What to expect
- Spend the night at a luxe-glamping site under the starriest of night skies.
- Take a float on a vintage paddle steamer or hire a houseboat for a few days.
- Walk your way through time at the Bonegilla Migrant Experience.
- Explore one of best art spaces in Australia at MAMA – Murray Art Museum Albury.
- Drift gracefully over Canberra in the rosy light of dawn in a hot air balloon.
- Time: 6 days
- Distance: 1,160 kilometres (720 miles)
- Transport: car, caravan
- Nearest major city: Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney
Day 1: Melbourne – Bendigo
Your drive to Sydney begins on the well-trodden trail for gold. You’re heading for gold-rich Bendigo, but you’ll find a couple of little gems along the way to explore. A must stop is The Mill in Castlemaine, a dreamland for foodies, art enthusiasts and seekers of the collectable, curious and artisan made. Across the road, the heritage-listed Castlemaine Botanical Gardens gives a perfect glimpse of a 19th century designed landscape. A pit stop at Harcourt Cider should also most definitely be on the agenda, they’re producing some of the best apple cider and sparkling apple juice in the country.
Bendigo is a city that was quite literally built on gold but whilst its prospecting past may be long gone its future sparkles brightly. History aficionados can get their fix by donning a hard hat and heading underground at the Central Deborah Gold Mine, or with a trundle around town on the Bendigo talking tram. Meanwhile, food lovers are unlikely to go hungry in a place bestowed by UNESCO as a Creative City of Gastronomy. The food scene is thriving with paddock to plate experiences, food fossicking and vibrant farmers markets. The region is also home to more than 50 cellar doors including Balgownie Estate where you can sip and sample through a cellar door tasting, feast on a gourmet dining experience and then spend a magical luxe-glamping night amongst the vines.
Day 2: Bendigo – Echuca/Moama
Breakfast like a king and perhaps throw a pot or two at Australia’s oldest working pottery before hitting the road again.
The sister towns of Echuca-Moama are steeped in history and a meander along the Murray Esplanade reveals a whole assembly of heritage buildings now playing host to vibrant shops and cafes. Alongside a living, breathing backdrop of ancient river gums and the ebb and flow of the Murray River you’ll find a fleet of vintage paddle steamers, the largest operational collection in the world. Take a leisurely cruise along the river on the legendary PS Emmy Lou or linger a while longer, hire a houseboat and see where the river takes you.
Petrolheads can find their grove at the National Holden Motor Museum, which plays homage to the superstar of the Australian motor industry.
Day 3: Echuca/Moama – Yarrawonga/Mulwala
Wash away the last vestiges of city living and join Kingfisher Cruises for a cruise along the ‘Barmah Choke’, an area of huge international significance within the largest River Red Gum forest on earth.
Today’s drive will take you through the affectionately named Sun Country on the Murray. This is where life seems to slow in pace a little. It’s peaceful and rhythmic and dictated by the ever-changing flow of the Murray River. Call in at the profusion of farm gates, have a natter with the locals and pick up some home-grown treats for the drive.
As you head towards Yarrawonga Mulwala why not call into Cactus Country for something a little different. In addition to the walking trails through more than 4,000 species of cactus and succulents you can then imbibe in cacti-flavoured cake and ice cream afterwards! We’d also recommend ensuring timing your arrival to catch the flaming colours of the sun setting over the ghostly River Red Gums on Lake Mulwala.
Day 4: Yarrawonga/Mulwala – Albury/Wodonga
Start the day as you mean to go on with energy and vigour and a trip around the lake by water-ski. Or, if you prefer your mornings a little more leisurely, hire a kayak or stand-up paddle board. Perhaps elect a designated driver for the day as a visit to the vineyards of Rutherglen is a must. Giving birth to punchy red and super-crisp white wines since the early 1800’s there’s plenty of history in these cellar doors, and let’s be honest it’s never too early to sample fabulous wine, the sun is always over the yard arm somewhere.
The cities of Albury and Wodonga are divided by the state line but united by the Murray River and people have gathered for thousands of years at this natural meeting place. This is where a rich history still flourishes alongside a vibrant, urban culture. Walk in the footsteps of pioneers and migrants at the Bonegilla Migrant Experience (one in twenty Australians have links to Bonegilla) and see the indigenous history through the eyes of local Aboriginal artists on the Yindyamarra Sculpture Trail. Scattered over five kilometres these contemporary sculptures tell the story of the Wiradjuri people’s close connection to the river and land. We recommend exchanging four wheels for two and cycling the trail to the Wonga Wetlands. Art-lovers and those with a creative soul should pay a visit to the Murray Arts Museum Albury (MAMA), having earned a reputation for innovative and original exhibitions featuring contemporary artists from around the globe, this museum is one of Australia’s most visited art spaces outside of Sydney.
(Travel tip: if time allows, from Rutherglen take a side trip to Beechworth, a village with an acclaimed food and wine scene set amid stunning gold rush architecture. This is also home of the original Beechworth Honey Experience and Beechworth Bakery.)
Day 5: Albury/Wodonga – Canberra
Soak up a big fat dose of fresh morning air at Lake Hume this morning, six times larger than Sydney Harbour this is the ideal spot for boating and fishing adventure. Make your way towards Canberra with a hop and a skip into quaint country villages to break the drive. Jugiong is a good lunch spot with the Long Track Pantry, and The Sir George long known as well-kept foodie secrets. As you continue towards Canberra, you’ll pass through one of Australia’s lesser-known but still exceptional cool-climate wine regions. We have it on good authority that the Shiraz and Rieslings are not to be missed.
Canberra is unusual for a capital city in that it is small, but it is also perfectly formed. Feed your soul in some of the country’s finest restaurants covering a wide and eclectic mix of dining styles and drink in the sheer abundance of art galleries and museums of all shapes and sizes. Even parliament is accessible here, should the desire so take you, you can even take a selfie on the rooftop of Parliament House.
For the free-spirited and wild at heart there’s a wealth of creative designers and individual boutiques just waiting to be embraced and the friendly locals will happily tell you their favourite spots.
Day 6: Canberra – Sydney
An early wake up call before dawn breaks heralds a breath-taking float in a hot air balloon. A gentle and blissfully scenic way to see the nation’s capital city slumbering peacefully beneath you as the sun begins to rise. Canberra has no shortage of exceptional breakfast hangouts; the challenge will be which one to choose to fuel up in before your drive to Sydney. Leaving Canberra behind you can venture into a world of all things small at Cockington Green Gardens and then swap tiny for gigantic at the National Dinosaur Museum just across the street.
Take the drive through the Southern Highlands, a patchwork quilt of rolling green fields, picturesque villages, and boutique wineries. Cricket fans should not miss the Bradman Museum in Bowral, home to a vast collection of memorabilia all tributed to Sir Donald Bradman – Australia’s most famous batsman. Alternatively, if you’re craving the salty tang of the ocean, head to Bateman’s Bay after you leave Canberra and then follow the coastline and beaches north to Sydney.
(Travel tip: extend your trip with some coastal glamour. From Canberra, follow Kings Highway to Batemans Bay, and travel along the coast to Jervis Bay, before making your way up to Sydney.)