Even a road trip well-travelled can reveal plenty of surprises if you take the time to slow down. Here are 11 of Australia’s best coastal road trips to inspire you from our special 100 Amazing Road Trips around Australia series.
Coastal road trips
1. Sydney to the Gold Coast
Gone are my days of hightailing it from Sydney to Byron or the Gold Coast. By not trying to beat Google’s predicted arrival time, I’ve unearthed a string of pearlescent towns that make the journey just as appealing as the final destination. Who knew they were all glistening in plain sight?
I wholly endorse slowing it down and spending a handful of days to turn this corridor between home and holiday into a true road trip. You might just find a new destination that usurps the usual.
The road trip to the stunning Gold Coast is filled with amazing Australian gems. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
First stop beyond the city limits is the beachside enclave of Old Bar on the Barrington Coast, just east of Taree. It’s a place where boardshorts are worn year-round and the Kombi van retains eternal appreciation, particularly over the October long weekend, when the Old Bar Beach Festival descends with the headline event a parade of the original surfer transporter.
Visit some of the Barrington Coast’s gems like Wallis Lake, Tuncurry. (Image: Destination NSW)
The Manning River makes a break for the ocean here, ensuring it’s a great spot for fishing and water sports; there’s also Saltwater National Park to explore; and the music-themed Boogie Woogie Beach House that will rock you to sleep under the watchful eye of Nick Cave, Dave Grohl or Bowie.
Find your beat at Boogie Woogie Beach House at Old Bar. (Credit: Destination NSW)
This town on the Macleay Valley Coast is certainly not flying under the radar for surfers, they’ve been riding into shore since the ’50s. Somehow, though, it slips through the cracks in the most delightful way, despite being 20 minutes from the route’s halfway-point of Kempsey.
Camp, kick back and absorb the chilled-out vibes at Crescent Beach on the North Coast (Credit: Alexandra Adoncello)
Crescent Head has an endless summer vibe that is all casualness and zero pretension. The waves are worthy, the headlands are beautiful, even when windswept, and the chillout factor is high. You’ll find great coffee and breakfast at Blackfish, easy-going Mexican at Chanchitas, and inspired accommodation at The Med.
Surf the waves at Racecourse Head. (Image: Destination NSW)
Salute the Big Banana as you glide past Coffs Harbour and into the hamlet of Emerald Beach. Here, you’ll find a Discovery Park, which is great if you’re travelling with kids or a caravan, otherwise, this is beach house territory– throw your wet towel over the balcony and settle in for some deep relaxation.
Join the local wildlife gathered on Emerald Beach, part of the scenic Coffs Coast. (Credit: Destination NSW)
The beach itself is stunning and shouldered by a headland that plays host to grazing roos. Further along, the amusingly named Look At Me Now Headland makes for an easy stroll. Once you’ve obliged the attention-seeking clifftop, use it as a vantage point to admire the views, then stroll to nearby La Hacienda 101 for a Mexican fiesta and a bracingly good margarita, or coffee and a burger at the Emerald Beach General Store.
Watch the sunrise over Look At Me Headland. (Image: Destination NSW)
Although I’ve been passing Yamba for decades, I’d never made the detour until embarrassingly recently. My unfashionable lateness means I’ve missed out on many a holiday here. Don’t make the same mistake.
Yamba is a brilliant stop on this northward (or southward) drive. It blends excellent dining and a smattering of browsable boutiques with dreamy beachscapes and nostalgic school holiday feels.
Dreamy coastal views across Yamba– the coastal town that has something for everybody. (Credit: Destination NSW)
As for the accommodation, the riverside Blue Dolphin complete with a giant jumping pillow and swim-up bar is one of the best holiday parks to ever straddle amusements for kids and adults. Meanwhile, the town’s first boutique hotel, The Surf, is a direct antithesis to the Dolphin and exceedingly well put-together.
The Surf is set to become a bit of a Yamba landmark.
Quite literally on the flipside to Yamba, both geographically and energetically, is Iluka. The diminutive town across the Clarence River from its better-known southerly neighbour has a sleepier personality but is a haven for outdoor pursuits.
Fishermen enjoy a tranquil evening at the Clarence River, Iluka. (Credit: My Clarence Valley)
The Iluka Nature Reserve is a place to free-dive into a pristine environment. Let your hair dry with saltwater, your feet toughen under rocks, and eschew dependence on technologies to immerse yourself in nature’s restorative charms. The campground at Woody Head is legendary for barefoot adventures over rockpools and shell-littered sands.
