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Australia is not just a country, but a continent and almost as big as the United States. In one month, we could only see a small slice of it! So, we chose our driving route based on our particular likes – avoiding big cities and beaches and instead going to the hills. Starting off from a big city is inevitable, so Sydney it was. There are several unmissable sights and experiences to enjoy in this bustling metropolis. A famous skyline, unique architecture and sun-soaked beaches – Sydney has it all. We stayed by the delightful Darling Harbor and walked our feet off on our first day, taking in the Harbor Bridge, Opera House and the pretty Royal Botanic Garden.
To experience the various views of the Harbor Bridge you can take a ferry across the harbor to appreciate its architectural intricacies from below or walk across it and stop at the Pylon Lookout for uninterrupted views of the harbor and to also learn about the bridge’s history and construction. If you feel adventurous, you could climb to the summit of the bridge with a guide and harness, and take in a 360-degree panoramic views of the city.
We then started on our drive towards Melbourne. Here’s our route:
A bit about accommodations and food. We stayed in smaller hotels and rural B&Bs. Aussies are very hospitable people and we were comfortable everywhere. Food in Australia is quite English/ Scottish in nature – fish and chips, lamb, beef and salmon (Tasmanian). Most hotels and of course B&Bs provide free breakfast – continental or “full” – including eggs, bacon and sausage. Servings are quite generous, restaurant prices are very reasonable, and service is always excellent with a smile although tips are not expected (a 10% tip is a good “thank you”).
Aussies are very friendly people and even complete strangers passing by you on a walking path will smile, wish you well, and have a chat about how far the waterfall is or how difficult the path is. A “thank you” is responded to with a smile and “No worries, mate”.
Our first stop was at Katoomba, the land of Blue Mountains. Yes, Blue Mountains are really blue, especially in the morning, apparently due to eucalyptus oil molecules in the air. There is a lot to see, notably the Echo Point and the Three Sisters – three sandstone ribs standing in a row against the vast background of the Jamison valley – beautiful photo ops and walks and hikes of every level of difficulty. Everglades House and Gardens in Leura – an impressive 1930s house and the garden which is designed in classic English style – overlooks the expansive Jamison valley. Of course, do not miss their pleasant tea-rooms serving freshly baked scones and Devonshire tea!
Canberra was the next stop. Sorry, we’re in the minority here when we say we weren’t impressed! We took in the view from Mount Ainslie lookout, skipped the Parliament building and drove out of the city to Namadgi National Park where we discovered the beautiful Gibraltar falls and Corin Dam. The secluded road leading there was a lovely drive – a climbing hill road which is actually a dead end, but immaculately maintained and sign-posted. This day trip out of Canberra was totally worth it!
Jindabyne came next. Located in the Snowy Mountains, Jindabyne is home to a lovely lake. It was very relaxing to sit on the open verandah of our lakeside accommodation in the evening, watching the colors slowly change on the lake and the surrounding hills.
A hilly drive took us to Perisher, so named because the intrepid explorer who first ventured there nearly perished. Yes, we were surprised to see a lot of snow, and the road beyond Perisher to Charlotte pass was closed due to unseasonal snow in spring!
To the plains, next. Lakes Entrance, as the name suggests, is a coastal town known for Gippsland Lakes, a vast system of inland waterways. It is full of stunning beaches, water sports opportunities, glistening lakes and fishing. We enjoyed the nice long walks along a pedestrian bridge to Ninety Mile beach and a bit of wildlife along the beach – kangaroos, pelicans and dolphins. We’re so glad we had our Celestron SkyMaster Binoculars with us. It made being able to spot these incredible creatures a lot easier.
We left the main Melbourne Road as a detour to reach Agnes Falls. Famous waterfalls often come with two irritants, large car parks crammed with cars and tourist coaches, hence hoards of people, and a grueling climb back from the viewing spot. Agnes Falls is a hidden gem with few visitors because of its remoteness and the walk to the falls is very pleasant. And yes, this cascade waterfall itself is truly worth the visit!
Next up was Phillip island, a restful seaside town with some lovely views.
Just a 90-minute drive south of Melbourne, Phillip Island makes a great day trip. Passenger ferries take you there from Stony Point on the Mornington Peninsula and bus services run from Melbourne to several towns on Phillip Island. Here we got to see incredible Australian wildlife amongst spectacular landscapes and enjoy the popular ‘penguin parade’ experience. Head up into the treetops and come face-to-face with koalas in their natural habitat. The Koala Conservation Centre has raised boardwalks for excellent viewing and photo opportunities.
From this magnificent headland at the Nobbies Centre the views stretch forever. There are spectacular coastal views from the boardwalks and lookout points set amongst natural sea bird gardens. At about one and a half kilometres offshore from The Nobbies are Seal Rocks, home to Australia’s largest Australian Fur Seal colony.
We strolled along The Nobbies boardwalk and enjoyed spectacular views along Phillip Island’s rugged south coast. Do not miss the awesome blowhole, a spectacular sea cave that thunders during big southern swells.
Silver Gulls nest here and chicks can be seen during spring and early summer. Little Penguins are often seen here resting between seasonal and daily duties.
Not to be missed is a virtual ‘Antarctic Journey’ at the Nobbies centre that showcases the landscape and stunning wildlife through large huge multimedia installations. A ‘must’ for families with children.
Sorrento, located at the tip of the Mornington peninsula, was our last destination before Melbourne. It is a popular weekend spot not too far from Melbourne. Apart from the beaches, there are a couple of great viewpoints and a vintage fortress built in the pre-electricity days. The Sorrento pier and foreshore area are both fabulous and demand that you put in a long walk through the sand, enjoying the sights and sounds of Sorrento.
We drove from Sorrento to Portsea and stopped at the London Bridge lookout that offers a grand view of unusual rock formations and a panoramic view of the sea. The rugged coastline, the natural beauty and the military history of the region combine to make it a delightful day out.
Point Napean National Park in Portsea has several coastal trails around the park which will give you expansive views of Port Phillip Bay, The Rip and the wild waters of Bass Strait. You can choose from a range of walks including the Fort Nepean Discovery Walk, Gunners Cottage Walk and Wilsons Folly Walk.
Called the cultural capital of Australia, Melbourne offers the best in museums, parks, art galleries and of course, eclectic dining experiences. South Yarra and Kilda are picturesque tourist places to roam about. We are not such big city-lovers and had to drop off the car and didn’t get to see much of this big city! Maybe next time.
Oh yes, we are going back to Australia to check out many other lovely places, soon……once it’s safe to start traveling again!
Jan and Benu, empty nesters, love to explore the world through adventurous road trips. They prefer to drive to scenic and often remote places taking the inner roads, staying in villages and small towns and avoiding big cities.