On this 1,000-kilometre drive with a stop in the nation’s capital, you’ll enjoy a wealth of highlights of the southeast, including Australian art, native animals and vibrant nightlife.
By Katrina Lobley
What to expect
- See kangaroos and koalas up close at Symbio Wildlife Park
- Discover Aboriginal culture, pristine rivers and waterfalls
- See regional Australia’s cultural side
- Time: 4 days
- Distance: 1,032 kilometres (641 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major cities: Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne
- Price: $
A leisurely drive between Australia’s two biggest cities – Sydney and Melbourne – via the national capital of Canberra can be packed full of fun and life lessons. Learn about aviation history, Aboriginal culture and the colourful characters of Australia’s colonial past, all the while eating delicious pies, burgers and pizza, and watching adorable wildlife.
Day 1: Sydney to Kangaroo Valley
Leaving Sydney, drive past the Royal National Park (the world’s second-oldest national park) via the Princes Highway. When you reach Helensburgh, pat a kangaroo and take a selfie with a koala at Symbio Wildlife Park. Make a pit-stop at Stanwell Tops – a launch spot for hang-gliders and paragliders. The winds here played a vital role in the history of aviation. In 1894, inventor Lawrence Hargrave launched himself off neighbouring Stanwell Park beach using four linked box kites, propelling the development of human flight.
Continue along Lawrence Hargrave Drive to Sea Cliff Bridge, a modern engineering marvel that curves out over the ocean to avoid the rockfalls that sometimes blocked the former cliffside road. Wollongong’s northern beach suburbs are home to several pretty ocean pools cut into the rock shelves – float on your back and admire the escarpment that makes this coastline one of Australia’s most dramatic.
After passing Nan Tien Temple, one of the largest Buddhist temples in the Southern Hemisphere, corkscrew up the hairpin turns of Macquarie Pass to Robertson, home of the famous Robertson Pie Shop. Try an out-of-the-ordinary savoury pie, such as Thai green chicken curry or bangers and mash. Stay in a cabin at Holiday Haven Kangaroo Valley, next to the Kangaroo River that flows beneath the historic Hampden Bridge. Swim in the river or make like the locals and jump from the bank.
Day 2: Kangaroo Valley to Canberra
From Kangaroo Valley, it’s a 20-minute drive to Fitzroy Falls. After watching the water spectacularly tumble 80 metres (260 feet) to the valley below, learn about the region’s Aboriginal history at the Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre. Head to the Hume Highway via Moss Vale. At Goulburn, stop at one of Australia’s most famous “big things”. The Big Merino (known as Rambo to the locals), which stands 15.2 metres (nearly 50 feet) tall, pays homage to the role that sheep and wool played in Australia’s early colonial history.
After an hour’s drive, you’ll reach Canberra – Australia’s meticulously-planned capital. A fascinating ritual unfolds at the Australian War Memorial at the end of each day. Just before 5pm, the galleries close and visitors gather for a moving ceremony that ends with the sounding of the Last Post. The experience is free. Check in at the Canberra City YHA, about two kilometres (1.25 miles) away in the CBD. Facilities include a rooftop BBQ area, indoor pool, hot tub and bike rental.
Day 3: Canberra to Albury Wodonga
Many Canberra institutions offer free admission. At the National Gallery of Australia, see Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles – and find out why it was such a controversial purchase in 1973. Another highlight is a room dedicated to artist Sidney Nolan’s paintings of 19th-century outlaw Ned Kelly. Stick around until 12:30pm to experience Fujiko Nakaya’s eerie fog installation in the Sculpture Garden and enjoy the view over Lake Burley Griffin.
If you prefer to get active, rent electric bikes and wander around the city. For lunch, head to Kingston for an oversized Brodburger. Alternatively, take part in a picnic lunch on the lake when you rent a GoBoat, an easy-to-sail boat that will let you relax on the waters of Lake Burley Griffin.
Hit the Hume Highway for the 3.5-hour drive to the twin border cities of Albury and Wodonga. If time permits, detour near Gundagai to see the Dog on the Tucker Box, an iconic statue commemorating a mythical loyal dog that guarded a bull driver’s lunch box. An affordable place to stay is funky Atura Albury.
Day 4: Albury to Melbourne
See the arty side of one of Australia’s most vibrant regional cities. Drop into the Murray Art Museum Albury – or MAMA – which presents cutting-edge contemporary art exhibitions. Stretch your legs while you explore the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk showcasing 11 works by local Indigenous artists. Most of the six-kilometre (four-mile) trail follows the bends of the mighty Murray River that divides New South Wales and Victoria. Back on the road, head to the Victorian village of Beechworth, famous for its 1850s gold-rush architecture, a jail that once held Ned Kelly, and the pizzas served at Bridge Road Brewers, located within a 150-year-old coach-house and stables.
Return to the Hume Highway to drive the final leg to Melbourne. But first, stretch your legs at Rayners Orchard, located in the Yarra Valley near Melbourne. No matter the time of year, this orchard has in-season fruit that you can hand pick and purchase. You'll have to take a tractor tour of the orchard to find the best fruit.
Drive just over an hour to arrive in Melbourne – home to fascinating laneway art, seriously good coffee (try Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar on Bourke Street) and buzzy bohemian neighbourhoods such as Fitzroy and Carlton.
Melbourne hosts an array of world-class events, like Good Beer Week and the Australian Open Tennis, where the world's best players compete in the impressive Rod Laver Arena. There's always something on, so check the events calendar to see what piques your interest. If you're a sporting fan, You'll also find a vibrant nightlife here, with plenty of bars, nightclubs and late-night eats on offer. Check out the suburb of Fitzroy and head to The Everleigh or Bar Liberty.
Spend your final night at YHA Melbourne Central, which offers a rooftop space and handy downtown location.
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