The best way to see the NSW north coast is on a fun, casual Sydney to Byron Bay road trip. Along the coast you can go at your own pace and take in all the best sights the NSW coastline has to offer. The drive from Sydney to Byron Bay with no stops, takes around eight-and-a-half hours, but there’s no fun in that. The fun is waiting for you along the way, in all the coastal towns that are just as worth visiting as Byron Bay.
Any good road trip should have a good starting location, and this road trip couldn’t start anywhere but Sydney.
If you’re not a local to the city, it’s worth staying in the city for a night or two before hitting the road in earnest. Stay in a high-rise hotel with views of the city and the water or book your stay right on Darling Harbour.
While you’re in Sydney, you’ll want to discover some of the city’s best activities. Whether that involves spending the night partying in Sydney’s iconic nightlife or walking through the city to take in the culture. Whether you’re travelling alone, with friends, or with the family, there’s a lot of fun to be had in Sydney. Be sure to check out the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and the Sydney Aquarium to entertain everyone. Just make sure you get plenty of rest before you head out on one of the best road trips from Sydney.
Top things to do in Sydney:
• Inner-city coastal walks
• The Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge
• Street-side cafés and chic shopping in Newtown
• The botanic gardens
Drive time from Sydney to the Central Coast: 1-1.5 hours.
Waking up in the city, it’s time to start your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip. Once you hit the open road, it’s time to head north. If you leave first thing in the morning, you’ll be able to enjoy looking out your window at the sun rising over the ocean. Stick to the scenic roads for a leisurely drive or jump onto the M1 to get to your destination faster. Whichever route you take, make sure you finish off this leg along Woy Woy Road. The scenic road meanders down a mountain with many stops along the way so you can hop out of the car to stretch your legs at lookout points or even along a short bushwalk. Staples Lookout right on the side of the road delivers views over Brisbane Water creek and Woy Woy bay.
You could easily make the drive from Sydney to Newcastle in one day (and many NSW road trips do just that), but if you have the time to stop along the coast, it’s worth it to make the most of this iconic location.
The Central Coast is known for great beaches, magnificent national parks, and charming tourist shopping. If you have the extra day or two to spend here, you’ll spend it lounging on soft sands with an ice cream cone in your hand as you look out over serene waters.
Stay in a hotel that looks right out over the beach if you want to stay close to the ocean, or book a stay in a resort a little further from the beach, but a little quieter and all the better to relax in.
While you’re in the Central Coast, consider tourist attractions like the Australian Reptile Park, perfect for animal lovers, or the Distillery Botanica, perfect for gin aficionados. Then hop back in the car to continue to Newcastle.
Top things to do on the Central Coast:
• Australian Reptile Park
• Distillery Botanica
• Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
• Bouddi Coastal Walk
• TreeTops Central Coast
• Maitland Bay Tack
Drive time from the Central Coast to Newcastle: 1-1.5 hours. Drive time from Sydney to Newcastle (if you don’t stop at the Central Coast): 2-2.5 hours.
Heading up the NSW north coast, you’ll have the opportunity to visit two scenic lakes: Tuggerah Lake and Lake Macquarie. If you can only fit one of the two into your itinerary, we recommend opting for Lake Macquarie, Australia’s largest salt-water lake.
Here, you can visit The Museum of Art and Culture Lake Macquarie, which is less of a traditional museum and more of a museum-gallery-arts precinct space that’s set on 5 hectares of lush greenery on the shore of Lake Macquarie. Wander through the Sculpture Park (with work from local and national artists), attend one of the current exhibitions, and maybe even take a class (classes are available for adults and children).
While you’re in Lake Macquarie, you can also enjoy the national parks in the region, like the Olney State Forest where you can discover emergent flora and fauna as well as waterfalls. Further along your road trip, you’ll also have the opportunity to visit the Glenrock State Conservation Area.
Glenrock is known for its amazing mountain bike tracks, but it’s also one of the few places to enjoy the meeting point of rainforest and coast. Dive into nature with a walk and maybe spot some native wildlife like bandicoots, bats, and gliders and discover some of Australia’s history at one of the protected Aboriginal sites within Glenrock.
The next leg of your trip is a short one. It’s just 5km from Glenrock and you’re in Newcastle.
The city of Newcastle might not be as big as Sydney, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t just as many great things to do while you’re there.
Stay on Newcastle Beach and explore the cafés, restaurants, and bars throughout the city. Discover unique shopping, historic sites, and pop into one of the galleries that call Newcastle home. The city was originally established as a mining city, and the industrial charm of that bygone era can still be felt as you walk the city streets.
If you’ve had enough of city life, or you’re staying in the region a bit longer, you’ll want to head just a little bit inland to the Hunter Valley. The Hunter is NSW’s most prominent wine region, best known for white wines like Chardonnays and Semillons though red wine lovers will find a Shiraz or two in the region.
