Independent travelers will love this 10-day family road trip across Australia's spectacular east coast. Traverse the stunning Gold Coast hinterland as you wind through charming towns, rainforest detours, and sweeping bays before experiencing the iconic sights of Sydney. You and the family will get to cuddle koalas, surf 100-foot dunes, and marvel at the majestic humpbacks during a whale watching cruise.


  • Immerse yourselves in an evening of First Nations song and dance
  • Make friends with the lorikeets at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Explore Byron Bay and the majestic east coast beaches 
  • Go behind the scenes at the famous Sydney Opera House

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Brisbane Brisbane
Day 2 Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Spirits of the Spirit of the Red Sands Brisbane
Day 3 Drive from Brisbane to the Gold Coast Gold Coast
Day 4 Drive from the Gold Coast to Byron Bay Byron Bay
Day 5 Drive from Byron Bay to Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour
Day 6 Drive from Coffs Harbour to Port Stephens, Explore Nelson Bay Port Stephens
Day 7 Drive from Port Stephens to Newcastle, Whale Cruise & Sandboarding Newcastle
Day 8 Drive from Newcastle to Sydney, Harbour Sunset Dinner Cruise Sydney
Day 9 Sydney Sights, Opera House & Bondi Beach Tour, Taronga Zoo Sydney
Day 10 Depart Australia  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Brisbane

Streets Beach Brisbane
Family-friendly Streets Beach in Brisbane

Welcome to Australia! Upon arrival at Brisbane airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive to your hotel. Located 48 miles (77 km) north of the stunning Gold Coast in the northeastern state of Queensland, Brisbane has around 300 days of sunshine per year and is known for its friendly and laid-back atmosphere. 

 After settling in, head to the South Bank and discover the rainforest walk, enormous playgrounds, and Streets Beach (Australia's only inner-city manufactured beach) that make this area so family-friendly. Don't forget to take a ride on the 196-foot tall (60 m) Wheel of Brisbane before heading back to your hotel in preparation for tomorrow.

Day 2: Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Spirits of the Red Sand Dinner

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary
Cuddle up to a koala at the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

Enjoy a leisurely morning exploring Brisbane with your family. Either head to the sparkling blue lagoon and white sands of Streets Beach or visit the Brisbane Botanic Gardens. Here kids of all ages can have fun discovering the nature trails, secret spots, and stepping stones in the 138-acre (56 ha) sub-tropical haven. After an alfresco lunch at nearby Picnic Island Green, head to the lookout at Mount Coot-tha, the highest point in the city with panoramic views of Brisbane and Moreton Bay.

In the afternoon, leave the city behind as you set sail for a relaxing cruise to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. With over 44 acres (18 ha) to explore, this world-class facility has a large "Koala Forest" where over 130 of these animals roam freely. Take plenty of photos with the adorable marsupials before heading to the 5-acre (2 ha) Kangaroo Reserve, where you can feed and pet Australia's most iconic animal. 

Once the sun goes down, you'll enjoy Spirits of the Red Sand, an interactive dinner theater experience celebrating Australia's First Nations history. Sit down with the kids and be transported to a 19th-century Australian village. Watch as the country's leading First Nations theater troupe tells the story of over 60,000 years of proud history through song and dance. The event includes a three-course traditional Australian meal and a meet and greet with the cast. 

Day 3: Drive from Brisbane to the Gold Coast

Meet rainbow lorikeets at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

Today marks the first leg of your family road trip! It's a 47-mile drive (77 km) south to Queensland's stunning Gold Coast—famed for its long sandy beaches and surfing spots, it also has plenty to offer inland, with hiking trails that criss-cross Lamington National Park's mountain ridges, rainforests, and valleys.

Arrive at your accommodations, where you have several options for the rest of the day. Check out the watersports and nearby beaches, or walk to Burleigh Heads and watch locals ride the waves. Sophisticated teens and animal-obsessed little ones will adore the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary—a haven for native and endangered creatures, like the lorikeet parrot.

