Road Trip: From Sydney to Brisbane

Drive along one of the most glorious and seductive stretches of land in northern New South Wales. It's a big trip—1,100 km (687 miles)—so allow a minimum of seven days if you decide to drive the entire route.

Day 1: 175 km (109 miles)

Frame the Harbour Bridge in your rear-vision mirror and head north out of Sydney. Take the Sydney–Newcastle (F3) Freeway about 75 km (47 miles) north to the Peats Ridge Road exit, and wind through the forested hills to Wollombi, a delightful town founded in 1820. Browse the antiques shops, sandstone courthouse, and museum. Next, head northeast to Cessnock and Pokolbin, the hub of the Lower Hunter, and spend the day tasting—and buying—fine wines and artisanal cheeses. Know that Australia has a zero tolerance policy for driving and drinking. Be sure to choose a designated driver or, better yet, take one of our recommended wine-tasting tours.

Day 2: 271 km (168 miles)

Get up with the birds and drive east via Cessnock to the Pacific Highway. Turn north for the long drive to Port Macquarie, Australia's third-oldest settlement. Have a well-earned lunch break in the café at Sea Acres Rainforest Centre and then stroll the elevated boardwalk—or take a guided tour—through centuries-old cabbage tree palms. Now it's into Port Macquarie for a lazy afternoon on a beach, but which of the 13 regional beaches do you laze on?

Day 3: 260 km (162½ miles)

Visit Port Macquarie's Koala Hospital for feeding time (8 am). Then resume driving up the Pacific Highway. Leave the highway 140 km (88 miles) north at the exit to Bellingen, one of the prettiest towns on the New South Wales north coast. It's a nice place to stop for lunch and a quick peek into a few galleries. Continue inland up onto the Dorrigo Plateau. Dorrigo National Park is one of about 50 reserves and parks within the World Heritage–listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. Stopping into the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre to learn about the area is gratifying, as is the forest canopy Skywalk. Back in your car, drive on to Dorrigo town and turn right onto the winding, partly unsealed, but scenic road to Corumba and Coffs Harbour. Now you've earned a two-night stay in Coffs.

Day 4: No driving

Scuba-dive on the Solitary Isles? White-water raft the Nymboida River? Or kick back on a beach? However you spend your day, don't miss an evening stroll to Muttonbird Island from Coffs Harbour marina. From September to April you can watch muttonbirds (or shearwaters) returning to their burrows. When the whales are about, it's also a good humpback viewing spot.

Day 5: 247 km (154 miles)

North again, past Coffs Harbour's landmark Big Banana and up the coast to Byron Bay.

There is just too much to do in Byron: kayak with dolphins; dive with gray nurse sharks; go beachcombing and swimming; tread the Cape Byron Walking Track; or tour the lighthouse atop Cape Byron, which is mainland Australia's easternmost point. It's best to decide over lunch at open-air Byron Bay Beach Café, a local legend. When the sun sets, wash off the salt and head out for some great seafood and then overnight in Byron Bay—there's everything from hostels to high-end villas.

Day 6: 53 km (33 miles)

Catch up on the Byron Bay you missed yesterday before driving north to Murwillumbah and its remarkable natural landmark. Mt. Warning is the 3,800-foot magma chamber of an extinct shield volcano. From the top, on a clear day, there is a 360-degree view of one of the world's largest calderas, with mountainous rims on three sides and the Tweed River running through its eroded east rim. Climb this mountain (four hours return), then reward yourself with a night at Crystal Creek Rainforest Retreat (bookings essential).

Day 7: 50 km (31 miles)

Relaxed and reinvigorated, it's over the New South Wales border to Queensland and Australia's most developed stretch of coastline. With Brisbane just 90 minutes' drive farther north, you can spend as much or as little time as you want on the Gold Coast. Visit theme parks; toss dice at the casino; ride waves in gorgeous sunshine. Don't miss feeding the lorikeets at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary before Brisbane beckons.

Tips and Logistics

Unleaded petrol, diesel, and LPG are available at gas stations along most of this route.

Motel rooms are easy to find, except during school holidays and long weekends. To avoid driving around after a day at the wheel, book ahead. The staff at your previous night's accommodation should be able to help you arrange the next night.

If hiring a car for the trip, check that it contains a street directory. Pick up a good road map or touring atlas heading out of Sydney.

Mobile speed radars are used throughout Australia, and fines are high. Stick to the speed limits.

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