Most visitors to the region stay in Pokolbin and spend a day or two exploring the wineries of the Hunter Valley. To avoid the issue of driving between wine tastings, join a tour and let your guide take you to their top wineries or hire a bike and enjoy the crisp air as you breeze from vineyard to vineyard.
Top things to do in Newcastle:
• Hunter Valley wineries
• Hunter Valley Gardens
• Fort Scratchley
• Newcastle Museum
• Newcastle Art Gallery
• Nobby’s Beach
Drive time from Newcastle to Port Macquarie: 3 hours.
Newcastle to Port Macquarie is one of the longer legs of this road trip, so you may have less time to spend wandering through seaside towns. Instead, you could prioritise one stop along the way for a coastal lunch. We recommend the town of Forster.
Forster is in the heart of the Great Lakes region, nestled between Wallis Lake and the Pacific Ocean, and this scenic location makes it a popular tourist destination any time of the year. Grab lunch at the local favourite, Spice Monkey, or make the most of the ocean views at Beach Bums Café. Then go for a light hike up Cape Hawke Lookout to stretch your legs and take in the unique views that surround you.
Port Macquarie might seem like one of the sleepier NSW coastal towns, but you’ll discover there’s plenty to see and do. Drop your bags off at your hotel, choose from modern elegance or classic seaside style, before heading out to explore this essential spot for any NSW coast road trip.
If you still have wine on the mind after the Hunter Valley, the Bago Vineyards are a great spot to visit. And if you’re travelling with kids (or anyone who loves a good puzzle), you’ll want to check out the maze that’s on the property. Just don’t get too lost in the 2000m worth of pathways.
Kids will also love a trip to Timbertown—a heritage theme park set in the colonial era of Australia. At Timbertown, you can wander through an entire village that depicts what life was like for some of the first settlers of the region.
End your evening in Port Macquarie with a stroll along the Port Macquarie breakwall. Look out over the Hastings River, your walkway decorated by rocks and boulders sporting street art that reflects the collaborative, artistic ethos of the locals.
Top things to do in Port Macquarie:
• Lord Howe Island
• Koala Hospital animal rehab
• Tracking Point Lighthouse
• Port Macquarie Museum
• Port Macquarie Hastings Heritage
• Harry’s Lookout
Drive time from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour: 1.5-2 hours.
The drive from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour is straight forward and easy to complete in one quick leg. Although, there are also plenty of sights to see if you don’t mind travelling off the beaten path.
The easy-going town of Crescent Head is a great spot to stop at for brunch if you left Port Macquarie before breakfast. It’s also a must-visit spot for any surfers, since the Crescent Head beaches have been drawing in surfers since the 1950s.
You can also stop at Urunga, home of the Urunga Boardwalk—one of the best boardwalks on the east coast, just begging for you to stroll along it. Along with the stunning boardwalk, Urunga is also home to many quaint cafés that are perfect for lunch or maybe just an afternoon coffee before you finish the day in Coffs Harbour.
A popular spot for anyone travelling along NSW’s coastline, Coffs Harbour has plenty of tourist-friendly attractions. The most popular and well-known being the Big Banana.
If you’ve never come across the Big Banana or any of Australia’s Big Things, you’ll want to stop by at the banana (or at least look out your window as you drive past). You can pull into the car park and walk up to the Big Banana for a photo op and grab a banana split at the café. The Big Banana Fun Park also has laser tag, a toboggan, ice skating, a water park, mini golf, and more—you might be tempted to stay in Coffs Harbour another night just to enjoy all the activities. When you’re travelling with kids, the Big Banana is one of the best places to visit on the NSW north coast.
Within Coffs Harbour you won’t find as many amusement parks or giant fruit. You will find a breezy atmosphere; waterfront restaurants; and beaches that stretch in either direction. Coffs Harbour is the perfect spot to enjoy a moment of serenity on your road trip. Stay in a beach resort and enjoy the soothing ocean air as you take a break from the road, even if it’s just for the night. Alternatively, stay in budget-friendly accommodation and save your money for any extra activities to make the most of your holiday.
Top things to do in Coffs Harbour:
• The Big Banana
• Forest Sky Pier
• Bongil Bongil National Park
• Diggers Beach
• Jetty Beach
• North Coast Regional Botanic Garden
Drive time from Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay: 2.5-3 hours.
As you head towards Byron Bay, there are plenty of small towns you can pop into for lunch and a coffee. All of them are great options, but the charming town of Yamba might just be the best kept secret of NSW’s northern coast.
Pull into the town and bring your surfboard with you if you’re a surfer—Angourie Point is one of the best surfing spots in all of Australia. If you don’t surf (or don’t have your board with you), pop over to Pippi Beach to stroll along the sands and try to spot any of the Pipi shellfish the beach is named for.
Grab lunch at Yamba's most famous pub for ocean views and fresh oysters. Once you’ve finished up, you can tick off another of Australia’s Big Things as you continue on your road trip. Just before you reach Byron Bay you’ll come across the Big Prawn. Take a selfie with the giant shellfish and have a stretch before the penultimate stop of your journey.
