The Legendary Pacific Coast
I hate to follow the well-worn campervan trail. I like to get off the track and explore, away from the huddled masses. But sometimes, there’s a reason why travellers swarm to a region like seagulls on a chip.
Because it’s awesome. The Pacific Coast route between Brisbane and Sydney is exactly that…awesome! Clocking in at just under 1,000kms from Brisbane to Sydney, this stretch of coastline is genuinely magnificent. And although it is by far the most popular campervan roadtrip route in Australia, it is still very easy to find solitude.
Small coastal surf towns like Yamba and Boomerang Beach don’t get too much of a mention in guide books, which is a shame because they really have so much to offer. And this stretch of coast is littered with iconic little surf towns, where you don’t need shoes or a lot of money to have a good time.
Growing up on the Gold Coast, I was pretty lucky to have the Pacific Coast right on my doorstep. When I got my license, I couldn’t afford a campervan, so I bought a shitty 1981 Mazda 323 – and hit the road. With a couple of mates, 3 surfboards and 2 cartons of beer, we’d head south every weekend to revel in the seclusion and splendour of the NSW north coast. Our favourite spot – Yuraygir National Park, about 200kms south of the Gold Coast.
Yuraygir National Park really encompasses everything I love about the NSW Pacific Coast. It’s basically lush, green rainforest and endless beaches with a plethora of waves for surfers.
This is where we’d come to escape the crowded breaks of the Gold Coast, surfing as the sun comes up over the water and again when it descends over the Great Dividing Range to the west.
Brisbane has fallen out of favour with backpackers over the last few years, causing travel agents and tour operators to shut their doors en masse. But it’s hard to see why for me. Brisbane is a fantastic city. It’s laid-back, with a massive student population and vibrant local indie music scene. It’s got all the good qualities of a city, without the trappings.
And it’s hard to beat a beer on the veranda of an old Queenslander-style house in that warm, tropical Brisbane sun.
And with the Gold and Sunshine Coasts just an hour away on either side, it’s the perfect launching pad for a kickass East Coast holiday. Fortunately, Compare Campervan Hire also have a massive range of campervans, motorhome and 4WD’s for hire in Brisbane – and of course, all at the best price in town!
A Sneaky trip north to the Sunshine Coast…
The Sunshine Coast is just like a sleepier version of the Gold Coast. It’s similar, in that it is really just a bunch of connected beach towns along a stretch of pristine coast and national park. Towns like Caloundra, Alexandra Headlands and Noosa are extremely popular holiday destinations for Aussies, who flock in from southern cities Sydney and Melbourne over winter, no doubt chasing some of that warm, Queensland sunshine. Heading north from Brisbane, you’ll reach the southern-most suburb of Caloundra in less than an hour-and-a-half.
Cruising north along the coast, there’s beach town after beach town with great little caravan parks to spend the night by the beach. Mooloolaba, Maroochydore (and my favourite, Cotton Tree), Coolum Beach and finally, iconic Noosa.
Noosa headland has one of the best longboarders waves in Australia, with peeling, perfect right-handers running along the point, much to the delight of local surfers. It’s warm, clear water. It’s infinite sunshine and it’s salt-caked skin after hours in the water. It’s the northern most tip of a stretch of coast that Australian surfers claim as mecca.
Sneaking a little bit further north…to Rainbow Beach…
About 240kms north of Brisbane is Rainbow Beach, a favourite stop for backpackers and XXXX Gold-swilling fisherman. Rainbow Beach is another great little beach town, with long empty beaches and the impressive ‘Carlo Sandblow’, a large, sandy opening overlooking Double Island Point, Tin Can Bay and the coloured sands of the region.
A sunset beer up here is a must if you’re in town with your campervan. Apart from the Sand Blow, Rainbow Beach is also popular with tourists heading off on Fraser Island tours, which is visible from the tip of Inskip point.