Come to Iluka Bay to see some soldier crabs. (Image: My Clarence Valley)
Just 20 minutes north of Byron, this Tweed Coast town is worth a visit, even if your journey ends in the bay. It’s rare to catch a place mid-bloom, but Pottsville is a quiet achiever among the chain of settlements strewn along this coastline and is steadfastly collecting admirers.
Don’t miss the pristine beaches at Pottsville. (Image: Getty Images)
Walkable from town is Mooball Creek, a glassy, natural swimming pool perfect for splashing and paddle-boarding that’s divided from Pottsville Beach by a protective seawall. Pottsville village offers plenty of destination eats such as the acclaimed Pipit Restaurant, proper Italian Pottsville Pizzeria, and artisan gelato at Piccolo Mondo.
Pipit Restaurant is one of the standout foodie hotspots in the Northern Rivers region. (Credit: Pipit Restaurant/Sabine Bannard)
The drive between Sydney and the Gold Coast via these six towns is 966 kilometres.
2. Sydney to Ulladulla, South Coast, NSW
Every NSW childhood inevitably includes a summer holiday escape to the South Coast, renting a house near the water and living out a coastal daydream of long, hot days filled with beach excursions and barbecues.
My own South Coast idyll was found in a caravan park in the town of Ulladulla, where I managed to score the coveted top bunk for the duration. I realise I have come a long way as I pull into the tree-dappled driveway at Cupitt’s Estate bound for a stay in one of its newly minted luxury pods.
Ulladulla Harbour has some of the most beautiful sunrises. (Image: Destination NSW)
Sydney to Royal National Park
The reason that the drive to the South Coast is renowned as one of the country’s best is evident as soon as you clear the city traffic and enter the Royal National Park on the first leg of the Grand Pacific Drive. Navigating the winding road through this pristine expanse of vegetation, with side roads darting off towards amazing walks and sparkling beaches, the temptation is to stop constantly, but that’s for another road trip (see entry #65) so continue cruising and take in the scenery.
Stargazing has never been as stunning than at Wattamolla Beach in the Royal National Park. (Image: Filippo Rivetti)
Wollongong to Shellharbour
Once past the park’s limits, it is 60 kilometres of easy roads – including the stunning sweep of Sea Cliff Bridge – to the coastal city of Wollongong, which boasts wide, welcoming beaches such as Thirroul and Austinmer and a laid-back seaside lifestyle; grab a bacon and egg roll and a coffee at Lili J to fuel up for the next leg.
Absorb breathtaking views along the coast-hugging road at Sea Cliff Bridge, Illawarra. (Credit: Destination NSW)
It’s only another 20 kilometres to Shellharbour, which should allow enough time for your brunch to go down so you can take a quick dip or – if you have packed your board – catch a few waves at The Farm, the surfing reserve at Killalea Reserve.
Catch some waves at The Farm. (Image: Destination NSW)
Kiama to Nowra
Kiama is the next stop on the journey, celebrated for its naturally occurring blowholes, which spew foaming sea water at surprising intervals. While these whimsical natural wonders have served as the town’s major drawcard for decades, more and more visitors are stopping here for the delightful cafe culture fuelled by the likes of Bouquiniste, a curated bookstore, cafe and wine bar, The Hungry Monkey and Parfait Patisserie.
Make a trip to Kiama’s Blowhole Point Rock Pool. (Image: Destination NSW)
The town of Gerringong, a 12-minute drive through lush coastal-meets-country scenery, is also developing a foodie reputation with inviting wine bars Gather By The Hill and Bella Char Restaurant & Wine Bar worth investing some time in, if not on this journey then at another time.
Take advantage of the gourmet food and wine in Gerringong. (Image: Destination NSW)
The Shoalhaven hub of Nowra, 40 kilometres from Kiama, is the end of the official Grand Pacific Drive route, but from here more coastal delights await.
Watch the sunset over Hanging Rock Lookout and the Shoalhaven River in Nowra. (Image: Destination NSW)
The family-owned and run Cupitt’s Estate presents itself as the perfect base for exploration and enjoyment on this blissful part of the coast, including the towns of Milton and Mollymook. With bucolic views in all directions, the property is the picture of a restive country escape, especially since the installation of a collection of graciously chic accommodation pods. There is constant industry going on here, from winemaking and tastings to boutique cheese production to considered farm-to-table dishes being served with a smile in the Dining Room, all of which should be sampled during a stay here.
The all-new Luxury Pods at Cupitt’s Estate. (Image: Elise Hassey)
The Grand Pacific Drive is 140 kilometres; it’s another 60 kilometres to Ulladulla.
