The Sydney to Byron Bay road trip is one of those quintessential Aussie journeys.
The highway connecting one of Australia’s biggest cities to our favourite beach-side town is long. The road can become a monotonous view after a while.
But if you take a few exits along the way and you’ll discover some of the best towns along the east coast of New South Wales.
To break up the eight-hour drive, we’ve listed the best spots to stop off during your journey. We promise they will make your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip even more unforgettable.
Stop 1: Terrigal
Just over two hours from Sydney, Terrigal is the perfect place to stop for breakfast.
Head down to the esplanade, where you’ll find an abundance of cafes and local shops. Grab a coffee and head across the road to watch surfers and early morning swimmers take to the ocean.
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If your belly is grumbling, enjoy breakfast at one of the many cafes spotted along the beach. For a quick bite, try the Terrigal Surf Cafe under the Surf Life Saving Club. For a dine-in experience, check out either Bellyfish or Driftwood.
If you time your trip well, you’ll stumble upon the Terrigal Markets, held on the first Saturday of every month. Discover local stalls selling fresh produce, handmade crafts, candles, soaps and unique accessories.
Terrigal Beach offers a wide bay with calm to moderate waves. Paddle your feet along the shore or jump in to cool off. At the south end of the beach, check out Terrigal rockpool.
Terrigal is a great opportunity to stretch your legs before continuing on your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip.
Stop 2: Newcastle
If you’re doing the Sydney to Byron Bay road trip, you have to make time for Newcastle. Just under three hours north of Sydney, Newcastle combines a city landscape with the guise of a beach-side town.
Darby Street, home to around 25 cafes and restaurants, is the best place to stop for lunch. At the wharf end, you’ll find mouth-watering burgers, fried chicken and hot dogs at Rascal. Towards the south end, check out HuBro for cafe-style options.
Mereweather Ocean Bath, a local favourite 10 minutes outside the CBD is a great spot for a quick swim. The Bogey Hole pool is a local favourite. This gorgeous swimming pool is carved into the cliffs and fills with fresh sea water. You can find it squashed between Mereweather Beach and the aptly named Newcastle Beach.
If it’s too cold to swim, Newcastle has loads of open space to stretch your legs. Try the walk up to Nobby’s Lighthouse for a stunning view of the harbour.
If you want a longer walk, stroll along the Newcastle Memorial Walk, which pays tribute to those who fought in World War I. You’ll have uninterrupted views of the ocean along the way.
Jump on the ferry and head over to Stockton. Walk along the Stockton Break Wall for views across the water and towards the main city. Strangely, the popular exercise spot is home to a few stray cats. Although friendly, the cats can be difficult to spot and usually keep to themselves.
Just outside of Newcastle is Raymond Terrace. Here you’ll find the Proud Rooster, a great chicken shop with a cherry stall out the front. Grab a kilo of the sweet fruit here, we’ve heard they’re the best.
Stop 3: Forster
Nestled between Wallis Lake and the Pacific Ocean, Forster in the Great Lakes region is three and a half hours from Sydney.
Forster is known for One Mile Beach, a stunning stretch of white sand nestled between two headlands. Keep your eye out for dolphins as they play around off the coast. For calmer water, go for a dip at Wallis Lake, which is also perfect for fishing and boating.
Kellie’s Cafe is a great local eatery to try out, delivering locally-sourced meals and a menu of delectable desserts. Lobby Seafood is great for fresh fish and chips. Take it to the beach for a feed with a view.
For a local brew, head down to The Coastal Brewing Company. In the tap room, sip on freshly-made craft beer made from all-natural ingredients.
The driving range is a good spot to let off some steam during your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip. After being in the car for a couple of hours, test your golf skills at the Water Golf Challenge. For something lighter, try the mini putt putt course or the 400-metre practice range.
Head 40 minutes north of Forster to Old Bar, perfect for those seeking the peace and quiet of a small town.
Stop 4: Port Macquarie
Port Macquarie is halfway between Sydney and Byron Bay, making it a great pit-stop on your road trip.
