Driving holiday along the south coast of New South Wales

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Grand Pacific Drive

Grand Pacific Drive

The November it’s-been-too-long-since-the-summer-holidays blues driving you up the wall? Get in the car and take a short trip with Lee Atkinson, author of Driving Holidays around Australia. Today Lee reveals her tips for driving the south coast of New South Wales.

Southern Highlands and Grand Pacific Drive, New South Wales

Combine mountain and coastal scenery on this drive through the Southern Highlands south of Sydney and along Grand Pacific Drive, a cliff-hugging, breathtakingly scenic coastal route. Most people do the cliff section of the drive heading south, but in the spirit of saving the best to last, and because the views are better heading north, we’ve approached the bridge from the opposite direction.

HOW LONG? An easy day drive from Sydney, or you can make a weekend of it driving through forgotten hinterland valleys and exploring the back roads of the Southern Highlands. For a shorter trip, drive straight to Wollongong via the Sea Cliff Bridge.

WHEN TO GO Any time of year is a good time to do this drive, although the Southern Highlands can be cold in winter: during spring and autumn the Southern Highlands’ parks and gardens are beautiful.

NEED TO KNOW Several sections of this drive are narrow and winding, particularly the drive down Barrengarry Mountain into Kangaroo Valley. If you suffer from travel sickness, take some medication before you set off.

SYDNEY TO BERRY, VIA THE SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS

From Sydney, head south along the Hume Motorway (M31), turn off at Mittagong and wind your way through the highland towns of Bowral and Moss Vale, stopping to browse the galleries, bookshops and antique stores.

From Moss Vale take the Nowra Road up through the mountains to Fitzroy Falls in Morton National Park. Here you can stretch your legs on the short walk to the lookout above the dramatic waterfall that tumbles 82m to the floor of the ravine below. Continuing south, follow the sign to Manning Lookout to enjoy spectacular views over Kangaroo Valley, one of the state’s prettiest valleys.

The road then descends through wild bushland, following a series of twists and turns down Barrengarry Mountain to reach the valley floor, before crossing historic Hampden Bridge. Stop for a swim at Flat Rock, at the end of Upper Kangaroo River Road, or have a picnic on the riverbank near the old hall in the village centre.

It’s not far from here to Berry, home to countless B&Bs, guesthouses, boutiques, antique shops and cafes.

BERRY TO WOLLONGONG

Continue east to hit the coast at Kiama and check out the blowhole in the rocky point below the lighthouse. Wollongong, the third largest city in New South Wales and a major coal, iron and steel producer is, despite all that heavy industry, a very attractive place to spend a night. Explore thehorseshoe-shaped cove of Wollongong Harbour, with its lighthouse, fishing fleet, fish markets and wonderful city beaches. Linger over coffee in one of the many cafes along the foreshore or stockpile some inner harmony at the eight-storey Nan Tien Buddhist Temple – the largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere (180 Berkeley Rd, Berkeley; (02) 4272 0600; open Tues–Sun 9am–5pm; www.nantien.org.au).

WOLLONGONG TO SYDNEY, VIA GRAND PACIFIC DRIVE

The Illawarra Escarpment tumbles into the sea just north of Wollongong and marks the beginning of the signposted section of Grand Pacific Drive, as the road follows the coastline north through a succession of seaside suburbs and villages. Grand Pacific Drive crosses the famous Sea Cliff Bridge between Clifton and Coalcliff.

Beyond the bridge, the road climbs through ferny forest above the beach to Stanwell Tops, high on the edge of the escarpment. Paragliders and hang-gliders soar on the thermals rising from the ocean below. On a clear day, you can see as far south as Wollongong and enjoy a great view of the route, over the Sea Cliff Bridge and the beaches beyond.

Soon after Stanwell Tops, Lawrence Hargrave Drive turns west to join the Princes Motorway, which leads north to Sydney, but you should veer off to the right along Lady Wakehurst Drive.

