This Article originally appeared on takemetoaustralia.com.au
There is nothing quite like the freedom of a roadtrip; the ability to experience so many places in one holiday, the way in which you can get so close to nature, and live a simple life that removes the stresses and strains of day to day living. Melbourne and Sydney are two very different cities to start and end in, and the areas in between offer as much contrast. But this roadtrip is not about the cities, it’s about the rolling countryside, the wineries, the caves, the Australian wildlife you don’t often see, and some of the prettiest beaches and coastal towns in Australia. We saw it all on this trip.
I’m going to tell you about each of the places we explored, including the must visit Wilson’s Promontory, Merimbula, Narooma, Jervis Bay, and the Buchan Caves. I’ll also explain why our Apollo Motorhome trip was one that we will never forget…
First up – logistics
We live near Byron Bay, so we flew into Melbourne, picked up our Apollo Motorhome and then drove to Sydney over 2.5 weeks (this trip can be done in less but I would allow 1.5 weeks at least). We then flew from Sydney back home. If you want to plan a similar trip, you can see where the Apollo pick up/drop off locations are here. We took a short taxi ride from the airport to Apollo and were given a tour of our new home on wheels. Our beautiful motorhome was huge and immaculately clean (an important factor for someone like me with OCD traits – haha!). More on our luxurious home on wheels later, because it was too good not to give you the full low down.
1. Mornington Peninsula for 2 nights (a 1.5 hr drive from Melbourne)
We left the hustle and bustle of city life immediately and drove into the welcoming countryside of the Mornington Peninsula. We stayed in the small and central town of Dromana where we picked up some supplies and then took a brisk stroll along the pristine and near empty beach near Rosebud Pier. This stretch of beach is dotted with very cute and very Bristish looking beach huts – perfect for a quirky photo or two.
As we walked towards McCrae along the beach, the kids (we were here with our friends and their tribe too) were mesmerised by different shells and treasures they discovered, and the ocean lit up with streaks of turquoise. I can imagine in summer the water is pretty spectacular.
Whilst we left Northern NSW in our shorts, we were greeted by much cooler weather down South – it was Autumn after all. But there is something joyful about being in the cold, enjoying the elements of the outdoors and then retreating to warmth for good food and wine at the end of the day. So that’s exactly what we did. We walked into the prettily lit Two Buoys restaurant and indulged in a delicious Pinot Noir from the Peninsula. After filling up on some fancy tapas and wine we put the heating on in the van and snuggled up.
In the morning we checked out a very cool little cafe called Merchant & the Maker that we would highly recommend.
Mornington Peninsula Chocolaterie
Our day started in Pt Leo at the Mornington Peninsula Chocolaterie. If you’re a sucker for chocolate then this is a must. It’s not often you find chocolate like this in Australia – plus you get to make your own. The kids loved this and I ate my fair portion of handmade artisan chocolates.
Pt Leo Estate Winery
Time for the adults. There are so many wineries to visit, but we picked the Pt Leo Estate. With impressive views and a giant sculpture park overlooking the vineyards, you can sit behind vast windows, tasting wine, and take it all in. Winners were the Pinot Gris and Shiraz. The Pinot Noir was also beautiful and has cemented my belief that you really can get an incredible Pinot Noir from Australia.
Enchanted Adventure Garden
The next day we were up early and drove through autumn leaves to the top of Arthur’s Chair. Whether you drive or take the gondola, the views are spectacular. It’s also a great bike ride for the brave and experienced (don’t attempt it unless you are). At the top is the Enchanted Adventure Garden. The gardens are truly magical and can’t fail to impress.
The kids took to the treetops to venture through obstacles and flying foxes. With different levels and courses for both kids and adults, it meant there was something suitable for most ages (above 4 yrs old).
Into the hedge maze next and then some adrenaline pumping stuff as they bombed down the giant hill slides. This is a must for the family itinerary.
Other things to see and do on the Peninsula with more time: Head to the hot springs, visit Sorrento or Phillip Island, and generally fill your days with beautiful walks, food, and wine.
