What’s not to love about a roadtrip that hugs a totally natural wonder of the world - the Great Barrier Reef? There’s no shortage of jumping-off points along the Big Pacific Coast Touring Route to make sure you cover as much of this tropical, sea-life paradise as possible. And back on the mainland, there’s a bunch of kitschy Big Things this stretch of road is known for like the Big Mango in Bowen or the Giant Gumboot in Australia’s wettest town of Tully. There’s also ridiculously gorgeous rainforests, gold-rush towns stuck in a time-warp and the most bodacious selection of seafood to sample on your way as you travel across two states, from Sydney in New South Wales to Cairns in far north Queensland.
And if you can, a short ferry ride off the coast of Queensland will take you to one of the best beaches on the planet, Whitehaven, in The Whitsundays.
Ease into the Big Pacific Coast drive as you weave through the northern outskirts of Sydney and head towards the golden sands and relaxed vibes of the Central Coast. Your first port of call should be Forresters Beach - a long, golden-hued bay perfect for surfers and families looking for a picnic lunch and a spot of sand-castle building. As afternoon approaches, head a little further north to The Entrance - a small NSW town surrounded by beaches, lakes and lagoons. This popular holiday spot is best known for the huge pelican population that converge on Memorial Park every day at 3.30pm for their daily feeding. This has been a tradition for the past 20 years as the local fish and chip shop initially fed the scraps to the birds, but now the council and sponsors feed the birds every day, and whilst it is a great tourist draw card, it also gives them the ability to monitor the birds health and assist if any of them have fishing hooks or lines caught in their gullets or wings.
If the water is still beckoning, head towards Tuggerah Lake, the largest of three lakes that comprise the Tuggerah Lakes wetland system, where you’ll have the choice of swimming, water-skiing or fishing in the lake or the beach at the front of the town. The Lakes immediate surrounds include the Munmorah State Conservation Area and most of the Wyrrabalong National Park which has been identified as an Important Bird Area, because the shallow waters have seagrass beds which attract large numbers of waterbirds such as sharp tailed sandpipers and chestnut teals.
To stay for a few days, you can overnight in one of the holiday parks or hotels dotting the coastline.
Head out early to make it to Newcastle in time to sample one of the meals Australia does best - brunch. The burgeoning cafe scene in Newcastle will leave you with no shortage of options. Try the decadent fig, pear and yoghurt flatbread at popular brunch spot Three Beans or if you’re after an epic seaside view, head to Merewether Surfhouse for ricotta pancakes or a raw breakfast salad.
After brunch, make your way towards the Hunter Valley for an afternoon of wine tasting at some of the 120 wineries that make up the region. Leave the car behind and hop on one of the many wine tasting tours to let the experts guide you through the tasting notes of some of the best wines the region has to offer like the Semillion at Audrey Wilkinson Winery or the chardonnay at Brokenwood Wines.
Finish your afternoon at Harkham Winery - home to some of the region’s most delicious, sustainably farmed wine. The best part about finishing your day here is you won’t have to worry about driving to your accommodation, they have rooms available right on site.
It’s time to head back to the coast, towards the 26 sandy beaches and idyllic inlets that make up the holiday resort spot of Port Stephens. First off is a stop at Nelson Bay where you can hop on a dolphin or whale watching cruise, with Moonshadow TQC Cruises, an Advanced Ecotourism operator, to get up close to Port Stephens’ most playful residents. Next pick up a snorkel or your diving gear and head to Fly Point - Halifax Park Aquatic Reserve which is filled with an array of colourful marine life. Fish are so abundant in this spot, you’ll have them swimming around your legs as soon as you enter the water! And each summer juvenile tropical fish appear, including butterfly fish, damsel fish, wrasses and butterfly cod. Venture a little further into the deep blue to see octopus, giant blue gropers, rays or if you’re very lucky, a majestic seahorse. But please remember this is a protected marine reserve so there’s no fishing allowed.
