Exploring the Coast

Sydney to Brisbane

Total Distance: 1230km
17hr 20min

View on Map View on Map

Indulge in a plethora of water-based fun and be delighted by endless jaw-dropping scenery along the Exploring the Coast touring route. A staggering selection of breathtaking beaches, prized lakes, long rivers, gem-filled national parks, and key holiday destinations ensure this is a journey you’ll remember forever.

Highlights

  • Indulge in endless fun at mammoth Lake Macquarie
  • Enjoy the water wonderland of the Port Stephens area
  • Check out South West Rocks’ historical Trail Bay Gaol
  • Be surrounded by colour at Coffs Harbour Butterfly House
  • Talk a walk through mammoth Yuraygir National Park
Coastline, Gold Coast

Coastline, Gold Coast

Mooney Mooney Creek, Central Coast

Mooney Mooney Creek, Central Coast

Town Beach, Port Macquarie

Town Beach, Port Macquarie

Sydney

Start

Sydney is a world-class destination and a wonderful starting point of this touring route. Australia’s most populous city shines and is home to several iconic features: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House, and Bondi Beach are among them.

Whatever the interest, Sydney has it covered. Indulge in the opportunity for water-based recreation at a string of magnetising beaches or with a cruise along Sydney Harbour, visit leading family-friendly attractions at Darling Harbour, or soak up unforgettable views by climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge or visiting Sydney Tower.

Culture and nature combine at the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain, which houses the Art Gallery of NSW. Or step back in time with a wander through the historical Rocks precinct.

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Sydney to Umina Beach

90km (1hr 15min)

Leave Sydney and head north past national parks and a stream of bays, cross the Hawkesbury River, and wind your way to the first destination on this touring route.

Umina Beach has pinched a prime piece of real estate, perched on the shores of Broken Bay at the convergence of several waterways and flanked by Brisbane Water National Park. Mt Ettalong lookout reveals the best views of these sparkling surrounds.

This is a superb base for exploring the wider Central Coast region; minimal effort is required to reach treasured spots.

Umina Beach is popular for swimming and surfing but is one of myriad stretches of sand within close range. Or wander through Brisbane Water National Park or Bouddi National Park to uncover Aboriginal heritage, bountiful wildlife, and much more.

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Umina Beach to Lake Macquarie

75km (1hr)

Make your way towards the Pacific Motorway, noting a slight detour to Australian Reptile Park on Gosford’s outskirts.

Continue north past Wyong, within easy reach of massive Tuggerah Lake, before spotting an even bigger expanse of water.

Lake Macquarie is Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lake and a glittering area lined with villages. Naturally, the lake suits all manner of water leisure, including kayaking and sailing. Or stroll or cycle around the lake and throughout the surrounds on designated trails.

For a hit of culture, try Lake Macquarie City Art Gallery or Dobell House; the latter was the home of multiple Archibald Prize-winning artist Sir William Dobell.

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Lake Macquarie to Port Stephens

95km (1hr 10min)

Once you’ve managed to drag yourself away from Lake Macquarie, rejoin the Pacific Motorway. Make note of a detour to Watagans National Park where rainforest, waterfalls, and Aboriginal art combine.

Other diversions will tempt: inland is the vineyard-cloaked Hunter region and to the coast is vibrant Newcastle.

On the main path are the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens, which make a wonderful picnic spot.

Further along is the Port Stephens area, centred on a huge body of water more than twice the size of Sydney Harbour.

Glorious beaches abound and water activities are abundant. Spot dozens of playful dolphins on a cruise or take advantage of plentiful snorkelling and diving opportunities. The vast Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park protects myriad marine life.

Visiting Worimi Conservation Lands is essential – it includes Australia’s largest sand dune system that makes for an incredible sight.

More splendid views are gifted at the Nelson Head Heritage Lighthouse and Reserve or from various lookouts. Alternatively, the Tomaree Head Summit walk, within Tomaree National Park, reveals jaw-dropping vistas.

The Australian Shark and Ray Centre, Oakvale Farm & Fauna World, and Fighter World museum are among leading attractions.

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Port Stephens to Forster-Tuncurry

110km (1hr 35min)

Continue along the Pacific Highway and when you reach Buladelah consider diverting to Myall Lakes National Park. More water leisure abounds here.

Just past Buladelah, look skywards to view an 84m-high flooded gum, the state’s tallest tree. The touring route cuts through extensive forest before diverting to the coast, reaching the twin townships of Forster-Tuncurry.

Linked by a bridge at the heart of the Great Lakes area, Forster-Tuncurry occupies yet another glorious patch of turf to be found along this touring route. And it too offers water activities aplenty.

