Melbourne to Sydney Coastal Route, Australia
One of the best road trips you can do in Australia has got to be the drive between Melbourne and Sydney.
There is the practical benefit – that you get between the country’s two largest cities without having to worry about the logistics of a flight. But I also think it’s got a fantastic amount of diversity – big cities and small towns, the beach and the bush, relaxation and adventure, nature and culture.
Imagine sailing on a lake one day, hanging out with kangaroos the next. Going deep inside an old gold mine one afternoon and then hiking along the coast.
There are lots of different routes you could take to get between Melbourne and Sydney.
The most direct way is to go straight along the Hume Highway, the main road that connects the two. That takes about ten hours of driving but it’s not particularly scenic. There aren’t too many places worth stopping that are close to the highway.
If you discount the Hume Highway, that leaves you with two main options – go along the coast or go inland. Both have their advantages and I wouldn’t want to recommend one over the other.
The coastal route gives you beaches, lakes, and small seaside towns. The inland route offers mountains, snow (in winter), and more historical sites. Both of them have plenty of stunning scenery.
But what if you could do a bit of both? Well, that’s exactly what I did when I put together an itinerary to drive from Melbourne to Sydney recently.
In total, the route was about 1600 kilometres (1000 miles) long and I did it over six days. There was an average of about 3 hours driving each day which was pretty reasonable, I thought.
To help with any plans you may have to do this drive yourself, I’ve put together a step by step itinerary with suggestions for the best places to stop along the way. As you’ll see, you can fit a lot into one week but still feel nice and relaxed.
DAY ONE: MELBOURNE
OK, so this day isn’t officially part of the road trip but I wanted to include a few suggestions for things to do in Melbourne because it’s likely you’ll have at least a day here before you start (it deserves a few, if you can).
Melbourne is one of those cities where half the fun is just walking around and discovering things for yourself. The city centre is full of little laneways with cafes, bars and quirky shops. Down by the beach, St Kilda has a wonderful vibe. There are also plenty of museums and galleries that are worth checking out.
If you wanted to plan a full day of activities, though, here’s one way to do it:
Hot Air Ballooning
Start the day before dawn with a sunrise hot air balloon ride. You’ll take off from the suburbs of Melbourne and then drift towards the city centre as the first rays of the sun hit thousands of homes below you.
After an hour of the most incredible views of Melbourne, you’ll land amongst workers on their way to the office.
Although it’s fun to explore the laneways of Melbourne, you’re bound to miss out on a lot if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s why a tour with a local organisation is a great idea.
The guide will be able to take you to some of the lesser-known areas and point out places you may have walked straight past. I find it’s also nice to hear some of the stories about the things you’re seeing, so you’ve got a better understanding of the city.
There are a few local tours that would be worth considering:
Royal Exhibition Building
The Royal Exhibition Building is not one of the most popular tourist attractions in Melbourne but I think it’s extremely underrated and is worth a visit.
It was built in the 1880s to host an international fair and is a beautiful example of the architecture of the time. Most famously, though, it was used as the location for the opening of Australia’s first parliament in 1901 and held about 14,000 people!
The Royal Exhibition Building is only accessible by guided tour, click the link for more info:
The Royal Exhibition Building is right next to the Melbourne Museum so, if you have time, it is worth popping in and having a look around. It’s a large and modern museum but one of the highlights is the First Peoples section.
This is an excellent exhibition about the indigenous people who lived around Melbourne before (and after) the arrival of Europeans. There is plenty of detail about life before colonisation and about the relationship with the Aboriginal people since.
Of course, there’s lots more to do in Melbourne but these suggestions start to show you some of the variety on offer.
For accommodation right in the city centre, I would suggest Crown Towers. The rooms have great views across the city and there’s a selection of fine restaurants within the complex. The building is right on the Yarra River and it’s an easy stroll to many of the city’s sights.
If you’re looking for something a bit more boutique, I would recommend The Cullen in the suburb of Prahan. It’s a beautifully-designed hotel, filled with artwork. It’s in a trendy area with great cafes and restaurants and it’s even possible to walk to St Kilda.
DAY TWO: WALHALLA
The road trip officially begins this morning. If you don’t already have a car and you’re picking something up, I would recommend trying to do this before 9am because most rental companies get busy after that. You can do this trip in a campervan or with a standard car.
Drive from Melbourne to Yarragon
After leaving Melbourne, the first stop I would suggest is Yarragon. This is a good place for a break. You might like to have a coffee or lunch at the Fozigobble Cafe which has organic food and a nice garden at the front.
