Enjoy one of Australia’s most iconic road trips, Sydney to Byron Bay. Explore beautiful destinations and travel to quaint historic towns; discover hidden gems on The Road Less Travelled to Byron Bay. Take the coastal route to explore a variety of picture-perfect beaches and the inland route for gorgeous country landscapes, better still combine both options.
Here are our favourite towns, starting with the coastal route (and inland route for the return trip), where you’ll find some stunning landscapes, amazing communities, and experience one of the best road trips in NSW.
Due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, check sites before you visit, and for more information see the NSW Government website.
The Coastal Route
(Sydney to Seal Rocks 3 hours 14 minutes, 285 km)
If you love the beach, this one is for you. With one shop in town, that’s all you need, so grab a coffee, sit back and relax and admire these beautiful surrounds. Want to be a part of the action, there’s surfing, kayaking, snorkeling and fishing, and with turquoise clear waters it’s no wonder these beautiful beaches become quite popular in summer.
The main site to see here is Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse (also known as Seal Rocks Lighthouse) and is a lovely 20-minute walk from the shop (slightly steep walk). The lighthouse is still in operation and is one of only two towers in Australia with an external stairway
For those who’d like to explore further on foot, take a 1-hour (loop circuit) walk to the lighthouse along the beach, combine your trek with a swim and if you’re lucky enough you might be able to spy on the dolphins too. (From the shop, head down Thomas Road. Turn left at the sign ‘Lighthouse Beach 2WD Car Park and Walking Track’, which will take you to the beach. From the lighthouse you’ll head back down to the shop along Lighthouse Road).
And are there seals at Seal Rocks? Named after Australian fur seals, historically Seal Rocks has been home to these amazing marine mammals which could be seen from a collection of rocky outcrops not far from Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse. And today, the locals say that the seals still make an occasional visit to the area.
Hat Head National Park
(Seal Rocks to Hat Head 2 hours 36 minutes, 221km)
Instagrammers paradise! Be surrounded by glorious nature and sparkling waters if you stay at Hat Head Holiday Park, which has the best of both worlds, great cabins and camping sites. This is the outdoors at its best! With a variety of stunning scenic walks along the escarpment of the ocean, enjoy the beauty of nature.
Traverse the wooden bridge for a stroll into the bushland, you’ll be surprised at how crystal clear the water is below, it certainly is a lure for families on holiday. The Korogoro Walking Track is popular for a few reasons; the flora and fauna, the magnificent ocean views and the location of tracks atop an escarpment with its surrounding bushland.
Among heathlands, the area is dotted with wildflowers and endangered native grasses. Catch a glimpse of the black cockatoos as they circle above and land in the mighty she-oak trees, or spot the grey nurse shark darting in the sparkling waters (a critical habitat area).
The wobbegong sharks also frequent the area, both species of shark are harmless unless provoked. And if you’re game, is said to be a great place to snorkel, as well as swimming, fishing and kayaking.
The closest place for a bite to eat, adjacent to the campsite is Hat Head Bowling Club.
Accommodation: Hat Head Holiday Park (Includes cabins and campsites, and an onsite kiosk)
South West Rocks
(Hat Head National Park to South West Rocks 25 minutes, 26km)
South West Rocks has a myriad of sights to see. Described as “hauntingly beautiful” Trial Bay Gaol is a treasure trove of historical information and is strangely set in a beautiful location overlooking the vast ocean. At times, wallabies visit to feast on the grassy lands on site.
From Smokey Cape Lighthouse, bushwalking trails, stand-up paddleboarding, to world-renowned Fish Rock Cave, one of the top diving sites within Australia, there is much to discover and do! And at the end of your adventures, try out one of the many cosy cafes in town. Not far from town, there is also a beachside monthly market, see the market’s Facebook page.
(South West Rocks to Urunga 55 minutes, 75.3km)
Take a walk back in time at Urunga, when you stroll along the Urunga Boardwalk. It was built in 1902, originally with no handrails, it was a rickety paperbark structure that was once used by pilots and boatmen for navigational purposes.
This area is popular, from families having picnics on the grassy areas to fishermen exploring the waterways, to joggers utilizing the pathways. With neatly maintained areas, the boardwalk and surrounding pathways are also wheelchair accessible and pram-friendly.
To appreciate the town’s history, a visit to the museum is a must. Stroll the quaint town, and enjoy Urunga village, head to the Pomegranate Cafe for a great coffee, breakfast or lunch. A short drive from the village is The Honey Place, not only great for honey and gifts, but it’s also educational (includes an educational live video about bees. Great for school teachers). It is 20 minutes to Coffs Harbour (city centre).
