Australia - Days 8-15 - Melbourne to Sydney
Updated: Mar 21
The one with all the beaches
Melbourne to Walhalla 142 miles
We collected our hire car today and set off on the (just under) 800 mile drive to Sydney. For comparison, Land's End to John O'Groats is 841 miles. Our first stop is Walhalla. The drive was really interesting, a good mix of freeway and rural roads. The final part was, as you would expect climbing a mountain, very bendy and some advised speed limits on the corners were down to 25km per hour.
Gold was first discovered in Walhalla in 1862. At its peak it had more than 4000 residents, now it has 20/30 permanent residents and is pretty much frozen in time from when the last major mine closed in 1914. It operates as a tourist attraction now, with a few weekend homes to boot. We had been warned in advance that it has very limited facilities and no wifi at all. There is one pub, which is called Walhalla Lodge Hotel, know locally as The Wally Pub which is the only place you can eat in town if you aren't staying at the Star Hotel (which is an actual hotel).
We are staying in the Mill House, which is one of only 10 surviving original houses from the gold mining days. Some of the original properties were picked up and moved when their owners left town and are now scattered around Victoria, but most fell into disrepair. It has been lovingly refurbished in keeping with its origins, but has all mod-cons you would need. Except Wifi. We have resigned ourselves to being out of the loop, although Ian has been ok, getting 4G with Telstra. Bad luck if you're on Vodafone like me and you'll just get the SOS signal. It means I have finished my book though! Mill House was lovely accommodation, but so far it wins for 'worst towels' (scratchy and small)
We are in Walhalla for 2 nights, so we have a full day to spend here. After a small lie-in we took ourselves off to the Walhalla Goldfields railway. The railway was opened in 1910, unfortunately at which point the gold mines were closing down. What remains of the line that originally ran from Moe to Walhalla forms the Goldfields railway. It's 20 minute journey to Thomson, then a 20 minute journey back, with the train turning round in between. It is not, as billed on its website, "one of Australia's most spectacular railway journeys", however it is a fun way to spend an hour and see some of the local scenery. In the afternoon we went to the Long Tunnel Extended Mine tour, which was really interesting, the mine, after all, is the main reason Walhalla exists today. The guide kept pointing out that we have a good life these days. He's not wrong. (It was also only 13º down there)
After the mine tour we decided to explore the road that goes north from Walhalla, and visit Thomson Dam. Readers, I have never driven such a nerve wracking 20km in my life. The Amalfi cliff road was a more pleasant experience. You bet your life we found another way back to the village! A restorative meal and a few glasses of *something* were called for at Wally's!
Walhalla to Metung 125 miles
Time to leave the village that time forgot, today we moved on to Metung. We are only stopping here for one night, it's apparently a great place for water sports and sailing, but for us it is just a stop off to break the journey. The apartment was lovely, another Air BnB find, with a lake view. We walked the lake path to our dinner spot, The Metung Hotel (pub). It was really busy, but in a nice way, and with a fantastic harbour view. The food was great (think gourmet pub by the sea) and as it took us 40 minutes to walk each way we earned it/burned it off!
Metung to Mallacoota 138 miles
Today we are driving to Mallacoota, one of the prettiest parts of this road trip. Also it was my turn to drive.
Let me break off here to tell you about the hire car. It’s a small SUV by a company called Haval. It’s Chinese and according to my brother they are trying very hard to break the Aussie market. Let me tell you that the car will probably some Aussies too. For a laugh Ian has reviewed it at the end of this post. My review would be “it’s a car for people who hate driving”
Anyway, back to Mallacoota. To break up the journey down we stopped off at a couple of spots, firstly Stony Creek Trestle Bridge because we thought it looked like a cool photographic subject ( the light was not in our favour though). This is now derelict but still quite a sight to behold. We had a quick scout around for koalas but nothing doing.
Our second stop off point was McKenzie River rain forest walk. We weren’t expecting to see rainforest so far south (my ignorance I expect!). This was only a 1km trail, but it was a really good way to see the two types of forest side by side. The scenery on this part of our route has been beautiful, however we have started to see just how massive the fire damage was down here in 2019. Huge great trees are blackened and charred but still growing, smaller ones completely dead. The lower ground cover is growing back well but there are parts of Croajingalong National Park that are closed to the public even now.
