road trip

Are We There Yet? Must Stops On The Sydney To Byron Road Trip

30 May 2018

If you’re planning a journey to the NSW east coast surf Mecca of Byron, then it definitely pays to take it slow. This classic coastal route from Sydney boats a raft of must-see sights and experiences along the way. From world-class diving and beautiful beaches, to wildlife encounters and produce-filled farmers markets;  whether you’re a first-timer to the region or a regular visitor, these top pitstops will make for the road trip adventure of a lifetime.

surfer riding wave newcastle nsw at sunrise Newcastle's beaches are a hot favourite for surfers.

Visist Australia's 'Hottest' City

Two hours north from Sydney and you’ll arrive at the second largest city in NSW: Newcastle.

Bordered by a stunning coastline and with the abundance of wineries of the Hunter Valley a stones throw away, there’s plenty of reasons to visit this former-penal colony turned coal port. Indeed, “Lonely Planet” seem to think so - the travel bible made history by including Newcastle on its ‘hottest cities’ list a few years back making it the first Australian city to ever feature on the list.

In contrast to its industrial past, these days the CBD is bustling with FairTrade cafes and trendy boutiques. For great coffee make a beeline for hole-in-the-wall One Penny Black Espresso Bar in the main shopping mall. While there’s beautiful beaches to explore, make like a local ‘Newy’ resident and head to the iconic bathing spot - the Bogey Hole. Carved into rock by convicts back in 1819, its a great secluded place to relax and swim.

view of port stephens and bay from lookout The azure waters of Port Stephens are a favourite hangout for dolphins and other marine life.

Swim With Dolphins In Port Stephens

An easy 30-minute drive away, covering over 126,000 square meters of water - two and half times the size of Sydney Harbour - Port Stephens offers countless golden beaches, the largest sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, award-winning craft beer and a world record number of humpback whale sightings. But undoubtedly its most unique attraction are its wild dolphin swims. 

Dolphin Swim Australia has the first - and only - permit of its kind issued in NSW, which allows guests to actually swim with dolphins side-by-side in their natural habitat. Back on land, you can still get eye-to-eye with critters from the deep at Irakundji Shark and Ray Encounters. Forget pricey aquariums, here for a wallet-friendly price guests can put on a wetsuit and enter the water to feed and handle giant stingrays and huge tawny nurse sharks making for one of the most interactive experiences you’ll ever have. 

seal rocks bay new south whales Seal Rocks is a charming, sleepy seaside escape. Image: Vicki Fletcher

Soak Up Scene-Stealing Scenery In Seal Rocks

An unspoiled coastal village, Seal Rocks has been fiercely protected from development over the years by locals and the result is one of the most relaxing and scenic holiday hotspots on the coast.

Here you can take in the famed Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse on the dramatic headland, or even stay for the night in one of its historic lighthouse keepers cottages, and snorkel or dive amongst the largest population of grey nurse sharks in NSW.

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Bueys beach new south whales Time to kick back on Blueys Beach.

Be A Beach Bum On Blueys Beach

A stone’s throw from Seal Rocks, in the small coastal township of Pacific Palms in the Great Lakes, Blueys Beach is small, quiet, surf beach, framed by the beautiful Booti Booti National Park and Cape Hawke.  Its rocky outcrops are great for exploring, in fact, it’s the perfect jumping off point to see more of the surrounding coastline which offer some of the best surf locations in northern NSW. For eats, try the Kingfisher Cafe, which has become a passion project for the pair of young foodies behind it. Their international culinary tastes have been fused with the abundance of local produce to create a unique menu that’s already a firm favourite with locals.

grey nurse shark in sea cave from below A heart-stopping experience with grey nurse sharks awaits in Southwest Rocks.

Take The Plunge At Australia's Best Ocean Cave Dive

Voted among the top ten dive sites in Australia and the only true ocean cave in the country, the 125-metre long Fish Rock Cave in Southwest Rocks is a must for scuba enthusiasts. A crucial habitat for large numbers of grey nurse sharks - of which there are only around 1,000-1,500 left in Eastern Australia - they gather in their hundreds here to feed, mate and give birth. Expect a myriad of other fish, including huge Wobbegong sharks lazily lounging on the cave floor.

