A Brisbane to Sydney road trip is on almost all backpackers’ Australia bucket list. Despite the cliches, this road trip along Australia’s East Coast isn’t only for young adventurers travelling in a van or sleeping in hostels.

I have driven a few times from Brisbane to Sydney. Most of the time, it’s been epic and exhausting with crazy adventures. But the itinerary I am featuring today was not made for me. I created it for my father.

If you are looking for a leisurely drive to spend about one week between Brisbane and Sydney, this itinerary will be perfect.

You’ll find suggestions for activities that I really enjoy in all these places on the list. I’ve even added tips on where to stay and where to eat.

Brisbane from FV by Peppers hotel*

Have you found where to stay in Brisbane? If not, check out these tips!

Day 1: From Brisbane to Byron Bay

Byron Bay is less than 170km from Brisbane. It’s a 2-hour drive, depending on traffic. Byron Bay is one of the most popular destinations on Australia’s East Coast. If you are travelling during the high season, I’d even advise to skip it and push the drive a bit further south (Broken Head is a nice area, or Byron Bay hinterland could be a good option too).

There are good reasons why Byron Bay is famous. The beaches are beautiful, and the lighthouse offers fantastic views. But the chilled atmosphere is what differentiates Byron Bay from so many other coastal destinations. In Byron Bay, life slows down, people are relaxed, and everything – even surfing* – seems easy. Except for finding a spot to park your car.

There are many things to do between Brisbane and Byron Bay. Those who like shopping and skyscrapers will want to stop at Surfers Paradise. I much prefer the rainforest and waterfalls of Springbrook National Park. The waterfalls in Byron Bay hinterland can be a lovely detour too – and you may even get the opportunity to spot a platypus.

Surfer in Byron Bay with lighthouse in the background
Byron Bay
Springbrook Natural Bridge Cave 2
Springbrook National Park

However, you don’t want to arrive in Byron Bay too late. The late afternoon vibes are the best, and the sunset from the lighthouse is a delight. Plus, there are enough activities in Byron Bay to keep you busy for a full week. You’ll have to pick one or two. If you’re up for a bit of exercise, check out scuba diving at Julians Rock or snorkelling with turtles*, kayaking with dolphins* or whale watching* if it’s the right season.

Where to eat

There are many restaurants in Byron Bay for all kinds of budgets. A few friends recommended The Farm* and its many vegan options. I personally like The Petit Snail* (yes, I miss French food!), and Fishheads* location is hard to beat. If you’re in the mood, The Brewery often has live music going on. If you’re a beer lover visiting during the day, don’t miss the Stone & Wood Brewery*.

Where to spend the night

A cabin in Glen Villa Resort* will allow you not to worry about where to park the car or who should drive back after dinner. They offer free parking and you’ll be less than five minutes away from the town centre and the main beach. You can even upgrade to a cabin with a private spa.

Booking.com

Day 2: From Byron Bay to South West Rocks

If you don’t stop, the drive from Byron Bay to South West Rocks takes about four hours (340 km). But you want to stop: there are lovely places on the way.

The coast south of Byron Bay is beautiful (Broken Head and Evans Head, just to name a couple of places), but you’ll have to make choices if you only have one week to reach Sydney. I recommend Yamba/Angourie as a first stop. It’s a good time to stop as you’d have driven from about 1hrs50. The rocky beach looks different and the view from the lighthouse is amazing.

Yamba - lighthouse
Yamba

Your second stop could be Arrawarra, a 1.5hrs drive from Angourie. It’s another beautiful beach – I particularly like it at low tide. And just 1hr south of Arrawarra, the Urunga Boardwalk will take you along the water in the mangrove for a different experience.

If you only had a light breakfast, you’ll find the Yarrawarra Aboriginal Cultural Centre just before Arrawarra. They have a bush tucker cafe where you can try delicious food prepared with ingredients that Aboriginal people use more than other Australians. It’s also a great opportunity to visit an Aboriginal art gallery and buy ethical Australian souvenirs.

You’ll have to make a choice to take a detour to the stunning Dorrigo National Park inland or not. It hosts fantastic waterfalls that are easily accessible, but it’s a detour from the coast. Those driving from Brisbane to Sydney during the long summer days may get a chance to add it to the itinerary if they start the day early – but it will probably too much for the short winter days.

Crystal Falls - Waterfall Way - Dorrigo NP
Dorrigo National Park
Waterfall Way
Dorrigo National Park

If you go directly from Urunga Boardwalk, South West Rocks is only one hour away. While you’re there, don’t miss the beautiful views from the lighthouse (again!) and have a stroll along the beaches. Those interested in History will appreciate the step back in time at the historic ruins of Trial Bay Gaol. Scuba divers will want to note that just a few minutes away by boat from South West Rocks, Fish Rock Cave is one of the best dives on Australia’s East Coast.

South West Rocks - panoramique
South West Rocks

Where to sleep

My father stayed outside town, at the comfy Smoky Cape Retreat*. It was his favourite accommodation during his Brisbane to Sydney road trip.

There are many other accommodation options nearby, but I’ve never tried them as we always camped near the lighthouse when we visited South West Rocks.

Booking.com

Day 3: From South West Rocks to Forster

It only takes about 2.5hrs to drive from South West Rocks to Forster. And there are two of my favourite stops on the way.

Port Macquarie is one of my favourite towns in Australia. I loved its proximity to the coast, its beautiful lighthouse, and the short coastal walk.