Words by Leigh-Ann Pow
3. Broome to Cape Leveque, WA
Coastal drives don’t come more remote – or rewarding – than the one from Broome to Cape Leveque in Western Australia. It’s a 206-kilometre journey taking roughly three hours without too many stops, but, trust us, you are going to want to stop for the stunning beaches and welcoming Aboriginal communities.
Treat yourself to a cultural tour with Bolo in Dampier Peninsula. (Image: Tourism Western Australia)
Heading north out of Broome, the Broome Cape Leveque Road charts a path through the pristine Dampier Peninsula, taking in Beagle Bay, where Sacred Heart Church, with its altar decorated with Mother of Pearl, is a delightful diversion, and Lombadina, to experience the local way of life of the Bardi people.
Make a visit to Cygnet Bay Pearl Farm. (Image: Tourism Western Australia)
Cape Leveque is famed as the place where the red sands of the outback melt into the startling blue/green waters of the Indian Ocean, and it really is a sight to behold. Continue on to the evocatively named One Arm Point (Ardyaloon) to finish your trip gazing out to the beauty of the Buccaneer Archipelago and camping under the inky black night skies.
Adventure on red-soil country along the rural Cape Leveque Road (Credit: Tourism Western Australia)
4. The Capricorn Coast, Qld
Getting to the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef from Brisbane usually involves a flight. But not always. Yeppoon is the gateway to its southern stretches and while this tropical town on Queensland’s Capricorn Coast can be reached by a full day’s drive via the Bruce Highway, breaking up the journey will turn your road trip into a relaxing holiday sprinkled with gourmet and outdoor experiences.
Stop at the Yeppoon Surfside Motel on the way. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Stroll the Hervey Bay pier and take a whale-watching cruise (July to November) on the Fraser Coast; explore Bundaberg’s famous distillery and the golden sands of Bargara Beach; and walk the Paperbark Forest Boardwalk at Agnes Water before catching a spectacular sunset at the town of 1770.
Grab a glass and explore the famous Bundaberg Rum distillery (Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Park the car and jump on the Keppel Konnections ferry at Rosslyn Bay, just south of Yeppoon, to overnight at Great Keppel Island Hideaway – a barefoot paradise.
Words by Jennifer Johnston
5. The Great Green Way, Qld
It takes about five hours to drive from Townsville to Cairns (or the other way round), but don’t do that. Missing the chance to linger along this part of the Queensland coast is to miss what’s truly special about the Far North.
Watch the sunset at island town, West Point. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
I pass through sugar towns, and drink at Queensland pubs where locals still fish and farm for a living. This road’s called The Great Green Way, because it traverses 12 national parks. It’s also the closest mainland access to the Great Barrier Reef – and the area’s World Heritage listed (in a region dubbed the Wet Tropics).
The ultimate road trip to the Great Barrier Reef. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
There are places you’d have heard of along the way – like Mission Beach, a 14-kilometre strip of beach fringed by rainforest that’s home to trendy resorts and an eclectic community of creative types (it’s also home to the highest density of endangered southern cassowaries left on the planet). But it’s the places you haven’t heard of that make this drive special.
Wild cassowaries frequent Mission Beach. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Drive 20 minutes north of Townsville and there’s wide sandy beaches like Saunders Beach: six kilometres long, with not a soul on it. Or drive 25 minutes north of Mission Beach to Kurrimine Beach where only fishermen live, and swim in rock pools within the Great Barrier Reef, accessible at low tide. And if you’d prefer to see a cassowary with no one else, book a cabin on the beach (Etty Bay Caravan Park) just north of there at a secret spot where the birds come to feed each morning and evening.
Stroll along stretches of golden sand on the iconic Mission Beach. (Credit: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Words by Craig Tansley
6. East Coast, Tasmania
Travellers to Tasmania often overlook the state’s east coast in favour of Hobart and Cradle Mountain, but this is where you’ll find the best of what Tasmania offers.
Drive the east coast and you’ll pass through four national parks, one of Australia’s oldest wine regions (visit Devil’s Corner’s reinvigorated cellar door) and fishing ports where seafood comes straight from the trawlers, or off oyster leases.
The stunning yet oft-overlooked East Coast of Tasmania is interspersed by white-sand beaches and plenty of foodie hotspots serving up fresh seafood. (Credit: Tourism Australia)
Little penguins swim off the rocks at seaside communities like Bicheno and if it’s beaches you’ve come for, you’ll find two of the world’s best (Bay Of Fires and Wineglass Bay). Though they’re all like that here: there are 200-plus kilometres of white-sand beaches fringed by granite blocks coloured by bright orange lichen.
