8 day Sydney to Melbourne coastal drive
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
Drive from Sydney to Melbourne, and along the way stop to swim the white sand beaches of Jervis Bay, spot whales in Eden 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.
What to expect
- Swim at Hyams Beach, said to have the whitest sand in the world
- Hike through the rugged beauty of Wilsons Promontory
- See fairy penguins waddle ashore on Phillip Island
- Time: 8 days
- Distance: 1,280 kilometres (795 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Sydney
- Price: $$$
Day 1: Sydney to Jervis Bay
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 1.5 hours, past Shellharbour and Lake Illawarra to the idyllic seaside town of Kiama. Stop to see the famous Kiama Blowhole shoot water 60 metres (200 feet) in the air, then grab a coffee for the road and continue the drive just over an hour to Jervis Bay. Spend the night at Hyams Beach Seaside Cottages, restored 1920s fishermen’s cabins that have been transformed into seven pastel-painted one-bedroom abodes.
Day 2: Explore Jervis Bay
Wake up in this serene seaside town before choosing your morning activity. You can snorkel in the protected waters of Plantation Point, sea kayak in Honeymoon Bay or go on a dolphin watching cruise in Huskisson. In the afternoon, embark on the one-hour White Sands Walk between Hyams Beach and Vincentia’s Greenfield Beach, taking in some of Jervis Bay’s most scenic coastline. Reward yourself with a swim along the way, or bring along a towel to relax on the soft sand. Head into Huskisson for dinner at Wildginger, which offers modern Asian fare, or book in early for a romantic dinner at The Gunyah.
Day 3: Jervis Bay to Eden
Have a lazy morning and a final stroll along the beach before driving 45 minutes south to Milton, thick with art galleries, antique vendors and alfresco cafes. Settle in for a long lunch at Cupitt — 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. Get ready for an afternoon of driving with a quick swim at Pebbly Beach, renowned for its resident kangaroos. Drive just over three hours to arrive in Eden for the night. Book into one of many oceanfront stays, such as the clifftop villas at Eagle Heights of Eden.
If you have extra time, stop in Narooma before reaching Eden for an unforgettable cultural experience. Ngaran Ngaran Culture Awareness offers a unique and powerful insight into the local Yuin culture through the sharing of traditional welcome ceremonies, walks to sacred sites and menus crafted from native bush foods. Alternatively, Narooma offers the unique opportunity to snorkel with friendly seals. You might also spot sea turtles, dolphins and even a colony of little penguins.
Day 4: Eden to Walhalla
Eden boasts some of the best whale watching in the country, so hop on a whale watching cruise (September to November) and keep a lookout for dolphins, seals and eagles too. In the afternoon, tackle the five-hour drive to the photogenic gold rush village of Walhalla, ringed by romantic forest on the southern edge of the Victorian Alps. For a shorter drive, stop along the coast and spend the night in Bairnsdale.
Day 5: Walhalla to Foster
Venture 2.5 hours south to the ruggedly beautiful Wilsons Promontory National Park and follow the Lilly Pilly Gully Nature Walk for 2.5 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 Country Lodge in the nearby town of Foster, which conveniently adjoins with Café Max for your morning brew.
Avid hikers and nature enthusiasts should consider staying an extra day or two in Wilsons Prom. There are plenty of incredible hikes ranging from 30-minute strolls to multi-day circuits.
Day 6: 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 7: 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 1.5-hour scenic route 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. Retire to the lavish Lindenderry at Red Hill to relax, digest, eat and repeat.
Day 8: 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.