Distance: 120 kilometres (72 miles)
Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
* I should note here that all driving times are a best-case scenario, assuming you are travelling the speed limit and don’t hit traffic or stop for breaks. If you are a slower driver, like more frequent breaks, or are using a campervan, make sure to add some extra time into your planning.
Drive from Yarragon to Walhalla
From Yarragon, drive to Walhalla. This will be your stop for the night. The last section of the driving has lots of curves so be sure to drive carefully. It is lovely scenery as you go up into the mountains, though.
Distance: 70 kilometres (42 miles)
Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Walhalla is an old gold mining town that was one of the richest places in Australia in the late 1880s. Thousands of people lived and worked here during the boom. Now, though, there are less than 20 permanent residents.
Walhalla is a peaceful place and it’s easy to relax – but the town has also retained the charm of its golden era and there’s plenty to see. Here are the two highlights I would suggest:
Long Gully Extended Gold Mine
As I mentioned, the heritage of Walhalla revolves around gold and it’s great that you can see some of this history for yourself. One of the mines is open to the public and you can walk down into it and get a sense of what it would have been like for the workers. It’s incredible to think that most of the passages here were painstakingly cut away by hand.
You need to go into the mine as part of a guided tour. I would suggest checking the times for the tours in advance to make sure you arrive in Walhalla before the last one.
Walhalla Goldfields Railway
This charming rail journey starts in Walhalla and crosses a series of bridges before reaching its destination 20 minutes later. The train then turns around and you head back to town.
The train isn’t original but it has the feeling you would expect from an old gold mining town. The highlight of the journey, though, is the beautiful scenery along the way as you cross gorges and rivers. I would suggest checking the timetable in advance because there isn’t a regular service.
If you would prefer to stay in a campervan, Walhalla allows you to park and sleep on the side of the road so you’ll see lots of free spaces in town. For somewhere that also has amenities, it might be better to stay at a tourist park in the nearby town of Erica.
DAY THREE: WILSONS PROMONTORY
Drive from Walhalla to Meeniyan
Today’s destination is Wilsons Promontory but you’ll almost certainly need a break on the way there. I would suggest stopping in a town called Meeniyan. If you need a meal or a coffee, make sure you check at Moo’s at Meeniyan, which does some of the best food in town.
You’ll also need to pick up some supplies here in Meeniyan for your overnight stay in the national park because Wilsons Promontory has a shop that’s open during the day where you can get food, but there’s nothing available in the evening. There’s a supermarket in Meeniyan or you could ask Marty at Moo’s to fix you up a dinner pack to cook on the barbeque (that’s what I did).
Make sure you also get petrol here or at nearby Fish Creek because there are no petrol stations at Wilsons Promontory.
Distance: 110 kilometres (70 miles)
Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Drive from Meeniyan to Tidal River
From Meeniyan, drive to Tidal River, which is the tourist centre of Wilsons Promontory. Make sure you read the information below about accommodation before you arrive.
Distance: 74 kilometres (46 miles)
Time: 1 hour and 5 minutes
Wilsons Promontory is the southernmost point of mainland Australia and it has an amazing collection of natural offerings. There are huge granite mountains, forest, beaches, and rocky outcrops. You can relax on the sand or go hiking for hours (or even days).
If you’re only planning to stay one night, I would suggest spending your afternoon doing some of these things:
Walk to Squeaky Beach
From Tidal River, it’s an easy walk of about 30 minutes to Squeaky Beach. Along the way, you’ll cross the main river, get a great viewpoint from high up, then go down and over some rocks. The beach got it’s name because of the sound the sand makes when you walk on it. You can continue further along the coast to more beaches if you like.
Hike up Mount Oberon
The hike up to the top of Mount Oberon is relatively steep but manageable for most people. It takes about an hour from the closest car park. The view from the top is spectacular and you can look out over most of Wilsons Promontory. The best time to go up (apparently) is for sunrise, so you might like to be active and do it first thing in the morning (I didn’t).
Catch the sunset at Whisky Bay
I prefer sunset to sunrise and you get an incredible one at Whisky Bay. It’s only a ten minute drive from Tidal River and is really worth the effort. You can see why it’s so popular with photographers.
If you would prefer to stay in a campervan, there are unpowered sites at Tidal River but you’ll also need to book one in advance at most times of the year. It can get very busy during the summer period.
