Can you help me and my family plan a roadtrip in Australia?
December 29, 2007 11:51 AM   Subscribe

My family and I will be in Australia from March 14th, 2008 to the 26th. We'll be staying in Sydney for most of the trip (friends' apartment) but we also want to take a leisurely road trip to Melbourne. Do you have any recommendations what to do in Sydney, Melbourne and during the roadtrip?

We were thinking that we'd rent a car, spend two days on the drive to Melbourne, stay a couple more in the city and then fly back to Sydney. What route should we take? Where should we stop for the night? What should we see on the way? Where should we stay in Melbourne? What should we do while we're there? Is there anything especially awesome happening in Melbourne during the period we're in Australia?

If you know of something cool that's happening in Sydney while we're in Australia, please let me know, as we haven't decided when we'd be going to Melbourne. Generally, if you know about something superawesome that's not well known please share the info.

As to what we like, we're fairly artsy, cultury, natury type people. Museums, concerts, national parks, theater and such are up our alley but if it's cool and fun in general we'll probably like it. My parents are 50, my sister is 21 years old and I'm 26. You can give suggestions applicable to all of us or something my sister and I would like and my parents would be less likely to and vice versa. My parents have been to Sydney before, so they know what to expect.

Also, we were considering going on another excursion while we were there, possibly Uluru or The Great Barrier Reef, but we're concerned we'd be too pooped from the 24+ hour travel. How feasible would another major outing be given the jet lag we'd experience traveling to Australia from Iceland (my family) and Boston (myself)?
posted by Kattullus to Travel & Transportation around Australia (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For your artsy, cultury sides, Canberra is probably on your way between Melbourne and Sydney, and contains the National Art Gallery, among many other attractions. (I'm a native Canberran, so I'm biased, though. People say it's boring, but I've never understood it...)

For your natury sides, the Snowy Mountains contain lots of nice walks which would probably be just a little out of your way. I particularly like the walks around Mount Kosciuszko.

I've lived in the US for the last twelve years, and was in Boston for eight of those. On trips home, I generally found that jet lag was not an issue by the second day. But everybody's different, and my chronic reliance on melatonin supplements probably helps.
posted by Coventry at 12:11 PM on December 29, 2007

Best answer: Stop in Canberra along the way! We're 3 hours outside of Sydney, though, so you probably wouldn't want to crash there for the night. However, a trip to the War Memorial, up Telstra Tower, to the National Museum, or to the old and new Parliament Houses would be worthwhile.

Heading from the 'Berra to Melbourne you might head by Lake Eucumbene, and be able to see the remains of the old town of Adaminaby as the lake recedes. Old (dead) trees, building bases, steps, etc. It's an interesting sight and quite a reminder of the drought that's continuing.

Along the rest of the trip down to Melbourne, you might have a good time stopping in Kosciusko National Park. There might even be some snow you pop over to. Most tourists to Oz definitely don't get to see Australian snow. In the vicinity you could pop over to the town of Cabramurra, the highest town in Australia (1488 meters / 4881 feet). There's a neat lookout above the town (drive up past the RSL hostel) and the shop owners are good value to chat with. Another little part of inland Australia that most tourists never see.

Heading down to Melbourne from Canberra there's the Ned Kelly Museum in Glenrowan, which is a total tourist trap but which -- if enjoyed with an ironic eye -- is good fun. If you're expecting a genuine museum experience, though, stay away. But if you want one helluva experience to share with friends, you might consider it.

Also along the highway you might want to get a photo of yourself giggling madly taken next to the town sign for Dookie, Victoria. I did, but then I'm a 10 year old boy at heart.

If you're up for a 2 day excursion near Melbourne, I'd strongly suggest going on a drive over to The Great Ocean Road. The scenery is amazingly fantastic. Really really great.

