Nine Coastal Towns You Should Visit on a Road Trip from Melbourne to Sydney
Head to a killer whale museum, eat seafood by the sea, check out 270-million-year-old fossils and see the world's largest blowhole.
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If you want to really get to know a part of the country, you need to spend time in it. You need to drive along its streets, walk along its paths, check out its shops, restaurants and other attractions, and gaze at its views. That's why hitting the coastal highway to venture from Melbourne to Sydney is a great vacay option.
Instead of hopping on a flight to the harbour city, take the scenic route, break up your journey with swims and sightseeing, meet the locals and scope out new favourite places you wouldn't have otherwise visited. You'll also be sharing some love with New South Wales' regional areas, that've had a tough past year for a number of reasons.
To help plan your ultimate driving route from Melbourne to Sydney, here are nine top-notch coastal pit stops to make along the way. Yes, you'll want to bring your bathers — and make sure your phone is charged so you can snap plenty of pictures.
Please stay up to date with the latest NSW Government health advice regarding COVID-19.
WANDER THROUGH A KILLER WHALE MUSEUM IN EDEN
Your first port of call once you've crossed the Victorian-New South Wales border: the harbourside town of Eden. It's NSW's most southerly town, and it's gorgeous. Given its location, Eden isn't short of beaches — although if you only have time to visit one, make it Long Beach. Being surrounded by the 65-million-year-old Pinnacles is impossible to pass up, after all.
The town is renowned for whale watching between May and November. But if you miss them, check out the Eden Killer Whale Museum. Inside you'll find displays dedicated to the titular sea creature, obviously, as well as to the town. To experience the town on two feet, and to soak in its history, hitting up the Eden Heritage Walk is also a must.
Then, when you're feeling peckish, tucking into some seafood is in order. It's hard to escape the urge to eat the ocean's finest while you're right by the water, so heading to the Seahorse Inn or the Coast Bar & Grill at Eden Fishermen's Recreation Club is highly recommended.
GO ON A BEACH HOP IN MERIMBULA
This itinerary will take you along NSW's coastline, which means spectacular beaches are bountiful. Case in point: Merimbula, located on the state's Sapphire Coast, has 13. It also boasts two lakes, should you feel like a stint of sailing, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. If you'd like to engage with the region without actually getting wet, Merimbula has plenty of options. Well, depending on which attractions you decide to hop on, Magic Mountain will still see you splashing around — however, you can also try your hand at the amusement park's Tree Climb Challenge, which includes rope bridges, high wires and wooden obstacles.
Mosey on over to Merimbula Aquarium, and you'll be able to peer into 28 tanks filled with local and tropical marine life, and also eat at the on-site restaurant, which has 180-degree water views. For those especially keen on scoping out nature, get in contact with Tiny Zoo. You can't actually visit it, but this conservation-focused organisation does host pop-ups around the place, so you can get up close to a central bearded dragon, a spinifex hopping mouse and a tawny frogmouth. Oh, and don't leave without slurping down some gourmet oysters — the area is lauded for them. Captain Sponge's Magical Oyster Tours lets you try them freshly shucked from Pambula Lake.
TAKE A DIP IN BERMAGUI'S FAMOUS BLUE POOL
Another gem on the Sapphire Coast, Bermagui is one of those best of both worlds-type places. Mount Gulaga rises behind it, while the ocean sprawls in front of it — so you're genuinely spoilt for choice. Both terrains feature some of the town's must-visit spots, too. At the latter, you'll find the famed Blue Pool. An ocean rock pool set beneath the cliffs, it's as striking to look at as it is to take a dip in. Or, head over to the Montreal Goldfield. Dating back to the 1880s, it's Australia's only seaside goldfield, with almost 250 kilograms of the precious metal found there in a four-year period. To scope it out and immerse yourself in a big slice of history, you'll need to book a tour.
As for grabbing a bite and a beverage, the Bermagui Beach Hotel, near the iconic Horseshoe Bay, can take care of both. For everything from seafood and gelato to Italian- and Asian-style cuisines, the Bermagui Fishermen's Wharf has you covered. Local bakery Honorbread is also worth a visit, as is Eastwood's of Bermagui, which serves Ona coffee, cakes, take-home meals and also functions as a cooking school and pop-up events space.
SPEND THE NIGHT IN A LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER'S COTTAGE ON MONTAGUE ISLAND
Here, in Narooma, you can snorkel with seals and tour a lighthouse that dates back 140 years. You'll have to book in for a guided tour to be allowed access, though. And, if you're after somewhere different to bunker down for the night (and to feel like you're living in Round the Twist), you can stay in a lighthouse keeper's cottage.
Another must-visit in Narooma is Montague Island, a nature reserve where you can see penguins, dolphins, whales and more than 90 bird species. And there's only one place on your journey that features a rock that looks like Australia. Australia Rock has a hole in the middle of it that resembles the same shape of this nation we call home — and you can peer through it to the ocean.
The Narooma Lighthouse Museum also awaits, as does the 350-metre-long Mill Bay Boardwalk for a leisurely stroll. For a snack, Rolf's Patisserie delivers just the kind of small-town bakery bites your tastebuds hanker for on a road trip, while making a stop in Tilba before heading into town will let you hit up the ABC Cheese Factory.
