The divide between Melbourne and Sydney (and the people who live in each) is a bit like that of Wellington and Auckland, or Los Angeles and San Francisco. To appreciate the differences, take it slow when you travel between the cities and watch the slightest changes reveal themselves. There are two options — the coastal drive and the quicker inland alpine touring route. Set aside two weeks to really enjoy the trip. We drove both routes to show you what to expect.
After flat fields of golden grass, our first stop is at Lakes Entrance, fishing-boat heaven and Victoria's seafood capital. It must have been a sleepy fishing town once, but when we visit at the height of school holiday season it is heaving with holidaymakers, late-night carnival rides and a party atmosphere at the BIG4 Water's Edge holiday park. There's even a tent with a disco light pumping out pop tunes as kids bust their best moves after a late-night play in the pool. They sleep in, though, and it's nice and quiet in the mornings along the wharf, where fresh catch is sold straight from the back of fishing boats. They pull gummy sharks out of Sydney Fish Market crates and offer them to long queues of restaurateurs hustling the best deals early in the morning. If you miss out, just drop your own line in — even we could catch a jumping mullet just near the shoreline.
Stop in at the Griffith's Sea Shell Museum — the kids will love their large selection of shell sculptures starting at just $2.50. There's everything from Jazzy Frogs to Happy Puppies. Also in the area are caves to explore, lakes for cruising and fishing galore, not to mention the freshest fish and chips around town.
A misty morning drive from Lakes Entrance through the Snowy River National Park region is worth the early wake-up and soon we're on the way through cattle country to the coastal villages dotted along the way. We head through industrial (but also seaside pretty) Wollongong and on to Sydney. Save some change to stock up on a dozen oysters for $7 or spend a while at Merimbula for a swim in the sea. We also find a natural water slide, where kids jump into a rip at Short Point to get dragged a little way out to sea (the life savers didn't seem concerned and it looked great fun). Aside from the coast, there are also country towns with tie-dye T-shirt stores and cheese factories, as well as the Burrill Lakes district with plenty of fishing and lake activities. The BIG4 Holiday Park in Burrill Lakes has mini-golf and a wild-bird feeding session daily that will enthrall the kids. We travelled on the Grand Pacific Drive for a bit, but got back on main road after tiring of the snail's pace and the frequent detours.
Sydney and Canberra
We make it to Sydney on a 42C day, so head for a dip at the Sydney International Aquatic Centre at Olympic Park after a local tells us the Bondi Icebergs swimming pool will be full to the brim. It's inspiring to swim in the lanes in which world-record holders made their dreams come true and fun to ride the whirlpool in the kids' pool. After we've cooled down, we head straight to Canberra.
The road is noticeably well maintained (the politicians wouldn't travel on anything less) and takes us through either towering trees or past flat areas showcasing the vast expanse of the Australian landscape. In Canberra, everything is neat and tidy and the city is bustling with people wearing suits, smiling to themselves in the sun, and university lecturers riding bicycles home from classes.
We bribe our children to enter Parliament House and after hefty security checks show them the House of Representatives — where you can watch the politicians battle it out at question time - as well as look at the interesting gifts given to prime ministers over the years. There's an oil painting by Winston Churchill, a portrait of Julia Gillard made of coffee beans (gifted to Tony Abbott) and a peculiarly bad-tempered Bob Hawke doll from a private donor. I'm not sure the kids were enthralled but my husband and I loved it. There are also spectacular views from the roof and the chance to buy a politician printed on a fridge magnet on the way out.
Maybe it was because we were on the home stretch, but there didn't seem much to look at on the Hume Highway back to Melbourne. So, when the "Dog on a Tucker Box" sign beckoned, we had to take our chances and turn off at Gundagai. There it was — the Dog on the Tuckerbox. In the cafe, there he was again — on aprons, on teaspoons, on hats.
We left empty-handed and headed to Bright, a beautiful alpine village busy any time of the year. It's the kind of quaint town you could safely recommend to anyone and one of our favourite places in Victoria to visit.
In summer, the Ovens River is overflowing with happy holidaymakers floating by on lilos, jumping off diving boards or slipping down the two slides into the river. There are also mountain biking trails, two large playgrounds (one splashpark), cute cafes, a chocolate factory and a brewery beside the river. It's the perfect spot to end our holiday on a high.