Planning your Sydney to Byron Bay road trip? Here’s my pick of the places to stop from Sydney to Byron Bay and back.
It may not be the sleepy town it once was but as a foodie destination mixed with the age-old magical charm of Cape Byron’s beaches; Byron Bay remains top of anyone’s East Coast bucket list.
It definitely shouldn’t be the only stop on your road trip though. This ultimate two-week road trip itinerary will give you a real taste of what coastal NSW has to offer. From sleepy, coastal towns to stunning national parks and an ancient rainforest.
Sydney to Byron Bay road trip: the route
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Planning your road trip
If you wish to visit Byron Bay but are also looking to drive further up the East Coast, then check out my Sydney to Fraser Island two-week itinerary.
Car or camper?
It doesn’t matter whether you plan to do your road trip with a car and a tent or a campervan (or a car and rooftop tent like me). However, the suggested route means stopping for only one night in some places which can be a lot of packing and unpacking if staying in a tent or a swag. So consider reducing the number of stops and staying in places for longer if you’re doing this.
Alternatively, mix it up! In New South Wales there are lots of different types of camping sites providing a range of camping experiences and costs. But with lots of accommodation options available, you could even do this road trip in only a car and stay at motels, Airbnbs or holiday apartments.
I have switched between camping and booking an apartment many times so where relevant, I’ve included alternative accommodation options.
Outside of weekends and peak seasons (school and public holidays), you shouldn’t have problems booking the suggested campsites at short notice. Therefore I recommend using my itinerary as a rough route and remaining flexible.
Despite being someone who naturally likes to plan ahead, when it comes to road trips the best experiences have been those which haven’t been planned.
Not only does it give the option to stay somewhere for longer if you want; it can lead to uncovering some real unexpected gems. So if you don’t drive as far as you’d like in a day, or need to find alternatives if a campsite is booked up, don’t worry. The road has taught me to relax and go with the flow.
It will take you to some pretty amazing places.
Booking a camping spot
My top advice is to call the campsite to book a spot. Campsites and holiday parks all have websites to book online but are not always the most user-friendly. Some also have minimum night stays built into their booking system.
In my experience, if you call up last-minute or a few days in advance this won’t apply and they will likely be able to slot you in with no problem. If you don’t require power for the night, this will increase your chances of getting a spot.
The exception is campgrounds run by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. In this case you have to book via the nationalparks.nsw.gov.au website.
Day 1: Sydney to Seal Rocks – (285 km) 3hr 10 mins drive
Camping in Seal Rocks is the perfect first stop on any road trip from Sydney.
With only a general store and a coffee cart serving up coffee and pastries, there is not much else to do other than enjoy the beaches, take a walk to Sugarloaf Lighthouse and simply settle into your holiday.
Camp at Treachery Camp
Treachery Camp is a popular choice among campers and it’s not hard to see why.
This independently-run campsite is tucked away, down an unsealed road with virtually its own private beach. Despite its remoteness, it’s a well-run campsite with good facilities and even a cafe on site (Tim’s On Treach) during peak periods.
Other places to stay
Located directly opposite Number One Beach, Seal Rocks Reflections Holiday Park is another great camping option. Alternatively, the popular weekend getaway area around Blueys Beach area is a 20-minute drive away with more accommodation options.
Things to do in Seal Rocks
- Spend time at Number One Beach, surfing and swimming in the sheltered sections.
- Grab a coffee from Single Fin Coffee cart and enjoy it sitting on the grassy headland overlooking Boat Beach.
- Walk up to Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse.
- If you’re set up for it, drive onto Lighthouse Beach.
Day 2: Seal Rocks to South West Rocks – (226km) 2hr 45 mins drive
Another beautiful spot is heading further up the coast into Kempsey Shire, South West Rocks. Relax and enjoy life in a sleepy coastal town, surrounded by Arakoon National Park.
Camp at Trial Bay Gaol campground
Trial Bay Gaol campground is something special so make sure you camp here. When booking, there are four sections to the campsite and I would highly recommend booking any spot in Map 1 or anywhere else closest to the water.
Located on the huge, sweeping, Trial Bay, its waters are incredibly still for swimming and stand-up paddle boarding. It also faces West making it the perfect spot to watch the sunset with sundowners.
