Road trip! There is no better way to see a new country than renting a car and heading out on the open road. Australia is a HUGE country, and we don’t think flying between the major cities would do it justice. There are so many cool beach towns along the coast, and the Hunter Valley wine region and the Blue Mountains inland; we’d miss these entirely if we flew to Sydney. So this is part one of our Australian Road Trip, as we drove from Brisbane to Sydney.
Australian East Coast Road Trip
As we wrote about in our post here, the main reason we were in Brisbane was for the Brisbane International tennis tournament. We took a couple days to explore the city before heading south.
Brisbane is really defined by the Brisbane River that winds its way through the city. The downtown is easily walkable, and there are plenty of cool neighbourhoods to explore. We took a long walk from the CBD to the neighbourhoods of Fortitude Valley and New Farm. Unfortunately for us, the weather didn’t cooperate, and we were often rained on, heavily.
Rather than continue to get rained on, we took the ferry back. There are both slow (free) ferries and high speed (not-free) ferries that crisscross the river. Some people clearly just ride the ferries around the city, and it’s a great way to get around.
On a nicer day, the south bank of the river is a great area to explore, with views of the city centre, restaurants and cafes, and a great man-made swimming area and beach, Street Beach.
Brisbane had a cool vibe, and we really wish we had a couple more days there (and better weather). If we had, we would have loved to check out nearby North Stradbroke Island as a day trip.
Byron Bay and Corindi Beach
Heading out of Brisbane, we followed the Pacific Coast Motorway south. “Pacific Coast Motorway” makes it sound scenic – it isn’t. To see anything along the coast, it’s necessary to stop off in coastal towns along the way.
We skipped the nearby Gold Coast, known mostly for being tacky and overdeveloped despite great town names like Surfer’s Paradise. Instead, we headed straight for Byron Bay about 2 hours south of Brisbane.
Byron Bay is a small resort town with beautiful beaches. After several days of rain on the “Sunshine Coast” and in Brisbane, we craved sunshine and warm weather.
The town centre was small, mostly filled with take-away restaurants, pubs, and surf shops. The beach was incredible, and already busy. We still had a couple more hours of driving to do, so didn’t jump into the water. Plus, Christine was still scared of sharks. 😉 Instead, we just had a nice walk along the waters edge, then a quick sushi lunch before moving on.
We stayed for several days in small Corindi Beach, rather than a larger town. The crowds were smaller (non-existent really), and the beaches were no less stunning. And we even met some local kangaroos!
Corindi turned out to be a great base for exploring this part of the coast. In addition to the beach right in Corindi, it was easy to get to other nearby towns like Woolgoolga (called “Woopie” by locals for some reason) which has more restaurants and bars than Corindi itself. We also headed inland for a bit of hiking.
Newcastle and the Hunter Valley
From Corindi Beach, we headed further south again to Newcastle. It was about a 5 hour drive, so we stopped for lunch in Port Macquarie, which had a great waterfront walking trail.
Newcastle is a much bigger city compared to Corindi, so it was a good change of pace. For us, it was a jumping off point to explore the Hunter Valley wine region (we highly recommend Tex Tours) and still spend a bit of time at the beach.
The Hunter Valley was interesting. Apparently the temperatures that day hit 44C, but it was a dry heat. 😉 We were moving between an air conditioned minivan and air conditioned wineries all day, so the weather was manageable. The wine was pretty good – the Hunter Valley is known for mainly white (semillon and chardonnay) and shiraz. We’re not big chardonnay fans (and have never met a big semillon fan), but the shiraz was good. The sparkling shiraz from Constable Vineyards was definitely interesting. We were surprised though, out of entire tour group, almost no one bought anything. Considering how much time (and wine) each winery spent on us, we thought it was kind of rude how few people spent any money.
Newcastle itself has great paths along the rivers towards the beach. We won’t lie…by this point beaches didn’t have the same attraction as they did earlier in our trip. But Trevor did get a chance to brave the shark-infested waters to try (and occasionally succeed) at surfing for the first time.
Katoomba and the Blue Mountains
For a total change of pace and scenery, we headed inland to the Blue Mountains and the town of Katoomba.
“Mountain” may be a bit of a misnomer. Granted, the elevation is higher than the coast, but only around 3000ft. You can call them mountains in the same sense that the Hamilton Mountain (part of the Niagara Escarpment near Niagara Falls for all those not in Ontario, Canada) is a mountain. As in, it’s not really. But hey, there were some nice views and an overabundance of hiking equipment stores.
The Blue Mountains were a nice change of pace from the surf and beach scene on the coast. It was also a slight break from the heat at lower elevations, making the many hiking trails that much more attractive.
Ah, Sydney. Probably the first place anyone thinks about when they think about Australia. We’d heard that we really didn’t need much time here. Snap a couple pics of the opera house and harbour bridge, check out Bondi Beach, then get out of dodge.
The harbour is beautiful. Like amazing. Sydney has to be one of the best harbour cities in the world. As for the beaches, we didn’t even bother with Bondi. Instead, we took a great 30 minute ferry ride through the harbour out to Manly Beach with one of our friends who lives in Sydney. This was a great option, as the beach was less crowded, and the ferry ride itself is very scenic and worthwhile.
Sydney is a great city to walk around. We did a “free” walking tour with I’m Free, which provided a bit of history about the downtown. We wish we’d had an extra day or two to explore, but unfortunately we had to get to Melbourne for the Australian Open.
Was It Worth It?
Don’t get us wrong – it’s a lot of driving along a pretty boring highway. Once you get off the highway, some of the coastal towns are beautiful. Nothing beats stretches of soft sand and crashing waves.
Having a car also gave us so much more flexibility than if we flew between major cities. Australia is so much more than beaches and bikinis – anyone would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn’t head inland for a change of scenery.
Thinking of Driving the Pacific Coast?
- We found AirBnB to be consistently cheaper than any other booking site in Australia
- For a better deal, try local car rental companies like Apex Car Rentals and East Coast Car Rentals
- To save money, stay in some of the smaller towns. Byron Bay, Coffs Harbour, and the actual Hunter Valley were all expensive – staying in Corindi Beach and Newcastle were much more affordable options and were less touristy
- Beware of the speed cameras! They are plentiful along the highway and in the towns. Apparently cops (and cameras) here will give out tickets even if you’re only a few km/h over the speed limit. The speed limits also change frequently, so stay on your toes.