Plan your trip to Australia
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
If energy levels remain high, drive to the famous Burleigh Heads National Park Headlands and hike from the rocky shore into the rainforest. Children will love the Tumgun Lookout, where ancient volcanic columns meet the sea. Keep an eye out for humpback whales during winter and see who can be the first to spot a sea eagle flying overhead.

Day 4: Drive from the Gold Coast to Byron Bay

Byron Bay
Explore the rainforest hinterland of the Gold Coast

Continue your family adventure and drive 60 miles (100 km) south toward New South Wales and Byron Bay—today's destination. It's worth taking a 40-mile (64 km) one-hour detour inland to wind your way through the beautiful Gold Coast hinterland until you reach the famous Natural Bridge—a stunning waterfall by day and a glow-worm cave at night. Walk the short child-friendly circuit around this amazing rock formation, where water tumbles through the open roof of a basalt cave formed over millions of years.  

Jump back in the car and cross the border from Queensland to New South Wales. From here, you'll journey out of the rainforest, through farmland and cane fields, to the country town of Murwillumbah before the last leg of today's road trip.

With its spectacular coastal trails, gorgeous beaches, and hinterland rainforest, Byron Bay is one of the world's most famous seaside towns. Relax after your drive and watch the surfers at Wategos Beach, browse the local boutiques, or take a short 20-minute drive to Crystal Castle, a magical sanctuary the children will adore. Stand between two of the tallest crystals on earth or wander through the tranquil Shambhala Gardens. In the afternoon, make your way to the Cape Byron Lighthouse to enjoy the sunset.

Day 5: Drive from Byron Bay to Coffs Harbour

Clarence River Mouth in Yamba
Make time to stop in Yamba at the mouth of the Clarence River 

Your road trip continues today with a 148-mile (239 km) drive to Coffs Harbour. It's roughly three hours of driving time with plenty of opportunities to break your journey along this breathtaking stretch. Head south along the legendary Pacific Coast Drive and stop at Ballina—a popular holiday destination and town along the Richmond River. Walk along the historic riverfront trail and grab a coffee at one of the many cafés.

Afterward, continue along the Pacific Highway toward South Grafton and make time to stop in Yamba at the mouth of the Clarence River. A vibrant mix of award-winning restaurants, funky cafés, and boutique shopping makes this lovely little fishing town a hit with holidaymakers. Stop for a bite to eat and stretch your legs along one of the heritage walks to 19th-century Yamba Lighthouse

Rejoin the Pacific Highway and head 82 miles (132 km) south until you reach Coffs Harbour. The whole family will want to be the first to spot the town's unmissable, kitsch yellow beacon, the Big Banana. Check in at your accommodations and head to the family-friendly Dolphin Marine Conservation Park or Woolgoolga Lake, an excellent kayaking, swimming, and bird-watching spot. Alternatively, take the kids to the Big Banana Fun Park or meander along the harbor before dining at one of the waterfront restaurants.

Day 6: Drive from Coffs Harbour to Port Stephens, Explore Nelson Bay

Mt Tomaree and Port Stephens
Mt Tomaree and Port Stephens

Today's destination is Port Stephens, 280 miles (450 km) away—a gorgeous seaside getaway surrounded by 26 stunning beaches and a majestic bay. With several lovely stops along the way and a drive time of 5.5 hours, head off early to make the most of this beautiful stretch of coastland. The charming coastal town of Port Macquarie is an ideal halfway stopping point to take a break and spend a few hours exploring the parks, gardens, and trails.

Leave Port Macquarie along Ocean Drive via Laurieton—it's a pretty route and not much of a detour. Continue south and if the family is clamoring for another break, stop off at Forster-Tuncurry, where the kids can cool off at Blueys Beach. Rejoin the Pacific Highway, and you're almost at your destination. With its thriving marina, Nelson Bay is the heart of Port Stephens. Relax after your journey at one of the beachside restaurants and dine on freshly caught seafood.

Day 7: Drive from Port Stephens to Newcastle, Whale Cruise & Sandboarding

Discover Stockton Beach Sand Dunes

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast before heading out for today's excursion. Drive to the d'Albora Marina, where you'll board the Hinchinbrook Explorer, the largest vessel in the bay, for an exhilarating 2.5-hour whale watching cruise. Savor the unforgettable sight of spotting your first 40-ton humpback whale, and watch your child's astonishment as these extraordinary mammals awaken curious little minds to life underwater. Return to the marina for a relaxed lunch before this afternoon's activity.

