We have done the drive between Sydney and Melbourne many times over the years. Mostly due to my 18 month stay in Melbourne when Anh and I did the long distance thing.
It would not be unusual for us to drive from either city and meet halfway, or just doing the back and forth whenever flights were expensive or I needed my car for a visit.
There are two different routes you can take. The coastal route is far more picturesque, but also adds about 50% to your travel time excluding stoppages.
In this post we will be talking about the inland route – which is much faster, but also quite dull on the surface.
You will not see anything eye-catching on the side of the road. But, you will pass by a long list of cute small towns, wineries, and a few iconic landmarks.
We will be listing these down in the Sydney -> Melbourne order. So if you are heading in the opposite direction just turn the list on it’s head.
Summary of Recommended Stops:
- Bowral – Bradman Museum
- Goulburn – The Big Marino
- Yass – Bridge
- Gundagai – The Lookout
- Holbrook – HMAS Otway
- Albury – Hume Lake (and Carv’n It Up)
- Glenrowan – Ned Kelly’s Last Stand
- Nagambie – Black Caviar Statue
Recommended Travel Time
Two full days of driving will give you all the time you need for stoppages along the way. This is assuming you do not venture far from the Hume Highway, which is the main route you will be taking.
There are long detours you can take if you want to check out the capital of Canberra, or venture into the Snowy Mountains.
But for the purposes of this post, we’ll be sticking to the main freeway.
If you just want to get from point A to B the total driving time is 8.5 hours and just a tick under 900kms (Approx. 550 miles).
Which Road Do I take?
The Eastern Distributor will take you from the CBD out to near the airport. This is where the road splits and you can turn left for the coastal route, or continue on the freeway to the M5 motorway.
This is the only road you will need until you get all the way into Melbourne.
This is a toll road so if you are hiring a car you should pre-arrange an e-tag to pay for the cost of this.
From the CBD you can jump on the M2 Citylink which will take you north in the direction of the Airport.
But before you get there you will turn off onto the M80, which will take you to the Hume Highway.
This will take you out of the north of the city, and all the way to the south west of Sydney.
Sydney to Melbourne Road Trip Stops
Once you make it outside of the south eastern corner of Sydney’s urban sprawl you will be greeted with the lush rolling green hills of the Southern Highlands.
As you get closer to Mittagong and Bowral the terrain will become mountainous and if you have left early in the morning you will often be met with thick fog that sits on the valley floors.
The freeway will rise and fall in and out of the fog levels and you can go from thick cloud, to bright sunshine over and over again.
It is a beautiful site which leads us to our first stopover.
This region is a popular wedding destination with large picturesque properties, lots of great food and wineries scattered around the region.
While you could easily spend a few days here, if you are just passing through there is one activity that I would recommend.
Bowral is the home of the Bradman Museum, which sits on the edge of Bradman Oval.
Named after possibly the greatest Australian, and sportsman of all time – Donald Bradman.
This is someone who most overseas visitors have never heard of, but here I wanted to provide a quick comparison of why it is worth stopping to appreciate a master of his craft and just how much better he was at Cricket than anyone else who has ever played the game.
While comparisons across sport are impossible to make I will try and give you a more relatable example to give you an idea of how much better Don Bradman’s record is compared to everyone else to have ever played the game.
To be a Don Bradman of the basketball world, Michael Jordan would have to nearly double his career points per game to be in the same league.
So even if you have never heard of cricket, an hour in the museum will be well spent.
This one will be a quick stop as Goulburn is mostly famous for a maximum security prison – which is not a tourist friendly place.
But, there is one giant landmark on the side of the freeway that is very well known and definitely worth a photo.
The Big Marino sits out the front of a small complex for travelers to re-fuel on their journey. It is unremarkable, but something that is consistent with Australian road trips that are littered with “Big” objects that represent what a region is known for.
In this case, sheep and wool production.
There are two things that Yass is well known for. Unfortunately, I think that one of them has been removed. But you would have to stay on the freeway to see it anyway.
A clever McDonalds billboard on the edge of town used to proudly point to the big M of Yass. With the large billboard formatted in a way that read MYass…
But, now that this is gone I guess the Yass River and timber road bridge would have to do.
This runs through the middle of this old town and give it that trademark postcard view of the town.
Yass has become more of a commuter town for workers in Canberra in recent years (about 45 minutes on the opposite side of town as the freeway). But still has plenty of local wineries and restaurants that will make for a better lunch stop off than Goulburn.
Gundagai is a very special town for Anh and I. This is where we would often meet when bridging that long distance relationship between the two capitals.
We are almost at the halfway mark from Sydney to Melbourne, and with limited activities here you will not miss out on anything if you arrive late in the day and decide to hunker down for the night.
The highlight of Gundagai is open at any time – the Gundagai lookout.
I would encourage you to go straight there on arrival if you still have sunlight. The high vantage point gives you a stunning 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains and farmland.
A great place to watch the sunset.
You can then choose from a handful of motels in town where you can get a cheap room with all the basics you need to freshen up.
As with just about every small regional Australian town you will find an RSL Club, a Chinese Restaurant, and a pub…. Perhaps one or two more food options.
A nice meal and a few wines are a nice finish to the day, before heading back up to the lookout for the moonlight view. A different perspective than earlier, and just as worthwhile.
