Sydney To Byron Bay: Buckle Up With Our Ultimate Road Trip Guide
Wednesday 22nd May 2019
By Ely Power
Blissful Byron Bay has become a famous mecca for surfers, bohemians and those who need a break from the daily grind. Why not get into Byron’s fun-loving, free-spirited mindset ahead of your arrival? Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway, a festival frolic with mates or a family holiday in the sunshine, road tripping is the perfect way to get to this dreamy haven.
The Sydney to Byron Bay road trip follows the Pacific Highway, an iconic route that offers some epic experiences as it meanders up the Eastern seaboard. With over 800 km of highway to cover — fringed with awesome beaches, breathtaking national parks and delicious paddock to table eateries — it pays to take it slow. Especially when you’re cruising in a decked-out RV.
Our ripper of a road trip guide will take you through the best pit stops and overnight spots for a once-in-a-lifetime RV adventure. And that’s before you even pull up to Byron Bay.
Still need to find the right caravan, camper trailer or motorhome for your road trip? Check out these hires available across Sydney.
Drive time: 1hr 37min, 94.7km (Sydney to Bouddi National Park)
So, you’ve got the keys to your RV. Time to wave goodbye to the concrete jungle! Your Sydney to Byron Bay adventure begins with a short(ish) ride along the Pacific Highway before arriving at your first stop: The Central Coast.
It’s hard to believe that this unspoilt swath of shoreline and national parkland is so close to the hustle and bustle of Sydney. Surfers can find awesome waves at Terrigal, Norah Head and Soldiers beach. If fishing, swimming or kayaking is more your thing, look no further than Avoca Beach. An added plus is its patchwork of rock pools, perfect for little ones to explore.
Stretch your legs at Bouddi National Park. Here, you’ll find bush walks, historical aboriginal sites, swimming holes and secret beaches. Not to mention the mesmerising liesegang rings on the sandstone cliffs that will make you feel like you’re on Mars. The easy-breezy, kid-friendly 1.5km Maitland Bay Track winds its way through waterways and rainforest, so keep an eye out for sea eagles and sugar gliders!
Afterwards, quench your co-pilot’s thirst at romantic Distillery Botanica, known for its garden-grown gin. For more family (and driver) friendly refreshments, swing by Like Minds Cafe, which serves up iced chocolates blended with vanilla ice cream and chipotle mochas for the more adventurous.
If bellies are rumbling, head to Saddles bakehouse for melt-in-your-mouth beef pies and sweet tarts filled with freshly picked fruit. For a more wallet-friendly meal, nab a $5 bacon and egg roll at The Fat Goose (which also offers drawing supplies and toys to keep the young’uns happy). If you’d rather dine outdoors, make an arvo visit to The Entrance, where you can watch the famous Pelican Feed as you tuck into your own picnic.
To get the most out of your Central Coast experience, spend the night at Patonga Caravan Park. Nestled in a tranquil, lakeside bay on the peninsula, this is the perfect camping spot to relax and recharge for the rest of the road trip. So, put your feet up and take in the natural surroundings before you hit the road again.
Pro tip: The 36 powered sites at this little gem can fill up fast, so make sure to book ahead!
Drive time: 1hr 9min, 83.4km (The Entrance to Wine Country Tourist Park)
Luckily, Wine Country Tourist Park is the ideal base for exploring everything that Hunter Valley has to offer. This small, family-owned caravan park boasts a range of sites to cater for all RV sizes. You’ll also find a swimming pool to cool off in when things heat up (Combine this with the playground and the kids will stay entertained for hours!).
Treat yourself to top dining at EXP. restaurant. Expect locally-sourced delights, like Redgate Farm Quail with plum and beetroot. For a more casual lunchtime feed, check out local favourite, Muse Kitchen, which is conveniently located just steps away from the cellar door at Keith Tulloch Wine...
If you’re not keen on diving into the vineyards or simply want to enjoy the natural beauty of New South Wales’ countryside, pay a visit to Hunter Valley Gardens. With over 60 acres of manicured landscapes, you can enjoy everything from relaxing meditation in the Oriental Garden to family fun at the Storybook Garden.
Drive time: 1hr, 63.7km (Wine Country Tourist Park to Newcastle)
Get an early rise and rev that engine because next up is artsy, beachy, foodie Newcastle - What’s not to like? Surrounded by a picturesque shoreline and only a stone’s throw away from Hunter Valley, it’s no wonder this coal-mining capital turned creative hub garnered a coveted spot in Lonely Planet's top ten cities of 2011.
