A coastal road trip from Sydney to Brisbane (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 taking the time to explore the many coastal towns dotted along the way.
Take two days to a week meandering along the coast with lots of coffee pit stops to keep you awake and alert for your road trip journey.
Brisbane to Ballina – 2.5 hours
Bypass bustling Byron Bay for the laid-back beach vibes of Ballina and its stretch of beautiful beaches. One of the cutest spots to eat and drink in Ballina is the Belle General. With a boho feel, great coffee and nourishing menu, it’s a great start to a day of driving. Before you leave town, spot one of Australia’s iconic big things, the ‘Big Prawn’ which has recently had an insta-worthy makeover.
Where to stay? Ballina Palms Boutique Motel is a step up from the traditional road trip motels – spotlessly clean, quality inclusions and lots of thoughtful extras.
Ballina to Yamba – 1.5 hours
Situated at the mouth of the Clarence River, Yamba is a coastal town worthy of a detour. Keep caffeinated in Yamba with coffee stops at Bean Scene, which uses beans from local North Coast roaster Eleganza Vietato or try Irons & Craig; just get in early as the cafe closes at midday. (It opens again on Friday nights for drinks and bar food.)
Soak up the friendly village vibe and stretch your legs with some browsing along Yamba’s main street. There’s a strong selection of surf shops, homewares and fashion stores available including Shack Yamba, a lifestyle store filled with coastal goodies.
Where to stay? Relax for the night at Yamba Beach Motel, overlooking Main Beach and close to town.
Yamba to Port Macquarie – 3 hours
The former convict settlement has shaken off the shackles to reveal a cosmopolitan coastal town worthy of a detour. Stretch your legs with a walk along the Port Macquarie breakwall or take a dip at one of the 17+ beautiful beaches along the coast. As you wander the city, keep an eye out for the magnificent koala sculptures dotted around town. These appealing fibreglass statues have been hand painted by selected artists and are a hit with kids. To help seek out the 62 marsupials along the Hello Koalas Trail, pick up a brochure or check out the interactive map online.
You’re spoilt for choice with top spots for breakfast with a side of ocean views in Port Macquarie. 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.
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. Kids and dogs can run freely on the grass, refuel with lunch at Seasons cafe-restaurant, take a winery tour or tasting and grab a bottle of vino to enjoy at your next destination.
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 holiday vibes, it’s a casual and contemporary restaurant you’ll want to seek out.
If you’re lingering longer, check out these 14 places to eat and drink in Port Macquarie.
Where to stay? Macquarie Waters Boutique Apartment Hotel is an uber-friendly apartment-style hotel in the centre of town, an easy stroll to shops, cafes and restaurants.
Yamba to Newcastle – 5.5 hours
The secret’s out, Newcastle is enjoying an almighty revival and there’s no shortage of places to eat, drink, shop and stay in the city.
Newcastle is all about the beaches and a relaxed coastal lifestyle, so chill out at Newcastle Beach, Bar Beach or Merewether Beach for some sun-soaked downtime and keep caffeinated nearby at Hubro for the best cold brew in town.
A pit stop in Newcastle will convince you to return for a short break and at just 2.5 hours’ drive from Sydney, it’s the perfect weekend getaway.
Where to stay? For a luxe-for-less short stay in Newcastle, try the Lucky Hotel.