the melbourne sydney coastal road trip

the melbourne sydney coastal road trip

August 30, 2011  |  life, travel tips and tales

People often remark that we’re lucky to have two of the world’s best cities separated only by a 75 minute flight. However, they may not appreciate the quality of the experiences offered by the coastal road journey between the two. You can do it in 12 hours hard driving, but if that’s the aim, take the Hume and do it in 9! Tackling the Prince’s Highway over two days is a better option, and even longer with side trips.

There’s plenty of information available about popular stopovers on this route, so this post focuses on some of the secrets, starting from Melbourne. The first secret is at Yarragon, which may be a little early for the first coffee.  However, it boasts an excellent art and craft gallery featuring many well-known Australian artists. It’s called Town and Country Gallery and is open 10 to 5pm daily.

On the way to Bairnsdale you can consider two paths off the beaten track. One is Walhalla – turn off at Moe – and immerse yourself in some gold mining history. The drive and scenery are spectacular as well, taking the return journey towards the Prince’s Highway at Traralgon. Walhalla – a sleepy town with 20 residents-  portrays life as it was in the gold rush when 4000 miners sought their fortune. There are plenty of quality B&B’s if you want to stay longer in the area.

The other detour to consider is the Heyfield turnoff after Traralgon – drive through Heyfield, Tinamba, Maffra and reconnect with the Prince’s Highway at Stratford.  It’s a pretty drive through dairy and grazing land and Maffra is considered to have one of the prettiest main streets in Victoria.

In the heart of East Gippsland, Bairnsdale on the Mitchell River, flags the turn off to Lakes Entrance. Enjoy one of the world’s great views as you climb down Brown Mountain to the point where the Gippsland Lakes meets the Tasman Sea at Lakes Entrance. Situated on the northern end of the ninety-mile beach, Lakes is a fishing village, tourist haven and focal point for surf and nature based activities.

As you journey on through Orbost (where there’s a good café on the eastern outskirts) to Cann River, you could dream about the splendid isolation and amazing fishing offered by places that are signposted on the way – idyllic coastal hamlets like Cape Conran, Marlo and Bemm River. You might even then be tempted to turn off the main road and see Mallacoota – Victoria’s eastern most town and surely its best kept secret. The town of 1000 people swells to 8000 regular holiday makers in the summer as people flock to the heart of the Croajingalong National Park. In my view, it is one of the most beautiful coastal settings in the world, combined with a wealth of experiences in which to become totally immersed.

Eden is always a good place to stop for a break – but you need to turn right and go to the fishing harbour at the east of the town. Great ocean views, the smell of salt water and fish, a good coffee, and even some reasonable fish and chips are available at this point. Further along the track, I strongly suggest turning off the highway at Pambula and taking the coastal drive through Merimbula and Tathra to Bermagui. You’ll miss Bega and the Bega Valley, but the track between Merimbula and Narooma is probably one of the most beautiful and unspoilt parts of the NSW coast. The 35km trek between Tathra and Bermagui is a good example, with turnoffs to incredible places like Bithry Inlet and a drive past Cutagee beach.

Bermagui is my town! A preserved and stunningly beautiful town of 3000 people off the main highway, Bermagui still has the fishing village feel. It’s the closest point of Australia to the Continental shelf, one of the reasons the fishing there is legendary.  There’s always a sheltered beach to be found, the golf course is excellent and there’s plenty to do. Climb Mount Gulaga, swim at the famous Blue Pool, check out Tilba and Cobargo, and dine at the delightful Il Passagio restaurant – after a glass of wine at the Horse and Camel – and check out accommodation options from Julie Rutherford.

Narooma is a pretty town with a famous golf course. It has become quite a retirement centre now. It boasts the best coffee on the entire trip at Montague Coffee on the northern outskirts of the town, just before the bridge. Bateman’s Bay (and suburbs) has become huge – partly due to its popularity with Canberrians. There’s a good local hospital and retail facilities, and some pretty little coves and beaches as you go south. Just north of Bateman’s Bay, there is a roadside café at a little place called East Lynne. You simply MUST stop and buy a family sized apple pie straight from the oven – or indulge in one of the pies and sausage rolls. Without argument, the best in Australia, and I’m not given to hyperbole!

Instead of just staying on the highway at Ulladulla, take a small detour through Mollymook which only adds ten minutes to the trip. If you’re hungry at Milton, stop at Pilgrims Vegetarian café for some of the best fare on the south coast. Once past Nowra, the traffic builds and the trip starts to become more of an ordeal. Then all of a sudden Berry snaps you out of thoughts that you’re in the outskirts of Sydney. It’s a pretty town with a famous sourdough bakery. It’s possible to turn off at Berry and take the home stretch through Kangaroo Valley and Bowral – it might add an hour to the trip, but it’s a beautiful drive. If you decide to go through Wollongong, there is still one more decision to take – stay on the Highway or take the much slower Grand Pacific Drive that now boasts a new road between Scarborough and Stanwell Park – what NSW claims as the answer to the Great Ocean Road (which is a huge over statement).  If time pressures prevail, this option can also be a day drive or return train trip from Sydney. I suggest the train.

Back in the big smoke, one thing is certain – you’ll be planning the next trip south to explore the many experiences that you missed due to the deadline. Melbourne to Sydney – or the reverse – with its myriad of tangents is really one of the great journeys of the world.

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