Awesome Australian 2WD Road Trips: Sydney to Coffs Harbour on the Pacific Highway

Newcastle Beach, New South Wales, Australia
The drive between Sydney and Brisbane is fittingly one of the most popular in Australia. The combination of beautiful beaches, national parks, Australian history and gourmet food and wine experiences make the drive an attractive option for many visitors.

The road trip between Sydney and Brisbane is fittingly one of the most popular in Australia.  The combination of beautiful beaches, national parks, Australian history and gourmet food and wine experiences make the Sydney to Brisbane road trip an attractive option for many visitors.

Newcastle Beach, New South Wales, Australia
Newcastle Beach, New South Wales, Australia

Interestingly most of the best places to visit are within a short distance of the main route so to make the most of the trip you need to be prepared to go on regular side trips.  All options described in this article are accessible by 2WD vehicles such as cars and vans.  The Legendary Pacific Coast website has good information about different places to visit and a variety of itineraries.

This article covers the section of the Pacific Highway road trip from Sydney to Coffs Harbour.  Awesome Australian 2WD Road Trips: Sydney to Brisbane Part 2 of 2 covers the road trip from Coffs Harbour to Brisbane.

Pacific Highway Route Overview, 2WD Road Trip from Sydney to Brisbane, Australia

The major route between Sydney and Brisbane is the Pacific Highway which can be travelled in as little as 11:15 hrs over the 918km / 517 mi distance.  The Pacific Highway is a good quality road which consists of a mostly two lane separated highway where towns are bypassed.  The Pacific Highway is interspersed with single lane highways which typically require slowing down to travel through towns.

The Pacific Highway is well serviced by government funded roadside stops which contain toilet facilities, picnic tables and most also have fenced playgrounds for young children.  The stops are well signposted so you can plan your drive.  During peak times (school holidays and major public holidays) the Driver Reviver program also operates, which encourages drivers to take regular rest stops as they drive long distance.  The Driver Reviver program offers a free cup or tea or coffee for a small donation.

There are always sections of major roadworks occurring somewhere along the Pacific Highway so be prepared for periodic delays.  The roadworks have been funded by the Australian Government and the Pacific Highway will eventually become a separated two lane highway for the full length of the road between Sydney and Brisbane.

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2WD Road Trip from Sydney to Coffs Harbour, Australia

The road trip from Sydney to Coffs Harbour is the first half of the road trip from Sydney to Brisbane.  The route from Sydney to Coffs Harbour is 532 km, 330 mi, 5:48 hrs.

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2WD Road Trip from Sydney to Gosford, Australia

Barely 35kms (21 mi) from Sydney CBD you will enjoy the sudden change from urban landscape to the pristine wilderness of the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, Australia’s second oldest national park.  The park sits on south side of the Hawkesbury River, which enters the ocean through Broken Bay.  The Hawkesbury River is well known for boating and houseboat enthusiasts.  On the north side sits the Brisbane Water National Park which offers additional options to enjoy the local waterways.

The drive through both National Parks to the Gosford exit (75km,1:08 hrs from Sydney CBD)  is spectacular with amazing water views on both sides of the road.

Side 2WD Road Trip Option – Scenic Back Road to the Hunter Valley, Australia

Your first decision is whether to take a scenic back road option to travel to the Hunter Valley Wine Region around the Cessnock area (Sydney CBD to Cessnock 157km, ,98 mi 2:02 hrs).

Before you decide read the next section and then decide whether you also intend to visit the Central Coast area, as you can still easily traverse to the Hunter Valley area later.  See the map below for the scenic route option.

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Side 2WD Road Trip Option – Gosford and Central Coast to Newcastle, Australia

At the Gosford exit you can choose to either keep travelling along the Pacific Highway to Hexham or take a side trip to the east and take the coastal road from Gosford to Newcastle (84km, 53 mi 1:42 hrs) through the Central Coast area to visit the beautiful beach towns.  You can choose whether to drive through with a few stops or stay in the area for longer to enjoy the beach, lakes and other local attractions.

A key attraction of the Central Coast area is the long narrow land bridge which is bounded to the east by the ocean and to the west by large inland coastal lakes. If you love water activities then the Central Coast can satisfy both your still and surf water activity desires in a single location.

Along the way you can visit the Ken Duncan Gallery and stop at The Entrance to see the daily 3.30pm pelican feed.  Travel on through the Northern Lakes area until you arrive at the local beachside city of Newcastle, or bypass and head back towards the Pacific Highway.

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2WD Pacific Highway Road Trip – Gosford to Hexham, Australia

From Gosford the road trip to Hexham (88 km, 55 mi, 1:06 hrs) is less exciting than then earlier part of the trip.  You mostly travel past State Forest with only a few places to stop.  Hexham is the road interchange where you can choose to take a side trip to the city of Newcastle (17 km, 11 mi, 0:19 hrs) or continue along the Pacific Highway.

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Side 2WD Road Trip Option – Hunter Valley Wine Region, New South Wales Australia

Hunter Valley Vineyards, New South Wales Australia
Hunter Valley Vineyards, New South Wales Australia

As you travel up the Pacific Highway you have another faster option to travel to the Hunter Valley Wine Region which is centred around the town of Cessnock.  If you love wine and gourmet food then the Hunter Valley is a place you will want to visit.  You can travel to Cessnock either direct from the Pacific Highway (Sydney CBD to Cessnock 151 km, 94 mi, 2:02 hrs) or from the Central Coast (Newcastle CBD to Cessnock 54 km, 34 mi, 1:05 hrs).

