5 things you need to know about the Melbourne to Adelaide drive

Melbourne to Adelaide drive, Melbourne West Gate bridge city skyline

A new store has just opened and I cannot contain my excitement! No, it’s not COS or Sephora or another H&M. It’s a 24-hour Wendys in Bordertown (the-aptly named town that sits on the border of South Australia and Victoria). I’m like a pig in a chocolate milkshake, because it’s one more food option on a 736-kilometre stretch of road that I know intimately well (and a 736-kilometre stretch of road that has some very poor food choices).

I’m writing this post on the road driving from Melbourne to Adelaide for what feels like the 977th time. Another weekend, another engagement party/wedding/1st birthday/hen’s day/dog’s birthday. I’ve lost track.

Driving Melbourne to Adelaide hero

Fly or drive from Melbourne to Adelaide?

Yep, I can see the shock horror. Driving! Why would I? Apparently driving to Adelaide is more shocking than Bruce Jenner’s sex change.

Statistically the Melbourne to Adelaide journey is only an eight-hour drive, making it the shortest distance between any of Australia’s capital cities (I’m not counting Canberra), and the equivalent time of travelling from Prahran to Preston via Punt Road.

Looking at the alternative, by the time you navigate the car park that is the Tullamarine Freeway, leave your car in the long-term car park, get on the airport shuttle, get off the airport shuttle, check-in/drop off bags, wait in the lounge as your flight routinely gets delayed, make take-off, scoff down the complimentary in-flight biscuits, land, collect your bags from the baggage carousel and wait to be picked up by an amenable parent, it can come close to eight hours. Sometimes it’s easier just to drive. Then you also have a mode of transport once you arrive in Adelaide and don’t need to hire or steal a car off another amenable parent.

Short of a personal jet, driving from Melbourne to Adelaide can be the fastest way to get between the two cities, especially now that the majority of the decade-running roadworks are finished.

Here are some hard and fast rules that will make it an enjoyable and efficient trip:

Important fact #1: driving from Adelaide to Melbourne doesn’t need to take a week

There are three ways to do the Melbourne to Adelaide drive: the short way, the long way or the scenic way, via the Great Ocean Road.

Yes, the Great Ocean Road is beautiful and a worthy detour, but taking 12 hours (if you don’t stop, which of course you will, otherwise what’s the point), it’s the longest possible way to get from Melbourne to Adelaide.

Those on a timeline should head through the guts of the country, via Ballarat, Horsham and Bordertown. And be warned, the scenery is as bland as a banana milkshake (not chocolate), all dry grass and gum trees. So there’s no point in stopping 50 million times, turning the eight-hour drive into a 12-hour drive (a.k.a. the long way), otherwise you may as well have just gone the scenic way.

Melbourne to Adelaide driving route

Important fact #2: don’t spend 30 minutes taking your photo with the Giant Koala

Just before Horsham at Dadswells Bridge, yes, there is a GIANT koala!! But honestly you don’t need to stop here for 30 minutes for a lame #travelgram like every other tourist before you. If you’re well-timed with the iPhone at the ready, it is possible for the passenger to take a selfie with the koala whilst driving past. No stopping, koala selfie, boom!

If it’s after dark, do not even slow down – there’s something not quite right about the Giant Koala’s piecing red zombie eyes.

Big Koala, Horsham, Melbourne to Adelaide drive

Important fact #3: these are the best places to stop and eat

Unless you like your meals of the fat-laden and deep-fried variety, the food choices between Adelaide and Melbourne largely range from bad to worse. It’s taken some time to dig out the places that serve up something edible. Here are my recommendations:

Ballarat – the largest town on the eight-hour route, you’ll find your best food options here. Take your pick from abundant pub, cafe and take-away choices. However, it’s 10 minutes off and back on the highway and it’s also only an hour into the eight-hour trip. Try to hang out a little longer for that potato pie, otherwise there’s a long seven hours to follow.

Beaufort – every time I drive through Beaufort I see the same rose-amongst-the-thorns café, Magnolia’s Bakery & Café. But every time I’m either not hungry or it’s not open. However, it has a really nice exterior…

Ararat – there’s a nice dine-in café on the main street of Ararat, called the Vines Café & Bar, serving up delicious quiches and eggs benedict. However, it’s not a quick option and also shuts mid-afternoon leaving you with standard Subway, KFC and McDonalds fare. Next town?

Horsham – during daylight hours there’s a decent café option in Café Jas Licensed Bar and Restaurant. Alternatively, if you’re happy to lose an hour in exchange for a parma, there are several good pubs.

Nhill – don’t bother slowing down.

