GoSeeAustralia drives the Monaro Highway – Melbourne to Canberra via Sale, Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance, Cann River and Cooma

April 19, 2006
GoSeeAustralia drives the Monaro Highway – Melbourne to Canberra via Sale, Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance, Cann River and Cooma

We decided to head for Canberra via Cann River and Cooma because we had not done the Monaro Hwy leg before. That makes it different and therefore interesting.

So we saddled up GoSeeAustralia's restored 1985 Sahara Land Cruiser manual diesel. Plugged in a borrowed Engel fridge to the auxiliary battery, added food, tools, bedding and camping gear and tackled the 735km route.

Twelve hours later we reached our destination in Banks ACT. Our actual travelling time was 9 hours 45 minutes and we spent 2 hours and 15 minutes in stops along the way. We should have taken more time out as the route after Lakes Entrance requires serious concentration on some of the winding, undulating, hilly sections and we found it all a bit much as a “one day” drive experience.

We used 81.2 litres of diesel at an average of 9 litres a 100km. We topped up once on route at Lakes Entrance and spent $95.88 in total fuel cost when we topped up for the second time in Banks ACT.

From our home base in the Melbourne suburb of Ringwood East we headed for East Gippsland on Stud Road to the South Eastern Freeway, the Princes Freeway and the Berwick Bypass bound for Lakes Entrance via Warragul, Morwell, Traralgon and Sale.

There is another scenic option via Yarra Junction across the Dandenong Ranges National Park to Neerim South to pick up Highway One near Drouin which we have done and enjoyed before.

Village Caravan Park is among the pleasant caravan park options along the easy towing route. The friendly, family owned and operated caravan park is mid-way between Morwell and Traralgon. Cabins are two bedroom with inside ensuite, fully equipped kitchen, microwave, tv and reverse cycle air conditioning.

There is a bunkhouse that can sleep up to 24 people in three separate bedrooms, which is ideal for individuals or groups wanting budget accommodation, an undercover barbecue area and a camp kitchen. All sites have power as well as concrete pads and grassed areas.

The park is within walking distance of the Latrobe Regional Hospital, Latrobe Valley Airport and Public Transport. Please mention GoSeeAustralia when you call!

The Yarra Junction scenic route it is much slower going so we made Lakes Entrance our lunch stop target via the Princes Highway as we pulled away at 7am. It was a Friday morning and the early start is essential if the plan is to be out of Melbourne's suburbs before the morning work bound rush begins in earnest.

In fact 6am would have been better, but we made the Berwick Bypass without too much pain despite the seemingly endless roadworks which punctuate busy Stud Rd. since Victorian Premier Steve Bracks promised years ago he would "fix it". From Warragul the Highway One run is easy and undulating through green pleasant lands. A 100 km/h cruise is easily maintained to Yarragon, Moe, Traralgon, Rosedale and Sale, the first of the Gippsland Lakes centres with a port to its name.

From Sale the route across the back of Lake Wellington and Victoria is something of a monotony of easy cruising at or near the posted limits. We have never enjoyed the run to and from Sale and Bairnsdale. It is bland at best and boring for much of the trip.

The road to Paynesville and Raymond Island is a sign posted right turn off the highway at the Mitchell River.

As you leave pleasant Bairnsdale the options are Omeo and the Great Alpine Road route through the Victorian high country to Bright and Wangaratta. (The section over Dinner Plain and Mt Hotham is not a place for caravans at the best of times).

To the right at the roundabout is Lakes Entrance. The Highway One route after Bairnsdale is much more interesting with the sweep of the Gippsland Lakes in full view and villages like Metung a welcome short diversion off the highway.

We came down the hill into Lakes Entrance a little after 11am with the Entrance and the ocean shimmering blue in the strong sunlight.

There is good parking at one of the best Information Centres in Victoria at the bottom of the hill, go left at the roundabout and then right into the Centre's parking.

Clean public toilets are available at the rear of the Visitor Information Centre.

We had a light lunch at the excellent hotel café restaurant recommended by the Visitor Information Centre, topped up the diesel with 42 litres and headed for Orbost and the left turn onto the Monaro Highway at Cann River about 124km away.

Orbost has a slab hut in a living museum in town which brings to life the Snowy River Legends and highlights the tough lifestyle of the pioneers.

