Local tips for planning a Sydney to Melbourne road trip.
The Sydney to Melbourne flight path is one of the busiest in the world, connecting Australia’s two largest cities in a little over an hour and a half. By road, the Hume Freeway now connects the two cities in a little under nine hours. Yet there is so much of Australia to be seen and experienced between the two cities. Why not take the time for a road trip to truly experience coastal Australia?
We have lived in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and now live on the South Coast of NSW. We have travelled between the two cities so often we are very familiar with the routes. It always pays to get some “local knowledge” when you travel.
Travellers can either take the quicker inland route down the Hume Freeway, exploring Australia’s pastoral heritage, or the coastal route. The Pacific Highway is a longer, slower route, taking in the beautiful beaches and waterways between Sydney and Melbourne.
Road trip down the Princes Highway
In this post we take you on a “virtual road trip” down the Princes Highway. We haven’t given a definite itinerary. Rather we have listed the places you will pass along your way, to help you plan your own trip.
The Princes Highway now by-passes many of these towns. This has certainly improved traffic conditions and travel times. But it is well worth taking a detour into some of these smaller villages. You could spend an hour or spend a week in any of these places.
We hope our “virtual road trip” will help you to plan an itinerary that suits your time frame and interests.
Sydney to Wollongong
The drive to Wollongong will take you a little over an hour
The M1 motorway will take you through Sydney’s southern suburbs, through Heathcote and the Royal National Park .The heritage listed park was established in 1879. It has long been Sydneysiders’ “backyard” for barbecues, bushwalking, or swimming at Garie or Wattomolla beaches. If you remember the 1970’s TV show “Skippy”, some of the scenery will be very familiar.
The highway will soon bring you to the little village of Stanwell, at the top of the escarpment, where the mountains meet the sea. Aeronautical pioneer Lawrence Hargreave flew his first box kite of the Stanwell Tops in 1894. Today you will still see parasailers and hang-gliders launching themselves off the cliffs. There’s plenty of opportunity for some adrenalin filled sightseeing yourself if you’re game.
The road along Lawrence Hargreave drive brings you across the dramatic Sea Cliff Bridge, linking the coastal villages of Coalcliff and Clifton. The balanced cantilever bridge replaced the previous road which was permanently closed due to dangerous rock falls, It gives you spectacular views of the scenic coastline.
Wollongong is Australia’s third largest city. Originally the centre of the region’s coal mining industry and the Port Kembla steelworks, the city is bordered by beautiful beaches.
Head to Mt Keira, overlooking the city, to take a five kilometre walk through rainforest and national bushland, or enjoy a picnic with views over the escarpment.
When visiting “The Gong” with the kids, they always enjoyed a visit to the Jamberoo adventure and water park and meeting the wildlife at Symbio wildlife park.
The Wollongong Breakwater lighthouse has long been a Wollongong landmark. Originally lit in 1872, the lighthouse was restored in 2002 as a heritage building. Take a stroll along the southern breakwater to view the harbour.
When passing through Wollongong, to the south you will find the Nan Tien Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere.
The Princes highway will take you around Lake Illawarra and Shellharbour, which are popular holiday destinations for locals. In just half an hour you will come to the Kiama turnoff.
It is well worth taking a detour into Kiama, famous for the largest blowhole in the world. When the seas are running from the east, spectacular plumes of water spout up to 20 metres into the air. Just be careful to obey the warning signs. Number one mistake overseas tourists make is to climb the fence to get a photo closer to the water spout. An often fatal mistake.
Adjacent to the Blow Hole is the Kiama Lighthouse, which was built in 1887. The adjacent pilots cottage is now a museum detailing the area’s history.
Hiking enthusiasts can take a 22 kilometre walk along the Kiama Coast Walk from Minamurra to the Blow Hole. Not only will you view the rugged coastal scenery, but sea birds soaring overhead and the untouched beauty of the surrounding bushland.
Visit the Minamurra Rainforest Centre, just a 20 minute drive away, where a two hour walk takes you four kilometres through spectacular rainforest. The Falls Walks gives you waterfall and canyon views from several viewing platforms along the way.
Just 20 minutes down the highway, you will come to the village of Berry. We have spent many a relaxing weekend in this quaint little town, which is an ideal country getaway. Explore the surrounding wineries and sample the cool climate wines. Browse through the arts, crafts and antique shops in the heritage streetscape, or simply unwind in the relaxed surroundings.
There are a number of smaller B&B’s where we have enjoyed staying and pubs where you can get a great counter meal. Look out for the quirky pub with hub caps covering the bottle shop and surfboards on the roof.
On the surface, Nowra is a large industrial centre located on the Shoalhaven River. As locals, if we want to buy a fridge, a car, a caravan or furniture, we will usually head two hours up the road to Nowra. It is also home to a large Naval Base at Jervis Bay.
