The best guide of the roads to drive and sights to see on your travel up north

Great! You have decided to road trip northbound from the hustle and bustle of the Sydney city to Port Stephens. While this is a trip that you can take in the space of a few hours, there is many different routes you can take and there are lots of things to see on the way through. We guide you through the ultimate road trip from Sydney to Port Stephens.

Leaving Sydney: direct route north

If time is of the essence and you want to just crack on with holiday time, it makes sense to use the Pacific Motorway. Originally opened as a more direct route north and south between north NSW and Sydney, the M1 Pacific Motorway was first opening in 1955. It has undergone many upgrades in its over 50 years of being paved, but still operates as one of the most travelled roads in NSW.

Depending on your start point and prevailing conditions, taking this route direct will get you to Port Stephens in somewhere between 2 and 2 and a half hours after your departure. It’s the most direct and arguably safest option, although travelling north during Friday afternoon peak hour is not for the faint of heart! Alternatively, you can take a few detours off the beaten track to discover places long forgotten or ignored as the traffic zips up the motorway. You can track east or west as you head north, there’s no shortage of attractions whichever way you choose.

Leaving Sydney: the new NorthConnex tunnel

So, this is kind of the opposite of meandering your way north, but this pretty incredible feat of engineering is well worth checking out if you’re travelling up from further south. The new NorthConnex tunnel is a nine-kilometre-long tunnel that swallows you at West Pennant Hills and minutes later you’re popping out the other end at Wahroonga. Anybody who has attempted the slow grind up Pennant Hills Road to get to the motorway (let’s not even think about how much worse it gets around the start of school holidays) will love the smooth ride avoiding the multiple sets of traffic lights and scenery that ranged from caryards to soundproof walls. If you have kids, the novelty of a trip in a big tunnel never wears off. You can choose to stay on the motorway or take the Wahroonga/Hornsby exit to start your journey up the Old Pacific Highway, the road far less travelled these days!

The Old Pacific Highway: the road less travelled

The Old Pacific Highway: the road less travelled

Prior to 1989, before the Wahroonga to Berowra section of the Pacific Motorway was opened, what felt like the actual beginning of any trip north started with the Old Pacific Highway. After worming your way through the shopping precinct at Hornsby, it was up the hill, left across the railway bridge, a right turn when you were across and before long, Sydney was firmly in the rear-view mirror.

The Old Pacific Highway is still operational and for the most part runs parallel to the motorway but rewards you with a more engaging driving experience and amazing scenery that makes it hard to believe you were in the heart of Australia’s largest city less than an hour ago. The road is favoured by motoring enthusiasts so you can definitely expect to see classic cars and bikes from all eras taking the opportunity to blow off the cobwebs.

If you’re getting a bit peckish, a visit to Pie In The Sky at Cowan is a must! Less than an hour from Sydney’s heartland, you will find some of the best pies and pastries in the country. Take the opportunity to indulge in an Aussie classic meat pie!

It’s not just natural scenery you can appreciate driving this route. Using the older bridges at Brooklyn and Mooney Mooney Creek will remind you just how far the world has changed in terms of infrastructure and engineering.

East or West? Toss a coin.

Decisions, decisions! As early as Gosford, you’ll have choices to make.

Hug the coastline? Yes, you can.

Take the Central Coast Highway through Gosford and head towards The Entrance Road. Head north to the Shelly Beach roundabout. It’s decision time again! Straight ahead takes you to the amazing views at Long Jetty and the Entrance. Head up through the Wyrrabalong National Park, stopping to take in the scenery at the Pelican Beach Road Lookout. As you head north with the Pacific Ocean for company outside your right window, you’ll veer slightly inward at Budgewoi and track up the western side of Lake Munmorah before heading coastward again on what is pretty much the old “backdoor” way into Newcastle. It’s well worth a stop at the Catherine Hill Bay Pier for a leg stretch, a splash and spectacular scenery.

Alternately, a left at the Shelly Beach roundabout takes you up the inside of the Entrance and through Wyong at which point you can again head coastward or head up Wyee Road towards Morriset. Take Freemans Drive, keep your eye out for roadside honesty stalls so you can load up on fresh local produce and keep going until your next must stop, The Oak Dairy Bar. This road trip institution has been around for more than 50 years and is a real step back in time. Even if you’ve already had a pie at Cowan, it’s well worth the stop. It’s your holiday after all, you can eat as many times at as many places as you want! The milkshakes are to die for so definitely worth indulging in.

Detour to the Hunter Valley region

Detour to the Hunter Valley region

It’s a short trip from the Oak Milk Bar back to the motorway or you can keep heading north towards the Hunter Valley region where you will be sorely tempted to turn left and drive right into wine country. If you can’t resist that temptation, consider staying the night before heading onto Port Stephens so you can enjoy a few Savs or Merlots and not have to worry about whether it’s safe to drive.

If you elect to adventure into the heartland of the Hunter Valley, take some time explore the beautiful vineyards and attractions in the area. Some popular wineries that are definitely worth a mention; Draytons, Tyrells Wines, Audrey Wilkinson and Tamburlaine to name a few.

If wine isn’t your thing, or your entertaining younger travellers, perhaps a visit to the Hunter Valley Wildlife Park would be more your style. With a wide variety of furry, scaly, and feathery friends to keep individuals of all ages entertained, you can get up close and personal with amazing animal encounters, educational talks, or just wander the open plains of the enclosures.

Alternatively, you can visit the Hunter Valley Gardens, the largest display gardens in the southern hemisphere. Get lost in the tranquillity of the 14 hectares of perfectly manicured display gardens. There is even a Storybook Garden featuring displays from all your favourite children’s tales to keep your little ones mesmerised. Visit during school holidays for all the fun events that HVG has to offer.

You’re almost there, Port Stephens awaits

You’re almost there, Port Stephens awaits

You could easily get stuck in Newcastle for a few days sampling the best the city has to offer and really, there is too much to list here. Sports fans can be entertained many ways, be it at a Knights or Jets game. Racing enthusiasts have world class venues for all three codes to choose from. Foodies can take a trip up Darby Street and spend way too long deciding what to try, and music enthusiasts can catch a gig at the Cambridge or The Hamilton Station Hotel. Sightseers should take the walk to the lighthouse at Nobby’s, and that’s barely scratching the surface and besides, they’re waiting for you in Port Stephens.

Just a mere 30 minutes north of Newcastle, you have reached your destination in Port Stephens. The heartland of beautiful beaches, whale and dolphin watching, marinas and boating, and that luxury coastal lifestyle. With so many exciting places to visit and a full itinerary of potential activities, it’s no wonder that Port Stephens is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the east coast.

Stay in comfort and style at The Retreat Port Stephens

Stay in comfort and style at The Retreat Port Stephens

After a full day travelling, or multiple days if you decided to expand your adventure, come stay in comfort at The Retreat Port Stephens. With loads of accommodation options to suit all types of travellers, The Retreat Port Stephens has something for everyone.

Check in, relax and if time permits maybe check out some of what you’ve missed on the way up during your return journey. Don’t forget that there is plenty of information available about attractions around the Port Stephens area. Enjoy the drive but most importantly enjoy your stay at The Retreat Port Stephens. Get in touch with our team today on (02) 4982 1244 to make a booking or email us on