A Coffs Harbour to Brisbane road trip, covering approximately 400km of the Australian A1 route, passes a stellar line-up of coastal towns with their beaches, rivers and relaxed lifestyles.
Australia is well endowed with beaches and this stretch of coastline has some stunners. But, if scenic hinterland drives and cooler mountain air are your thing, a Coffs Harbour to Brisbane drive delivers big time. This post is a tasting platter of views and information to help plan your own road trip. As more posts on side trips and destinations are completed they will be linked here also.
What You Will Find in This Post
Coffs Harbour to Brisbane Map
Arriving at Coffs Harbour
Qantas, Virgin and Tiger Air fly direct into Coffs Harbour Airport from Sydney and Melbourne for as little as $120 one way. Pre-book a hire car to collect on arrival and you’re on you way. For Queenslanders it makes sense to drive both ways as a flight via Sydney is likely to take 5 hours or more.
The busy coastal city of Coffs Harbour is our starting point. Situated midway between Sydney and Brisbane on the Banana Coast it’s economy was once bendy and yellow.
Today, plantations still look down from the slopes, but equally there are long mesh covered rows on the plains below. Some detective work revealed that the shade cloth hides blueberry bushes. Marty claims he knew this fact all along but I was clueless. By the amount of blueberry farms around Coffs I guess we’re not the only Aussies adding them to their breakfast bowls.
Coffs is a tourist town, but also a regional service centre for towns from the historic penal colony of South West Rocks in the south to the lilac coloured Jacaranda town of Grafton in the north.
Bellingen and the Dorrigo Rainforest.
The Great Divide mountain range comes close to the coast at Coffs Harbour so this is the first opportunity to point your wheels west to the fresh mountain air of the Dorrigo rainforest. Bellingen, my favourite country town, is on the way and I dare you to drive through town without so much as a coffee stop.
Live music at the Purple Carrot Bellingen.
Dorrigo Rainforest Teaser.
Yamba is a town of 6000 people on the banks of the Clarence River. Originally a fishing village, it has diversified into Tourism and a bunch of retired sea changers now call it home. The entrance to Yamba is long, flat and surrounded by water at every turn. It is not until the ocean is reached that things become hilly.
Where the road meets the sea you will find the Clarence lighthouse and on a other side of the headland the big white Pacific Coast Hotel built in 1934. Below the hotel is one of the oldest serving Surf Life Saving Clubs in the world. Yamba Surf Club came into being in September 1908 and since then they claim no deaths due to drowning while they’ve been on patrol at Main Beach.
Two hours north of Coffs Harbour, Yamba is surrounded by Sugar Cane Fields. Sunshine sugar mill on the Clarence River’s Harwood Island began operating in 1874 and is the oldest cane crushing mill in Australia. We were surprised to discover that Yamba port exports cargo to Lord Howe Island, Norfolk Island and New Zealand. The things you learn through travel!
Dust off your kilt… another hinterland experience I absolutely love lies inland from here. It goes through Maclean, a seriously Scottish obsessed town – even their light posts are tartan. Drive on the southern side of the Clarence River as far as Grafton then return on the northern side to tiny Lawrence (good pub) where you hitch a ride on the free car ferry back across the river. From there it’s a short caber toss to that whacky Scottish town, the Pacific Highway and our trip north. You’ll be hearing more about this one folks!
Several Evans Head camping and caravan parks are combined under the Reflections banner, with over 600 sites now available. We chose a laid back zone, down by the Evans River. It cops some flack in the Wikicamps App Comments, because when the wind blows, that dust (sand) blows too. But it wasn’t blowing on our arrival and we immediately liked it’s green grassed sites beneath the trees or not and the spotless security coded amenities. The location would have to be one of the most convenient we’ve encountered.
Evans Head Reflections Caravan Park on the River
I’m glad you asked.
