice skating rink and more. There’s something appealing here for everyone, young or more well-ripened. The park is open from 9am to 5pm with the water park closed between June through August. It’s a large facility so we suggest the Banana café as a rendezvous point - should you get split.
If this is your second time to Byron Bay or you’re keen to escape the crowds, head to one of the lesser-known swimming bays in the area. Voted #1 on the Australian Travellers 100 Incredible Travel Secrets of Australia, White Beach is now an open secret but it’s still considerably less busy than the main Byron Bay swimming beaches. To get there, you’ll need to drive down an off road track then it’s a steep climb down through vegetation. You’ll be rewarded with a beautiful bay, free from the hoards.
And Byron Bay itself could, in theory, have a road trip schedule all its own, but even then, you’d struggle to cover all the crazy, cool things this place has to offer. Originally an outpost of the Australian surfer / hippie community, Byron Bay has embraced the inevitable juxtaposition between alternative lifestyle and capitalism. The harmony in which those contrasts exist is exactly Byron’s charm. Walk from elegant homewares boutiques to incense infused, crystal shops, mansions and surf huts alike share post codes and you can enjoy a Hipster coffee joint in the morning, a chilled-out family café in the day and fine dining at night. Byron Bay, as a destination should not be overlooked on any road tripper’s route.
Byron Bay is synonymous with clean and healthy eating cafes but if you’re starting to get sick of kale smoothies and acai bowls, head a little out of town to Byron Bay Brewery. Here you’ll be able to indulge with fresh and vibrant lagers while snacking on the sticky lamb ribs or jerk chicken sliders. Come evening, there’s often great live music on offer.
If you had to pick one thing and one thing only to do in Byron Bay, it would be to stand atop the vertical cliffs at Australia’s most Eastern tip. The majestic Cape Byron lighthouse has stood here since 1901, overlooking the dolphins, easily visible from the lookout, that regularly ride the waves below. She’s a grand old monument, but it’s Mother Nature that steals the show every time. In stormy weather or calm, the outlook always warrants the same description - breathtaking. Even the locals are consistently awestruck by the vista here, so walk the loop from Byron Bay (about 6km’s and reasonably strenuous so perhaps make sure you have decent walking shoes). Or drive to Watego Bay, park up (and grab a coffee from the great little coffee van) and walk approximately 20 minutes from there.
Wedged between Snapper Rocks and Point Danger, you’ll find the secluded bay of Froggy Beach. This magical slice of beach may be tiny but it’s often deserted and with rocky headlands on either side, it’s a great place to take shelter from the elements.
If the water is too wild for swimming, check out the tiny rock pool on the northern side. When it’s time to head to the pub, you’ve got the choice of two great watering holes both within walking distance. Check out Rainbow Bay Surf Life Saving Club for a burger and cold beer or Cafe D’Bar for salads and fresh seafood.
With it’s huge party atmosphere, the Gold Coast is a million miles an hour, but even it struggles to keep up with the Official Supercars drive ride and race experience, just out of the main centre. You and your travel companions get behind the wheel of a genuine V8 race car, race side by side up to 12 laps of the Norwood Motorplex and basically do all the things you wish you could’ve done on the road trip, but legally aren’t allowed to. The cars are prepared by Australian V8 Supercar technicians and the package includes use of all necessary safety equipment and a full briefing before you go racing. There are also professional race-drivers on hand to offer assistance and tuition to ensure you get the most out of your experience. They encourage you to drive the cars fast and show you exactly how to get the best lap times from them.
Great snorkelling, scuba diving, kayaking and fishing awaits on Stradbroke Island. This marine playground is a popular day-trip from the Gold Coast or you can stay the night in the campground or one of the island’s many resorts.
The island is renowned for having an amazing range of wildlife including dolphins, turtles, manta rays and migratory whales. You might even see the extremely rare ‘Migaloo’ - one of the only Albino whales in the world. This places is super popular in the summer, so it’s a good idea to pre-book the ferry during if you’re here near peak season.
Let’s face it, everyone loves koalas. They are simply are too cute for words. At Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, you can appreciate the gentle lifestyles of the fluffy little bears up close with daily wildlife interactions. The sanctuary is the world’s largest facility of its type and is devoted to growing Australia’s koala population. They also hold sheep dog demonstrations, have kangaroos, wombats, platypus’, crocodiles and snakes. But with over 130 koalas it’s hard for these little fur balls not to steal the show. Lone Pine is about a 15 minute drive from Brisbane City, or you can take a Mirimar ferry, which leaves the Cultural Centre Pontoon (outside the State library) in Southbank at 10am each day.