“off-the-path” east coast australia
So you’ve been driving up the A1, with only a few drops left in your coffee cup and overheard commercials on the radio. You can’t take it anymore. You need to get out, stretch, and stop. In this post, you’ll find suggestions and screenshots of potential places to stop before abandoning all hope and pulling into the nearest Hungry Jack’s to eat an impressive two-person meal to feel something again. Trade in the french fries for sand dunes, koalas, natural bridges, and possibly even platypuses. For map and locations, see the bottom of the page.
Port Stephens would be a good first destination because there are a variety of activities and places to see. Along the way, if you really must stop is The Entrance. About an hour and a half from Sydney, it is deemed the “Pelican Capital of the World.” Feel free to stop, jump in the public sprinklers and count all the pelicans you can see. We never stopped because we were motivated to keep driving after just leaving Sydney.
Another possible stop before Port Stephens, is Newcastle. Maybe you’re feeling hungry after being in the car for two hours leaving Sydney and want some lunch. This place is the gateway to wineries and named Top 10 Places to Visit in 2011. I’m not sure what happened since 2011, but we didn’t stop here either to find out. We still continued on to Port Stephens.
While in Port Stephens:
We stretched our tired and cramped limbs at Tomaree Head and One Mile Beach. We just grabbed a Subway to eat along the way in the car, but the other activities could’ve been more fun if we felt like we had more time! The camel rides or sand dune sledding might be a little too pricey, but check on Groupon (we saw some deals!). We took the time to walk along the beach, breathing in the invigorating stench of sea salt and ocean spray while watching the novice surfers take lessons.
Our next stop was in a pleasant and charismatic little town called Port Macquarie. Stopping here is a must for any road tripper- a very swimmable beach, koalas, painted break walls, rainforests and a lighthouse are all a few attractions to enjoy. We had stayed in a motel here, so we were fortunate to take pleasure in a full day’s worth of sightseeing. We started our day by swimming at the local beach, near the painted break wall. Rumors state that it is possible to see sharks nearby (we didn’t see any!). After refreshing in a dip and sun soak, we drove over to the Tacking Point Lighthouse.
[Along the way, it is possible to visit the Sea Acres Rainforest. For us, we didn’t have time to visit everything, so the rainforest was chosen to be revoked from the list. Maybe next time! ]
Once we parked in the rather small parking area, we walked around to see the views and the lighthouse. The lighthouse may not have looked too extraordinary, but as it turned out, the shot did make for an excellent picture to keepsake! Also, there are signs depicting the historical accounts of the area. We remember noticing one such story about Captain James Cook pointing to a group of three mountains that stood together and naming them “three brothers.” Later, it was discovered that the aboriginal people had been calling the same three mountains “three brothers” all along as well. Mind-blowing irony, right there.
Once we left the lighthouse, it was time for our tour at Koala Hospital. We can’t recommend this place enough! What the organization and volunteers are trying to do is outstanding and inspiring. See our post on further information regarding the Koala Hospital.
All in all, Port Macquarie was definitely worthy of a stop.
Springbrook National Park
Much further north, we decided that we wanted to take a break from beaches and venture back into the more lush, forest areas. Springbrook National Park is located about 35 minutes west from Coolangatta, between Byron Bay and Gold Coast. Yes, this “side trip,” certainly is a little out of the way- but very much worth it (in our opinion, of course). Home to a few select glow worms and a natural bridge, Springbrook offers diverse places of interest than the average beach would. We recall the drive (it’s a windy one!) to the natural bridge: windows down, country music blaring- ahhh, this was a really nice change! The temperature was cooler and the air just smelled so GOOD. The lan
dscape was a vibrant green, flourishing despite the numerous horses and farm animals that grazed upon it. We both agreed it was a beautiful spot. Very picturesque! Further on past the farm lands, we found ourselves back in the forest. We were sad we didn’t have time to camp for a week, complete with toasty marshmallows and star-gazing. But we did make the most out of the day! We took a walk in the woods, spotted a wild wallaby and many sleepy bats under the natural bridge. In summary, we were grateful for the stop, and felt rejuvenated for additional beach time.
Just kidding. Don’t waste your time! Really. Do. Not. Go. We thought about it and convinced ourselves that there must be good steak with it being a “beef capital,” but all it ended up being was a sad, depressing and worn-down town. Keep going and don’t look back. You will not miss out on anything. There are only a few select restaurants that are still in business and we managed to get Thai food from a restaurant in what resembled an old factory- including the spider webs and wearisome patrons as a final touch. We do apologize to any locals that might be reading this, but truly, be honest with yourselves, there are better places to live and visit in Australia, amiright?
Eungella National Park
Further north, between Mackey and Airlie Beach, is Eungella National Park. We found a campsite called Platypus Bush Camp snuggled deep in the woods of this park, and entertained the idea of camping alongside platypuses. In our Lonely Planet book, the campsite described the owner as “eccentric.” After meeting him, the character trait fit the label. He was very much unconventional, but to have built the entire campgrounds “in the bush,” was pretty impressive. We struggled finding a place to pitch our tent among the termite or ant mounds in the camping area. However, we managed. Ryann had difficulty sleeping that night, feeling a little uncomfortable and uneasy about staying there. We left early the next morning, after waiting for 20 or more minutes at the “Platypus Viewing Pond,” around 6 am, as recommended. Of course, these animals are wild and cannot be counted on to appear when desired, but we felt as if we wasted enough time as it was and didn’t feel like sticking around any longer. We also decided to skip the hike around Finch Hatton, we were ready to just get back to the beach. Nevertheless, it was an “okay” stop, interesting enough but not quite recommended.
We hope that our suggestions and experiences driving up the coast helps with your planning of a road trip. Of course, not everyone has the same experiences and I’m sure we missed A LOT of other stops. Please, comment below on any additions we didn’t include!
See below for some quick maps: