Destinations Feature

Brisbane to Canberra Road Trip Part 1: Southbound

Coffs Harbour - Coffs Creek

Early in November 2017 myself and two friends set off on an eight-day road trip from Brisbane to Canberra. The southbound part of our journey was spread over four days, for a leisurely pace and to see the countryside. I recently shared some statistics from the overall trip if you are interested “Road Trip Brisbane to Canberra Summary“. Otherwise below is the first half of the trip travelling southbound from Brisbane to Canberra.

The most direct route between Brisbane and Canberra is around 1,200 km and 13 hours if you drive straight through. Our journey took us closer to 1,500 km and almost 22 hours of driving, with overnight stops in Coffs Harbour, Taree and Gosford. Along the way, we seised the opportunity to visit and explore some fascinating places.

Day 1 – Brisbane to Coffs Harbour (413 km)

The route between Brisbane and Coffs Harbour is one with which I am familiar. As a child, some of my family lived in Coffs Harbour, and it was often the destination of holidays during school breaks. Also, over the past few years, I have made shorter trips to many towns along this route, including Tweed Heads, Ballina and Grafton.

On this occasion, the stops we made were more based on need then to see the sights or explore. There were stops for coffee at Ormeau and Byron Bay, with a stop for lunch in Ballina. There were no photos from today as it was more about getting to the destination. However, I am looking to do a little more detailed visit and post about the area shortly.

Day 2 – Coffs Harbour to Taree (329 km)

Knowing my two friends, I knew I would be up and moving well before they were each day. Being awake earlier today gave me an excellent opportunity to get out for a walk and coffee to start the day. Before continuing our journey south from Coffs Harbour to Taree. There was also a couple of stops including, Darrigo, Nambucca Heads and a drive through Kempsey.

Coffs Harbour Walk

I find that walking is a great way to explore an area and Coffs Harbour is a great place to walk around. I started out heading south along Park Beach, before heading into the CBD of Coffs Harbour. I stopped for a coffee at a cafe called Palate & Ply, before following the highway back to the hotel.

Coffs Harbour - Park Beach
Looking South along Park Beach

Coffs Harbour - Coffs Creek
The view upstream at Coffs Creek

Coffs Harbour - Palate & Ply
Palate & Ply Coffee Shop in Coffs Harbour

Coffs Harbour - The Clog BarnThe Clog Barn on the Pacific Highway at Coffs Harbour

Coffs Harbour - Solitary Islands Marine Park
Looking North from Solitary Islands Marine Park

Dorrigo Waterfalls

Around 25km south of Coffs Harbour is the turnoff for Waterfall Way. The road travels west from the cost through Belligan, Dorrigo and ultimately to Armidale about 170 km west. The name of the road does describe what you will find along the way quite well. With numerous waterfalls both beside the road and a short drive or walk from the road.

Our visit to the area though was only a short detour to visit a waterfall near Dorrigo named Dangar Falls. The detour from the main highway is around 60km round trip, and there are a few different locations to stop along the way.

Dorrigo - Dangar Falls
In addition to Dangar Falls, there was also another waterfall by the roadside, Newell Falls. There are additional waterfalls as you head west from Dorrigo or via bush walks, but we did not have time to stop for these.

Waterfall Way - Newell Falls

Finally, we also happen to spot what I presume to be an Emu Farm on the road to Dorrigo. With some Emu roaming the field beside the road.

Waterfall Way - Emu

Nambucca Heads

Although I am aware that I have travelled further south by road, I do not remember it. As we move south, it is all a very new area for me to see. We made a short stop at Nambucca Heads to get coffee. A short walk along the boardwalk on the Nambucca River was a great way to stretch the legs a little before the next part of the journey.

Nambucca Heads - Nambucca River


We arrived in Taree around the middle of the afternoon. Although we could have headed a little further south there was were two main reasons for this overnight stop. The first is we did prebook all the accommodation, and second, it was a good starting point for day 3.

Arriving a little earlier gave us some time to get in and give our cameras a clean and to get an early dinner. While waiting for dinner, I took a short walk down to the Manning River, which flows through Taree for some photos.

Taree - Manning River BridgeBridge crossing the Manning River to the west of Taree

Taree - Manning River
Looking East along the Manning River

Day 3 – Taree to Gosford (364 km)

Travelling by the highway, the distance between Taree and Gosford is just 243 km. However, we had planned this short distance to allow time to take a drive through Gloucester and part of the Barrington Tops.

Gloucester & Barrington Tops

The city of GloucesterThe City of Gloucester

The area around Barrington Tops came to our attention concerning a plane that went missing in the area some 36 years ago. The aircraft was VH-MDX and is currently the only unsolved aviation incident in Australia.

As you are approaching the area and driving into the Barrington Tops National Park, you get a sense of how difficult searching the area would be. The towering trees, thickly draped in vines and steep slopes would make many areas almost impossible to access.

I have some photos from the area. However, it was somewhat challenging on the day as regular rain showers passed through the area for most of the day.

Barrington TopsBarrington Tops

Barrington RiverBarrington River

Gloucester RiverGloucester River

Lake Macquarie

The last stop before reaching Gosford for the evening was near Lake Entrance at Lake Macquarie. While I would have liked to see the area in a little more detail the time was not on our side. But seeing the area just off the highway here was quite nice.

Lake Entrance at Lake Macquarie

Gosford Sunset

Although we arrived in Gosford not long before sunset, I think we arrived much earlier than we could have. There were some changes to the route and area that we travelled through in the Barrington Tops. Otherwise, we could have easily arrived well after dark into Gosford. There was a chance to stop and see the sunset in Gosford though.

The Sunset at Gosford

Day 4 – Gosford to Canberra (366 km)

The fourth and final day of our trip southbound to Canberra started with a walk and coffee for me. From where we stayed there is a nice area to walk around including a small boardwalk through the mangroves.

The sunrise at Gosford
Morning outlook over the area of Brisbane Water, Gosford

Gosford - Jimmy G's Riverside Cafe
Morning coffee at Jimmy G’s Riverside Cafe


Although you have to transit through the northern Sydney suburbs, this is the extent of what we saw in Sydney. After a quick stop to refuel, we took the most direct route to the motorway and followed the M2 and M7 to bypass Sydney.

If you happen to be travelling this route and want to visit Sydney on the way, I would recommend adding multiple days. If you are not spending a couple of days in the city, it is not worth spending the time to get in and out of the city


Marulan was our first stop for the day, and this stop was more to stretch the legs. With the traffic around Sydney we had been on the road for some three hours, so definitely time for a break.

For me, the stop was also a chance to see a little family heritage. Marulan being somewhere my Mother lived as a young child. A lovely little town, but also the victim of the highway by passing it. There are some small shops and numerous historic buildings. But a town also working to attract the visitors back once again.

Marulan - Baldocks StoreBaldocks Store Marulan

Marulan - Stone Building
Building in Marulan


The second and last stop before arriving in Canberra was in Goulburn. We identified a cafe to stop for lunch not far off the highway, where we enjoyed a burger and coffee. But the only photo that I have is the Big Merino Sheep, a 15.2m tall concrete Merino Ram.

Goulburn - Big Merino

A Good Drive

I have very much enjoyed the drive from Brisbane to Canberra. Taking time to do it over four days made it much more comfortable than doing it in less. However, if I were to do the drive again, I would take even more time. I think there is almost a certainty I will make the trip again when the time is right.

Keep watching for two more updates from the road trip. There will be one that covers the time we spent in Canberra. Additionally, there will be a post covering the northbound journey which followed a different route. You can now read these online here Canberra | Part 2: Northbound

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