Driving Sydney to Melbourne: Top 10 best places to stop on a coastal road trip

 Getting from Sydney to Melbourne or vice versa can be a short flight or a phenomenally boring direct drive. That is, of course, unless you go the long way. Hug the coast, take your time and stop at a series of scenic spots on the way, and you've got yourself a truly magnificent road trip. Here are just ten destinations that are worth your time…

The Royal National Park

National Park near Sydney with beautiful rock pools, eight Figure 8 Pool, Royal National Park. iStock image. Traveller re-use permitted.

Figure 8 Pools, Royal National Park. Photo: iStock

Australia's oldest national park offers a fab mix of rainforest bushwalking, secluded beaches and dramatic clifftops. Route 68 is the classic driving route, but staying in the car seems like criminal negligence. The classic Royal National Park spot is probably Wattamolla Beach, where a boardwalk leads past a waterfall to a small lagoon and an outrageously pretty stretch of sand. See nationalparks.nsw.gov.au

Kiama

Kiama Blowhole Point, Kiama.

Kiama Blowhole Point, Kiama. Photo: Destination NSW

Kiama is one of several classic seaside towns along the NSW south coast, but what makes it a bit special is the 20km Kiama Coast Walk. It's split into three sections to make it more manageable, and the northern chunk inevitably attracts most interest. This leads from the Minnamurra to the Kiama Blowhole, where the pounding ocean crashes into the rocks and shoots up through a gap like a whale clearing its pipes. See kiama.com.au

Jervis Bay

Aerial overlooking Honeymoon Bay, Jervis Bay. Melb - Syd coast stops for David Whitley story

Honeymoon Bay, Jervis Bay. Photo: Destination NSW

The sand on Jervis Bay's sheltered beach is delightfully white, but it's the setting, surrounded by national parks, that makes it feel truly impressive. Jervis Bay is really about the water, though. It's one of the finest places in Australia for dolphin-watching, and humpback whales tend to show up between May and November. There are also scores of diving sites, and Dive Jervis Bay runs trips that let you swim with the rays and cuttlefish. See jervisbaytourism.com.au, divejervisbay.com

Narooma

Wagonga Inlet, Narooma.

Wagonga Inlet, Narooma. Photo: Destination NSW

The maze of waterways, sea and sandbars makes Narooma a visual treat, but this south coast stop is best treated as an excuse to get out on a boat. Island Charters runs trips to snorkel with the local seal colony. But snorkelling and whale-watching tours can also be combined with a visit to Montague Island. For most of the year, this is about seeing vast numbers of seabirds. But from September to early summer, there's the chance to watch little penguins coming home to nest. See islandchartersnarooma.com.au, montagueislandtours.com.au

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Central Tilba

Front exterior of Mockingbird Lane Antiques, Central Tilba, South Coast sunmay14covershort - best short breaks - Ute Junker NSW South Coast Mandatory credit: Destination NSW

Photo: Destination NSW

Depending on your sensibilities, Central Tilba is either delightfully historic or nauseatingly chintzy. Should you be in the pro-fudge shop camp, then Central Tilba has a charming collection of historic wooden buildings in the shadow of extinct volcano Mt Gulaga. Said buildings are largely filled by local arts and craftspeople, galleries and shops selling local produce. See tilba.com.au

Croajingalong National Park

	
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Croajingalong National Park
Luminaire Pictures Stills  |  2018 Melb - Syd coast stops for David Whitley story

Photo: Visit Victoria

Coastal wilderness doesn't get much better than the Croajingalong National Park around Mallacoota. It's the sort of place where you pull up in a car park, then happily walk through forests, spotting birds and bandicoots before emerging at a delightful inlet or historic lighthouse. Key highlights include Point Hicks – the first place on east coast Australia to be seen by James Cook's Endeavour in 1770 – and kayaking around Tamboon. See parks.vic.gov.au

Lakes Entrance

Lakes Entrance

Photo: Visit Victoria

Lakes Entrance has the crashing waves and rolling dunes of 90 Mile Beach to fall back on, but most visitors are going to be content with the seafood restaurants and boating around the inland waterways. You don't need a boat licence to be let loose on the Gippsland Lakes – Riviera Nautic is one of the companies that hire boats out. But if you're nervous about you own skippering skills, you can always take a cruise. Pearl Lugger Cruises runs trips on a pearl lugger that once plied its trade along Broome's oyster beds. See rivieranautic.com.au, pearlluggercruises.com.au

Buchan Caves

Photo: Visit Victoria

Photo: Visit Victoria

A short detour inland leads to the labyrinthine limestone cave system of the Buchan Caves. Cut by underground rivers, the caves provided shelter to local Indigenous people for nearly 20,000 years. Several tours are on offer, with Royal and Fairy Caves being most popular. Pick the former for colour and size, the latter for impressive cave formations. See parks.vic.gov.au

Wilsons Promontory

Wilsons Prom

Wilsons Prom Photo: Roberto Seba/Visit Victoria

Home to the most southerly point on the Australian mainland, Wilsons Prom also hosts a greedy collection of dramatic granite outcrops and snuffling wombats. Deserted beaches and woodland walking trails are all part of the mix, but the arrival of Wilsons Promontory Cruises has offered an exciting new dimension. These head out in an amphibious boat to prehistoric boulders and the magnificently weird-looking granite monolith, Skull Rock. See promcruises.com.au

Phillip Island

Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island

Cape Woolamai, Phillip Island Photo: Visit Victoria

Phillip Island is in no danger of falling in the undiscovered gem category, but it is popular for a reason. The evening Penguin Parade on the Summerland Peninsula is undeniably cute, but the Koala Conservation Reserve with koala-height boardwalks gives it a run for its money. The coastline is the secret star, though – sea caves and fur seal colonies can be explored on cruises and kayak tours. See visitphillipisland.com.au

Disclosure: David Whitley has been a guest of Destination New South Wales and Visit Victoria.

See also: The 10 best stops: Driving Sydney to Melbourne on the inland route

See also: Australia's 10 best shortcut flights that save hellishly long drives

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