A while back I shared my Perth to Coral Bay Western Australia road trip itinerary and now here is my next Australia itinerary! In this post I share my Brisbane to Sydney road trip. Here’s the thing, there are SO MANY places and things to see and do on Australia’s East Coast. I was travelling with 2 people with restricted holiday time but does that mean we shouldn’t travel because we can’t do it ‘slow enough’ of course not! We packed so much into our 7 day road trip and now I’m sharing my experience with you!
My whole Australia trip was longer than 7 days and this itinerary doesn’t include the 3 full days that we actually spent in Sydney. This is purely the road trip part of the itinerary.
Starting Point: Brisbane International Airport, QLD
Finishing Point: Sydney International Airport, NSW
Total distance travelled between Brisbane and Sydney: 1518km/943miles
Amount spent on fuel: $120AUD/around $90USD (we filled up 3 times)
I booked our hire car direct with Hertz, I found them to be the cheapest out of the ones on offer. Originally I hired the smallest/cheapest car possible, PLUS I paid extra for a GPS system. When we arrived at Brisbane airport, the guy said some of their fleet had built in GPS’s now so for $7AUD extra (plus the previous cost of the GPS) I was able to upgrade to a bigger car with the built in system and I LOVED it! Best $7 spent!
I honestly fell in love with our Hyundai i30, it was a pleasure to drive. I also paid the extra $0 excess insurance, I know some people moan about this but in the long run if I hit a rogue kangaroo or had a stone flick up on my windscreen etc then I wouldn’t have to worry about paying for it.
Somehow we avoided a one way drop off fee, even the man at the airport thought it was strange I didn’t have one and we were told if we went through any tolls, they’d automatically be added onto the credit card bill at the end. This was brilliant because back in 2011 when we did Route 66, we accidentally drove through the auto pass and then got a fine because we didn’t know how to pay it (we used coins for all the other ones). All the Australia tolls would have required going online to pay them.
The car came with a full tank of petrol and we were expected to then return it with a full tank, filling up within a 15km radius of our drop off point. The car took unleaded fuel, was an automatic and in Australia they drive on the left hand side of the road!
Brisbane to Sydney Road Trip Itinerary
*Notes to consider* There’s currently a huge road improvement project taking place along the whole route between Brisbane and Sydney, I believe they are building a new motorway. Most of the journeys took longer than planned because where the speed should have been 110kph, it was knocked down to 80, 60 and even as slow as 40. The GPS didn’t even recognise parts of the new road that have been completed but it was close enough to the existing road to not get us totally lost – Correct at the time of writing.
Day 1 – Brisbane
We landed around noon and picked up the car from the airport. Our accommodation was in Kangaroo Point, Brisbane so we literally made the short drive from the airport to the city and parked up at our hotel.
The evening was spent walking along the river walk towards Brisbane’s South Bank Park. Brisbane also has free WiFi which can be picked up on the streets and in the park which is great for us travellers with no mobile phone data plans! I’ve always liked the South Bank area as a place to chill out in!
Where we stayed: The Cliff House, Kangaroo Point – Brisbane
Day 2 – Brisbane to Surfer’s Paradise, Gold Coast
Australia Zoo, Beerwah
Now I know some people don’t like zoo’s so I’m not officially including it as part of the itinerary but we drove 1 hour north of Brisbane to Beerwah to Steve Irwin’s ‘Australia Zoo‘. After our day at the zoo, we then drove direct from Beerwah to Surfer’s Paradise which took 2 hours. If a trip to the zoo isn’t ‘your thing’, you could easily spend the day in Brisbane instead!
Personally I think Australia Zoo is great and very educational (I was a huge Steve Irwin fan). A lot of the animals are Australian species that you could come across in the wild and during the presentations they tell you exactly how you should act in situations etc, especially when it comes to crocodiles. People’s first instinct in areas where crocodiles are present, is to kill them because ‘they are the problem and need to go’. The zoo aims to educate people and give them the knowledge and understanding of how they can coincide peacefully together.
Where we stayed: Paradise Island Resort – Surfer’s Paradise (free buffet breakfast!)
The view from Bindi’s Island at Australia Zoo, Beerwah
Day 3 – Gold Coast free day
Dreamworld Theme Park
We chose to visit Dreamworld theme park which is a 30 minute drive from Surfer’s Paradise. The Dreamworld ticket comes with entrance to WhiteWater World water park which is next door and connected to the park. Highlights of the park for me, was ‘Tower of Terror II’ (a backwards rollercoaster), ‘The Giant Drop’ tower, meeting King Julian from Madagascar in the DreamWorks area (because I’m a big kid) and I paid an extra $10AUD to have a 30 minute body boarding session on the FlowRider surf simulator which was brilliant but SO much harder than it looks!
