A free-spirit studying psychology at the University of Sydney.
Published January 9th 2018
Places to see on your Great Southern Roadtrip
There's nothing like time away from the big smoke, and Sydney sits in a prime spot in NSW when it comes to choosing where to venture by road. You may head north towards Queensland, or in the total opposite direction...
The Grand Pacific Drive is your gateway to the NSW Illawarra through Sapphire Coasts, and will see you off on a journey to a myriad of seaside gems.
Of course, your journey doesn't have to end here; why not follow the Princes Highway (A1) through to Victoria? Here are some of the sites to see, and places to call it a night, from the Grand Pacific to the Great Ocean Road.
1. Sydney-Illawarra Coast
Enjoy your first breath of fresh air among the hectares of bushland, beaches, and lagoons like Wattamolla in the Royal National Park - an hour from the CBD. Relax with nature walks like the Jibbon Loop Track, water-cycling in Audley, and camping in Bonnie Vale - waking up to the Hacking River. Follow Sir Bertram Stevens and Lady Wakehurst Drives to the Illawarra.
Traveling this way (along the Grand Pacific Drive) you'll see Stanwell Tops, a hang-gliding vantage point, and will be near Helensbergh, home to Symbio Wildlife Park and the Sri Venkateswara Temple. Take Lawrence Hargrave drive over the famous Sea Cliff Bridge. I loved cruising along between the Pacific Ocean and towering green escarpment.
Enjoy your tour through the seaside towns, including Thirroul and Austinmer, leading up to the area's main port Wollongong. Alternatively take the Princes Highway straight here.
Wollongong at the heart of the Illawarra is a bustling port city with an abundance of retail, dining and accommodation for tourists - from luxury hotels like the Novotel, to the more budget-friendly Surf Leisure Resort, and plentiful Air BnB options.
Water babies will enjoy a walk through Puckey's Estate, Belmore Basin, and the city's sprawling beaches. Catch a great view over these from up at Wollongong Head Lighthouse. Nature lovers check out the Botanical Gardens, and the Mount Keira Lookout. If you're looking for some exercise after hours in the car, hike it!
On the outskirts of Wollongong sits the Nan Tien Temple. The largest Buddhist Temple in the Southern Hemisphere, it's a humbling experience to visit. A little south find Lake Illawarra, a hotspot for canoeing, picnics, and caravan parks. Explore the five beaches of Shellharbour, including 'The Farm', and grab a bite at Ocean Beach Hotel.
From here, choose your adventure. Follow the Illawarra Highway (A48) over the escarpment toward Kangaroo Valley where you'll find the riverside (and free!) Bendeela campground, and natural gems like Fitzroy Falls. Or, follow the Princes Highway (your homie for this trip) to Kiama. Check out the ocean blowhole here.
Kangaroo Valley is actually home to the Shoalhaven area. Continue down the coast from the Illawarra to treat yourself to this wine region meets unspoilt, postcard-perfect coastline. Those who like to get on the water will enjoy kayaking on the Kangaroo and Shoalhaven rivers.
The latter flows through town of Nowra, one of the main business centres of the region. Just under an hour from here is Callala Bay to the north of Jervis Bay territory. With clear turquoise waters and sand whiter (and squeakier!) than any I've seen before, this location was a summer paradise.
The stunning inlets and waveless waters have seen the Jervis Bay area become a talked about escape. In turn there has been a rise in holiday houses to make your home away from home, many just minutes' walk from the white shorelines, and close to cafes and shops. If it's feeling like a camping trip, there are sites in the Booderee National Park on the southern end.
How about a wine tour? Follow the wine trail to taste the Chardonnays, Sauvignons, and other varieties coming out of the Shoalhaven. About three hours (223km's) south of Sydney, is Mollymook - a great spot for surfers and seafood lovers. Check out the main beach and snorkel in the Bogey Hole tidal pool.
3. Eurobodalla Coast
Continue south and you'll reach the next stretch of coast: the Eurobodalla Coast. Some places I've enjoyed along here are Batemans Bay, Moruya, and Narooma. If you have kids or traveling with animal lovers, make a stop at the zoo in Mogo (just past Bateman's) - privately owned, and supports endangered species.
The town of Batemans sits on the Clyde River which feeds into the larger bay. A good base for those who want to explore natural surrounds, with a view to find wildlife. The forests of the Clyde River National Park are home to roos and koalas, while you'll find native fish on the snorkelling trail along the beaches.
Stay in holiday parks (BIG4?) or settle into one of the cosy bed and breakfasts. Perhaps a comfortable riverside cabin is more to your taste? Find these under an hour from Bateman's (via Princes and George Bass Drive) in Moruya. With a tidal river, sprawling paddocks, and a backdrop of mountains, the Riverbreeze Tourist Park makes a peaceful stay.
Narooma is another area for good ocean views and inlets. It was overcast when we stopped here, but the breakwalls and infinite grey over the horizon were nonetheless nice to take in. Toward the town centre are grassy knolls on the banks of still waters that cast a serenity. I can only imagine waking up to these views from Dalmeny Campground.
The first main town you'll reach on the southern most coast of NSW is Bega, home of the award-winning Bega cheese. Cheese has been cultivated from the green pastures here since 1899. Stopping for a bite of Bega cheese in Bega was a must, despite it being 8pm at night. Thank you Woolies! Alternatively have a taste at the Heritage Centre overlooking the river.
Dinner in Bega over our portable gas stove complete with Bega cheese slices
Half an hour on, and about 6 hours from Sydney, is Merimbula. This hub of water-sports made a great spot to stay the night. Well, for sleeping in the car in a park as it was late and dark after our Bega dinner - it's memories like this that make the trip. Don't worry, the town has holiday parks and the luxurious Apollo apartments.
Enjoy swimming, scuba diving, sailing, fishing - whatever your taste in waterside leisure. Or continue on toward the town of Eden. I have a soft spot for this seaside paradise, and would have to say it's my favourite on the Sapphire.
We woke up to this paradise with a 'killer' tale with breakfast overlooking the sparkling sea, after our night's rest in Merimbula. We then proceeded to explore the headlands and Snug Cove, hugged by hills. Check out the killer whale museum to learn more about how these beautiful creatures worked together with Eden locals.
If you feel like you'd miss the ocean, you may also take the coastal route through Orbost to Lakes Entrance. Take in the expansive waterways and sandy shores while you're here. The A1 will take you from here down to Port Albert, a fishing village on the edge of the Bass Strait. Crazy to think Tasmania sat on the other side!
From here, you may travel to Wilsons Promontory. Traversing through this national park was a breathtaking and unforgettable experience; Tidal River, the park's weathered beaches and rugged granite, climbing Mount Oberon to see a panorama of this southernmost coastline of the Australian mainland.
Continue west, along the coast, and you'll meet Phillip Island (home of the penguins) and Sorrento where you can ship the car over to Queenstown. From here, the Great Ocean Road is your oyster. One of the world's most scenic coastal drives, featuring Apollo Bay and the Twelve Apostles, you're in for a treat.
There's nothing like the limitless possibilities of a roadtrip. Congrats on conquering the Sydney to Victoria and enjoy all that the NSW south coast and beyond has to offer.