DAY FOUR: GIPPSLAND LAKES
Drive from Tidal River to Sale
The final destination for today is Metung, in Gippsland Lakes, and it’s quite a long drive. A good halfway point to stop for a break is the small city of Sale. A restaurant called Redd Catt comes highly recommended for lunch or coffee.
Distance: 183 kilometres (114 miles)
Time: 2 hours and 20 minutes
Drive from Sale to Metung
From Sale, you’ll head towards Lakes Entrance but turn off before you get there, towards the small town of Metung.
Distance: 100 kilometres (62 miles)
Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Gippsland Lakes is the largest navigable inland water system in Australia. It’s a perfect place for a holiday because the lakes offer plenty of opportunity for water sports and the beach is just metres away.
Fishing and boating are popular and there’s a relaxed atmosphere. Lakes Entrance is the main tourist centre of the region but Metung offers a more charming village atmosphere.
The best thing you can do here is:
…get out on the water!
While there’s nothing wrong with a relaxing afternoon around Metung, you really want to get out on the water to appreciate the Gippsland Lakes region. A local company in Metung called Riviera Nautic offers a couple of options. They have a cruise around the lakes which leaves at 2:30pm on some days of the week (details below).
You can also hire a little motorboat from them and drive yourself around. Pull into the small bays, power across the lakes, and stop at the beach. You’ll be amazed at how many water birds you see along the way too!
Unfortunately there are no campervan facilities in Metung but there are a few options just ten minutes drive away, around the town of Swan Reach.
DAY FIVE: CROAJINGALONG NATIONAL PARK
Drive from Metung to Cann River
This morning the drive is to Gipsy Point at Croajingalong National Park. To break up the journey, I suggest a break at Cann River. There aren’t many things here but the Pelican Point Coffee Lounge is good for a coffee or a meal.
Distance: 157 kilometres (97 miles)
Time: 2 hours
Drive from Cann River to Gipsy Point
From Cann River, you’ll be following the signs to Mallacoota. There’s a small turn off to Gipsy Point before you get there, so keep an eye out.
Distance: 57 kilometres (43 miles)
Time: 45 minutes
Gipsy Point is surrounded by the enormous Croajingalong National Park, which stretches for more than 100 kilometres (60 miles) along the coast. UNESCO has declared the park a World Biosphere Reserve because of the natural diversity it has within it. It’s one of the most interesting natural locations in Australia but, for some reason, gets a limited number of tourists.
Croajingalong National Park
Getting around Croajingalong is not easy and you won’t be able to see a lot of it in one afternoon. Unless you plan to stay longer (which would be great), I suggest you spend your time seeing a few different aspects of Croajingalong National Park. The coastline is quite spectacular and you can access its beaches from quite a few places off Betka Road, just south of Mallacoota.
Hiking up to the top of Genoa Peak gives you fantastic views and is relatively easy, taking about 30 minutes from the carpark. Many of the bushwalks inland from the coast will get you up close with some Australian wildlife (I saw some koalas on the track I took).
You should also try to get out on the water and explore the isolated beaches and bays that can’t be reached by car. If you take my Gipsy Point accommodation suggestion below, you’ll be able to hire a kayak or maybe even get a boat ride.
For a campervan, you are better off staying in Mallacoota where there are plenty of facilities. The Mallacoota Foreshore Holiday Park is one of the largest in the state, in fact, and has about 650 sites.
DAY SIX: NSW SOUTH COAST
Drive from Gipsy Point to Pambula
Today’s stretch takes you along much of the south coast of New South Wales. There are plenty of great little towns and beaches to stop at. This whole region feels like a constant summer holiday.
My first suggestion for somewhere to stop is Pambula because there’s something pretty fun you can do there.
Distance: 85 kilometres (53 miles)
Time: 1 hour and 5 minutes
Captain Sponge’s Magical Oysters Tour
This area is known for its oyster farming and, if you’ve ever wondered how that’s done, you can see it up close here. Jump on board Captain Sponge’s Magical Oyster Tour and your guide will take you around Pambula Lake to show you the oyster farms and explain the whole process. You’ll even be able to taste a few of the local fresh oysters in a beautiful natural surrounding.
Drive from Pambula to Narooma
From Pambula, I would suggest you head to Narooma. There are two options for driving – the faster route through Bega or the slower route along the coast. Take the coastal road if you would like to stop in some small towns like Merimbula and Bermagui. The Bega way might be better if you want to relax by the beach once you reach your accommodation.
>Distance (via Bega): 116 kilometres (72 miles)
Time (via Bega): 1 hour and 30 minutes
Distance (via the coast): 115 kilometres (72 miles)
Time (via the coast): 2 hours
At Narooma, there is a really special experience that I would definitely recommend and will probably be a highlight of this stretch of the drive.
