It’s the road trip of a lifetime — driving from Canberra to Sydney — a journey that takes Zalina Mohd Som through stunning scenery and fascinating natural landscapes
IT’S only about 300km from Australia’s capital, Canberra, to its most populous city, Sydney and the drive will take about four hours on the Hume and Federal Highways.
Well, according to www.auinfo.com, that is.
I’m not really sure what lies along the route but it’s probably typical scenes we see along any highway.
But Tourism Australia Kuala Lumpur office had a better idea for us — a 5D/4N road trip covering almost 1,000km! With a chaperon from Destination NSW (New South Wales), we would be travelling in a comfortable van from Shoalhaven Shuttle, passing through charming little towns, scenic-drive routes and the region’s landmark attractions.
Canberra to Jervis Bay: Total distance 283km
We head out quite early in the morning, travelling against peak-hour traffic entering Canberra, the administrative capital of Australia.
The destination is Jervis Bay where we will be spending the night at the purpose-built, luxury eco-hut Worrowing Eco Huts. But first we’re heading south-east to Batemans Bay, 148km from the capital.
The first stop is Mogo Zoo, about 10km south of the fair-sized resort town.
Since it’s so early, I doze off as soon as the van hits the more quiet roads. However, I get up quickly when we reach the award-winning Mogo Zoo.
None of us is prepared for what the zoo has to offer. We had thought it would be a typical walk in the zoo. But when a zoo employee hands each of us a towel and escorts us to the back door of an enclosure, I know this one is going to be different.
Yes, we will be feeding the animals, including a tiger and a lion, with our own hands!
The first to eat is a family of meerkats and we feed them worms, not with our palms but our heads, shoulders and legs! You can imagine what that feels like.
For our own meal, we drive back to Batemans Bay for a quick bite in North Street, the town’s hotspot for food lovers.
Then it’s time to hit the road again. Fully satiated, the relaxed drive north along the coast to Jervis Bay means another snooze time. We have just enough time to explore the vast land of Worrowing before the night falls.
Jervis Bay to Kiama: Total distance 90km
After a healthy in-room breakfast, we make our way to Booderee National Park, 12km south of Huskisson, on the shore of Jervis Bay, to meet Julie Friedman, a Koori aborigine elder.
Charming Friedman talks in great length about the region’s plants and their fascinating properties and how the people continue to use them.
She takes us for a short walk in the national park, which is a significant place for the Koori people.
Though we’re captivated with Friedman’s stories, the highlight for the day awaits us at Huskisson jetty where we go on a two-hour cruise to meet the bay’s most loved creature — the dolphin.
And we don’t have to wait long. We ooh and aah to see a school of dolphins while the cameras snap away.
But dolphins are not the only wildlife we see. A turtle too, comes up to the surface for some oxygen.
Kiama to Bowral: Total distance 124km
We are heading west to Bowral, an upscale highland town in the South Highlands, said to be the preferred choice of the rich and famous from Sydney for a rural retreat. After all, Sydney is only a 90-minute drive away.
The one-hour, inland drive takes us to Fitzroy Falls via Berry and Kangaroo Valley. We have a half hour coffee stop at Berry, a charming town famous for its sourdough bread.
While Berry’s rustic and charming setting still holds my heart, the dramatic Fitzroy Falls makes it pound faster with its strip of raging whitewater that plunges 80m down the Yarrunga Creek and disappears into the lush rainforest of
Kangaroo Valley. There is a walking trail along the cliff with a number of lookout points that hold side and frontal views of the falls.
We continued the journey to Illawarra Fly Tree Top Walk, the latest addition to South Highlands’ attractions. Like any other tree top walk, Illawarra Fly (20-30m above ground level) gives visitors a chance to walk above the top of the trees.
But what makes it different is the view.
Since it’s on the South Highlands, the added height makes it even higher, giving an aerial view of the surrounding area. I think I can see the sea at the far horizon!
Back on the ground, we have a vegetarian lunch at Cafe 106 before we hit the road again, this time for Peppers Craigieburn, a stunning manor-turn-hotel at the outskirt of Bowral.
After lunch at a local cafe in Huskisson, we drive on to Kiama, a small resort and fishing town said to be the most attractive on the south coast.
Though characterised by a dramatic rocky coastline, sandy beaches and an attractive harbour, Kiama’s star attraction is the Blowhole.
Since it is only 75 minutes away, it’s still early when we reach Kiama. After we freshen up in our cabins at Kiama Harbour Cabins, we walk up to the famous landmark marked by a towering lighthouse.
Stemming from a natural fault in the cliffs, the blowhole explodes into a water spout each time a wave hits with sufficient force. The blowhole aside, the view on the cliff is breath-taking.
Bowral to Katoomba: Total distance 308
This is probably the longest drive for today. The plan is to drive to Jenolan Caves for a tour and lunch, and then head for Katoomba, the biggest town in the Blue Mountains.
From one highland to the other, the drive is quite slow along the narrow bends and steep grade.
With the thick fog, probably caused by a drop in temperature and the altitude, it gets more dangerous as we descend the valley where Jenolan Caves is located.
Jenolan Caves is one of Australia’s national treasures and is touted as one of the world’s most awe-inspiring caves with dazzling formations and pure underground rivers.
There is an extensive network of caves but only 10 are open to visitors. Our tight schedule only permits us to visit one cave. Its dazzling formations leave us awestruck. Besides immersing in the light and sound show that gives the cave a dramatic effect, I am intrigued by the pomelo-sac like formations which I have never seen in any Malaysian caves.
Jenolan Caves has its own community centred in the valley — from the management office, a hotel — Caves House, staff lodging, cafes and a convenient store.
After a halal lunch at the hotel’s award-winning and historic Chilsolm’s Restaurant, we hit the winding, narrow road again. The drive out of the valley is as cautiously slow as the drive in.
It takes us almost 1½ hours to reach Katoomba. Three Sisters was supposed to be our destination but, with the bad weather, we head straight for our lodging for the night, the Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains.
Katoomba to Sydney: Total distance 102km
After yesterday’s rain, the morning is bright and sunny, promising us a clear view of Katoomba’s star attractions — the Blue Mountains and the Three Sisters. We head out quite early as we have a full day ahead before we hit the highway to Sydney.
Katoomba is the biggest town in the Blue Mountains region and is the point for the mountain’s major sights. The Three Sisters’ lookout point is just a few minutes’ drive from the resort but when we get there, the place is already packed with tourists.
The Three Sisters is an unusual rock formation that seems to be guarding the valley of the Blue Mountains that is dissected by dramatic gorges up to 760m deep. Blue Mountains is only 90 minutes’ away from Sydney.
A large part of the mountainous region is united with the Greater Blue Mountains Area World Heritage Site comprising seven national park areas and a conservation reserve.
Another not-to-be missed attraction is the Scenic World, a theme-park with a difference. This privately-owned attraction is home to world famous rides — the Katoomba Scenic Railway (the world’s steepest funicular railway), Katoomba
Scenic Skyway (a gondola that goes across the valley) and a cableway that descends to the valley.
We end our Katoomba-Blue Mountain rendezvous with a wonderful three-meal lunch in Echoes Restaurant, which not only boasts of fine food but a good view of the mountains too.
If we had thought the road from Canberra exciting, we quickly find ourselves swept up by fast-paced city thrills in the vibrant harbour city Sydney.
And what better way to welcome us to the bustling city than driving straight into the peak-hour traffic!