Backing onto the park’s grassed unpowered section is the Vespa on Oak cafe and opposite that, Hotel Illawong aka the Pub, with relaxed live music at the Sunday Arvo Session. Oak Street itself is a compact hive of restaurants, no less than three boutique dress shops, supermarket, butcher, baker, chemist – everything you could possibly need on holiday.
The park is wedged between the cruisy amenities of Oak Street and the gentle river with the breakwater and it’s resident water dragons, a pleasant stroll away.
A short drive down Elm Street leads to the other side of the river and a pretty marina with fresh fish outlet where we watched a trawler return. The waiting owner lamented how few trawlers there are in the Marina today, but I loved the sleepy morning ambience.
Evans Head Marina.
Continue on Ocean Drive to Razorback Lookout with it’s two viewing stations, parking, toilets, BBQ’s and picnic tables.
Can you spot the SUP and Surfer in the photo below? And the beachgoers in front of the Evans Head Surf Club?
Razorback Lookout is a good spot to watch SUP and Surfing at the mouth of the Evans River.
Rest Stop between Evans Head and Ballina
Between Evans Head and Ballina is the unique Our Daily Bread Cafe contained within the old Columbkille’s Catholic Church built on this very site in 1938. Heritage listed inside and out, this weatherboard gothic church building is in immaculate condition.
It is an eat-in food hall, with old crockery, art and collectibles for sale. The scones are huge and this gorgeous cafe is a great place to stretch your legs.
At it’s rear, Ballina lighthouse is almost in someone’s back yard, but out front it has expansive ocean and Richmond River views. From the lighthouse front, a grassy hill slopes down to a lookout car park – an awesome vantage point with a bird’s eye view of the surf breaks.
Richmond River Light.
Also known as Ballina Lighthouse, Ballina Light and Ballina Head Light, this lighthouse is a beautifully maintained historic structure. At first it was a temporary light from 1866 with the permanent light coming in 1880. It converted to gas in 1920 and electricity in 1960. The stone structure is rendered and painted white to conform to lighthouse convention and stands at 7.6 metres tall.
Ballina Lighthouse can be viewed from the outside at any time but is not open to the public. It is an active automated lighthouse.
The nearby car park is an ever popular place for locals at lunch time, or any time really. A shared pathway (Ballina Council has provided the population of 25,000 with 25km of bikeways) crosses the headland providing good views while you burn off some calories.
Shelly Beach looking to Black Head Ballina from Ballina Heads.
Shelly Beach is patrolled with established rips at the northern and southern ends and a roaming one in the middle. Somewhat exposed to Southerly and North-Easterly winds it is is a popular surf beach.
At the southern end of Shelly Beach is the Surf Lifesaving FNC Branch with car park and the beach there has exposed rock pools at low tide. To the north it’s a lovely beach to walk along too.
Adjoining Shelly Beach to the South is Lighthouse Beach which formed by itself in the 1900’s after the building of the rock walls at the mouth of the Richmond River. It is serviced by it’s own Ballina Lighthouse/Lismore SLSC which is popular for meals and beach views.
Ballina to Byron Bay
Take the Coastal Road from Ballina to Byron Bay. After all it’s the best way to see all the little coastal towns and villages and is much more pleasant than the highway run.
The Coastal Route from Ballina to Byron Bay is a 30 km/30 minute drive through Skennars Head, Lennox Head and Broken Head.
Ballina to Byron Bay Walk
This is a yearly charity walk is starting at Dening Park Byron Bay in 2020. Get together a team from 2 to 20 and get fit and raise money.
The three distances are:
- 12 km to Broken Head Reserve $60
- 24 km to Lennox Head SLSC $70
- 36 km to Ballina SLSC $80
Lennox Head on the Coastal Road from Ballina to Byron Bay is a busy little beachside, surfs-up kind of town and a hassle-free place for a casual lunch.
Lennox Head Surfing
There are beach breaks running down from Seven Mile Beach to the Surf Club but they are 4WD access. Experienced surfers have good breaks in the south over coffee rock and the world-class right hand break along the boulders. The Point is good for 1-3 metres.