Crowdy Bay National Park was one of the best surprises I had during our Brisbane to Sydney road trip. I had never heard about this national park. Diamonds Beach is stunning and the views at Crowdy Head are worth the effort. Oyster lovers will want to take a detour to Camden Haven for lunch.

Crowdy Bay Natural Arch Pano
Crowdy Bay National Park

Where to sleep

I’d recommend staying at Secura Lifestyle Lakeside Forster* if they aren’t booked out! The waterfront views are lovely and it’s one of the rare picturesque places in the area where you can stay just for one night.

Booking.com

Day 4: Forster to Nelson Bay

If you enter Forster to Nelson Bay in your GPS, it indicates a 2-hour drive. But you’ll want to stick to the coast and avoid the A1 for the start of the drive. Once you add Seal Rocks and Mungo Brush to the itinerary, you double the driving time. But the detour to explore Myall Lakes National Park is worth it.

The famous Sugarloaf Point Light at Seal Rocks stands on a beautiful headland and makes a very scenic stop. At Mungo Brush, the Dark Point walking track will take you from the forest to deserted sand dunes to the ocean.

Once you reach Nelson Bay, you’ll have to choose your spot for sunset. If you feel like walking, do the Tomaree Head Summit Walk. If you don’t want to walk, you can drive to the Gan Gan Lookout. If you arrive earlier in the afternoon, you may have time to walk to Shark Island.

Nelson Bay is a great spot for scuba diving. If you’ve never seen sea horses, this could be the perfect opportunity. According to the tide, you may even be able to organise a night dive.

View of Fingal Bay from Shark Island (Port Stephens)
View of Fingal Bay from Shark Island (Port Stephens)

Where to sleep

Booking accommodation in Nelson Bay can be challenging during the peak season and you may want to book this stop well in advance. We had a good stay at the Bay Bungalow Guesthouse*, which was one of the best deals we found when we looked for accommodation during a peak period. My father stayed at Nelson Bay Bed & Breakfast*, and I regretted it wasn’t available for us as the spa baths looked perfect to relax and warm up after a night dive!

Day 6: Port Stephens Region

You could spend your week around Nelson Bay without running out of new things to do. So you should really consider spending your day in the Port Stephens Region.

Nelson Bay is known to be Australia’s dolphin capital, so you could join a tour to see the dolphins*. If it’s the season (May to October), whales watching cruises* will be going out too.

The sand dunes of Anna Bay are impressive and should make it to your list. You can simply walk there or if you’re after more adrenaline you can also join a tour like this quad tour*.

Between Nelson Bay and Anna Bay, you may be interested in learning more about making beer (and tasting it too) with a tour of the famous Murray’s Brewery*.

Murrays Brewery Beer Tasting Port Stephens
Murray Brewery
port stephens - anna bay dunes 03
Anna Bay

Where to sleep

You may want to sleep at the same place than the previous night for once. It would give you another opportunity to catch a beautiful sunset in Nelson Bay.

But you could also consider hitting the road in the afternoon to reduce the driving time for the next day. Spending the night in the Central Coast region* could be a lovely option, you could even treat yourself to a room with a private spa on the balcony with sea views*. If you’re travelling during summer, the long days may allow you to check out one of the many attractions on the Central Coast. I particularly like learning more about the Aboriginal culture by visiting engraving sites and joining an Aboriginal tour in the forest.

Bulgandry Art Site in the Central Coast

Day 7: From Nelson Bay (or Central Coast) to the Blue Mountains

It takes almost four hours to drive from Nelson Bay to the Blue Mountains, or 2h45 from the Central Coast.

There are many things to do in the Blue Mountains. The most famous spot is Echo Point to see the Three Sisters. But my favourite lookout is actually in Blackheath.

From the Blue Mountains, you’re a couple of hours away from Sydney. You could also head straight to Sydney and visit the Blue Mountains as a day trip from there.

Three Sisters Echo Point Blue Mountains Katoomba
Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains National Park

How long is a Brisbane to Sydney road trip?

I once did it in two days (only stopping in near Coffs Harbour for a kayak trip). Another time, we spent more than two weeks on the road, hopping from one national park to another. I know people who did it in more than three months.

The question is not about how long it takes, but how much time you have. There’s no wrong answer: even for a short time, I really enjoyed the trip. This one-week itinerary between Brisbane and Sydney will allow you to take your time and check out many different kinds of places.

Driving from Brisbane to Sydney during the bushfires or floods

You won’t have any issue driving from Brisbane to Sydney and stopping at the spots listing in the article most of the time. However, during summer, Australia sometimes has natural events that you should be aware of in order to stay safe. We did that drive four summers in a row and always had a great time. Even after the terrible bushfires in 2019-2020, these regions are beautiful and worth visiting.

But if you are unlucky and end up travelling during a bushfire or flood alert, there are a few things to remember. First, Australia is as big as a continent. A cyclone in Queensland is likely not to be a problem in Brisbane, for example. And when the fires were hitting the Blue Mountains very hard, we had a fantastic time in the Central Coast. Don’t cancel all your plans too quickly, but stay alert.

Use common sense and don’t go to the regions that are at an emergency level. They don’t need more potential victims to protect. If there are alerts during your trip, follow the news updates, check the NSW Fires Near Me website or app, check the Live Traffic NSW website or app, respect the rules and advice, and talk to locals when you’re unsure.

Map for this one-week itinerary between Brisbane and Sydney

Have you driven from Brisbane to Sydney? What were your favourite stops? Share your experience in the comments below!

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