East Coast adventure: Cruise the New South Wales shoreline

You could drive the coastal route from Sydney to Brisbane in under 11 hours, but to really do it justice take your time and stop off along the way. We’ve turned to Trailfinders expert John Blower to give advice on what not to miss

By Trailfinders and Destination New South Wales
Published 17 May 2019, 12:11 BST
Lake Macqurie

Lake Macqurie.

Photograph by Alamy

Lake Macquarie
An hour-and-a-half drive from Sydney, the beating heart of this aquatic playground is a vast salt water lake, twice the size of Sydney Harbour with more than 105 miles of foreshore. Connected to the Tasman Sea via a short channel, there are almost 20 miles of beaches, with Catherine Hill Bay, Redhead Beach and Caves Beach among the finest. Thrill-seekers can ride the waves, while those looking for something more relaxing can bushwalk in pristine nature reserves, or simply sit back and enjoy the region's legendary sunsets.

Now lets ask the Trailfinders expert, John Blower:
There’s nothing quite like looking down at Lake Macquarie from the air. Both tandem and solo sky dives are easy to organise here, and from Skydive Elderslie to RedBalloon, all the local companies have excellent reputations. Simply pick one and prepare to hurtle towards the ground after jumping out of a plane at 14,000ft.

Port Stephens
Bottlenose dolphins, migrating humpbacks, sweeping beaches and spectacular national parks are just some of the attractions that surround this sheltered harbour. It’s home to one of the last wild koala populations on the east coast, too; Taylor Beach is a particularly good place to see this legendary Aussie inhabitant. Stockton Beach, meanwhile, stretches for an incredible 20 miles and is edged with Australia's largest dunes. At 100ft high, it’s the ideal place to sandboard, ride camels, or four-wheel drive across a dazzlingly beautiful landscape.

Ask the expert:
Make sure to stay a couple of nights here, as both the town and the surrounding national parks are jaw-droppingly beautiful. Sampling the local seafood is a must; it’s unbelievably fresh — often the journey from net to plate takes mere hours. I’d particularly recommend Little Beach Boathouse and The Point Restaurant just down the coast around Nelson Bay. This little town is known as the dolphin capital of the Australia, so keep an eye out for the 160 resident bottlenoses or take a boat to Broughton Island to swim with the local seal colony.

Coffs Harbour.

Photograph by Getty Images

Coffs Harbour
Halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, this sun-drenched coastal capital has a tropical vibe, bordered by rainforest and leafy banana plantations on one side and more than 60 miles of golden beaches on the other. A mecca for those wanting to experience big game fishing and whitewater rafting, it's also a nature lover's nirvana. Between late May and early November, thousands of humpback whales migrate north to breed in warmer waters, and dolphins can be seen surfing the waves year-round.

Ask the expert:
For anyone driving through in a motorhome, Coffs Harbour has some great campsite options close to the town. If you’re travelling with little ones, head to BIG4 Park Beach Holiday Park; it not only sits between a fabulous beach and a coastal creek reserve, but from pool to playground to kid’s club, there’s loads going on to keep children of all ages entertained. For adults, stock up on sausages and make full use of the BBQ station — you’re in Australia after all.

Byron Bay.

Photograph by Trailfinders

Byron Bay
The most easterly point of the continent of Australia, boho-chic Byron Bay is the place to embrace hip New Age Aussie surf culture. Known for its epic breaks and alternative lifestyle, stores sell upcycled vintage clothing while rustic cafes offer tasty organic, ethical and plant-based food. This bustling seaside town is the place to ground yourself with daily yoga classes, watch the sun go down to the sound of bongos, or paddle through Cape Byron Marine Park to get up close and personal with bottlenose dolphins. Hot air balloon rides, meanwhile, offer panoramic views of the stunning coastline and Mount Warning's volcanic caldera — if you're lucky, you may catch a fleeting glimpse of a humpback whale cruising past the headland.

Ask the expert:
Hiking the 2.3-mile Cape Byron walking track is one of the best ways to spend an afternoon in Byron Bay. The path weaves through rainforest, along cliff tops and there’s even the beautiful Cape Byron lighthouse thrown in for good measure. Come evening, head downtown to make the most of the area’s renowned restaurant scene: achingly cool St Elmo Dining Room & Bar, with its deep grey walls and mosaic-patterned bar, serves Spanish small plates alongside an impeccable wine list and a wide range of craft beers.

The Tweed region.

Photograph by Getty Images

Just south of the glitzy Gold Coast, by the crater of an ancient volcano, the Tweed region marks the end of New South Wales and the beginning of Queensland. Along with Coolangatta just across the river, the area offers a laid-back lifestyle with uncrowded beaches, world-class surf breaks and a burgeoning culinary scene. Rainforest-smothered Wollumbin National Park is World Heritage-listed and has a wealth of hiking trails, while Tweed River’s ubiquitous mud crabs and snappers feature on many local menus.

Ask the expert:
For some stunning coastal views, take a trip to Point Danger and Snapper Rocks. The area has some great walking trails too: the short Walk on Water loop, for example, starts from the Minjungbal Aboriginal Cultural Centre, meandering through woodlands and swamp forest. Signposts along the way explain how the Minjungbal people lived, and you’ll also pass a Bora Ring, historically used for men’s initiation ceremonies.

To book your ideal trip to New South Wales, get in touch with a Trailfinders expert like John, here.

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