Other theme parks nearby include: MovieWorld and Wet n’ Wild.
Day 4 – Gold Coast free day
Day 4 for us was a day off from driving, choosing to stay local and explore Surfer’s Paradise by foot. The whole area felt very much like an Australian version of Orlando what with the theme parks and then all the tourist attractions in Surfer’s Paradise! You could easily spend a fortune! Of course seeing the beach is a free option, it’s a straight line that goes on for MILES. During my visit there were remnants left over from the Commonwealth Games which was held in the Gold Coast in April 2018.
You can’t go to the coast without having a game of mini golf, there are several companies but ‘King Tutt’s Putt Putt‘ was our choice. They have 2 indoor courses and 1 outdoor course. One of our highlights was the Gold Coast Snow Park next door to King Tutt’s. Yep, you read that right, snow park! There wasn’t actually any snow, it uses dry slope material but it allows you to go tubing even on a warm Australia day! One of the hills has a giant ramp which sends you flying into the sky on your tube and you land on a huge inflatable crash mat! It’s a bargain as well, one turn is $5AUD. The more tickets you buy, the cheaper it gets!
Me and my sister went to ‘Infinity‘ and I don’t know what to think about it…she loved it, I get a bit jumpy and spent part of it screaming my head off! It basically consists of 20 maze like ‘rooms’ that focus on creating a unique sensory environment with lights and sounds. At the start you are given socks that you put on OVER your shoes and a pair of gloves.
The majority of the rooms have mirrors on every surface, so when you walk, it gives you the impression of there being no floor and ‘walls’ that go on for infinity. It’s probably not the best place to visit if you suffer from vertigo or heights! There are signs everywhere telling you to walk with your hands in front of you so you don’t smash your face into an actual wall (it explains the gloves…imagine all the fingerprints!). One room was completely dark so required your sense of touch…I hate the unknown and some aspects were meant to ‘surprise you’! We got lost in this room for ages, if we weren’t holding on to each other I think we would have lost each other too! Entry is $26.90AUD for a adult.
*TIP* The free Gold Coast guide books have a bunch of different discount coupons for nearly all of the attractions!
Day 5 – Gold Coast to Byron Bay, NSW
95km (1hr 15)
Tamborine National Park
Before we left the Gold Coast on day 5 of our Brisbane to Sydney road trip, we spent the morning in Tamborine National Park in the Hinterland. Don’t be fooled, the Gold Coast isn’t just coast! Tamborine Mountain is actually in the opposite direction to Byron Bay, it’s up near Dreamworld, about 50 minutes from Surfer’s Paradise.
Our first port of call was Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk. This is a private section of rainforest which has a series of aerial walkways high up in the forest canopy. The forest walk takes around 45 minutes and has an entrance fee of $19.50AUD for a adult, so it is expensive for what it is.
If you are after a free, more budget experience, I recommend visiting Curtis Falls. We discovered this by chance after driving by the sign on route to the Skywalk! The best place to park is in the car park on Dapsang Drive (it has toilet facilities too). The walk to the waterfall is around an hour round trip, longer if you decide to do the creek walk (which we did and is a nice little hike through the forest!). The first part of the walk consists of steps and slopes so is a little tougher on the return trip back up! The creek walk is mainly level and uses the same path as the waterfall too and from the car park.
To see these walks in more detail, I have a whole post which you can find here: Gold Coast, Australia: Two Mt Tamborine Walks You Need To Do!
For those that enjoy shopping, the Gallery Walk on Tamborine Mountain has various shops and cafes. We unfortunately didn’t have time to stop but there was a shop that looked like a giant cuckoo clock and another that looked like a castle!
With the Tamborine Mountain ‘detour’, the drive to Byron Bay was closer to 2 hours.
Now I don’t recommend places that I don’t like on my blog, but there’s no getting round the fact that Byron Bay was part of my Brisbane to Sydney road trip. It was one of those places that I’ve heard so many good things about so I had high expectations and was then really disappointed.
