For tourists and locals alike, the 1000km route from Sydney to Brisbane is the stuff Australian holiday dreams are made of. While the Great Ocean Road Tour is focused on rugged coastal landscapes, the Pacific Coast offers an unforgettable mix of world-class wine, lush rainforests, pristine beaches, and animal interactions. It’s no wonder that Australia’s Pacific Coast has become a legendary touring route for locals and tourists alike.
Curious to experience Australia’s Pacific Coast Highway for yourself? We’ve put together a 5-day tour to showcase the best of Pacific Coast.
Australia’s Pacific Coast Itinerary
- Day 1: Sydney to Newcastle (stops in: Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, Hunter Valley Gardens)
- Day 2: Newcastle to Port Macquarie (stops in: Oakvale Wildlife Park)
- Day 3: Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour (stops in: Nambucca Heads, Dorrigo National Park)
- Day 4: Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay (stops in: Yamba,Razorback Lookout)
- Day 5: Byron Bay to Brisbane (stops in: Burleigh Head National Park, Witches Falls Winery)
- Bonus: Brisbane to Noosa (stops in: Glass House Mountains Lookout, Australia Zoo)
Day 1: Sydney to Newcastle
Sydney might not be Australia’s capital, but it’s by far the country’s most vibrant and energetic metropolis. From the iconic opera house to Bondi Beach, life in the “Harbour City” revolves around the waterfront.
The first thing to do in Sydney is simply stroll the harbour. The view of the opera houses white sails backed by the Harbor Bridge are one of the country’s most iconic sights. Then there’s Bondi Beach where locals and visitors alike go to relax, surf, toss a frisbee around, or just people watch. “The Rocks” is one of the country’s oldest neighborhoods, now filled with trendy cafes and boutiques. So grab a pint at the city’s oldest pub and then get creeped out at the haunted Susannah Place.
Of course, there’s plenty of history and culture to be had as well. Learn about the country’s history at the Australia Museum, or take a ferry to Cockatoo Island to see the remnants of Sydney’s penal colony. For a more chilling experience, pay a visit to the Quarantine Station, the most haunted place in the country.
Once you’ve had your fill of Sydney’s non-stop energy, start your trip up the Pacific Coast to Newcastle to get to know the country’s wild-side a bit better.
Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard
Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard is one of the best wineries in the country – a jewel of the Hunter Valley wine region. Named after one of Australia’s wine pioneers, this charming vineyard adheres to the motto: ‘It’s all about the taste’. On a 60 minute visit, you can join a tasting experience, picnic among the vines, or take a behind the scenes winery tour (reservations required). While the Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard has plenty of wine varieties to choose from, be sure to try the exceptional semillon!
Hunter Valley Gardens
Take a 90 minute stop at Hunter Valley Gardens to see flora from around the world. Quiet paths wind through 10 different themed areas, including the Rose Garden, the Formal Garden, and Storybook Garden. In each, you can enjoy the beauty and fragrance of local and exotic species. With so much variety, the Hunter Valley Gardens are a great backdrop for photoshoots.
Arrival in Newcastle
The gateway to Australia’s famous Hunter Valley wine region, Newcastle is an odd bird. It’s Australia’s second oldest city, and like Sydney, centered around a busy harbour. In fact, Newcastle Harbour is the world’s largest exporter of coal and one of the busiest ports in the Southern Hemisphere.
Despite its industrial background, “Newie” has reinvented itself as the coolest big city in New South Wales. The harbour’s been revitalized and there’s plenty of history to be had, from the Christ Church Cathedral overlooking the city to the Convict Lumberyard archaeological site. Then there’s the late-19th century Fort Scratchley. Originally built to guard against Russian attack, it’s now a war museum overlooking Nobbys Beach. A great way to see Newcastle’s historic sights is to take a ride on the “Famous Tram” – a replica of the city’s 1923 trams.
And speaking of beaches, Newcastle has lots of them (8 to be precise!), and they’re less crowded than Sydney. The fan favorite is Merewether Beach, which offers white sand, Victorian architecture, surf, and swimming holes. But you can experience much of Newcastle’s coast on the beautiful and informative “Bathers Way” walk.
Then there’s Newcastle’s booming food scene. Their hip cafes serve up coffee that rivals anywhere else in the country, and the wine from Hunter Valley is world class. There’s plenty to delight the taste buds when you’re done exploring the coast.
Duration: 5 hours and 53 minutes
Book a car from Sydney to Newcastle
Day 2: Newcastle to Port Macquarie ⇧
Grab a cup of coffee before heading from Newcastle to Port Macquarie to start experiencing the Pacific Coast’s wild side.
Oakvale Wildlife Park
Spend two hours at this very hands-on park to get to know Australian and exotic animals. It’s a popular place for families where you can feed some of Australia’s cuddliest creatures like wallabies and quokkas. If you’re traveling with kids, they’ll love bottle feeding baby goats and pigs, or milking a cow. Afterwards, they can cool off at the small waterpark! But this is more than a petting zoo – the park wants to instill a love of nature in visitors, and there’s a focus on sharing conservation efforts.
