The Epic Sydney to Brisbane Road Trip Itinerary (2020 Drive)

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This Sydney to Brisbane road trip itinerary will touch on the travel logistics and the best stops between these two Australian cities. 

One of the best ways to experience Australia is by doing a road trip. And one of the most popular Australian road trips is from Sydney to Brisbane on the east coast.

Both of these capital cities are packed with entertainment and excitement. But there is so much natural beauty and authentic Australian culture nestled in between the two.

You’ll pass charming surf towns, stunning beaches, and national parks rich with greenery and wildlife on this Sydney to Brisbane road trip. 

Driving from Sydney to Brisbane is also very straightforward and easy. 

The majority of the drive takes place on the highway, with small detours here and there for certain attractions. 

The roads are all well-paved and well-marked. So you don’t need a 4X4 and you shouldn’t have any trouble with navigation.

So if you’re wondering “Where should I stop between Brisbane and Sydney?”, then this post is for you!

READ MORE: Click here to read our Australia travel guide to help you plan your trip!

Koala Joey Sydney to Brisbane Road Trip
Don’t forget to look up when travelling on this Sydney to Brisbane road trip – you never know who you might find!

Sydney to Brisbane Road Trip Quick Facts

Distance: 1230 km
Recommended Length of Time: 5 to 8 days
Highlights
* Stop 1: Port Stephens Region
* Stop 2: Forster Area
* Stop 3: Crescent Head
* Stop 4: Bellingen
* Stop 5: Byron Bay
* Stop 6: Gold Coast

5-Day Sydney to Brisbane Road Trip Itinerary

This Sydney to Brisbane road trip itinerary will list all the most amazing places to stop along the route. 

Keep in mind, this is just a rough guideline. So feel free to add any other stops to the list or swap things out! 

You can definitely enjoy all the attractions and stops along the way in 5 days. 

But certain places are so beautiful that you may want to stay for a few days before continuing on towards Brisbane. 

So ideally, you would have a week or 8 days to allow you to spend longer in stunning places like Byron Bay or Crescent Head. 

There is so much fun stuff to do on a Sydney to Brisbane road trip, so take your time and really enjoy it!

And don’t worry, if you are looking to do it in reverse, this itinerary can be done as a Brisbane to Sydney drive too!

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Day 1: Sydney to Port Stephens

  • Time: 3 hours
  • Distance: 219 km

The first portion of driving on your road trip will be relatively quick and easy.

Depending on where you start driving in Sydney, you may have to spend some time in city traffic. 

But once you leave Sydney, it’s smooth sailing along the M1 Pacific Highway until you reach Newcastle. 

Newcastle

Newcastle is the second biggest city in NSW, and it’s just over 2 hours from Sydney.

Spend an hour or two here walking, swimming, surfing, and relaxing before you get back on the road. 

Definitely stop by one of the beaches near the city centre, like Newcastle Beach, Bar Beach, or Nobbies Beach. The beaches are all free and have lots of free parking. 

Another highlight of Newcastle is the Anzac Memorial Walkway

This short but steep walkway next to Bar Beach commemorates Australian soldiers and offers spectacular views of the Newcastle coastline. Get a bit of exercise and enjoy the views of the coastline with this activity!

For lunch, there are endless cafes and restaurants all over the city. 

If you’re passing through on the weekend, grab some fresh local food at the Newcastle City Farmer’s Markets at Newcastle Showground.

They have lots of small local businesses selling the best, high-quality food. This is a great place to buy snacks for the road as well!

After exploring Newcastle for a few hours, drive a bit further north until you reach the gorgeous region of Port Stephens.

Newcastle New South Wales
Newcastle is a great stopover on the way up the New South Wales coast.

Port Stephens

This stunning part of New South Wales is a must-see on any drive from Sydney to Brisbane, and while you could easily spend a week checking out all the amazing things to do in Port Stephens, we recommend spending at least one night here.

First up you could book into an excellent quad biking experience along the Stockton Dunes, the largest moving sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere!