However in the surrounding Shoalhaven area you will find beautiful unspoilt beaches and lakes to explore. Plane enthusiasts will enjoy a visit to the Fleet Air Arm Museum at the HMAS Albatross Naval Station.
Nearby Bundanoon was once the home of painter, Arthur Boyd. The historic home is now open to the public as an art gallery.
Visit Point Perpendicular, at the entrance to Jervis Bay and visit the famous lighthouse, which has been operating since 1889.
Just an hour’s drive down the PrincesHighway from Nowra we come to the twin towns of Milton-Ulladulla. The streets of Milton are lined with quaint historic buildings, with the pie shop well worth a stop for a break. Roaming the back streets you will find numerous antique yards, where bargain hunters will enjoy scavenging through the hidden treasures.
The surrounding beaches of Mollymook and Ulladulla are popular seaside holiday destinations. We’ve always found Ulladulla to be a particularly pretty harbour. It is still a working fishing port, so you can take a walk among the jettys and watch the “catch of the day” come in. Why not enjoy some fresh local seafood for lunch?
Burrill Lake, around five kilometres south of Ulladulla is one of our favourite places. Not for any major attractions, but for its sheer, tranquil beauty. Fishermen dangle a line from the jettys along the lake, while water-skiers head off to nearby Lake Conjola. Probably the main attraction for us of Burrill Lake is that there is not much to do apart from relax and eat seafood.
Another 40 minutes through national parks brings you to the next popular seaside resort, Batemans Bay. Listen out for the sound of bellbirds as you drive through the natural bushland.
Batemans Bay is a major seaside tourist resort, surrounded by the Clyde River and Pacific Ocean. Houseboats and river cruises sail up and down the river. Visitors and locals enjoy a range of fishing surfing, jetskiing and watersports on the many unspoilt beaches. Our children enjoyed many a summers’ holiday at nearby Batehaven.
Enjoy fresh local fish and chips at the historic boatshed by the water, or relax with a coffee at one of the many waterfront cafes.
Ten minutes south, you will pass through the historic mining village of Mogo. Whenever we holidayed at “The Bay” we always spent at least one day at Mogo.
The quaint old miners cottages now house a range of arts and crafts shops, where you can browse through locally made products.
Try your luck panning for gold at the “Original Gold Rush Colony”, a recreation of the historic 19th century gold rush town. You would be surprised to find that this sleepy town has an award winning zoo. Mogo zoo operates a breeding program for exotic and endangered species.
Mogo is also a great place to stop for fuel. It is currently the cheapest in the area.
Another hour down the road, you will round a bend on the Princes Highway and understand why the aboriginal name, “Narooma” means “land of clear blue waters.”
You will also understand why we are more than a little biased in recommending our home town of Narooma as one of the best coastal destinations.
On a clear day, the waters are vividly blue. The long, sandy beaches of the popular tourist destination are uncrowded and unspoilt.
From July to November you can watch the whales breaching from the shore on their annual migration, or take a whale watching tour or fishing charter. You can also take a tour out to Montague Island, where you can snorkel with the colony of Australian and New Zealand fur seals.
From shore, walk or cycle along the 30 kilometres of pathway around the headlands, taking in some of the most beautiful coastal scenery. Along the way you will meet many of the locals, including the seals on the breakwall at Bar Beach.
If you fancy a round of golf, the Narooma Golf Club boasts the most spectacular scenery of any golf course in Australia, located on the headland with views up and down the coast.
Fifteen minutes south of Narooma, take a short detour to Tilba, an historic cheese making town. The heritage listed weatherboard cottages have been lovingly preserved. Browse through the arts and crafts shops, sample the local produce and watch cheese making at the cheese factory.
Tilba is also the starting point for the half day hike to the summit of Mt Gulaga, an area culturally significant to the local indigenous people. The hike is physically challenging, passing through rainforest, waterfalls and old mine workings, giving you a true glimpse of the natural beauty of the area.
From Tilba, you will notice the pastures changing from sheep and crops to cattle. The region has long been a dairy and cheese making area. Heading towards Eden will take an hour and 20 minutes along the highway, or you can turn off towards Bermagui to take the scenic coastal route, which is 20 minutes longer.
Bermagui remains a working fishing village and popular seaside holiday town, where you can watch the day’s catch being brought in off the wharf. This coastal drive towards Eden takes you past some of our most beautiful coastal scenery and secluded, deserted beaches.
The Sapphire Coast towns of Pambula, Tathra and Merimbula are popular fishing and beachside holiday resorts. An hour from Bermagui you will arrive at Eden, a former whaling town and the southern most town in New South Wales.
