Road trip

Melbourne – Adelaide road trip review

Do you daydream about travelling with your mates? Well, my friend Michael and I decided we wanted to road trip around Australia and – to our immense surprise – we are actually doing it!

The first year, we drove from Sydney to Melbourne, and this past road trip we drove from Melbourne to Adelaide.

We always have loose plans to check out gardens and local highlights but we never really have anything totally locked in which is what makes it so ridiculously fun.

We get up – whenever we wake up – drink whatever crappy coffee and tea options are available at the AirBnb we are staying at, have breakfast if the host has left anything (we even stooped to eating some very out-of-date muesli with long life milk one day because #cheapskates) and away we go. We know where we’re staying that night but the rest of the day? It’s an up-in-the-air adventure.

I drive, Michael navigates and plays music, and we talk sh*t. We discuss movies, and TV, and books and podcasts. We talk about life goals, work, hobbies, and families and friends.

road trip
The cottage at The Garden of St Erth

This year, we went to The Garden of St Earth in Blackwood – absolutely worth the side trip. It is a perfect example of a microclimate and what you can achieve if you choose the right site and look after the soil. In a sea of drought, this valley is green due to intelligent stewardship.

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The glamping tents at The Garden of St Erth

We stopped for a coffee and bakery snacks in Ballarat, a gold rush town that is surprisingly beautiful with it’s miles-wide main street with rose bushes, sculptures, and 1800s shop facades galore.

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We pushed on to Portland, arguably the least attractive town on the Great Ocean Road as it’s still a working port. Nevertheless, we had a hoot. When we were walking home from another over-priced dinner – albeit, quite tipsy – we encountered a wallaby hanging out in a paddock and a KOALA CLIMBING A TREE in someone’s front yard. It was wild. Or not wild. I’m not exactly sure but it was ASTOUNDING.

The next day we backtracked to Port Fairy for a jaunt through this bustling tourist village. We happened upon a local festival with many kids, dogs and bicycles that made the whole place seem carefree and joyful.

The shops were exactly what you hope to find – a little bit boutique-y and local, but with prices that made it plausible to hand over your credit card without wincing. We ate lunch in a hidden cafe that Michael found on Zomato called The Farmer’s Wife. This place has all the buzz foods du jour – pulled pork quesadillas, corn fritters made with gf chickpea flour, avocado on sourdough with all the accoutrements – but what made it really special was the genuine friendliness of the staff.

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The Blue Lake in Mount Gambier

Mount Gambier’s Blue Lake beckoned, so off we shot in our rental Suzuki Swift that was about as powerful as a hand blender. It even sounded like a hand blender when it was going over 100km per hour.

The Blue Lake was, luckily, a shade of cobalt rarely seen in nature. The temperature of the water is what influences the mysterious colour change and we were fortunate enough to see it ‘in heat’.

road trip
Umpherston Sinkhole

We followed this up with a trip to Umpherston Sinkhole, a garden I had seen Costa trotting around on Gardening Australia. It is a wonderful folly, with native bee hives hanging off the dripping limestone overhang. The downside was the pervasive stink of chemicals from timber treatment plant next door. #stinkhole.

Day Three saw us push on to the exceptionally organised vineyards of Coonawarra. We stopped at the Rymill cellar door. Quality wines aside, this place wins all sorts of tourism awards for good reason. It’s well-presented, explains the wine-making process with accessible simplicity, and is historically significant due to the Rymill family’s deep roots in the region.

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Silo art at Coonalpyn

We skipped past Padthaway, lost in a 1990s reverie of nostalgic tunes, and wound up at the painted silos of Coonalpyn for a photo stop.

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The Murray River really is majestic

And then it was off to Murray Bridge for a front row seat on the banks of the mighty Murray River.

Last stop: Encounter Bay, the beach next to Victor Harbor.

Our final evening was spent in the pleasant chaos of Beach House Cafe. This local’s haunt gets super busy during holiday time but the cheery hubbub and eclectic decor make it a fun place to scoff down a pizza and enjoy a few South Australian wines or beers.

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And then it was nearly home time. We dashed off to King’s Beach to waggle our toes in the water, admire a handsome black-footed albatross (we Googled that) and wish we could stay here for another month, such was its austere isolation.

5 tips for foolproof road trip awesomeness

  1. Don’t make too many plans. We decided to try to find Budj Bim indigenous fish ponds on a whim. This led to a hilarious excursion to the edge of a paddock because the GPS became very confused. Many lols ensued.
  2. Pack some snacks, tea and coffee. Do not rely on the generosity of AirBnb hosts. Some are amazing (ie the lady in Portland and the couple in Encounter Bay) and some don’t give a fig (literally, NO FIGS) if you perish in the wilderness. Pack some muesli bars, biscuits, fruit, coffee bags and herbal teas if you’re into that kind of thing because the instant coffee in the accommodation tastes like it was ground by the feet of dinosaurs. And then shat on. And then preserved for 20 million years until it found its way into your coffee cup.
  3. Listen to nostalgic music. Honestly, this is the greatest. It doesn’t matter how many similar-looking paddocks you speed past when you’re listening to the angsty Tori Amos of your youth. You can sustain the wonder for many, many roly-poly hay bales when you’re singing at the top of your lungs.
  4. Watch whatever crap is on local TV. One of our favourite things to joke about is which Inspector Morse episode we’re going to watch that night. In an On Demand world, it is amusing to surrender to local programming and revisit such classics as The Fugitive. Also, local TV ads are appalling and also educational. You know you’re in the country when people are advertising combine harvesters and stock feed.
  5. Sleep in. Surely, this is one of the great joys of adult life. Don’t force yourself out the door at some stupid hour. Dawdle. Have a shower. Drink some dinosaur sh*t coffee and read a Home Beautiful from 2015. This is truly living!

What is the best road trip you have ever been on?

Want to read about our first road trip from Sydney to Melbourne? Click here.

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