Based in Sydney and enjoys writing about travel, yoga, food and other crafts though not exclusive to these topics. Follow me on Twitter @KatieKohlbeck
Published June 7th 2012
When was the last time you went on a road trip? If you have a long weekend coming up, crank up the tunes, grab some munchies and hit the road from Byron Bay to Sydney. In the 780 km journey along the Pacific Highway from Byron Bay to Sydney, you will be introduced to several opportunities to stumble upon some treasures that you might have never known existed.
If you're short on leave from work or time in general, the best way to tackle this trip is to grab a flight from Sydney to Ballina, which is about an hour drive to Byron Bay. Do your detective work and you should be able to find a good deal for a one way ticket. Check out Virgin Airlines who have Happy Hour sale fares from 4-6pm (AEST) Monday to Friday. If you don't have any luck there, you can try checking out Student Flights, STA Travel or Flight Centre. Jet Star also offers budget flights to Ballina. The flight time is around an hour so no need to fork out a lot of money for this portion of the trip.
Car hire is available from Ballina and though you could rock up without a booking it is always recommended that you make a reservation prior to the flight to cut down on time you spend at the booking desk. Check out Avis, Europcar or Hertz for rental vehicle details.
If you haven't been before (or even if you have), be sure to stay in Byron Bay for at least a day before you head down the Pacific Highway to Sydney. Byron Bay has a range of accommodation from budget backpackers to modest B&Bs or luxury apartments. No matter what budget you're on, there will be a spot for you. Be sure to keep in mind if you're travelling to Byron in a peak or non-peak season. Summer is naturally a busy time to go as well as during the Bluesfest in April. Accommodation will be snapped up quickly during these periods so be sure to book in advance if you plan to go during a peak time.
There is plenty to see and do in Byron whether you are a first time visitor or practically a local. All sorts of activities from adrenaline fuelled to slow and relaxing activities. If you have the urge to jump out of a plane, Skydive Byron Bay will take you for a memorable experience. Or if the waves are calling, learn to surf with Mojo Surf. If something a bit slower paced appeals to you, there are plenty of beach walks and cycle paths around to help you explore the picturesque area. Or head up to the Cape Byron Lighthouse and 'The Most Easterly Point of Australia', for unsurpassed views of the bay and beyond. There isn't a shortage of spas either or yoga studios if you're searching for a way to unwind with a massage, facial or series of revitalising asanas.
As for the night life in Byron Bay, you again have your pick from the more intimate dining and drinking option of The Balcony to the clubs such as Cheeky Monkeys where you can dance on table tops alongside European backpackers or Woody's Surf Shack where you can go for a gig and late night drink.
After spending a day or so in Byron Bay, it's time to head south and see what else the North and Central coasts have to offer. Best suggestion is to go with space to get a little lost and take time to take the tourist drives along the way. The Pacific Highway is the main artery back to Sydney but this won't offer you many chances to see the coast and towns along the way. If you have the time, book a night in one of the coastal towns along the way. About 4 hours south of Byron Bay you'll hit Nambucca Valley, a
good place to stop for a rest and bite to eat. If you want to spend the night and want something a bit special, swing for an apartment with a hot tub on the balcony. You'll be spoiled with views of the blue sea, beaches and hills in the distance. There are a number of options for eating out in the area whether you're after pizza, pub food but the real treat are oysters. Oyster farming is a growing industry in this region so you can be sure that you'll be getting some extremely fresh and tasty oysters. If oysters aren't your thing but beer is, you can head to the Pub with No Beer based on the Slim Dusty country tune. More information about the area can be found at the Nambucca Valley Tourism website.
