Not to see the ‘Wizard of Oz’ but to experience the ‘Magic of Oz’!
During the 19 years I worked in the Philippines, I had opportunity of visiting Australia on three occasions: once on business for 10 days in 2000, traveling to Canberra (and into the Riverina), Adelaide and Melbourne; and twice on vacation, with the whole family over Christmas and New Year 1997-98, in the Sydney area, and again in 2003-04 with Steph when we drove down the coast road, the Princes Highway, from Sydney to Melbourne. Our 2003 trip took some planning, and we certainly packed a lot in during the 10 days we were actually in Australia.
I had originally wanted to book a fly-drive holiday, but by the time we’d decided to take enjoy the long Christmas-New Year break in Australia, all the fly-drive holidays I found on the Internet were all booked up. So it was a case of DIY. I booked direct flights from Manila to Sydney on Qantas, and then began to search for hotels in Sydney and Melbourne, and all stops in between. Getting a flight was no hassle whatsoever, since we actually flew out of Manila in the evening on Christmas Day. Making a rental car reservation was plain sailing as well. But how to plan a journey from Sydney to Melbourne, and how to pace the trip and find suitable accommodation?
The fly-drive options on the web also provided a map of the itinerary and listed the hotels that would be booked – if they had been available. I looked for other hotels in the same towns but, it being Christmas, the was no room at the inn. Instead, I identified the nearest towns to those listed on the fly-drive schedules, and easily booked hotels all the way down to Melbourne, spacing our overnight stops – and to have plenty of time to make side-trips and stop along the way.
This was our itinerary (with approximate distances):
Manila – Sydney, dep. 25 December, arr. 26 December
Since the flight from Manila arrived early in the morning, there was plenty of time to get to our hotel (Park Regis City Centre) and even have a short rest before our friend and former colleague, Duncan Macintosh from IRRI (who was on home-leave in Sydney) dropped by to take us out to lunch. We headed to Bondi Beach, chose Ravesi’s Hotel on the main drag for an excellent fish and chips lunch, and (as it was Boxing Day) watched the yachts in the Sydney to Hobart Race sail past the headland. Later on in the afternoon, Duncan dropped us at the main rail terminal where we collected out tickets for the return journey from Melbourne.
Sydney, 27 December
We headed down George Street early, stopping at a few stores on the way to the harbour, where we spent a few hours exploring The Rocks (just under the Bridge), and finding somewhere to have lunch. There’s no shortage of places to eat at The Rocks, as in the rest of downtown Sydney. In the afternoon, we decided to take the river trip to Parramatta, which is about 25 km west of Sydney. There are still many colonial era buildings to see in the town.
Sydney – Nowra, NSW, via Royal National Park (180 km), 28 December
This was the start of our road trip to Melbourne. Heading south from Sydney, it wasn’t long before we made our first diversion through the Royal National Park, rejoining the Princes Highway just north of Wollongong.
There was plenty of time to sit on the cliffs at Stanwell and watch the aerobatics of members of the Sydney Hang Gliding Centre
We also went to see the Blowhole at Kiama, and Seven Mile Beach, before finally reaching our first stop for the night at Nowra, staying at the Pleasant Way Motel (it had another name when we were there).
Nowra – Tathra, NSW, via Central Tilba (263 km), 29 December
Continuing south along the coast, we stopped off at Huskisson on Jervis Bay, to see what are supposed to be the ‘whitest sands in the world’. Well, we only found out that fact afterwards, then Ulladulla, and for an ice cream in Central Tilba. The landscape around Tilba is lovely rolling country, dotted with small farms. It reminded me of the landscapes in the movie Babe – not surprising really as one of the main locations used was in the same coastal range north of Central Tilba.
We stayed at the Tathra Hotel – nothing to write home about, a regular motel, but it was convenient and relatively cheap.
We had dinner at The Wharf Locavore, now a coffee shop and art gallery but in 2003 also served dinner. It was great eating dinner with the waves crashing underneath – you could see them through the floorboards!
Tathra – Bairnsdale, Victoria (329 km), 30 December
Crossing into Victoria from New South Wales, we took a side trip into the forest, hoping to see some wildlife. We caught one glimpse of a kangaroo but that was about it. In fact, during our whole trip south we saw very little wildlife – probably because the weather was very hot and everything was hiding in the shade.
We stayed at a very nice hotel, The Riversleigh, in Bairnsdale. Unfortunately Steph had come down with a cold, but I managed to enjoy a nice cold beer or three, sitting on the balcony of our room.
Bairnsdale – Wonthaggi, via Wilson’s Promontory National Park (392 km), 31 December
The highlight of this day’s travel was the excursion around Wilson’s Promontory, which is the southern-most point on the Australian mainland. Lots of Banksias to look at, and many other exotic plants that I had no idea what they were.
We headed to Wonthaggi that had once been a coal-mining center, long since closed down. We stayed at the excellent Jongebloed’s B&B on Berry’s Road south of the town, towards Cape Paterson. The B&B was excellent. The house had once been located in the town proper, but a couple of years or so before our visit, it had been cut in two, transported towards the coast and reassembled on a spacious plot of land, with an exquisite garden. We just managed to grab a bite to eat in the town before all restaurants were taken over for the New Year’s Eve customers. But we spent a wonderful evening afterwards on the beach near Cape Paterson, watching the sun go down over the Bass Strait – next stop Tasmania, then Antarctica!
Wonthaggi – Melbourne, via Warburton (280 km), 1 January
We didn’t take the direct route into Melbourne this day, but headed north through the Yarra Ranges, and came into Melbourne from the east from Yarra Junction, Warburton and Healesville. I don’t remember the name and exact location of our Melbourne hotel, but it was central and also close to the rental car deport where I dropped off the car the morning after our arrival. And we’d arrived – after a journey of almost 1500 km.
Melbourne, 2 January
We had only one full day in Melbourne so had to pack a lot in. It was very hot, but that didn’t deter us getting around on foot. In the morning we decided to take the Yarra River ferry to Williamstown, arriving back in Melbourne just after lunch. Then we walked along the Yarra River to the wonderful Royal Botanic Gardens, taking the tram back into the city. My legs were giving out by then.
Melbourne – Sydney (by rail), 3 January
The XPT (express passenger train) journey back to Sydney should have taken under 11 hours, departing Melbourne at 8:30 and arriving in Sydney just after 7 pm.
Due to 65 kph speed restrictions around Albury (just over the state line in NSW), because of the high temperature causing buckling of the rails, we didn’t arrive in Sydney until just before 10 pm – rather tired. Fortunately our hotel was just a few blocks from Sydney’s Central Station.
Sydney, 4 January
The next day we headed off to the Opera House and walked around Farm Cove to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair, from where there is a great view of the Sydney skyline, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. (In 1997 we’d watched the firework display over the bridge from the same viewpoint. Just one word to describe that. Spectacular!). Then, in the evening, we enjoyed a three hour Sydney Harbour dinner cruise, courtesy of Hannah and Philippa. We took a taxi back to the hotel – it was just too far to walk after a fine meal and a bottle of wine.
Sydney – Manila, 5 January
Our Qantas flight departed Sydney for the Philippines late morning, getting us into Manila in the early evening. Tired but contented we still had to endure the 2-3 hour journey back to Los Baños. Then it was a quick shower and into bed – I had to be in the office by 8 am the following morning.
And just to finish off, some panoramas from the whole trip: