Getaway reporter Brendon Julian knows Western Australia like the back of his cricket bat, but since moving to the eastern side of Australia, he has wanted to do a drive from Melbourne to Sydney. He decided to take the scenic route along the coast, rather than the Hume Highway.
He headed east from Melbourne to Yarragon in the heart of the La Trobe Valley, 120km away. Part of the 'gourmet deli' trail, Yarragon has a great range of specialty shops selling old wares and craft. Its streetscape is colonial, with new buildings in sympathy with the original style.
John and Maree Dunnion opened a colonial-style tea room in 1984 selling Gippsland cheeses, ice cream, yoghurt, jams and other delicacies and the idea caught on. Gippsland Food & Wine, run by Allan Larson, is on the highway. Allan also runs the visitors centre and can tell you about the world champion cheeses, streams full of trout and interesting places to see.
The crew drove 140km through the pretty towns of Traralgon, Sale and Bairnsdale to Paynesville in the Gippsland Lakes area. The Gippsland Lakes form the largest inland waterway in Australia.
The seaside town of Paynesville is known as Australia's boating capital. It sits between Lake King and Lake Victoria. Once a shipbuilding centre, its canals and inlets provide plenty of moorings for yachts and cruisers. So boating-minded are the townsfolk that their Anglican church, St Peter-by-the-Lake, features nautical motifs. Built of Gippsland limestone and local wood, it was dedicated in 1961. It is shaped like the prow of a fishing vessel. Its spire, resembling a lighthouse tower with a cross, can be seen at night by fishermen.
Time for a nightstop at the Resthaven Caravan Park. They have 90 grassy sites on two hectares, with trees full of native birdlife, including lots of noisy gang gang cockatoos. There is a pool, bicycles, barbecues, kiosk and games room. Shops, restaurants and jetties are an easy walk away.
A visit to Raymond Island by car ferry is a pleasant outing. It has a koala colony, loads of native birds and beautiful flora. Canoe trees are testimony to the island's Aboriginal past.
So, back on the road, through Bairnsdale for the 38km drive to beautiful Lakes Entrance. A favourite holiday place since the turn of the last century, it is edged by 90 Mile Beach and has a mild Mediterranean climate. Its huge fishing fleet ensures a wonderful selection of seafood, with plenty of local wines to enjoy with it.
The old timber town of Orbost is 60km away. The one-street town on the river flats of the Snowy Mountains has 27 saw mills. The rich alluvial soil responsible for the lush forest and farmlands has provided employment for generations and paddle steamers and ketches once carried produce to Melbourne. There are plenty of outdoor activities in the area bush-walking, camping, fishing, diving, surfing and kayaking. One trail leads to an old slab hut which was relocated from the Upper Snowy River.
Genoa, 122km from Orbost, is the last Victorian township on the Princes Highway before the border. The small village on the Genoa River is the main access point for Croajingolong National Park. Its wetlands are noted for huge flocks of black swans. In the 1970s, 350-million-year-old tracks of mammals were found in the gorge, providing some of the earliest evidence of mammals on earth.
Brendon's continued north, over the border to the southern gateway to the Sapphire Coast of New South Wales. Sixty two kilometres from Genoa is Eden, a town of natural beauty on Twofold Bay. A London banker's 1843 dream of creating a city to rival Sydney met its demise within five years and the restored Sea Horse Inn and ruins of several buildings are all that remain.
Eden's beauty is rugged, with golden beaches and crystal waters to the east and forests and parklands to the west.
Migrating whales stop and feed here each year. The Eden Killer Whale Museum has a fascinating display of the history of the whale-hunting industry, including the impressive skeleton of Old Tom, last of the herding killer whales.
The area offers endless fishing opportunities and visitors can enjoy fresh seafood from trawlers at Snug Cove in one of the many cafes or restaurants. Snug Cove has interesting caves and there are several beaches to choose from. There are all-weather diving trips to explore shipwrecks.