2. Wilsons Promontory for 2 nights (2.5 hrs from Mornington)
As you enter Wilson’s Prom you are presented with a unique landscape and equally unique wildlife.
Driving through rugged cliffs we arrived at Tidal River, a national park campground. On arrival we were greeted by a whopping great big wombat. He was particularly tame and nibbled away on grass as we hovered closely (without touching or feeding). Wildlife is a big pull to the area and you’re likely to see animals that you don’t see as often elsewhere in Australia. What to do on the Prom?
We were going to do the sunrise walk up to Mt Oberon, but the weather was set to bucket it down and the rangers weren’t convinced that it would be worth dragging an 8 yr old up a mountain that early to be let down by the sun, so we settled for a beach sunrise in the rain. It was still a pretty perfect start to the day (Mother’s Day too).
The day just got better and better. We cooked up a storm in the motorhome and stored as much energy as we could for the walking tracks that lay ahead.
These following two things MUST be on your Prom list:
Loo Errn Boardwalk to Squeakie Beach
Make sure you start at the very beginning of the track/boardwalk (even if you just do this first part of the walk, you’ll be glad you did – and don’t forget your camera). The stillness of this place will blow you away – the calm deep blue waters of the river and the native bush and bird life are something else. Just when you think it couldn’t get any more beautiful you hit the end of the boardwalk trail and come to an artistically designed bridge and the astounding Elephant Rocks on the start of Norman Beach. Head over the bridge and follow the pretty path to Squeakie Beach, where the sand is so fine it literally squeaks.
As we drove away from Wilson’s Prom with big smiles plastered all over our faces, we were farewelled by several roos and two emus. The wildlife on the Prom was spectacular. Do not miss this part of the world. Simply stunning.
3. Lakes Entrance for 1 night and the must-visit Buchan Caves (3hrs 40 mins from Wilson’s Prom)
Lakes Entrance is a good stopping point on your journey North. We broke up this particular drive with a tasty lunch at Redd Catt in Sale.
We stayed at the BIG4 Waters Edge Holiday Park. This small and peaceful campsite means that you can pop over to the river or beach with ease, and leave your home on wheels exactly where it is. Head over to the bridge for the most stunning of sunsets and spot black swans and other bird life drifting on by.
Around 50 minutes inland from Lakes Entrance are the impressive Buchan Caves and an autumn wonderland that reminded me of a cross between England and Arrowtown in New Zealand. The colours on the trees were beautiful and the leaves continuously fell around us. The silence of this place was really quite special.
Our guide Andrew whose passion for history and geology was infectious, gave us the most engaging tour through the caves. The countryside here is nothing short of stunning and you really can’t miss this off the itinerary.
4. Merimbula for 2 nights (3hrs 15mins from Lakes Entrance)
As soon as we arrived at the BIG4 Merimbula Tween Waters Holiday Park we knew our little girl was in for a good time. Pools, water park, bouncing pillow, you name it they had it, and when they notified us that the next day there would be a craft beer tasting by the fire pit, we knew the adults would be happy too. This is a regular event and one that I’m sure lights up many a guest. Massive kudos to owners Steve and Katie who run this incredible site.
If you’re looking for the perfect place to watch the sunset, then head to Lakewood Drive and walk along the path to the small jetty (see images below).
The next day we drove to Bar Beach, parked the van and grabbed a coffee from the little shack on the beach. Again, fantastic views. There is a lovely little surf break that can be accessed from Bar Beach. Just check the conditions with locals first.
Merimbula Aquarium and Restaurant
Take a pretty stroll from Bar Beach to the wharf (about 10 mins) where you’ll find the Merimbula Aquarium & Wharf Restaurant. Venture down to the aquarium and learn about the local marine biology, then head back up for a fantastic meal (the swordfish was perfection). The view from the restaurant looks out onto the water where we were lucky enough to watch a seal playing and hunting for ages. Stroll down onto the jetty and take a look at the crystal clear water below. This is a seriously beautiful place to just hang out.
