Best road trip from Melbourne: to Adelaide or Sydney?

Sea Cliff Bridge between Sydney and Wollongong


Posted March 21, 2023

On your next road trip from Melbourne, what will be your destination: Adelaide or Sydney? Here are the top three stopovers on each route to help you decide where to stay and how to stay safe on the road.

Whether it’s packing up the kids in the back of the car, getting your friends together, or your first trip away with a new partner, a road trip is something many of us hold dear. But when our country offers such vast and varied landscapes, and when you might only have a few days to visit another state or city from Melbourne, deciding where to go can be challenging.

To help, we’ve put together the ultimate scenic road trip routes from Melbourne to Adelaide and Melbourne to Sydney, for when you only have a few days to spare. Both trips total more than 700km, so take a car that is comfortable, safe, and has enough room for bikes, fishing rods and other leisure items.

Before you hit the road towards Adelaide or Sydney, conduct these essential safety checks on your vehicle and ensure that you have prepared a car safety kit. Also make sure your Emergency Roadside Assistance coverage is up to date so you can access help for flat batteries or tyres, getting locked out of your car, running out of petrol and other common issues you might encounter on the road.

Road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide / Road trip from Melbourne to Sydney

Adelaide or Sydney? Which road trip will you choose when departing Melbourne?

Places to visit on a Melbourne to Adelaide road trip

There aren’t many road trips that offer lush wine country, postcard-worthy beaches, untouched fishing spots and open lakes all in one, but a road trip from Melbourne to Adelaide boasts all that and more. You can follow our Great Ocean Road itinerary or head straight for the Victorian/South Australian border. 

Here are three essential stops along the way on your Melbourne to Adelaide road trip:


Mount Gambier

About halfway from Melbourne to Adelaide is Mount Gambier, where you’ll find striking blue lakes, secret gardens, world-class hiking, and hidden swimming holes.

Don't skip the iconic Umpherston Sinkhole (Balumbul), also known as 'the Sunken Garden', which is a collapsed limestone cave filled with hanging vines. The Cave Garden (Thugi) in the centre of Mount Gambier is another beautiful cenote, with a spectacular waterfall in wet weather. Plus, there's an Evening Light Show that tells local Aboriginal Dreamtime stories that you can view down in the cave.

Join a tour to explore Engelbrecht Cave beneath Mount Gambier's city streets, where experienced divers swim through a maze of secret tunnels, then walk around Mount Gambier's beautiful Blue Lake: an easy 3.6km circuit that offers plenty of views over the stunningly blue lake that was once a volcanic crater. You should also visit the Centenary Tower for 360-degree panoramas over the Limestone Coast.


green foliage covering rock walls, opening up to the sky

Umpherston Sinkhole has to be seen to be believed. Image: Getty

Victor Harbor

Almost five hours from Mount Gambier, you’ll find the sandy white beaches of Victor Harbor on the Fluerieu Peninsula.

Victor Harbor's most iconic attraction is the horse-drawn tram to Granite Island, where you can spot dolphins in the waves, sea lions basking on the rocks, and (from May to October) whales migrating through the Southern Ocean. After Granite Island, take a picnic or local fish and chips to The Bluff lookout, where you'll catch one of the best sunset views in Australia. If you're feeling adventurous, you can even abseil off the Bluff with a tour company.

The Cockle Train is another must-do, operating every Wednesday and Sunday - or every day during school holidays. This historic train runs by the ocean, giving you incredible views inaccessible by car, and allows you to explore local towns like Goolwa and Port Elliot. Otherwise, hire a bike and explore the coastal bike trails on the Encounter Bikeway, or hike a section of the renowned Heysen Trail.

McLaren Vale

Just 36 minutes from Victor Harbour is McLaren Vale, situated 40 kilometres outside Adelaide.

This internationally acclaimed wine district is home to more than 80 vineyards and cellar doors, making you spoiled for choice when it comes to wine tastings and paddock-to-plate lunches. Walk or cycle the eight kilometre Shiraz Trail to discover the region's incredible shiraz varietals, or drive the McLaren Vale Cheese & Wine Trail. Don't miss d'Arenberg winery, where you can explore the Museum of Alternate Realities in the avant-garde structure The Cube.