Located on Twofold Bay, whaling has been replaced with cruising, with a number of cruise ships now including Eden on their itinerary. It is worth stopping to meet “Uncle Tom”, the huge whale skeleton in the whaling museum, before heading on down the Princes Highway and into Victoria. Do make sure you fuel up at Eden, as there won’t be another town for around two hours.
East Gippsland – Victoria
Heading south from Eden towards Victoria’s East Gippsland, you will pass through around 100 kilometres of cool pine forest. Stopping at one of the many roadside rest stops along the way, you will hear the song of lyrebirds and bellbirds echoing through the bush. You may even spot a kangaroo, wombat, echidna or kookaburra in their natural habitat.
Two hours from Eden, it is well worth taking a detour towards the seaside town of Marlo. Sand dunes and scrub line the road until French’s Narrow, where you will be rewarded with beautiful views of the Mouth of The Snowy River Estuary
Here the mighty Snowy River ends her 350 kilometre journey from Mount Kocsiusko.
Littoral Rainforest is a conservation area for a range of local fauna and flora, with walks through endangered rainforest, lined with banksias and native scrub. This is also a native habitat for a number of threatened native species.
A two kilometre walk take you through cool rainforest, rolling sand dunes and past spectacular coastal scenery to the surf beach at French’s Narrows. Take a dip in the ocean if you are not adverse to cold water.
Just one more hour’s driving brings you to one of our favourite stopovers en route to Melbourne. Lakes Entrance is Australia’s largest inland waterway, surrounded by smaller riverside towns.
We enjoy walking among the boats around the marinas, strolling along the waterside boardwalks, or relaxing on the beach.
The quiet serenity of one of the riverside fishing spots is a very pleasant way to while away the morning, as is exploring the coastal villages of Metung, Nicholson and Swan Reach.
From here you can either walk or cycle along the East Gippsland Rail Trail to Nicholson and back. The eight kilometre track takes you through forests, past coastal views of the lakes and across historic wooden rail bridges.
From nearby Bairnsdale, a two hour drive into the Gippsland region of Victoria brings you to Foster. From here you can visit the southernmost tip of mainland Australia at Wilson’s Promontory National Park, Victoria’s largest coastal wilderness.
Relax on one of the many secluded beaches, or take a three hour, 2 ½ kilometre hike through eucalypt bushland and cool rainforest. The park is a wildlife sanctuary, so it is likely you will come across kangaroos, emus and echidnas on the way. The area is also a popular diving location, with boulders caves, starfish and coral to explore.
Phillip Island may be synonymous with racing, but it is also an important wildlife conservation area and a great place to visit with the kids. In fact we have spent a week on Phillip Island visiting the wildlife, playing in the Maze Centre and exploring the Bass Coast.
Phillip Island is only one hour from Forster. Racing enthusiasts can do a lap of the Grand Prix circuit with an experienced race car driver.
It is also a wildlife sanctuary, where you can enjoy getting up close with some of the locals. In the Koala Conservation centre, get up close to a cuddly bear on the treetop walkway. Australia’s largest wild fur seal colony can be seen at Seal Rocks on the rugged Bass Coast.
At dusk, sit on Summerland beach and enjoy the Penguin Parade as dozens of little fairy penguins waddle in back to their burrows from a day’s fishing.
From Phillip Island it is only two and a half hour’s drive to Melbourne around Westernport Bay to the Mornington Peninsula, one of the more affluent areas just outside Melbourne.
The area has over 200 vineyards and 50 cellar doors where you can sample the local produce, as well as a range of artisan cheeses to taste. If you feel in need of a little rejuvenation after your long drive, why not pop into the Peninsula hot springs for a day spa and massage?
You could stay a week or stay for a coffee at any of the towns we’ve listed on our Sydney to Melbourne Route. The entire driving time is a little over 16 hours. You could easily do this in two full days of driving, but this would leave you no time for sightseeing. Why not choose a mix of beaches, bushland, history and wineries and plan an itinerary that fits your time frame? Happy road tripping!
Important things to know.
We drive on the left hand side of the road in Australia
Once outside the city areas, it will be at least 100 kilometres between towns. Make sure to keep your fuel tank half full.
Petrol stations in smaller towns will not open late. Make sure you fill up late in the afternoon if driving at night.
Avoid driving at dusk or sunset. These are the danger times for kangaroos and wombats to wander onto the roads,causing accidents.
Always keep a bottle of water in the car with you in case you do get stranded on a hot day
Eftpos is universally accepted, however some smaller stores will have an AUD 10 purchase limit. It is a good idea to carry a small amount of cash for smaller purchases.
Book your accommodation at least a day ahead. Smaller motel receptions may not be open after around 7pm.
Avoid approaching any native wildlife you may come across. They may look cute, but can become aggressive if they feel threatened.
Read Also: A Local’s Guide to visiting Australia