This winding, narrow road will take you through the heart of Royal National Park, the world’s second oldest national park, founded in 1879 (Yellowstone in the United States is seven years older). En route to Sydney’s southern suburb of Waterfall, the road winds through eucalypt forests, over windswept heathland and across low-level river weirs. Sidetracks spear off to beaches and lookouts and there are dozens of great picnic and swimming spots along the way.

Being so close to Sydney, the park is a popular place on sunny weekends, when traffic snarls can be frustrating, but if you can time your drive for a weekday, you’ll pretty much have it to yourself.

Camp like an explorer at these camping areas.

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Dig Tree camping area, Paul Smedley

Dig Tree camping area, Paul Smedley

These are the campsites in Australia where you can camp like an explorer, but with more amenities and less danger, from a caravan park in Mitchell in Queensland to the original Dig Tree where Burke met his unfortunate end.

Thomas Boyd Trackhead, Hume and Hovell Track, New South Wales 

The Hume and Hovell Track follows the path that explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell took in 1824 as they forged a path from Sydney to Melbourne (hence the aptly named Hume Highway).  You don’t have to be quite so adventurous to reach Thomas Boyd Trackhead camping area – you can now drive in with your dog and camper trailer and expect a campsite with quality amenities.

Dig Tree camping area, Queensland

The bad news about Dig Tree camping area is that the explorer Burke, back from his trek to the Gulf of Carpentaria with Wills, died underneath Dig Tree. The good news is that since that event, this area has been developed into an appealing camping area next to Cooper Creek.

Halligan Point camping area, Kati Thanda–Lake Eyre National Park, South Australia

Halligan Point camping area is the only lakeside camping area on Lake Eyre, and it’s just as desolate as it was when Edward John Eyre ran smack bang into its dry expanses trying to explore north. Out of all the campsites on this list, Halligan Point feels most like an exploration. But don’t do a Burke and Wills – make sure you are well prepared before you camp here (you also need a permit).

Major Mitchell Caravan Park, Mitchell, Queensland

Major Mitchell certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed a similar level of luxury on his four expeditions to that you’ll find at the caravan park that bears his name in Mitchell in Queensland. This friendly caravan park on the banks of a river is well worth a stay if, like Mitchell, you’re venturing into the outback.

Camp Beadell, Gunbarrel Highway

Travelling along the Gunbarrel Highway from the Red Centre into Western Australia’s interior still feels like an adventure today – which is fair enough, considering Len Beadell only made the track in the 50s. There’s water here, and space. A lot of space. Oh, and one of the best sunsets you’ll ever see.

These are the best ten campsites in Australia.

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Camping at Freycinet National Park, Kerryn Burgess

Camping at Freycinet National Park, Kerryn Burgess

These are Australia’s ten best camping areas. Don’t trust us? Ask the camping expert.

Kerryn Burgess has the enviable job title of camping expert, which basically means she gets to camp around Australia for work. Her latest book, Australia’s Best Camping, reveals her pick of the top 100 camping spots around Australia. But even an expert has to have favourites, and here are Kerryn’s picks.

 The Whitsundays, Queensland

The best, most memorable camping in Australia (and therefore the world) can be found in the Whitsundays. And that’s no exaggeration. With white-sand beaches, warm azure water, lazy snorkelling and tiny campgrounds for just a handful of campers at a time, this really is paradise found. You can take your pick from campsites including Whitehaven Beach, Crayfish Beach, Maureens Cove, Planton Island, Denman Island, Sawmill Beach and Paddle Bay.

Leliyn (Edith Falls) camping area, Nitmiluk National Park, Northern Territory

If the Edith River flowed with cold beer and water nymphs provided free massages, Leliyn might be a better campground than it is – but only just. It’s the Top End campground of your fantasies, with a freshwater pool and great facilities.