Arrival in Port Macquarie
From its origins as a 19th century penal colony Port Macquarie has developed into one of the premier holiday destinations on Australia’s Pacific Coast. Lined with beautiful beaches and surrounded by rainforest, it’s a delight for nature lovers. Bottlenose dolphins frequently frolic in the Hastings River estuary, and whales come close to shore from May to November. The best way to experience the forest and sea is taking a stroll down the 9km coastal walk.
Port Macquarie is perhaps most famous as the “Koala Capital”. The Koala Hospital treats around 250 injured koalas every year, and offers tours at 3:00PM every day. Likewise, you can see koalas (and 80 other species) at the Billabong Zoo: Koala and Wildlife Park. If you love koalas and art, be sure to take a walk on the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail.
If you’re wondering what to eat at the end of the day, seafood is always on the menu. From fresh fish to local oysters, Neptune’s bounty is offered in the many cafes and restaurants.
Duration: 4 hours and 55 minutes
Book a car from Newcastle to Port Macquarie
Day 3: Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour ⇧
After Port Macquarie’s seaside offerings, set a course for Coffs Harbour.
On the road from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour, take an hour to visit the historical homeland of the Gumbaynggirr Indigenous people. This relaxed beach town is a popular destination for surfers and nature lovers. Hit the powdery white sands of the main beach, where you can relax or try your hand at surfing. If you prefer to keep your feet dry, there’s the V Wall along the picturesque estuary, where people have decorated the rocks with artwork. Or just head up to the Captain Cook Lookout to take in views of the coast and the endless Pacific Abyss beyond.
Dorrigo National Park
Get your first taste of the UNESCO-listed Gondwana Rainforest at Dorrigo National Park. On a 2 hour hike through the rainforest, you’ll be treated to waterfalls, ancient indigenous vegetation, and sweeping panoramic views. Regardless of which hiking trail you opt for, you’re bound to be blown away by the range of forest environments and enormous variety of animals and birds. It’s an especially great spot for bird-watching, so keep your eyes peeled for red-necked pademelons, vibrantly coloured wompoo fruit-doves, or regent bowerbirds.
Arrival in Coffs Harbour
Coffs Harbour has gone from agricultural center to destination for families and nature lovers. Set just off the coast, the city’s banana-farming heritage is preserved at the Big Banana. Set amidst a banana plantation with a big banana entrance, it’s part amusement park, part educational experience, and part cultural landmark. The Big Banana’s big banana was one of Australia’s first “Big Things”, and widely recognized as one of the best pieces of folly architecture in the world.
Separated from the city by a swath of green are Coffs Harbour’s delightful sandy beaches, where you can relax, swim, or surf. At the far end of the harbour beach you’ll find the city’s 3rd point of interest: the jetty. Built by prisoners in the 19th century, the historic wooden pier gives great views of the coast, and is a popular place for the daring to dive in. The nearby breakwater connects the mainland to Muttonbird Island, so be sure to take the walk over. If you’re visiting between June and November you might spot some whales from the viewing platform.
Duration: 6 hours and 8 minutes
Book a car from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour
Day 4: Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay ⇧
After basking in the glow of the Big Banana, head north to the beachside paradise of Byron Bay.
Yamba has been a popular holiday destination for over a century, and it’s easy to see why. Sitting on an estuary, Yamba has 11(!) beaches, where you can relax on the pristine white sand, or get shacked at Angourie Point, one of the best rights in the country. Year-round you also have the chance to spot dolphins frolicking in the crystalline waters. Between May and October, whale-watching is also a favorite pastime. Once you’re done with the beach, sample the locally caught seafood (Yamba is famous for its prawns) at one of the town’s many fish shops and restaurants.
Overlooking the small town of Evans Head, Razorback Lookout has long been used by local fishermen to gauge the weather. It’s easy to see why – from the lookout you get a panoramic view of the coast and Tasman Sea. If you have binoculars, you might spot some of the dolphins that frequent the waters offshore. Between May and October you might also glimpse a whale! With such great views, it’s a popular place for locals to picnic and barbecue, and is open 24 hours.
Arrival in Byron Bay
Byron Bay used to be a haven for hippies and backpackers, but after word got out about this seaside paradise, it became one of the Pacific Coast’s premier holiday destinations. Chris Hemsworth, everyone’s favorite Aussie-turned-Nordic-God even has a mansion in the hills!
Even though the vibe has changed, Byron’s natural beauty has remained constant. Relax on the family-friendly Main Beach, or if you’re traveling with your pup, dog-friendly Belongil Beach. Australia’s easternmost beach, Little Wategos, is reached from the Cape Byron Lighthouse. For a glimpse at Australia’s diverse marine life, snorkel in the crystal clear waters of the Cape Byron Marine Park, or dive the famous Julian Rocks for your chance to see whales, rays, turtles, or 1000 other marine species. For an unforgettable sampling of Byron’s natural offerings, take the 2 hours Cape Byron walking track for stunning ocean views and lush ancient rainforest.
