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.
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.