This is not just a sleepy beach town. There’s so much more than meets the eye than just its beaches. Popular swimming spots include Town Beach, Flynns Beach and Nobbys Beach.
You can head down to Lighthouse Beach for a casual swim in the water as well. Or, why not try camel riding instead? Port Macquarie Camel Safaris take guests along the beach atop a camel. Take in views of the ocean with this unique animal encounter.
Just 10 minutes north of Port Macquarie, stop in at Ricardoes Tomatoes to hand-pick some delicious fruit. Choose between juicy strawberries or plump tomatoes, which you can buy once they’ve been weighed.
Get up close with some furry animals and wild creatures at Billabong Zoo. Aussie favourites including koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, dingoes and emus. For something a little more exotic, check out the lions, meerkats, penguins, monkeys and crocs, amongst others. Listen to a zoo talk, feed the animals or have a personal encounter for a memorable photo.
If you’d rather relax, Bago Maze and Winery in Wauchope is the place for you. After finding your way through the immaculate maze, sip on some of Australia’s best wines and enjoy local produce.
Stop 5: Nambucca Heads
Just three hours from Byron, Nambucca Heads is passed the halfway mark on your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip. This quiet town is a great spot to get out, stretch your legs and explore the unique localities.
Beautiful beaches line the coastline here, making for a great spot to swim or have a picnic. The water, always a stunning blue, is too inviting to resist. Some of Nambucca’s best beaches include Beilbeys, Shelly, Swimming Creek and Main.
If you’re not too keen on a swim, fear not. The local shops in the main part of town promise quirky and eccentric memorabilia. Whilst there, grab a coffee at the Bookshop Cafe on Bowra Street and peruse the shelves for your next favourite novel.
The Nambucca Heads mosaic was created using thousands of tiny coloured tiles and is classed as Australia’s longest sculpture. Also on Bowra street, the mosaic tells the story of how the river finally meets the sea. The artwork is a textural experience with boundless photo opportunities.
All along the Nambucca river are great picnic spots too. If you’ve packed fishing or boating gear, this is the perfect place to practice before you get up to Byron Bay.
Stop 6: Bellingen
If you want to get away from the coast for a bit, dip off the highway at Bellingen. After all, your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip shouldn’t be all sea-side towns and beautiful beaches. Just under three hours drive from Byron Bay, this small town will help reset your mind after hours of driving.
The central road of Bellingen is a delight. The historic-looking buildings on the main drag sport wide balconies and wooden awnings. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time as you walk the streets.
For a bite to eat, we recommend Cedar Bar & Kitchen. Conveniently right in the heart of town, this joint sells delicious food in a renovated church. Afterwards, head to the Bellingen gelato bar for a scoop or two.
Travel 10 minutes outside of town to find Never Never Creek. This secret spot is absolutely perfect to get amongst nature, talk a walk or go for a dip.
The Bellingen Growers Market is also held every second and fourth Saturday of the month at Bellingen Showground. With fresh produce and live music, be sure to time your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip right so you don’t miss it.
On your way out, head back towards the coast and stop off at Urunga. It is home to one of the best boardwalks along the east coast of Australia. Stunning views can be promised the entire length of the walk, which is fully wheelchair accessible.
The Uranga boardwalk starts from the charming town of the same name, along the banks of the Kalang River, to the junction with the Bellinger River and out to the ocean.
Stop 7: Coffs Harbour
You’re two and a half hours from your final destination when you stop off in Coffs Harbour. And this is definitely a pit-stop you’ll want to take on your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip.
Coffs Harbour is home to some of New South Wales’ best attractions. One of our favourites is the Clog Barn Tourist Attraction, a little slice of Holland. The mini Dutch village has a railway system, coffee house, daily clog-making demonstrations and handmade replicas of real Dutch buildings.
Another essential tourist attraction is the Big Banana. Choose between laser tag, toboggan riding, ice-skating, mini golf and a giant water park for hours of fun. There are also reptile shows, cheese making, an opal centre and a theatre. Don’t forget to grab your mates and snap a picture in front of the giant yellow banana.
