The Sydney to Melbourne Coastal Drive
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
© 2014 Anne Harrison