Other places to stay
If you prefer to stay in town, especially opposite the local pub (The Seabreeze Hotel), check out Horseshoe Bay Holiday Park. It’s a town campsite so not very private but spots overlook Horseshoe Bay Beach. They also offer cabins if you’re not camping or, alternatively, you can book a room at the Hotel.
Things to do in South West Rocks
- Swim, fish or paddle board at Trial Bay.
- Grab a coffee or food in South West Rocks and head to the beach (sheltered and popular for swimming).
- Visit Trial Bay Gaol (open 9.30 am-4 pm daily).
- Drive 10 mins to Captain Cook’s Lookout and do the Smoky Cape Lighthouse Walking Track (4.4km return).
Day 3: South West Rocks to Yuraygir National Park – (210km) 2hr 30 mins drive
You’ve broken free of Coffs Harbour and you’re fully into your road trip.
This stretch is one of the most untouched and underdeveloped sections of the East Coast of NSW. So there’s not much around here besides National Park. Villages and supplies are sparse and that’s the beauty of it!
Stock up in South West Rocks before setting off so you have all your food and drink for a couple of days camping in the beautiful Yuraygir National Park.
Camp at Ilaroo campground
Camp right next to the Southern end of Ilaroo-Sandon Beach Ilaroo beach at Ilaroo campground, run by NSW Parks & Wildlife Service. Grab a spot on the oceanfront if you can but wherever you are, you won’t be far from the beach path.
With 8.5km of sand stretching before you, flanked by the green of the National Park, this beach is great for surfing, fishing and those beautiful long beach walks.
Camp at Sandon River campground
If you have time, drive up the Pacific Highway and enter Yuraygir National Park a little further up and stay at Sandon River campground. It’s worth the extra detour for a spot nestled between the ocean and an inlet.
Beach driving is also very accessible here (this is where I drove my 4×4 on a beach for the first time!) and it’s popular amongst campers with boats.
If you don’t happen to have your own boat but still want to get involved, then fishing in the shallows of the inlet at sunset with a beer is a great way to spend the afternoon.
Other places to stay
If you’re not camping, make Minnie Water or Wooli your base for exploring Yuraygir National Park. If you’re visiting Minnie Water, check out one of the best general stores I’ve come across in Australia (so far).
Minnie Water Store serves up great coffee, pastries, and food and has an amazing beer and wine selection. You can also have a beer in the sun on the tables outside.
Day 4: Yuraygir National Park
I recommended staying two nights in Yuraygir National Park to simply enjoy slow living by the beach. Now you’re really getting into the beauty of a New South Wales road trip and camping in a National Park right on the beach.
Day 5: Yuraygir National Park to Yamba – (83km) 1hr 10 mins drive
The next stop is camping in the wonderful Yamba. Enjoy being in a coastal town for a couple of days and take a break from camp cooking.
Sometimes referred to as the new Byron, I believe Yamba is special in its own right.
It doesn’t have as many cafes and restaurants but it has enough. It also doesn’t have the crowds or the traffic. Instead, it’s got that sleepy town, community vibe, which I love.
Camp at Calypso Yamba Holiday Park
Calypso Yamba Holiday Park is conveniently nestled between the town, the marina and Turners Beach. It’s not the most private campsite as a result but it’s location makes it the perfect base for exploring everything on foot. Prices from $37/night (unpowered).
Other places to stay
I’ve spent a lot of time visiting and working from Yamba, and when booking an apartment I’ve always stayed on Yamba Hill.
Day 6: Yamba
Things to do in Yamba
You could spend a long time in Yamba exploring all the beaches, the cafes and restaurants, and neighbouring Angourie (just say the names “Anne, Gary” and you’ve got it). Here are my top things to do when staying in Yamba.
- Check out Yamba Main Beach in the morning: You get a choice of five beaches in Yamba and Main Beach is well, the main town one. It’s a hive of activity, especially in the mornings. With the Surf Life Saving Club (since 1908), Beach Swimming Pool (built in the late 1960s) and The Kiosk open Fri-Sun for coffee and breaky.
- Spend time at Turners Beach: Great for surfing, popular with (friendly) locals and dolphins seem to be regular visitors here.
- Walk from Pippie Beach to Main Beach: Popular amongst dog walkers, this is the biggest open stretch of beach. Walk south towards Angourie, or walk North and pick up the path that takes you around Yamba Point to Convent Beach and then onto Main Beach. Takes about 30 minutes at a steady stroll.
- Spend time by the marina: A good way to see the marina is at Yamba Shores Tavern. Get a courtesy bus to enjoy a drink on the river.
- Visit Angourie: Drive less than 10mins to enjoy a few hours in Angourie. Check out Spooky Beach and the freshwater Blue and Green Pools. Lunch at Cafe Angourie is recommended. Return in the evening for an upmarket Italian meal at Barbaresco. I’ve only ever heard good things.
Food & drink
Enjoy the food and drink options in town and around Yamba Hill. Here are a few of my favourite places for coffee, breakfast and dinner.
- Grab a coffee on Yamba Hill or a tasty salad for lunch at Gather.
- Head to The Kiosk for breaky at Main Beach if staying over a weekend (only open Fri-Mon from 7 am).
- For the best sit-down breakfast in town, head to Yum Yum Angourie Cafe and General Store
- For drinks with a view, check out the Pacific Hotel. It claims to have the “absolute best views of the Pacific Ocean in Australia”, and it probably does. The interior is old club-style and the views are epic.
- For Indian curry fans, Indian Fusion Tapas Bar & Restaurant is a must. Coconut-based Southern Indian curries are their specialty and they are seriously good. Grab a seat outside for sunset and the views are pretty special too.
Day 7: Yamba to Byron Bay – (128km) 1hr 30mins drive
Head off early and make the most of your two nights camping in Byron Bay.
Every time I go I fall a little bit more in love with Byron. Not just for the good vibes and amazing food scene, but for the silencing beauty of Cape Byron. There is so much to do in the area so plan to spend at least 3 days in Byron Bay if you can.
Camp at First Sun Holiday Park
It took me three trips to Byron Bay before I found this little gem! The campsite is bang in the centre of town with private access and views over Belongil Beach. Despite it being just off the main road into town, there is no noise and the facilities are new.
Other places to stay
Book an Airbnb or a cheaper option is to stay at a Guest House like Byron Springs. Try to stay within walking distance of the town centre, so you don’t have to worry about driving and parking in the evenings.
Accommodation can be pricey in Byron Bay so if you don’t want to pay the higher prices, embrace the outskirts of Byron and get a taxi in.
For Airbnbs within 10-20 mins walk from town expected to pay at least $150 per night. I booked one in Massinger Street, close to The Top Shop.
If staying in off-peak season you can also get some really good deals. In August, prices were lower during the off-peak season at Bayview Beach Front Apartments in the centre of town (booking last-minute also helps get a good deal).
Day 8: Byron Bay and Cape Byron National Park
Byron Bay is not only a foodie destination, it also happens to have some of the most stunning coastline in NSW. Here’s a list of top things to do during your stay.
Things to do in Byron Bay
- Cape Byron Walking Track: The 3.7km loop track takes about 2 hours to complete but allow longer to stop along the way. You will want to. It’s an amazing walk taking you past Wategos and Little Wategos Beaches, and Byron Bay Lighthouse. Start the walk from the Captain Cook Lookout Car Park. If you have a National Parks pass, parking here at Captain Cook Lookout is free.
- Check out The Fisherman’s Lookout at The Pass: A viewing platform great for spotting dolphins and watching the surfers and the kayak tours which operate in the bay. The Pass is also a famous surfing spot in Byron Bay with continuous right-hand waves perfect for longboarding. It gets very busy but if you enjoy surfing, it’s worth checking out.
- Spend time at Wategos Beach: Popular with surfers and sunbakers, this is a favourite of mine. It’s further away in Cape Byron State Conservation Area and really feels like you’re miles away from the bars and cafes.
- Watch the sunrise from Cape Byron Lighthouse: To really see Byron Bay at its best, get up early to watch the sunrise from Cape Byron Lighthouse. It will be worth it, honestly. Either drive up and park up early, walk up or even run up.
Food & drink
When in Byron Bay, make sure to take advantage of all the lively bars and delicious food on offer. Here is a selection of my favourite places covering a day of eating and drinking out:
- Bayleaf Cafe: Always busy and I know exactly why. The coffee is excellent, the Scrambled Egg Special is amazing, and the general vibe is what Byron is all about.
- The Top Shop: For the coffee, breakfast or lunch and the good vibes out front. It’s where a lot of locals hang out so it’s my kind of place.
- The Balcony Bar & Oyster Co.: Overlooks the main high street from up high. Grab Happy Hour here 4-6 pm.