Personally, I'd suspect you'd be awful worn out from what is already a short trip to make it to Uluru (plan on at least 2 -- and more likely 3 -- days for this excursion, including your travel time) or the reef (again, you'd need multiple days and it just doesn't seem like you have the time).
posted by barnacles at 12:19 PM on December 29, 2007

If you have the time, I second that Great Ocean Road. The Twelve Apostles is one of the most beautiful spots I've ever seen, especially at sunset.
posted by gt2 at 12:59 PM on December 29, 2007

Realized, far too late, that I had sullied the good name of the Ned Kelly Museum -- I actually meant to refer to the "Ned Kelly Show" (for which I can find no good links)! Corny, hokey, rather overpriced: The Ned Kelly Show in Glenrowan.
posted by barnacles at 1:26 PM on December 29, 2007

Best answer: Great suggestions already. I'm a lifelong Melbournite. The time of year that you'll be here is late summer/early autumn. Temperatures on the east cost will be in the 20's to low 30's on average. Sydney is can be humid; Melbourne experiences rapid extremes in weather conditions. I don't think you'll have much luck with seeing any snow on your trip somehow.

I'd go from Sydney to Canberra - definitely. Canberra is much maligned here in Oz, but I think it's a fascinating city. No nightlife to speak of, but galleries, museums etc. Brilliant mountainbiking too. From Canberra, you could drive to the coast, hitting the ocean at Batemans Bay and then heading South. I've done the Batemans Bay to Melbourne drive in about 11 hours, but I was young, stupid and possessed of a very fast motorbike at the time. The entire coast road South is gorgeous. Pambula, Merimbula, Tathra, Eden - all lovely coastal towns. You'll be passing through them at the end of the tourist season. If you had to stay overnight somewhere, try somewhere on the NSW side of the border, as close to the border as you can. Avoid Cann River. It's peopled by strange deliverance-esque hillbillies.

Melbourne is a pretty compact city, with a very easy to navigate grid structure. Obvious cultural institutions are things like the National Gallery of Victoria, the Museum, the State Library and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

If you're food oriented, then the other Melbourne cultural traditions come into play. The city and surrounding suburbs have food districts that are little enclaves of their representative culture. Greek restaurants are on Lonsdale St in the city. The Italian district is on Lygon St in nearby Carlton. Vietnamese in Victoria St in Richmond and Barkley St in Footscray. The pho in Footscray is sensational. Lebanese/Arabic on Sydney Rd in Brunswick. Chinatown on Little Bourke St in the city. There is a very prominent cafe culture as well, with cafes spilling out onto the city's wide streets. If you only have one coffee in Melbourne, make sure it's at Brother Buba Budan. 359 Little Bourke St. These people are very serious about what they do. The other must-visit cafe in my book is Degraves, not surprisingly on Degraves Street, which is itself an exquisitely beautiful part of the city. Food is cheap - by Western international standards - and very good. The only thing you won't find is good Mexican. Never could understand that.

The other - less obvious - institution is the bar culture. Melbourne has liberal licencing laws that have allowed tiny bars and licenced cafes to spring up everywhere. There are bars on rooftops, at the ends of deserted laneways, in basements. Many of them will have no street signage whatsoever. Which is great if you are a local coz it makes everyone feel as if they are in their own secret club, but it's not so good if you're from out of town. Cherry Bar, Cookie, Order of Melbourne, Double Happiness, Robot, Pony, Golden Monkey, Rue Bebelons, Loop, Spleen, Myers Place, St Jerome, Punch Lane, Syracuse, Gin Palace, Martini Bar, Melbourne Supper Club, Misty.... That's just what I can list off the top of my head in the central business district alone. Nearby streets like Brunswick, Smith and Gertrude Streets would double or triple that list.

Something you won't fail to see if you're bar hopping in the city is the extraordinary stencil art that has cropped up in the last few years. Almost every laneway in the city is plastered with clever, innovative stencit art, earning Melbourne the reputation of being the stencil art capital of the something or other.

Other less urban things would include seeing and pating native animals at the Healsville Sanctuary, driving the Great Ocean Road, seeing the penguins at the Philip Island sanctuary, but these are thing syou're likely to find in any tourist guide to Melbourne.

You mention that your parents have been to Sydney. There is a long standing and entrenched rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne. Whilst most of it is just territorial pissing, there is some truth in the sterotypes that Sydney is more outgoing, colourful, fun and accessible and that Melbourne is reserved, private, cultured and everyone wears black. Trust me on the wearing black thing. Black jeans and a black t-shirt in Melbourne is as good as camoflague in the jungle. You'll blend right in.

