Get a glass of wine, put your feet up and make yourself comfortable because this post is a long one! One of the trips I’m most commonly asked about is the 3 weeks Richie and I spent in Australia in 2017. During this trip we went from Brisbane to Sydney before flying down to my family in Melbourne for a week. So strap in because here comes the complete guide to our Aussie adventure!
The Dates: We were in Australia for 20 days altogether and rented our campervan for 11 days
The Flights: We flew from Dublin to Brisbane and returned from Melbourne to Dublin (both via Abu Dhabi) with Etihad. We also flew on Jetstar from Sydney to Melbourne for a week.
The Campervan: We booked the 2-3 berth Hip top Hippie campervan with Apollo. It was easy direct and had the best reviews. Overall for 11 days the campervan was $1000. As we were going from Brisbane to Sydney we also had to pay a $200 one way fee. We opted to get a Sat Nav for an additional $100. This turned out to be a waste of money as the Sat Nav wasn’t updated with any new roads so most of the time it just told us we driving were in the ocean. Helpful.
Note: All prices listed are AUS Dollars
The Road Trip
Brisbane – 2 days
Where we stayed: We knew we’d be jet-lagged when we arrived and wouldn’t want any stress so we booked into the Capri by Fraser in the city center for 2 nights. This was a beautiful hotel that was walking distance from everywhere. Hotels are pricey and this one set us back $280.
What we did: We mostly just wandered around the city and took it easy while we shook off the jetlag. While we were here we checked out the Story Bridge which is beautifully designed. We also relaxed along South Bank where you’ll see the famous Brisbane sign and the Brisbane Wheel. We did the short rainforest walk along by the river and cooled down at the man-made beach at South Bank Parklands.
On our way up to Noosa Head we went into the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. The sanctuary is the world’s first koala sanctuary and is currently home to 130 koalas. It’s a great facility where you get to see a whole range of animals and birds. You’ll also get the opportunity to feed the kangaroos and hold a koala. It’s open from 9am-5pm daily with adult tickets from $41.
Noosa Heads – 1 day
Where we stayed: The Noosa River Holiday Park was in the most beautiful location. A site will cost you approx $48 and you can park up and sit right on the beach. Bliss.
What we did: We got to Noosa late afternoon after spending a couple of hours at Lone Pine so we started our road trip here by completely relaxing. We laid on the beach beside our campsite and read. It was pure bliss. It’s a nice area and there were some nice cafes and coffee shops. There are plenty of beaches and coastal walks to do as well as surfing and hiking but for us Noosa was a chance to completely relax and unwind.
On our way to the Gold Coast the next day we stopped off at the Warner Brothers Movie World. As it was mid-week and off peak there were absolutely no queues. The park opens from 9:30am to 5pm daily and tickets for a single day pass start at $89 for an adult. There are loads of great shows and rides here and we easily passed the entire day.
Gold Coast – 1 day
Where we stayed: We stayed in Burleigh Beach Tourist Park where a powered site set us back $48. Great site and right across the road from an incredible beach.
What we did: The Gold Coast area on the east coast of Australia spans 35 kms and is famous for being home to some of the best beaches in the country. Head to Surfers Paradise if you’re after surfing and nightlife. While you’re here go to the SkyPoint Observation Deck. Its 230 metres high and is the country’s highest external building climb. You get insane panoramic views of the gold coast from up here. If you want to get off the beaten track a little then head to Coolangatta, Burleigh Heads or Broadbeach. We stayed the night at Burleigh Heads. There is a great national park here with plenty of walks and wildlife to enjoy.
Byron Bay – 2 days
Where we stayed: We camped in First Sun Holiday Park which is right as you come into the town. The facilities and staff were great and as Byron Bay is so small it’s easy to walk everywhere from here. You can choose from cabins, huts or camping. It’s a popular place to stay and its pricey with powered site costing upwards of $70 dollars a night for 2 adults.
What we did: Byron Bay was one of my favorite places we visited. It’s a small surfer town that has a great vibe. It’s filled with families and backpackers and there are plenty of water sports, amazing beaches, restaurants, bars, and boutique shops! We headed up to Cape Byron Lighthouse. This is the country’s most easterly point and is only a 45 min walk from the main beach. It’s well worth the walk and there are some great views from up here.