We arrived at The Wave Oasis to be met by the owner, David. He came to Mallacoota for a week 9 months ago and loved it so much decided to move there. I can’t say I blame him, we could quite happily have stayed a week. The apartment is great with a good view of the lake, and we had the first chance to do some washing since leaving Melbourne.
We decided to eat in the apartment tonight and catch our breath after moving around over the last few days, but we didn’t come here to sit around so after a short walk round the lake this evening, tomorrow we will go exploring
David told us a couple of spots we might see koalas and that there were Roos around the golf club, but first thing we set off to Bastion Point which is the entry point for the lakes and offers two stunning beaches.
We learnt a couple of lessons today, one being that if you have a car you might as well carry all your photographic equipment with you because you aren’t going all the way back to your apartment to get your tripod and two, probably best to wear your water shoes when exploring rocky beaches instead of brand new trainers 🙄 still, we spent a few happy hours walking and photographing before we went back for lunch and dry shoes.
This afternoon we drove out to Double Creek Nature Walk, a short walk through forest where we’d heard we might see koalas. We were about to give up when Ian spotted one dozing in the highest tree imaginable. Having learnt from that morning, I did have the correct long lens to get a shot of him (just!).
From there we explored the lakeside route near our apartment and as we reached the dead end and were preparing to turn round, up popped a gang of Roos in the field next to us, like some kind of movie. They’re VERY strange and they stared at us VERY hard while we took their photographs.
Today is Valentine’s Day and we both secretly brought cards all the way from the UK! We usually eat in and Ian cooks something special but David’s previous guests had told him how brilliant the new pop up, Alf’s Pizza, was so we decided to track it down. It is run by Italians, and I swear it’s the best pizza I’ve had.
Mallacoota is such a great place, it is so peaceful, though we are “out of season” officially, I’ve told my brother that he and my sister in law need to get down there for a week without the kids. And if you’re diving from Melbourne to Sydney (or indeed Sydney to Melbourne) I highly recommend you give it at least 48 hours of your time. Our favourite apartment this week I think - definitely the best towels!
Mallacoota to Narooma 135 miles
We are sad to leave Mallacoota but time waits for no man and we do need to get to Sydney. Today we cross from Victoria into New South Wales and it’s off to Narooma, along the Sapphire Coast Road. We avoided the A1 Prince’s Highway for as much of the trip as possible, and we saw some truly beautiful bays and forests today. We stopped at Eden, where a massive cruise ship was moored up, and took a quick walk along the point there. The town itself is very big (hence the ship I guess) and busy, we didn’t hang around long. We also stopped at Tathra a smaller town which was on yet another bay. All these bays are breathtakingly beautiful in their own way. We nearly didn’t stop at Cuttagee Bay because although beautiful we were getting close to Narooma and we’d been on the road since 10am. But stop we did, simply because we couldn’t believe the colour of the water. I’m so glad we did because we were lucky enough to see a small pod of dolphins surfing the waves, five minutes either side and we would never have seen them. Absolutely glorious.
We are staying at the Amooran Ocean Apartments (can you see where they got the name? Took me a good while to see it) and we have two nights here. The apartment is nice a spacious with a sea view veranda; this is the most 'commercial' accommodation we have stayed in so far. We’re both pretty exhausted with all the packing up and moving on and I think, as beautiful as all this scenery is, we are now looking forward to getting to Sydney and stopping in one place for a bit longer.
We ate at Quarterdeck, a Narooma institution and it was really excellent. Fish and chips again though. Quite looking forward to a salad and some green veg very soon, eating lots of fruit for breakfast to make up for it.
We finally get to sit on a beach for a couple of hours at Bar Beach, just the other side of the inlet from Narooma. It is a man made bay/harbour and as such isn’t subject to the huge waves we have been seeing all along the coastline. It was a glorious couple of hours and we had our first swim in Australian waters. Heeding my cries for fresh salad we went by the grocery store so we could eat in tonight. They still have Woolworths out here but it a grocery store not Woolies as we know it in the UK.