Have an enjoyable dinner in Nelson Bay, and then the next morning you can head off on an awesome whale watching or dolphin cruise!

We recommend staying in Nelson Bay or Shoal Bay during your time in the area.

READ MORE: Want to spend longer here? Check out our recommended Port Stephens itinerary!

Mount Tomaree Sunrise
If you’re feeling really energetic, make sure you climb up Mount Tomaree for sunrise or sunset!

Day 2 – Port Stephens to Forster

  • Time: 2.5 hours
  • Distance: 185 km

It’ll be a bit of a late start to hit the road today, mainly because you’ll have an epic breakfast at Evviva Cafe in Port Stephens, then book onto a whale watching tour!

After lunch though it’s time to hit the road and make your way towards Seal Rocks.

Seal Rocks

After leaving Port Stephens, the Pacific Highway name changes from M1 to A1. But it’s still the same major road. 

You’ll drive on this road for just under 2 hours before reaching the turnoff towards Seal Rocks.

Seal Rocks is a little village close to Forster. 

There isn’t a lot to do, but it’s on the way so it makes for a nice, quick stop. When you first arrive, there are some lovely coastal lookout points. 

The highlight is walking along the shady, woodland path that winds uphill towards the Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse

Listen for kookaburras cackling in the gum trees and enjoy the view of the rugged rocks from the top of the lighthouse. 

Boat Beach is a quiet and secluded spot for swimming. You’ll most likely have the whole beach to yourself!

Booti Booti National Park

This lush national park lies directly south of Forster. 

If you are camping or have a van, The Ruins Campground is a beautiful place to spend the night. 

I recommend heading to the nearby Wallis Lake to watch the sunset.

The natural colours reflecting on the glassy lake looks absolutely surreal. 

Forster

If you plan on staying overnight in accommodation, continue driving for 15 minutes until you reach the town centre of Forster. 

Forster doesn’t have that many attractions, but it has some highly-rated hotels, motels, and inns. 

So for the second night of your Sydney to Brisbane road trip, Forster or Booti Booti National Park are the perfect places to stay. 

If you’re looking for an awesome place to stay, we personally love using Airbnb. If you’ve never used the platform before, sign up using this link to get USD$35 off your first booking.

Day 3: Forster to Crescent Head

  • Time: 2 hours
  • Distance: 160 km (105 miles)

Day 3 of your Sydney to Brisbane drive itinerary has little driving and lots of time for fun activities. 

You’ll spend a couple of hours of driving along the A1 Pacific Highway. 

There is an exit for Port Macquarie if you’re looking for somewhere to stop. 

Or you can just continue until you reach the exit for Crescent Head. 

All the roads are straightforward, easy, and well-paved. 

Crescent Head
Crescent Head is the perfect place for surfing, swimming, and chilling out while driving through the state.

Port Macquarie 

After leaving Forster, you’ll reach Port Macquarie in just over an hour. 

This coastal town is a nice spot to stop for lunch, and there are a few attractions here for those who are interested! 

You can check out Tacking Point Lighthouse, which was built in 1879.

Then walk along the coastal track and try to spot dolphins or whales in the ocean. 

You don’t need to spend too much time here. The next destination on this Sydney to Brisbane road trip itinerary is one of the best, so you’ll want lots of time there. 

Crescent Head

Just one hour north of Port Macquarie lies Crescent Head. 

NOTE: We recommend following the tourist route. You’ll see signs for it.

As one of the most popular holiday destinations among locals in NSW, Crescent Head is heavenly. 

The town of Crescent Head is tiny. But it has some lovely local cafes and a few nice hotels and motels. 

Most people come to the area for the stunning coastal scenery and beaches. 

Spend the entire day swimming or surfing in the crystal clear waves, or go for a walk along the beach and collect shells. 

There is also a small golf course and a caravan park right next to the beach. 

Be sure to walk up to the small headland, known as Little Nobby, for sunset or sunrise.

Then walk up the grassy hill to an even bigger headland, known as Big Nobby, for panoramic views.

Crescent Head
Crescent Head – one of the best places to stop on our Sydney to Brisbane road trip.