One our second day we decided to make the one hour drive from Byron to Nimbin. This was such a bizarre town which is no wonder considering it’s the weed capital of Australia! Everything is weed themed from the cafes and bars to the street art. Although you can’t buy weed in any shop (key word here being shop) you can buy bongs, pipes, filters and any other weed paraphilia you can think of. It’s how I imagine walking around Woodstock would be – lots people on drugs dressed in 70s hippie clothes. There’s even a Hemp Embassy and a Mardi-Grass festival each year. It was certainly interesting to see but it’s by no means the nicest town I’ve been too and we had seen all there was to see in under 2 hours.
There are plenty of there other non-weed related things you can do in Byron including swimming and kayaking with dolphins, taking some surf lessons or scuba diving at Julian rocks which is a reserve where you can see sea turtles, sharks and fish.
Yamba – 1 hour
Where we stayed: Although we planned to stop in Yamba once we got here we found little to do and decided to keep moving. This actually worked in our favour as we had a day left over and ended up getting to go see the Blue Mountains instead.
What we did: Again this is a place we found when reading other people’s blogs and it sounded like a great little town. There are probably some nice beaches but to be honest when you’re doing a Pacific Coast road trip you’re pretty much guaranteed beaches where ever you go. There was only one thing in the town and that was a lighthouse. We stopped, walked around it and wasted no time in getting in the campervan and moving on. If you have endless amounts of time for your trip maybe stop here to relax and read on the beach for the day but if like us you were limited with time – then keep moving
Coffs Harbour – 1 days
Where we stayed: There was loads of spaces available to camp here. We went with BIG4 Beach Holiday Park. The staff were great, nice facilities and a huge holiday park. A site will set you back $55 for 2 adults.
What we did: I think I had expected there to be more in Coffs Harbor than there was. What stands out in my memory is the famous giant banana that marks the front of an amusement park there. Our time in Coffs was pretty relaxed. We did get a great tip from the owner of our campsite about a Friday market held in the park across the road. This was a real hidden gem. The little park was filled with food trucks, there was fairly lights draped throughout the trees and a great local singer on stage. Everyone could bring their own wine and beers and relax outside. It’s clearly a firm tradition in the town as it was packed with locals and families so if you’re in Coff’s on a Friday in summer make sure to check this out!
Port Macquarie – 1 day
Where we stayed: Flynns Beach Caravan Park. This was my least favourite place we stayed in on the trip. It was fine but it was a little grubby in comparison to the other place we’d been. Port Macquarie is really popular and it was tough getting a place to stay here. I cant recall how much this was but i think it was around $40.
What we did: Port Macquarie was such a great town! There are 17 different beaches to choose from and plenty of activities here from kayaking and surfing to completing the 9km coastal walk from Town Green to Lighthouse Beach. Take a walk up to Tacking Point Lighthouse to take in the views or head to Sea Acres rainforest center. This center is open daily from 9am to 4:30pm. It’s free to go in around the ground or you can pay to do the rainforest boardwalk. This is a 1.3km loop that takes about 30 mins. It’s a lovely walk through the forest and it only costs $9 for an adult.
We also went on the Port Jet Ocean Blast Thrill Ride which is a 40 minute tour around Port Macquarie. Its great fun with the driver doing plenty of accelerating and rapid turns (be ready to get wet)! It’s $55 for an adult or $45 for a child. We were lucky enough to have a school of dolphins swim up around the boat while we were stopped in the harbor.
Another must do here is the Koala Hospital. This is an incredible organization who rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured koalas. There are also some long-term residents who are too injured from disease or fire to survive in the wild. The work they do is incredible and when I retire I want to move here and spend my retirement minding sick koalas. You can take a free self-guided tour anytime between 8am and 4:30 pm however they also offer a free guided tour daily at 3pm. We did this and I couldn’t recommend it enough!
Port Stephens/Nelson Bay – 1 day
Where we stayed: I can’t find remember exactly where we stayed but there are no shortage of places to choose from. Some good ones include Reflection Holiday Park, Beachside Holiday Park or Birubi Beach Holiday Park.
What we did: Nelson Bay is a small town in the harbor of Port Stephens. Richie and I decided to be kids for a few hours and hit up the Toboggan Hill Park where you can, unsurprisingly, go tobogganing down huge metal slide, there’s also a kids maze (that I took a shameful 15 minutes to get out of) and an arcade. Great laugh for a couple of hours, especially if you have kids. You can also head down to One Mile Beach to top up on your tan. We stopped off at Gan Gan Lookout which gives you panoramic views of Nelson’s Bay.
