A road trip is always a good idea. Whether you’re heading to Byron for a weekend away, driving up to Splendour, or just taking a trip with your mates, sometimes a Sydney to Byron Bay road trip (or the other way around) is more fun than the actual destination itself.
#1 Best place to stop for a swim: Nelson Bay
Obviously there are hundreds of beaches up the coast that are all worthy of your time. But you really need to stop in at Port Stephens, just north of Newcastle. Here you’ll find not only white-sand beaches and good surf, but if you’re lucky you might spot one of the many dolphins who live in the area. They can usually be seen from the beach, or from the walking path along the rocky headlands. If you’ve got heaps of time, you could even take a boat trip for a better chance of spotting some.
#2 Best place for a pie: Fredo Pies
Name a more iconic road trip food than a meat pie. And we’re not just talking one that you can pick up at the Shell station while you’re filling up. Fredo is about 40 minutes north of Port Macquarie, and has been a local favourite for years. They’ve got an extensive menu, with fillings like kangaroo, croc, lasagne, or satay chicken. Don’t worry if you don’t want to branch out that much — their standard plain mince pie is one of the best we’ve ever tasted, and there are plenty of veggie options as well. FYI for the trip home: our runners-up for best pie shop are Heatherbrae’s right on the highway, and K’Pane in Coffs.
#3 Best cute town: Yamba
If you need a break from being cramped in the car, spend a couple of hours wandering around the small beach town of Yamba. If you’re there on a Wednesday, check out their weekly farmers’ market and fill your esky with local veggies, cheese, and baked goods. There are some awesome op shops lining the main street, as well as a local lolly shop that makes their own fudge.
Finish up by grabbing some fish‘n’chips from Yamba’s Fisho to eat on the deserted beach. Don’t forget to call in to the bakery on main street – everyone knows there’s nothing better than a small town bakery.
#4 Best weird tourist attraction: Macadamia Castle
Just before you get to Byron, you might start seeing signs for the Macadamia Castle, and please trust us when we say you need to visit. They call themselves a theme park, but it’s more of a big complex dedicated to the humble macadamia nut. There’s mini golf, animal enclosures, and even a bar.
The best part is the cafe, with their extensive menu of macadamia-themed dishes. Of course, the gift shop is worth a stickybeak. It’s full of macadamias of all kinds, as well as nut butters and cookies.
#5 Best place to stretch your legs: Tomaree Head
You can’t do an 11-hour road trip without stopping to stretch your legs at least once. This short walk is practically all uphill, but we promise the views are worth it. When you get up to the lighthouse, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views out over Port Stephens and the rolling hills and headlands beyond. Pack some lunch and chill out for a bit before heading back down to the car. If you’re there between May and October, keep an eye out for migrating whales off in the distance. Not a fan of hills? Bouddi National Park has some beautiful coastal boardwalks you can meander along for a spot of exercise.
#6 Best place for a bit of culture: Nambucca Heads outdoor gallery
Along the breakwall at Nambucca Heads, you’ll find the V-Wall – an outdoor gallery where everyone is encouraged to leave their mark. The boulders lining the walls are all painted by locals and visitors, leaving memories, drawings, and quotes. BYO paint and get to work, or just walk along the wall and check out all the stories that have been left there.
#7 Best place for animal lovers: Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
Ok, if you love animals you really can’t miss a quick visit to the Koala Hospital, where volunteers have been rescuing injured and sick koalas for the past 50 years. They take care of them until they’re fully rehabilitated and ready to go back out into the wild. Entry is free, and you can wander around and see all the koalas and how they’re looked after. If you get there at 3pm you can take a guided tour and go with the volunteers as they feed all their koalas.
#8 Best place to camp: Diamond Head Campground
Breaking up your trip over two days is probably a good shout, and who doesn’t love sleeping by the beach? This campsite is probably one of the best in NSW – it’s nestled in a shady, grassy area right on a white-sand beach. There are BBQs and showers, and walking trails through the bushland of Crowdy Bay National Park just waiting to be explored. Not keen on camping? Boogie Woogie Beach House is a cool music-themed B&B at Old Bar and the perfect place to break up your road trip.
#9 Best place to have a drink: Bellingen Brewing Co.
Sucks to be the driver, but everyone else in the car will really appreciate a stop at the Bellingen Brewing Co. just south of Byron. This craft brewery is as local as you can get: even the building is made with materials sourced from the surrounding area. They’ve got some great beers on tap, and you can do a tasting flight to compare them all. Stick around to soak up the vibes and enjoy the live music they have there most weekends. If none of you are beer fans, Bellingen is also home to a ton of trendy cafes with surprisingly good coffee.
At the moment they’re open for takeaway pizza and craft beer every Thursday to Saturday from 4.30 pm to 7.30 pm. You can call them on 0460 336 397 to order.
(Lead image: Brad Halcrow / Unsplash)