(Urunga to Bellingen 15 minutes, 15.6km)
Bellingen has been described as an “upmarket Nimbin.” Exuding an alternative culture and health and wellbeing scene, Bellingen is home to many artists. For the outdoor enthusiast, The Bellingen River offers canoeing and kayaking options, and on the outskirts of the river – horse riding.
For those who’d like to take it easy, spend a few hours wandering the town, it’s a nice way to get a feel for Bellingen. Each shop or café is worth investigating. However, a couple of popular places are the Bellingen Brewing Co, and the Cedar Bar and Kitchen. For a bite to eat out of town and the purchase of a couple of gifts, visit The Old Butter Factory.
For the clearest of waters and an unbelievably refreshing swim, head to what is locally known as The Promised Land, there is a small car park on Promised Land (loop) Road, with trails that lead to beautiful waterholes. There is strictly no camping here, it’s no wonder the locals keep a watchful eye over this stunning land and also keep it tidy. And in return is to be respected.
Bellingen hosts a few interesting events during the year, see the Visit NSW website for more details.
(Bellingen to Illuka 2-hour drive, 182km)
Iluka is surrounded by Bundjalung National Park. This is the place to get up close and personal with the animals, especially the wallabies (stay at Woody Head Campground for this)! From dolphins to whales to emus, there are many ways to spot a marine or furry friend.
Take a walk through the bushland on one of their many walking tracks, especially Iluka Rainforest Walking Track, situated in World Heritage-listed Gondwana rainforest (Iluka Bluff Lookout is the whale viewing platform). There’s also boating, fishing, surfing and paddleboarding.
For a casual bite to eat head out to the riverside, to Sedgers Reef Hotel. If you stay at Iluka Riverside Tourist Park, enjoy an easy 20-minute walk to Sedgers, particularly during the evening where you can watch the sunset as you stroll along the waterfront.
(Illuka to Byron Bay 1-hour 35 minutes, 123km)
Home to Australia’s most easterly point; the iconic Cape Byron Lighthouse, Byron Bay is a thriving and bustling coastal town. It is one of the most popular road trip destinations in Australia, drop in for the day and wander the town, or you might like to organise a sojourn here. From Cape Byron Lighthouse to stunning beaches, Crystal Castle and Shambhala Gardens – is the place for the biggest and most beautiful crystals in the world.
And with so many cafes and restaurants to list, you certainly won’t go hungry here. The most popular at the moment it seems is The Farm at Byron Bay. A working farm that hosts a number of events from children’s programs to a variety of workshops such as sourdough bread making (see newly listed workshops on their Facebook page). And onsite The Three Blue Ducks is a ‘hip’ place to eat. The owners of The Farm are passionate about sustainable and ethically farmed produce.
There are many organised events during the year in Byron Bay, see the Byron Bay Annual Calendar for Festival Events.
Accommodation: Hotel luxury comforts: Gaia Retreat and Spa (Owned by Olivia Newton-John). Nature lovers: First Sun Holiday Park (minutes from town). There are numerous places to stay in Byron Bay worth researching.
(Bryon Bay to Nimbin 1-hour 15 minutes, 65.5km)
A town with an intriguing history and a whole lot of alternative culture. World-renowned, it shot to fame when it hosted the 1973 Aquarius Festival. Nimbin is known as Australia’s hippie capital and you’ll feel like you’re time travelling when you visit this village, back to the 70s, where messages of peace, love and happiness are still on display. It’s a quaint town, and one to be experienced.
It’s fun, entertaining, yet sometimes a little scary – with its bright and bold locals, until you get to know and understand this loving and peaceful community. Albeit, many sounds drift through the valley (as do certain smokers’ smells), from music to laughter and chatter, it has a somewhat festive atmosphere.
What to see? The town! Things to do: explore the candle-making factory, Nimbin’s Farmers’ Market is on every Wednesday afternoon, and there’s the Friday night drumming circle, where you can watch or join in! Many gather at the pub beforehand for a drink and a wholesome meal.
Just wandering through the village is a feast for the senses!
Accommodation: Hotel comforts: Black Sheep Farm Guesthouse (12-minute drive from the town), Crofton’s Retreat (7-minute drive from the town). Nimbin Hotel (in the heart of town). Nature lovers: Nimbin Caravan Park (in the heart of town)
The Inland Route
(Nimbin to Dorrigo, 3 hours 36 minutes, 295 km)
Each year thousands flock to World Heritage-listed Dorrigo National Park, home to ancient rainforest lands. Dorrigo Rainforest Centre is the place to experience this magical forest scene, especially via the elevated Skywalk Lookout, and a scenic boardwalk above the rainforest canopy, which has views of waterfalls and amazing fauna and flora. With a variety of birds and birdsongs and educational write-ups about them on the walk, you may end up mimicking a few bird calls along the way.