SLURP FRESHLY SHUCKED OYSTERS IN BATEMANS BAY
Batemans Bay might just be the best-known stopover on your road trip — so it's worth finding out why. Located where the Clyde River meets the ocean, it's an area lauded for its tasty oysters. Yes, you now know what you should be eating here, including from five-decade-old The Boatshed and Wray Street Oyster Shed. The Pearly Oyster Bar and JJ's at the Marina will also tempt your seafood-loving tastebuds, as will Region X's oyster tasting kayak tour.
Meanwhile, Batemans Bay Ice Creamery has been scooping up the ideal waterside dessert for over 42 years. You can also treat yourself to a scenic picnic at Observation Point, which looks out over Snapper Island, or have a barbecue after seeing the critters at Birdland Animal Park.
Fancy a dip? Pack your goggles and snorkel, because Batemans Bay is home to an impressive snorkelling trail. And if you'd like to turn your pit stop into a lengthier stay, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has a beachside cabin in Murramarang National Park, just 30 minutes out of town, that you can hire out.
HUNT FOR FOSSILS IN ULLADULLA
By now, you know what to seek out in a coastal town. Lighthouses, seafood, beaches, spectacular views — they're all on the list. Ulladulla in the Shoalhaven local government area, around 230 kilometres south of Sydney, boasts them all, too. It's also a great spot for fossils, with a wander along the Gondwana Coast Fossil Walk proving a real treat while you're in the area. Here, you'll get a blast from the past dating back 270 million years, because that's how old some of the fossils are. To delve into the region's Indigenous history, opt for the Coomee Nulunga Cultural Trail, led by the local Aboriginal community. If looking at native plants is more your style, you can also mosey along the bush track at the Ulladulla Wildflower Reserve.
All that walking is certain to make you hungry, and we suggest going either hearty or upscale. In the first category, Hayden's Pies serves up chunky pies filled with everything from butter chicken with mint yoghurt to steak in green peppercorn sauce. Or, treat yourself to a meal at Rick Stein at Bannisters in the neighbouring town of Mollymook.
ENJOY THE STUNNING BEACHES IN JERVIS BAY
There's no mistaking Jervis Bay's beaches for any others in the region. The sands are quite the shade of white, and the clear waters that lap up against them are just as striking. So, the number one thing on your agenda during this stopover: dipping your feet in both those glimmering grains and the ocean. Head to Booderee National Park, and you'll be in the ideal spot. For scuba diving, snorkelling, swimming and surfing, however, the Jervis Bay Marine Park is your go-to. History buffs should make a date with the Jervis Bay Maritime Museum and Gallery, which features a mangrove boardwalk along Currambene Creek, plus picnic and barbecue facilities.
Food- and drink-wise, Gunyah at Paperbark Camp in Woollamia is a highlight (and if you're looking for somewhere to check-in for the night, there are 13 canvas safari-style tents on-site). Pilgrims Vegetarian Cafe has an eatery at Huskisson, and you'll find Jervis Bay Brewing Co in the vicinity, too.
CHECK OUT THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BLOWHOLE IN KIAMA
Mention the name Kiama, and the word 'blowhole' should immediately pop into your head. The Illawarra town is famous for them and nestled underneath the 133-year-old Kiama Lighthouse is the world's largest. If that isn't impressive enough, the Kiama Blowhole can blast water up to 30 metres into the air (and yes, it makes a sound when it does so). There's also the Little Blowhole, about two kilometres out of town, should visiting one oceanside place that rockets H2O into the sky not be enough. After a different kind of fun? You'll have to head inland a little, but Jamberoo Action Park is also in the area. Rides, slides, chairlifts, mini golf: it's all on offer.
Back in Kiama itself, you can scope out the historic terrace houses that've been around since 1886 while trotting along the Kiama Heritage Walk. Then, grab a bite from Diggies right next to the main blowhole, or from Penny Whistlers by the harbour. From the former, you must order the cod-filled Blowhole Burger — when in Kiama, and all that.
RIDE SOME WAVES AT ONE OF BULLI'S PICTURESQUE BEACHES
By the time you make it to Bulli, you'll know that Sydney isn't far away. It's located just 70 kilometres south of the big smoke and 11 kilometres north of Wollongong — but everyone could use one last stop on the home stretch. First up: enjoy a swim at the beach, or in the beachside ocean pool. If you have a surfboard strapped to the roof of your car, you're in a great spot to give it a whirl. Or, if you take the 850-metre walk up to Sublime Point Lookout, you'll actually peer down over 17 beaches (as well as rainforest). Because small-town pubs with history are an unparalleled delight, Bulli's Heritage Hotel is worth a visit, especially if you like burgers. Built in 1889, it's on the State Heritage Register, in fact. And if you're the kind of person who likes the sea, but also can't spend enough time surrounded by plants, you're going to want to add the Illawarra Grevillea Park to your must-visit list — just check when it's next hosting open days first.
Start planning your great escape to New South Wales this season by visiting the Visit NSW website.
Top image: Bulli Rockpool, Destination NSW
Published on March 15, 2021 by Sarah Ward