We really loved laid back Merimbula. It’s an understated area that offers so much, and the people are super friendly.
The journey to Narooma via Bermagui and Tilba Tilba
Make sure you take the scenic route via Bermagui and Tilba Tilba to Narooma. You’ll wind through lush hills and incredible countryside, driving over characterful wooden bridges, lakes and rivers.
Bermagui and the Blue Pools
Bermagui is an understated little town. Great beaches, a few cute shops and cafes, and a small marina. Head to the blue ocean pools for a swim. Be sure to follow the signs at the top of the steps for any warnings. It was ice cold the day we went to the pool, but I couldn’t resist a quick swim to try and get a photo. It didn’t look elegant at all, because I was just about holding it together as my body went numb and I tried not to scream, but when I got out I felt so refreshed and was stoked to have been in.
Back in the van, we headed to the lovely historic old town of Tilba Tilba. Browse through boutiques, nip into the cheese factory, and grab some tea and scones at one of the cafes or bakeries. Definitely worth the stop.
5. Narooma for 1 night – we wish we’d had longer (1.5 hrs from Merimbula)
We arrived at our campsite – the BIG4 Narooma Easts Holiday Park. Wow! Positioned on the waterfront with views to die for, you won’t find an ugly fence in sight – huge pine trees instead line the campsite and walking trail- and then there was the waterpark! The splash park is just about the best thing to keep the kids entertained. Yet again the facilities here live up to the reputation of the BIG4. Kids will love the freedom and fun of this site, whilst the adults can meander around and simply enjoy what is before them.
Take a walk from the campsite, go over the bridge, and look down to see huge stingrays glide below. Keep walking until you meet the boardwalk that takes you towards the beach. You’ll likely spot a seal or two, and the wall is a great place to watch the surf from. The water here is crystal clear so spotting wildlife is easy and great fun.
Seals of Narooma
Drive down or walk to Bar Rock Lookout and Australia Rock to see the seals in all their glory. Look closely on the rocks as they can be hard to see at first (disguised rather well as large rocks themselves).
Here you’ll see plenty of seals sunning themselves, playing in the ocean and generally being completely adorable. Seeing so many in the wild is an absolute privilege. Now head to the hole in the rock that looks like the outline of Australia. You’ll know the rock when you see it. This area is somewhere we could have stayed for longer. I’d have liked at least 2 or 3 nights here.
6. Batemans Bay for 1 night (1 hr from Narooma)
We drove to Batemans Bay next – a good stopping point between Narooma and Jervis Bay. With a young child the long journeys can sometimes be challenging so we wanted to make the last few legs short and sweet. We stayed bang on the beach at the BIG4 Batemans Bay at Easts Holiday Park. This is an ideal place to watch the sunrise and sunset (our motorhome was parked about 2 metres from the sand). It was the perfect place for me to finally do some exercise too – who could resist a walk or run as the sky went bright pink.
We took it really easy in Bateman’s Bay and had a pretty lazy day doing virtually nothing. But if you want to explore then there are heaps of options; from kayaking to boat trips in the bay, scenic drives, zoos, you name it.
7. Jervis Bay for 2 nights – (1hr 35mins from Batemans Bay)
We arrived in Jervis Bay and went straight to the infamous Hyams Beach. We were immediately gobsmacked by the white sand and blueness of the sea.
With 70km of beach you are spoilt for choice and boy are these beaches magical. It’s got to be the number one reason to visit this area. But what else to do. The list is long. So here we go…
Dolphin Watch Cruises
The guys at Dolphin Watch Cruises are filled with knowledge and enthusiasm to make your dolphin trip one to remember. We saw at least 30 dolphins and so many babies. These gorgeous creatures put on a serious display, babies jumping out of the water, and the older dolphins showing off the squid they had caught. There couldn’t be a better place to watch these curious animals in the wild.
Kayaking and Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Head to the Portside Cafe right on the waterfront and hire a kayak or SUP and cruise on up the river and into the mangroves. The water is crystal clear and you’ll spot all kinds of fish.
Here are some insider tips gathered from the locals we met to help you get the most out of this epic area:
- Visit the smaller beaches. Walk from Greenfield beach to Chinamans Beach. They are pristine and if you’re lucky like us they will be deserted too
- Watch the sunset from Erowal Bay
- Head to Green Patch to see roos and parrots
- Drive into the Booderee National Park. Try snorkeling near Stones Creek and check out the shells that cover the beach
- More roos at Cave Beach
- Watch the whales from Cape St George Lighthouse.
If you get time, it’s worth heading out to the spectacular teardrop shaped lagoon at Honeymoon Bay. Sadly, we didn’t make it there but I wish we had.
Huskisson (the central town in Jervis Bay)
Huskisson is the main hub of Jervis Bay and has great camping options right on the beach. With plenty of good places to eat too, this lovely little town makes the perfect base. Here are a couple of great places to eat:
Gunyah at Paperbark Camp
For something a little different, head to this upmarket treehouse in the middle of the bush and enjoy remarkable food such as pepperberry cured kangeroo with macadamia cream and pickled beetroot. The atmosphere was really relaxed with roaring fires and great wines to accompany this unique experience.
In the heart of Huskisson is Wildginger, a Thai/South East Asian restaurant that will indulge you in all kinds of sweet, spicy and salty flavours. Must haves are the Peking duck pancakes and the slow cooked braised beef cheeks. They source their fish locally too which means that you’ll be getting the best from each season. Their cocktail menu is just as impressive as the food – enjoy!
If you’re looking for a nice view to have a drink and a bite to eat, then the pub has prime position, and for a delicious breakfast, we would recommend the 5 Pigs Cafe.
8. Kiama for 2 nights (1hr 10mins from Jervis Bay)
The last place we visited was Kiama, where you’ll find yet more scenic attractions that will have you dreaming of moving to the countryside and buying a few horses!
Whilst you’re in Kiama head to the lighthouse and check out the blowholes, drive up to Saddleback Lookout, and if you’re feeling adventurous, head to the Illawarra fly/eco zipline (if your vehicle is able to go up the Jamberoo Pass).
We stayed at the BIG4 Easts Beach Holiday Park which is situated on a glorious beach with a great walk to the little blowhole. This campsite caters for everyone, with a huge pool and spa, waterpark, bouncing pillow, and games room for the kids to enjoy. But as with many of the BIG4 sites, the winner here is the view.
And so our trip came to an end. We reluctantly dropped our motorhome off at the depot in Sydney (about 1hr 20mins from Kiama) and arrived just in time for the Vivid Festival. We enjoyed a couple of nights in the city before flying back home. But before I sign off, let me tell you about the hero of our trip…
Our home on wheels – booked via Apollo Motorhome Holidays
We were staying in an Apollo Euro Deluxe. These motorhomes are ridiculously awesome! It had three good sized double beds that were easy peasy to set up, two dining areas, a fully equipped kitchen, bathroom, plus an outdoor canopy with table and chairs to enjoy the outdoor life. I can’t tell you how simple everything was to use. Once we were in and unpacked, we really didn’t have to do much at all.
We loved cooking at night and settling in with a glass of wine or hot cocoa. That cozy feeling of being safe and free of responsibilities with your loved ones is pretty amazing.
The wonderful thing about this type of holiday is how many experiences you can have and how many memories you are left with. You can travel at your own pace and get so close to everywhere and everything whilst glamping the days away. From the wildlife and national parks to the towns and beaches, we just found that we got to experience far more than we would on a normal holiday at a resort. Roadtrips and van life give you the opportunity to have a real adventure, and that’s exactly what our family needed.
Our motorhome was everything we could have hoped for and more. The quality surpassed that of any other company we have previously used. I was really sad that we had to give ‘her’ back. This was an escape and adventure that we will never forget.