Byron Bay is a popular getaway destination, one of the first spots you think of when dreaming about a NSW coast holiday. With amazing beaches, impressive scuba and snorkelling opportunities, and exciting surfing spots, Australian’s and tourists from afar flock to Byron to enjoy the seaside splendour Australia is so well-known for.
Within Byron Bay, there’s plenty to do and see. Beer drinkers will be interested in visiting one (or more) of Byron’s six local breweries and distilleries. When it comes to food, tourists and locals both say that the Mexican food and drinks as well as the cheery vibe at Miss Margarita is the best start to a night. Or if you’re looking for an evening of quiet sophistication, Raes Dining Room combines relaxed coastal styling and impressive culinary creations. The Farm Byron Bay is also a fantastic option, where you can make a day of it and take a tour of the 80 acre working farm, enjoy a flower design workshop, educate the kids on sustainability, and finish up with a meal at Three Blue Ducks and gelato for dessert from Baylato.
To get a better view of Byron Bay’s iconic coast, join a guided tour and kayak and paddle atop crystal clear waters as your guide shows you the hidden beauty of Byron. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a dolphin or two. If you want to go at your own pace, you can enjoy some of the trails around Byron, like the Lighthouse Trail. This walk is an easy one that most kids will be able to do along with adults. Give yourself at least two hours for the full walk (though you can cut this down by starting further along the track) and bring your binoculars if you want to try and spot some whales in the distance.
Australia is renowned for having the most incredible beaches, and a few of the absolute best reside in beautiful Byron Bay.
Main Beach is the busiest beach in all of Byron Bay due to its location adjacent to the town, though you’ll easily find a lovely spot of bliss on the long stretch of sand. The location of Main beach makes it the best spot for families wanting to have a dip after enjoying lunch on the Byron Bay strip.
Wategoes Beach is the ultimate location for getting the best holiday snaps with it’s secluded location west of the Cape Byron headland. It’s a very popular spot and the parking is quite limited so it’s best to get in early and enjoy an afternoon swim and BBQ.
A great spot for both families and surfing enthusiasts is The Pass, located a short 5 minute drive from the centre of town or a 30 minute walk. The Pass is a great place for both beginner and experienced surfers, being the longest right-hand point break in the bay. The confident surfers will be catching waves from out the back and people learning to surf can enjoy the waves rolling into shore. A well known scenic point at The Pass is Fisherman’s Lookout, where it offers panoramic ocean views and the ability to watch the surfers from a birds eye view while being able to spot dolphins and whales in the distance.
Top things to do in Byron Bay:
• Cape Byron Lighthouse
• Local Breweries and Distilleries
• Lighthouse Trail
• Tallow Beach
• Arakwal National Park
• The Pass beach
• Byron Community Market, open on Sundays
• Visit all the great Byron Bay beaches
Drive time from Byron Bay to Kingscliff: 1 hour.
While most people will drive Sydney to Byron and not go any further north, that means missing out on some of the quiet, serenity of Kingscliff. If you stay in Byron for a little while, you could make a day trip to Kingscliff, since it’s only around 50 minutes away. But if you’re inclined to stay somewhere new, Kingscliff could be your ultimate relaxation destination. It’s secretly one of the best places to visit on the NSW north coast.
Along the way, stop at the award-winning, hatted restaurant Paper Daisy for lunch. Chef Jason Barratt leads the kitchen and ensures that all Paper Daisy dishes are sophisticated, satisfying, and memorable.
While most larger towns along the coast are welcoming tourist destinations, some of the smaller hotspots like Kingscliff make you feel less like a tourist and more like just another person relaxing on the beach. Look out over the ocean from your hotel room’s balcony with a cool drink in your hand, or jump into the waters to cool off on a hot day.
When it comes to choosing your hotel in Kingscliff, you have more options than you might expect for such a quaint destination. Stay in a resort with spa and indulge in all the relaxation Kingscliff has to offer or stay close to the ocean in a beachfront hotel.
You won’t find many tourist-y attractions in Kingscliff; the town isn’t known as a tourist hot spot. Instead you’ll find an opportunity to completely unplug. Leave your phone in your bag and head to the beach or wander through town to enjoy local stores and boutiques. Visit a spa for some pampering before grabbing a delicious dinner at one of the many local restaurants. The soothing atmosphere of Kingscliff is what makes it the perfect stop to one of the best road trips in NSW.
Top things to do in Kingscliff:
• Kingscliff Beach
• Local surf schools
• Cudgen Creek
• Salt Beach to Kingscliff walk
• Kingscliff Beach Hotel for dinner
By now you should be inspired to start planning your perfect road trip along NSW’s northern coastline. Follow our guide or go your own way, that’s the beauty of the open road. However you want to travel along the coast, Accor is ready to be there, every step of the way. Book your Accor accommodation in north NSW now and start planning the road trip of your dreams.