Northern New South Wales - Driving North from Sydney

Considering the location of Sydney, the capital of the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), the state may be divided into northern, southern and western regions, particularly for purposes of travel.

In area, NSW is twice as large as the American state of California with which it shares a common ocean, the Pacific, so there's always the question of where to go facing travelers wishing to venture into the countryside.

Here's a guide to northern NSW cities and towns, mostly along the Pacific coast, which are destinations in themselves or convenient stopover locations on longer road trips.

01 of 07

Daytrips North

Aerial view of bridge by the sea in northern New South Wales

 Benjamin Lee / EyeEm

For the visitor who has limited time to explore areas outside of Sydney, three general day trip destinations north of Sydney are the Central Coast, Port Stephens, and the Hunter Valley, with the Central Coast the closest of the three. The road to take is the Newcastle Expressway. Follow the signs and take the corresponding exit for the destination of your choice. If you prefer to pass through towns along the route, instead of whizzing through the expressway, take the Pacific Highway instead.

02 of 07

The Entrance

View of the sea at The Entrance

Erick Opena (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) / Flickr 

The Entrance, located northeast of the city of Gosford on the NSW Central Coast, is one of the seaside destinations in the region which includes a number of beachside communities offering the visitor a range of water activities. The Entrance is so named because it does provide a passage into Tuggerah Lake, a favorite fishing area for visiting anglers. The Entrance calls itself the Pelican Capital of Australia because of ​a large number of pelicans in the area.

03 of 07


Anzac memorial walk newcastle

 Kathryn Diehm

Just about two hours away from the northern outskirts of Sydney, the city of Newcastle was named by guidebook publishers Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit in 2011 due to its "surf beaches, a sun-drenched subtropical climate, and diverse dining, nightlife and arts." As well, Newcastle is a convenient gateway to the wineries of the Hunter Valley to its west and the water activities of Port Stephens to its northeast. Newcastle in Australia is named after Newcastle in England.

04 of 07

Port Stephens

Aerial view of Port Stephens

 William Winkyi

The principal town in Port Stephens is Nelson Bay, and these two names are often used interchangeably when speaking of this coastal destination. Port, a natural harbor larger than Sydney Harbour, was named in May 1770 by Captain James Cook to honor Sir Philip Stephens, then Secretary to the Admiralty and a personal friend. Port Stephens cruises include those on the watch for whales and dolphins.

Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07

Hunter Valley

Aerial view of Hunter Valley vineyards

 Stephen Bak

The Hunter Valley west of Newcastle is a premier Australian wine region featuring vast vineyards and numerous wineries spread around the towns of Cessnock and Pokolbin south of the city of Singleton. Armed with a map from the visitor center, you can drive around to the various wineries for a day of wine tasting. Or, better still, leave the driving to someone else by joining a Hunter Valley wine tour. From Newcastle, head west to the Hunter Valley. From Sydney, you may wish to take an earlier exit to the Hunter Valley before reaching Newcastle.

06 of 07

Port Macquarie

 Rayden Doyle / EyeEm

Some four and a half hours from Sydney by road, the city of Port Macquarie is both a popular holiday destination between Sydney and Brisbane and a stopover town for those traveling north to Queensland. Located at the mouth of the Hastings River with the Pacific to its east, Port Macquarie is well known for its extensive beaches and waterways. The city is named after Lachlan Macquarie, Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821, who took over from William Bligh, probably better known for having been captain of the mutiny-stricken Bounty.

07 of 07

Byron Bay

 Taylor McIntyre / TripSavvy

Eight hundred kilometers from Sydney and 100 from the Queensland border, Byron Bay shares many features of its northern neighbors, particularly beaches and a more tropical climate. It also has communities living an alternative lifestyle. Cape Byron, east of town, is Australia's easternmost point where day first breaks in Australia. If you're driving to Byron Bay, it's a short distance from a turnoff on the Pacific Highway. As always, there are signs that point the way.

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