Sydney to Brisbane Road Trip Itinerary

Australia is one of the best countries in the world for epic road trips, which is why we bought a campervan and did as many as we could for a year! After 25,500km of driving, our last road trip was part way up the east coast from Sydney to Brisbane.

Sydney is the city to fly into for tourists and whichever direction you choose to go, there is something amazing to discover. The most popular route for backpackers is to head north towards the Great Barrier Reef. After our week exploring Sydney and a quick visit to the Blue Mountains, we embarked on the journey up the beachy east coast to Brisbane.


Stop one

Forster

  • Distance: 300km
  • Time needed: 1-3 days
  • Best for: relaxing on quiet beaches after the busy city life of Sydney!

Unlike the west coast of Australia, you don’t need to drive hours and hours in between each point of interest. The coastline of New South Wales spoils you with endless deserted beaches and cute seaside towns meaning you can take your time and drive as little as you please each day. For our first stop, we drove under four hours from Sydney to reach Forster. It’s the perfect distance to ease you into the east coast with nice stop-offs along the way.

Where to stay

After bypassing the up-and-coming Newcastle, we chose Forster for the first place to rest our heads. We stayed at the Secura Lifestyle Lakeside Forster, one of the best family holiday parks we’ve stayed at. Even though we arrived in school holiday times so the park was really busy, the facilities were clean and well maintained.

The park is situated on the outskirts of town at a picturesque lake where most people spend their days on a boat, fishing. It’s a perfect setting at sunset with BBQs scattered around for your use. The park also has a swimming pool and kids play area. We would definitely stay at this holiday park again, but maybe in term time! If you’re travelling the east coast with kids, this park is the epitome of safety and relaxation in one.

Camping at Forster

What to do

On the way

The first major place you drive past on the way to Forster is Newcastle. It’s a real up-and-comer which a lot of people say is definitely worth a visit. If you fancy another ‘mini Sydney’ before you hit the quieter beaches, pop in and check it out.

To experience some of the off the beaten track places, take a tourist drive off towards Seal Rocks. As we mentioned, there are an endless amount of deserted beaches waiting for you to explore, so you can’t go wrong!

When you get there

The town of Forster mainly consisted of holiday homes and resorts, it seemed like quite a popular family holiday destination. There is a lifeguard-patrolled beach which can become busy. So instead we decided to stay out the sea and go to the Seven Mile beach, 10/15mins from the town centre.

Seven Mile Beach Forster

As the name suggests, the beach is seven miles long all of which (when we were there) was empty. As the beach isn’t patrolled and the currents are strong, we wouldn’t recommend swimming but it’s fine for a paddle. While soaking up the sun, we managed to spot dolphins surfing the waves – leave the surfing to them.

For the best view over the stunning coastline, head up the Cape Hawke lookout. There’s a small car park halfway up the hill leaving a 10-minute walk through the forest for you to go to the top point and a lookout tower.

Cape Hawke Lookout

Stop 2

Glenreagh

  • Distance: 290km
  • Time needed: 1 day
  • Best for: Midway point between Forster and Byron Bay

After a few days chilling on deserted beaches at Forster, we slowly drove up towards the next stop-off at Glenreagh. There are a fair few tourist drives on the way up so the three-hour drive comfortably took us all day. Road tripping done right!

Where to stay

There’s a little campground in a recreation ground which proved to be another great and cheap find courtesy of the handy camping apps we’ve used all the way around Australia. Glenreagh Recreation Ground was a more basic site up in hills surrounded by forest. There’s a friendly caretaker, basic amenities and tonnes of fruit bats flying around in the evening. A nice peaceful stay which was a stark contrast to the holiday park from the night before. This was our sort of rest stop.

About another hour and a half up the coast is Lawrence Tavern. If you fancied getting a bit further up than Glenreagh before you set up camp, this place is only $10, all of which goes to Leukaemia Foundation. The camping area is just in the garden at the back of a tavern, there are basic shower and toilet facilities and good food in the pub.

What to do

On the way

The main towns on this section of the drive are Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour. The smaller towns in between are definitely worth stopping off at, even for a lunch break or for a quick dip in the ocean.

South West Rocks is a small coastal town with beautiful beaches situated on the mouth of a river which provides safer swimming areas. Nambucca Heads is a similarly beautiful coastal town with another stunning beachy area where the river meets the ocean. Check out the Captain Cook Lookout and the foreshore boardwalk for some amazing views.

The last main stop off before you reach the rest stop for the night is Coffs Harbour. We visited two main attractions here, the Big Banana and the forest sky pier – as well as taking a stroll along the beach. The Big Banana stop is a fun park with a toboggan, waterpark, mini-golf, ice-skating and heaps of other child-friendly attractions! We just stopped for a quick selfie before moving on.

The forest sky pier is as the name suggests, a pier in the forest. It provides decent views over the coastline and surrounding area to Coffs Harbour. It’s a nice place to stretch your legs after a drive, especially as there’s usually a coffee truck up there! After this, head down to the beach – grab a fish and chips then take a stroll down the pier. If you’re lucky you might spot a turtle or two.

The Big Banana
Coffs Harbour
Forest Sky Pier
Forest Sky Pier
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Stop 3

Byron Bay

  • Distance: 200km
  • Time needed: 1-3 days
  • Best for: seeing an iconic Australian beach town!

Where to stay

The showgrounds at Mullumbimby were up there with the best we’ve stayed at. The facilities were really good and clean and there was lots of green space to camp. This was the cheapest place in close proximity to Byron Bay (20-min drive) and proved to be the perfect base. There’s a Woolies just a five-minute drive away to stock up on snags for tea after a full day of exploring Byron.

