Find out where to stop, stay and play along the Pacific Highway.
A Brisbane to Sydney drive (or the reverse) is a rite of passage in Australia. While many tread the well-worn path with just a brief pit stop in Coffs Harbour, it’s worth detouring off the highway to explore the many coastal towns dotted along the way.
Take two days to a week meandering to enjoy those nearby sights — it’s an opportunity to experience more of this beautiful country like a local.
Brisbane to Ballina: 2.5 hours drive
You can’t leave the buzz of Brisbane without a hearty feed to set you up for the day. If you’re looking for recommendations, head to West End for a haven of cafes all competing for the best brunch award.
The Gunshop Cafe is particularly renowned for its breakfast fare, including brekky burgers, coconut and passion fruit French toast, and fried chicken with waffles and poached eggs.
Head to the Gunshop Cafe for breakfast and smoothies.
Once you’re on the road heading towards Ballina, stop halfway in Burleigh Heads for a cheeky beach trip and a cold one at Burleigh Pavillion before you leave the sunshine feeling in Queensland.
Bypass bustling Byron Bay and head for the laid-back beach vibes of Ballina on the North Coast of New South Wales and its stretch of stunning beaches.
A serene spot to sip refreshing cocktails at Ballina beach. (Image: Burleigh Pavillion)
One of the cutest spots to eat and drink here is The Belle General. With a boho feel, great coffee, and a nourishing menu, it’s a great place to start your day.
Blessed with 25km of cycle paths, it’d be a shame not to get out and enjoy them. Hire a bike and enjoy the scenery along the banks of Richmond River.
Or how about heading to a crashing waterfall? Just 20-minutes away is Killen Falls offering a viewing platform to see the magnificence up close.
The enchanting Killen Falls is situated at the heart of a rainforest. (Image: Destination NSW)
If it’s raining, make your way to Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum, and when you’re ready for dinner, order a bowl of Ballina prawns at Riva Bar & Grill. Don’t forget to pass the Big Prawn on your way out, one of Australia’s iconic big things.
Accommodation tip: Ballina Palms Boutique Motel – your own private oasis in the heart of Ballina.
Stay in this cosy boutique motel on your visit to Ballina.
Ballina to Yamba: 1.5 hours drive
Situated at the mouth of the Clarence River, you won’t regret a brief stop at the beach town of Yamba.
Go on an exhilarating road trip to the coastal town of Yamba. (Image: Destination NSW)
Grab a cuppa at Bean Scene Cafe Yamba which uses beans from local North Coast roaster, Eleganza Vietato.
Soak up the friendly village vibe and stretch your legs with some leisurely browsing along Yamba’s main street where you’ll find a strong selection of surf shops, homewares, and fashion stores, including Shack Yamba – a lifestyle store filled with coastal goodies.
Al fresco dining at the Bean Scene Cafe.
Accommodation tip: Yamba Beach Motel – overlooks Main Beach and it’s close to town.
Stop by the Yamba Beach Motel to rest and rejuvenate.
Yamba to Port Macquarie: 3 hours drive
This former convict settlement of Port Macquarie has shaken off the shackles to become one of Australia’s most popular holiday towns.
Port Macquarie highlights
You’re spoilt for choice with top spots for breakfast with a side of ocean views. Start the day with coffee at Salty Crew Kiosk right on the shores of Town Beach or Sandbox Port Macquarie for beachside brunching overlooking Flynn’s Beach.
Stretch your legs with a walk along the iconic Port Macquarie beach break wall or take a dip at one of the many inviting beaches along the coast.
Have a cold brew right on the scenic Town Beach. (Image: Salty Crew Kiosk)
As you wander the city, keep an eye out for the interesting koala sculptures dotted around town. These appealing fibreglass statues have been hand painted by selected artists and are a hit with kids.
The best spot in town for seafood is Bills Fishhouse & Bar, with a carefully curated sea-to-plate selection featuring local oysters, prawns, whole fish, and seafood platters to share. With breezy interiors and a bustling bar bringing the vacation vibes, it’s a casual and contemporary restaurant you’ll want to seek out.
If you’ve got time for a detour, a winery might not be the most obvious stop on a road trip, but Cassegrain Wines has created a welcoming oasis along the M1 motorway.
Premium drops at Cassegrain Wines.
Kids and dogs can run freely on the grass, refuel with lunch at the on-site restaurant, take a winery tour and grab a bottle of vino to enjoy at your next destination.
Accommodation tip: Macquarie Waters Boutique Apartment Hotel – an apartment-style hotel in the centre of town within an easy walk to shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Linger in a little longer for pictureque views at Macquarie Waters Boutique Apartment Hotel.
If you’re lingering longer, check out these 14 places to eat and drink in Port Macquarie.
Port Macquarie to Newcastle: 3 hours drive
The secret’s out, the harbour city of Newcastle is enjoying an almighty revival and there’s no shortage of places to eat, drink, shop, and stay in the city.
Arrive hungry in Newcastle and head straight to HuBro Cafe to discover the smoothest cold brew coffee you’ll ever find, or Wil & Sons is always buzzing, as its breakfast is one of the best.
Once you’ve satisfied your appetite, Newcastle is all about the beaches and a relaxed lifestyle, so take some time to chill out at Newcastle Beach, Bar Beach, or Merewether Beach for sun-soaked downtime.
Try the signature handcrafted brew at the Hubro Cafe.
If you’re an art lover, pop into one of the many independent galleries and keep an eye out for street art at every turn.
Or if history is more your pop quiz genre, explore the past of Newcastle, as well as the unique temporary exhibits at the Newcastle Museum.
Unveil the harbour city’s glorious past at the Newcastle Museum. (Image: Destination NSW)
For a hit of entertainment before you tackle the final hurdle, take in a show at the Civic Theatre, with everything from dance and music, to theatre and comedy.
Accommodation tip: The Lucky Hotel – a luxury stay without the price tag.
The Lucky Hotel is a perfect spot to chill and unwind.
Newcastle to Sydney: 2 hours drive
You’re almost there – one last push and you’ll arrive in Australia’s biggest city: Sydney! Organise your arrival time so that you don’t clash with rush hour as the traffic is often busy.
Our ultimate guide to Sydney will tell you everything you need to know but if we can drop you off with three recommendations on what to do when you get there outside of the usual contenders, they are:
- Go for a well-deserved drink at a historic pub in The Rocks.
- Enjoy your new freedom with a walk around Circular Quay and soak in the hive of activity surrounding you.
- Head to the top of the Sydney Tower Eye, the city’s tallest structure. It’s the ultimate 360° viewpoint to find your bearings, and if you arrive just before sunset, you get to view the world below you in both daylight and at night.
Be charmed by Sydney’s spectacular city skyline. (Image: Destination NSW)
Looking for more drive inspiration? Take a peek at our guide to Australia’s best road trips.