The Skull Candy Oz Grom Open is the yearly international Junior Surf Competition held at Lennox Head. In 2020 it is due to run from 7th to 12th July (check to see Covid19 cancellations).
Lennox Head Surf Club provides surf patrols September to April.
The beach in front of the mail shopping area is inviting with picturesque views to the headland.
At the northern end of Lennox Head township is Lake Ainsworth a brown coloured tea tree lake, surrounded by tea tree forest. Park on Pacific Parade between lake and ocean for foot access to the dog beach and lake.
Lennox Head Camping
Lake Ainsworth Holiday Park has cabins and camping facilities. Very popular in school holidays.
Where to eat at Lennox Head
The pies are good at Lennox Head Bakery and the sandwiches, BLT’s burgers etc. are made fresh to order.
Another local favourite for fish and chips is the appropriately named Bream Hole. Just park and wander along the water front checking out options as you go.
Lennox Hotel is right there in the main street on the beach and is the obvious choice for a cold drink and they do food also.
If you’re after a more gourmet experience, jump back in the car and continue north to Byron Bay and The Farm.
Byron Bay is a show-stopping hippy meets surf meets holiday destination. As the sign says – Cheer Up, Slow Down, Chill Out Dude.
Being the most easterly point in Australia, it owns an awesome lighthouse the Cape Byron, amazing views, great surf, loads of beaches, a thriving surf culture, hang-gliding cliffs, yoga schools galore, good coffee and pubs and restaurants.
Byron is the home of festivals like Falls Music & Art Festival Dec/Jan and Byron Bay Blues Fest Mar/Apr.
Every year Byron holds the first sun event on January 1st from 5 am to 8 am at the Lighthouse. Be one of the few to witness the first Australian sunrise of the new year at this free event – a first sunrise which in true Byron style includes yoga, meditation and crystal bowl soundscapes!
The Farm at Byron Bay.
You will pass The Farm on the left at 11 Ewingsdale Road on the way into Byron. This sprawling farm/gourmet/food complex grows it’s own organic produce, which can be consumed onsite at Three Blue Ducks Restaurant. It’s a lively experience with an onsite bakery, plant nursery and gourmet produce section. On a cloudy day that threatened rain, the green of the daffodil field really popped. Those daffodil heads were all over the place looking for the sun!
Hinterland towns like Mullumbimby are magical and well worth a visit or allow a day to explore some country roads or the old and new Hippy town of Nimbin.
The Gold Coast Queensland
Starting approximately 60km south of the Queensland Capital of Brisbane and ending at the New South Wales border, the Gold Coast is synonymous with sun, sand and surf.
It’s main focus is beach holiday fun and as such has seven thrilling theme parks.
The area first acquired the Gold Coast tag in the 1950’s, meshing together neighbourhoods with their own distinct flavour.
Burleigh, half way between Surfers Paradise and Coolangatta, has an attractive relaxed village feel.
John Laws Park on the headland is the customary place for a picnic with friends. It is the best place to enjoy views of the skyscrapers at Surfers Paradise and to watch surfers in the sunset.
Sunset Skyline from Burleigh Headland looking north to Surfers Paradise.
Then there’s the 2.3 km and 2.4 km return walking tracks through Burleigh Heads National Park to Tallebudgera Creek.
Burleigh Heads National Park looking south over Tallebudgera Creek and Beach
The tracks are through natural rainforest, with the chance of spotting darting dolphins in the waves below or migrating whales off-shore. Kathy from 50 Shades of Age lives on the Gold Coast and shares her knowledge in the Gold Coast’s Top 10 Natural Attractions, and she also includes some pointers on exploring the hinterland for the non-beachy.
Surfers Paradise from Burleigh Heads National Park Walk
Read about some of our funky choices from the thriving Goldie cafe scene here.
Brisbane, the Capital City of Queensland is a friendly casual city that reflects it’s sunny lifestyle. The Brisbane River is a graceful asset to the City and River Cats provide a cheap, efficient and picturesque way to get from one end of town to the other.
