There’s no shortage of great road trips out of Brisbane. Many will make a beeline to the Sunshine Coast or head into the Glass House Mountains, each of which is an excellent choice.
But for this trip we’re heading south across the border into NSW to explore some of the best hinterland in Australia.
There’s no shortage of tourist hotspots, from Coolangatta to Byron Bay, but for this adventure we’re also going to explore a bit further inland. It reinforces the diversity on offer from an area that at times feels so far away from the city bustle but also offers plenty of panache and style for a day trip or getaway of any budget.
There are many options out of Brisbane, the most obvious of which follows the Pacific Highway. It’s a major thoroughfare that is the quickest way into NSW.
But there are more interesting routes for those who want to take the road less travelled.
After you’ve passed the major theme parks – Movie World and Wet ‘n’ Wild – head towards the Hinze Dam. The road that follows its western edge has some excellent corners and there are great views of the dam. You’ll then follow the Nerang River across the border and eventually arrive in Murwillumbah.
Or from Brisbane you can head west to Beaudesert and head over the twists and turns of Mount Lindesay before cutting back east towards Uki on the Tweed River.
Many of the roads around here are narrow and craggy, so be alert and drive accordingly.
If you’re into bushwalks there’s all manner of reserves and parks or you can meander along many of the rivers that give this part of the country its name – the Northern Rivers.
SOMEWHERE TO EAT
Much of the glory for gastronomic glory in this region centres on the tourist towns such as Byron Bay - and there are certainly some excellent options.
Halcyon House at Cabarita has the excellent Paper Daisy restaurant and doubles as boutique accommodation or there’s fantastic seafood at Fins in Kingscliff. La Casita in Brunswick Heads serves up fresh and innovative Mexican with a cocktail list to match. Harvest Newrybar showcases local ingredients impeccably.
And if you haven’t been to Raes on Wategos Beach then pop it on the list. The whole experience more than lives up to the outlook – and you can even stay the night if it’s a really long lunch.
No shortage of terrific brekky options either, so you can make it an all-day dining experience.
If you’re after some of the best sushi in the country then head to the Japanese-influenced Doma in Federal. There’s not much in the town, but the diversion is worth it.
And Woods in Bangalow has a well-earned reputation for great food from early morning.
Want something more relaxed? There’s plenty of that, too, including the Tumbulgum Tavern that overlooks the river or the Empire Café at Mullumbimby.
THINGS TO DO
A day on the coast can start with star spotting if you one for some famous faces. The swanky border regions attract some decent names these days. If you’re lucky you might see a Hemsworth or some well-heeled exec settling in for a break from the boardroom.
But there are also many more rewarding options, starting with a morning dip in the Pacific Ocean. Great waves make it perfect for surfers but the clear water is great for any activities. While you’re near the water check out the Cape Byron Lighthouse or check out the local shops in Kingscliff or Bangalow.
Stocking up on produce is a great option in this area too, whether it’s at Bangalow or one of the many markets held in the region, including the weekly Mullum Farmers Market at Mullumbimby. There’s no shortage of great food that you can put to great use later on for a home-grown feast.
Nimbin is worth a walk down the main street even if just to see what was once known as the “weed capital of Australia”. There’s still no shortage of hemp and colourful people!
The Ninbella gallery in Bangalow has a broad selection of indigenous art while the Crystal Castle and Shambhala Gardens is a chance to slow the pace and soak up the tranquility.
And Uki is worth a visit for its quaint country character that has so far avoided the tourist influx that has infiltrated so much of the region.
If you’re still going at night then there’s no shortage of places for a drink. The Beach Hotel at Byron is a popular choice with good reason or you could settle in for a show at the Brunswick Picture House.
WAIT, THERE’S MORE…
There’s a broad selection of accommodation options in the north of NSW. From swanky and grand – such as Crystalbrook Byron, Elements of Byron and Peppers Salt Resort at Kingscliff – to intimate and fashionable, such as Raes or Halcyon House. There’s also classic old pubs and more affordable motels, all of which adds to the tapestry of options.
And don’t feel as though you need to stick to the coast. There are some excellent inland options that get away from the crowds and give you a taste of the region that has changed enormously in recent years.
There’s also no shortage of walking trails throughout the area, some of which may lead you to a secluded beach or stunning view.
Want something easier? Head to Casino on the Richmond River at the Platypus Pools, where the native creatures can be seen in the morning or evening. There’s also some Aboriginal rock art that cements it as a worthwhile diversion.
The Ballina Historic Waterfront Trail is also an easy one that gives some insight into the history of the town.
Wherever you head, don’t be afraid to drive down some of the many windy roads that make up a stunning part of Australia.