The ULTIMATE road trip from Sydney to Brisbane

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If you’re looking for the quintessential Aussie experience, then a road trip from Sydney to Brisbane is absolutely perfect for you. World-famous buildings, koalas, golden beaches and awesome surf make this stretch a bucket list filled adventure. If there’s only one section of Australia that you can fit in, this should be it.

In just a couple of weeks, you can cram in so much of the good stuff. The drive between Sydney and Brisbane is a short 10 and a half hours making it a really manageable distance to split over 14 days. If this is your first time doing a road trip or visiting Australia (or both), then it can feel overwhelming as there’s so much to fit this part of the east coast. So I’ve created this guide to show you what to see between Sydney and Brisbane for your east coast itinerary.

I’ve been lucky enough to explore this part of Australia a few times and I also planned a road trip for my parents when they visited, so trust me, this itinerary is very much tried and tested. So without further ado, here’s the ultimate 14 day Sydney to Brisbane road trip itinerary.

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How to find cheap campervan hire in Australia

For extra space and comfort, I recommend hiring a campervan for your road trip. There are plenty of hire companies in Australia to choose from depending on what you want. Campervans range massively in size and also in cost so to find one that’s right for you, I recommend using a comparison website called vroomvroomvroom. They compare the availability and costs of all the major campervan hire brands so you know you’re getting a good price. I have personally used Jucy before and their vans are fantastic with all the amenities you need.

When you do book your camper, be sure to check what’s included in the price. You will possibly have the choice to pay extra for insurance and to reduce the excess and things like sat navs. Make sure you take a good look at the terms and conditions as some companies do not permit you to drive after dark due to the risk of hitting kangaroos as well. And for the love of all things road trip, make sure you know which fuel goes in your vehicle!

If you’re really on a budget then you could look into relocation rentals where you can hire a van for $1 a day (I know it sounds too good to be true, but it really is that price). Relocation rentals occur when a hire company need to get their vehicles back to a certain location so in return for doing that drive for them, the rent the vehicle at a really low cost. To find out more take a look at my guide here, however, I don’t recommend taking a relocation rental for this trip as they have a time and kilometre limit which will restrict what you can see drastically.

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Top apps to help with your Sydney to Brisbane road trip

Wikicamps

I don’t know how I road tripped Australia before Wikicamps because this little app is a game-changer! I love it so much that I actually have a full review here, but in a nutshell, you can use it to find campsites all over Australia, including free ones. There is a small cost to buy the app but even just one night in a free campsite makes up for this cost right away. You can search by location, choose which facilities you require and get contact details to call ahead to check availability if needs be.

Fuel app

There are plenty of places to fill up between Melbourne and Sydney but it’s definitely a good idea to keep topped up. The Fuel App picks up your location so you can see where the next fuel station is to help you plan your drive.

Offline Google Maps

Personally, I don’t feel there’s a need to pay extra for a satnav nowadays as offline Google maps are just as good. Before you hit the road, simply go onto Google maps on your phone and zoom out to cover the area you’re going to be driving, type in ‘Ok maps’ into the search bar and you can then download the area onto your phone. Now you’ll have the maps you want to hand without the need for wifi or data connection.

Hostelworld

One thing I didn’t know before travelling to Australia is that some hostels have space for you to stay in your campervan whilst also using the facilities. I usually first find these hostels on Wikicamps and then use Hostelworld to actually book it. I recommend calling the hotels in advance to make sure they have space and booking on the Hostelworld website in advance if possible.

XE Currency app

This is an absolute essential no matter where you’re travelling overseas. Australia is a pretty pricey country to visit and as you’re going to be travelling a lot it will help you stick to your budget.

Your Sydney to Brisbane drive itinerary

Your Sydney to Brisbane road trip summary:

  • Sydney
  • Blue Mountains – 1 night
  • Northern Beaches – 1/2 day
  • Central Coast – 2 nights
  • Newcastle – 1 night
  • The Hunter Valley – 1 night
  • Port Stephens – 1 night
  • Port Macquarie – 2 nights
  • Coffs Harbour – 1 night
  • Nambucca Heads – An afternoon
  • Yamba – 1 night
  • Byron Bay – 2 nights
  • Gold Coast – 2 nights
  • Brisbane

The Blue Mountains

  • Distance from Sydney: 120 km
  • Drive Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
  • Length of stay: 1 night

Sydney is a fantastic city for so many reasons, and one of the highlights is being so close to the Blue Mountains National Park. This mahoosive park is a whopping 11,400 km square and made up of a number of villages so there’s obviously only so much you can cover in this time. Fortunately, there is a great self-drive route that will take you to all the highlights. If you’re looking to stay longer in the Blue mountains then check out my 2 day guide here.

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Top things to see in one day in the Blue Mountains

Wentworth Falls – This is the first spot you’ll come to when you reach the national park and it’s a spectacular place to start. From Princes Rock lookout and Jamison lookout, you can see for miles across the Blue Mountains as well as Wentworth Falls itself.

Leura – This suburb is home to the fierce Gordan Falls as well as the more gentle Leura Cascades. You can visit an easy lookout to see Gordon Falls and take a walk through the rainforest to see Leura Cascades.

Katoomba – This part of the national park is where you’ll find the famous Three Sisters rock formations. But be sure to grab a sweet treat beforehand. The Blue Mountains Chocolate Company is packed with their hand made treats and delicious hot drinks.

The Three Sisters – The Three Sisters lookout will probably be the busiest spot but it’s somewhere you have to see. If you want to explore a little more, take the Giant Stairway down to Honeymoon Lookout for a balcony style view. The view here is extra special at sunset so it’s a great place to finish your day.

Where to camp in the Blue Mountains

Just to top off this brilliant spot, there are a number of free campsites available within the Blue Mountains. I have stayed at Blackheath Glen Reserve which is right in a beautiful forest. Take a look at WikiCamps for more options.

Sydney’s Northern Beaches

  • Distance from the Blue Mountains: 140 km
  • Drive Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
  • Length of stay: 1/2 a day

When you think of Sydney’s beaches you’ll probably think of Bondi, but head north of the city and you’ll find some incredible beaches… and much quieter beaches. These beaches are located on a peninsula where you can essentially hop from one to the next.

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The best Sydney Northern beaches

Mona Vale – Mona Vale is such an underestimated beach! Well, I think so anyway. It can be pretty choppy for swimming but they also have an ocean pool making it easy if you’re not a confident swimmer. The sand is super soft and it’s usually pretty quiet.

Avalon – This sweeping beach also has an ocean pool and is surrounded by beautiful cliffs. It’s not a massive beach but it’s another spot to avoid the heavy Bondi crowds.

Palm Beach – If you’re a fan of Home and Away then this will be right up your street as this is the beach it’s filmed at. You’ll most likely see camera crew vans parked up and maybe even some filming going on. Be sure to take the walk along the beach and up the hill to Barenjoey Lighthouse for an incredible view over the water.

Central Coast

  • Distance from the Palm Beach: 110 km
  • Drive Time: 2 hours
  • Length of stay: 2 nights

If you’ve been following Escapes Etc for a while now, you might know of my absolute love of the Central Coast. This area is completely off of most backpackers radars and I don’t know why! There is so much to see and do here from rowing boats, getting up close to pelicans and checking out some incredible beaches. So here’s how to spend 2 nights on the Central Coast, or take a look at my one day guide to the Central Coast if you’re short on time.

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Top things to do on the Central Coast

Crackneck Lookout – Crackneck lookout might have a kinda creepy sounding name but fortunately, the view well makes up for that. From here you can see right down the coast to Shelly Beach and the Entrance and you might even spot some whales if it’s the right season.

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Shelly Beach – This is easily one of the most popular beaches in the Central Coast but it’s easy to see why. The sand is super soft, golden and the water an incredible turquoise. The perfect place for a swim or a stroll.

The Entrance for Pelican Feeding – Every day at 3.30 pm the famous Pelican feeding takes place. This has been taking place for years and is a way for people to keep an eye on the birds. The feeding is run heavily on donations so be sure to give generously to keep the cause going.

Pick your own fish for lunch – Where better to enjoy some fresh fish than right by the sea! The Big Tuna Fish Co. has a great selection of fish to choose from, they will then cook it up for you and you can enjoy it with a fantastic view.

Long Jetty for sunset – Just a short drive from The Entrance and you’ll reach another landmark of the area. Long Jetty is another suburb and, as the name suggests, has a long jetty. It might sound a little simple but it really is a beautiful spot to end your day and watch the sunset.

Coast to Lake walk – This easy walk will take you a couple of hours and will talk you past some great local attractions along the way. Simply pick up a map from the information centre and follow the signs to take the route. The track is also divided into sections if you wanted to take a smaller walk as well.

Norah Head Lighthouse – Norah Head lighthouse is definitely one of the most beautiful and underrated spots on the Central Coast. It sits on the clifftop overlooking Soldiers Beach which has huge flat rocks on it. It’s rugged and beautiful. They also run tours in the lighthouse if you wanted to go inside.

Wyong Milk Factory – If you’re looking for something a bit different then check this place out. They have a cheese and milk factory, a beautiful cafe, a bar and best of all, rowboats and kayaks to rent out.

Where to camp on the Central Coast

There are a lot of caravan parks in the Central Coast but they can be fairly pricey. A more frugal option is to check out The Entrance Backpackers. For $10 they let you camp in their car park and use the facilities inside.

Newcastle

  • Distance from the Central Coast to Newcastle: 64km
  • Drive Time: 1 hour
  • Length of stay: 1 night

Newcastle is one of those places that looks unassuming from the outside but is packed full of great stuff when you look closer. It’s a harbour town and in some aspects, quite industrial looking. But in contrast, you’ll find beautiful beaches, a great foodie scene and plenty of things to do. For everything this city has to offer, check out my full Newcastle guide.

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Best things to do in Newcastle NSW

Bar Beach – This is the top surf beach in Newcastle and a beautiful spot to take a walk if not.

Fort Scratchley – Run by volunteers, Fort Scratchley sits overlooking the coastline. It was originally built for coastal defence but is now a great little museum to look around. There are paid tours you can take to learn more about the whole grounds.

Merewether Baths – If you love swimming in the sea but don’t want to battle the waves, take a dip in the Merewether Baths. It’s a lush ocean pool with changing rooms and plenty of space to sunbathe too.

Nobbys beach reserve and lighthouse – This isn’t the prettiest lighthouse in Australia but visiting Nobbys beach and the lighthouse is a must. Nobbys is more sheltered making it a good place to swim as well.

Bogey Hole – Weird name? yes. Intriguing? Also yes. This strange spot is actually another swimming hole that has hand-cut into the cliffs by convicts. It can get pretty choppy here though so be careful!

Eat – Head to the Junction and Darby Street for the foodie heart of Newcastle. If you like burgers then you won’t want to miss out on a visit to the Newy Burger Co.

Where to camp in Newcastle

There are no campsites in Newcastle but the Newcastle Beach YHA is a great budget option and it has parking outside so you can park up your van for the night.

The Hunter Valley

  • Distance from Newcastle to the Hunter Valley: 105km
  • Drive Time: 2 hours
  • Length of stay: 1 night

With one of the most famous wine regions being so close to Newcastle, you can’t miss out on a visit. The Hunter Valley has a huge number of wineries from the more well-known brands to the boutique family run wineries. It’s easy to hop from cellar door to cellar door and you also have the opportunity to experience plenty of local produce along the way.

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Things to do in The Hunter Valley

Take a wine tasting tour – This is definitely the best way to experience the wine region! Taking a tour that includes local wine, food and produce will make for a great day out and will give you the chance to experience a bit of everything. I recommend this wine, cheese and chocolate tasting tour (pssst, it’s also the cheapest tour!) to experience the Hunter Valley in a more relaxed way.

Do a self-drive wine tour – Obviously this will mean the driver can’t do any tasting, but if you’re on a budget then this is still a great way to experience the Hunter Valley. There are a number of wineries who offer free tastings as well. Pick up a map from the tourist information centre in Singleton and ask them to mark on the ones that do.

Where to stay in the Hunter Valley

There are a few free campsites dotted through the region. It depends on where you want to go but there is one in Singleton if you’re planning on looping back on yourself by the end of the day.

Port Stephens

  • Distance from the Hunter Valley to Port Stephens: 116km
  • Drive Time: 2 hours
  • Length of stay: 1 night

If you’re looking for nature and wildlife on your Sydney to Brisbane trip, then you’ll love Port Stephens. Here it’s all about getting onto one of its 26 beaches, hitting the water or enjoying the parks around it. It’s also home to around 150 bottlenose dolphins, so keep your eyes peeled for them.

