The Legendary Pacific Coast stretches from Sydney to Brisbane and covers some amazing coastal landmarks, chilled out surf towns, picturesque river-mouths and offers some seriously wild animal interactions. Leaving life on the Scenic Rim behind, we took a much-looked-forward-to holiday along the southern QLD/ northern NSW section of the Legendary Pacific Coast. We ping-ponged our way between the Gold Coast and The Great Lakes, hitting everything in between.
We spent the 5 weeks staying with family, camping in our little tent and even splashed out for a few nights of luxury when the storm of the decade blew in and we had to duck for cover. This was a real holiday for us. We did not stick to our usual budget travel rules too closely and splurged on many meals out, a bit of booze and luxury campsites, our hand was somewhat forced on the campsite spending though – more on this later.
Lets first focus on the sights and sounds of the Pacific Coast. Across the five weeks on the road we walked countless kilometers of pristine beaches, saw the biggest pods of dolphins imaginable, camped with kangaroos next to a historic jail, walked a 1000m long boardwalk to the ocean, explored waterfalls and Gondwana rainforests, watched surfers of all ages ride the waves of their lives and enjoyed the fine treats on offer at cafes and bakeries all up the coast.
The Legendary Pacific Coast really is a pick your own adventure type of tour, there is a little bit of something for everyone. So how did we explore it….? Simply click on the following regions to find out more!
The Gold Coast – Never-ending beaches full of beautiful people and bum-bag clad tourists. Somehow the GC is simultaneously tacky, fabulous and awe-inspiring.
The Tweed – Quiet local life from the NSW border down, highrise and hairspray from the QLD border north. Well worth visiting chilled out Cabarita Beach and Pottsville.
Byron & Brunswick Heads – hippies, surf and good times. Pick your pace: high energy and activity in Byron Bay, or so laid back it’s almost asleep Brunswick Heads.
Lismore & Nimbin – No doubt you have heard of Nimbin and we must say it is much nicer now than when we visited a few years ago, but be sure to check out the surrounding Nimbin Rocks and (unofficially lesbian-mecca) town of Lismore too.
Ballina Coast & Hinterland – Lennox Head. That’s all you need to know about this region. Go there. Love it. Struggle to leave. Vow to return.
Coffs Coast & Bellingen – Whilst Coffs Harbour itself is best left unexplored, the surrounding towns of Urunga and Bellingen are worth taking a couple of days to lurk around in. We like to think of Bellingen as the Northcote of New South Wales. Full of modern, young and enterprising hippies, Bellingen is where the coastal lifestyle meets the rainforest.
Macleay Valley Coast – The best campsite we have stayed at in NSW is here, in South West Rocks. You will wake up surrounded by kangaroos (or get woken up in the middle of the night by them), watch pods of dolphins dance by at sunset and have a great swimming beach at your doorstep. What more could you want?
Camden Haven – Great for checking out or an overnight stay. Unless you’re really into fishing or bushwalking, then this is your new fave holiday destination. Even for those in a hurry, there are a couple of magical lookouts that you can drive to that are well worth leaving the highway for.
The Great Lakes – An unexpected delight. The first time we visited The Great Lakes we pulled up in the dark, set up camp and woke to find we were on the edge of a beautiful lake and across the road from a National Park and the ocean. If you have access to a kayak or SUP, then this is where you want to be.
click here to See more photos from our Legendary pacific coast tour
A note on accommodation on the Legendary Pacific Coast
Our original plan was to camp in NSW national parks in order to both immerse ourselves in the region as well as keep the tour as cheap as possible. This plan quickly went out the window however when we discovered the price to access camping facilities in NSW national parks. Now.. we use the work ‘facilities’ very loosely here. It was quite a shock actually. After the wonderful experiences that we had camping in Queensland national parks (click here to see some of our favourites) NSW proved to be somewhat disappointing, for this section of the coast anyway – we can’t speak for the whole state just yet. A national park campsite in this region of NSW will set you back about $8.50 – $11.50 per person per night, plus an $8 national park access fee for most parks. For the two of us, that means paying $25 to $31 per night for a campsite with a drop-toilet and a BBQ that you might have to pay to use. If you’re lucky you might get to share a picnic table with all the other campers. On top of this, many of the national park campsites that we went to check out were all full of litter and looked like a ranger had not visited them for a while. It’s sad to say, but for the most part of this trip, we felt safer, happier and spent less money staying with a commercially operated holiday parks – which is not something that we generally enjoy doing.
All that said, we did enjoy the campsites we stayed at along the Legendary Pacific Coast. We were generally the only ones in tents in each camping ground, we were certainly the youngest in each camping ground and this meant that we had most of the facilities to ourselves. Being somewhat off-season (May-June) the camping grounds were not full and we had full run of the camp kitchens, games rooms and could choose our campsites from the empty unpowered section – far away from the carpark-resembling powered section that is the grey nomads are drawn to.
So how much did all this cost…?
The total tour from cost us $2,354 for two people, including all accommodation costs, food, drinks out, bottle of wine, fuel for the car and entertainment. That is an average of $34 per person per day. This is higher than what we normally spend, however this was a holiday for us – live big right!? Want to keep your costs down, totally understandable. As I said, we lived big on this trip and food accounted for 60% of our expenses (so $1,400). If you want to cheapen your holiday up, then cut out the booze and take your lunch on daytrips, you’ll be amazed at how much money you can save. Accommodation cost us $760 over the 5 weeks however this included three nights at the Mantra in Kingscliff. Stick to camping and you can cut your costs there too. If you’re in a self-contained van or camper then you can make use of the large amount of free campsites along the Pacific Highway also.
Best time to hit the legendary pacific coast?
This is NSW so things can get a little cooler in the winter months. Infact, in May 2016 we had nights as cold as 3 degrees in Northern NSW. We were in a tent and freezing! One night the winds and rain got so ferocious that we took shelter in the camp kitchen for about 5 hours and hoped that our tent was still standing at the end of it (it was, thankful!). If you’re touring in a van you wont be effected as badly by the weather but those in tents will want to stick to late Spring, Summer and early autumn. The days will be great for swimming and the nights balmy.
Keep in mind though that if you’re up for a spot of whale watching, you can see them throughout most of this piece if coastline, then mid-May – early September are peak times for watching the migration north. In mid-October – November the whales start to move south again and you can see a lot of calves (baby whales) in this time too. You can keep an eye on the whale sightings through this Wild about Whales app!