Settle the debate about whether Noosa or Byron Bay is the more impressive destination by checking out both – and everywhere in between – on one of the more short but sweet road trips in Australia. Along the way, you’ll discover all the reasons this part of the coastline is so loved: epic beaches for swimming and surfing; beautiful national parks where you’ll explore waterfalls and walking trails; and restaurants, bars, shopping, and attractions serving up fashion, food, and fun.
If you jumped in your rental car in Noosa and drove straight to Byron Bay, you’d cover the roughly 310km of highway in about three and a half hours. But take your time and some interesting turn-offs to uncover cool coastal towns, villages with mountain views and the bright lights of Brisbane and the Gold Coast. You might even consider staying overnight in a couple of places and stretching this road trip out to four or five days. Here, our road trip planner offers up some of the best things to do and see when you’re driving from the Sunshine Coast to northern NSW.
Noosa is a bite-sized sample of all that is perfect about the best holiday destinations. Start the day with a walk along the coastal trail to the headland, part of Noosa National Park. There are koalas in the trees and vantage points where you can stare down to the ocean and spot turtles and dolphins cruising by. Browse Hastings Street at any time of day and you’ll find upmarket boutiques, surf stores, green juice-squeezing cafes and al fresco restaurants.
When you need a break, head across the road for a swim at Main Beach. It’s sheltered by headlands, so the water is generally calm – in fact, if you’ve ever wanted to try stand-up paddle boarding, this is a great place to give it a go. Surfers and sun worshippers head south to Sunshine Beach, a 15km stretch of coastline.
Many people don’t know about the Noosa Everglades (one of only two such systems in the world), about 40 minutes drive away. It’s a 60km stretch of waterways, where birdwatchers can twitch to their hearts’ content, photographers will want to spend the day snapping away, and the rest of us will simply be in awe of the pristine setting. Rent a kayak and choose your own paddling path or join a guided tour.
There is a string of stunning beaches south of Noosa but get another view of this part of the world by turning your rental car towards the Sunshine Coast hinterland. Villages like Montville, Palmwoods and Maleny are home to independent boutiques and cosy cafes, as well as artists and their studios and galleries. These hamlets are surrounded by national parks, rainforests, dairy farms and groves of avocadoes and tropical fruits. You’ll still need your swimsuit though, because the swimming hole at the top of Kondalilla Falls is like something from a postcard.
Queensland’s sunny capital Brisbane is equal parts laidback charmer and cosmopolitan hub. Soak up the culture near South Bank, home to Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art and Queensland Museum. Join the brunch crowd in the restaurants and retailers of the James Street precinct. Immerse yourself in the eclectic, alternative vibe of West End. There’s so much to enjoy about the city, and we’ve got plenty of wallet-friendly suggestions in our budget guide to Brisbane.
A good run in the rental car will get you from Brisbane to Surfers Paradise in just over an hour. Before you arrive by the beach, you’ll pass the fun-filled trinity of Dreamworld, Warner Bros Movie World and Wet ’n’ Wild. If you’ve got a few hours before you can check in to your hotel, any one of these theme parks will help time fly by. Otherwise, go to the quaint town of Mount Tamborine and reach new heights at Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk.
The Gold Coast is much bigger than most people realise. It stretches about 60km from Paradise Point to Coolangatta, with resort-style suburbs and their beaches right along the coast. Surfers Paradise is all about glitz and glamour, but there are more relaxed spots to take a break, either for a swim or sleepover. A favourite is Burleigh Heads. Surfers love its point break, the Oceanview walk to the headland offers spectacular views and whale spotting during winter, and it’s home to some of the GC’s best restaurants and bars. Closer to the Queensland–NSW border, beaches like Kirra and Greenmount have a more lowkey vibe and are popular with local surfers. The most spectacular place for lunch is the Currumbin Beach Vikings Surf Life Saving Club. It’s set right on the water, and serves up affordable, pub-style meals like fish and chips, steaks, and burgers.
Almost as soon as you leave Queensland and enter the Tweed, you’ll notice there’s less development. Towns like Kingscliff and Pottsville have beautiful beaches and attract a more family-focused crowd. That doesn’t detract from their natural beauty, so take the slow road hugging the coast, and stop for dips in the ocean or to stroll along the Norries Headland boardwalk near Cabarita Beach.
In the past couple of decades, Bryon Bay has transformed from sleepy, spiritual haven into a sea-change hotspot for celebs, influencers and just about everyone else. To get the most from a visit here, avoid peak summer season when the town, not built to cope with crowds, is overrun by holidaymakers. Still, plan a visit at any other time and you’ll be blessed with perfect Byron Bay weather and blessed beach days.
Byron has every experience you can imagine, but there are some definite favourites: coffee on the lawn outside Top Shop; a walk to the Cape Byron Lighthouse as the sun comes up; an afternoon session at the Rails Hotel, complete with live blues (it’s on the edge of town, so leave your rental car at your