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Things to do in Port Stephens

Stockton Sand Dunes – For an adrenaline-filled day, do a tour over to the Stockton Sand Dunes. These are the largest sand dunes in the southern hemisphere measuring 32km. If you’re in your own 4×4 you can get a permit to drive on them, but if not then you can get some great tours where you can go sandboarding, 4WD driving or quad biking. They’re all really reasonably priced as well.

Whale watching tour – This part of the east coast is famous for the humpback whales that migrate close to the shore each year. If you’re visiting and want to see them, jump on a boat tour like this 2 hour whale watching tour. The perfect length so you don’t use your whole day in Port Stephens.

Mount Tomaree – The Hill Walk up Mount Tomaree will treat you to the most incredible views. It’s a pretty steep walk but it’s 100% worth it. What’s even better is it’s completely free!

Port Stephens Harbour – Port Stephens itself is a swanky area with a gleaming harbour. It’s a nice area to relax and grab some food and pretend that you’re not travelling on a budget for a while!

Where to stay in Port Stephens

There are no free campsites in Port Stephens and as you’re going to be getting back on the road tomorrow, make your way back to the Pacific Highway to a campsite for the night. I’ve stayed at the Australian Motorhome Caravan Park which is right next to a beautiful lake and reasonably priced.

Port Macquarie

  • Distance from Port Stephens to Port Macquarie: 246km
  • Drive Time: 2.5 hours
  • Length of stay: 2 nights

Port Mac is a lovely little seaside town and the perfect place to just relax on your road trip from Sydney to Brisbane. It’s a pretty sleepy place but there are lots of great spots to check out still for 2 days in Port Macquarie. Along the way, you can stop off for an incredible view at North Brother lookout, too.

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Things to do in Port Macquarie

North Brother Lookout – 40 minutes before you reach Port Macquarie, take a little diversion to North Brother Lookout in the Dooragan National Park. This is the ultimate effortless viewpoint as you can drive straight up to the top. From here you get panoramic views of the Camden Haven river and the ocean. There were also paragliders taking off from here when I visited which was awesome!

Koala Hospital – No one can go to Port Stephens without visiting here! The Koala Hospital does amazing work to rescue and care for sick and injured koalas with the aim of releasing them. You can see the koalas and learn more about them in the little museum they have. It’s all completely free but please donate to keep this great place going.

Town Beach – This beach is recognisable due to the artwork all over the break wall rocks here. You can follow the coastal path between Town Beach and Town Green and keep an eye out for dolphins while you do!

Hello Koalas sculpture trail – All over Port Macquarie you’ll see sculptures of painted koalas which I absolutely love! If you go to the tourist information centre you can pick up a map and follow the trail around to learn what they’re all about.

Tacking Point Lighthouse – This cute little lighthouse was built in 1879 and due to its high point on the cliff, is only 8m tall. It’s more of a light-hut than a lighthouse really! It’s a fantastic location for a picnic and keep your eyes peeled for whales if you’re there during migration season.

Where to stay in Port Macquarie

Campsites in Port Macquarie can be pricey so I recommend staying outside the town centre. Flynns Beach Caravan Park and has powered and unpowered sites, depending on what you need. It’s close to Flynns Beach as well so you still get the coastal vibes.

Coffs Harbour (via Nambucca Heads)

  • Distance from Port Macquarie to Coffs Harbour: 153km
  • Drive Time: 1.5 hours
  • Length of stay: 1 night
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If you thought Port Macquarie was sleepy, it ain’t got nothing on Coffs Harbour. It’s a great base if you have more time to explore the surrounding area but there are also some nice things to do in the town as well. It’s a haven for nature and has some lush golden beaches to enjoy. On the way, you don’t want to miss a stop off at Nambucca Heads – this gem is a bit off of the main track but that makes it even better.

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Things to do in Coffs Harbour

Nambucca Heads – Located 40 minutes south of Coffs Harbour right on the Nambucca river estuary, this is a great place for swimming. The way the water has shaped the land has almost created natural swimming pools that are really sheltered and crystal clear. What’s even better is that this seems to be off the radar of most backpackers so you’ll likely only meet locals. From the top of the cliff you can see for miles as well.