Kavina – the Windmill Café and Visitor Centre do a decent take-away egg and bacon roll, with a side of visitor information (if you need it).

Bordertown – well obviously Wendys! And, given the line up of locals at 12am, I’m clearly not the only one who’s excited about the prospect of a midnight shake ‘n’ dog. The Morning Loaf Bakery is another good spot in Bordertown, and your first (or last) chance to inhale some South Aussie pastry goodness.

Keith – the Morning Loaf Bakery in Keith is equally as good.

Melbourne to Adelaide drive, Keith Bakery, South Australia

Morning Loaf Bakery, Keith

Tailem Bend – surprisingly, one of my preferred stops on the journey is the Tailem Bend BP. It has a take-away cabinet of fresh fruit salads, granola and toasties, plus ok coffee. It’s the perfect compromise between speed and something edible.

Murray Bridge – a bustling regional centre, you’re back to your pub, café and take-away smorgasbord but it’s only an hour out of Adelaide, making a stop pretty much pointless. Unless you’re about to wet your pants.

Important fact #4: what to pack for the road trip?

A pillow – falling asleep in one state and waking up in another is the best way to make the drive go fast. I also have an eye mask and a pair of socks stashed in the glove box to facilitate this shut eye.

Driving glasses – always helpful. Although not always remembered.

Driver’s licence and wallet – I had mixed feelings when on one of our roadies Jude was pulled over by the red and blue flashing lights at the state border (four hours from home) for being an “aggressive driver”, and realising he had left his wallet and licence at home. Fortunately, I’m forever grateful to the police officer for letting us go and giving me proof from now until eternity to criticise my husband’s driving.

Headphones – so I can listen to my ’90s dance music without complaint from the AM-listening old man sitting next to me.

Snacks and plenty of water  plus a plastic bag for the rubbish.

Important fact #5: employ a driving buddy

Doing the drive with minimum one person will make it go so much faster; someone to talk to, someone to share the drive with, someone to pass you the snacks.

Jude and I driving to Adelaide

Note that a surfboard was not on my ‘what to pack’ list. Yet, somehow, it’s made its way into the car!

Plus, if you’re travelling with a spouse, it’s a great time to bring up difficult conversations knowing they can’t escape. Like the time I brought up how I want to hyphenate our future children’s last names. That was 90 minutes of amusement right there.

Splitting up the drive with someone else does make it go faster. Two hours on, two hours off, two hours on, two hours off, and then ta-da, you’re soon approaching Adelaide, or as I call it an outer suburb of Melbourne.

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54 Comments

  1. Taryn
    13 September 2015 / 8:46 pm

    Loved your funny look on life thanxx T 🙂

    • 8 July 2016 / 11:12 am

      Like your tongue in cheek blog – doing Adelaide trip soon so thanks

  2. 29 November 2015 / 12:39 pm

    This made me giggle – a lot – and will probably prove very useful on our return trip from (R)Adelaide 🙂 Thanks, funny girl! 🙂

    • 29 November 2015 / 6:33 pm

      Thanks Andrea! Remember no stopping for that Giant Koala. Enjoy 🙂

  3. Jo
    18 December 2015 / 4:42 pm

    Thanks for the tips on stop and eat along the way. Plus, if I didn’t read this before my road trip to SA next week, I would definitely stay with the koala for at least 30mins LOL

  4. Tina
    18 December 2015 / 11:03 pm

    God, I am dreading on our planned trip to Adelaide. Hubby, me and the 2 kids. My Hurd lives in Adelaide, may God help me through.

    I am a lil concern with the bush fire though

  5. Scott
    20 December 2015 / 10:15 pm

    Excellent article – exactly the info I was looking for and an entertaining read as well!

    I too have done the Melbourne to Adelaide drive too many times to remember and have almost given up on finding any decent food along the way, so thanks for the tips. I look forward to trying a couple of them out. Although I have say I have given up on the Morning Loaf Bakery in Bordertown; good location but average food.

    Another one that I have had recommended is Mason Clarke Preserving Co in Dimboola, which sounds promising and is around the half way mark. Henry & Rose cafe in Keith also gets decent reviews.

    • 21 December 2015 / 1:09 pm

      Thanks also for the food tips Scott – I’ll have to check them out!

    • Claire
      11 February 2016 / 9:27 am

      Henry & Rose cafe in Keith is delicious! Huge array of options of really nice food – kitchen closes at 2pm though

  6. bill
    21 December 2015 / 7:14 pm

    Gday I own the cafè at the giant koala and since your comments I have noticed a huge decline in customers. Regrettably I am going to turn off its “ZOMBIE” eyes to save on electricity.