Freycinet camping area, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania

Superb bushwalking and views you’ll remember for life at the best campground on Tasmania’s east coast. Every campsite has been designed for maximum view impact. Once you’ve soaked in the view, take one of the many walks.

Tulki Beach camping area, Cape Range National Park, Western Australia

Australia’s wildest, most rugged, most exhilarated coastal camping – and a close community of campers to swap stories with around the campfire. It’s a camping experience you’ll never forget.

Tidal River camping area, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria

Tidal River is the biggest and the best national park campground in Victoria, with superb walking tracks and activities to rival Wet’n’Wild. With its hot showers, supermarket and coffee, Tidal River is closer to a camping town than a regular campsite. But with a spectacular wilderness at your tent flap, you don’t need the campsite to be wild too.

Rocky River camping area, Flinders Chase National Park, Kangaroo Island, South Australia

These gorgeous, private, bushy campsites have easier access to more native wildlife than any zoo, with wallabies at the campground and seals and sea lions not far away.

Dales camping area or Karijini Eco Retreat, Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Vast, remote gorges and dramatic landscapes in the heart of the Pilbara make for the camping experience of a lifetime – one the author found more valuable than a share in Gina Rinehart’s Pilbara operation.

The Basin, Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, New South Wales

The Basin is a huge, grassy, shaded area that has access to all the coves, beaches, headlands and views that make the coast north of Sydney so special.

Green Patch camping area, Booderee National Park, Jervis Bay Territory

You’ll find a sparkling beach backed by bushland and birdlife at Green Patch, plus whales if you’re lucky. The campsite itself is also kind of sparkling, with tall trees, secluded areas, private corners – oh, and that extraordinary white sand beach.

Bald Rock Creek camping area, Girraween National Park, Queensland

Bald Rock Creek camping area is a beautiful and sympathetic blend of natural elements and functional campsites with access to one of the best collections of day walks in the region.

NOTE: Girraween National Park is currently closed due to fire danger.

Start planning your summer camping adventures with Kerryn’s book, Australia’s Best Camping

If these beaches aren’t on your bucket list, then they should be.

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Looking for the best beaches in Australia? Look no further. These are some of the best beaches in Australia, and they’ve all made the cut in the new travel book Australia’s Top 100 Places to Go – The Ultimate Bucket List by Jen Adams and Clint Bizzell from Network Ten’s Places We Go.

 Bondi Beach, Sydney, New South Wales

One of the most famous beaches in the world, Bondi Beach is the grande dame of Sydney beaches. Everyone from politicians to backpackers parade up and down this perfectly curved expanse of sand, which is protected by headlands on either side and has water that just invites you to throw yourself in (although try not to end up on an episode of Bondi Rescue).

Hyams Beach, Jervis Bay, New South Wales

Move over Whitehaven Beach, Hyams Beach takes the crown for having the most blindingly white sand in the country. And stretching in front of the beach is an expanse of turquoise water, which an array of dolphins and other marine animals call home – they might even come up and welcome you.

Squeaky Beach, Wilsons Promontory National Park, Victoria

You could pick any of the beaches in Wilsons Promontory National Park and label it one of the best in Australia. But Squeaky Beach, reached by an hour-long trek, with its literally squeaky sand, will take your breath away.

Cable Beach, Broome, Western Australia

The sunset from Cable Beach, as the sun dips spectacularly into the Indian Ocean and turns the water into a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges and pinks, is one of the best you’ll see from a beach.

Eighty Mile Beach, Western Australia

Eighty Mile Beach, really 225 kilometres long, is where the Great Sandy Desert meets the Indian Ocean, and it’s just as spectacular as that sounds. The turquoise water joins up with the big blue sky and for those who love the coast, it’s almost a spiritual experience.

Seventeen Seventy, Queensland

The town of Seventeen Seventy in Queensland is said to be one of the only places in Australia where you can watch the sun rise and set over the ocean. This underdeveloped town remains a beach paradise for those who just want to laze about on the water and not do much else.