What to do

On the way

Just outside of Glenreagh, Red Rock is yet another nice, small beach town with a safe recreational river/beach area. The NSW coastline is full of towns like this! When we arrived there were heaps of people on paddleboards and in kayaks enjoying the shallows of a bay. This is perfect for picnics or a game of Finska or a dip in the water. Plus there’s a campground right next door – great spot for a weekend away with friends or family.

Red Rock
Red Rock
Red Rock
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When you get there

Byron Bay is, without a doubt, a popular hub for tourists and locals alike. It’s one of the must-see stops on the Sydney to Brisbane road trip and famous for being home to some Hollywood stars, such as Chris Hemsworth and his gorgeous Aussie family. Celebs wouldn’t have chosen Byron Bay if it lacked in things to do and beauty. This place has it all.

We had a lush time in Byron Bay, enjoying the beach and the stunning lookout spots. We also took flight over the ocean and stretching beaches in our first ever hang gliding experience. We’ve got a full post on the best of Byron Bay with more of our recommendations.

Byron Bay Beach

If the bustling streets and beaches of Byron don’t float your boat, 20 minutes down the road is Brunswick Heads and that most certainly will. This was our favourite of all the amazing coastal towns of New South Wales. With the same chilled vibe of its popular neighbour but without the crowds. Here you can swim in or paddleboard on the river or take your pupper pal to the dog-friendly beach!

Side note, if you’re on the look out for ‘Australia’s Big Things’, there’s a giant shrimp outside Bunnings on the outskirts of Byron.

Brunswick Heads
Giant Shrimp

Stop 4

Brisbane’s Southern National Parks

  • Distance: 100km
  • Time needed: 2-4 days
  • Best for: Wildlife, waterfalls, trekking and landscapes

Where to stay

Crossing over the border into Queensland and after a brief visit to the Gold Coast, we drove inland towards the National Parks. Driving deeper into the rainforests, our accommodation of choice for the National Park region is Mt Nimmel Lodge. This was our last stop of our Sydney to Brisbane road trip and we loved it. It was our first proper inland stop and we felt surrounded by nature. Waking up to the laughing kookaburras and being able to go on different walks every day was a real treat for us. MT Nimmel Lodge is a great base in close proximity to lots of different parks.

What to do

On the way

As we mentioned, as you cross the border of NSW and QLD, the first major city to hit you is the Gold Coast. This is where the city meets the beach with huge apartment and office buildings literally a block back from a long, stretching, golden beach.

Gold Coast is a popular holiday destination in Australia. It’s hot and sunny, there’s loads of caravan parks and other accommodation, it has a few theme parks and has a busy nightlife. Every year it hosts Australia’s version of spring break, schoolies. We spent a day exploring the beaches and streets of this interesting place and decided that was probably enough.

Gold Coast
Gold Coast
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When you get there

Once you leave the beach city behind and head inland, you’re greeted with a vast range of rainforest National Parks. Mt Nimmel Lodge is located in Springbrook NP so this was where we explored most to start with.

Springbrook is the closest to the accommodation mentioned above and has a range of attractions. There are two main roads that take you through the park. The first will take you to Purlingbrook Falls and Twin Falls. There are good lookouts here too, especially Canyon Lookout.

Purlingbrook Falls
Purlingbrook Falls
Canyon Lookout
Canyon Lookout

The other road through Springbrook NP takes you to Natural Bridge and then onto a few more photo points, concluding with the aptly named ‘best of all lookouts’ (which is actually back across the border into NSW). You’ll need at least a full day, preferably two if you wanted to do a few hikes, to cover Springbrook.

Another nearby National Park is Lamington NP. This is about an hour and a half drive from the accommodation and is home to the O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. If your budget allows, you can stay at the retreat or just visit for a day trip. On a day trip, there are a few free activities and walks to the nearby Moran Falls.

Something a bit different from the rainforests is the Hinze Dam. They have a good tourist information centre here with loads of information on working dams and the history of the Hinze Dam. This was something we wouldn’t have sought out but as we were driving past we thought we would stop in and it was actually really interesting.

Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge
O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat
O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat
O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat
O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat
Hinze Dam
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The Sydney to Brisbane road trip was definitely our most relaxing with plenty of beach stops and short drives between. There’s a good variety of things to see from the buzzing Byron Bay to the remote rainforest walks.

During our time in Australia, we also road tripped the West Coast, down the Red Centre and the Great Ocean Road. If you fancied Greyhound buses instead of the van life, you can read our comparison of coaches vs campervans too.

Thanks for reading!

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6 Comments

  1. restlesspair
    Author
    May 11, 2019 / 9:53 am

    Thanks John! I know, we can’t believe it. It’s gone so quick but it’s all been so good. Packing ready to move on to New Zealand at the moment!

  2. May 6, 2019 / 6:31 am

    Great post. I’m going backpacking round Australia next year and this post has got me all excited!

    • restlesspair
      Author
      May 11, 2019 / 9:51 am

      Glad we’ve added to your excitement! You will love it, let us know if have any questions 🙂 Thanks for the comment

  3. Raj
    May 6, 2019 / 4:43 am

    I have never driven along the coastlines of Australia and as a result of this wonderful advice I am sure my better half and I will do it in our retirement! Thanks Dan and Gabbie, keep enjoying 😀

  4. May 6, 2019 / 1:29 am

    Great record and pictures of the trip. Incredible to think that you’ve been away from UK for over a year now! All the best.

  5. Sandra
    May 5, 2019 / 6:43 pm

    Love the comment about Byron…. iconic Aussie beach town…… maybe a bit more upmarket than that, with property averaging Way more than the average.
    Also the Coastal home of Alternative Medical Practice. Huge fun to explore
    Some beautiful Photography and always fun to read your blog.
    Did you see Nelson Bay, near Forster ?
    Another gorgeous NSW North Coast area.

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