Day 4: Crescent Head to Bellingen

  • Time: 1.5 hours
  • Distance: 120 km

On the fourth day of your Sydney to Brisbane drive itinerary, you’ll jump back on the A1 Pacific Highway for around an hour before heading inland.

While most people think it’s worth just sticking to the coast (we get it, it’s beautiful!), one of Australia’s best attractions is found nearby.

South West Rocks

Its a short drive to South West Rocks, but you’ll love the lush farmland, huge trees and meandering river along the way.

Once you get to the village, stop by the Trial Bay Gaol to learn about the history of the prison, and keep an eye out for all the kangaroos around the campground!

The Smoky Cape Lighthouse is well worth the hike too.

Now it’s time to hit the road again and make your way to Bellingen.

South West Rocks Drone
South West Rocks from the air.

Bellingen

This bucolic, historic and quaint town is one of the real highlights of this road trip Sydney to Brisbane itinerary, and we highly recommend grabbing lunch here and walking around.

Once you’ve taken your snaps, jump back in the car and drive up to one of the most beautiful places in the country!

Dorrigo National Park

The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Dorrigo National Park is home to the Gondwana Rainforest, the oldest trees in the entire world, and it really feels like you’re stepping into Jurassic Park.

There are plenty of great hikes you can do in the area, but before you tackle any of them make sure you visit the Rainforest Centre to get some information on the unique flora and fauna in Dorrigo.

If you just have time for one hike, we recommend walking to Crystal Falls.

This glorious waterfall tumbles out of the rainforest and into a gorgeous pool, with a pathway leading into a small overhand so you can see the falls from behind.

You can continue the Rainforest Loop if you’re feeling up for it, or drive back down to Bellingen for the night.

Crystal Falls Dorrigo National Park
Crystal Falls in Dorrigo National Park.

Day 5 – Bellingen to Byron Bay

  • Time: 4 hours
  • Distance: 290km

It’s a big day of driving today, and if you’d rather split it up we recommend spending the night in Yamba.

Otherwise pack the car, have a nice breakfast in Bellingen, and hit the road to one of the best places to visit in Australia; Byron Bay!

Coffs Harbour

Once you leave Bellingen, you’ll reach Coffs Harbour in about 30 minutes.

The city isn’t much to look at, but there’s a huge shopping centre near the highway where you can use the bathroom and grab some food. 

Coffs Harbour’s biggest attraction is the Big Banana Fun Park.

It’s famous because there is an actual giant banana at the entrance!

You can see the Big Banana from the highway, so you don’t even have to stop if you’re short on time. 

Yamba

Yamba is a beautiful seaside town, that must have been what Byron Bay was like 20 years ago.

It’s a wonderful place to stop off for lunch, or if you have more time when driving to Brisbane from Sydney, spend the night.

Visit some of the coastal walks and beaches before continuing the drive north.

Byron Bay

Byron Bay is a laid-back coastal town near the northern border of New South Wales. 

The town is super popular among backpackers, so there are tons of hostels, campgrounds, and fun bars and restaurants. 

There are also lots of amazing cafes and health food shops, as well as some interesting vintage stores and trendy shops. 

READ MORE: Check out our Bryon Bay Visitors Guide to plan your time there!

Surrounding the town centre of Byron Bay is so much natural beauty as well. 

Be sure to walk along the coastal track up to the Cape Byron Lighthouse. Other fun things to do include surfing at the Pass, going whale-watching, or kayaking with dolphins.

You may want to spend a few days in Byron Bay before continuing on your Sydney to Brisbane road trip. There are so many incredible things to do here!

Byron Bay Beaches
For beach days, surfing, and socializing, Byron Bay is the place to be.

Day 6: Byron Bay to Gold Coast via Lamington National Park

  • Time: 3 hours
  • Distance: 175km

After leaving Byron Bay, drive north on the M1 (the A1 has now changed back to the M1), and you will cross the border into Queensland!

The next three destinations on this Sydney to Brisbane road trip form a triangle, so you can visit them in any order you want. 