The downside of having a campervan or car is that every time Richie saw the words ‘Scenic Route’ we had to take it – our poor Sat Nav was blue in the face telling is to make a u-turn. On the other hand the campervan allowed us the freedom to stop whenever we felt like it. This meant we were able to stop into Irukandji Shark and Ray Encounter when we passed it on our way to Newcastle. Once again travelling off-season worked in our favour and as we were the only ones there in the morning we ended up getting a private tour. As part of this we got to get in the water with the stingrays and sharks. Our tour guide was fantastic and full of great facts and information. It was $31.50 for an adult and was a really great unexpected detour.
Newcastle – 1 day
Where we stayed: We actually ended up staying in NRMA Stockton Beach Holiday Park across the river from Newcastle because all the campsites were full when we arrived. It cost $48 and had private access to a beach which was so nice and quiet.
What we did: We had read a couple blog posts about Newcastle and it was painted as an underrated city full of culture and surprises. In reality one night was more than enough as there wasn’t really anything here. The city has a real industrial feel and there is a large shipyard here. You can head down to Stockton beach or take a walk to Nobby’s Beach to the lighthouse. If you’re interested in local history you can visit Fort Scratchley which is a 19th century fort and museum. If you have time stop here, maybe you’ll find that you enjoy it more but if I was stuck for time this is one place that would probably get cut.
Hunter Valley – 1 day
Where we stayed: We stayed in Wine Country Tourist Park. The owners were friendly and there was an outdoor pool which was pretty bare looking but given the heat was utterly divine. Powered sites are only $30 a night.
What we did: I remember 3 key things about Hunter Valley: 1. It was so friggin hot (hello 42 degrees my old enemy) 2. The vineyards give you very generous tastings of wine 3. If you drink every tasting of wine they give you in 42 degrees you will get the most severe hangover of your life.
My hangover aside, Hunter Valley was great. If you’re not a wine lover there’s not that much to do especially if it’s hot outside. We did a tour of the local vineyards through Hunter Valley Wine Country. They provide lots of different packages and prices start from $60pp. On our day long tour we visited several different vineyards where we got up to 6 tastings of red, white and dessert wine in each. We also got a beautiful Italian lunch. The tour guides were great and we were picked up and dropped off at our accommodation. You get good discounts on the wine at each vineyard – pro tip you can bring up to 6 bottles of wine in your carry on for a domestic flight. Yes I did bring 6 bottles and yes they did only last two days. No regrets.
Katoomba (Blue Mountains) – 1 day
Where we stayed: We stayed at the the Katoomba Falls Tourist Park which is right beside Scenic World. Powered sites start from $42 for 2 adults sharing.
What we did: This place is incredible and an absolute must do! It was hands down the best place we visited on our road trip. The first day we arrived it rained non-stop all day and you could barely see anything so we had a quiet day at the cinema. Luckily the next morning was incredible so we went straight to the Scenic World. There are different walks throughout the mountains and forests that you can do and it honestly has the most breathtaking views. You can also hop on the railcar which is at a 52 degree incline and is the steepest passenger railway in the world. There is a 2.4km scenic walkway across boardwalks and through the rainforest floor, or you can enjoy the panoramic views from the steepest and largest aerial cable car in the southern hemisphere. Finally you can also grab a trip on the scenic skyway which is a gondola suspended 270m above ground and has a glass bottom so you can enjoy a full 360 degree view!
This is a great place for people of all ages. The walks are so nice and we got to hike up and see the famous three sisters mountain formation. There are restaurants and cafes to enjoy and despite how busy it was the queues for all of the rides moved very quickly. You can buy a Discover Pass for $39 for an adult which is an unlimited day pass to everything in Scenic world. I honestly couldn’t recommend this place enough!
Sydney – 3 days
We ended our pacific coast road trip in Sydney! We didn’t really love this city although sleeping in a real bed after almost 2 weeks camping in peak summer was a nice treat even if there was no air con. I’m going to have a separate post up all about our short trip in Sydney so watch this space!
If you’re short on time: If you only have 1 week pick the places that appeal you the most. Don’t try to squeeze everything in otherwise you’ll end up feeling rushed and won’t enjoy the time you have anywhere.
Total Travel Time? 11 days excluding time in Brisbane and Sydney
Total Distance? Approx 1,400 km
Total Driving Time? Approx. 16 hrs
Total times our Sat Nav told us we were driving in the middle of the ocean? Countless