Further south of Nambucca Valley, take the tourist drive into Macleay Valley, consisting of Kempsey, South West Rocks, Hat Head and Crescent Head - all relaxing towns to stop in for a rest, either for the day or just for a pit stop, depending on your time schedule. If you can, check out the Smoky Cape Lighthouse at Hat Head National Park. South West Rocks boasts a bit of Australian history, the home of the Trial Bay Gaol. If you're only able to pass through, make sure to stop for a caffeine hit or a feed. One recommended option for comforting food and service is the Smoky Cape Retreat . There's an outdoor area which would be peaceful and warm in the summer but is still kept cosy during the colder months with a wood stove fireplace. Further details on what to do, where to stay and relevant logistics can be viewed at the Macleay Valley website.
View from Smoky Cape Lighthouse at Hat Head National Park. Pretty views even with rain.
As you say farewell to the Macleay Valley, you can say hello to the other regions of the mid-North and Central Coasts. Drive through and check out some of the attractions in the Manning Valley such as the Manning River. Or keep going until you hit The Great Lakes. At this stage, you would be about three hours north of Sydney so you might have to hurry back depending on how often you have stopped off. But there's still plenty more to see if you have time to take in the calm nature of the coast.
Just south of the Great Lakes region and 2 ½ hours south of Forster lies Port Stephen. You have your pick of charming, relaxing towns to either stay or just to stop off to stretch your legs. And of course being a collection of coastal towns, there are plenty of beach strolls. If you've had your fill of seeing the beach and sea, nearby is Murray's Brewery, makers of Nirvana Pale Ale and Murray's Whale Ale. The tour costs a whopping $5. With that investment, you'll get to walk along the hops garden, check out the brewing equipment and possibly see the head brewer in action. Thirty minutes of informative beer talk and of course the main reason we all go on a brewery tour, the samples at the end. But be mindful if you are driving - you can always take a growler of your favourite home with you.
Port Stephens... great spot to get out and stretch your legs.
As you make your way closer to Sydney, there's always the option of delaying the arrival by making a stop in the Central Coast. Maybe you didn't catch any wildlife on the drive home so get your animal fix at Australian Reptile Park, which despite its name offers more than just scaly (and creepy to some) creatures. For a free animal experience, head to the daily pelican feeding at Memorial Park at The Entrance. It happens every day of the year at 3:30pm, no matter the weather. More ideas of what to do in the Central Coast can be found on the Central Coast tourism website.
The most challenging part of the weekend will be deciding where to stop and what to do. With so many possibilities you might find yourself wanting to return on the same road trip. The beauty is that you can make each time completely different from the last. The main thing to remember is to keep an open mind, stay flexible and don't be afraid to go off the main path and you're likely to discover some amazing places only hours from home.
I've done this trip plenty of times and absolutely love it. There's so much to see right the way down the north coast, from bigger towns like Yamba and Coffs Harbour through to heaps of great little seaside villages. I love taking the time to just stop and explore all the way down the coast.
By Tim Falk - senior reviewer Tuesday, 5th of July @ 10:46 am
how many days do you think you would need to have a good road trip up to bryon an back to syd (stopping at beaches along the way)? thanks!
By Anonymous Thursday, 15th of September @ 04:48 am
It really depends on how many days you have available. I did this road trip (one way) in three days but could have easily spent longer. Minimum suggestion would be a week to go there and back, while still allowing some time to stop along the way. Enjoy!
You must have been too long in the sun......are you serious about staying overnight in Byron or even passing through the place to sightsee, it's safer in Redfern or Kings Cross,even Campbelltown. Forget Byron, stay at Ballina and relax and enjoy their genuine hospitality!
By Anonymous Friday, 29th of June @ 01:39 pm
i have just been to port stephens in salamander bay, its just amazing, im just about to follow this path on my way back down south. ill let you know how it goes.
By Anonymous Wednesday, 24th of October @ 12:10 am
Byron is over priced and service is lacking. Last time I stopped there 2 months ago they wanted $10.00 for a salad sandwhich and $7.00 for a juice. Sure beaches are good, view from light house great but there are nicer cheaper places to go on the coast. They have ruined Byron.