Two families with infants explore the natural beauty and coastal villages of southeastern Australia by car, finding serenity in the region’s small town pleasures and beauty along the Great Ocean Road.
Australia is one of the most child-friendly western countries families can visit. Clean and relatively cheap if you are traveling with American dollars and with a relaxed outdoor lifestyle, it’s a country worth considering for a family holiday of a week or more.
The only drawback is that it is such a huge place, there is often confusion as to exactly what you should plan. Your answer may be similar to the one that the Eliste family from New York reached. Hire a private jet and be flown around the country! They have done this for the last four years and return annually.
If private jets are just a touch out of your league, then driving may be the answer. There are good roads which are (usually) well sign-posted. One of the best family road trips to take is the one between the state capital cities of Adelaide and Melbourne in the southeastern part of the country. Wildlife is abundant and beaches dot the entire coastline, so buckets and spades were at the top of the luggage heap and constantly in use on our recent outing.
East from Adelaide
Heading east out of Adelaide, it’s a fast pleasant drive to the first significant town of Tailem Bend before turning south to the coast. In the car, myself and my 10-month-old were accompanied by a good friend and her one-year-old. The one-year-old started a screeching contest with my offspring within an hour of leaving Adelaide, so it was with great relief that we pulled up at Poltalloch Station.
This is a large sheep farm or station on the peaceful shores of Lake Albert scratched out of the wilderness by an adventurous 13-year-old who sailed from England in 1839 with his brother and a flock of sheep. His descendants have preserved the old farm and shearing relics dating back hundreds of years in fascinating displays.
We wandered around the old blacksmithery, explored the giant wool shed and poked our heads into the rustic work sheds. The farm offers a tame kangaroo for the kids to watch as well as tennis and swimming. Next day, I went for an early morning walk by the lake where the silvery water rippled and splashed to acrobatic displays of pecking, squawking flocks of birds.
Coorong National Park
We followed the highway to Meningie, a quaint little town with cafés and art shops, before wandering along the 100-kilometer stretch that comprises the Coorong National Park. A long ribbon of saline lagoon is separated from the southern ocean by sand dunes sporting a name with imaginative family flavor, Younghusband Peninsula. It is the product of the longest river system in Australia–the Murray-Darling–which drains about one seventh of the country’s total area. We delighted in sighting a few of the 200 species of birds which flap, flutter, poke, strut and swim there, whispers of faraway lands such as Siberia and Alaska floating on their feathers.
Stopping at a few lookouts I drank in the serenity, feeling my pre-occupations with city life float away with the tide. I felt pleasantly isolated in a seemingly uninhabited, long sandy stretch of coast gently lapped by a very calm ocean. Lagoon and inlets reflected low hills and picturesque sand dunes in the blue silvery water and birds lazily stretched their wings in the great sunny blue arc of sky.
Even the children quietened down for the Coorong, gazing in wonder at the wide horizons of tranquillity. They recovered when we hit the town of Kingston for lunch by a clean quiet beach soon resounding to their calls to the birds. From the Cape Jaffa Lighthouse we sighted the fantastic large and strange birds called emus and cute and cuddly wombats before heading further south to my favourite town on that part of the country: Robe.
The Seaside Town of Robe and Environs
The epitome of the picture-postcard, relaxed holiday town, Robe is (some say unfortunately) poised on a massive growth in holiday popularity, the signs are there in the construction of resorts overlooking the sea, the housing estates tucked away in the forested hills and the extension of the shopping centres. However, it still has a lovely charm and laid back atmosphere well worth a few days to soak in.
We settled into the smartly named Villa Pescatore, a modern comfortable holiday house opposite the beach before driving to the foreshore to stretch our legs along the beach and let the kids play at what must be the most picturesque playground I have ever been to. Sitting on a small rise overlooking the bluest of blue seas, it rose into the blue skies from a carpet of green grassy lawn.
The next day after a relaxing swim and sandcastles on the beach, we took a drive up to the local lookout, Beacon Hill, where the town peeped at us out of the shag pile blanket of green forest before heading into the main shopping strip to the most colorful icecream shop in the country. Smoothies all round before heading to the harbour.
Kids found the activity around the lobster boats absorbing; the local characters in their yellow waterproof slickers sharing tall tales with old men and chatty wives, lobsters being hauled onto trucks and tenders bobbing alongside the pier.
A walk along the cliff tops showed us wild seas crashing onto rocks and we stopped by the Old Goal for a look into prisoner’s punishment, 1861-style.
Leaving Robe the next day with more than a bit of sadness and the kids starting their vocal exercises took us to Beachport, a quiet little town boasting the second longest jetty in the state. So, of course, we had to walk its entire length.
Mt. Gambier is the hub of southeastern South Australia and, being built on the slopes of an ancient volcano, it has an incredibly intensely ‘blue’ lake where lava used to spew as well as useful shopping, cafes and a satisfying buzz in the air.
Heading towards the coast again we stopped at Port MacDonnell to wander through the pretty Glenelg National Park before staying at the delightfully named Port Fairy. Sweet and historic, it has a ‘other worldly’ feel with a yacht-filled inlet, cobbled lanes and a seaside walk to the old lighthouse.
Cruising the Great Ocean Road
From here the driving became even more spectacular as we had hit the ‘Great Ocean Road.’ Carved from rearing cliffs plunging into the wild southern ocean via the sweat of returned servicemen after WWII, the motor trail winds through little hamlets, forests, heathland and along craggy promontories, with the water never far away. Treetop walks, fishing, bushwalking, hang-gliding off the cliffs, horseback riding along the beaches and scenic flights are just some of the things to do.
There is also a strong history angle, for the very beauty of the rugged coastline made it a graveyard for many sailing ships which tried to navigate the rocks on their way to Melbourne. Lighthouses still stand watch on distinct promontories as a legacy to this time. The Maritime Museum at the city of Warrnambool, the biggest town on the drive, holds many displays which set out the dangers and trials of 19th-century shipping back when the area was nicknamed the ‘Shipwreck Coast’.
Driving on, we passed Port Campbell and stopped for a sunset viewing of the Twelve Apostles, a group of monument-type cliffs which, losing their grip of the mainland, now stand sentry in a long scattered line in the foaming sea. As the sun sets, the rocks, clouds and sea glow with different colors.
Inland we found the best accommodation set-up on the entire drive. Wombalano Country Retreat is a rambling old house sporting lovely views to the coast across lush pastures and rolling green hills. It’s big and comfortable – perfect for families – a place where you don’t have to worry about accidentally smashing the china (as there is none).
The nearby town of Apollo Bay is a quiet little hamlet snugly ringing a clean beach. Here, a walk along the pier will take you to a resident seal which entertained the children for at least an hour–a great feat when children are that young.
The next town along the drive is Lorne where you can sit in the bustling main street and enjoy lattes and seashell shops. Behind Lorne are clear rivers and waterfalls, bush walks and drives through lush green forests. There is a well known surfing beach called Bells Beach along this strip where international competitions are held. Then, it was on to Melbourne with its culture, cuisine and shopping.
It’s a fantastic drive with heaps for kids of all ages to immerse themselves in, but also so much for adults to see and do. The only thing I would change would be to do a trial run with two infants in the car to see if the screeching competitions can be eliminated.
Screeching or not, we came back relaxed and recharged with lots of pictures for the photo album.
Here is the contact information for the accommodations that our families enjoyed so much during our drive. The Poltalloch Station, Meningie: +61 8 8574 0043; Villa Pescatore, Robe: +61 8 8768 5044; Wombalano Country Retreat +61 3 5237-5264.
Foreign visitors should know that Australian currency is in Australian dollars which fluctuate around $.8 US. No vaccinations are required. Banks are open from Monday morning to Saturday noon and carrying cash in these small towns may be easier for you than trying to use foreign credit cards.
Getting around the very large country of Australia is easy. There are internal flights to all the capital cities and an efficient train system. There are plenty of choices for car rentals, starting at around $50AUS a day, but be sure to book a car seat for the children if required. There are also comfortable buses going the length of the drive featured.
Because the Adelaide to Melbourne route is 1,000 kilometers, ideally one would spend seven days enjoying the journey and relaxing en route.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.