The Sydney to Melbourne Coastal Drive

Updated on November 6, 2017
Anne Harrison profile image

I fell in love with Florence at the age of 10, and have travelled widely since, discovering new places - but there are always more to find!

A long and empty beach (c) A. Harrison
A long and empty beach (c) A. Harrison

A Driving Holiday on the NSW South Coast

The cry of the black cockatoos fell from the air. They lumbered across the sky, large and awkward as if they had no right to fly, yet vanishing from sight with nothing but a slow flap of their wings. Some find their sound mournful, but for me, their cry is quintessentially Australian.

As were the black swans on the dam below. Full after the rains, the dams sat amidst lush fields, where contented cows and sheep grazed their fill. The occasional farmhouse dotted the landscape. Few cars were around. Soon the road would wind through the forest and down to the ocean.

Mollymook, Illawarra, Kiama, Gerringong, Bermagui, Eden; the names alone are worth a visit. Melbourne is only a twelve hours drive from Sydney, and many do it in one stretch, for Australia is a land of distances. Holidays frequently start with rising at three in the morning, driving into the darkness before breakfasting somewhere new as the sun rises, then continuing on with the adventure.

A sea-side forest (c) A Harrison
A sea-side forest (c) A Harrison

A Southern NSW Road Trip

Yet too few visitors take the longer, Sydney-Melbourne coastal road. The highway, often empty, winds through native forests and lush fields, where hills roll forever under a vast sky. Then, after meandering along the cliff-tops, the road reaches down to empty beaches, the blue of the ocean stretching to the horizon. The occasional boat dances amongst the waves. Sydney may be famous for the likes of Bondi and Manly, but with beaches stretching the length of the Australian coast, it is always possible to find a perfect set of waves in a beach out of the wind, with fine sand which sings underfoot.

The coastline continued as it begun, an endless string of unspoilt beaches and small hamlets. After the Royal National Park—the second oldest national park in the world—comes the dramatic Sea Cliff Bridge. All alone the coastline the Southern Pacific Ocean has eaten away into the sandstone, leaving behind innumerable cliffs and bays, inlets and deserted beaches. I simply let the road take us where it would, stopping if we felt hungry or wanted to take in the view, not even thinking about where to stay the night until darkness started to fall.

Sydney-Melbourne Coastal Drive

show route and directions
A markerSydney -
Sydney NSW, Australia
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B markerRoyal National Park, NSW -
Royal National Park NSW, Australia
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C markerWoollongong, NSW -
Wollongong NSW, Australia
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D markerUlladulla, NSW -
Ulladulla NSW 2539, Australia
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E markerJervis Bay, NSW -
Jervis Bay, 2540, Australia
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F markerSouthern Highlands, NSW -
Southern Highlands, NSW, Australia
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G markerEden, NSW -
Eden NSW, Australia
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H markerMelbourne -
Melbourne VIC, Australia
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I markerLakes Entrance, Victoria -
Lakes Entrance VIC 3909, Australia
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The sea port of Bateman's Bay (c) A Harrison
The sea port of Bateman's Bay (c) A Harrison

The NSW Coast Around Wollongong

Woollongong, (affectionately called ‘The Gong’) is the third largest town in NSW. The descent from the highlands to this shipping port is simply spectacular. Further south, Ulladulla is the perfect place to find a wharf and eat fish and chips—or their renowned oysters. After tapas in a wine bar, I came to rest in a hotel at Burrell Lake, a small fishing village. Startled by the headlights, rabbits hopped along the roadside, and the sound of the ocean filled my dreams.

I woke to a window overlooking the lake to the sea. Fishing boats bobbed on the water. A small patch of forest lay between the hotel and the beach, and birds of all colors darted by as I wandered along the sandy path. Amongst the trees was the occasional track of a wallaby, and an echidna had been digging away in the dirt, leaving behind the tell-tale sign of a double-barrel hole made by his enquiring nose.

The long stretch of beach lay empty. In the translucent water I could see some tiny fish as they darted about my feet. The water was cool but not yet cold, for although late autumn the current still flowed from the tropical north and not from the cooler waters of the south. Soon the humpbacks would pass by on their annual migration, filling the ocean with their song.