City Cats are a fun way to view the city scape and get around. We particularly like the trip from New Farm to Northshore Hamilton Ferry Terminal.
New Farm park is a nice place for a stroll, an extremely popular picnic spot and every Saturday 6 am to 12 noon hosts the busy Powerhouse Fresh Food and Produce market.
Between New Farm and Northshore watch out for the Teneriffe Wool Sheds on the northern bank. These stately old buildings where sheep’s wool was historically stored and sold, have now been converted into apartment living. Teneriffe has loads of restaurants and bars like Teneriffe Social.
Across the river at Bulimba stroll up Oxford Street to Riverbend Book Store and Cafe. I first discovered this cafe’s interesting menu when exploring with a Brisbane foodie friend and blogger.
Northshore. Eat Street Northshore has an amazing collection of food stalls with offerings from Australia to far flung Asia, Africa, America and Europe. It’s open Friday, Saturday and Sunday and has an entry fee of $2.50. Read more about Eat Street.
South Bank Parklands, Brisbane
No visit to Brisbane is complete without experiencing the 17 hectares of parkland at South Bank. Queensland is the Sunshine State so enjoy it at Streets Beach Lagoon, Australia’s only inner city man made beach or Boat Pool (Lifeguards in attendance). There is so much to see and enjoy in this lifestyle destination, like…
Eagle Street Pier
When works stops for the day think party central with overflowing bars and restaurants and a convenient River Cat terminal nearby.
Storey Bridge from City Cat.
A fun thing to do in Brisbane at night is the Wheel of Brisbane, a nearly 60 metre tall Ferris Wheel. I’ve not been up yet but it sure is a gorgeous sight when it’s all aglow.
For more inspiration read Toni Broome’s Top 10 Free Things to do in Brisbane City.
Coffs Harbour to Brisbane by car is a trip that encapsulates the east coast of northern New South Wales and South-East Queensland and offers diverse destinations and experiences. The highway is usually great although the older concrete sections have that repetitive annoying bumpity bump – but that doesn’t last long. Then there are the tourist drives which get off the main highway and take you through country towns, by paddocks with grazing animals and tall trees or lead to deserted beaches. Pack your bags!
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I’d love to stroll on those beaches. And lunch in a church sounds fun. Better than a sermon any day.
Agreed Sharon. Sermons and I don’t get along lol.
This part of Australia is really stunning isn’t it. I loved all the coves and nice surf towns a lot. We stayed with friends when we were in Brisbane and didn’t have the nicest weather, but I really loved it.
I’m happy that you loved Brisbane even though the weather didn’t co-operate!
I love this post Jan as it’s covering my very own stomping ground. We’ve stayed at so many of these places along the coastline between the Gold Coast and Coffs over the years. In fact I’m writing about it next week. There are so many gorgeous places to see.
I know! It was a real eye opener for us. Not so much this Coffs Harbour to Brisbane part of the trip because we’d been over a lot of this ground previously but some places were still new to us. Like Bellingen – I love that place.
It looks like a fantastic road trip – and such a beautiful area of Australia. I love your photos – especially the ferris wheel one – it’s stunning!
Ruth | Tanama Tales
Your pictures make me long for beaches and sea salt. Our “winter” has been unusually hot and I hope it continues like that because I want to do a short beach road trip (prefer that than snow but with the heat, I do not think we have snow in the mountains). I didn’t know about the sugar cane and banana history of this part of Australia. Your facts seems to be coming straight from a Caribbean island! #TPThursday
Agness of a Tuk Tuk
This is such a great road trip destination, Jan. Thanks for the inspiring post. How long did this road trip take?
Hi Agness, With stops it took us two days.
Great post Jan! We are so lucky to have all these beautiful places along our coastline. It really is the perfect region for a road trip.
Thanks Melissa. I will be doing a post on your suggestion of Urunga shortly.