Side 2WD Road Trip Option – Stockton Sand Dunes and Port Stephens, New South Wales Australia

From Hexham there is a unique side trip to visit the Stockton Sand Dunes (21km, 13 mi, 0:23 hrs).  The Stockton Sand Dunes are a unique phenomenon and cover an area which is 1 km wide and 32 km long.  They stretch from Williamtown to Anna Bay.  There are places where you can park your vehicle and walk on the dunes.  Take a toboggan as well so you can slide on the dunes as well!!  There are also many tour options available where you can get a quad bike, 4WD, horse or camel ride through the Stockton Dunes area.

Stockton Sand Dunes, near Newcastle, New South Wales Australia
Stockton Sand Dunes, near Newcastle, New South Wales Australia

Along the way if you are military aviation buff you can stop in at Fighter World.  If you are lucky you might see some fast jets flying from the Royal Australian Air Force base at Williamtown.

You can continue on and visit more of the Port Stephens area.  Other highlights include dolphin and whale watching cruises and more fantastic beaches.

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Side 2WD Road Trip Option – Barrington Tops National Park, New South Wales Australia

Barrington Tops National Park is a rainforest area of international significance, and is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area.  Note that there are several opportunities along the Pacific Highway to visit some of the other National Parks which make up the full World Heritage area.

To access Barrington Tops NP to the north west of the Pacific Highway there are two gateway towns.    Dungong enables access to the Southern Area of Barrington Tops NP via a 37km road.  Gloucester enables access to the Eastern Area of Barrington Tops NP via a 45km road.

If travelling direct from the Pacific Highway the shortest route is to turn north at the town of Raymond Terrace (50 km, 31 mi, 0:53 hrs).  If traversing from Cessnock the direct route to Dungong is 78 km, 41 mi, 1:30 hrs.  Dungong to Gloucester is 64 km, 40 mi, 0:54 hrs.

To continue to head north along the Pacific Highway you can take the route from Dungong to Bulahdelah (65 km, 40 mi, 0:57 hrs).  Alternatively from Gloucester you can rejoin the Pacific Highway at Nabiac (50 km, 31 mi, 0:47 hrs).

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Newcastle Beach, New South Wales Australia
Newcastle Beach, New South Wales Australia

2WD Pacific Highway Road Trip – Newcastle to Coffs Harbour, New South Wales Australia

North of Newcastle you enter the Mid North Coast region which spans from Port Stephens to Coffs Harbour (Newcastle to Coffs Harbour 391 km, 243 mi, 5:01 hrs).  Throughout this region there are many small towns and coastal resorts to enjoy.  This is a great area to base yourself to relax and explore.

Along the way north you will travel through the regions of the Great Lakes, the Manning Valley, Port Macquarie, the Macleay Valley, the Nambucca Valley and Coffs Harbour.

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Ebor Falls, near Dorrigo, New South Wales Australia
Ebor Falls, near Dorrigo, New South Wales Australia

2WD Side Road Trip Option – Dorrigo, Australia

The town of Dorrigo is located in close proximity to two stellar national parks, Dorrigo National Park and Cathedral Rock National Park.  Take the turn off just north of Urunga and you have a 45 km, 28 mi, 0:39 hr drive to reach Dorrigo.

Dorrigo National Park

The easily accessible Dorrigo National Park which is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area is a worthwhile side trip.  Make sure you experience the free Skywalk!

Cathedral Rock National Park

Cathedral Rock National Park is 56 km, 35 mi, 0:45 hrs southwest of Dorrigo near the town on Ebor.  Close by is the pictured Ebor Falls.

You can continue following the Waterfall Way which connects Urunga with Armidale and explore more waterfalls along the way.

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2WD Pacific Highway Road Trip – Coffs Harbour, New South Wales Australia

Coffs Harbour is the half way point on the Pacific Highway road trip between Sydney and Brisbane.  Home of the family friendly Big Banana and the centre of many beaches and national parks, Coffs Harbour is a great place to take a break on your road trip.

When to Visit New South Wales and Queensland, Australia

Weather

The Pacific Highway between Sydney and Brisbane is accessible all year round.  Spring, Summer and Autumn are the best time of year to swim and surf at the beaches.  In Summer (December to February) temperatures are regularly in the 30 – 40CC (86 – 104 F) range, so ensure you carry extra water and food in your vehicle in the event of any traffic delays.

A traffic delay can sometimes cause you to wait for hours, particularly during school holiday periods.  Where possible avoid travelling on the Pacific Highway at the beginning and the end of both the New South Wales and Queensland school holidays and long weekends.

Humpback Whale Watching

Humpack Whale, Australia

Every year humpback whales migrate up the east coast of Australia over June to August from Antarctica to their sub-tropical breeding grounds.  The humpback whales return south to the Southern Ocean over September to November.  In many places along the route between Brisbane and Sydney whale watching cruises are offered, and in some places you may sometimes be able to see them from shore.

To continue your road trip from Coffs Harbour to Brisbane go to Awesome Australian 2WD Road Trips: Sydney to Brisbane Part 2 of 2.

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Have you experienced the Sydney to Brisbane road trip?  Share your experience in the comments below.

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