    • 22 December 2015 / 5:25 pm

      Hi Bill, I’m sorry to hear that. The idea behind this post is how to do the Melbourne to Adelaide drive as efficiently as possible. If travellers aren’t on a time schedule, then the Giant Koala is a perfectly worthy food and photo stop (I just prefer to stop where there is fuel as well). Please also remember that this is a personal blog and the personal opinion of only one person, and a tongue in cheek one at that; people will inevitably make up their own minds if they want to take the time to stop, or not. Thank you for your comment.

      • May
        17 February 2016 / 7:30 pm

        Bill,
        This is May from original Myanmar, and I am planning to come to Adelaide by driving from Melbourne.
        Definitely, I will grab your café and chocolate for my Mom. 🙂

        But I’m afraid of missing road trip plan too, so I am not going to take long minutes, perhaps 20 minutes is fine. 😛 I will take away my beverage.

    • Rose
      7 March 2016 / 1:26 pm

      Hi Bill, we are travelling with a lot of kids so we will definitely stop for photos and coffee.

    • Michael
      21 June 2016 / 11:43 pm

      Bill, I love the Big Koala, didn’t know there’s a cafe inside. I’ve just been driving past smiling. I’ll drop in for a coffee and ruminate on your vegetarian options next week.

      PS thanks for the blog Kim

    • Kalbo
      2 January 2017 / 1:13 am

      Gday Bill. I do the drive 2-3 times a year with kids. They always make me stop at the giant zombie koala.
      Seeya in the nxt week with 4 kids in tow. Aghhhh..

  7. Degan
    27 December 2015 / 5:14 pm

    Great post! Heading to Adelaide from melbs on new years day for the gfs birthday! Your post convered everything I need to know! Great stuff!

  8. Degan
    27 December 2015 / 5:20 pm

    Great post fellow blogger! Planning a trip to Adelaide from melbs on new years day, and you just answered all the questions i had on the drive in one post!
    I do, however, happen to like freaky zombie koalas. Alas, I won’t be driving through at night, so I guess I’ll just stop in and check out the living ones (and get a selfie with old mate zombie)
    Thanks, and feel free to check out my blog!
    http://mitchellshirecommunityblog.com
    Cheers
    Degan

  9. Debra
    12 February 2016 / 3:01 pm

    Ah, you madde me laugh. Especially as I am weighing up flying to Adelaide versus driving. I have done fieldwork out at Dadswells Bridge and met with the zombie koala, although I did forget to take a pic of it. Always looks a bit mangey – bit like the ones down the Otways in need of a good feed.

  10. Cyd
    24 February 2016 / 5:06 pm

    Planning a trip in September. Will be going from Adelaide to Melbourne. Wondering why everyone is starting in Melbourne. we are deciding between flying between cities and then driving part of the Great Ocean road from one city or the other or just driving the entire route. We don’t have a lot of time so wondering if we do one night out should we just drive the whole way or drive part of it from either city. And if that is better, which city to do it from.

    We will with rent a car for the entire trip or maybe sign up with a tour if we just do part of it.

    Really appreciate any and all responses.

    • 24 February 2016 / 9:25 pm

      Hi Cyd,
      To be honest, I haven’t ever driven the Great Ocean Road (it’s on my list of things to do!). It’s nearly double the time than driving direct between Adelaide and Melbourne, but definitely much prettier. Given it’s a 12-hour drive, it might be a push to do it in a day. The best places to stay overnight would be Apollo Bay, Port Fairy or Portland (in Victoria); or Mount Gambier (in South Australia). You could catch a regional flight from Adelaide to Mount Gambier (maybe other regional centres too, I’m not 100% sure), which would save you five hours of driving, it’s up to you. There could be tours leaving from Mount Gambier too, it’s quite a large regional centre. Hope this helps!

      • Cyd
        1 April 2016 / 11:18 pm

        Thanks so much for your help.

  11. Nick.V.
    21 March 2016 / 10:16 am

    Your link to Magnolia’s Bakery & Café. in Beaufort takes you to a site by the same name in South Carolina in the US. Is this a mistake? or a joke that I am not getting.? Thanks for this page by the way, it has lots of good suggestions, I will be doing this trip in three days.

    • 21 March 2016 / 8:05 pm

      Thanks for pointing out the error Nick. All fixed! Enjoy the drive.

  12. 24 March 2016 / 1:41 pm

    Thanks for this!

    Stopped by the Vines Café and Bar in Ararat on our way to Adelaide from Geelong.

    The breakfast was incredible. We’re a band on tour and need the best food we can get to stay healthy.