Yes, kangaroos are everywhere (c) A. Harrison
Yes, kangaroos are everywhere (c) A. Harrison
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Lush diary country (c) A. HarrisonOnly seagulls for company (c) A. Harrison
Lush diary country (c) A. Harrison
Lush diary country (c) A. Harrison
Only seagulls for company (c) A. Harrison
Only seagulls for company (c) A. Harrison

The Coastal Landscape

Such places are all up and down the coast, begging to be explored. The sands of Jervis Bay are said to be the whitest in the world—an impressive claim in a country filled with white beaches. Dolphins can be spotted in the waters, as well as seals, stingrays, turtles and all manner of marine life. Montague Island has its own colony of fairy penguins. Pebbly Beach is famous for the Eastern Grey kangaroos who come to rest on the sand.

Any guidebook or map will detail the coastal towns and inner Southern Highland hamlets, where the land is more reminiscent of England. A pub meal or a café is never far away, nor boutique shops, antique stores, or a hotel with a welcoming log fire.

Yet it is the landscape which proves the true attraction. The land itself feels ancient, as if we have been here for only a fleeting time. As the road rolls over the hills the sky stretches forever. Many places may make the claim, but Australia truly is a big sky country. Around Bateman’s Bay islands dot the turquoise waterways. The grass is lush, and from the dairy cows of the Bega Valley come some of the best cheeses in the country.

The colours of Australia (c) A. Harrison
The colours of Australia (c) A. Harrison

Eden: Border Town Between NSW and Victoria

A storm was brewing as we drove into Eden, close to the Victorian border. A stiff wind had whipped the waves into a frenzy, and grey clouds were rolling in from the horizon. Nestled on the shores of Twofold Bay, Eden was once a whaling town. Now the numbers of humpbacks passing to calve in the warmer waters off Queensland are increasing each year. In the Whale Museum hangs the skeleton of Old Tom, a killer whale who, whenever humpbacks were nearby, would come into the bay and guide the whalers out for the kill. Many whalers died hunting the whales, and shipwrecks dot the shoreline.

I stood at the lookout, whipped by a wind which felt as if came straight from Antarctica. Even the pelicans made little headway as they tried to soar ever higher to ride the winds. Yet around the corner, the town itself was bathed in sunlight, cocooned from the wind.

Memories of a sea-faring past (c) A Harrison
Memories of a sea-faring past (c) A Harrison

And So to Melbourne

By the time we crossed into Victoria, the rains had come. We stayed the night at Lakes Entrance, before leaving the coast behind to head into Melbourne. Had we the time, we would have continued along into the Mornington Peninsular and so into Melbourne from the south. By lunchtime we were at our favourite café, surrounded by the chaos of a big city. Yet even in the likes of Sydney or Melbourne, the essence of the Australian countryside is never far away.

The street art of Melbourne (c) A. Harrison
The street art of Melbourne (c) A. Harrison

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Anne Harrison

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      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 2 years ago from Australia

        Hi MJFern,

        The twelve Apostles are on the other side of Melbourne, on the Great Ocean Road (about 2-3 hours from Melbourne). Well worth seeing, especially if you do the Melbourne-Adelaide drive (about 8 hrs, if you don't stop).

        Hope you make it here some day,

        Anne

      • MJFenn profile image

        MJFenn 2 years ago

        Interesting hub! are the Twelve Apostles anywhere near this area?

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 2 years ago from Australia

        Thank you poetryman. It's so easy to ignore the delights on your own doorstep, I enjoyed taking my time to discover them.

      • poetryman6969 profile image

        poetryman6969 2 years ago

        You make the trip sound very alluring. The photos are beautiful.

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        It was a wonderful trip, Rebecca. I'm glad you enjoyed the photos.

      • rebeccamealey profile image

        Rebecca Mealey 3 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

        It sounds like you had a delightful trip. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed your photos!

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        I really hope you make it here, georgescifo. Two totally different cities, and the landscape in between is amazing

      • georgescifo profile image

        georgescifo 3 years ago from India

        Really looking Amazing and both Sydney and Melbourne are one of my favorite tourist places even though I have not visited these places ever in my lifetime.

