After all the excitement of Sydney, we were ready to hit the road again, and this time we were able to go as slowly as we liked. There are a couple of options when it comes to driving from Sydney to Melbourne, but since it was our first time we decided to take the scenic coastal route, meandering through lots of national parks, visiting old mining towns, and stopping at plenty of white sandy beaches. I’ve broken our journey down into 2 sections: Sydney to Pettman’s Beach (not long after the border between NSW and Victoria) and our little detour to Wilson’s Prom/Phillip Island, which I’ll talk about in a separate post.
Sydney > Kangaroo Valley
We were grateful to drive away from the busy Sydney freeway and, after just an hour’s drive, be greeted with towering gum trees and spectacular ocean views as we entered the Royal National Park. I was surprised to learn that this is one of the oldest national parks in the entire world – established in 1879, the Royal National Park is only 7 years older than the much-loved Yellowstone Park (USA). We didn’t explore for long, but there are plenty of walking tracks and beaches if you plan to stay there or visit for the day. If you’re just driving through like us, make sure that you take the slightly longer route and drive over the bridge for postcard-perfect views.
As we started driving through the small town of Berry, we decided to stop off for a much-needed refreshment. Due to Phil’s (rightful) concern over the engine being too hot, we have been driving with the heating on and the windows down in 36 degrees (as the heat blasted into the car is said to take off some of the pressure on the engine). I have since managed to convince him that our health and wellbeing is more important and we have come to the compromise of abstaining from the use of heating and from the use of air-con (which is conversely said to contribute to the engine overheating), until we will hopefully find a long term solution by flushing the radiator out in Melbourne – please, keep your fingers crossed for us! In any case, we both enjoyed a “schooner” (still getting used to the different interstate beer measurements!) of beer at the Great Southern Hotel – one of your classic, old-school Aussie bars. As Phil said, it’s built for drinking beer and not much else.
There’s a great little place in Berry called The Treat Factory– it’s full of gourmet snacks, homemade jams and chutneys, and lots of local delicacies that you can taste. Well worth a visit if you’re passing through – also has air con, always a bonus 😉 In a further attempt to cool down, we headed to 7 Mile Beach for a quick swim, and it was virtually empty save for a couple of other people. This would be the first of many beaches that made us go “wow!” as we were just beginning our drive along the coast.
If you’re also travelling on a budget and are looking for a place to stay in Kangaroo Valley, check out Bendeela Recreation Area for a huge grassy site with plenty of space and lots of shade. It’s a really nice spot by the river and you will get your fair share of wildlife, with laughing kookaburras (nature’s own alarm clock for you) and lots of wombats! I was pretty excited as this was my first wombat sighting, so we tentatively followed a mummy wombat and her joey (same term as baby kangaroos) and took some snaps. Do not be tempted to touch them – we saw a couple of people stroking the wombats but they often carry diseases which are contagious to humans and it probably annoys the wombat too!
Kangaroo Valley > Ulladulla
We’d been admiring the pictures of the pristine looking Jervis Bay for quite some time, so we were excited to check it out. As promised, the sand was incredibly white and the water looked unbelievably clear, but it was overcrowded and the weather started to take a turn for the worse soon after we got there. Neither of these things should really stop you from visiting of course, as we went to one of the most popular beaches (Hyams) in Jervis Bay during the peak of summer/school holidays, so we were kind of asking for it at such a major tourist town 🙂 You can tell that we are spoilt for choice with our nice beaches since we are becoming so picky!!
Keeping in theme with our aim of finding free camping, we headed to Sunburnt Beach (Termeil) but there were no sites left by 4 pm as space was pretty limited there (it looked awesome though!) At this time of the day, you just want to start setting up camp, so once again WikiCamps came to the rescue. We managed to find an alternative, cheap ($10) campsite called Shallow Crossing about 45 minutes away, which led us on a bit of a mini 4WD adventure as Troy embarked on his first river crossing. With the river at 0.8 metres, we were a bit hesitant about how he would cope, but at the end of the day, that’s what he’s built for (snorkel and all!) You can probably access this campsite from an alternative road without crossing the river, but you would need to check it out in advance as the height changes every day.
Tip: when crossing rivers, always roll down your windows – if you’re a 4WD rookie like me, you might think “but all the water could get into the car…” but it’s a lot safer to do this in case anything goes wrong and you need to get out of the car quickly.
One of the things we’ve noticed when we arrive at all the different campsites is how basic our set up is compared to everyone else’s. We’re talking gigantic, bus-size Meet the Fockers style caravans. Of course there are lots of factors that determine the way you want to camp – whether you want to sleep in a tent or a vehicle, whether you want to go four wheel driving or not, how many people you’re travelling with etc etc. That being said, we could definitely do with a bit of an upgrade in some departments, which was clear when we became irrepressibly excited at finding a picnic table at some of the campgrounds. So we’ve decided that a small, fold up camping table won’t break the bank and would be a very welcome addition to our little home.
