A JUCY road trip along NSW’s northern coastline and hinterland is an Explorer rite of passage. But there’s more to the North Coast than Byron Bay.
We’ve been guilty of cruising mindlessly through Northern NSW in the past. Sometimes stopping in Byron Bay. More often than not, staying within the confines of the comfortable and familiar Pacific Motorway.
But with a five-day, extra-long weekend booked in, and a JUCY Coaster as a willing ally, we decided to finally explore the lesser-known gems that are scattered throughout the region.
- Quiet stretches of beaches at Wooyung, Broken Head, Evans Heads, and Iluka
- A smorgasbord of waterfalls in Nightcap National Park
- An endless array of roadtrippin’ friendly country and mountain roads
- World Heritage-listed beauty in Iluka
- Cliff jumping at Angourie’s Blue and Green pools
- Surfing in Yamba and Angourie
- Oodles of hiking tracks in the Border Ranges
Day 1 – Brisbane to Hastings Point
Time driving: 2 hours and 15 minutes
Our last road trip was in a tiny hatchback, so to save our backs, sanity, and gear from all being mashed together, we swung by JUCY’s Brisbane location to pick up a campervan rental for the trip.
The new whip turned out to be very swish indeed; a luxurious JUCY Coaster that swallowed us and our adventure equipment with ease, and despite its size, turned out to be a cinch to drive.
Since we were leaving Brisbane late on a Friday afternoon, our plans for the evening were to make it across the border and find a sweet place to park up for the night.
So we set off down the M1 at a very sedate pace due to the peak-hour traffic, but once across the border, the traffic disappeared and so did any lingering thoughts of the working week that’d been.
One of our goals for the trip was to avoid the Pacific Motorway as much as possible, which bore rewards instantly – on the first turnoff to Cabarita we were greeted by a gorgeous tree-lined route.
From Cabarita, we headed to Tweed Holiday Parks Hastings Point for the night, which is located right next to Cudgera Creek and the beach. With plenty of big days to come, we cooked a simple pasta dish in our JUCY campervan’s kitchen and turned in for an early night.
Day 2 – Hastings Point to Nightcap National Park
Time driving: 2 hours and 25 minutes
Highlights: Norries Head at Cabarita, Wooyung Beach, Pocket Road, Hell Hole Falls, Minyon Falls
Ahhh, daylight savings you beauty.
Instead of setting our alarms in the fours to see first light, we were treated to a 5.30am wakeup to catch our first sunrise of the trip. It took less than a minute to go from alarm off to engine on, much better than having to deal with packing up a soggy tent and rolling up sleeping mats.
We retraced our route from yesterday back to Norries Head in Cabarita, which offers a great vantage point of the Pacific Ocean stirring. After a quick swim and surf off Norries Cove beach, we jumped back on the Tweed Coast Road.
Next up was Wooyung Nature Reserve which is a 5km stretch of underdeveloped bliss. Small dirt car parks are dotted at random intervals along the road, with faint trails leading through thick scrub to the beach. Find an empty car park and you’re likely to have that slice of delicious beach all to yourself.
We could’ve spent the entire day on Wooyung Beach, but alas, after an hour soaking up the sun, we continued south through New Brighton, which had a great rope swing, and onto Brunswick Heads.
With the temperature starting to nudge above 30 degrees, we needed a cool change, and the national parks north-west of Byron are perfect for just that.
The Pocket Road was our route up higher and provided a glimpse at how wonderful all the recent rain has been for this area. Lush grass grew out from all angles as we cruised past with the majority of traffic being farmers racing each other on ride-on mowers.
Our first stop for the afternoon was Mount Jerusalem National Park, where after a 30 minute downhill walk (or you could take an e-bike) we reached Hell Hole Falls.
Whoever named these falls has a great sense of humour, as they’re far from hell but instead provided a reprieve from the heat in a series of stepped, deep pools.
From Mount Jerusalem National Park we climbed back up more stunning roads to Nightcap National Park, to get to the popular Minyon Falls.
While the view from the lookout is nice, the 100-metre high falls are much more impressive from the base which is a 4km return trip from the Minyon Grass car park.
After a big day of beach and waterfall hunting, we were glad to set up for the night at Rummery Park campground, just a couple of kilometres from Minyon Falls.