Fake tans & beautiful beaches…The Gold Coast…
Having grown up on the Gold Coast, it’s hard for me to not write about this area without prejudice. It’s so much beauty entwined with so much beast. Southport, at the northern end of the Gold Coast hasn’t changed since the 80’s and is still littered with dodgy business men in cheap Hawaiian shirts. Five minutes further south, and it doesn’t get much classier. Surfers Paradise is a nightclub strip right on the beach, which relishes in its own tackiness.
Nowhere else in Australia will you see more fake breasts, fake tan, messed-up teenagers and freakish levels of testosterone. It might be good for a night out, but don’t hang around – there’s way better stuff further south.
Heading south along the Gold Coast highway, there’s plenty of beachside campervan-friendly caravan parks in Miami, Burleigh Heads and Tallebudgera. These parks get busy over summer, so keep a Plan B in mind if travelling with the wind. Burleigh Heads and Tallebudgera Creek are natural wonders, well worth checking out – particularly if you’re looking for surf.
The towns further south, Palm Beach, Currumbin, Tugun and Coolangatta are all quiet, humble working-class beach suburbs. Coolangatta, of course, is home to some of the world’s most famous waves – Kirra point, Snapper Rocks and Duranbah. As far as pubs go, the Gold Coast is distinctly lacking in good places to go out at night.
The jewel in the crown – Byron Bay and the Tweed Coast…
Byron Bay attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. And it’s not hard to see why, it really is a beautiful town. But it’s changing – and rapidly. Cash-rich Sydney-siders are moving to Byron Bay in vast numbers, which is having a serious impact on the culture of the town. Once a sleepy, surfers delight and home of Australia’s counter-culture, Byron is quickly becoming the playground for the rich and famous. Which is a shame, because it used to be a great place.
If you’re in town, and you need a set of wheels, Wicked Campers have rental campervans from $39 per day in the centre of Byron. The beauty of owning or renting a campervan is clear in this region. Public transport is limited (virtually non-existent), so you’ll need to fend for yourself – and there’s no better way to explore the Byron Bay region than in a campervan. 20-minutes to the north of Byron Bay are the neighbouring towns of Brunswick Heads and Mullumbimby.
The laid-back charm of Brunswick Heads is mesmerising – I’ve spent many summer nights parked up in my campervan by the beach, beer in hand, exhausted and red after a long day surfing the river mouth.
Broken Head Holiday Park, 10-minutes south of Byron Bay, is an absolute paradise – and if the surf is pumping, worth a night or 2 in the campervan. It’s not rare to see wild kangaroos hopping around the park either. As always – if you’re travelling over summer (Dec – Feb), it might pay to book ahead as the park gets super-busy.
Another 30-minutes south is Lennox Head, a small coastal town with a legendary surf break. When the surf is big, drive up to the top of the headland, grab a beer and watch the ocean do its thing. Neighbouring town, Ballina is a very working-class beachside community and once home to 3-time world champion surf Mick Fanning. It goes without saying that there are also some amazing breaks along this stretch of coast.
Cattle and Cane…The Northern Rivers of NSW…
Continuing south along the Pacific Highway is Evans Head and endless fields of Sugar Cane, which glisten in warm, tropical light all the way to Maclean. Arriving in Maclean, you’re presented with a number of options – head to Yamba for fun waves (there’s plenty of surf schools here) and chilled-out pubs, skip to Angourie for amazing waves and swimming holes or point that campervan towards Brooms Head and Yuraygir National Park to get completely off the grid.
Nestled on the coast in Yuraygir National Park is the little holiday town of Brooms Head. There’s a caravan park in town and a small bowls club for cheap roast dinners – but where you’ll really want to go is Red Cliff Campground and spend the night huddled around a camp fire on a headland, overlooking the ocean.
There are kangaroos everywhere in this campground and for most of the year, you probably won’t see other tourists or campers.
Apparently camping fees are $12 per person a night ($6 for kids) and a vehicle entry fee of $7 to Yuraygir National Park. But I have never actually seen anyone there to hand over my money! Other little towns in Yuraygir National Park are great and include Wooli, Minni Water and Diggers Camp. But nothing comes close to camping in your campervan on the cliffs at Brooms Head, just steps away from the ocean.
