A freelance writer with an interest in just about everything.
Published October 17th 2013
Tackling the quintessential Aussie road trip
Beautiful beachside towns, never-ending traffic jams, backseat battles, bouts of carsickness, service station chips and Big Bananas; so many of my memories of our family holidays when I was a kid can be found somewhere along the length of the Pacific Highway. Whether heading north or south from our home near Taree on the NSW mid north coast, our family road trips centred around this often-maligned stretch of Australian highway.
Cape Byron lighthouse. Mike Leonard; Destination NSW
A road trip along the Pacific Highway is a staple for many Australian family holidays, the bitumen leading to a plethora of great holiday destinations. North of Newcastle you come to popular coastal spots like Port Stephens and Nelson Bay. Explore the Stockton sand dunes on an ATV, take a whale watching cruise or munch your way through some fresh seafood.
Forster can get pretty busy during peak times, but there are dozens of quieter little towns just a short detour off the highway. Go fishing at Manning Point or the oddly named Old Bar, call in at the peaceful tourist town that is Port Macquarie or explore the green country around Wauchope.
Kempsey may now be bypassed, which really makes a difference to travel times come Christmas, but it's still worth turning off to Fredrickton for a legendary meal from Fredo Pies. This place is an institution and now also has another couple of outlets along the highway.
North of Kempsey you hit sleepy towns like Nambucca Heads, and the bigger centre of Coffs Harbour. As well as the beaches and Mutton Bird Island, the other must-see in Coffs is the Pet Porpoise Pool. The acrobatic tricks performed by the gorgeous dolphins are well worth the price of admission. Kids, especially, will love it.
Yamba and Iluka are another couple of great spots if you're looking for a beach getaway, though Yamba in particular can get pretty busy. Grafton is another one of those highway towns you might usually just pass by on your way somewhere else, but detour off the highway and over that ridiculous bendy bridge for a relaxed country getaway. Scores of Jacaranda trees paint the town purple every November, and the annual Jacaranda Festival is a highlight on the event calendar.
The Big Banana needs no introductions. Hamilton Lund; Destination NSW
The quiet town of Maclean is another hidden gem, with its quaint Scottish theme and pretty farmlands along the Clarence River. From there it's another couple of hundred kays further north to the tourist Mecca of Byron Bay. Everyone knows what Byron is all about: beautiful beaches, backpackers, hippies, crowds and prices that can sometimes be a little exorbitant.
For something a little more relaxing, look further south to towns like Ballina and Evans Head. In particular, Evans Heads' beach and riverfront location surrounded by national parks makes for a relaxing getaway.
There's plenty to see in the hills around Lismore.
Don't forget to look inland as well. Head along the Bruxner Highway to Lismore, wonder at the unique marvel that is Nimbin, or just enjoy a drive through the rolling green hills lined with macadamia and avocado trees.
Leaving Byron, the Pacific continues further north to the Queensland border and the final destination of many an epic road trip: the Gold Coast. Explore the nightlife, go shopping, or just find a spot on the sand and relax. It's the perfect end to an iconic Australian journey.