Pose For A Snap Beside Australia's Original 'Big Thing'

Hark back to childhood road trips by making a pitstop at Australia’s oldest ‘big thing’: the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour. No trip along the Coffs Coast is complete without a happy snap outside the 60s attraction, which now also boasts an adjoining banana-themed gift shop, cafe and banana plantation tours.

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Fish For Your Supper

South of Coffs Harbour and stretching from the coast to the New England National Park is the Nambucca Valley. Home to picturesque waterways, rainforests and pretty beaches, there’s something for everyone. However, its 20-kilometres-plus of coastline and easily accessible rocky outcrops make it a fisherman’s dream. Cast out for bream, flathead or whiting in the estuary,  or head upstream for Australian Bass.

driving through nsw countryside This countryside is never a boring drive. Image: Vicki Fletcher

Bliss Out In Bellingen

20 minutes inland from Coffs Harbour lies the lush, green town of Bellingen. Reminiscent of Byron as it might have been 20 years or so ago, an influx of tree changers are increasingly transforming the town from its humble origins into an up-an-coming tourist destination. 

The town hosts various festivals, including the Bellingen Music Festival, Writers Festival and Jazz and Blues Festival, which pull in crowds of thousands annually. But outside of festival season there’s plenty on offer for visitors, from yoga classes and canoe tours, to whiling away a few hours in one of the idyllic crystal clear swimming holes that pepper the surrounding area.

Bellingen is also a food and coffee-lovers paradise, with an influx of bright young foodies arriving in town to open coffee shops, restaurants and cafes churning out tasty organic goods. One of the newest (and best) is Cedar Bar & Kitchen. Housed in a century-old wooden church, the restaurant bursts with character, and its flavourful dishes have seen it quickly become one of the best dining spots in town.

yamba clifftop view nsw The Yamba clifftop walk is the perfect spot for a picnic.

Market Hop In Yamba

Spectacular beaches, lip-smacking seafood  perfect waves; the coastal town of Yamba has long been favourite for travellers in-the-know.  Named Australia’s best tourist town by “Australian Traveller Magazine,” its weekly farmers - serving up everything from artisan desserts and organic vegetables - attract locals and produce-hungry visitors alike. The monthly Yamba River Markets on the Clarence River offers more of the same, alongside performers and local bands.

To see the paddock-to-plate ethos in action, make a beeline to nearby Angourie for dinner at Barbaresco bar and restaurant. Open since 2014, it easily rivals any big city Italian eatery. Speaking of big cities, having cut their teeth in Sydney’s competitive cafe scene, partners Antony and David have now extended their culinary prowess to Yamba. Named after their respective grandmothers, Irons and Craig is the best brunch spot around. 

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Indulge Your Inner Gourmand In Byron

Just under an hour and a half later and you’ll arrive into Byron Bay. A go-to for surfers and hippies since the 60s, nowadays Byron is still on the radar for local and international travellers thanks to its combination of surf, serenity and great food. Speaking of, the town’s latest foodie addition is The Farm. Located a few metres from the busy main road into town, this 80 acre working farm comprised of small growers, producers, eateries, and educators.  The in-house Three Blue Ducks cafe is the perfect way to sample produce from the farm itself, be it veggies, pigs, cattle or chickens. And - in true Byron style - it also has an onsite artisan bakery, florist and yoga studio. For dinner with a view, make a reservation at Beach Byron. Located smack bang on the beach with unsurpassed ocean views, diners can eat while watching dolphins frolicking and surfers carving it up.

Get Tropical

Take a slight detour from Byron to to Duranbah for your last stop on the trip, Tropical Fruit World. The largest grower of tropical fruits in the world (500 varieties in total) this eco-friendly, family-run farm is spread over 175 acres of fruit orchards and plantations. Visitors can see the property on guided tractor tours and enjoy tastings.


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Paul Ewart

Originally from the UK, Paul has lived and worked in three different continents: from the heady metropolis of Dubai, to North America and - as of six years ago - Sydney, Australia, a place he now calls home. His travel career spans 13 years across various print and digital outlets. Until recently, he worked as a senior TV producer for Channel 7. Now, he's back doing what he does best: travelling.