- The Bolt Hole : Cocktails in a cool setting up high. Happy Hour 5-6pm.
- Byron Bay Beach Hotel: Where everyone heads for drinks, especially around sunset. Also, the place to go back to later on.
- Miss Margherita Mexican Cantina : Great Mexican food, full of life in the evenings (Happy Hour 5-6 pm).
- The Rails Byron Bay: This is hands down the best place to go to enjoy live music (every night). It’s casual and the food isn’t bad but come here to have fun. A lot of people end up singing along to the music at some point during the evening.
Day 9: Byron Bay and The Hinterland
If you fancy venturing out into the beautiful green hinterland surrounding Byron Bay then here’s my suggested itinerary for a day trip.
It involves a lot of driving along long, winding roads but it’s all part of the experience. It also explains some of the longer driving times from one place to the next.
Alternatively, kick back and spend another day soaking up Byron Bay life.
- 10 mins drive: Stop at the infamous The Farm for breakfast on the road out of town. You will not be disappointed.
- 10 mins drive: Next is Bangalow, a cute heritage town with cafes and shops to browse. Sunday markets are held here on the fourth Sunday of every month.
- 7 mins drive: Visit Newrybar for more shops and the popular Harvest restaurant, deli and bakery.
- 1 hr drive: Arrive at the infamous Nimbin. It’s more of a rundown inland village than the colourful, hippy town you might know it for. The residents and shop owners all seem to have stuck around from the village’s heydays but if you want to see it for yourself, enjoy the quirky hemp-themed shops and drinking holes here.
- 50 mins drive (or 1 hr drive from Newrybar if skipping Nimbin): Head to the Protestor Falls Walking Track in Nightcap National Park. It’s a short and easy 20-minute walk to the falls (the website says up to 1.5 hours but it’s definitely not this long) through the stunning World Heritage-listed Gondwana rainforest.
- 1hr 20 mins drive: Head back to Byron Bay for the evening.
Visit Nimbin and its quirky shops
Day 10: Byron Bay to Bellingen – (269 km) 2hrs 50mins drive
There’s more in store on the return leg back to Sydney.
Just beyond Coffs Harbour, turn off the A1 and drive 10 mins inland to the bohemian town of Bellingen.
This heritage stop-off is a delight to discover. It’s the only place on the suggested route away from the coast, but it’s worth the diversion. With all the cafes, restaurants and a great local brewery; it’s the perfect base for exploring the nearby World Heritage-listed, Gondwana Rainforest.
Top tip: If you plan on only spending one night in Bellingen, take the inland route along Armidale Road via Grafton instead. It takes 4 hrs (303km) without stops but means you get to drive a section of the Waterfall Way. Time it so you can stop off at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre for a couple of walks, before heading into Bellingen for the evening.
Camp at Bellingen Showground
I didn’t end up staying at Bellingen Showground (it was closed due to too much groundwater, which I guess is the downside to staying along Waterfall Way!) but it gets good reviews and I will camp here next time I visit. Prices from $10/night per adult (unpowered).
Other places to stay
Diggers Tavern was the only place left in town on a Saturday night when booking and was on the pricier side for what it is (essentially a motel). However, it was quiet with no noise coming from the attached pub. Alternatively, The Belfry Guesthouse is another good budget option.
Things to do in Bellingen
There isn’t too much to do in Bellingen, or ‘Bello’, except enjoy the cafes, restaurants and potter around the shops. Here are the places I’ve visited and recommend checking out.
- HYDE Bellingen: Great for coffee. Also has a boutique shop inside.
- People of Coffee: A friendly cafe set in the old petrol station, selling the work of local artists.
- Black Bear: Great for breakfast.
- Diggers Tavern: One of the local pubs, nicely refurbished.
- Bellingen Brewing Co: If you like breweries then your evening is sorted. It’s the most picturesque brewery I’ve been to serving up phenomenal pizzas alongside the local brew, in a rainforest setting. You feel like you’re actually enjoying your hazy IPA in the rainforest. Book ahead if you can. It’s popular and small.
Day 11: Bellingen, The Waterfall Way and Dorrigo National Park
Spend the next day driving along Waterfall Way to Armidale and back. With beautiful winding roads and many switchbacks, the drive is definitely part of it.
Along the way stop off at the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre where there are a few walking options to see the subtropical Gondwana Rainforest. Here are the walks I recommend.
