Pic: www.visitedplanet.comThe classic downunder backpacker trip is this superb journey along Australia's eastern coast. While you may feel everyone's done it, or wants to do it, there's good reason for that - from bustling cities to small seaside towns, long beaches, lakes and forest, there's plenty of variety, gorgeous views and amazing experiences along this coastal route from surfing to diving, to eating and nightlife. Don't miss it.

Sydney to Brisbane is about 920km, a drive that would take more than 10 hours of solid driving. If you live in London that's like driving to Bordeaux, or to Paris and back, which is far so the key is to keep stopping off and enjoying the sights on the way. Detailed below is a suggested itinerary of how to do it - the time involved is completely up to you but allow at least a week, and lots more if you really want to enjoy things along the way (for more details on the practicalities of getting a car, how to drive in Australia, and other routes to take see our May 2012 newsletter on overlanding)

Sydney | Newcastle | Port Stephens | Port Macquarie | Coffs Harbour | Yamba | Byron Bay | Gold Coast | Brisbane

Back to top 


Pic: www.visitedplanet.comMost backpackers start and finish their overland trips out of a major Australian city, and because of that there's usually a good market for used cars to both buy and sell. For either utilise the noticeboards in VIP Backpacker hostels around Sydney, check out Gumtree, Car Sales or Trading Post

If you're starting in Sydney no doubt you'll have checked out the plethora of sights already. Whatever you do don't leave without visiting Sydney Harbour, the Sydney Opera House and Bondi Beach. You may also want to eat out in Newtown, visit a few markets, hit a pub or club in Kings Cross and beach sit at Manly (for more details about what to see and do see our newsletter Sydney Unplugged).

Pic: www.visitedplanet.comSidetrip: Inland to Katoomba
If you're making a beeline directly north skip to the next section, but if you have more time we highly  recommend a side trip to the Blue Mountains about 90 minutes or 100km from Sydney. These world famous ranges contain caves, excellent waterfalls, great bushwalking tracks, quaint towns, historic railways and other natural features (for more information see our blog: Doing the Blue Mountains).

Sydney: Accommodation | Tours
Blue Mountains: Accommodation | Tours

Back to top 

NEWCASTLE was rated one of the top cities in the world by Lonely Planet in 2011. It surprised more than a few, none more so perhaps than backpackers who usually fly past it on the route out of Sydney. It's just 150km away  but much smaller and far more laid back than the city. Here there are beaches, a great climate and outdoor dining. It's also the kind of place you could move to if you were seeking something more low key than Sydney. There's a great arts scene, good live music and you're within an hour of vineyards in the Hunter Valley, sailing or yachting opportunities at Lake Macquarie and the lovely coastline and whale/dolphin watching at Port Stephens. Don't miss it. (Picture above: Backpackers Newcastle).

Pic: www.visitedplanet.comSidetrip: Inland to Hunter Valley
It's worth making a detour to this excellent wine growing region if you're not in a hurry where hundreds of cellar doors are opened to the public for tastings and tours. It's also a region renowned for its cuisine with excellent restaurants and local products to sample.


Back to top 

PORT STEPHENS further 60km north of Newcastle, and 160km north east of Sydney, is the wonderful sheltered bay of Port Stephens. The bay features open beaches and national parks with plenty of opportunities for the things that make Port Stephens famous: whale and dolphin watching, sharkfeeding, fishing and boating. Places to visit include the lovely sandy shores of Shoal Bay and One Mile Beach, the surfing town of Anna Bay from where the 32km Stockton Beach offers good sandboarding opportunities, and the harbour at Nelson Bay where fishing and dolphin/whale watching opportunities abound. (Picture above: Port Stephens parasailing).


Back to top 


Pic: www.visitedplanet.comA further hop of 250km (or 385km from Sydney) up the coast brings you to the popular seaside resort of Port Macquarie. Port Macquarie is renowned for the Billabong Koala and Wildlife Park which has a variety of native animals you can get up close to including koalas, crocodiles, kangaroos and cassowaries. There's also a Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie that cares for sick and injured koalas. Visits are by donation and they also offer volunteer opportunities if you want to work with native wildlife.

Port Macquarie has also got some lovely beaches, a lighthouse, various colonial buildings dating back to the penal settlement that once existed here, an art gallery, astronomical observatory and more.

Pic: www.visitedplanet.comSidetrip: Inland to Tamworth
If country music is your thing then a sidetrip inland to Tamworth is a must. This is home of Australian country music and every year the 10 day Tamworth Country Music Festival attracts crowds to hear the best artists from across Australia and around the world at the (the 2014 event is 17-26 January). When the festival isn't on there's still things to see and do - the Motorcycle Museum, Big Golden Guitar Tourist Centre with the Walk a Country Mile Museum inside, the Wax Museum, the Woollen Mill and the Australian Country Music Foundation.