Ten minutes from Nelson Bay is Worimi Conservation Lands - a 4,200 hectare area filled with Australia’s largest sand dune system. There are a number of ways to get acquainted with this unique terrain. Consider a guided 4WD tour or explore the dunes from the comfort of your own car (provided you purchase a beach vehicle permit first). Our pick for the most thrilling way to explore this area is stand-up sandboarding - think snowboarding but on sand!
If it’s a spot of fishing you’re after, head toward the freshwater barrier estuary known as Myall River. Here you’ll find plenty of top spots to drop a line to fish for bream or mullet.
And then spend the night seaside at one of the region’s plentiful holiday parks such as Nelson Bay or Fingal Bay.
Consider a detour inland to explore the dense rainforests and hidden waterfalls of Barrington Tops National Park. Forming part of the Gondwana Rainforest of Australia World Heritage Area, Barrington is carved out of ancient volcanic flows and as a national park it protects one of the largest temperate rainforests in Australia as well as a wide range of animals and birds. A bushwalkers paradise, there are a myriad of walks perfect for the whole family, as well as lots of fishing spots and amazing wildlife spotting. If time is on your side, consider an overnight hike or camp at one of the 5 camps grounds dotted around the park.
If you’d prefer to head straight for Coffs Harbour, keep on the highway and head towards Port Macquarie for a camel ride along the beach with Port Macquarie Camel Safaris.
Or venture further north to get to the beaches at Crescent Head - a favourite surfing spot for longboard riders from around the world as it’s well known as having one of the best right hand point breaks in the world.
And if you’re here in May you’ll be in time to catch the Malibu Classic. The laid-back coastal town at Crescent Head has plenty of spots where you can hire a board or the instructors at the local surf camp can help you brush up on your skills before you take on the famous right-hand break.
As you get closer towards Coffs Harbour, make a stop at the picturesque old-world town of Bellingen. Wander around the eclectic shops, stop in at an art gallery or enjoy a meal at one of the many organic restaurants lining the main street. On the third Saturday of every month you can catch the Belligen Markets where you can pick up fresh tasty treats straight from the garden or kitchen. The town is also known as an art and culture hot spot, hosting a number of musical and literary festivals throughout the year.
As you drive in to Coffs Harbour, keep an eye out for the Big Banana. It’s not exactly hard to miss and has been stopping traffic since 1964.
After watching the wonders of the sea, it’s time to venture inland to explore the wilderness at Nymboida National Park. Canoe the challenging rapids or take a hike through the majestic rainforest which will afford you loads of opportunities to spot the wonderful birdlife, like the white bellied sea eagle, and view the dramatic rock formations of the park. Stay a while and camp at the picturesque campground on the banks of the Nymbodia River - the perfect place for a dip during the balmy summer months.
Heading north, stop off at Ballina for a seafood lunch and to see the Big Prawn, one of Australia’s iconic “big things”. Then it’s time to get the surfboard out to catch a wave at Lennox Point, located at the southern end of Seven Mile Beach, which is regarded by some as Australia’s best right hand break.
Lennox Head is a great little seaside town with the glorious tree lined Lake Ainsworth just a short stroll from the beach. But the beach itself is a huge draw card as dolphins often join the surfers playing in the waves and between May and November you can spot whales cruising up the coast on their annual migration.
You might decide that your final stop for the day is Byron Bay - a laid-back, beach-side paradise that attracts former city-dwellers, surfers and the odd celebrity. You’ll be sure to find accommodation to suit your style and budget. Everything is on offer here, from holiday parks and backpackers to luxury resorts and eco-retreats.
If you’re an early riser, check out the sunrise from the Byron Bay lighthouse on Cape Byron - Australia’s most easterly point. The early start will be worth it especially if you’re lucky enough to spot a dolphin swimming in the bay or humpback whales, as their migration brings them by this part of Australia between May and November.
After the early start, you’ll be ready for breakfast at one of the many eco-conscious cafes on offer. Nothing incorporates the foodie aesthetic of Byron quite like The Farm - a 32 hectare sustainable farm with onsite restaurant. Make sure you have plenty of time so you can wander the farm, meet the animals who range happily around the farm supplying, helping nourish the veggie gardens and clients alike.