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Home Road Trip Road trip! Pacific Highway pit stops that transform the Sydney-to-Brisbane drive from dull to delicious

Road trip! Pacific Highway pit stops that transform the Sydney-to-Brisbane drive from dull to delicious

by Staff

Bianca Hrovat takes to the road and shares the need-to-know stops and diversions that turn a mind-numbing 10-hour drive into a delish holiday adventure.

The drive from Sydney to Brisbane could mean 10 long hours of mind-melting monotony, as the Pacific Highway winds its way through endless acres of state forest with spotty reception.

Or, it could be the highlight of your summer break, stopping at an oceanside diner for vanilla soft-serve; at a food truck for the best fried chicken burger you’ve ever had; and at a stunning macadamia plantation for a cheeky you’re-almost-there paloma (P-platers, this is not for you).

I’ve tried both options, and while I love a roadside meat pie, once you allow yourself a little extra time to enjoy everything regional NSW has to offer, there really is no going back.

Let this two-day road trip guide you on your journey to sunny Queensland. There are stops for brekkie, lunch, and dinner each day, plus coffee and snack breaks to keep you going. Every venue is dog-friendly, and I’ve included a Plan B for working around the limited opening hours of some regional venues.

Tips for a smooth drive

  • Pre-download any audiobooks or playlists you intend to listen to, as well as the GPS route you’re taking (I’m not kidding about the bad reception)
  • Check the opening hours of the venues you plan to visit on social media first as they’re often more accurate than Google listings (a fact I found out the hard way)
  • Pack your swimmers! There are so many beautiful spots to cool down on the way.

DAY 1: Sydney to the Mid North Coast

Cherry chocolate cinnamon buns at Burnt Honey Bakers Pantry at Long Jetty.
Cherry chocolate cinnamon buns at Burnt Honey Bakers Pantry at Long Jetty.Supplied

STOCK UP ON SNACKS
Burnt Honey Bakers Pantry, Long Jetty
298 The Entrance Road, Long Jetty, burnthoneybakery.com.au

You’ll pass through Long Jetty by taking the scenic route north, turning off onto the Central Coast Highway at Somersby. Just an hour-and-a-half from the Sydney CBD, Burnt Honey is a dreamy, pastel-coloured bakery from hospitality veterans Hayley Thorncraft and Jo Fairall. It’s hard to choose from the pastry cabinet, which features soft saffron and cardamom almond buns (my pick), muhamarra feta scrolls and cheddar caramelised onion bear claws.

Afterward, wander down the main street to Mr Sha Sha’s for a takeaway coffee, Sorry Grandma for vintage goodies, and Upstairs Wines for bougie car snacks (and maybe a beautiful bottle of wine to try later).

PLAN B: If you’ve hit the road mid-morning, swing past Soph’s Dumplings in Erina (open from 11.30am). Or, if it’s a Sunday, check out The Savoy in Long Jetty for lunch.

Stop at Larrie’s in Merewether for lunch.
Stop at Larrie’s in Merewether for lunch.Supplied

SURFSIDE SOFT-SERVES AND SEAFOOD
Larrie’s, Merewether

99 Frederick Street, Merewether, larries.com.au

The team behind Harbord Hotel in Freshwater have created a 16-seat beachside diner inspired by the suburban milk bars of yore. Head chef Adam Rust is serving up an extensive, seafood-driven menu with everything from cinnamon-dusted pineapple fritters to their best-selling fish burger with slaw, pickles, red onion and burger sauce.

The crispy fish tacos and the prawn sanga hit the spot, packed full of punchy flavours, and the vanilla soft-serve was practically a necessity on a 30-degree day. But it’s the fries you must try: the house-made chicken salt seasoning has become so popular it’s now available to purchase retail.

Borrow a picnic blanket at Larrie’s, Merewether.
Borrow a picnic blanket at Larrie’s, Merewether.Supplied

For those with dogs, picnic rugs and fold-out chairs are available. Take them to the grassy knoll across the road, with patches of bright purple flowers and expansive views across Merewether beach.

PLAN B: Sunnyboy Kiosk is a three-minute drive up the hill, serving fish and chips, brekkie burgers and freshly made juices on picnic tables overlooking the beach. There’s a cooling ocean breeze and a playground for the kids to burn off energy.

Mark the end of the first day with a knock-off drink at Little Shack in Port Macquarie.
Mark the end of the first day with a knock-off drink at Little Shack in Port Macquarie.Supplied

KNOCK-OFF IN PORT MACQUARIE
Little Shack and HomeSlice Pizza Bar, Port Macquarie
1a Munster Street, Port Macquarie, littleshack.com.au
3/14 Clarence Street, Port Macquarie, homeslice-pizza-bar.square.site

It’s the mid-way point, which means knock-off time. My advice? Find accommodation somewhere in Bellingen, Sawtell or Port Macquarie. At the latter, stroll through the Town Green to Little Shack, a Mexican-inspired bar and restaurant where locals gather to watch the sunset over Hastings River, frozen coconut marg’ in hand.

You could easily settle in for dinner, nabbing a picnic table beneath a kitschy raffia umbrella to order ceviche tostadas, or salt and vinegar potato scallops.

HomeSlice Pizza Bar, Port Macquarie.
HomeSlice Pizza Bar, Port Macquarie.Supplied

Or walk a block into town to try HomeSlice Pizza Bar, the new venture from husband-and-wife team Brendon O’Hare and Maddison Hirtes.

