Monday, April 20, 2009

Melbourne to Sydney Drive

This post is now officially way late. Eons ago, we took this trip.

So, somewhere in the ball park of six weeks ago, we drove from Melbourne to Sydney. The most direct route is about 880km. We did it in about 1500km via the Great Alpine Road and the route up the coast. We scored a one way car rental from the respective airports for A$8 a day. Not bad.

Day One:
We took off with a map and a bit of camping gear, but no real plan. We knew that we wanted to drive the Great Alpine Road, and that we had to get to Sydney by a certain time. Those were our only restrictions. The plan was to crash where it suited us each night.

On our way to the north end of the Great Alpine Road (B500) we drove through some of the areas where the brushfires had been. It was rather dramatic to be on a highway surrounded by char.

Immaturely, we went by the town of Dookie.

The start of the Great Alpine Road is a beautiful valley with wineries and picturesque stretches like this.

The Great Alpine Road then turns up. It climbs for about 20 km going up Mount Hotham, which is a ski area in the winter. The road winds through a forest of mountain ash before breaking out above the treeline. The views are pretty fantastic from the top.

It seems that there is some snow in the winter. The red posts are on the side of the road that falls off, the whole way up. As you can see, they are not small. There are signs the whole way up that say to keep right of the red posts. Seems like good advice.

From the peak of Hotham, the road winds down through the mountains for 100 km or so and finally ends back at the coast. We drove to the town of Lakes Entrance for dinner and a sunset. There is a river that hits the Tasman Sea here.

We had hoped to camp the first evening, but had driven so long that we sort of ran out of daylight and had trouble finding a campsite. All the designated campgrounds were full of generator running campers, and we couldn't find a decent beach to crash in the dark. So, for simplicity, we grabbed a room in Nowa Nowa, which is just a crossroads with a hotel/bar. It was cheap, clean, and mostly vacant. There hadn't been a signature in the guest book in about 20 days, but there was one other room occupied. Mission accomplished.

Day Two:
The second day started with a stop at Cape Conran, where I found the biggest piece of seaweed I've ever seen.

There were plenty of surfers on the east side of the cape. It was a fairly desolate beach too. Very cool spot.

On the way off the cape, we saw this sign. Confused, we pulled over to inspect it. The top creature appears to be affixed to the sign just like the others, and the spacing indicates it should be there, but we have no idea what it is.

After a quick visit to Gypsy Point and Mallacoota, we entered the New South Whales countryside. It's very different than the Victorian countryside, almost as soon as you cross the border. It becomes much more rolling terrain, and despite Victoria being The Garden State, south NSW was just as green. Maybe more accurately, it was a different green - much more farmlands. We covered a lot of distance through here, not because it wasn't beautiful, but because there weren't as many specific stops that we wanted to make. Lots and lots of farmland.

We found Camel Rock on the map and were inclined to stop. From some angles, it really does look like a camel.

Near the end of our day, we tried to camp at Mystery Bay.

There was a reasonable car campsite, and a great beach, but sadly, there was nowhere to get food, and we were woefully under prepared. So, we spent some time at the beach before motoring north a bit farther.

In the end, we wound up camping in Dalmeny, where the view also wasn't so bad.

Day Three:
Very near the start of our drive, we ran across Mt. Agony Rd.

The beginning was rolling but sealed, and actually would have made a great bike race. Then it turned to dirt, and the name became very appropriate.

We stopped at Dolphin Point, where a river enters the Tasman. It had notched out a cool channel in the rock.

As we were leaving, we got to use another one of Australia's very accurate, yet very odd street signs.

A bit up the road was Seven Mile Beach, which, despite it's curious measurement, was probably accurately named. On the beach, we saw three guys kite-biking, or something. It was like a kite board, only there was no board, but a recumbent bike. They could really get going fast. I was impressed. It looked like a lot of fun.

Also, it seems that pipis can kill you. But I really don't know what pipi is.

Arguably my favorite stop along the drive was at Black Head. It is this black volcanic rock peninsula that sticks out off the coast. You can walk the whole way out, as many fishermen did, and have the waves crash around you. Also, there is amazing animal and plant life all over the surface that is living because of the water that pools up.

I think what amazed me about Black Head the most was the sheer power of the water, and how close you could get to it. Some sort of raw energy. Very cool feeling.

Next stop - Kiama - easily the biggest (and maybe only) tourist trap we stopped at on the entire drive. We saw on the map that there was a blowhole, and figured that we should check it out. It was rather anticlimactic, except for watching Asian tourists be amazed. It also had a lighthouse. In summary, don't go to Kiama.

The Sea Cliff Bridge was clearly a stop for Shannon, and I suspect one of her favorites. It's a lot like the Lynn Cove Viaduct on the Blue Ridge Parkway, except that it goes out over the ocean. From an engineering perspective, it was pretty sweet. You can walk the whole thing, and go check it out from the middle.

You can also see the bridge from Stanwell Park, which is also where hang gliders are launched from. Model airplanes, as well. It's quite blowy, so I guess just about anything can take off. Great view to hang glide over.

Our last bit of daylight was spent driving through Royal National Park. It's more or less a jungle in there, all the way until it hits the beach. Then the beach opens up between cliffs all down the coast, much like this one. There are miles and miles of hiking trails, and I'd really like to go back, especially since there are hostels in the woods that operate sort of like a hut system.

And that was pretty much it. We finished the drive into Sydney and grabbed a hotel for the night before flying back to Melbourne the next day on UA. It was the typical wacky UA SYD experience, where nothing was the same as any time before. But whatever.

All in all, a great trip.

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