One of the best things about the city can be leaving it, grabbing a car and hitting the road to uncover the gems that lie just a short drive from the big smoke. Whether you are a visitor, or a resident, when you escape the concrete and steel you can unearth some unexpected experiences.
VIC’s road trip gems
One of the easiest, but most rewarding, day trips from Melbourne can be taking a drive to the Macedon Ranges area north-west of the city. Hitting the freeway out of the suburbs you can see the city blocks turn to farm land, and then arrive at one of Victoria’s most overlooked national parks in under an hour.
Organ Pipes National Park (parkweb.vic.gov.au) is just north of Keilor on the Calder Freeway and it features unique basalt columns formed by the cooling of lava. The result? A wall of rock that looks like naturally forming pipes from a giant church organ. The walk down to the “pipes” is steep and offers sweeping views of the Macedon Ranges; a creek runs through the park, and you might spot a platypus if you look closely enough.
Jump back in the car and head to Mount Macedon Regional Park (parkweb.vic.gov.au). One of the eeriest spots to visit here is the Sanitorium Lake, a manmade lake made to provide water for a 19th century sanatorium for tuberculosis suffers opened in the area in 1899. Now the lake sits surrounded by lush bushland and is so hidden you can often be the only people walking the easy 3.5-kilometre track as birds flit through the underbrush and you keep your eyes peeled for wallabies.
Just a short drive further along the winding mountain roads is the far-more-famous Hanging Rock. Anyone who has seen the haunting Peter Weir film Picnic at Hanging Rock can’t help but get goosebumps as the iconic range comes into view and there is plenty of information about the rock’s history at the excellent visitors centre. Climb to the top, winding through the unusual rock formations, you will be rewarded with an almost 360-degree view of the region.
For a fun family side trip take the drive to Tuki Trout Farm in Smeaton (60 Stoney Rises Rd, Smeaton; tuki.com.au). This is a rewarding and easy way to feed the kids. You simply bait the rods and throw in a line. If you feel you are waiting too long, you can move up the hill because the pools are graded by difficulty: in the larger, lower pool catching the trout can be a challenge, in the smaller pools up the escarpment the challenge is keeping them off the hook.
At Tuki, you might come for the fishing but you will stay for the food. A platter of smoked lamb sausages (from the adjoining farm), home-made silverside, smoked trout pate and pickles is followed by the pond-to-plate main course of the trout you catch yourself, cooked simply in foil.
The rugged beauty of WA’s South West
If you find yourself in Perth, just a few hours’ drive south of the western capital is the rugged beauty of WA’s South West. Take the winding coastal roads through Margaret River, which is home to some of the best waves in Australia.
Stop at Busselton Jetty (busseltonjetty.com.au), a wooden jetty that extends two-kilometres into Geographe Bay, so far that it has it’s own train to ferry passengers to the end of the jetty. You can also take a guided walk or head to the underwater observatory that allows you to descend eight metres underwater and checkout the sea life the area is famous for.
For a local foodie haven visit the Yallingup Cheese Company (1071 Wildwood Rd, Yallingup Siding; yallingupcheese.com.au), an artisan cheesemaker that uses organic jersey milk from a small patch of farmland just around the corner from where the cheese is made and sold. This region is known for its fresh produce from just-caught seafood to the truffles that are farmed further south in Manjimup.
NSW’s local secrets
Road trippers who are visiting Sydney, have to drive west into the Blue Mountains where the suburbs finish abruptly at the foot of this remarkable mountain range. Grab an Avis car and enjoy the switchback roads that carry you up into the area best-known for the Three Sisters, a rock formation looking out across the Jamison Valley.
But in your car you are free to explore some of the local secrets. Find excellent local produce at the Blackheath Growers Market (Gardiner Crescent, Blackheath; facebook.com/katoombagrowers). This is a market beloved by locals for its artisan preserves, fresh vegetables and dairy stalls like Willowbrae Chevre Cheese (willowbraechevrecheese.com.au).
Kids will be pleading with you to go to church in Katoomba, since the century-old site has been converted into the Gingerbread House (56 Waratah St, Katoomba; gbhousekatoomba.com). The whimsical shop offers plenty of gingerbread to sample, or let the little ones try the ginger beer floats – and take home a box of boutique Josophan chocolates for the adults.
When it is time to go home, take the local’s back road back to Sydney and travel the highway that is the scenic Bells Line of Road that weaves its way through Bilpin, where apple orchards line the road, and you can avoid a lot of the traffic on the main Blue Mountains highway.
Trout fishing, volcanic rock formations and a gingerbread house for the kids, just some of the things you will find if you venture beyond our busy capital cities.
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