Port Macquarie: Accommodation

Back to top


Pic: www.visitedplanet.comAnother hour up the coast (100km) from Port Macquarie is Coffs Harbour (475km from Sydney). What can you do in Coffs? Well there's all the usual fishing, surfing and picnic spots but Coffs also has the Big Banana (free entry). If you spend anytime in Australia you'll come across these "big" things everywhere. Here banana products are sold and the grounds are of course on a banana plantation.

Coffs also has some underwater diving on a local reef and the popular Pet Porpose Pool where dolphins and seals perform in acrobatic shows and interact with the public. Muttonbird Island, home to some 12,000 pairs of muttonbirds, is an excellent walk offering great views along the coast. Visit from December to January to see their offspring. Coffs also has a Legends Surf Museum with some 160 boards on display and a Bunker Cartoon Gallery with comics inside a WWII bunker.

You should also make an effort to get to some of the fantastic national parks in this area such as Bongil Bongil for mountain biking or Dorrigo for superb forest canopy walks.


Back to top 


Pic: www.visitedplanet.comFrom Coffs Harbour to Yamba is an easy 142km. You're now 670km from Sydney and just 280km from Brisbane. It's an easy drive from here to Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour, the Gold Coast, the Yuraygir National Park or the Clarence River making it the perfect place from which to base to explore the area.

Fishing and tourism are the main stays here. Make sure you get to the monthly Yamba River Markets, the Yamba Lighthouse, the Angourie surf beach and try your hand at swimming, surfing or fishing. You can often see dolphins around the coastline and whales from May to October.

Pic: www.visitedplanet.comInland: Nimbin
An excellent side trip off the coast is the hinterland drive through to Nimbin, a rather alternative place set in lush green countryside with an excellent monthly market (third Sunday). Nimbin is renowned for its permaculture and other environmental initiatives and its production of cannabis. There's an interesting local museum well worth checking out and some colourful local cafes and restaurants. The annual Nimbin Mardigrass is held on the first weekend in May every year.

Back to top



Byron Bay needs little introduction (240km from Coffs Harbour). It's a natural stepping stone for most people on their east coast sojourn and is certainly an attractive place with its eclectic markets (first Sunday) and alternative population, wonderful coastal location with great beaches for surfing and suntanning, and excellent shops and local dining. It's certainly the kind of place you could lose yourself for a few days and most people spend at least that here.

While you're here make sure you visit the quaint lighthouse on Australia's most easterly headland, wile away some hours on one of the fine beaches nearby, have a beer or two in a beachside pub, take in some local music and choose from an array of active pursuits such as surfing, seakayaking, scuba diving, mountain biking, hang gliding or whale watching.

Pic: www.visitedplanet.comSidetrip: Mt Warning
Away from the coast, the famed Mt Warning, NSW's largest peak, is well worth a visit. It only takes several hours to climb and makes an excellent day trip off the coast.

Byron Bay: Accommodation | Tours

Back to top


The Gold Coast needs little introduction (88km from Byron Bay) with an incredible number of golden beaches to enjoy, big theme parks, shopping malls, casino and various nightlife. Where Byron Bay is laid back the Gold Coast is far more glitzy with a beachside party sort of vibe for good times and good waves.

There are plenty of opportunities to embrace this kind of hedonistic glamour or you can simply retreat to the beach with a board and a book and relax (most of our hostels have boogie boards or surf boards). Of the theme parks Sea World is located closest to the Gold Coast and has excellent animal performances with shows featuring dolphins, sea lions and polar bears.

Accommodation | Tours

Back to top 


Pic: www.visitedplanet.comBrisbane is a mere 80km from the Gold Coast and you only have to roll down the highway for an hour before you reach the Queensland capital and complete your 920km drive from Sydney!

While Brisbane is not as well known as Melbourne or Sydney, most visitors are pleasantly surprised by what the city has to offer; it has excellent facilities, a wonderful lifestyle and plenty of things to keep you interested. The weather here is balmy and temperate all year round and there are lots of opportunities for work if you want to stay longer.

Highlights include Southbank's parklands and manmade beach, the word class GOMA art gallery, the leafy climes of Mt Coot-tha with excellent forest walks, the local markets and wonderful cafes of suburbs like West End and Fortitude Valley and the wonders of the sand islands of Moreton Bay.

Accommodation | Tours

Back to top