This is a very small town, with a very big and unusual feature – a decommissioned submarine in the middle of Germanton Park park on the main street of town.
The HMAS Otway of the Royal Australian Navy was placed there in honour of Lt. Holbrook, who’s wife donated much of the $100,000 raised to purchase part of the shell of the sub in the mid 90s.
You are free to climb the structure and can get some great pics from the front of the submarine.
The Submarine Cafe sits next to the structure and is a nice spot for a coffee and a rest break from all this driving.
The town doesn’t have much else except for paddock after paddock of sheep. But you can also check out the National Museum of Australian Pottery…. If you’re into that.
We have finally reached the state border between New South Wales and Victoria. Albury is a major regional city that sits right on the border and for the most part we would recommend you skip going into the city as it could cost you some time.
A quick detour down to Lake Hume and the Hume Dam will be worthwhile. You could have a quick swim at the tourist park there, or just have a coffee and enjoy the water views.
The lake holds six times the water of Sydney Harbour – which gives you an idea of its size!!
There are water sports on offer here, but unless you are staying in town for a few days we recommend you keep going to Nagambie for this.
If you are already ready for lunch there is one spot next to the freeway where you can get an outstanding roast dinner style meal.
Check out Carv’n It Up. The roast pork is outstanding and comes with some of the best pork crackling I have ever tasted!
You will get a big meal for under $20 there and you could probably split between two people and still be reasonably happy.
One of Australia’s best known people from the 19th century was in fact a criminal outlaw named Ned Kelly. He was captured in a dramatic final shootout with authorities on this site in Glenrowan.
The other members of the Kelly Gang were all killed in the siege.
Just as famous as Ned himself was the homemade armour that he wore when he faced police. Covered from head to ankle in metal plates that were heavy, but bulletproof.
The one weakness being the exposed feet and shins – which one police officer eventually noticed and shot him in the leg.
He was imprisoned, and eventually hung in Melbourne Pentridge Prison. Which is another destination we recommend you checkout on arrival in Melbourne.
While the Kelly gang is well known to most Australians, if you have never heard of them there was a movie from the early 2000’s with Heath Ledger and Orlando Bloom about the famous gang.
It will be an entertaining and educational watch on your flight over to Australia.
While Nagambie has a lot to offer, there was one reason why I had to come here. The Black Caviar statue!
Black Caviar was a superstar racehorse who went her whole career undefeated and was a household name in Australia throughout her career.
If you have never heard of her then check out the video below. I was at the track the day she ran at Royal Ascot in London back in 2012 when she won the Diamond Jubilee Stakes (and very nearly lost for the only time in her career!).
One of the best days of my life, and I still get goosebumps every time I think about it.
She was bred and born at Gilgai Stud which is less than a ten minute drive from the centre of town.
The statue overlooks the beautiful Lake Nagambie – which is what draws most non-horse racing folk here.
This massive man made lake is where you will find a long list of watersports
- Water skiing
- Jet skiing
- Canoeing & kayaking
If you are looking for something a bit more laid back there is some good fishing, boats for hire, and river cruises so you can kick back and enjoy the view.
Arriving in Melbourne
As you get to the outer rim of Melbourne City you will come around a long bend where the CBD will become visible for the first time off in the distance.
It always feels like a triumphant moment when you see this for the first time, and as soon as you notice this the big “Welcome to Melbourne” sign is the next thing you see.
From there it is all freeways with that city skyline getting ever closer. The road network is excellent and you can let your navigation app take you off in the right direction to your chosen destination.
Watch Out for Speed Cameras
A word of warning on this final approach to Melbourne – there are speed cameras everywhere!!
In the last 30kms or so before you join the main freeway network of the city there are five speed cameras with no signs leading up to them.
So take it easy on this stretch of road and stick to the speed limits (which vary from 80kms-110kms) to make sure you don’t get a costly fine.
Other Tips for your Road Trip
- There will be police hiding on the side of the road waiting to pull over speeding drivers. These are usually on the outskirts of the larger towns and cities, and on long weekends expect to see a lot of them!
- This post couldn’t even begin to cover all of the small roadside cafes, restaurants, fresh produce markets, and wineries along the road. If you see something you like, then stop and check it out.
- If you have less than 100kms (62 miles) worth of fuel then fill up your tank at the nearest service station. There are some stretches of road where there will be no services for 60kms+. You may not realise you have insufficient gas until it’s too late. This is not the place to get stuck on the side of the road.
- There are plenty of rest areas and toilets on the side of the road. Driver fatigue is a major cause of accidents so utilise these to stretch your legs frequently. Also make sure you have wet wipes and sanitiser as the cleanliness of these stops are mixed to say the least.
On arrival in Melbourne or Sydney you will have a stack of great activities and attractions to choose from. But the journey between the two can give you the opportunity to experience rural Australia and it’s rich history, great food…. and also an insight into just how big Australia is!
We had done this drive multiple times before we stopped to smell the roses, so to speak.
There will be plenty of undiscovered gems if you have the time to stop off and explore and you could easily stretch this drive to a week long trip if you wanted to immerse yourself in the activities offered in the small towns.
You will find that the locals are very friendly and love to chat.
Far more than in the cities, so don’t be afraid of striking up a conversation and asking what some local highlights are to check out. You never know what you will find.