Get your insta pics at Wineglass Bay.(Image: Melissa Findley)
Words by Craig Tansley
7. Fleurieu Peninsula, SA
Jutting out into the Great Australian Bight, the dramatic coast of Fleurieu Peninsula is a nature lover’s paradise. Thirty minutes south of Adelaide, Port Noarlunga is a town nestled between the natural beauty of reef and river. Dubbed the ‘Great Southern Reef ’, its marine sanctuary zone is popular with divers, while Onkaparinga River National Park is hiking and kayaking territory.
Make a stop at Port Willunga Beach. (Image: Mish and Kirk)
Further south, walk among the ruins of a 19th-century jetty and shipwreck at Port Willunga before dining at renowned ocean-front restaurant The Star of Greece. Then see where the rolling green hills of the Mount Lofty Range come to an abrupt stop at Sellicks Beach, where white sands and turquoise water complete the striking landscape.
Relax with exquisite ocean-front dining at the Star of Greece (Credit: (South Australian Tourism Commission)
At the tip of the peninsula, remote Deep Creek National Park has 15 walking tracks to explore; it’s home to kangaroos, echidnas and more than 100 species of bird, as well as pristine Blowhole Beach.
Explore the wildlife in Deep Creek Conservation Park. (Image: Jessica Coulter)
Emerging from the wild tip, you’ll come to Victor Harbor, a vibrant small town nestled on the arc of Encounter Bay. Take a historic horse-drawn tram to Granite Island, famous for its boulder-laden landscape and its colony of little penguins, and board the rattling 1854 Cockle Train for a scenic journey to Goolwa, a historic port where the Murray River and Southern Ocean meet.
Return to Adelaide via the McLaren Vale wine region, stopping along the way to sample local drops at award-winning d’Arenberg or pretty-as-a-picture Down The Rabbit Hole.
Go diving at Port Noarlunga in the Fleurieu Peninsula. (Image: South Australian Tourism Commission/Adam Bruzzone)
Disconnect at the completely isolated yet ultra-luxe Naiko Retreat (one of our 100 unique stays), an oceanfront stay atop the rolling hills of Deep Creek.
Words by Megan Arkinstall
8. Sydney to Port Macquarie, NSW
While you can pack a lot in along the Legendary Pacific Coast highway from Sydney to Port Macquarie, you can also just pull out all the stops so you can drop and flop when you arrive in the seaside city that is known for its beaches, surf and pristine coastline.
The Port Macquarie coastline is perfect for watching the waves. (Image: Destination NSW)
Start off on the right foot with breakfast at Little Turkey, and lunch at Cassegrain Wines followed by a quick jaunt down to the harbour for Port Macquarie SUP Fun.
Paddock-to-plate dining at Twotriplefour Restaurant onsite at Cassegrain Wines, Port Macquarie. (Credit: Destination NSW)
You can also string together experiences such as a Hastings River Horse Riding tour, sundowners at the Little Shack and a coastal walk along the breakwall to Tacking Point Lighthouse. As well as being one of the best spots for spotting dolphins and whale watching on the NSW east coast, the watery playground is a top spot to enjoy slurping down a cheeky dozen oysters.
Spot some whales and dolphins at the Tacking Point Lighthouse. (Image: Destination NSW)
387 kilometres via M1 and Pacific Highway from Sydney.
There is an abundance of accommodation to choose from, but we recommend you grab a group of friends for an exclusive stay at private eco retreat Mansfield Estate or in the heart of the city at Sails Port Macquarie.
Words by Carla Grossetti
9. Eyre Peninsula, SA
My father was an avid storyteller who wrote a memoir detailing his childhood in Port Lincoln. The book, his passing five years ago and the fact I’d never visited his birthplace inspired me to make a nostalgic trip to South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula.
My friend and I set off south down the east coast, starting at Whyalla on the shores of the upper Spencer Gulf. We soak in 360-degree views from Hummock Hill and circuit the seaport’s uniquely circular shaped jetty, where a mosaic cuttlefish sculpture nods to the giant cuttlefish migration that can be witnessed here between May and August.
Whyalla Jetty is a sight for sore eyes. (Image: Tommy Woods Photography)
Cowell to Tumby Bay
An hour further south, we stop at Cowell on Franklin Harbour: one of the best fishing spots in the state, where we also find silo art that forms part of the South Australia Silo Art Trail and locally made jade jewellery available to purchase at the Cowell Jade Motel. And we continue to Tumby Bay, where my father was born in a small hospital that still stands on the pine-tree-lined foreshore.
