A Family RTW Travel Adventure (2008-2009)
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The Coast Road


If you are going to take the coast road in Australia, most people do one of two things: Drive west from Melbourne along the The Great Ocean Road (considered one of the world’s great road trips), or drive north from Sydney to the Gold Coast (and some of the world’s best surf beaches).

Unfortunately we did neither.

We were in Melbourne and needed to be back in Sydney in a week, so we took the “road less traveled,” heading east on Route 1, following the Victoria / New South Wales coast.

The week got off to a strong start but as we approached Sydney, we spent the night in a series of increasingly disappointing towns. Chalk it up to poor planning on my part.

Our first stop was Phillip Island, about 135 kilometers east of Melbourne. Many people visit to experience the island’s grand prix track. We stopped for koalas and penguins.

During the day, the Koala Conservation Center provides visitors the opportunity to see koalas in the wild. Then at sunset, stadium seating is available to watch about 2000 “Little Penguins” parade ashore and return to their nests.


Little Penguin

The next day we traveled on to the town of Lakes Entrance, at the eastern boundary of 90 Mile Beach.  The sunsets and natural sand art were spectacular.



Based on a recommendation we had gotten in Nelson, New Zealand, we our next stop was in the town of Bermagui.

A lovely woman, who had worked many years for Rupert Murdoch running the household staff on one of his Australian estates, told us without doubt or hesitation that Bermagui was the most beautiful town south of Sydney.

The beach was lovely, but we didn’t warm to the town.  We stayed in a hotel above a bar (one of the town’s few hotel options) and had dinner in an overpriced Asian restaurant managed by the grumpiest Australian we’d ever met. We were only too happy to get back on the road.


The next day we passed through the town of Kiama and liked what we saw.  And not just because of it’s picturesque coastline and blowhole. The town was full of shops, cafes and reasonably-priced oceanside accommodation. What’s not to like?


Unfortunately, we already had reservations in Wollongong, a town further up the road.  Summer holidays had started in Oz, and booking ahead was essential.  But booking ahead carries some risk too, picking towns sight unseen.

There’s not much to recommend Wollongong.  Its beach has potential, but the steel mill set on the southern end (bleaching smoke, blazing fire) seriously undermines the experience.

The highlight of our stay in the “Gong” was the sounding of a 2 am fire alarm in the hostel where we stayed.  When we checked in the receptionist warned us: “We have very sensitive smoke detectors – so absolutely no smoking in the room.”

“Oh, and one more thing,” she added.  “If you take a hot shower the steam will set of the smoke alarm too.  So be sure not to steam up your room.”

I don’t know whether someone was smoking or showering at 2 am, but I do know the alarm went off, the building was evacuated, and we found ourselves standing on the dimly lit streets of the Gong waiting for the firetrucks to arrive.

After what seemed like thirty minutes three large fire trucks, including one hook and ladder, pulled up in front of the building.  After another thirty minutes the manager and fire chief figured out how to turn the alarm off, and we we allowed to go back to bed.

In the elevator, an older heavy-set man spoke to us in an Irish brogue: “Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  It’s a good thing there wasn’t a fire.  Cause as long as that took, we’d have all been burnt toast.”

There was one final disappointment.  Six days after leaving Melbourne we approached Sydney, diverting from the main highway to travel along the (allegedly) scenic Grand Pacific Drive.  On the map it looked like the road hugged the coast the whole way, and we expected spectacular views.


Instead, the road wound through a series of housing developments, strip mall shopping centers and industrial zones.  The Pacific was always “over there” somewhere to our right, occasionally popping into view.

I’m a big fan of getting off the main roads, but this is one case where you’re better off sticking to the super-highway.  In fact, I’d gladly pay a toll to not take the “Grand Pacific Drive.”

Finally, after a three-week Sydney-Canberra-Melbourne-Alice-Uluru-Melbourne-Sydney loop, we had returned to the place where Australia had begun for us.

We were looking forward to a few weeks of down time, house-sitting for some friends in the toney neighborhood of Vaucluse, near Watson’s Bay and the South Head of Sydney Harbor.


More pictures from our drive along the coast from Melbourne to Sydney are posted here.


1 Laura { 01.16.09 at 12:29 pm }

Oh dear, sounds like a rough road trip! I can tell by your writing that you have already begun the process of transforming it from a disappointing/uncomfortable experience into a good story…and isn’t that one of the great things about travel? I bet you will never forget the Irish man in the elevator! And the koalas are pretty darn cute 🙂

2 Rovinj { 01.20.09 at 1:26 am }

It’s a shame you didn’t like Wollongong. There are several beaches there and it sounds like you ended up at the bad one.

The koalas are very cute 🙂

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