Big Banana – There’s a fine line between must-see attraction and tourist trap, and the Big Banana sits right on it. It’s literally just a big statue of a banana but it’s something Coffs is famous for. If you want to see it, go for it, but you’re not missing out if you don’t.

Jetty Beach -I love this beach. It’s sheltered enough for swimming but there are still some nice waves if you have a small bodyboard. The jetty has been newly renovated and makes for a great jumping spot about halfway down, if you’re feeling brave enough!

Muttonbird Island – This island nature reserve is a spot that can’t be missed. There is a steep but sealed path that leads to the top, providing spectacular views over the water and land. I recommend going up here for sunset.

Coffs Harbour Marina and Jetty – A really nice area to walk around with incredible fish and chips at the Fisherman’s Co-op.

Waterfall Way – If you want to get away from the coast and off of the beaten track, drive the Waterfall Way. It has been voted one of the best scenic drives in 2019 and I completely vouch for that. The scenic drive takes you to some incredible waterfalls like Dangar Falls, Ebor Falls and Wollomombi Falls.

Where to stay in Coffs Harbour

As with Port Macquarie, caravan parks can be quite pricey in Coffs Harbour, so I recommend staying a little out of town. The Coffs League Club is just south of the town, has basic facilities and is also cheap.

Yamba

  • Distance from Coffs Harbour to Yamba: 138km
  • Drive Time: 1.5 hours
  • Length of stay: 1 night

Tom and I accidentally stopped here on one of our Sydney to Brisbane trips and fell in love with it. Yamba is really small but stunning. The surf here is also pretty epic but it’s just nowhere as well known as it’s neighbour, Byron. But to me, that makes it even more worth a visit.

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Things to do in Yamba

Watch the sunset from the clifftop – The clifftop about Turners Beach is a great spot to watch the sunset and have some food.

Turners Beach – This is the main beach in Yamba and it’s a good surf beach. The sand is a lovely golden colour so it’s nice to chill out on or take a walk.

Swim in the ocean pool – At one end of Turners Beach you’ll find an ocean pool to take a dip. There are also changing rooms and outdoor showers in the little hut so you can freshen up afterwards.

Yamba Lighthouse – If you want to take a walk then head up to the Yamba Lighthouse on top of Pilot Hill. It’s another great place to take a picnic and do some wildlife spotting.

Where to stay in Yamba

For a budget-friendly campground, head 1km out of town to the Maclean Showground. There are toilets on site and no booking is required. It’s also next to a river which is lush.

Byron Bay

  • Distance from Yamba to Byron Bay: 125 km
  • Drive Time: 1.5 hours
  • Length of stay: 2 nights

Ah, Byron. Definitely the most iconic stops on your Sydney to Brisbane itinerary. It’s known for its hippie vibe, vegan food and of course for its surf. Byron is seriously chilled which is why it’s great to spend a couple of nights here. There’s the chance to take a surf lesson, eat delicious food and just take a step back from doing too much at all!

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Things to do in Byron Bay

Take a surf or stand up paddleboard lesson – Byron is all about getting on the water and there’s nothing more iconic than surfing. If you’re looking to take a surf lesson in Byron, I would definitely try and book in advance (which you can do here) as it’s such a popular spot. Looking for something a bit more relaxing? Why not try a stand up paddleboard lesson instead?

Go dolphin watching – The great thing about Byron is that there’s no need to do a tour to see dolphins. As you walk past the beaches, take a look at the surfers and you’ll most likely see dolphins riding the waves with them.

Cape Byron walking track to the lighthouse – This is a fantastic walk along the coastline up to the Cape Byron Lighthouse, which is the most easterly point in Australia. From here you can see from miles and I feel like it’s such an iconic view associated with Australia.

Walk around the town – Byron itself is actually pretty small and easily walkable. There are a number of boutiques, bars and cafes- you could honestly eat your way around it.

Stone & Wood Brewery – Stone & Wood is hands down my favourite beer in Australia and it is brewed right here in Byron. Take a visit to the brewery to try a selection of their beers and tuck into some decent pub grub. If you want to learn more about the brewing process, you can book a tour through the Stone & Wood website.