In its transformation to upscale holiday destination, Byron Bay has also cemented itself as one of the best places to eat and drink in NSW. Get a farm-to-table experience at the Three Blue Ducks farm and restaurant outside of town, or feast on fresh oysters at the Balcony Bar overlooking the main beach. There’s something to please every set of taste buds, right down to a botanical gin distillery and chocolaterie.
Duration: 5 hours and 57 minutes
Book a car from Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay
Day 5: Byron Bay to Brisbane ⇧
Once you’ve had your fill of upscale paradise, get out of New South Wales and head to Brisbane, Queensland’s bustling capital.
Burleigh Head National Park
Immerse yourself in lush rainforest and take in spectacular ocean views at Burleigh Head National Park. Along with the breathtaking views from Oceanview walk and Rainforest Circuit, you’ll have the chance to run into some of Australia’s unique wildlife in their natural habitat. In just over an hour, you can walk both routes (the Oceanview trail is even wheelchair accessible!), and cool off with a swim at Echo Beach.
Witches Falls Winery
Witches Falls Winery earned recognition as one of the best in Queensland for its high quality wines. Take an hour to visit this small winery on the slopes of Tamborine Mountain to get a taste for their passion for wine. The intimate Cellar Door experience is an educational experience where you’ll learn about individual wines and regional varieties while sipping wine paired with local cheeses. When it’s sunny (which it almost always is), enjoy your wine and cheese out among the vines. Reservations for groups of six or more are essential. Visit their website for more information: https://witchesfalls.com.au/
Arrival in Brisbane
Wedged between the ocean and forested national parks, the cosmopolitan capital of Queensland is still closely connected with nature.
While Australia’s other cities long derided Brisbane as a big country town, the riverside city has experienced a cultural Renaissance. You could easily spend a holiday just in the South Bank, the city’s vibrant heart. With 17 hectares of green spaces, there’s always a park close at hand to enjoy the city’s 261 days of sun. You can even swim at the man-made Streets Beach!
The neighborhood is also home to some of Australia’s best museums and cultural centers. Art lovers won’t want to miss the Gallery of Modern Art – the largest in the country. Along with works from internationally renowned modern and contemporary artists, the museum boasts the country’s first purpose-built cinematheque. At the Queensland Museum you can learn about the region’s natural history, cultural heritage, and human achievements.
Regardless how you choose to spend your day, make sure to walk the riverside Little Stanley and Grey Streets. Here you’ll find the city’s excellent restaurants, bars, and cafes, and the 60-metre-high Brisbane Wheel, with its panoramic views of the city and mountains beyond.
Duration: 5 hours and 15 minutes
Book a car from Byron Bay to Brisbane
Optional Day 6: Brisbane to Noosa ⇧
If you want to experience even more of Australia’s wild side, extend your tour of the Pacific Coast with a trip from Brisbane to Noosa. If you need any convincing, this extra leg gives you the chance to visit the late, great, Steve Irwin’s incomparable zoo. And you can keep going from Noosa to the Great Barrier Reef!
Glass House Mountains Lookout
Stop for 45 minutes to take in the stunning view of vista of the Sunshine Coast’s most iconic mountain range. Rising above a forested plain, these conical peaks are the dramatic remnants of prehistoric volcanic activity. They are also central to indigenous creation myths and remain of important spiritual significance to this day. The short trail is only a 45 minute return hike, but passing through gum trees and a wet eucalypt forest gully makes it feel like a real natural escape.
If you needed some extra convincing to make the trip from Brisbane to Noosa, maybe this will do the trick: the Irwins’ zoo. Yes, those Irwins. Founded by the Crocodile Hunter’s parents, and expanded by Steve and Terri thanks to the success of the show. Thousands of animals call the Australia Zoo home, all thriving in natural enclosures. But as we all know from Steve’s work, education is the key to conservation, so you can take part in dozens of unforgettable hands-on encounters from feeding a kangaroo to petting a rhino. For more information, or to make reservations, visit australiazoo.com.au
Arrival in Noosa
If natural beauty is your thing, the resort town of Noosa is unique in Australia. Along with the stunning beaches and lush hinterland forest that grace the Sunshine Coast, Noosa boasts the country’s only Everglade ecosystem.
Located in a sheltered bay, Noosa’s main beach is the perfect place for some fun in the sun. When you need to recharge, sit down at any of the restaurants or cafes lining the nearby street. The other nearby beaches are all even less crowded, and popular for surfing. Noosa is also a great place for diving. There’s reefs, there’s whales, and because it’s often passed over in favor of the Great Barrier Reef, there’s a lot fewer people! Sort of like the UNESCO-listed Ningaloo Reef on Australia’s Coral Coast.
Just outside of town, the Noosa National Park is a great place for a wilderness walk, and the Coastal Walk is especially popular. But you really want to take the time to visit the slightly further Great Sandy National Park. It’s here that you’ll find one of only two Everglade ecosystems in the world (the other being in Florida). Book a boat tour, or kayak if you’re up for it, through one of the world’s most diverse biospheres. An astonishing 44% of Australia’s bird species can be found here, from ducks, to eagles and rare black-necked storks.
Duration: 6 hours and 7 minutes
Book a car from Brisbane to Noosa