Feel free to email me closer to the time you're here - email is in the profile. Melbourne mefites have met visiting dignitaries before and everyone survived the evening.
posted by tim_in_oz at 1:41 PM on December 29, 2007 [4 favorites]

Seconding everything tim_in_oz said. You might also google for other Sydney questions; I seem to recall that there have been several about things to do when visiting.

Something to keep in mind is that you'll be here over Easter, and Easter is a much bigger deal in Australia than it is in the US. Not the religious side of it; more the whole "family getting together for a big meal" side of it. Think of it as Thanksgiving, especially in terms of travel. Everyone hits the road to go to Grandma's House (or on vacation, as most of the kids will be off school). I'd suggest that you probably avoid driving over that weekend, if you can avoid it. And stuff will be closed on Friday AND Monday, which took me a while to get used to. (Also, and this is more lore than fact, it ALWAYS rains in Sydney on Easter. I've been here for six years, and it's rained like every time. It's weird.)

If you want something really cheesy and fun to do while you're here, though, the Royal Easter Show will be on! This is basically the New South Wales State Fair. It's held out at the Olympic Park (in case you wanted to see that anyway), and there are the usual assortment of Fair type activities: midway, craft competitions (I'll be entering some knitting!), various fried foods on a stick. There are usually some great demonstrations too, like sheap shearing. I love it. It's also a nice reminder that not *everybody* in Australia lives in the city.
posted by web-goddess at 2:03 PM on December 29, 2007

You'll be here during the National Folk Festival, which takes place in Canberra from March 20 - March 24. If you're into folk, bluegrass, irish, acoustic, etc etc etc music, it would definitely be up your alley.
posted by barnacles at 2:15 PM on December 29, 2007

Some more googling reveals 3 festivals on in Melbourne during your visit. The first is the Grand Prix. Avoid it like the plague. The city will be jammed with liquored up fuckwits in Ferrari gear and accomodation will be scarcer than rocking-horse poo. If the Queer Film Festival is up your alley, then you're in luck, coz that's running at ACMI between the 13th and 23rd of March. But the pick of the lot would have to be the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, which runs from 19 March to 13 April. Cheap tickets can often be picked up at the last minute. Predictably enough, there is a festival bar where you can go and drink after a show, and there's bound to be something somewhere in the city that's worth checking out.

Unlike the easter=rain phenomenon in Sydney, Victoria often experiences fairly settled weather from March through to about May. It's one of the drier times of the year although it's often windy. Melbourne has long boulevards of elm trees that will be just beginning to turn colour. The Royal Botanic Gardens would be a wonderful place for a picnic on a sunny day.

Anyway, that's enough from me on this topic. Barnacles and I sound as though we have nothing better to do than shill for our respective cities on a Sunday morning.
posted by tim_in_oz at 2:38 PM on December 29, 2007

Would like to second everything that tim_in_oz said about my beautiful home town of Melbourne and add one must-see to the list: if you are in Melbourne and you are at all nature-oriented, the royal botanical gardens are well worth a visit...

Also, the downtown area of Melbourne has a number of stunning contemporary aboriginal art galleries. It's well worth a few hours of your time; there are a few galleries within a stone's throw of the one at 90 bourke st and you could meander through them all. You will see an amazing range of art from ancient to modern styles.

have fun!
posted by anitanita at 3:05 PM on December 29, 2007

I'd certainly recommend getting the Rivercat in Sydney and going down the Parramatta river to Parramatta. It's a great view and there are some lovely places to eat along Church St and, being out west, it's an area seldom visited by tourists. The Riverside Theater there is pretty decent too. As for other arty/cultural type things in Sydney, try and get your hands on a copy of 'Metro' (in Friday's Sydney Morning Herald) or better yet 'Spectrum' (in Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald) where you'll find plenty of ideas listed.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 3:51 PM on December 29, 2007

nthing the Great Ocean Rd.

Just hours of beautiful scenery, with plenty of cool stops along the way.
posted by mhz at 3:52 PM on December 29, 2007

When I was down there a few years ago, I went to the Blue Mountains, which were lovely, especially The Three Sisters. Marvelous country, and pretty much right outside Sydney, 30km west as the pink robin flies.
posted by droplet at 5:26 PM on December 29, 2007

If you have the time, I second that Great Ocean Road. The Twelve Apostles is one of the most beautiful spots I've ever seen, especially at sunset.