Where to stay in Byron Bay

There is no free camping n Byron Bay and the Police are pretty hot on giving out fines and moving people on. If you’re happy to stay a little bit down the coast, I recommend the Byron Holiday Park.

The Gold Coast

  • Distance from Byron Bay and the Gold Coast: 95 km
  • Drive Time: 1 hour
  • Length of stay: 2 nights

Woohoo, you’ve finally crossed the state border over to Queensland! The final stop on your Sydney to Brisbane road trip is a fantastic one. The Gold Coast (or Goldie) has a bit of everything for you. Beautiful beaches, great nightlife, nature, surfing and adventure is what the Gold Coast is all about.

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Surfers Paradise – This is the glitzy end of the Goldie where you’ll find all the bars, restaurants and clubs, as well as a great surf beach. It’s a really fun place to spend time in.

Theme parks – A short drive away from the beach you’ll find a cluster of theme and water parks which are great to visit. There is Movie World, Dream World and Wet n Wild to choose from and although they’re not massive, it’s easy to spend a day at each.

Burleigh Heads – Burleigh heads is just the other end of the Gold Coast but feels a million miles away. It’s much quieter, more relaxing and puts you closer to nature. Visit the Burleigh Heads National Park and follow the trails to head into the forest to an even quieter spot.

Feed the lorikeets at Currumbin Wildlife Park – The park itself has an entrance fee but if you’re looking for something free then head over to the wildlife park at either 8 am or 4 pm and you can feed the colourful lorikeets for free.

Coastal Walk – With such a huge amount of coastline, there are tonnes of coastal walks you can do, no matter which part you visit. Take a look at the Gold Coast website to find out more about them all.

Explore one of the nearby National Parks – Inland from the Gold  Coast are some incredible National Parks for you to explore. Springbrook, Tambourine Mountain and Lamington are all about an hours drive from the Gold Coast and all offer something unique to explore. If you don’t fancy the drive yourself, then you can take a tour to each of them. Springbrook and Lamington are known for their waterfalls and Tambourine Mountain for its rainforest and high rope courses.

Where to stay on the Gold Coast

There are lots of caravan parks on the Gold Coast and, in my opinion, staying somewhere quieter like Burleigh Heads of Tweed is a great relaxing end to your Sydney to Brisbane road trip. Most are located close to the beaches so it’s a case of finding one that’s within your budget. I’ve stayed at the Chinderah Village Tourist Park which is just below Tweed and thought it was great.

Brisbane

  • Distance from the Gold Coast to Brisbane: 79 km
  • Drive Time: 1 hour
  • Length of stay: 3-5 days

Brisbane is hands down my favourite city on the east coast. It’s really chilled out but has so much going on and it’s continuing to grow quickly. I’ve got guides on visiting Brisbane on a budget and what there is to do in the surrounding areas you can take a look at to find everything you need, and I hope you love it as much as I do!

Planning a road trip from Sydney to Brisbane? Deciding what to see between Sydney and Brisbane can be overwhelming, so I've together the ultimate 14 day Sydney to Brisbane drive itinerary to help you see the best places on the Sydney to Brisbane coastal drive #sydneytobrisbane #australiaroadtrip #roadtrip #sydney #brisbane #eastcoastaustralia #backpackingaustralia #budgettravel

Some of the top things t

o do in Brisbane

  • Take the free city hopper down the Brisbane River
  • Watch the sunset from Kangaroo Point
  • Get incredible views of the city from Mount Coot-Tha
  • Walk along South Bank and go for a swim at Streets Beach
  • Take a day trip over to Moreton Island (the second largest sand island in Australia) or North Stradbroke Island
  • Eat till you drop at Eat Streets North Shore

Phew! Congratulations if you’ve made it to the end of this guide! I hope this Sydney to Brisbane drive itinerary has helped you plan the best road trip for your time in Australia. There is so much to see between Sydney and Brisbane on this coastal drive but I feel that this particular stretch of the East coast gives you such a good taste of what Australia is all about. I hope you have the best time!

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1 Comment

  1. This is a great road trip guide! I am looking to go to Australia during winter 2021 and planning road trip, so I’m definitely going to keep this handy. 🙂

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