Adelaide - Melbourne via the Western Highway
Total distance 733 km.
All distances measured from Adelaide
We need to navigate our way to the South Eastern Freeway which soon begins its long, steep and winding climb through the Adelaide Hills and
nowadays by-passes ëThe Eagle on the Hillí hotel with its magnificent views over the city and its surrounds. Recent major engineering works including a tunnel, have greatly improved sections of this road but itís still a good test of cooling systems for vehicles towing heavy trailers or caravans.
Once clear of the hills the splendid divided road skirts the large township of Murray Bridge (73 km) and gives sweeping views of the wide open countryside although gusty side-winds in places can be a hazard for caravans if they are travelling too fast.
The road crosses the mighty Murray River before continuing on just 26 km to Tailem Bend (99 km) where a right hand turn from here would take us on to the coastal (M1) Princes Highway to drive alongside the Coorong National Park on the way to Mt Gambier.
Just past the town the (M12) Mallee Highway to Ouyen branches off to the left. This is the most direct route from Adelaide to Sydney. We travel on the (M8) Dukes Highway through some fairly uninteresting country from Tailem Bend to pass through Keith (141 km) on our way to Bordertown (275 km) . As its name suggests, Bordertown is the last South Australian town before the Victorian border and claims former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, as one of its most famous sons.
The site where modern-day Bordertown now stands, was used as a halfway stop-over by escorts guarding shipments of gold from Victoria to Adelaide and this is marked by plaques mounted on granite boulders.
It is only a fairly short distance to the Victorian border as we continue on what has now become the (M8)Western Highway and we must remember that the speed limit once we are in Victoria is 100 km/h unless posted otherwise.
The highway passes through the township of Kaniva and little wheat towns with their railway sidings and grain silos to reach Nhill (358 km) with its statue of a Clydesdale horse - a breed that played a major role in the development of this rich farming district. The Little Desert National Park with its abundance of wildflowers and walking trails can be accessed from here.
Horsham (433 km) is the next major centre - sitting right in the heart of a vast wheat growing district with huge grain silos dotting the landscape. It is an important transportation hub for the area and a number of major highways converge on the town. With its numerous caravan parks Horsham is a popular and convenient place to stop either overnight or for a few days break.
Just 96 km further on is Stawell (529 km) - home of the famous Stawell Gift, the worldís richest foot race. A museum at the venue where the Gift is held, houses historical information about the race and the great athletes who have made the 120-metre sprint there over the years.
Stawell, like neighbouring Ararat , owes its beginnings to the discovery of gold and a gold mine with a honeycomb of tunnels under the town is still in production today.
If you have time to spare, a short detour takes you to Halls Gap at the foot of the rugged and spectacular Grampians National Park just 28 km from Stawell or 48 km from Ararat. There are a number of caravan parks at Halls Gap that make a good base for day trips into the mountains.
Leaving Stawell, the highway passes through Great Western where nearly all of Australiaís sparkling wine is made by Seppelts. A tour through the wineryís extensive underground storage facilities coupled with a tasting of some of their fine wines makes an interesting break in the journey.
Ararat (560 km) is the thriving centre of a rich wine growing and sheep farming area. If you are there just before the grape harvest you will be able to see the scarecrow festival. Based on a similar European event, the competition attracts many entries with weird and wonderful creations coming from many parts of Victoria. Like many similar areas, early settlement came from the discovery of gold and at one time about 20,000 miners worked the claims.
The Western Highway bi-passes Ballarat (622 km) these days - giving a quick run and avoidung what used to be a major bottleneck but, if you have time, take one of the exits leading to Victoriaís third largest city and spend some time in this lovely and historic town.
Ballarat is a major centre with numerous attractions and is well worth a few days stay. It is famous for the miners rising in 1854 at the Eureka Stockade and realistic sound and light re-enactments take place at the Sovereign Hill village where history comes alive nearly every night.
Well known for its annual Begonia Festival, the city boasts attractive Lake Wendouree, lovely parks and gardens, a wealth of historic buildings dating back to gold rush days and a thriving commercial centre. There is no shortage of good caravan parks within easy reach of Ballaratís many restaurants, hotels and shopping complexes.
The route from Ballarat to Melbourne through the lovely Pentland hills is freeway conditions all the way with the little towns of Bungaree, Ballan and Bacchus Marsh situated just off the freeway.
The Ballan exit gives access to the road that leads to the delightful little spa townships of Daylesford and Hepburn Springs famous for their mineral springs. Daylesford has two quite reasonable caravan parks for those who would like to explore this scenic region.
Glimpses of the tall buildings of Melbourneís central business district begin to appear as we start to descend the Pentland Hills and once again windsocks denote areas where caravanners should be aware of the possibility of strong cross winds.
Approaching Melbourne you can take the exit to the (M80)Western Ring Road if you are heading for the south or south-eastern parts of the city. This will lead to the (M1)West Gate Freeway and the West Gate bridge and you can either turn off at the Kingsway exit just after you pass the Melbourne Exhibition Centre on your left or take the easier option and use CityLink - a free-flowing toll system that has dramatically cut travelling time. Using CityLink means you need to get a DayPass - obtainable from Post Offices, some service stations, CityLink Customer Service Centres or by phoning CityLink on 13 26 29 and using your credit card to pay.