The legendary Pacific Highway is one of Australia’s most famous roads, as it should be. And the northern NSW stretch – dotted with surf beaches, national parks, lookouts and relaxed coastal towns – is one of its most famous segments.

Surfing has always been a great metaphor for freedom, and in a year where just leaving the house feels like an act of defiance, the prospect of a simple road trip up the coast for a surf seems like the height of liberation. We need this.

But so do the businesses affected by the Black Summer bushfires – many of which are participating in the Empty Esky initiative to encourage tourists to visit and return home with an esky full of local products.

From the famous beaches of Byron Bay to the tranquillity of Evans Head, you’ll find point breaks that’ll make Keanu Reeves weep, plus secluded camping spots with breathtaking coastal views. Here’s a potted map for a classic surf-beach road trip.

Yamba
You mightn’t have heard of Yamba – a seafront town between Coffs Harbour and Ballina – but if you’re a surfer, you probably have. Head south from the centre of town to Angourie Point (a protected surfing reserve), where confident surfers can catch possibly the finest right-hand point breaks on the east coast of Australia. It’s especially good for Malibu riders. Beginners will find plenty to love at Yamba Beach in town, and if you’re staying the night but don’t want to towel off just yet, the Blue Dolphin Holiday Resort has a water park and a pool bar.

Evans Head
The Pacific Highway turns inland as it heads north, but if you’re after a tranquil coastal town with a great surf beach, turn off at Woodburn and drive east to Evans Head. The calm river estuary that divides the town makes for peaceful canoeing or paddleboarding, and on a good day hollow waves will break from the river mouth onto the main town beach (it’s a safe spot for beginners, protected from the big south-east swells). For great views of the town and the river mouth, head to Razorback Lookout.

If you crave both solitude and waves, why not combine surfing with camping at Black Rocks Campground, a remote hideaway where you can pitch a tent among the banksia trees in Bundjalung National Park, just behind Ten Mile Beach. There are gas barbeques, picnic tables and toilets, but you’ll need to bring your own water.

Lennox Head
Hit the road again and follow the Richmond River to the surfing mecca of Lennox Head, a national surfing reserve. Expect crowds but also some of the best waves you’ll find anywhere – particularly at Boulder Beach, especially if there’s an offshore wind from the south-west. Beginners will find surf schools on the beach, too.
If you’ve got a 4WD you can put it through its paces on Seven Mile Beach, with access via Camp Drewe Road. (You’ll need to buy a beach-access permit, available from an automated kiosk on the same road.)

Byron Bay
You can’t drive up the northern NSW coast without stopping at Byron Bay. Take your pick of at least nine surf beaches – ours is The Pass, with its long, peeling breaks and tubing right-handers. If you’d rather exercise on land, walk from the beach up to the famous Cape Byron Lighthouse, which is perched on the most easterly point in Australia with stunning 360-degree views (and there’s a cafe with amazing ice-cream). A 3.7-kilometre loop takes you through the rainforest and clifftops of the Cape Byron Conservation Area.

If you’re after a more secluded experience in the area, visit Broken Head Beach just south of Byron Bay. There’s a coastal rainforest walk, and you might even spot some whales. Our tip: instead of surfing the main point in front of the car park, walk to your right and follow a track round the back of the headland. You should find a secret break, plus hidden coves with pristine sand and rocky islands.

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Jeep. Learn more about Empty Esky here and the Jeep Compass S-Limited here.