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Hot spots worth stopping at when road tripping Australia’s East Coast

Hot spots worth stopping at when road tripping Australia’s East Coast

It’s no secret that Australia is home to some of the most pristine beaches, lush national parks, and picturesque fauna and flora the world has to offer. And aside from over indulging in one too many chocolates this Easter, discovering the East Coast of Oz should definitely be on your to-do list. 

So what are you waiting for? Round up the gang, pack your bags, and load up the car for a road trip to remember. This 2,400km drive from Cairns to Sydney – or Sydney to Cairns – will take you to some of the most beautiful parts of Australia. 

Don’t know where to start (or stop)? Don’t worry – we’re here to help you discover all the best places to stop and boundless things to see and do along the way.

But before you buckle in and get ready to road trip, keep safety at the top of mind. Be prepared for the long journey, know where you’re going and plan regular driving breaks every two hours – rather than just pulling over when you feel fatigued. Most importantly, don’t drive tired.

Road tripping from Cairns to Sydney

1ststop: Townsville

Approx drive time: 4 hours 20 minutes

Distance: 350 km

Buckle up and get ready for a multitude of scenic coastal towns and sandy shores. First stop – Townsville. Getting to Townsville from Cairns will take about 4 hours and 20 minutes, so remember to take a break from driving to stretch your legs and refresh your mind. 

Townsville is home to the Reef HQ Aquariumand Turtle Hospital, making it a perfect pit stop for families, friends, couples or singles alike. This large coastal city is a great place to pick up more supplies for your trip, grab a bite to eat and stretch your legs. Take a walk along The Strandat North Ward and admire the 2.2km beachfront promenade that’s sprinkled with palm trees and safe swimming beaches.

2ndstop: Airlie Beach

Approx drive time: 3 hours 10 minutes

Distance: 275 km

When you’ve finished admiring the views of Townsville, hop in the car and head south to Airlie Beach – a 3 hour and 10-minute drive from Townsville. But don’t let the relatively short drive deter you from taking a break. With thousands of rest areas scattered throughout the country, there are plenty of spots to get a breath of fresh air before getting to the next destination.

The resort town on Queensland’s Whitsunday Coast is a gateway to The Great Barrier Reefand Whitsunday Islands. From here you can take a scenic flight to Whitehaven Beach, learn to sail, or experience Airlie Beach’s restaurants and nightlife.

Once you’ve taken in all that Airlie Beach has to offer, map out a few stop-off points for the next leg of the trip to prevent driver fatigue. Fatigue is one of the biggest causes of fatalities on our roads, causing between 20% to 30% of fatal road accidents around Australia – so the last thing you want to do is drive tired. Once you’re prepared for the lengthy journey leave the marine playground of Airlie Beach and head in the direction of Noosa.

3rdstop: Noosa 

Approx drive time: 11 hours

Distance: 985 km

It’s a long drive so hit play on your favourite playlist, finish your much-loved podcast series, pack the car full of water and snacks, and get ready for one too many ‘I spy with my little eye’ games while soaking up the views. As recommended, try to pull over and take a rest at least once every two hours and avoid driving at night. Remember to keep your energy levels up by keeping hydrated and eating regular meals and snacks. Once you get to Noosa, there’s lots of exploration waiting to happen – catch a wave surfing, go kayaking, or take a hike through Noosa National Park.

4thstop: Brisbane

Approx drive time: 2 hours

Distance: 150 km

Once you’ve spent enough time soaking up the laid-back lifestyle of Noosa, make your way down to Queensland’s capital, Brisbane. The two hour drive from the beach town to the Sunshine Coast is jampacked with adventure. Get your camera ready for the ancient volcanic peaks of the Glass House Mountains. Having formed by remnants of volcanic activity that occurred 27 million years ago, you’ll be able to see these mountains rise dramatically from the surrounding Sunshine Coast landscape.

