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.
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 10 to 12-hour drive between Brisbane and Sydney. Well, as long as you don’t get too caught up in the road works or excessive traffic.
Along the Pacific Highway, it’s a little over 900km’s
At this stage, with the current road works, it’s about 10-12 hour drive depending on stops.
The majority of the drive is effectively motorway, and those sections are really easy. The road works sections between Ballina and New Italy tends to slow things down a bit. While short sections through both Newcastle and Coffs Harbour do have traffic lights and can also slow things down.
As a general rule service stations are fairly frequent along the Pacific Highway. There are plenty of options as you leave Brisbane and head through the Gold Coast. Once you get into NSW there are fuel stops at every major town.
Yes. Definitely I’ve done it a number of times. It’ll only get easier and quicker as the road works get completed over the next couple of years.
On the drive along the Pacific Highway, Coffs Harbour marks roughly the halfway point between Brisbane and Sydney.
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 car parking areas 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.
This makes Coffs Harbour 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 some of the roadworks still in progress, so you might want to factor in a quick stop at either Ballina or Grafton as well.
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. And 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 if you’d want to break up the trip over a couple of days.
Coffs Harbour is an ideal spot to stop and stay overnight as 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.
On 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, cafes and all sorts of other options as well.
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 the motorway section of the Pacific Highway ends and you return to suburbia, albeit briefly before joining up with the M1 Motorway (formally the F3 Freeway) for the last of the run down to Sydney.
Again Heatherbrae offers a couple of service stations and several fast food options which is really handy after a long stint of driving.
While you are in the neighbourhood, something unique to the area is Heatherbrae Pies, which I would recommend that you visit if you are looking for a feed.
If you are looking to get out and stretch the legs properly. The Hunter Region Botanical Gardens and/or Fighterworld are just a short detour off the Pacific Highway just before you get to Heatherbrae.
Personally I’m a big fan of Fighterworld but that’s just me. Located at Newcastle’s Williamtown Airport, while you are there you might 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.
If you are breaking up the trip between Brisbane and Sydney over a few days, could also make the detour into the Newcastle CBD and stay overnight. But if you are looking to get to Sydney as quickly as possible definitely head straight for the M1 Motorway.
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.
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