Start the day in charming Cooks Hill, where you’ll be spoiled with brekkie options. Try Baba Yaga for tasty Turkish dishes, or the greenery draped Corner House Cafe for some healthy, Aussie-style deliciousness. Afterwards, amble down trendy Darby Street, which is lined with airy boutiques selling stylish pieces you won’t find anywhere else.
Follow this window shopping with the Newcastle Memorial Walk, a 450m long walkway built in honour of the ANZACs. This clifftop stroll offers unbeatable 360° views of Newcastle.
Although there are tons of gorgeous beaches on Newcastle’s doorstep, locals favour the Bogey Hole. This iconic swimming spot was carved into the rock by convicts in 1819. A glorious salty sea bath tucked away in the cliffside, it’s great for a splash before a few hours in the car.
For a quick caffeine fix before you hop back in the RV, grab the smoothest cold brew you’ll ever sip at Hubro or warm up with a creamy matcha green tea latte from Core Espresso.
Pro tip: Check tides before visiting the Bogey Hole. While you should avoid swimming at high tide, its calm waters are great for all ages when the tide is low.
Drive time: 1hr, 57.9km (Newcastle to Port Stephens)
Drive for just under an hour and you’ll reach the water lover’s paradise that is Port Stephens. Arriving right on time for sundowners, set up camp for at least two nights.
Check out Halifax Holiday Park, right between Little Beach and Shoal Bay, which both offer gently lapping, crystal clear water. This park even boasts its own jetty and is walking distance from the welcoming town of Nelson Bay. Another great option is Jimmy’s Beach Holiday Park, where you’ll find large, shady sites sitting between two amazing beaches - one fantastic for families, and one superb for surfing.
Set off to explore, starting at Nelson Bay and coasting along Foreshore Drive. You’ll pass by Dutchmans Beach, Salamander Bay and continue through to Soldiers Point, so be ready to photograph the scenery as you go. When you need a break from the wheel, hike up Tomaree Head and take in the views of the jagged headland, flawless beaches, and the largest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere.
If you’d prefer to spend your time in the sparkling sea, we’ve got three words for you: wild dolphin swims. With Dolphin Swim Australia, you can swim side-by-side with these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Port Stephens also holds the world record for its number of humpback whale sightings. See one for yourself on a whale-watching cruise anytime from May to October.
Drive time: 2.5hrs, 211km (Port Stephens to Diamond Head Campground)
Time to head towards Diamond Head in Crowdy Bay National Park. While you’ll want to race to this hidden gem, we promise you won’t regret the hour detour past Myall Lakes to Seal Rocks.
This sleepy seaside village rests on a stunning beach that is a total must for any surfers out there, with dependable offshore winds and brilliant banks. The glassy waters are perfect for a swim or snorkel, so this bay is worth the stop even if you’ve left your board at home.
Diamond Head Campground is as special as it gets. Perched right on the shore, you’ll wake up to the sounds of rolling waves before your morning dip in the ocean. With a wide, pristine (and surprisingly empty, given the 75 sites) beach stretching far off to rainforest peaks, you’ll feel worlds away from reality. This place is also packed with local ‘roos who like to chill by the water, making for an awesomely Aussie pic. Just remember to keep your distance!
Once you’ve checked out the blackened pillars of Split Rock, take your pick from various hiking trails, such as the 4.8 km Diamond Head loop via Indian Head with its panoramic views of the coast, mountains and forest, or the shorter Mermaid Lookout track lined with wildflower meadows.
Pro tip: The seclusion of this campsite means there’s little choice in terms of dining out, so stock up your RV’s fridge in advance!
Drive time: 2hr 15min, 191km (Diamond Head Campground to Bellingen via Port Macquarie)
Have a well-deserved lie in before your drive to Port Macquarie, a popular coastal town on the Hastings River. Taste the best coffee around at cosy Social Grounds before brunching in Drury Lane Eatery's leafy courtyard. Afterwards, mosey down the scenic 7m high Sea Acres Boardwalk.
Pro tip: Don’t miss the Koala Hospital if you’re an animal lover. Open 8am to 4.30pm every day, the volunteer-operated rehabilitation centre is full of these furry little guys.
Take a break from the coast and head west to the lush, laidback town of Bellingen, a refreshing alternative to busier, but just as beautiful Coffs Harbour. The minute you cruise into this uber relaxed community, you’ll feel its hippy energy.