It was one of the most crowded places I’ve come across, even on a week day during the winter season. It was also dirty. There’s a very laid back, hippy vibe to the town with coffee shops offering a discount if you take your own mug and ‘save the planet’ but it seems that people are so laid back that they can’t be bothered to find a bin for their rubbish. There’s no getting around the fact that there was often a smell of weed. We were harassed by tour companies trying to sell us backpacker tours…I had a car, I could drive wherever I wanted, if I was after a tour I’d be coming IN to talk to you. The food was also really fancy and expensive which surprised me being a ‘backpacker’s’ town, we struggled to find budget options.
BUT I do always try to find the positives in a place, it had a great sunset and I got my frozen yoghurt for free because amazingly I guessed the EXACT weight of it.
Where we stayed: Wollongbar Motel – Byron Bay
Day 6 – Byron Bay to Port Macquarie
390km (4hr 35…more like 5hr 15 with roadworks)
Cape Byron/Byron Bay
BYRON BAY REDEEMED ITSELF! In the form of Cape Byron. It’s about an 8km round trip if you plan on walking up to the Cape Byron Lighthouse and back. OR if you are on a road trip, have a car and can cheat, you can drive up there! There are several different car parks. I parked in a tiny one that had about 8 spaces and cost $4AUD per hour, if you drive to the car park right at the top it’s $8. So GET THERE EARLY! After our hour was up at 10am, people were literally fighting over my parking spot. It drew a completely different crowd of people to that of the main town.
The walking path from Cape Byron down to Little Wategos beach is well worth the trip. It’s also the most easterly point of mainland Australia (yep, you’ll pass a sign!). Beware though, the walk back to the top is completely up hill and mainly all stairs so it’s a bit of a workout!
I loved Port Macquarie! The highlight for me were the painted boulders along the breakwall! It was fun to wander along and read them all! It started back in 1995 as an art competition and kinda grew from there! Although I read recently that new additions are banned now due to some people taking it too far and lowering the tone which is a shame. The rocks are painted with people celebrating their families, first holidays, remembering loved ones etc.
The Hog’s Breath Cafe is a great place to stop for dinner. Their menu and food are awesome and reasonably priced!
Where we stayed: Waters Edge Hotel – Port Maquarie
Day 7 – Port Macquarie to Narrabeen (via Palm Beach)
385km (4hr 25…4hr 45ish with roadworks)
We actually drove from Port Macquarie straight to Palm Beach rather than Narrabeen. We didn’t really make any stops on route but it was some really interesting scenery to drive through…here’s what it looked like from the plane window when I was coming into land at Sydney!
Palm Beach is located at the very end of a narrow peninsula which makes up part of Sydney’s ‘Northern Beaches’. Brits and Australians may know Palm Beach better as the filming location for the long running TV soap ‘Home and Away’. There’s 2 hour parking for $8 in Governor Phillip Park (next to the golf club) that’s sandwiched between the 2 beaches!
It’s well worth the hike up to Barrenjoey Lighthouse which is part of the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. Access to the walking track is via the smaller beach (the one with The Boathouse restaurant and the pier that’s always in Home and Away 😉 ), it’s well sign posted. It takes around 15 minutes to reach the top with a choice of 2 different routes. One route is 800m long and is a sloped ‘switch back’ path, the 2nd ‘Smugglers Track’ is shorter at only 400m but it is a steep set of stairs. I’d recommend taking the longer route up and the shorter track down. The views from the top are awesome! It’s a very doable hike that can easily be done within a 2 hour parking ticket.
Related Reading: Barrenjoey Lighthouse Walk: Sydney, Australia
On the main Palm Beach beach, you’ll find the Palm Beach Surf Club which on one side has evidence of being the Summer Bay Surf Club in Home and Away! Fans of the show will recognise this area from the programme as it appears in the episodes quite a lot!
I originally wanted to say closer to Palm Beach but I really struggled to find accommodation in my price range. We ended up staying in a cabin on a holiday park in Narrabeen! I don’t think many tourists stay in Narrabeen, our waitress in the restaurant we had dinner at was surprised overseas visitors were staying in town!
Where we stayed: NRMA Sydney Lakeside Holiday Park – Narrabeen
Day 8 – Narrabeen to Sydney Airport
33km (1hr 10)
We hit the road early to return the car, so I only had an hour to wander around Narrabeen. Narrabeen beach was really nice! It has a mini sand dune, a tidal swimming pool and rock pools!
From Narrabeen, it’s only an hour onto Sydney Airport. Driving through the centre of Sydney was terrifying. I even programmed the GPS to avoid the Sydney Harbour Bridge which has a toll! Even without going to Narrabeen, the route down from Port Macquarie will try and take you through the city centre!
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