The landscape of travel may have changed beyond recognition since a few years ago, when travelling overseas was the norm, and inter-state border closures were unimaginable. Regardless, a NSW road trip has remained a journey of dreams.
We’ve put together a guide to the best road trip along the New South Wales coast – taking in everything from Sydney’s city-view beaches to the north coast’s tiny surf towns.
Start in the south
For the ultimate NSW ocean road trip, start in Nadgee Nature Reserve, where a long stretch of sand marks the border between NSW and Victoria. From there, head north to Wonbyon, stopping to take a walk up to Green Cape lighthouse, which offers views across the NSW and Victoria coastlines.
The beaches of the NSW south coast range from pebbled coves hidden amongst the headlands of Bermagui, Narooma and Bawley Point, to the long sandy stretches of Broulee, Narrawallee Beach and Hyams Beach.
Grab a spritz in Thirroul
Passing through Wollongong, stop at the small, charming beachside village of Thirroul for a swim at the beach. Or for those wanting a calmer paddle, take a dip in the Olympic-sized ocean pool, carved into the rocks in the 1930s.
If you’ve worked up a thirst, head over to Franks Wild Years for some light refreshment. The record store- bar stocks a variety of locally produced wines, beers and spirits, as well as natural wine from the Villa d’Esta vineyard in Dyers Crossing. All wine made at Villa d’Esta is handmade with no preservatives and no chemicals. The vineyard is on the mid coast of New South Wales and the wine is made using traditional Hungarian techniques.
When it’s time to hit the road, you can take the Grand Pacific Drive via the Seacliff Bridge, which winds its way through a string of villages and epic scenery between Thirroul and Stanwell Park.
Take a dip in the city
Sydney is famously home to Australia’s most iconic beach (we’re looking at you Bondi), but the smaller city beaches are worth visiting. Head to a Shark Beach or Milk Beach in the Eastern Suburbs to watch the city from across the water, or Shelly Beach in the north to snorkel in the sheltered waters.
For a full list of swimming spots in Sydney and surrounding areas, pick up a copy of the most recent book from Caroline Clements: Places We Swim Sydney.
From Sydney, head north via Caves Beach: a long sandy beach set against a magnificent network of caves, just south of Newcastle. In Newcastle itself, you can choose to dip in any of the incredible ocean pools, or take a board out to catch some waves at Merewether, one of Australia’s National Surfing Reserves.
Catch a sunrise in Palmy
For a quintessentially Australian sunrise, it doesn’t get much better than Palm Beach.
If you’ve got the energy, make your way up to the lighthouse, where you’ll have unrivalled views of the two beaches in all their early morning glory. And if you’re feeling peckish, why not reward yourself with breakfast at The Boathouse?
Get lost in the sand dunes
Beyond Newcastle, the NSW coast continues to deliver consistently satisfying road trip stop offs. Get lost in the Stockton Bight sand dunes (the largest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere) which sit on the Worimi Conservation Lands between Anna Bay and Fern Bay, then take a swim in the waters of Birbui Beach. Wind through the Myall Lakes National Park to Seal Rocks, take a walk up to the lighthouse, then stop off further up the coast at the small surf town of Blueys Beach.
Further up the coast, the towns of Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour are sandwiched between stretches of surf spots and sheltered bays. Stop at the small town of Crescent Head, known for its consistent surf, and grab an acai bowl at the cafe beneath the architecturally designed Surf Lifesaving Club on Killick Beach.
Break in Byron and Brunswick Heads
Heading north past Coffs Harbour, you’ll begin to reach the famed beaches surrounding Byron Bay. Walk down the steep wooded path to Whites Beach, a relatively secluded bay surrounded by dramatic towering cliffs. A little further north, Wategos Beach sits just around the headland from the town of Byron itself, and the crystal clear waters in the area are said to be home to a pod of 400 dolphins. Walk to the lighthouse, and you’ll often see the dolphins joining surfers in the small, consistent waves.
Beyond Byron, the town of Brunswick Heads is home to a 10 kilometre stretch of sand, as well as the small, sheltered Torakina Beach, perfect for picnics.
Close the trip in Cabarita
Finish your NSW coastal road trip with a stop at Cabarita Beach, and check in to the stunningly decorated boutique hotel Halcyon House for a celebratory cocktail.
Taking a car that’s prepped for an overnight stay is a wise option – plenty of NSW’s beaches sit in National Parks with free camping opinions (check the NSWParks App or The Travellers Autobarn App for your options). If you’d rather opt for a bed, at least for one or two nights of your trip, there are options for every aesthetic preference and budget scattered across the coast.
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