Apart from stunning beaches, you can find other great swimming spots around Coffs Harbour. Head half-an-hour south to the gorgeous town of Sawtell for a swim at one of its picturesque beaches. Our favourites include Sawtell Beach, Bonville Beach, Murrays Beach and the Sawtell Memorial rockpool.
Whilst here, grab a bite to eat on First Avenue, then head up to one of the two headlands for spectacular ocean views.
An hour out from Coffs Harbour is Dorrigo National Park. If you have the time, we highly recommend heading out here on your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip.
This is the best place to surround yourself with nature and get back to your roots before going wild in Byron. Part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, Dorrigo offers stunning scenery that is millions of years in the making. Discover numerous bush walking tracks, a variety of animals and stunning waterfalls.
Stop 8: Grafton
Another great inland town for you to stop off at during the last leg of your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip is Grafton. This historic town packs a punch, with its Victorian and Edwardian architecture dating back decades.
When in Grafton, check out the Grafton Regional Gallery, built in 1880. See works by contemporary Indigenous artists, as well as other famed Aussies like Ken Done and Doris O’Grady. Another classic building to visit would be the Ulmarra Pub, dating back over 110 years.
Every Thursday evening in Market Square, you’ll find the Grafton Twilight Farmers Market. Meet the locals as they sell gate-to-plate, fresh and seasonal produce at over 25 stalls. Grown by regional growers, producers and bakers, you’ll be sure to find something delicious.
If you can, plan your trip between October and November, as this is Grafton’s official jacaranda season. The whole town is spotted with over 7,000 of these gorgeous trees; find the best streets to view them here.
The Grafton Jacaranda Festival is on between Friday 29th October and Sunday 7th November this year. There’s food, live music, dance performances, plantings, stalls and tours. Be sure to watch as the jacarandas cover the town in a purple haze of petals.
Stop 9: Yamba
Yamba is just over an hour away from Byron Bay. As tempting as it may be to zoom on through, make sure you stop in at Yamba on your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip.
We’re back on the coast with this lazy beach-side town. Yamba is known for its laid-back vibe and gorgeous beaches. Some of our favourites include Whiting Beach, Convent Beach and Yamba Beach, with its huge ocean pool.
For something a little more secret, head 10 minutes south to Angourie. Climb down the steep stairs to Spooky Beach, its wide expanse of sand nestled between rocky headlands.
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, trek through the scrub along a small dirt track to find the Angourie Blue Pool. Although you can’t swim here, it’s an amazing sight. Walk a little further to find an amazing natural ocean pool. It is filled by the tides, formed amongst the huge rocky shoreline.
Yamba is full of kind locals, cafes with tasty food and unique shops. Head to the famous Pacific Hotel around sunset for an unforgettable experience. Grab a drink and check out 180-degree views of Yamba Beach and beyond.
Stop 10: Ballina
Your last pit-stop during your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip is just an hour from your final destination. Take one last chance to stretch your legs and explore Ballina before arriving in Byron.
For something adventurous, ride a horse along the beach with Pegasus Park Equestrian Centre. If you’d just rather a swim, our favourite spots to cool off include Angels Beach, Sharpes Beach and Lighthouse Beach.
Then, discover the local’s secret by heading to Killen Falls, about a 15-minute drive north of Ballina. This inland oasis boasts a large fresh water pool, constantly being filled by a glorious waterfall.
Beware, the trek down to the waterfall isn’t for the faint of heart. Think lots of stairs and slippery slopes. However, the swimming hole that welcomes you at the end is worth it.
The Ballina market is also a great place to join the locals. Held on the third Sunday of every month, head down to enjoy a wide variety of stalls offering everything from food to fashion.
To explore Ballina up-close, hire a bike from Sunrise Cycles or the Bicycle Emporium and cycle along the 25-kilometres worth of paths around town.
You’re only an hour from your final destination now, meaning your Sydney to Byron road trip has come to an end. Yet, these towns are sure to make the memories last a lifetime.