Don’t worry if you’ve missed the wonderful Bellingen Music Festival, Writers Festival or Jazz Festival. There’s still plenty to do outside of festival season: Wander around the art exhibits and handmade jewellery at The Old Butter Factory, rope swing into heavenly Never Never Creek or take a canoe tour under the stars.
For rainforest hikes and waterfall walks, drive 35 km inland to explore Dorrigo National Park and its Skywalk through the canopy. Or if you’re coming through town on the third Saturday of the month, check out the vibrant Bellingen Community Markets.
Bellingen is also a foodie’s paradise, churning out delicious organic bites at noteworthy restaurants like creative newcomer Cedar Bar & Kitchen and old favourite 5 Church Street.
After eating to your heart’s content and enjoying some live music at the latter, settle on the banks at Bellinger River Tourist Park. With waterfront sites for all sorts of camper trailers, caravans and motorhomes, you can rest easy.
Yamba and Angourie
Drive time: 2hr, 159km (Bellinger River Tourist Park to Yamba)
Next up: Yamba. Alright, alright. Take your obligatory snap with The Big Banana as you pass through Coffs Harbour first. Australia’s oldest Big Thing, no Sydney to Byron Bay road trip is complete without photographic evidence of this giant, yellow fruit.
Once you catch a glimpse of the alluring beaches, take a bite of the lip-smacking seafood or catch the waves alongside playful dolphins at Turners Beach, you’ll understand why Yamba has long been beloved by trendsetting travellers.
Alternatively, opt for some waterfront dining at Yamba Shores Tavern. Don’t leave without ordering the prawns — Yamba’s are some of the freshest on the East Coast. You also won’t want to miss Irons and Craig for the most scrumptious brunch around. We’re talking handmade sourdough doughnuts.
For your final overnight before Byron Bay, we can’t recommend the Clarence Coast Holiday Park at Brooms Head enough. This beach hideaway is an absolute treasure, with large RV sites right on the shore. For a campground closer to town, try Fishing Haven Holiday Park on the banks of the Clarence River. The riverside tranquillity is hard to beat.
Before you embark on your last leg, trek up to Yamba lighthouse and take in the 360° views of grassland and ocean.
Drive time: 1hr 45min, 125km (Yamba to Byron Bay)
Today’s the big day, so get back on the road bright and early. Peel off the Pacific Highway at beautiful Ballina and head for Byron along Broken Head Road, a scenic drive with spectacular ocean views. You’ll also pass lovely Lennox Head, Byron’s quainter cousin, before arriving at your final destination. Cue the chilled out vibes that make this seaside town so legendary.
When it comes to parking your RV, there’s somewhere for everyone. For a full dose of Byron’s thriving social scene, you can’t get more central than First Sun Holiday Park, sitting on the beachfront in the heart of Byron. If you’d rather a more peaceful spot, try Broken Head Holiday Park. Bordered by National Park and overlooking the headland, you’ll get lost in its beauty.
To strike the perfect balance between culture and nature, go for Reflections Holiday Park, Clarkes Beach. Located only a stumble away from inviting waves, you're also just a ten minute walk from town. And free wifi means you can keep posting snaps of the most Instagrammable bay in Australia.
If you’re after a paddock to table style lunch, visit The Farm’s 80 acres of grassy fields and rolling hills. Inside its barn doors, you’ll find Three Blue Ducks restaurant, along with a bar and artisan bakery. Make for Beach Byron if you want dinner bang on the beach. You’ll watch dolphins leap and surfers carve it up as local burrata melts in your mouth. For tapas sizzling with punchy flavour, try Latin American bar and eatery, Locura. Team achiote pork tacos with the mezcal kombucha mule and you’ll never want to leave this modern, minimalist oasis.
Pro Tip: For a midday pick me up, head over to The General Store, a charmingly rustic place to sip, nibble and buy some fresh, local produce.
After your feed, hop onboard the world’s first vintage solar train to The Arts & Industry Estate for a leisurely stroll around quirky shops and cafes. Next, check out the breezy bohemian boutiques full of floaty dresses and chic home decor on Main Street. If it’s the first Sunday of the month, pick up some local goodies at Byron’s famous market stalls.
And as for the beaches... Whether you’re a surfer or sunbather, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that doesn’t take your breath away. Clothing optional Belongil or picnic paradise Wategos are both top contenders for Byron’s best sandy stretch. But secluded Whites Beach is the real show stopper. To get to this idyllic inlet, drive down a dirt road wrapped in rainforest and wander down the discrete path onto the creamy white sand. You’ll be greeted with glittering turquoise water, dotted rock pools and a real sense of serenity. So, grab a towel and thank us later.
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