One Mile Beach is one of many magnetising strips of sand and is well-suited to families. From its northern boundary, reach Bennett's Head lookout and soak up sparkling views. Seafood lovers take note: delicious oysters are plentiful here.

The Great Lakes Museum at Tuncurry has a fascinating collection, while a series of galleries at Forster highlight the talents of local artists.

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Forster-Tuncurry to Manning Point

55km (1hr 5min)

While the next leg of this touring route points away from the coast, it is soon drawn back to the water where it reaches Manning Point.

This pleasant spot provides a superb setting for a relaxing holiday and is located on a spit that divides the Manning River from the sea. Manning Point Beach is spotted riverside and is an appealing stretch of sand. It attracts little tern, an endangered shore bird species.

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Manning Point to Harrington

55km (1hr)

On the northern side of the Manning River is Harrington, although it takes a bit of backpedalling from Manning Point to reach it.

This inviting village has a great beach of its own, but a visit to neighbouring Crowdy Bay National Park is a must. It has several exceptional beaches and affords outstanding views.

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Harrington to Port Macquarie

70km (1hr)

Follow another section of the Pacific Highway, slicing through a mixture of lakes and national parks. A great find is Dooragan National Park, where sensational views are offered from North Brother's summit.

Just past the junction of Pacific and Oxley Highway is Billabong Koala Wildlife Park, which has a massive collection of native and exotic animals.

From here, it’s just a 15-minute drive to the heart of Port Macquarie. This thriving seaside city has a wealth of appeal.

Port Macquarie is surrounded by extensive waterways, including a cluster of glorious beaches. A designated coastal trail showcases the breathtaking scenery and incorporates various landmarks, including Tacking Point Lighthouse.

A visit to the Koala Hospital is a must and is not only enthralling but also educational. Jumbos Playland will entertain little ones, or be wowed by the night sky at the Port Macquarie Observatory.

Housed in a funky, modern building, the Glasshouse is Port Macquarie’s cultural hub and includes a regional gallery and a theatre. Contrastingly, the Historical Society Museum is found in a convict-built structure. For more history, visit the Mid North Coast Maritime Museum.

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Port Macquarie to South West Rocks

80km (1hr 15min)

Steer away from the coast on this next stretch and stop at Kempsey. Spotted on the Macleay River, the town teems with heritage buildings and exhibits the works of talented indigenous artists at the Dunghutti-Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery.

From here, take the alternative route into South West Rocks – following South West Rocks Road – as it incorporates Gladstone. This cute village is rich with art and craft shops and striking old buildings.

Hug the Macleay River as you reach South West Rocks. This coastal destination marks the northern point of the Macleay River as it greets the sea.

South West Rocks boasts wonderful scenery: beautiful beaches, small coves, a tranquil bay, and river tributaries.

A visit to Trail Bay Gaol, located within Arakoon National Park, is a must. Now essentially a ruin, this site is rich in history.

Nearby Hat Head National Park is a coastal delight bursting with appeal. It offers a wide variety of landscapes and affords astounding views.

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South West Rocks to Nambucca Heads

60km (0hr 55min)

Continue north along a relatively short trip to reach your next destination, passing through Macksville. This marks your introduction to the Nambucca River.

Follow this stretch of water to where it empties into the sea – at Nambucca Heads. This coastal town provides a warm welcome: Nambucca Heads is highly regarded for its great weather, and outdoor exploration is strongly encouraged.

Choose from many magnetising beaches or join a relaxing river cruise. Be sure to check out the V-Wall; these graffiti-covered rocks are an ever-changing art gallery. Stringer Gallery is a more orthodox find.

Nambucca Heads Historical Museum has a comprehensive collection that is sure to grab your attention.

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Nambucca Heads to Coffs Harbour

45km (0hr 40min)

Along another short stint of the Pacific Highway you’ll come across Urunga, which hoards more of the glittering beaches found along the Exploring the Coast touring route.

Further ahead is Bonville Golf Resort, one of the most striking courses in Australia. Or divert to Bongil Bongil National Park, which has one of the state’s highest koala populations.

Spotted just 10km from the end point of this stretch is Coffs Harbour Butterfly House, which displays hundreds of these colourful creatures in an indoor rainforest setting.

From here, reach the vibrant city of Coffs Harbour, home to the Big Banana. Once more, glorious beaches are in large supply – Diggers Beach is a crowd puller – and several dining options incorporate glittering coastal views. Coffs Coast Regional Park provides more dazzling sights as does must-visit Muttonbird Island Nature Reserve.

North Coast Regional Botanic Garden captures the eyes with its stunning array of plant life and Coffs Harbour Regional Museum has an extensive photographic collection among its treasure.

Dolphin Marine Magic will captivate all ages with its wealth of marine animals and thrilling shows and up-close encounters. Or depart from Coffs Harbour to dive within magnificent Solitary Islands Marine Park.

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Coffs Harbour to Wooli

105km (1hr 20min)

Just north of Coffs Harbour’s CBD is Solitary Islands Aquarium where you can view extensive marine life without getting wet.

A short diversion leads to Bruxner Park Flora Reserve. This crowd magnet provides extensive views from Sealy Lookout.

Hug the coast and pass a series of beaches before straying inland where a wander through Yuraygir National Park tempts. Its mix of landscapes is outrageously good.

Skirt around a swathe of forest before reaching Wooli. This quiet seaside village is perched on a narrow peninsula that separates the Wooli Wooli River from the sea.

Secluded Wooli Beach is a sensational spot for relaxation. If you energy to burn, it’s worth noting that Wooli is a great base for exploring a couple of aforementioned attractions: 75km-long Solitary Islands Marine Park and Yuraygir National Park.

A canoe ride along the Wooli Wooli River is another great option, revealing abundant wildlife that is attracted to the area.

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Wooli to Yamba

85km (1hr 10min)

A detour to Grafton rewards along this next stretch. Perched on the Clarence River, the city catches a gaze for its magnificent jacaranda trees and 20-plus parks.

Whatever path you take, you’ll reach Maclean. The town has a strong Scottish link that it celebrates in colourful fashion.

Follow the Clarence River until it embraces the sea at Yamba. Like many destinations along this touring route, the town has ample water within its grasp. Pippi Beach is a key spot for surfers.

Yamba boasts a wonderful climate and dining along its waterfront will entice. Learn about the town’s maritime past at the Yamba Museum or enjoy a blissful Clarence River cruise.

Be sure to photograph the Clarence River Lighthouse or use the town as a base to explore the northern section of Yuraygir National Park.

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Yamba to Ballina

100km (1hr 20min)

A detour emerges early into the next leg of the touring route. Bundjalung National Park teems with water: rivers, lagoons, and beaches all feature.

Further along, Broadwater National Park has a great assortment of wildlife and leads to huge sand dunes.

Echoing previous stretches, the drive encounters another destination that is perched at the meeting point of a river and the sea. In this case the combination is Ballina – home of the Big Prawn – and the Richmond River. A cruise along this waterway is a fantastic holiday option.

Ballina’s beaches have a strong allure and include renowned surfing spots. Or explore the town’s close link with the sea at the Ballina Naval & Maritime Museum, which has a huge collection of items.

There are several galleries in Ballina that are worth checking out. Among them is the David Mackay Harrison Gallery & Showroom, showcasing the works of a talented bronze sculptor.

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Ballina to Hastings Point

70km (0hr 55min)

Reunite with the Pacific Highway and stop by the Macadamia Castle, which features an animal park and other family-friendly amusements.

A short detour to Byron Bay is even more tempting. This is one of Australia’s most prominent holiday destinations, and a stroll to Cape Byron Headland is littered with scenic highlights.

Keeping close to the coast, the route reaches Hastings Point. This tiny coastal settlement has an enviable location, spotted where Cudgera Creek is introduced to the sea. Its beach is excellent and Hastings Point attracts many visitors who regularly return to this area.

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Hastings Point to Gold Coast (Biggera Waters)

65km (0h 50min)

Immerse yourself in the beauty of the Tweed Coast as you prepare for your arrival into Queensland.

Follow the coast and stop at Tweed Heads, just before the border. This vibrant city has more of the glittering beaches that have featured throughout this touring route. While here, take a majestic cruise along the Tweed River.

From this point, Queensland beckons and the Gold Coast region greets you immediately. This famous holiday spot serves up a wealth of spectacular coastline and is humming year round.

The Gold Coast doesn’t do half measures. If you’re in to swimming, surfing, shopping, or golf, and are partial to absorbing buzzing nightlife, the Gold Coast will reward with ease. The assortment of theme parks also pulls huge crowds.

The Gold Coast hinterland is a gripping area with incredible national parks, cute villages, and ample opportunity for exploration.

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Gold Coast (Biggera Waters) to Brisbane

70km (0hr 50min)

Continue the climb north to Brisbane. The Queensland capital is a buzzing city that provides a wealth of first-rate attractions and experiences.

There are ample ways to get your bearings when in Brisbane. For bird’s-eye views, climb iconic Story Bridge or hop on the Wheel of Brisbane. Or take to the water with a Brisbane River cruise.

South Bank incorporates key cultural finds such as the Queensland Art Gallery and Queensland Museum in addition to a man-made beach. Or chill out at Roma St Parklands – it is one of many leading parks in Brisbane.

One of the best ways to soak up the abundant sunshine is by visiting North Stradbroke Island or Moreton Island where sparkling beaches abound.

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