The Princes Highway snakes its way south out of Sydney, leaving behind the sprawling suburbs of Australia’s largest city, and winding past the green expanse of the Royal National Park. Just an hour down the road lies Wollongong, sandwiched between the New South Wales coastline where it meets the Tasman Sea, and the Nepean mountain range that stands tall behind it. It was a perfect stop for breakfast on the first day of our road trip, and we navigated through the streets to find the beach and waterfront where a little harbour nestles next to Flagstaff Hill. In the sheltered waters of the harbour, people swam, kayaked and made attempts to stand-up paddle board. It was such a beautiful day and we ate our food staring out at the pelicans as they passed by.
It wasn’t much further down the road to the little coastal town of Kiama which was buzzing with people. On a little peninsula to the east of the main street, stands a lighthouse which towers over a rocky outcrop where a blowhole creates an impressive spray of sea water high into the air when the tide is right. Even at the wrong time of day, there were several decent-sized sprays emanating from the ocean below. There was a decent crowd enjoying the sunny morning.
For a while, the route south cut inland and we skirted past several settlements of varying sizes. We took another detour off the main road to go down to Jervis Bay. By the time we reached Huskisson on the western shore, a more inclement weather system had started to appear from the south-west. A popular place to go dolphin-watching, and with a lot of accommodation options, and several beaches in the area, it was bustling. Following lunch, we made a brief stop at the beach near Vincentia, and then steadily made our way back towards the Princes Highway.
The clouds had come and gone whilst we’d rested at Huskisson, but the further south we travelled, the closer we got to a front of dark clouds haemorrhaging rain drops. By the time we reached Batesman’s Bay, we were in the middle of a thunderstorm, and what I had hoped would be another stop was quickly abandoned. It was hard for the windscreen wipers to keep up with the deluge that hammered us as we took the turning onto the Kings Highway heading inland.
As we climbed up into the hills, the route got wetter and wetter until finally it eased off, although the heavy black clouds framed our journey the rest of the way as we exited New South Wales and crossed into the Australian Capital Territory. We briefly swapped states again as the border snaked across the road, before we crossed it once more, finally arriving in Canberra. Two days later, we again crossed back into New South Wales to the north of the capital, following the Barton Highway until it joined the M31, the main highway between Sydney and Melbourne.
The temperature gauge began to climb into the 30s early on, and by the time we reached the famous ‘Dog on the Tucker Box’, a quaint rest stop on the Hume Highway, it was sweltering. There were plenty of people at the cafe which stood next to the well-photographed statue, and we struggled to find a spot in the shade to eat our lunch. It reminded me of Queensland the year before – the incessant heat that saps your energy and threatens to make you irritable. By the time we reached Corowa on the banks of the Murray River, Australia’s longest river, it was 37oC. After a fantastic meal and catch-up with friends, we all took a walk to the river and I paddled in the Murray River at sunset with a cacophony of parrots above our heads.
On our friend’s recommendation, we stayed on the NSW side of the Murray River and headed west to Lake Mulwala which has a slightly eery feel about it thanks to a flooded forest. Large sections of the lake appear as a graveyard to hundreds of trees that poke out the water as a dead reminder of the past. Again the thermometer was starting to climb into the 30s making it uncomfortable to get out of the car for long. Crossing south across the bridge at the head of the lake we entered our third state, Victoria, and carried on through reams of farmland to Benalla, another quaint little place with a quaint little lake. From here, it was mere minutes to reach the M31 again and rejoin the Hume Freeway for our final leg to Melbourne.
We passed sign after sign for koalas, wombats and kangaroos, and as we reached the outskirts of Melbourne in the early afternoon, the temperature hit 40oC. For the second time in my life, we arrived in Victoria’s largest city, and wound our way through the northern suburbs to reach our accommodation. Unfortunately, by the time we had checked in, a thunderstorm had rolled over the city, and after hiding in one of the city’s plethora of eateries, we got caught out in the rain.
That night, we took part in a Melbourne summer tradition and made our way to the Queen Victoria night market. Thankfully the rain had cleared away although the heat was again unbearable, as we wandered through the ever-increasing crowds of locals and tourists who crammed into the space to enjoy the food, the music and the market itself. It was an enjoyable experience and I would have loved to have had enough space in my stomach to try more of the food on offer.
We didn’t see much sun for the rest of our holiday. The next day was overcast and threatened rain hour after hour. We went up the Eureka Tower so that my partner could get an aerial view of the city. I had done this on my last trip here when I had been on my own, and wasn’t overly impressed with it, but it helped my partner get his bearings and so we spent a bit of time there before heading along the Yarra river to Federation Square to get a tram pass to allow us to go to St Kilda. This was another place that I had seen but my partner had not. Just like last time, it remained overcast, although there were a few hardy souls lying on the beach and playing in the water. Last time I had failed to meet up with a distant relative due to having the wrong contact details but this time, getting caught in the rain on the way, we managed to find ourselves in the right location and I made two family members very pleased in the process.
Back in the city, we found ourselves at Hosier Lane, one of Melbourne’s most famous lanes, which is adorned with an ever changing array of street art. Over many years, every reachable inch of this lane has been transformed into a myriad of artworks, and over time, some of them are updated or replaced. Even as we wandered up it and its adjoining lane, a couple of artists were busy creating something new. Melbourne is famous for its street art and sculptures, and whilst Melbourne will never be anywhere near the top of my favourite cities in the world, I do love its quirky arts culture and its impressive choice of dining. Unfortunately, we lucked out with our choice of restaurant in Chinatown that night, and left rather disappointed.
Our final day of the trip was another grey one. My partner was keen to visit the Melbourne Cricket Ground so we caught the tram and joined a stadium tour. Whilst I would rather watch paint dry than subject myself to what I find to be the world’s most boring sport, I couldn’t fail to be impressed with the stadium and its history, which was just as well as the tour was over an hour long. The lady member who led our group round was quite entertaining and it was interesting to get her female perspective, especially as she will never be able to sit in the special reserved area for those members who have been with the club for over 50 years, all because females weren’t allowed to become members until relatively recent times.
After lunch down a busy lane full of eateries, we headed to the Old Melbourne Gaol which housed the infamous Ned Kelly and which continued to be used as a penitentiary until surprisingly recently. We took part in a brief role play session, pretending to be criminals and being locked in a cell, before being let loose to wander through the dark corridors and around the tiny cells. Always keen to get the most out of every available opportunity, I even dressed up as Ned Kelly upon finding a dress-up set in the lower corridor.
Finally, killing time before heading to the airport for our overnight flight home, we wandered through a couple of Melbourne’s malls before being pleasantly surprised with the Penguins of Madagascar movie. After a quick trip to Max Brenners for a sickening cup of liquid chocolate, we made our way back to our hotel, grabbed our belongings and made our way to the airport for a long wait to check-in and an even longer flight home to New Zealand.