I did this in March with my sister and a friend and it's really really worth going out of your way for. In fact, I'd almost suggest flying to Adelaide and then driving to Melbourne from there, but I realize it's a departure from your plans. My only other note is that there are supercool MeFites in Melbourne and Sydney [and I suspect Adeliade but I did not meet them] and I'd suggest a meetup if you possibly can.
posted by jessamyn at 5:31 PM on December 29, 2007

There are two main ways to drive from Sydney to Melbourne.

First, there's the coast road (highway 1), which is about 1000 km, and fourteen hours of solid driving. It takes you through lots of wonderful little coast towns in NSW, all of which have something interesting to do, and there's some interesting mining towns on the Victorian leg of the trip. The downsides: it's a difficult drive, with not much in the way of straight-as-an-arrow highway driving; and you wouldn't be able to do it in two days. Three days would be a better bet.

The other option is the Hume Highway (highway 31) - about 800km, and ten hours of driving. It's not as picturesque as the coast road, but it takes you through some nice Aussie scenery - rolling hills, wheat fields as far as the eye can see, that sort of thing. Canberra's about an hour off the highway, so you could squeeze in a side trip there. The downside is that there's not as many interesting towns right on the highway - most of them are a short detour away.

If you take this option, stop for the night in Albury - it's a great little town on the Murray River, close to the highway, with lots of parks and gardens to explore, and some interesting little shops on the main street. (Obligatory declaration of bias: I grew up around there.)

And nthing tim_in_oz and others - the Comedy Festival in Melbourne is a must-see. (And yeah, avoid the 13th-16th March, when the Grand Prix is in town.)
posted by The Shiny Thing at 7:04 PM on December 29, 2007

Nthing plus one the Great Ocean Road. Take your own car, so you can stop and go as you please, because frankly I far prefer the drive between Anglesea and Apollo Bay than the picture-postcard destination point of the Twelve Apostles. Stop for lunch at Lorne. Try Kafe Kaos if it's open, which it should be around Easter.

The drive between Sydney and Melbourne along the Hume (at least south of the NSW / Victoria border) is pretty dull. So do it pretty quickly, and spend more time in the city or down the coast, or consider taking a more leisurely drive along the longer route along the coast.

The Australian Football League season kicks off on Thursday 20 March. Nearly all of the North Americans and Europeans that I have taken along have loved the 'footy' (a game native to Australia played on a massive oval ground). Paradoxically those that swear that they 'hate football' (soccer, gridiron) seem to enjoy it even more. Try to see a game at the 100,000-seat MCG if you can. You can walk to the ground from the city, and tickets are very cheap by international standards (~AUD $20) and available at the gate. The opening game is between two well-supported Melbourne sides, Carlton and Richmond, whose supporters will still have hope so early in the season! The star player of the competition has just changed clubs, and should be playing his first match for Carlton, so I'd expect a particularly big turnout (~80,000 people).

And nthing the Comedy Festival thumbs up, and the Grand Prix thumbs down (unless, of course, you like Formula One, in which case I imagine it's no better or worse than most of the other races where no passing under racing conditions ever occurs!)
posted by puffmoike at 9:51 AM on December 30, 2007

Cross the bridge from Flinders St station heading South, and check out the Botanical gardens, then head back around the arts center and wander along southbank, right down to the casino. This whole riverfront area has changed enormously in the last 10 years and is now bustling with wonderful restaurants, shops and bars. They have a market there most if not all sundays I believe.

Oh, and if you're laughing at the sign for Dookie, keep an eye out for the McDonalds signs, with a big golden arches "M" logo, and the town name. For example, one near Albury might say M ALBURY.

The one near Yass says "MYASS - Open at 6AM" It might have changed but last time I drove that distance I seem to remember it.
posted by tomble at 1:13 PM on December 30, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all! This has been a great help for our planning.
posted by Kattullus at 9:04 PM on December 30, 2007

Late comment, but I was in Melbourne last week. You can do a night tour of the Old Melbourne Gaol (jail) which was interesting and a little spooky. If you want to see penguins, they can be seen off the St. Kilda Pier - so that might be worthwhile checking out, also.

It'd be a shame if you didn't check out the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road - very beautiful part of the country, and lots of opportunities to spot koalas and kangaroos and other wildlife/birds.
posted by backwards guitar at 3:13 AM on February 14, 2008

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