Nestled among the trees at the centre, the award-winning Canopy Cafe offers the perfect way to rest, unwind and recharge while still appreciating the surrounds. (Cathedral Rock is 1 hour away via a dirt road, for those who love the isolation of the bush, it offers campgrounds and a variety of graded walks in the area. This is part of the Waterfall Way scenic drive).
(Dorrigo to Uralla 1 hour 50 minutes, 149km), not including the time taken to stop at sights along Waterfall Way
A town with an interesting and intriguing history, Uralla is home to the bushranger ‘Captain Thunderbolt’ legend (Fred Ward). There are references to ‘Thunderbolt’ throughout the town. The word Uralla is believed to be taken from Europen squatters and from the local indigenous tribe, meaning ‘a ceremonial meeting place and look-out on a hill’.
An ideal way to gain insight into the history of the town and Captain Thunderbolt is to visit the McCrossing’s Mill Museum. A multi-award-winning museum, gallery and function centre, run by volunteers. It is also the starting point for the heritage walk. Download the Council Heritage Walk Guide on the Uralla Visitor Information Centre website, which includes a map and historical information about each site.
For those who’d like to burn more calories, there is another trail, a 30-minute scenic walk starting near Alma park, Mount Mutton Walking Trail. And at the end of your walk/s drop into the Alternate Root Cafe for a well-earned meal, or coffee! Top Pub offers a restaurant and cosy alfresco dining. It is 20 minutes to Armidale (city centre).
(Uralla to Nundle 1 hour, 36 minutes,133km. For a lovely al fresco lunch, stop at The Willow Tree Inn – Graze).
Nundle is a small historic gold mining town, nestled between The Peel River and The Great Dividing Range. ‘Nundle’ is believed to be derived from an Aboriginal word, meaning ‘mouth’.
Not quite noticeable when arriving in the town – but there are numerous activities on offer and sites to see here. Firstly, wander and explore the village. This is a great place to learn about the history of gold mining in Australia.
Some historic sites to see in town are The Peel Inn, built in 1860 after the discovery of gold in the area, admire the historic surrounds and grab a bite to eat here too. Jenkins Street Antiques and Fine China, sells quite a collection of antique bric-a-brac and furniture (the original 1920s mosaic tiles on the shop front remain). And there’s Courthouse Museum, housed in the historic courthouse displaying memorabilia from the gold mining era.
Take a step back in time at Mount Misery Goldmine Museum, and learn about the gold mining times, it features a 150-meter underground mine tunnel and gold rush memorabilia (includes a cafe and accommodation on the premises).
One of the most visited of the sites is Nundle Woollen Mill (book for a tour in advance). It operates on machinery more than 100 years old, and is said to be the only working woollen mill in Australia where the public can watch how the process of wool is made into yarn (and is the place to buy quality yarn).
Outside of town is worth exploring also, from gold panning, walking trails, caves, mines, a trout farm, to Hanging Rock Lookout, this place will keep you busy!
(Willow Tree to Wollombi 2 hour 26 minutes, 187km)
Last stop before Sydney. The word Wollombi is said to derive from the Aboriginal language, meaning ‘meeting place of the waters’. From historic buildings to scenic surrounds, to a fun community atmosphere, similar to Nundle this town will keep the history buff content for hours.
If you can coincide your trip, visit Wollombi on a Monday public holiday long weekend and experience the bustling markets of the town. Although, since COVID-19 restrictions, and without the main markets or festival events, it has become one of the busier and more popular small towns to visit, especially on weekends.
As the gateway to the Hunter Valley explore the wine tasting rooms at Noyce Brothers Wine and just out of town Wollombi Wines (3-minute drive). Some of the 19th-century historic buildings in the town include St Michael’s Church, St John’s church, Wollombi Endeavor Musem, The Forge, The Old Barn and Wollombi General Store.
Better still, to not miss any of the old sites and learn about them (or even buy that unique gift), download the Wollombi Historic Walk map and take a lovely stroll. At the end of the walk, indulge in a lovely meal or treats in town, such as gelato from the Wollombi General Store (cafe next door), or beer from Wollombi Tavern – for a quintessential Aussie pub experience, or a cafe lunch at Myrtle and Stone, or end the day having dinner in style at the Panino Restaurant. All eateries here are worth investigating.
If you’ve chosen Wollombi as your end destination, sit back, relax, reflect and enjoy this picture-postcard historic town.
Shelley has published a variety of online articles. With a master’s in special education, this has allowed her to write in the area of education, through platforms such as The Huffington Post. Being an outdoor enthusiast, she has written for The Weekender Travel and currently writes for Kombi Lifestyle. She is keen to share her knowledge and enjoys writing informative articles that help the discerning traveller prepare for road trip holidays in Australia. Shelley is the founder of Kombi Lifestyle.