Eyre Peninsula Cowell Silo Mural of Lionel Deer and a camel. (Image: Jennifer Johnston)
The sleepy coastal town has an accessible walking trail that follows the foreshore past a wooden jetty whose pylons and ocean weed beds are home to a whimsical sea creature: the elusive leafy sea dragon. Though the only one we find is on a mural. Elsewhere, Tumby Bay’s silo art is a magical reflection of the seaside town by Argentinian artist Martin Ron.
Walk the Tumby Bay Jetty to find the leafy sea dragon. (Image: Mark Phelps)
Then on to Port Lincoln and a stop at Limani Motel, where my father’s family home once stood. Looking out over the calm waters of Boston Bay – the largest natural harbour in Australia – I’m absorbed by his childhood view.
Outdoor adventures abound in and around this seafood capital, home to the biggest commercial fishing fleet in the southern hemisphere. In Lincoln National Park, we hike the 1.6 kilometres up Stamford Hill for spectacular views of the bay, and pad along pristine and secluded September Beach, speckled with granite boulders coated with orange lichen.
A drive through Lincoln National Park delivers the views. (Image: City of Port Lincoln)
The 1000-hectare wilderness sanctuary of nearby Whaler’s Way lies at South Australia’s southernmost tip; the roads are unsealed and rugged but the breathtaking coastal landscapes are worth every effort (pass required to visit).
Whalers Way is filled with charm. (Image: Kristy Billing @gypsyandherwild)
The tucked-away holiday haven of Coffin Bay, on the western side of the Eyre Peninsula’s tip, is most famous for one thing: following a speedy check-in at Coffin Bay Caravan Park, my oyster-loving friend scoots across the campgrounds to Oyster HQ. I arrive as she’s tucking into a dozen Coffin Bay oysters.
Experience freshly-shucked Coffin Bay oysters. (Credit: South Australian Tourism Commission)
After downing her second dozen, we walk part of the 15-kilometre Oyster Walk, which meanders through coastal vegetation with idyllic waters views and takes in the historical site of Old Oyster Town.
The pristine waters of Coffin Bay are to die for. (Image: Brodie Dufek)
On our final day we drive through Coffin Bay National Park. The wind is squally on Almonta Beach, but we persevere and revel in the Eyre Peninsula’s wild coastline one last time. My journey down this triangular land mass, wedged between the Great Australian Bight and the Spencer Gulf, has served up nostalgia in spades and many surprises besides.
Drive your way through Coffin Bay National Park. (Image: Glenn Ferguson)
Words by Jennifer Johnston
10. Central Coast, NSW
Known for its 40-plus beaches and laid-back surf culture, the Central Coast is a mecca for sun-sand-and-sea lovers. Beyond its waves, it has a newfound label as a culinary hotspot, with award-winning restaurants that rival big-city dining (including Osteria Il Coccia in Ettalong and Yellowtail in Terrigal) as well as four breweries and a distillery, where you can enjoy gin and gelato in a pretty garden setting.
Yellowtail is a restaurant experience you can’t beat.
The region is also home to NSW’s only pearl farm, Broken Bay Pearl Farm, which offers immersive tours from its ‘shellar door’, and Sydney Oyster Farm Tours, which hosts unique in-water shucking experiences, both on the sparkling Hawkesbury River.
See how oysters are farmed with a Sydney Oysters Farm Tour. (Image: Sydney Oysters Farm Tour)
On land, the Coast has multiple walking tracks that weave through pockets of rainforest (Strickland State Forest) and trace cliffsides above crashing ocean (Bouddi Coastal Walk).
Vibrant native shrubs bloom along the Bouddi Coastal Walk. (Credit: Nikki To)
The Central Coast has roughly 80 kilometres of coastline.
The secluded eco villas at Glenworth Valley combine luxury with adventure (horse riding, quad biking, abseiling and more).
Go horse riding at Glenworth Valley Outdoor Adventures. (Image: Destination NSW)
Words by Megan Arkinstall
11. Yorke Peninsula, SA
South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula extends out into the ocean not unlike Italy’s boot. Travel to its toe from Adelaide on a beach house pilgrimage taking in pink shack Love & Mutiny on the west coast and Bayside Glamping’s tiny house at Marion Bay, right at its tip.
‘Love and Mutiny’ is a secluded beach shack that hosts fantastic views over the Yorke Peninsula. (Credit: Hannah Puechmarin)