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It’s the romance of the open road, the salty ocean breeze in your hair and the unruly arguments that break out over triple j or ABC radio. It’s the toilet breaks beside empty highways, stopping for mid-day beach swims and playing spot the kangaroo in the glow of twilight. It’s road tripping in Australia.
From standing toes in the sand at iconic Bells Beach to getting up close and personal with fire-brewing in Mount Barker, there is no better car journey than the K’s between cosmopolitan Melbourne and laid-back Adelaide. Whether you drive it in three days or take a leisurely week, all you need is a map, some monies in the petrol bank and a carefully-curated playlist.
So, in the spirit of a good cliché (it’s the journey not the destination, after all), here are the top pit stop sights between Australia’s coffee capital and the city of churches.
#1 Torquay’s Surfing Museum
Hang ten, six-footers, gnarly swells – if you aren’t familiar with the local vernacular then Torquay’s Australian National Surfing Museum (the largest in the world) is the perfect first stop. You can get friendly with the local legends at the surfing hall of fame, learn how to pull of the perfect cut back or even rent a board yourself and hit the waves at Bells Beach. But no need to be embarrassed if it’s your first time, everyone’s a barney to begin with.
#2 Erskine Falls
Whoever said “don’t go chasing waterfalls” has obviously never been to Victoria’s Great Otway National Park. The Otways, as the locals like to call it, is 100,000 hectares of coastal rainforest packed to the canopy with sky-high Beech trees, views to migrating humpback whales and some serious waterfalls.
Pull the car up at Erskine, stretch the legs and let the 30 metre cascades wake you up like a cold shower in the morning. Ah, refreshing.
#3 Loch Ard Gorge
The Twelve Apostles are in every guidebook ever printed, and for good reason. Standing triumphant in the whitewash of Victoria’s (aptly named) Shipwreck Coast, the Twelve Apostles are huge, offshore rock formations and the view across this stretch of sea is breathtaking.
But just a three minute drive down the road, you’ll find the less photographed Loch Ard Gorge, a stunning inlet with plenty of walking tracks and lookouts, plus steps down to a small sheltered beach (with no guards, so take care and only swim in the shallows).
#4 Cape Bridgewater
This one’s for all the animal lovers out there. Well, the lovers of the ocean mammals anyway. If you head 135 metres above sea level and take a short wander across the cliffs, then you’ll be rewarded with unparalleled views of the Cape Bridgewater fur seal colony. Depending on the day, and the seals’ busy schedules, you might see a vista of hundreds or just a cheeky few. Either way, BYO binoculars for some close-up peeping seal action.
#5 The Blue Lake
Mount Gambier’s signature sight is more exciting than your average, run-of-the-mill body of water. The Blue Lake is actually a monomictic lake, which translates to “extinct volcano lake”, for those of us who don’t speak science.
At 72 metes deep and 1,200 by 824 metres wide, this lovely crater lagoon also provides the entire town with year-round drinking water. Beautiful and handy. Climb to its rim for the perfect photo opportunity.
#6 Umpherston Sink Hole
Back in the day, this lush sunken garden was actually a resplendent cave. You know, the kind where you crawl in through a claustrophobia-inducing entrance only to stand up in a huge, roofed cavern. But then in the 1880s the roof collapsed, leaving a giant, gaping hole in the ground.
Luckily for Mount Gambier, quick thinker and resident green thumb James Umpherston had the foresight to turn this sinkhole into a magnificent communal garden and it’s been a lush, manicured haven for the intrepid traveller ever since.
#7 Piccaninnie Ponds
This one is the stuff of legend, local folklore, and old wives tales. On the surface, the Piccaninnie Ponds look like your regular wetland area, rife with reeds and birds and such. But dive a little deeper (literally, you can hire a scuba set) and you’ll find an underwater maze of limestone caves. Just lookout out for The Chasm, an ominous 100-metre sinkhole.
#8 Pool of Siloam
Did you know Australia has its very own Dead Sea? Well, you do now. Head to South Australia’s laidback Beachport for the Pool of Siloam, a body of water that’s seven times saltier than the ocean. Rumour has it the pool even has healing properties. Perhaps it can ease that car ride numb bum of yours.
#9 The Coorong
The Cooorong is a gorgeous part of Australia. It’s a maze of shallow, salty lagoons, rich with local wildlife and steeped in story (it’s a sacred area for the Indigenous Ngarrindjeri people). Spend a day kayaking the 140 kilometres of wetlands with a local guide, learn to navigate the mouth of the Murray River and come to the inevitable realisation that you have no upper body strength. Who knew paddling was so hard?
#10 The Prancing Pony brewery
There’s nothing better than celebrating the end of a road saga with a local brew, and where better than Mount Barker’s The Prancing Pony? These guys do things a little differently, and by that we mean they use the traditional style of fire-brewing.
In fact, they are the only brewery in Australia still employing this centuries-old technique. Grab a stool, sign up for the taste testing and swig down some of their caramel ales. Just a word to the wise, in South Australia glass sizes range from a schooner (285 mil) to a pony (140 mil), so order wisely.
Avis car hire is the perfect way to make more of your holiday. Roadtrips give you the opportunity to see different sides of your destination. With such freedom, the possibilities are truly limitless. Stay tuned for more stories from the road.
(Lead image: Claudio Jofré Larenas / Flickr)