TAKE YOUR TIME HEADING NORTH TO BYRON
Forget Byron Bay or Bust:
By Dallas Sherringham
Rather than charging up the M1 to Byron Bay or Queensland next time you go on holidays, take your time and do it over a week.
There are treasures to found along the Coast if you dare to get off the beaten track.
I recommend you slow down and embrace the opportunity to savor the journey on a road trip from Sydney up to the buzzing and busy beach town of Byron Bay on the far North Coast. Leave the Pacific Hwy behind to explore picturesque coastal towns on the 800km journey, including these key stops:
Ease into holiday mode on the Central Coast
Feel enlivened by the power of the waves crashing against the golden sandstone cliffs of Bouddi National Park as you take an invigorating coastal walk on the Central Coast, just an hour’s drive north of Sydney.
When you’ve worked up an appetite, you’ll be pleased to find a smorgasbord of new foodie treats to try on the first leg of your journey. Take your taste buds on a detour to Latin America at Chica Chica in Ettalong or Tango on The Entrance waterfront, or indulge in a long, modern Australian meal by the sea at Swells Terrigal.
Slip between the sheets at a romantic getaway like Kim’s Beachside Retreat at Toowoon Bay, and dive into the ocean for a refreshing morning swim before you hit the road again.
Pair nature with fine food in Port Stephens
Immersing yourself in nature is easy in Port Stephens, two-and-a half hours’ drive north from Sydney, whether you find joy in watching wild dolphins frolic in the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park on a cruise with Moonshadow-TQC Cruises or lap up the dramatic coastal views on the 2.2km-return Tomaree Head Summit walk in Tomaree National Park.
Toast to a day well spent with a craft brew at Murray’s Brewing Company at Bobs Farm, or get a gourmet taste of local produce at Restaurant William, the brewery’s recently opened fine-dining restaurant.
Unleash your appetite for freshly caught seafood at Nelson Bay’s Little Beach Boathouse before retiring for the night in luxury at The Anchorage in Corlette or Bannisters Port Stephens in Soldiers Point, both of which have fine-dining restaurants showcasing local produce and seafood that may tempt you to stay longer
Kick back with koalas in Port Macquarie
Soak up the superb coastal scenery on the drive through the Great Lakes region to riverside Port Macquarie, four hours’ north of Sydney, via The Lakes Way. This is koala country, and here you can support the incredible work of wildlife carers while cooing over furry icons at Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, which rehabilitates sick and injured koalas for release back into the wild.
You may also be lucky enough to experience the visceral thrill of spotting a koala in the wild along the 1.3km rainforest boardwalk in Sea Acres National Park.
You’ll soon discover more great reasons to pause in Port Macquarie, from the simple pleasure of slurping down freshly shucked local oysters at the likes of Bills Fishhouse and Bar to the fun of sipping local wines at Cassegrain Wines and Bago Maze and Wine, which is home to one of the world’s largest hedge mazes.
Or feel emotion wash over you as you spot kangaroos and wallabies while relaxing in the outdoor tub of a studio cottage at Telegraph Retreat, just 15 minutes north of town.
Have fun in the sun on the Coffs Coast
Surrender to the laidback beach holiday vibe of the Coffs Coast, five-and-a-half hours’ drive (or 530km) north of Sydney, where the azure Pacific Ocean meets the banana plantations and national parks dotting the region’s lush hinterland.
Marvel at the majesty of humpback whales up close during a life-changing swimming encounter with Jetty Dive during the winter months. Or come in summer to feel the sun warm your face as you laze on the region’s gorgeous beaches.
Feel revived by the mix of salty sea air and coastal scenery as you stretch your legs on part of the 60km Solitary Islands coastal walk or take an Indigenous-guided stand-up paddle boarding tour on a coastal creek with Wajaana Yaam Gumbaynggirr Adventure Tours, which will leave you with a whole new perspective on this sublime corner of the North Coast.
Then relax and recharge in the tropical gardens at Sensom Luxury Bed and Breakfast, 15 minutes north of central Coffs Harbour, the perfect adults-only escape for the night.
Breeze into Byron Bay
Slowly become aware the landscape whizzing past your window is taking on a new level of lushness as you continue from Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay, 2.5 hours’ drive (or 230km) further north. Harness the restorative benefits of cocooning yourself in nature during a night’s camping at the seaside towns such as Angourie and Evans Head on the way, or farewell the Pacific Highway at Ballina to enjoy a wholesome lunch perched above the beach at Shelly Beach Cafe.
Or, if you had a late start, you might enjoy a signature cocktail and an oyster mushroom bao at Hey Lady, one of Ballina’s more recently opened bars, before blazing a trail to Byron Bay. Here awaits a slew of new places to eat and drink – another adventure
Boudi National Park walk (Destination NSW)
Tomaree Lookout Port Stephens (Destination NSW)
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital (Destination NSW)
Coffs Harbor Jetty (Destination NSW)