Lamington National Park is located about an hour inland from the coast.

You don’t need a 4×4 to drive here, although the terrain gets really hilly. 

So if you’re driving a huge van and are nervous about winding cliffside roads, maybe skip this part. 

Lamington National Park

I recommend heading straight to Lamington National Park after Byron Bay. 

For nature lovers, this is a great opportunity to do some hiking and spend time in the forest. 

Lamington National Park is full of towering trees, hills and valleys, walking tracks, and scenic views. 

A highlight of the park is Moran Falls.

Drive up into the mountains, park your car, and set out on a 1-2 hour easy bushwalk that brings you to the top of a massive waterfall. 

Watching the sunset over the valley from the top of Moran Falls is one of the best things to do in the park!

Visit the official Queensland government website for more information on what to do in Lamington National Park. 

Lamington National Park
For gorgeous countryside views and fun hiking trails, visit Lamington National Park in Queensland!

Burleigh Heads

After hiking and exploring in the forest, head back to the coast to Burleigh Heads. 

This laid-back and beautiful coastal town has a massive beach, a bushwalk along the headland, a beachfront walking/jogging track, an amazing lookout point, and more. 

If you want to camp, I recommend staying here for the night instead of the Gold Coast.

It’s much quieter and there are some nice campgrounds with great facilities right next to the beach. 

Gold Coast

If you prefer to stay right in the hustle and bustle of the city, you can spend the night in the Gold Coast. 

It’s really up to you where you spend most of day 4 on your road trip.

The Gold Coast is a lively city with lots of wonderful restaurants, bars, shops, and nightlife. 

Don’t believe me? You can check out our post on all the epic things to do in the Gold Coast here.

Burleigh Heads is more relaxed, and the two are only a 20-minute drive apart. 

Surfer’s Paradise is another famous Australian beach that is just a 10-minute drive north of the Gold Coast city centre. 

If you feel like treating yourself, you can book a river cruise along Surfer’s Paradise and the Gold Coast.

Sunbathe on the boat deck and eat snacks while sailing past the skyscrapers and fancy yachts of the area. 

Currumbin Beach Gold Coast
A pastel sunset at Currumbin Beach, with the Gold Coast in the background.

Day 7: Gold Coast to Brisbane

  • Time: 1 hour
  • Distance: 80km

On the final day of your Sydney to Brisbane drive, you don’t need to spend much time on the road. 

The Gold Coast and Brisbane are only a 1-hour drive apart. 

Head over whenever you feel like it. Then your Sydney to Brisbane road trip is done!

Brisbane is the capital city of Queensland, so there is plenty to do here when you arrive

Brisbane is a super fun city to visit in Australia. It makes an amazing ending point for your east coast road trip!
Brisbane is a super fun city to visit in Australia. It makes an amazing ending point for your east coast road trip!

Sydney to Brisbane Drive – Wrapping it Up

Hopefully, this road trip itinerary will inspire you to experience more of Australia’s east coast outside Sydney. 

Lots of people just stay in the city or only visit the touristy areas.

It’s amazing to experience these popular areas, like Sydney, The Gold Coast, and Byron Bay. 

But quiet, less touristy areas like Crescent Head or Lamington National Park are amazing ways to see the real Australia!

The best way to get around is to rent a car and explore on your own! We recommend Rental Cars, which has the largest range of vehicles for the best value on the market.

DISCLAIMER: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means if you book accommodation, tours or buy a product, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help us keep creating more free travel content to help people plan their holidays and adventures. We only recommend the best accommodations, tours and products, and regularly review these. Thanks for your support, kind friend!

About the author

Gabby Boucher

After four years of working in hospitality, volunteering abroad and travelling for fun, Gabby has developed a knack for budget travel and admiration for different cultures. Her travels have taken her through the cloud forests of Ecuador, into the villages of eastern Europe, across the islands of Thailand, and to the beaches of New South Wales, Australia, where she is currently living with a working holiday visa. She plans to continue her adventures around the world for as long as possible. Follow her on her blog, and on Instagram.

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