Diversionary tactics on the long ride north

We plan to drive from Sydney to the Gold Coast in mid-December with our two children. Can you suggest some good stopping points along the way on our two-day trip, with activities for both adults and children? Also, do you have any recommendations for family accommodation about half to two-thirds of the trip in each direction?

- K. Walker, Sydney.

The Pacific Highway is about speed, not fun. Although it passes close to some glorious national parks and offers some lively diversions such as Bucketts Way and the road along the beach between Port Macquarie and Crescent Head, you won't have time to stop and enjoy them. However, the journey can be made bearable.

Whenever I've done this trip with my children, I start by trying to rack up some serious kilometres. Because attractions are sparse on the F3, our first stop north of Sydney is Heatherbrae's Pies, on the first roundabout after you cross the Hexham Bridge, about 2 hours from Sydney. I cannot speak for the meat items but the apple concoctions are truly scrumptious.

Next stop is Bulahdelah, just under an hour away, where you can have a coffee and a pleasant stroll by the river. Wauchope involves a slight diversion but the children can let off some steam at Timbertown; the town itself is well worth a stroll.

A final push in the afternoon will get you to Coffs Harbour, where there's a great choice of family-friendly accommodation. The Novotel Pacific Bay Resort (pacificbayresort.com.au) is a prime choice. Since you've broken the back of your journey, the second leg can be more relaxed. It's definitely worth stopping at Grafton and driving along Fitzroy Street to sample the architectural delights of this gracious and languid town.

Because time is probably on your side, turn off the Pacific Highway at Bangalow and drive through Byron Bay for a splash in the surf. Byron Beach Cafe, right on Clarke's beach, will enhance the holiday mood.

From Byron Bay, it's a 60-minute or so drive to the Gold Coast. Of course, this is a busy time of year, so remember to take it easy and be safe.

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