Sydney and New South Wales

Travel Australia’s legendary Pacific Coast route

A wooden walkway and mountain horizon at sunset in Dorrigo National Park, New South Wales, Australia
Incredible: Dorrigo National Park is a must-see nature-rich highlight Credit: OEH

Take a classic road trip along Australia's Pacific Highway, exploring all that the New South Wales coastline has to offer en route.

Linking Sydney with Brisbane, 600 miles to the north, the Legendary Pacific Coast route takes in swathes of empty beaches, sweeping coastal waterways such as Myall Lakes and the Macleay and Tweed rivers, with a spectacular backdrop of rainforests, National Parks and lush farmlands.

The drive is inspiring from the moment you leave Sydney, threading through the wild Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and crossing the broad Hawkesbury River.

On the Central Coast, small enclaves huddle around protected bays, driving through pretty seaside towns like Terrigal and Avoca en route.

Further north is the metropolitan city of Newcastle, while inland are the gourmet pleasures of the Hunter Valley wine region.

Port Stephens harbour is a haven for dolphins and humans alike

Back on the coast, the giant Port Stephens harbour is a haven for dolphins and humans alike, surrounded by calm beaches such as Anna and Salamander Bays. Heading further north, the Lakes Way curls away from the main Pacific Highway, leading to surfing beaches at Seal Rocks, Boomerang Beach and the twin towns of Forster-Tuncurry, linked by a bridge spanning the transparent, oyster-filled Wallis Lake.

Port Macquarie is the Mid North Coast’s vibrant principal town, its shores lined with family-friendly beaches, a diverse range of accommodation and Sydney-standard eateries such as The Corner Restaurant.

At Kempsey, a half-hour further north, country music enthusiasts descend on the new Slim Dusty Centre, which recounts the life of Australia’s most prolific recording artist, and then, for those seeking the coast’s laid-back beach culture, a turn-off leads to Crescent Head, where Rancho Relaxo, set across 180 coastal acres, is the area’s luxurious new accommodation.

At the other end of the 10-mile-long Hat Head Beach is sleepy South West Rocks. But this area’s most intriguing tale lies in the ruins of Arakoon National Park’s Trial Bay Gaol, a former internment camp for men of German origin living in Australia during the First World War.

Determined to make life away from their families palatable, some of those living there formed an orchestra, set up language schools, sport clubs or performed a play every week.

At the Valley of the Mist, near Macksville, further north, you’ll discover another inspiring story. It’s here farmer Dennis Ryan rescued the wetlands that his grandfather tried to drain, returning them into a 128-acre habitat for black swans, geese, ducks and migrating waders, which he shows to guests on a gentle canoe tour.

Nature: Yuraygir National Park lines the coast to the north of Coffs Harbour Credit: NSW Government

In the hinterland behind Coffs Harbour, reached via the winding Waterfall Way and the bohemian town of Bellingen, is Dorrigo National Park, a must-see nature-rich highlight of this drive, with its mass of ancient trees gripping the escarpment and skywalk platform overlooking the canopy and the coast.

Another outstanding National Park, Yuraygir, lines the coast to the north of Coffs Harbour, encompassing windswept cliffs and secluded beaches and culminating at the surfing town of Yamba, on the Clarence River.

With its relaxed culture and inviting cafés, including the excellent Irons and Craig, Yamba is fast getting a reputation as the “next Byron Bay”.

Many will not want to miss Byron with its glorious beaches, restaurants and alternative therapists.

But if you’d prefer a quieter environment, the hinterland villages of Newrybar and Bangalow, behind Byron and Tamborine Mountain, are full of rustic charm as well as being the location of the Halcyon House hotel at Cabarita Beach, which brings a slice of Miami style to NSW.

Most of the highlights along this famous coastal route are found on the New South Wales section of the Pacific Highway. But some travellers opt to follow it a little further to cosmopolitan Brisbane.

Austravel recommends:

“Port Stephens is a fantastic place to go dolphin-spotting. With high success rates and calm waters, this is perfect for the whole family.”

For more information on holidays to Sydney and New South Wales, visit austravel.com