A little while ago I put together a blog post with the best places to stop on the Hume Highway (Sydney to Melbourne). But I’ve also spent a lot of time over the last 10 or more years driving between Sydney and Brisbane. So I thought it would be an ideal time to put together my tips for the best places to stop on the Pacific Highway between Brisbane and Sydney.
The Pacific Highway has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Most of the single-lane sections are now multi-laned almost motorway style highway. A lot of the small towns that made up a majority of the trip have now been bypassed.
As the project to widen the Pacific Highway continues over the next few years. More and more these slow sections will disappear. Speeding up the trip, but also reducing the opportunities to stop along the way.
In saying that the trip is now considerably quicker, and makes for very reasonable 9-hour drive between Brisbane and Sydney. Well, as long as you don’t get too caught up in the road works.
Now here are my tips for the best places to stop on the Pacific Highway between Brisbane and Sydney.
Gold Coast, Queensland
Ok, this one is probably more of a stop when making the trip the other way, Sydney to Brisbane. But the M1 Motorway (the last section of the Pacific Highway between Brisbane and the Queensland/NSW border) around the Gold Coast offers plenty of opportunities to stop and refuel (both the car and yourself).
Pro Tip: Traditionally petrol is a bit cheaper in Queensland than it is in NSW. Different state taxes and levies. I always try to make sure I fill up the car with a full tank before crossing the border when heading south. When making the trip north, I try to schedule my stops so that I can cross the border before needing the fill up again.
As for exploring the Gold Coast, it’s a destination all to itself. At some stage, I’ll put together a separate blog post with a bunch of suggestions of things to do there.
Byron Bay, NSW – The Most Eastern Point of Australia
Byron Bay or more specifically Byron Bay Lighthouse is the most eastern point of mainland Australia. If you leave Brisbane early enough (it’s about 2 hours drive from Brisbane to Byron Bay) you could arrive at Byron Bay Lighthouse just in time for sunrise. Something I’ve done a couple of times while making the trip.
If you are planning on making the trip to arrive at Byron Bay for sunrise, just keep in the mind that parking is on Lighthouse Rd is extremely limited and the road to the top of the lighthouse is closed until after sunrise. So just make sure you give yourself a bit of extra buffer to find a parking spot and then make the 10 to 15-minute walk to the top of the lighthouse from carparks that are open.
Visit this page for more information about the Byron Bay Lighthouse.
Byron Bay is also known for its cafes and laid back lifestyle. So if you’re in no particular hurry to get between Brisbane and Sydney its a good spot to casual start to your trip before returning to the Pacific Highway.
One day I’ll stop in at Byron Bay for more than just sunrise and see what else the town has to offer.
Coffs Harbour, NSW – The Big Banana
Another 3 hours down the Pacific Highway, Coffs Harbour marks the halfway point (roughly) of the trip between Brisbane and Sydney. Making it an ideal spot to take a proper stop and break up the drive. There is no better place to stop than the famous Big Banana.
Pro Tip: Just keep in mind that this is one of the slowest sections of the Pacific Highway trip with the most roadworks still in progress, so you might want to factor in a quick stop at either Ballina or Grafton as well until this section of the road is complete, whenever that happens to be.
The Big Banana has been set up specifically to cater to the tourists market and is really easy to access off the Pacific Highway. It’s a staple of the drive between the two cities, so you have to, at least once in your life, take the typical tourist photo with the Big Banana.
If bananas aren’t your thing the complex has a decent cafe and restaurant for a meal or just coffee. If you want to have a little more fun you can try ice skating, mini-golf, laser tag, tobogganing or the water park. The complex has a whole variety of things to see and do if you’re in no particular rush. Visit their website for more information about all the options at the Big Banana.
Once the road works are complete then it will be a pretty easy single day drive between Brisbane and Sydney, but I can certainly understand is you’d want to break up the trip over a couple of days. Coffs Harbour is an ideal spot to stop and stay overnight and really is a destination all on its own.
There are plenty of things to see and do in Coffs Harbour, in fact, I’ve stayed there a couple of times in the past. Check out these blog posts for my tips.
Port Macquarie, NSW
Once you get past Coffs Harbour, there aren’t many major stops on the Pacific Highway. All the small towns have been bypassed, speeding up the trip dramatically, but you have to get off the main road to explore those towns along the old route. One stop I would recommend, about an hour and a half further south is Port Macquarie.
It’s another stop that has plenty to offer, and really could be a destination all on its own.
If you are just looking for food and fuel. There is a service station just off the highway (BP) which also offers a few places to eat (a McDonalds, KFC and Subway at the time of writing this).
However, if you have a little more time and are looking to break up the drive, especially if you’ve done the overnight stop in Coffs Harbour, you can head into town to explore its stunning beaches. There are all sorts of cafes and options once you get into the township.
Or alternatively, if you’d like to do something a little different, maybe you’ve seen enough stunning beaches?. Timbertown to the west (about a 20-minute drive from the Pacific Highway exit towards Wauchope) offers a unique experience showcasing the Gold Rush history of Australia.
Newcastle, well Heatherbrae, is the last major stop before and basically where the motorway section of the Pacific Highway ends, before weaving your way through and joining the M1 Motorway (formally the F3 Freeway) for the last of the run down to Sydney.
Again it offers a couple of service stations and several food options. For something unique to the area I recommend stopping in at Heatherbrae Pies. But it has all the usual service station and fast food options as well.
I’d personally recommend Fighterworld, especially if you are making the trip during the week. The airport at Williamtown is the major airport for Newcastle not only with commercial flights but you’ll often be lucky enough to catch some RAAF (Airforce) aircraft taking off or landing. The fighter jets, in particular, are really impressive to see in action.
You could also make the detour into the Newcastle CBD, but at this point in the trip, having been on the road for many hours your either looking to get to Sydney as quickly as possible or you’ve already committed to staying in Newcastle overnight.
From Newcastle, once you get onto the M1 Motorway, its a pretty straight forward drive down the Sydney. Just keep in mind there is only one fuel stop on the motorway (Wyong) so it’s probably a good idea to fill up before leaving Newcastle if you’re not quite sure you’ll make it all the way to Sydney without making another stop.
That wraps up my picks for the best places to stop along the Pacific Highway between Brisbane and Sydney. Have driven along the Pacific Highway before? Have your own suggestions on good places to stop? Let me know with a comment below.
Planning on driving all the way to Melbourne? Make sure you check out my blog post about they Hume Highway as well.
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