If you arrive on a Saturday morning, pop in to the Willunga Farmers Market to grab locally-grown fruit, vegetables, flowers, cheeses, chutneys, honey and more. Once you're stocked up, visit the Red Poles Gallery in McLaren Vale to scope out the latest First Nations art and music exhibitions.

From here, it's an easy 45-minute drive to Adelaide.


clydesdale horse pulling a vintage tram full of people along a beach

Take a horse-drawn tram in Victor Harbor to see Granite Island. Image: Getty

Places to visit on a Melbourne to Sydney road trip

When you’re strapped for time, it can be tempting to keep your road trip quick and drive straight up the Hume Highway to reach Sydney from Melbourne. But by taking the time to trace the scenic route and enjoy its incredible coastal vistas, you'll be enjoying the journey rather than just the destination.

Here are three essential stops along the way on your Melbourne to Sydney road trip:



About six hours east of Melbourne is Mallacoota, a tourist hotspot dubbed 'the heart of the Wilderness Coast' that still retains its local feel and country-town warmth. Pull in to the Mallacoota Bunker Museum before you hit Mallacoota, which operated as the headquarters of the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II and protected the entrance to the Bass Strait, to learn about the challenging task of keeping the Australian sea-lanes open.

Afterwards venture out to Croajingolong National Park, where you can explore giant sand dunes, ancient forests and gorgeous inlets that are all home to abundant Australian wildlife. Go fishing at Bemm River and Mallacoota Inlet, or kayak and canoe along Tamboon, Mueller or Wingan Inlet. There are plenty of walks in the park, from the shorter Fly Cove Walk to see the basking fur seals, to the challenging multi-day Wilderness Coast Walk.

Once you've explored Mallacoota's shops, markets and restaurants filled with exquisite local produce, head out to Gabo Island. This small offshore island is only accessible by sea or sky, but is well worth the visit. Its 47-metre high pink granite lighthouse is Victoria's only remaining active beacon, and the views from the top are spectacular. Gabo Island is home to a large colony of Little Penguins that waddle in and out of the ocean at dawn and dusk. Dolphins and stingrays can be spotted from the jetty on Santa Barbara Bay, as can whales from May to November.


blue water and white sand on Hymans Beach in Jervis Bay

Hyams Beach in Jervis Bay is truly serene. Image: Getty

Jervis Bay

Another five hours straight up the east coast through towns such as Eden, Merimbula and Nowra will land you in Jervis Bay, which is said to possess the world's whitest sand.

Jervis Bay provides the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself in nature. Spot bottlenose dolphins, fur seals, little penguins and sea dragons in Jervis Bay Marine Park; hike the gentle White Sands Walk and Sribbly Gum track in Jervis Bay National Park; and explore the Aboriginal-owned Booderee Botanic Gardens to learn about bush tucker and the medicinal uses of native plants. For dinner, book in to Paperbark Camp's Gunyah Restaurant for a seasonal three-course menu combining Indigenous ingredients and contemporary Australian cuisine.

Pristine beaches stud Jervis Bay like white and blue jewels. Hyams Beach is famous for its white sands, although it can get very busy with tourists in the summer. Murrays Beach is ideal for swimming and snorkelling - just watch out for the resident wallabies, who like to steal food from unattended bags! If you're travelling with your pooch, visit Huskisson Beach, where dogs are allowed off-lead between 4pm and 8am each day. If you're lucky, you'll see blue bioluminescent plankton lighting up Jervis Bay's waters at night.


Wolloongong foreshore

Wollongong's main beach is a popular tourist destination. Image: Destination NSW


From Jervis Bay, wind your way around the coast on the stunning Grand Pacific Drive north to Wollongong.

Don't miss Nan Tien Temple: the Southern Hemisphere's largest Buddhist temple, with peaceful temples, lotus ponds, and unique exhibitions and festivals. Science Space is another must-do, with immersive and educational science exhibitions that will appeal to young and old.

If you're up for some adventure, Wollongong is home to tandem hang gliding, paragliding and skydiving, plus aerial safaris and scenic helicopter flights. Still got a spring in your step? Explore rainforest walking tracks like Sublime Point, Mount Keira and Mount Kembla. Come day's end, dine along Wollongong's dedicated eat street on Keira Street between Crown and Smith streets.

From here, it’s just a little over an hour to your destination – Sydney. Take the Grand Pacific Drive route to experience driving over the Sea Cliff Bridge, which feels like your car is floating over the sea.


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