If your happy place involves windswept beaches, white-capped surf, plenty of sunshine (and a glass of wine or two), a road trip up the iconic Pacific Coast of Australia may just be the perfect vacation. In a country with over 25,000 kilometers of coastline (that’s 16,000 plus miles) and over 10,000 beaches, Australia is a lot more than just the vast, arid outback that the movies would have you believe.
Make Sydney your starting point and spend the day exploring one (or two) of it’s many beautiful beaches. Bondi Beach is the most famous and definitely worth a stop. Just make sure you head to the northern end for safer swimming. The southern end is nicknamed “Backpackers’ Rip” for a reason — most aren’t aware of the dangerous rip current hidden underneath the flat, smooth water.
If you’re looking for a beach experience that’s a little less tourist-y, but equally amazing, take a walk from Bondi to Coogee Beach along the 6km surfside walk. Stop at the Coogee pavilion for a lobster roll and then enjoy the low-key Aussie beach vibe.
It’s kind of hard to pass up a visit to the Sydney Opera House. Check out a show (there’s a whole lot more than just opera here), take a backstage tour, better yet, cap off your first day in Sydney with a drink at the outdoor Opera Bar to peep sweeping views of the Sydney Harbor with your cocktail: the Sydney Sling and Watermelon Paloma are two of the best.
Have the Climb of Your Life
After your morning coffee — and there are plenty of options in this coffee-loving town — head to the Sydney Harbor Bridge, nicknamed “the coathanger”, where visitors can walk or cycle over this feat of engineering. Or better yet, book one of the many Bridgeclimb expeditions which will take you high into the structure for unreal panoramic views of the city — exceptional climbing skills not required.
Hop in the car and head north on the Pacific Highway to discover the Hunter Valley wine country, about a two hour drive from Sydney. There are at least 150 vineyards here with something for everyone.
A a few cool places to sip: the Audrey Wilkinson Winery set in scenic hillsides and groves, Bimbadgen Winery with live music in its open-air amphitheater, or for something more “off-the-beaten-path”, literally, travel to Tallavera Grove, with quite possibly the most eye-popping route to any winery.
Find Your Inner Beach Bum
Once you’ve sipped your way through Australian wine country (and slept it off), head back to the Pacific Coast Highway and drive north. Here you’ll pass many coastal towns and unspoiled beaches, just a short hop off the highway, including Seal Rocks where you can fish or scuba dive, Elizabeth Beach, which is family-friendly and perfect for swimming, or Diamond Beach, a little farther north, and an excellent spot for watching the dolphins frolic in the crystal clear water.
Head through the bustling riverfront town of Ballina where you can snap your picture with one of Australia’s many big things (they have a fondness for all things big), the “Big Prawn“. Standing at 27 feet high, this giant crustacean got a whopping $400,000 makeover in 2013.
Finish your day in the hippy beachside town of Byron Bay and wake up early for coffee and breakfast at Top Shop, a local favorite serving homemade goodies in a laid-back atmosphere. Park yourself outside on the grass for a picnic or walk up to the lighthouse for a more picturesque view with your chocolate croissant.
If you’re there between May and November, watch out for the humpback whales making their annual migration. Grab some snorkeling gear and swim with sea turtles and dolphins or try kite surfing or hang gliding at one of several beach rental spots. When you’ve had your fill of chilling with the locals and swimming in the sea, get back in the car for yet another gorgeous drive, this time to the Gold Coast for more white-water adventures.
With sky-high buildings set among sparkling beaches, the Gold Coast is a can’t-miss stop for high-energy fun. Hit the shops, cafes and restaurants lining Cavill Avenue or spend the day soaking up rays on the golden sand of world-renowned Surfers Paradise. The Gold Coast is also home to the Cooly Classic Ocean Swim, an annual event that pits some of the world’s best swimmers in a marathon-style race.
Go Big in Brisbane, then Go Home
The last leg of your epic Australian road trip takes you to Brisbane, a vibrant city full of friendly folks who love their town and want to show you around. Go for a bike ride through the Botanic Gardens and then climb Brisbane’s Story Bridge for breathtaking views. You can even take a 30-meter abseil plunge back down — if you dare.
Spend your last night at the Brisbane Powerhouse, a former power station turned performance venue, for a comedy show or a live band. Next, go for drinks in Fortitude Valley (“The Valley” as it’s called). Brisbane’s entertainment hub manages to be chic and offbeat at the same time. To end your night of revelry, do what the locals do: grab a late-night kebab from a street vendor, and toast an amazing trip Down Under.