North of Eden are the pretty seaside towns of Pambula, Merimbula, Tura Beach and Tathra, but the crew decided to head inland to the prime dairy country of the Bega Valley and the town of Tilba.
This little gem on the rolling slopes of Mount Dromedary was settled in the early 1800s. The discovery of gold in 1850 saw its numbers swell, but as the metal supply petered out, dairying replaced it in a big way. The village of Central Tilba was established in 1895 and is classified under the National Trust. Its working village atmosphere, variety of produce and air of gentility is a great drawcard for visitors. Quite apart from its volume of delicious cheese, the area produces some good wine. Local artisans ply their wares and there are quaint shops selling baked goods, old fashioned lollies and coffee. And there's a historic pub. Just south of Central Tilba, at Tilba Tilba, are the superb Foxglove Spire Gardens, a good place for a stroll and picnic.
Narooma was beckoning 20km up the road. This appealing town has the ocean eight kilometres off-shore is National-Parks-protected Montague Island and its penguin colonies and inland there are pristine forests and parks full of native flora and fauna. It's perfect for gentle walks or adrenaline-inducing kayaking.
A fleet of boats for fishing, diving, snorkelling or just cruising is here and if you visit in spring, an excursion in one of them is the best way to see the migration of the humpback whales.
Time for another night stop: the crew stayed at the perfectly positioned East's Narooma Shores Holiday Park on the banks of the fish-laden Wadonga Inlet. Two-bedroom waterfront units, some with a spa, have front row verandah seats so you can watch the peaceful comings and goings. They also offer ensuite cabins, budget cabins, caravan and camper sites, powered and unpowered tent sites something for every budget.
Another 10km north, Dalmeny sits on a headland. This is one of the best surfing beaches and the lake entrance is suitable for small children. It has mild winters and pleasant summers.
Tempting as it was to linger, Brendon was anxious to go the next 88km to Pebbly Beach and its famous kangaroo population. Lying in the Murramarang National Park, the main beach is sandy and suitable for swimming. The south end is a rock platform and beyond that is an extensive pebble beach. There are plenty of grassy and shady areas with tall spotted gums and small pockets of rainforest.
Pebbly Beach is surrounded by hills and Durras Mountain to the north. It takes around half an hour to walk to the top and while steep in parts, most people can manage it and enjoy the views once there.
Now on the home run, it was another 48km north to the big smoke, Ulladulla. The commercial and retail centre for the area, Ulladulla has a beautiful harbour and is the focal point of the local fishing industry. It has many festivals each year, possibly the most colourful being the Blessing of the Fleet each Easter, a tradition started by European immigrants in the 1930s. Ulladulla offers excellent diving and it's a pleasant walk to the lighthouse.
The popular and attractive town of Berry is 83km north. The rural town is visited for its gardens, arts and crafts, antiques, markets and some fine architecture. Surrounded by verdant dairyland, Berry has excellent accommodation and eating options.
Kiama, another 25km north, is where most travellers stop to see the famous blowhole. Its spectacular plumes of water can be seen when the sea is running from the south-east and it is floodlit until 1am.
Just 38km up the road is the city of Wollongong. The industrial city has beautiful beaches. You might like to visit the Nan Tien Temple, built by Buddhists who chose the location because it sits between the sea and rolling hills, giving faith, hope, joy and service. Visitors are welcome to drive up and walk around freely. A tour with a volunteer guide costs just $1 per person.
Another 36km to Stanwell Tops ended Brendon's get-to-know-the-east-coast drive. What a perfect place to stop, look at the ocean, islands and low country of the Illawarra, while contemplating the delights of the previous few days. Something to think about next time you're considering a getaway on the road.
For our other great Aussie drives:
Adelaide to Alice
Sydney to Brisbane
Rockhampton to Cairns.
Mt Isa to Darwin.
Perth to Monkey Mia.
For other great drives, visit australia.com.