Once you arrive in the vibrant hub of Brisbane prepare yourself for plenty to see and do. For cuddles with furry friends visit the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. If restaurants and bars are more your thing, make your way to Brisbane’s South Bank– there’s so many quirky bars and boozy long lunch spots to choose from. If you’re more of the adventurous type, head to Holt Street Wharf in Pinkenba where you can jump on a ferry and end up on Moreton Islandin just 75 minutes. On Moreton Island – the third-largest sand island in the world – there’s plenty to do, including snorkelling around sunken shipwreck sights, extreme sandboarding, four-wheel driving, hiking, or basking in the breathtaking views of the vintage 1857 Moreton Cape lighthouse. 

5thstop: Byron Bay

Approx drive time: 2 hours

Distance: 165 km

The route from Brisbane down to Byron Bay leads you across the border from Queensland to New South Wales and getting there will take around 2 hours from Brisbane. This iconic Aussie beach town is the perfect place to grab breakfast, hit the surf at one of the nine popular surfing beaches, or visit one of the many unique marketsincluding; Byron Bay Artisan Market (October to March, every Saturday night), Byron Bay Markets (first Sunday of every month) and Byron Bay Farmer’s Market (every Thursday morning).

If you’re in tune with your spiritual side, it might be worth popping in to the Crystal Castle & Shambhala Gardens, only a 25 minute drive West of the city centre. In this magical sanctuary, sit and meditate in an ancient amethyst cave or wander through the tranquil Shambhala Gardens and rainforest. From here, the next destination is only three hours away.

6thstop: Coffs Harbour

Approx drive time: 3 hours

Distance: 240 km

When you pull into Coffs Harbour you cannot miss The Big Banana Fun Park– a popular tourist spot. But there’s more to see and do here than just a novelty big banana. Check out the Forest Sky Pierand experience a forest playground. This lookout pier is 15 metres high, extends out 21 metres, and offers sweeping views of the mountains and coast. If aquatic animals spark your interest make your way to Dolphin Marine Conservation Parkfor your chance to swim with dolphins and seals and get educated about how you can make sustainable changes to help conserve the marine ecosystem and wildlife.

7thstop: Newcastle

Approx drive time: 4 hours 

Distance: 385 km

Now that you’re only a few hours away from Sydney it’s time to buckle in and count down until you arrive at your final destination. The second last pit stop of your trip should be Newcastle. If you’re a lover of history discover the past behind the town at the Newcastle Museumwhere you can get a guided tour from one of the museum’s passionate volunteers to learn more about the stories and objects that fill its halls. If being out and about is more appealing then hit up the Newcastle Memorial Walk. It was built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli in 1915 and the commencement of steel making in the town.

There’s also lots to do for lovers of wining and dining. Just an hour drive West of Newcastle is Pokolbin – a suburb part of the Hunter Valley Wine Region. Here you’ll find some of the best wineries and eateries serving up organic produce and fine drops of wine straight from the vine. 

8thstop: Sydney

Approx drive time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Distance: 160 km

The last leg of the trip sees you driving into the city through Sydney’s winding northern suburbs. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself driving over the iconic harbour bridge with magnificent views of the Sydney Opera House. Now that you’re in The Emerald City it’s time to explore! Get the greatest views of the harbour by strapping in for the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, or taste all the tantalising flavours of the sea at the Sydney Fish Market.

But the adventure doesn’t stop in the city – there are so many things to do and places to go beyond Sydney. Just over an hour drive West of Sydney you’ll discover the leafy oasis of The Blue Mountains. Here you can take in the breathtaking views of the Three Sisters, venture into the deep dark depths of the Jenolan Caves, or mountain bike through some of the world’s most spectacular national parks. 

If that doesn’t hit your adventurer soft spot, jump in the car and drive an hour West to Bathurst. The area famous for the Bathurst 1000– a 1000km touring car race held annually on the Mount Panorama Circuit in Bathurst – is also home to The Australian Fossil and Mineral Museumand is often referred to as the Gold Country because it was the site of the first gold discovery where the first gold rush happened Down Under.

If you do decide to make the drive, and you’re part of the 22% of motorists who drive more than four hours without stopping, remember to take more breaks. A Driver Reviver site is the perfect place for you to recharge. Use the Driver Reviver interactive map in NSWor QLDto find the nearest rest area locations on your journey along the East Coast.

Most importantly, when driving long distances, remember to stay alert, take breaks often, and never drive tired.

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