After an adventure-packed day, it was nice to be able to cook on our own time, with a couple of days worth of food tucked away in the fridge and cupboard of the JUCY Coaster.
Day 3 – Nightcap National Park to Yamba
Time driving: 4.5 hours
Highlights: Evan’s River, Shark Bay, Chinaman’s Beach, Bluff Lookout, Angourie, Lake Arragan and Red Cliff campgrounds
As tempting as it was to hit snooze and stay in our comfy bed, we had a long list of spots to see, starting with Broken Head and the secluded cove of White’s Beach, before boosting further south to Lennox Head.
We meandered the country roads around Alstonville, Wardell, and Broadwater to Evans Head. There’s a heap of swimming spots on show here, from the sheltered Evans River to Shark Bay and Chinaman’s Beach. With swimming the flavour of the day, we continued on to Iluka’s Andersons Beach, before going on a short stroll through the World Heritage-listed rainforest to Bluff Lookout.
Our final stop for the day was Angourie’s Blue and Green Pools, which are a haven for wild swimming, cliff jumping (always check the depth before jumping), and critter spotting in the nearby rock pools.
We stayed at the pools until sunset, soaking in the diminishing crowds and soft light reflecting off the rock pools, before making our way to the spectacular Lake Arragan and Red Cliff campground for the night.
Day 4 – Yamba to Toonumbar National Park
Time driving: 5 hours
Highlights: Yamba, Nightcap National Park, Iron Pot Creek campground
Yamba is easily our favourite destination in Australia and we were eagerly looking forward to a morning spent at Main Beach surfing and lazing around.
Being a Sunday it felt appropriate to whip up some nutella pancakes on the JUCY campervan’s gas cooker, which we devoured while the sun rose over the beach.
The nutella was the tonic needed for a slow morning on Main Beach’s gentle waves. There are heaps of surf breaks around the area, including the iconic wave at Angourie, and the lineups are ridiculously empty compared to our normal go-tos of Currumbin and Coolangatta.
We usually wrangle with roof racks to cart our surfboards around, so it was a nice change to be able to easily slide them in the back of the JUCY campervan and head off.
The rest of the day saw us head north, through a varied collection of towns that included Maclean, Lismore, Nimbin, and The Channon, before taking the delightful Terania Creek Road up to two more waterfalls on the west side of Nightcap National Park: Protesters Falls and Tehuti Falls.
With more time we would’ve stopped off at Hanging Rocks Fall and Tuntable Falls, but night was approaching, so we decided to hustle to camp deep in Toonumbar National Park at Iron Pot Creek campground.
Day 5 – Toonumbar National Park to Brisbane
Time driving: 6 hours
Highlights: Toonumbar National Park, Border Ranges National Park, Tweed Range Scenic Drive, Pinnacle Lookout
We had plans to knock out a couple of hikes in Toonumbar National Park this morning, but due to closures from storm damage, we had to settle for a short walk to Iron Pot Creek.
Craving longer hikes, we pointed our wheels in the direction of the Border Ranges. The Tweed Range Scenic Drive stretches for 44km through the Border Ranges, but due to a recent landslip, the eastern entrance is shut, so we entered through the western entrance, knowing we’d eventually have to retrace our tracks.
Sheepstation Creek campground is located near the start of the drive, as is the short walk to Brushbox Falls which marked our fifth waterfall of the trip.
Higher up on the range we hiked alongside the pristine Brindle Creek, before enjoying the stunning views of the entire Tweed Valley and Wollumbin/Mt Warning from the Pinnacle Lookout. There are a bunch more hikes throughout the park and Sheepstation Creek or the Forest Tops campgrounds would be ideal places to base yourself for a couple of nights.
Turning back down the mountain we returned to dual lane roads and started heading north to Brisbane, crossing the border on the Mt Lindesay Highway.
In five days we’d bounced like pinballs between beaches, waterfalls, and national parks. Staying off the Pacific Motorway turned out to be a blessing and provided us with a small taste of the incredible diversity of exploring there is to be done in Northern NSW.
It was a sad moment to hand the JUCY Coaster’s keys back, as it was a faultless pal for an adventure road trip – letting us sleep, cook, chill and venture whenever and wherever we wanted. And that’s exactly what you want from a road trip partner.
Some of these towns and national parks are a bit remote. You may lose phone reception and roads may not be well maintained.