The Bannana Republic…Coffs Harbour
Home of the Big Banana – you guessed it – a big bannana, Coffs Harbour is home to around 70,000 residents and a heap of secluded, beautiful beaches. Corindi, Red Rock, Arrawarra, Mullaway, Woolgoolga, Emerald Beach, Saphire Beach… there are sooooo many beaches. And if the conditions are right, you’ll find some great little waves with generally friendly locals in the lineup. Coffs Harbour is a very laid-back city, with a few good old pubs and dodgy chinese restaurants for that post-surf MSG hit.
Best of all is the selection of beachside caravan parks – particularly at Corindi and Red Rock, where you’ll be able to park your campervan literally meters from the sand. There is almost no other view on earth I would rather wake up to…
If you’re in the area, Bellingen and Waterfall Way are very pretty on a sunny day – and yep, there’s waterfalls out that way. Heading south, out of Coffs there’s an endless choice of beach towns and surf breaks to explore in Sawtell, Valla Beach, Nambucca Heads, South West Rocks and my favourite in the area – Scotts Head.
Surf Heaven…Crescent Head to Myall Lakes National Park…
It’s around about here that the landscape finally changes a bit. It’s still fairly tropical, but getting less so as you close in on Myall Lakes National Park and Newcastle. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as this region is still absolutely stunning – and might I add, surf-fuckin-heaven! Crescent Head is about 30kms off the Pacific Highway.
There’s not a lot going on in town, but if the conditions are right, the righ-hand point break can offer long, perfect, cruisy waves – and it’s basically right next to the caravan park! Here you will see many roadtrippers in campervans parked up, waiting for swell, soaking up sun and just generally relishing those chilled-out small-town coast vibes!
Port Macquarie isn’t particularly worth hanging around much in my opinion, and worth passing through for some more gold further south in Forster & Tuncurry. A long bridge over the Coolongolook River connects these two classic Aussie beach towns and when the sun is out and the sky is clear, this is a very special place indeed!
Hamilton Oysters is a fish & chip shop / bar overlooking the Coolongolook River just over the bridge on the Tuncurry side of the water. This is an awesome spot to grab a beer at sunset and it’s not rare to see dolphins swim past the dock from the balcony of the bar.
30-Minutes south of Forster is Boomerang & Blueys Beach – which can offer respite from dreaded northerly winds in summer if you’re surf-hungry. They also happen to be absolutely perfect beaches. Seal Rocks, at the start of the Myall Lakes National Park, is another secret spot, popular with Sydney-siders and surfers. The caravan park here is just across the road from the beach and the National Park is awesome for hikers and bushwalkers.
Long-heralded as the peoples city, home of the working class ‘Aussie battler’, Newcastle has plenty to see and do. Nelson Bay and the sand dunes of Stockton Beach are very popular tourist stops and well worth checking out on your way south to Newcastle. The city itself is home to 320,000 people, making it the 7th largest city in Australia. There’s a distinct flavour to Newcastle that’s hard to quantify. It seems like a really ‘liveable’ city and unlike many beachside cities, the local council have built some great infastructure by the beach.
There’s plenty of cafes and bars with sensational ocean views all the way from Nobbys Beach to iconic Merewether in the south. Newcastle is totally worth a couple of days exploration.
The road to Sydney from Newcastle still has plenty to offer – particularly The Entrance, Avoca Beach and Tallow Beach Camp Ground in Box Head, where, on a clear day, you can look across the water and see your first glimpse of Sydney’s north shore and the Barrenjoey Lighthouse. If you’re a total nature freak, you’ll want to explore Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park & West Head Lookout in Sydney’s north. Truly breath-taking views right here…
So that’s about it – the Legendary Pacific Coast of NSW. Truly one of the greatest coastal drives in the world, and paradise for surfers.
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