- The Skywalk: A viewing platform that takes you to the edge of the rainforest with views over Dorrigo National Park.
- Crystal Shower Falls walk: If you’re going to do any walk from the Rainforest Centre, do this one. You get to walk through the rainforest and actually walk behind the waterfall. It’s a beautiful 4.4km walk and took me just over an hour return.
- Lyrebird Link track: A shorter walk (0.8 km) through the rainforest. It took me 20mins return and I spotted my first Lyrebird here, which was pretty darn cool.
Day 12: Bellingen to Crescent Head – (118km) 1hr 18 mins drive
Head back to the coast for some final R&R at the end of your trip; spending your last two days floating in the creek and soaking up the laid-back surfer vibes of Crescent Head.
As a declared National Surfing Reserve, it’s popular with surfers but you’re also spoilt for National Parks on this stretch of the New South Wales coastline with Hat Head, Goolawah and Limburners Creek all next to each other.
Top tip: After leaving Bellingen take a short (5-minute) detour and stop at Steam & Cedar for a coffee. Gladstone is a cute little village on the banks of Macleay River. It has a couple of quaint shops and there’s a garden to sit and enjoy your coffee in.
Camp at Crescent Head Holiday Park
Either camp in the heart of Crescent Head and use it as a springboard for exploring the nearby beaches and walking tracks, or adventure out to the camp at nearby NPWS-run campgrounds in the National Parks.
The Macleay Valley Crescent Head Holiday Park is the one and only place to stay if you’re camping in Crescent Head itself.
Located on a huge site next to the beach and inlet, in some ways it feels like it is Crescent Head. The largest section and bulk of the campsite runs alongside Killick Creek, with a second, surf side section, behind the car park running alongside the break wall.
The best spots (if available) are the ones on the creek-front because they both overlook the water and have a vantage point great for sitting back and enjoying the sunset. Prices from $41/night (only powered sites available).
Other places to stay
If you’re not camping, alternative accommodation options are in and around Crescent Head.
If the Holiday Park is booked up, or you fancy camping in the National Parks, take the road out of Crescent Head along Point Plomer Road and check out Goolawah National Park and Limeburners Creek National Park for more camping options.
My favourite is Point Plomer Campground which is right on the beach in a big bay. Firepits are available for hire for evening entertainment around a campfire. There are showers and toilets but you will need to bring your own drinking water.
Day 13: Crescent Head, Point Plomer and Limeburners Creek National Park
Spend the day staying in Crescent Head, soaking up the laid-back surfer vibes and hanging out in the cafes; or head out to explore the nearby National Parks.
Things to do around Crescent Head
- Make the 10-minute walk up to Little Nobby headland for amazing 360-degree views of the entire area.
- Head to or park at the walkway in front of the long peeling right-hand waves and you’ll be able to while away a few hours watching the surfers and grabbing a bite to eat from Point Break Cafe.
- Killick Creek is my top tip when staying in Crescent Head. It took 3 years and my third trip here to even discover it so I’m letting you in on the secret so you can check it out and enjoy it on your first visit!
- Food and drink options are limited in Crescent Head but all have a lovely local feel to them. For coffee and breakfast options check out Blackfish Coffee, Green Room Café & Fruit, and Point Break Cafe in the SLSC on the beach front.
- For dinner options: Crescent Head Tavern serves standard pub grub but has a real buzz about the place at sunset. For something more upmarket, check out Lumah or Pandanus Garden Bar and Restaurant and book ahead. Especially on a weekend.
- Adventure out of town along Point Plomer Road to the various beaches and National Parks. For hiking options, check out the Big Hill Rainforest walking track (1.4km, 30 mins loop track) starting from Melaleuca Campground.
Day 14: Crescent Head to Sydney – (438km) 4hr 40mins drive
It’s home time so make the most of it and enjoy another morning in and around Crescent Head before driving back to Sydney.
So when are you heading to Byron Bay? This stretch of the NSW coast is a trip you will never forget. I certainly didn’t when I first ventured from Sydney to Byron Bay and five years later I’ve visited most of the places in this itinerary more than once. They’re just so amazing!
I hope this guide helps you prepare for an awesome road trip up and down the East Coast of NSW. And even if you decide to only use my suggested route as a guide you can’t really go wrong. No matter where the road takes you.
If you’re looking for more camping itineraries then you may find my other guides useful: