Rather than enviously looking at photos of friends bundled up for a “traditional” cold UK Christmas, I decided to make the most of the time off and embrace the Australian summer for a classic roadtrip: Sydney to Melbourne.
We drove a total of 2,600kms (1,600miles) over 8 days, spending 4 nights getting from Melbourne to Sydney via the coastal route, 2 nights outside of Melbourne, and 1 night coming back in land.
DAY 1: Sydney —> Stanwell Tops —> Hyams Beach —> Woods Farm Glamping
Day 1 was Christmas Day! A friend of mine from London Sajni and her sister Bansi who lives in Sydney were joining us for the first 4 nights of the roadtrip. Bans is a doctor so had the treat of working a night shift in emergency from Christmas Eve into Christmas morning (big thank you to all the doctors out there!!!) so we hit the road about 11am.
I’d thought the roads might be quiet on Christmas Day but they were packed, with every beach access road in the Royal National Park south of Sydney being closed to cars as their car parks were already full. This meant that people were parking on the main road and making the 2.5km trek down a steep road to the beach armed with their cool-boxes (“esky”/”chilly-bin” depending on your origin), including the steep road down to Garie Beach where Ben and I did our cycling Everesting… foolish people!!
After some wild weather in Sydney the week before where we were nearly treated to a white Christmas of GIANT HAILSTONES and combined with Saj nearly missing her flight due to Gatwick-drone-gate, we were super happy to all get on the road together and with a forecast of glorious sunshine for the week!
DAY 2: Jervis Bay —> Bermagui —> Tathra —> Potoroo Palace —> Eden —> Green Cape Lighthouse, Ben Boyd NP
Next it was on to Eden to learn about the fascinating whaling history in the area. Here the Killer Whales, one in particular called ‘Old Tom’ used to work with the whalers to hunt baleen whales. The killer whale pod would shepherd the baleen whales closer to shore in Twofold Bay, then Old Tom would jump and flap to signal to the whalers at the station and they would bring the boats out to catch them. The killer whales were rewarded by the whalers by being given their favourite parts (lips and tongue!) of the baleen whales to eat… once Old Tom died the other whales in his pod stopped coming to Twofold Bay.
That night we were staying in the Bunkhouse at Green Cape Lighthouse. The original lighthouse no longer operates and there is a separate solar powered beacon. I saw my first live wombat of my 4 years in Australia, after coming across many less-alive ones by the edge of the road and it was very sweet, like a giant guinea-pig!
DAY 3: Green Cape —> Croajingolong NP —> Lakes Entrance —> Toms Cap Vineyard
Day 3 was a big driving day, setting off early from Ben Boyd National Park and soon crossing the border from New South Wales into Victoria.
We stopped for a short walk on the edge of the vast Croajingolong National Park, which spans 884km2 along the South East coast of Australia. I had heard that the Double Creek walking track off the road down to Mallacoota was a good spot to spy koalas in the wild, sadly it seemed we’d been too greedy with our animal bingo the day before and no wild koalas to be found, despite much staring at trees.
Next we stretched our legs at the coastal town of Lakes Entrance. A charming spot, although the water didn’t look too tempting due to mobs of jellyfish (‘fluther’, ‘swarm’ or ‘smack’ apparently being the correct collective nouns!)
We still had a few hours of driving ahead of us so hit the road, with a brief stop at a lovely cafe owned by a friends brother in the town of Stratford.
That night we were treated to total luxury at the Beaumont Lodge at Toms Cap vineyard in Gippsland. The owner told us that the resident Alpaca were very friendly and “love company” so we tootled into their field before sunset, glass of bubbles in hand, and one of them promptly came over and then spat in Ben’s face. Twice. Apparently they’re not so keen on men but she forgot to mention that 😉
DAY 4: Toms Cap —> Tarra Bulga NP —> Healesville
Day 4 we waved bye bye to our furry friends and popped into the nearby Tarra Bulga National Park. This is a small park but had an almost pre-historic feel to it, with many giant ferns. It reminded me of the Catlins Forest in the far south of NZ’s South Island.
Here we would also see the first of the ‘beautiful bridge’ series I came to find around Victoria. Came across a good bridge each day from then on. Corrigan suspension bridge is just a short walk from Tarra Bulga visitors centre.
From Tarra Bulga, we drove up to Healesville in the heart of the Yarra Valley wine region. A beautiful drive through varied landscapes. This portion of the trip was somewhat marred by controversy as we missed going to a historic gold mining town Ben had wanted to go to that had been on our shared trip planning map… short drive… felt long!
Luckily we were headed to the right place to solve all worries, we were staying in the accommodation of a Yarra Valley Distillery – Alchemy Distillers. I wasted no time finding a shady spot in their courtyard and getting myself a refreshing G&T. We followed this with a tasty dinner in the relaxed pub garden as Healesville hotel.
We couldn’t leave the Yarra Valley without doing some wine tasting. The region is famous for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We stopped in at ‘Soumah’ and ‘Pimpernel’ for tastings, where they do my favoured practice of taking a nominal fee ($5) for a tasting of 6-8 wines and then you get this off the price of a bottle if you buy.
Saj, Bans and I are quite the wine tasting team, having done so together in California’s Napa Valley in winter 2014 too. Suggestion to anyone with an interest in wine who hasn’t watched Netflix’s documentary ‘Sour Grapes’ to do so, it is a fascinating story!
We then got a cheese platter at Coldstream Dairy before heading to the Dandenong Ranges National Park to meet up with Ben’s brother Zach and his girlfriend Jess to walk the 1000 steps Kokoda track memorial walk. It was a fantastic walk, although very busy, including some keen people running the steps, kicking off the New Year health-drive early!!
From there, we drove into Melbourne CBD and had a delicious meal at ‘Shanghai Street’ in Chinatown. Then we dropped Saj and Bans at the airport, luckily no drone incidents this time, where they were flying back to Sydney in time for a NYE firework cruise.
There was an amusing moment when we were trip planning when Saj asked why we didn’t just fly back with them, I said “well, we need to get the car back to Sydney” to which she said “Why don’t you just leave the car in Melbourne?!”. She hadn’t realised we were taking our own car not a rental, so leaving it in Melbourne wasn’t really an option!
Finally, Ben and I drove the other way out of Melbourne to the West to the small town of Daylesford, where his good friend Perko lives. We were staying in the town pub/hotel so it was pretty easy to ‘get home’ after a few drinks catching up with Perko at the bar.
DAY 6: Daylesford, Hepburn Springs and surrounds….
Day 6 was the first and last time on the trip that we spent 2 nights in the same place. After the gold-gate of missing Walhalla, Ben was super keen to head over to Sovereign Hill open air museum. Perko was happy to accompany him which suited me perfectly as I wanted to pay a visit to the Hepburn Springs Bathhouse and Spa.
Daylesford and Hepburn Springs and surrounds are known for their mineral water, which due to the natural build up of elements in the ground comes out naturally carbonated in some areas. It is a slightly acquired taste – nicer when cold and fresh out the ground, more metallic tasting as it warms up.
I had a wonderful morning at the spa and exploring the natural springs, followed by a visit to a lavender farm. The lavender wasn’t quite as impressive as the fields I visited last year near Wanaka, NZ, but the gardens were beautiful, and found another suspension bridge here!
Ben and Perko met me for lunch, filled with tales from their wonderful morning at Sovereign Hill. We spent the rest of the day doing a happy mix of country pubs and walks.
DAY 7: Daylesford —> Hanging Rock —> Beechworth —> Wagga Wagga
Day 7 and it was time to start the in land drive back towards Sydney. Perko recommended we stop at Hanging Rock en route and I’m very glad we did as it was one of the highlights of the trip. It is a volcanic rock formation, meaning we were like big kids at the top, playing and climbing around.
The novel ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ is a mystery surrounding the disappearance of schoolgirls and their teacher at the rock, however at 9am with the sun shining bright it wasn’t too eery!
Our next stop was Beechworth where there is a famous bakery but it was too busy to merit queuing. A storm arrived just as we got to town so we hopped in the car to continue on to our NYE destination – Wagga Wagga. Whilst on the journey we got a call from the hotel manager in Daylesford who implied that we had stolen two pillows from the room. Not sure on their usual clientele. We’d both said how good the stay was in Daylesford so a bit of a shame for it to end on a (pil)low note.
As someone who struggles to stay up past 10pm on a good night, I’m not normally a NYE fan, but we were hosted in Wagga by our friend Burdy from our cycling group in Sydney and another cycling pal Maarten was also in town. We had a delicious dinner and cocktails at The Birdhouse restaurant followed by bubbles and some sparklers in the park at midnight. Wagga exceeded my expectations with a very chilled and friendly vibe! Would like to return for the ‘Gears and Beers’ cycling event.
DAY 8: Wagga Wagga —> Sydney
HOMETIME! Nearly 5 hours of highway, not much to report here. We didn’t stop but there are lots of good spots around Gundagai that we visited last year for my birthday weekend.
Overall a brilliant trip and great to see some more of Australia!