The Whitsundays, Queensland

You can’t mention the best beaches in Australia and not mention the Whitsundays. This surprisingly mountainous chain of islands is home to white beaches, turquoise water and incredible snorkelling just offshore.

Bay of Fires, Tasmania

In a country full of pristine coastline, the Bay of Fires in north-east Tasmania stands out for its unique combination of white sand, turquoise water and red-lichen splashed boulders. Each beach is a postcard-perfect moment waiting to happen.

To find more bucket list–worthy attractions, check out Australia’s Top 100 Places to Go – The Ultimate Bucket List

 

 

You call that a man cave? We reveal Australia’s best caves.

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Lake Cave, Tourism Western Australia

Lake Cave, Tourism Western Australia

There’s more to Australia than what you see on the surface – in fact, Australia has some of the best caves in the world, from the intimidatingly long and watery Cocklebiddy Cave to the famous Jenolan Caves. Follow us down the tunnel as we reveal the best caves in the country.

Lake Cave, Jewel Cave and Mammoth Cave, Margaret River

If you’ve previously only visited Margaret River for the wineries and surf, then you’ve barely scratched the surface – because under the surface you’ll find a remarkable collection of caves, including the popular tourist destinations Lake Cave, Jewel Cave and Mammoth Cave. Lake Cave is famous for its pristine underground lake, which reflects the crystalline formations; Jewel Cave is an epic cave that extends for 1.9 kilometres and Mammoth Cave – well, you’ll just have to visit and find out what makes it quite so mammoth.

Cocklebiddy Cave, 10 kilometres north of Eyre Highway, Western Australia

There’s more to the Nullarbor Plain than meets the eye. Renowned as one of the most featureless stretches of Australia, travellers who call the plain boring are not looking in the right direction – down.

There are hundreds of caves underneath the Nullarbor Plain, many just north of Highway One. The most famous of them is Cocklebiddy Cave, which gained fame in 1983 when cave divers travelled 6259 metres into the cave – at the time the longest cave distance undertaken in the world.

Unfortunately, many of the caves are unstable, and you need to get a special permit from the Department of Parks and Wildlife to enter. You can still poke around the entrance to Cocklebiddy Cave, and maybe get some ideas on how to upgrade your man cave.

Capricorn Caves, Rockhampton

As the only privately own cave system on this list, Capricorn Caves has been turned into an adventure playground, with caving adventures, abseiling, rock-climbing and a ropes course all organised around the stunning natural scenery of the caves. The ultimate challenge is probably the caving adventure, where you’ll twist and turn and crawl through rock tunnels, such as squeezing yourself through the 30-centimetre-diametre hole called Fat Man’s Misery.

Of course, you can just admire the caves themselves on one of the hopefully less eventful caving tours, such as the Cathedral Cave tour, which takes visitors through smaller caves through to the incredible natural acoustics of the large Cathedral Cave.

Naracoorte Caves, Naracoorte National Park

Welcome to Naracoorte, where there are caves so good they’ve been World Heritage listed. The main attraction here are the fossils. Millions of years ago, animals fell into these concealed caves and topsoil was washed over their skeletons, preserving an amazing fossil record visitors can enjoy today. Of course, there are also your more traditional cave attractions, such as stalagmites and stalactites, and adventure tours where you can feel the squeeze caving through the underground system.

Jenolan Caves, near Oberon

You can’t mention Australian caves without mentioning Jenolan Caves. These caves, within easy driving distance of Sydney, are among Australia’s most spectacular, and the limestone in these caves is thought to be at least 340 million years old. There are 11 caves open to the public (although more than 40 kilometres of caves in all), and each of these magnificent caves puts on its own show, some with light shows, some with walking tours. If you want something with less flash, try adventure caving. Crawling through the undeveloped caves with just a headlamp will give you new appreciation for the world above ground.