Stockton Beach Sand Dunes, the largest moving coastal sand mass in the southern hemisphere, have a world-famous sandboarding reputation. Reaching heights of over 100 feet (30 m) and covering 20 miles (32 km), the dunes create a majestic otherworldly moonscape. From the marina, your guide will drive to Birubu Point, the starting point for your family adventure. Explore Birubi Beach with a guided tour before your 4WD journey to the giant "sand bowl." Enjoy the thrill of sliding down the slopes and immersing yourselves in the sea of sand.

It's a simple 35-mile (56 km) drive this afternoon along the coast to the port city of Newcastle. Lying 100 miles (160 km) north of Sydney and known as the beating heart of the Hunter Valley, Newcastle blends coastal life with an artistic city bustling with restaurants and events. Don't miss Fort Scratchly, once a historic fortification built by the British in the 19th century and now a fascinating museum in a stunning spot—its location offers a peerless vantage point over the ocean.

Day 8: Drive from Newcastle to Sydney, Harbour Sunset Dinner Cruise

Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge at night
Enjoy a sunset cruise across Sydney Harbour

This morning marks your last stint in the car. Continue the two-hour drive along the coastal road to Sydney, and drop off your vehicle keys at the rental company. Make your way to your hotel and spend the rest of the day exploring at your leisure. With its dizzying array of beaches, famous harbor, zoo, and watersports, there are numerous fun-filled activities for all ages—adults included! Stroll the cobblestone laneways of The Rocks before trying out the cafés and pubs of upscale Paddington.

After a refresh at your hotel, enjoy an evening of laid-back luxury with a cruise around the harbor. Make your way to your window seat, and gaze at the spectacular views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge as the sun sets. Over the next two hours, you'll enjoy a delicious three-course dinner with music while you kick back and relax with your family. Return to the harbor and meander to your hotel in anticipation of a fun-filled day out tomorrow. 

Day 9: Sydney Sights, Opera House & Bondi Beach Tour, Taronga Zoo

Learn to surf on Bondi Beach
Take a family surf lesson at Bondi Beach

It's your final day in Sydney, and during this morning's tour, you'll discover the city's highlights. Experience historical landmarks such as Hyde Park, St Mary's Cathedral, and Parliament House. Enjoy magnificent views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, then continue past King's Cross and Paddington before heading to world-famous Bondi Beach. Finally, go behind the scenes and discover the inner workings of the Sydney Opera House as you learn about the rich history of this masterpiece of 20th-century architecture.

After lunch, head to Taronga Zoo. A quick ferry ride from the harbor, the zoo cares for over 5,000 animals from more than 350 species. During your guided tour, encounter some of the country's most recognizable marsupials alongside African lion cubs, Sumatran tigers, and Asian elephants. Your visit concludes with a ride on the zoo's Sky Safari—Sydney's only cable car experience. Soak up the breathtaking views while the kids try to spot the squirrel monkeys below.

It's been a busy day of sightseeing, so either relax and simply soak up Sydney or, if energy levels allow, head back to Bondi Beach for a family surf lesson. Learn the basics from warm-up to paddling, catching waves, and standing—you'll be safely up onto your first wave before you've had time to worry about falling off! Spend the evening at one of the many fantastic eateries, and recount your favorite family moments of the trip.

Day 10: Depart Australia

Sunrise over Sydney

It's time to say goodbye as your memorable holiday in Australia concludes today. You'll transfer to the airport, ready to board your flight home. Safe travels!

More Great Australia Itineraries

Looking for more inspiration for your trip to Australia? Check out these other Australia itineraries, explore different ways to spend 10 days in Australia, or learn about the best time to visit Australia.


Map of Australia East Coast Family Road Trip: Brisbane to Sydney - 10 Days
Map of Australia East Coast Family Road Trip: Brisbane to Sydney - 10 Days