There is a good counter lunch at the Orbost Motel. Just west of town there is a lookout with sweeping views over the Snowy River flats.

The attractions in the area are natural and in dry weather the Yalmy Road leads through farmland and old growth forest to picnic and camping facilities at Raymond Creek Falls in the Snowy River National Park. The river flats of the Snowy at Orbost bloom with wildflowers from May to November. Victoria's state emblem the Common Heath puts on a grand show and the East Gippsland Waratah kicks in from November to January.

From Lakes Entrance to Cann River is undulating running on good bitumen through tall forest. We found it a tricky section with long curves and dips, which restrict vision. We thought we were driving within safety limits, but we drew heavy fire from other drivers, some with boats behind who knew the road better.

The scary, sad thing is the lonely little white crosses and the sad flowers which dot the roadside, a reminder that it pays to drive carefully on roads you’re not familiar with.

We stopped the Sahara, opened the frig and relaxed and ate under a shady gum at Cann River near the junction of the Princes and Monaro Highways.

Nearby Tamboon Inlet has good camping, but access is by boat. There is camping at Thurra and Mueller Rivers and Wingan Inlet. The Century old Point Hicks Lighthouse is near the mouth of the Thurra River.

West of Cann River is the unsealed road through Lind National Park. Bemm River is south of the Princes Highway and noted for its bream fishing. The river empties into Sydenham Inlet. Anglers enjoy such good fishing they return with their small boats year after year.

Much more relaxed we put the "pushers" of the Lakes Entrance to Cann River section of the Princes Hwy behind and headed into the High Country.

But the Monaro too has its sad sights. Toward Cooma, high on the Monaro Hwy we saw a wide gap in the safety fence where another car had launched into the void. Again marked by flowers.

It was all the more in context as we had recently braked in fright as a BMW pulled wide and passed us and three vehicles ahead, climbing blind in the right hand lane to the crest of a steep hill.

We were pleased to see him go and settled in to enjoy the green scene as we headed towards Bombala. The Monaro is a "main road", well made and certainly scenic. The grades overall are reasonable with some which will test tow vehicles which are not in top condition.

There are long heavy pulls on route to the High Plains, but as we worked our way towards Cooma after a pleasant stop by the river at pretty Bombala we appreciated the "difference" which is the High Country in early autumn.

Bombala is about 80kms south of Cooma. It is a charming town caught between the mountains and the NSW south coast. Bombala is the biggest town in the eastern Monaro. Its river gave us shady trees and a welcome break as we stopped during the heat of the day.

The rivers around Bombala are said to have the highest populations of platypus in New South Wales, There is a Platypus Sanctuary, just out of town. The stream trout fishing is reputedly some of the best in mainland Australia. Mountain biking is another activity that is popular and there are many kilometres of thrilling trails in designated State Forest areas.

We loved the Monaro's space, endless sky and ragged ridges which sweep left and right of the highway. It has been a dry time and the grey, crisped grasslands are crying for rain, but the landscape has a wild strange, treeless beauty all the way to tiny rural Nimmitabel and on to Cooma, gateway to the NSW snow scene in winter.

Nimmitabel looks as if it has had a recent facelift with some shiny shops. It has the feel of a farmer's township. It was settled in 1830s and by the 1850s it was a small village of slab and bark huts surrounded by grazing properties. We thought it was a pretty township with a distinguishing stone windmill, built last century by one of the region's German settlers.

Just before Cooma we turned right at the Saleyards and enjoyed the authentic country smells and then right again to get back on the Monaro. This is the popular caravan bypass for regulars on the route.

We stopped in Cooma on the return journey via Kiandra and Tumut to Lake Hume, but that is another story.

From Cooma to Canberra is champagne touring on wide, well made highway. The Sahara diesel loved it and we romped along at the speed limit as the grades gradually dropped towards the ACT. Cooma is about two hours from Canberra on route to the Snowy Mountains High Country. Kosciuszko National Park is close and the area has alpine flowers, ski resorts, wild horses, fishing, trekking and horse riding.

Canberra came up quickly, but in our stay there we continued our association with the Monaro which is an excellent link with the CBD, Queanbeyan, Fyshwick and the Canberra airport. It is also a handy route to the Federal Highway if you are bound for Sydney and the North Coast of NSW.


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