Ulladulla > Brou Lake
It’s a liberating feeling to wake up in the morning, open up a map and say “where are we going today?” Obviously we have a general route in mind already, but there are lots of little detours available that you might not expect. After Ulladulla, we headed to the old gold-mining town of Mogo via the popular Bateman’s Bay. As much as I adore the incredible wildlife/beaches on this route, I’m always thankful for a little bit of history when we drive through these old towns, and I like to imagine what these sleepy little places were like back in their heyday. There’s not a whole lot to see in Mogo, but they do have two very obscure sounding points of interest, and we decided to pick one to stop off at. Firstly, there’s Mogo Zoo – home to snow leopards, white lions and red pandas to name but a few – all of which took me by surprise since we were in the middle of a rural Aussie town, but there you go! Instead, we decided to head to the town’s second major attraction, the slightly more Australian themed recreation of Mogo’s old Goldrush Colony. You get a guided tour of the colony (some of which has been reconstructed from the original buildings) learning about the history of the gold rush era in NSW, and (most importantly) you get to dig for your own gold at the end! We came away with two tiny flakes of gold between us 🙂
Tip: don’t forget to use WikiCamps for finding Points of Interest in addition to campgrounds – we found an awesome lookout point for a picnic that overlooked the nearby Shark Beach that afternoon.
After a short drive through Eurobodalla National Park, we came to Brou Lake campground, which offers lots of shaded sites amongst the gum trees (and there are lots of scatty wallabies jumping around!) It’s the perfect, back to basics camping spot right next to the beach, where we were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins surfing along the ocean during some sunset yoga – magical!
Brou Lake > Merimbula
Not far from Brou Lake you’ll find another quaint little village named Central Tilba, which you can tell pretty much survives off tourism. The main street is lined with local craft stores selling all kinds of weird and wonderful things: antiques, handmade leather/wooden goods, jewellery, glassware, and (my personal favourite) the ABC cheese factory. We popped in for some free tastings and came away with a small wedge of blue cheese to go with the last drop of our much savoured red wine (all the way from Margaret River!)
We didn’t drive far today as we were ahead of schedule for arriving in Melbourne, so we decided to head to Newton’s Crossing Campground nice and early. When we arrived, one of the local firemen was there. He was advising campers that there was currently no fire ban in place in this area (which is quite unusual during the peak of summer) but just to keep an eye on any fires we make and double check that they’re out before we leave. We stayed sitting in the car, debating on which spot we should choose to set up camp, when he got back out of his car and headed over to us again: “Now, I don’t tell everyone this”, he said, “but if you’re not sure about staying here, I know a great spot with its own little beach just a 5 minute drive away”. Well, a big thank you to this very friendly fireman because you absolutely made our night! We followed his directions down a little 4 WD track, and found his secret spot. We had the whole place to ourselves, which was incredible… but we were both a little bit hesitant at first, since it was the first time we camped so remotely, with no phone service, completely by ourselves. But once we settled in, we realised how idyllic and special a place it really was. We swam in the river, started our own fire (I can’t take any credit for that one!) and set up our new home for the night.
As much as I adore and harp on about the benefits of WikiCamps in these posts, we couldn’t bring ourselves to drop a pin on the location for other campers. Call me a hypocrite, but I think this place should stay a hidden gem, with its unspoiled and isolated setting (plus, we’d definitely piss off the locals as the fireman said they’d been coming here for years!) That being said, if you’re travelling around this area, drop me a message and I’ll happily share the secret with you 🙂
Merimbula > Pettman’s Beach
This is our last day of driving before we head to Wilson’s Prom for a couple of nights. We crossed the NSW/Victoria border today, which nearly passed us by as there’s nothing but a tiny sign covered in graffiti saying “Welcome to Victoria” on the side of the road. Since we didn’t do much driving yesterday, we decided to take a little detour to the seaside town of Mallacoota, where every man and his dog seemed to be camping! This is Victoria’s most easterly town, nestled away on the tip of the coastline. There’s a nice laidback vibe to the place, with long stretches of sandy beaches and a few little cafes and restaurants dotted around the town. Once you get back onto the highway (you have to go to Mallacoota and back on yourself again – unfortunately there’s no way of avoiding this!) keep going until you reach Croajingolong National Park, and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful drive through a winding forest trail.
We stopped off at Pettman’s Beach for the night, which was very beautiful but very windy! There were only a few other campers there, and a couple of so-called “grey nomads” popped over to our site when we arrived and proceeded to give us lots of advice on free places to stay, tips for desert driving and different routes we could take. They said they’d driven around Australia 4 times now, and I think they enjoyed sharing their experience with our fresh eyes – and we certainly enjoyed hearing about it!
Tip: Maybe this is a bit of a no-brainer, but go out of your way to take all the advice you can get from other travellers – just keep talking to people and saving up little bits of information – you never know when it might come in handy.
So, that’s it for now – I hope you enjoyed this post and I can’t wait to share with you the wonderful place that is Wilson’s Prom next time! Oh, and not forgetting the miraculous little penguin parade on Phillip Island… (so cute!!)