In the afternoon we went to the other side of the small bay where we had swum this morning because we knew there was the chance to see sea lions. There they were, just chilling. Later we checked out surfers beach, no surfers but saw a guy spear fishing his dinner!
Managed to catch the sunset over the Inlet this evening before packing up again to move on to our final stop before Sydney, Jervis Bay.
Apartment here wins worst bed award - huge but too soft, pillows too hard!
Narooma to Huskisson (Jervis Bay) 109 miles
Today we drove the penultimate leg of our drive to Sydney, from Narooma to Jervis Bay. If Narooma was big compared to Mallacoota, then Jervis Bay is the sweet spot between the two. We are travelling “out of season” but it’s still really busy here. Not as busy as September/October though when people come to watch the whales traveling past. We are here for one night at the Jervis Bay Motel and although the apartment is great, it’s very small. We do have a sea view though. We ate at Wildginger tonight which was fantastic; Ian had the best salt and pepper squid that either of us have ever had, whilst I had duck spring rolls with plum sauce, which were good, but a bit heavy on the ginger for me. To follow Ian had pork loin katsu with noodles and I had 3 hour cook beef cheeks which just melted in the mouth. Highly recommend a visit here.
Apartment wins 'smallest of the week'
An early start tomorrow as we complete our drive to Sydney where we return the car and stop for five days.
Jervis Bay to Sydney 112 m
We made it
Here's what we though of the hire car:
The Haval Jolion - a quick review of our first hire car in Australia.
We’ve been driving the Haval Jolion we collected at Melbourne airport for a couple of days now, doing a mixture of freeway, country roads and urban motoring. Initial impressions ranged from “who the hell are Haval” to “it looks quite smart”. Our copy came in a rather natty metallic blue, with a dark grey fabric interior lifted by contrast stitching on the seats and some textured plastics on the facia and door handles. The facia is dominated by a wide touch-screen, which controls pretty much everything on the car.
There are no physical buttons or dials to control HVAC or the ICE, which makes for an uncluttered interior, but in use is an absolute pain in the arse. It’s sort of OK if you have a passenger to be attending to such things, driving solo would be difficult. That said, the system synchronised instantly with Apple CarPlay on both of our phones. Which is just as well, because there’s no SatNav, so you are relying on Google maps to get you around. Sound from the system is pretty poor, but we finally managed to get an acceptable balance by boosting the bass, taking out the mid and upping the treble. Again, best done whilst stationary.
Interior space is very good - you’d have no trouble getting a 6 footer behind a 6 footer, although you’d struggle behind me because I’m 6’2”. The boot took our two medium suitcases easily, with just about enough room for our smaller ones too. The luggage cover was missing, but we’d have needed to remove this in any case. Getting comfortable was easy enough, and better on the driver’s side since this chair is height-adjustable. The steering wheel adjusts too, but is too low-set for my tastes, and unfortunately is plastic. Surely they could have found a bit of leather or alcantara from somewhere?
The car comes loaded with all sorts of “safety” systems, some of which are useful (blind spot warnings) to the downright dangerous (cruise control that panics and brakes the car heavily every time you come to a bend). This was probably the most frustrating part of the car, followed closely by the “keep lane” assist, which tugs at the wheel if it thinks you’re straying over a white line.
Performance of the car was on the low end of adequate, the 4 cylinder 1.5 litre petrol turbo engine clearly struggling with the mass of the car. It is linked to one of the worst automatic gearboxes I’ve ever encountered. Although a 7 speed DCT unit, it is incredibly slow-witted, and often seems to be falling out with the engine to which it’s attached, rather than working together. Even changing manually, which normally on a DCT is instantaneous, is a “pull the paddle and… … …oh, it’s changed gear” type of experience.
The ride is comfortable enough for this type of vehicle, and handling is pretty much as you’d expect - neutral to understeer when pushed. You wouldn’t want to be trying to set lap times around the Nurburgring in it though.
To sum up, if you wanted a spacious SUV with all the kit, and had absolutely no interest in driving, the Jolion would make a pretty good companion. Were it me, I’d be looking elsewhere.