Homeslice is an open-air restaurant with a sun bleached, coastal vibe; fast, refreshingly frank service; and great pizzas (the light, crispy dough takes three days to make, and the tomato base is made from locally grown produce).

PLAN B: If driving between Thursday and Saturday try Matilda’s, Nambucca Heads. Former Sydneysiders Jane Smith and Kristy Bland transformed a ’70s beach shack into a pretty-in-pink restaurant serving Nambucca River oysters and fancy pizza.

Day Two: Mid North Coast to Brisbane

The ‘hot honey chook’ at Eddie’s in Urunga.
The ‘hot honey chook’ at Eddie’s in Urunga.Supplied

BEACHSIDE BREKKIE SANGAS
Eddie’s Sandwich Truck, Urunga
Check Instagram stories for location, instagram.com/eddies_deli

Courtney Edwards, the one-woman-show behind Eddie’s Sandwich Truck, makes the best (and largest) chicken burger I’ve ever eaten. She brines the chicken in buttermilk, fries it until golden (crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside), then smothers it in hot honey sauce. Load up on napkins – it’s messy.

When Eddie’s is in Urunga, take time to explore the long boardwalk over the crystal clear water inlet, past the salt marshes and onto the dog beach.

For coffee, head to nearby cafe Liberty Providores, where you’ll find leafy outdoor seating, locally made crafts and Red Dog, the canine welcoming committee.

PLAN B: Nearby Bellingen boasts a number of great brekkie options. Sink into a vintage velvet couch with a plant-based snack and a cup of coffee at Habitat Coffee House, a cafe in a nursery, in a former service station. Or Black Bear for homemade hash browns and a big cup of chai tea.

Have a coffee stop at The Lazy Daisy, a cafe within Bonville Nursery.
Have a coffee stop at The Lazy Daisy, a cafe within Bonville Nursery.Supplied

LAZY DAISY PICK-ME-UPS

The Lazy Daisy at Bonville Nursery, Bonville
325 Pine Creek Way, Bonville; bonvillenursery.com

Bonville Nursery is a short, leafy detour from the Pacific Highway (and conveniently close to a petrol station). Owners and horticulturists Chloe Brant and Zach Gadd have set up a fairy-lit shed nestled within nursery grounds, with a coffee machine and pastries from Coffs Harbour bakery Peach and Wolf. Grab snacks to go, or find a shady seat among the selection of climate-hardy natives. Resident dog Cherry may join you.

A Med-inspired spread at Rattle in Emerald Beach.
A Med-inspired spread at Rattle in Emerald Beach.Supplied

SLOW IT DOWN FOR A SEAFOOD LUNCH

Rattle, Emerald Beach
104 Fiddaman Road, Emerald Beach, rattle-restaurant.com

This stylish Emerald Beach newcomer has a shaded outdoor terrace overlooking the ocean. Take a moment to enjoy the gentle breeze over a selection of Mediterranean share plates (think white anchovies in herby lemon oil, grilled garlic and lime Balmain bugs, and patatas bravas). For passengers, there’s a selection of natural-leaning Australian wines by the glass. For drivers, artisan sodas, coffee and tea.

PLAN B: Emerald Beach General Store (just up the road) is the casual cousin of Rattle, with an extensive selection of boutique non-alcoholic beverages, Mexican-inspired cafe fare and a small garden with games for the children. Plus, road trip essentials like sunscreen, water bottles and icy poles are for sale.

Order a tasting flight, or a single cocktail, to enjoy the leafy verandah at Cape Byron Distillery.
Order a tasting flight, or a single cocktail, to enjoy the leafy verandah at Cape Byron Distillery. Supplied

NEARLY THERE
Cape Byron Distillery, McLeods Shoot
80 St Helena Road, McLeods Shoot; capebyrondistillery.com

Thirty years ago, Pam and Martin Brook began the process of transforming a 96-acre, run-down dairy farm into a thriving subtropical rainforest and macadamia orchard. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bar with a better view, mere minutes from the highway. The lush, family-owned farm is home to Cape Byron Distillery, best known for Brookie’s Gin and Mac (a delicious macadamia liqueur). Tastings and distillery tours are available, but you’re also welcome to enjoy a cocktail with some locally made cheese and crackers on the outdoor patio.

PLAN B: It’s happy hour from 3-5pm at Saint Maries in Brunswick Heads, where you can cool down with $7 basics and $14 margs and Negronis. If you get there early you may be able to score a bench seat overlooking the street for prime people watching.

You Beauty in Bangalow.
You Beauty in Bangalow.Kenny Smith

ONE LAST ADVENTURE
You Beauty, Bangalow

37 Byron Street, Bangalow, youbeauty2479.com

A chicken pack from Birds of Paradise in Brunswick Heads.
A chicken pack from Birds of Paradise in Brunswick Heads.Supplied

It’s dinner time, and this Aussie-inspired eatery from chef Matt Stone (ex-Star Anise in Perth and Oakridge Estate in the Yarra Valley) is a short eight-minute drive from the distillery. It may be the only place in Australia where minced crocodile meat has replaced the prawns in prawn toast, joining a menu of innovative share plates such as salted snapper with fried potato, kangaroo skewers with Aussie satay sauce, and fresh Jersey curd risotto. Walk-ins are welcome, but you’d best book ahead if going on Thursday night when live jazz kicks off.

PLAN B: Opted for Brunswick Heads over Bangalow? You’ve got a few options for dinner, including hot chook shop Birds of Paradise and vibey Mexican restaurant La Casita (both from the team behind now-closed hatted restaurant, Fleet).

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