Sea Cliff Bridge, Coalcliff, New South Wales
Between Australia's two biggest cities you'll find relaxed seaside towns, national parks teeming with wildlife and long beaches where your feet are the only ones on the sand.
By Alissa Jenkins
WHAT TO EXPECT
- Swim at Hyams Beach, said to have the whitest sand in the world
- Hike through the rugged beauty of Wilsons Promontory
- Sea fairy penguins waddle ashore on Phillip Island
- Time: 10 days
- Distance: 1280 kilometres (795 miles)
- Transport: Car
- Nearest Major City: Sydney
- Price: $$$
Drive from Sydney to Melbourne, and along the way stop to swim the white sand beaches of Jervis Bay, eat fresh oysters in Pambula and spot whales in Eden. Paddle up tranquil Gippsland rivers and hike to the southernmost tip of mainland Australia in Wilsons Promontory National Park. See seals, penguins and koalas on Phillip Island then round out this bucket-list road trip with award-winning Mornington Peninsula wine.
DAY 1: SYDNEY TO KIAMA
Drive an hour south from Sydney to the Royal National Park to begin the cliff-hugging Grand Pacific Drive. Stop to swim or surf at Stanwell Tops, where you can also take in dazzling coastal views. Then drive over the dramatic Sea Cliff Bridge, which curves around cliff faces while suspended 665 metres (727 yards) above the ocean. Stop in Wollongong and indulge in the city’s booming cafe culture: try Diggies on North Beach, Humber in the city centre or Lee and Me, which is also in the city and has a cafe downstairs, retail space upstairs and florist on ground level. Continue driving south for 1 1/2 hours, past Shellharbour and Lake Illawarra to the idyllic seaside town of Kiama. See the famous Kiama Blowhole shoot water 60 metres (200 feet) in the air, then refresh with a dip at the nearby rock pool. After a foreshore feast of fresh seafood from the Kiama Fish Market, stay at the Kiama Harbour Cabins, which have one to three bedrooms and are right on Blowhole Point.
DAY 2: KIAMA TO HYAMS BEACH
Continue south for 15 minutes, through lush rolling hills to Gerringong, before detouring inland to the quaint township of Berry. Enjoy a breakfast of European-style pastries and coffee from the popular Berry Sourdough Bakery & Café, then peruse the nearby boutiques. Pick up a sweet treat for the road from The Famous Berry Donut Van, then continue an hour south to stunning Jervis Bay, which you can spend the afternoon exploring, and perhaps see dolphins and whales. Snorkel in the protected waters of Plantation Point, sea kayak in Honeymoon Bay or go on a dolphin watching cruise in Huskisson. Finish the day in beautiful Hyams Beach, which holds the title for the whitest sand in the world by the Guinness Book of World Records. It’s also home to the Hyams Beach Seaside Cottages. These 1920s fishermen’s cabins have been transformed into seven pastel-painted one-bedroom abodes.
DAY 3: HYAMS BEACH TO BATEMANS BAY
Wake up with the hour long White Sands Walk between Hyams Beach and Vincentia’s Greenfield Beach, taking in some of Jervis Bay’s most scenic coastline. Drive 45 minutes south to Milton, thick with art galleries, antique vendors and alfresco cafes. For brunch, try Pilgrims, which promises a vegetarian menu that even diehard meat lovers will enjoy. Further inland, give yourself three hours to complete the Pigeon House Mountain Didthul walking track, a sometimes steep hike through eucalypt forest and around sandstone cliffs to a breathtaking view from the summit. Afterwards, indulge in a well-deserved long lunch at Cupitt’s — an award-winning boutique winery, microbrewery, fromagerie and French-influenced restaurant in one. Or for a quick alternative (that is intrinsically Aussie), pick up seriously gourmet pies from Hayden’s Pies in Ulladulla. Continuing south, stop for a swim at Pebbly Beach, renowned for its resident kangaroos. Then spend the night in the vibrant holiday town of Batemans Bay in a well-appointed cabin at BIG4 Batemans Bay Beach Resort.
DAY 4: BATEMANS BAY TO EDEN
Spend the morning in nearby Mogo, where you can browse boutiques, visit Mogo Zoo, and get a glimpse into the region's 19th century goldmining history. Then head an hour south to visit the National Trust village of Central Tilba and see traditional craftspeople producing woodwork and jewellery. Travel along the beach road to Mimosa Rocks National Park, where you can swim and snorkel in Middle Lagoon, before sampling the famous cheeses of Bega. Continue the food tour in Pambula and stop for a seafood lunch at Wheelers, dining on the area's renowned oysters. Then go whale watching in Eden (September to November) and keep a lookout for dolphins, seals and eagles too. Spend the night at one of many oceanfront stays, such as the clifftop villas at Eagle Heights of Eden.
DAY 5: EDEN TO BAIRNSDALE
Continue across the Victorian border to the coastal town of Mallacoota, on the tranquil, shimmering lakes of Mallacoota Inlet. Here you can hire a kayak and paddle up the Genoa or Wallagaraugh rivers to Gipsy Point, where you can picnic with kangaroos and feed sea eagles. Then drive 240 kilometres (150 miles) to Bairnsdale at the junction of the Gippsland Lakes (Australia’s largest inland waterway) and the state’s alpine region. The area has lots of picturesque cycling routes. Hire a bike and pedal along the East Gippsland Rail Trail to Nicholson and back. For upscale accommodation, stay at The Riversleigh, a tastefully renovated Victorian manor house in the heart of Bairnsdale.
DAY 6: BAIRNSDALE TO WALHALLA
Drive 50 minutes south-west through the beautiful rural scenery surrounding Bairnsdale before stretching your legs along the 15 kilometre (nine mile) Sale Common Wetlands Walk, with a boardwalk that extends over freshwater marshes and through red gum woodlands. Expect an enormous variety of birdlife along the way. Stop for lunch at the nearby Tinamba Hotel, a historic gastropub serving a refined food and wine menu. Continue to the photogenic gold rush village of Walhalla, ringed by romantic forest on the southern edge of the Victorian Alps. Venture deep underground on a mine tour then stay overnight at the Star Hotel, with decor that subtly reflects the town’s gold rush mining past.
DAY 7: WALHALLA TO FOSTER
Venture 2 1/2 hours south to the ruggedly beautiful Wilsons Promontory National Park and follow the Lilly Pilly Gully Nature Walk for 2 1/2 kilometres (1.6 miles) through heathland, eucalypt forest and rainforest (taking about three hours). Cool off afterwards at Squeaky Beach, renowned for its turquoise waters and fine, quartz sand that makes a squeaking sound underfoot. The Prom, as it’s known to locals, is also renowned for diving, with an array of submerged cliffs, boulders and caves to explore, inhabited by coral, starfish, crayfish and sea dragons. Stay overnight at Prom Coast Holiday Lodge in the nearby town of Foster, which conveniently adjoins with Café Max for your morning brew.
DAY 8: FOSTER TO PHILLIP ISLAND
From Foster it’s a 100 kilometre (62 mile) drive west to Phillip Island, where adrenaline junkies can get their kicks at the Grand Prix Circuit. Choose from high-speed hot laps with an experienced race car driver or family-friendly go-karting on a smaller replica circuit. Then see one of Australia’s largest wild fur seal colonies at the aptly named Seal Rocks on a two hour tour with Wildlife Coast Cruises. Sample local produce at its finest at Harry’s On The Esplanade in Cowes for dinner, before taking part in the island’s most famous experience: watching the evening penguin parade. Sitting on the beach, get up close with dozens of little (fairy) penguins as they return from a day at sea, waddling ashore and back to their burrows. Then stay at Silverwater Resort, offering luxurious apartments with one to three bedrooms.
DAY 9: PHILLIP ISLAND TO MORNINGTON PENINSULA
Stroll along a treetop boardwalk and see Australia’s cuddliest native wildlife at the Koala Conservation Centre in Cowes, before taking the scenic route 1 1/2 hours around Western Port Bay to the affluent Mornington Peninsula. The region has a bounty of farm gates to visit. Be sure to sample the artisan cheese at Main Ridge Dairy, biodynamic fruit and cider at Mock Orchards and the Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm. Mornington is also renowned for its wine scene, and has more than 50 cellar doors and 200 vineyards. Among the most popular are Red Hill Estate, Ocean Eight, Staindl, Paringa Estate and Crittenden. Schedule a long lunch at the lauded restaurant Ten Minutes by Tractor and dine on exquisite dishes and the best wine list in the area. Retire to the lavish Lindenderry at Red Hill to relax, digest, eat and repeat.
DAY 10: MORNINGTON PENINSULA TO MELBOURNE
After breakfast in the cosmopolitan beach town of Mornington, spend the morning at the Peninsula Hot Springs, comprising 20 outdoor soaking pools in a coastal scrub setting, as well as a day spa with massage treatments and hammam (Turkish bath) workshops. Then enjoy a series of sharing plates overlooking the vines at Foxeys Hangout. After dropping into a couple more cellar doors, such as Polperro, Merricks Estate and Prancing Horse, drive the final 90 kilometre (56 mile) leg north to Melbourne, where bars, restaurants, boutiques, hotels, exhibitions and performances await.
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