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        I'm glad you enjoyed your armcair visit, Joyfulcrown - I hope you make it here one day

      • Joyfulcrown profile image

        Joyfulcrown 3 years ago

        You are so blessed to be in an area that is so beautiful! I have always dreamed of going to Australia. I enjoyed reading your hub.

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        I agree, ainezk - there is always somewhere to discover

      • ainezk profile image

        ainezk 3 years ago

        Hi,

        There are many, it seems, vast and charming spots in this part of the world.

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Dear great stuff,

        It sounds like you took the inland freeway, which shaves about 3 hours off the trip. Time to come back and take your time along the coastal route!

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Hi ppeachpurple,

        Most definitely visit your friend in Sydney, and take the time to druve th Melbourne - it's well worth it

      • greatstuff profile image

        Mazlan 3 years ago from Malaysia

        We took the Sydney-Melbourne route in a specially chartered bus for a group of crazy golfers. I don't think it was the coastal route as I don't remember the coastlines. Anyway, we stopped along the way for a round of golf (can't remember the place), then continued to Canberra for dinner and an overnight stay. Left in the morning for Melbourne and the group had another round of golf in Melbourne. I decided to go and watch Mama Mia with my wife, instead. This was 12 years ago and I think I slept most of the way!

      • peachpurple profile image

        peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

        my school mate is staying in sydney for 20 years now, maybe i should visit her someday and enjoy melbourne vacation

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        I'm so glad you enjoyed the hub - and please come down here some day. That is exactly how the black cockatoo flies.

      • Iris Draak profile image

        Cristen Iris 3 years ago from Boise, Idaho

        I read for sentences like this: "They lumbered across the sky, large and awkward as if they had no right to fly". Fantastic. You had me from that line on! I sincerely hope that I someday get to visit the southern hemisphere.

      • Jonn Christie 90 profile image

        Jonn Ross Christie 3 years ago from Australia

        Splendid my friend i sent my latest poem of to Rove Mcmanas not sure if he will read ill wait and see :) If you did self publish a travel book it would make for a fascinating read how would i go about self publishing my poetry if that's what i wanted to do?

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        I'll be there Jonn. And one day I might self-publish a travel book

      • Jonn Christie 90 profile image

        Jonn Ross Christie 3 years ago from Australia

        You are welcome Annie :) Are there any books that you have written? This is just a suggestion maybe you could put some of these articles into the lonely planet guides or make into your own travel series Oh while on the subject of writing and poetry i would love to see you at my first book launch whenever that will be.

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Dear travmaj,

        I almost didn't writ the article because it's so easy to take our own backyard for granted. And Melbourne is an amazing place!

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Thank you AliciaC - please come and visit Australia. It sounds like a cliché, but there really is so much variety to see here, from the cosmopolitan cities to the beaches to the countryside, not to mentio the outback (or the food!)

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Dear Romanian,

        I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. I hope you make it to our shores one day.

      • Anne Harrison profile image
        Author

        Anne Harrison 3 years ago from Australia

        Dear Jonn,

        Thank you so much. I'm flattered you think my writing is poetry - there is no greater compliment!

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I love this description of your journey, Anne. What a beautiful place to explore. I would love to visit Australia some day and take the same trip that you did.

      • travmaj profile image

        travmaj 3 years ago from australia

        Anne, thanks for the reminder of our beautiful coastline. It's many years since I travelled along this stretch. Sometimes we need a reminder of just what Australia has to offer. Enjoyed the journey and photo's you present. I'm a Melbourne enthusiast - totally biased of course!

      • Romanian profile image

        Nicu 3 years ago from Oradea, Romania

        That coast it's beautiful, and your photos are awesome. Thanks for your good article.

      • Jonn Christie 90 profile image

        Jonn Ross Christie 3 years ago from Australia

        What a delightful read my friend love the little poem at the start just beautiful it reminds me of the very first poem i wrote.

        I love the photos too particularly the forest of trees amazing shot.

        And Eden sounds like paradise which is why i guess they called it Eden.

        I have never been to Melbourne as yet it looks like a beautiful City. Not like Sydney of cause i could not handle living in Sydney again. Though i do like the Northern Beaches.

        All in all a wonderful read and a great hub look forward to reading next installment xx0

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