Swim with the seals
Montague Island, off the coast of Narooma, is home to hundreds of friendly seals. You can head out to the island on a boat and watch them safely from deck – or you can even jump in and swim with them, like I did.
The seals are really playful and will come up and do tricks for you. They appreciate it if you do some for them in return. I was lucky enough to have a baby seal pup show some interest in me.
For campervan accommodation, you can’t go past the Beachcomber Holiday Park. It’s actually about a 30 minute drive north of Narooma - but that’s part of its charm. The park is right on the beach and surrounded by bush. Expect to see kangaroos and wallabies hopping right past the door. You’ll need to bring your own food - but you can drive to a great cooked breakfast or lunch nearby at the Blue Earth Cafe. (This will also reduce your driving time tomorrow)
DAY SEVEN: CANBERRA
Drive from Narooma to Braidwood
You’ll be driving to Canberra today, if you’re happy to keep following my suggestions. This diversion does make the overall road trip a bit longer but I think the nation’s capital is worth a visit (alternatively, just keep following the coast to Sydney). To break up the journey, I would recommend Braidwood as the first stop.
Distance: 130 kilometres (80 miles)
Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Drive from Braidwood to Canberra
The first part of the driving today has some tough uphill sections but it’s all nice and leisurely from Braidwood to Canberra with the smell of eucalyptus all around.
Distance: 90 kilometres (55 miles)
Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Canberra is a busy city of about 300,000 people but you’ll notice that things can seem a bit slow and relaxed. That’s because the city was planned in such a way that everything is spread out and surrounded by nature.
As the capital of Australia, Canberra has some of the most important national institutions. Although there’s lots to do here, if you’re short of time, I would suggest you choose from a selection of the following free things.
A fantastic collection of Australian and international art in a curiously-designed building on the lake. Although the famous international works like Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles get a lot of the attention, it’s the local art which is the most interesting and stretches across the generations.
National Portrait Gallery
Next to the National Gallery, this collection of portraits shows a good variety of styles. Aside from the artistic values, the works also give you a good insight into Australian culture and profiles some of the most significant people in the country’s history.
Australian War Memorial
The national memorial for those lost in war is more than just a shrine. It also has a very large and impressive museum that tells the story of Australia’s involvement in conflicts around the world. It is a wonderfully designed building that is beautiful and moving.
The National Museum looks very modern and funky from the outside but actually has a rather classic collection inside. It takes visitors through various stages of Australia’s journey to becoming the country it is today – from indigenous history, to European settlement, and the development of industry and agriculture.
This large site is still relatively new and the goal to present collections of trees will probably only reach its peak in the coming decades as the plants grow larger. Still, it has a good visitors centre with wonderful views across the city and is a nice stop on a day of sightseeing.
Arguably the most important building in Canberra, seeing as the city was created to host the country’s parliament. This is the new Parliament House and was opened in 1988 (you can also visit the Old Parliament House just down the hill).
I think it’s quite impressive that you can easily get access to the building and walk through much of it, including into the chambers where the politicians create laws. A must do!
If you would like to get a local perspective of the city, there are some great tours. Here are a few recommendations:
Either way, make sure you don’t dismiss Canberra before you see it for yourself – it’s got a lot going on!
For campervans in Canberra, Alivio Tourist Park is conveniently located to the centre of town with easy access to all of the main sights. It has drive through spots for campervans, modern amenities, and a restaurant on the site.
DAY EIGHT: SYDNEY
Drive from Canberra to Sydney
This is the easiest stretch of the road for the entire journey, with a nice highway the whole way and no traffic lights between the two cities.
I haven’t suggested any particular stops because there are a few service centres (with petrol and fast food) along the way if you need them. However, if you are looking for somewhere nice to relax and break up the journey, I would recommend the quaint country town of Bowral.
Distance: 286 kilometres (178 miles)
Time: 3 hours and 30 minutes
And that brings us to the end of the road trip between Australia’s two largest cities, with my arrival in Sydney. I haven’t included any suggestions here for what to do in Sydney – that’s probably worth a whole separate article at some point in the future.
I do hope you have found all of this useful. I really enjoyed my road trip and I wanted to share as much information as possible. Of course, there are an unlimited amount of variations you could make to this. If you have any suggestions yourself that you would like to share with others, please drop me a note I the comments below.
Time Travel Turtle was supported by Tourism Victoria but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.