    Cheers from some Canadians,

    -Jon + the band

  13. Olivia Martin
    29 March 2016 / 10:12 am

    Oh my god…youre the best! I’m traveling to Adelaide alone with my 4 boys tomorrow to visit my sister. My 15 year old is obsessed with doof doof music and has already compiled a 9 hour playlist of tunes that will make me want to literally throw him out of the car! My 13 year old is the ADHD kind who cant sit still for 5 minutes let alone 9 hours. My 11 year old is fine (thank god) so will happliy sit playing his iPad. And my 6 year old is a typical kid who asks every 5 minutes if we are there yet. I cant wait till you pop a few kids and write about your travels with babies/kids. But thanks for all the info. Thoroughly enjoyed it. Will definetely be taking the short route as we have further to travel (from far east Melbourne). Looking forward to your next post.

    • 31 March 2016 / 6:57 pm

      Thanks Olivia 🙂 It sounds like you will need patience by the bucketload, or some how get them all to have a group (eight-hour) nap. Good luck.

  14. Simon
    29 March 2016 / 12:55 pm

    There’s a great new little café in Kaniva salled Heart Felt there is a different menu evertday ( not all deep fried stuff) that is all home cooked, but they always have homemade sausage rolls with flakey pastry and ask for their homemade tomato relish yum. Really is nice to have something to eat on the road that’s out of the ordinary.

    • 31 March 2016 / 7:00 pm

      Thanks Simon – this is a must-try for the next road trip.

    • Leta
      1 April 2016 / 3:42 pm

      Heartfelt @ Kaniva has a retro sandbox full if toys to keep the kids entertained so you can enjoy a latte. Used book shop down the back as well.

  15. Simon
    1 April 2016 / 12:21 pm

    If you’d gone to the Bordertown BP before it was a Wendy’s & had a proper home cooked meal you wouldn’t worry about the hot dogs. They had lamb chops, Sheppard s pie, Baramudi & chips. I used to go there instead of cooking at home was great & cheap . Big size meals & free coffee & $2 desserts. Open 24hrs. I was sad to see it go

  16. mike
    7 April 2016 / 8:35 pm

    “…only an eight-hour drive, making it the shortest distance between any of Australia’s capital cities”
    you’ve obviously never heard of Canberra? that’s less than 3 hours from Sydney and 7 hours to Melbourne.

    also saying that driving is just as fast as flying is not true. Flying would take you about 4 hours, nearly half the time it takes to drive.

    But I agree it does have benfits such as having a car to use at the destination.

  17. bill
    19 April 2016 / 10:13 pm

    Canberra doesn’t count

  18. 3 June 2016 / 4:52 pm

    Did the Melbourne to Adelaide drive (and back) a couple of months ago. It’s a beast but certainly more fun than flying and there are some great places to stop off on the way.

  19. Yuri
    5 July 2016 / 10:36 pm

    Great post.
    We do the drive the other way, but lolz at Dadswell bridge’s Koala (and Preston to Prahan being an equivalent journey). With kids there’s an obligatory stop for the Green Slide (at Nihill I think), but we’ve gotten to the point where we just go to IGA for ham and cheese and rolls on the way….not too many places for quick, easy, kid friendly meals…

  20. Alex
    24 August 2016 / 11:36 pm

    Love your tips

  21. Carolyn Burns
    22 September 2016 / 8:02 pm

    Love your advice! Where to stay in Adelaide not too expensive but clean?!

    • Cyd
      24 September 2016 / 11:45 am

      We stayed at the Adabaco hotel. Got a good rate from booking.com with breakfast included. Shared cost with a friend so it was within our moderate budget.

  22. Mel
    30 September 2016 / 9:49 am

    Hi. We were desperate for a coffe and easy breakfast an hour out of Adelaide. Stopped at Bakery at Tailem Bend in Main Street off the highway. Got a good coffee and sausage rolls to go in no time at all!

  23. Rosa
    16 October 2016 / 10:16 pm

    Thanks – planning a trip to Adelaide next week – very useful.

  24. Bee
    25 November 2016 / 5:21 pm

    We have stopped at Tailem Bend servo every Melbourne to Adelaide trip since I was a kid (40’s) now. It’s where we always stopped for an ice-cream- which was crazy-feeding dairy to 2 kids that got bad travel sick just before the hills and Devils Elbow. These little things are what makes the trip, as you said, theres not much to look at

  25. Matt Selth
    7 December 2016 / 9:47 am

    I’m travelling to Melbourne in January with the kids, so thought I’d do some research. Didn’t realise whose blog I was reading until I saw the photo under point 5! Jude an aggressive driver? Never!

    • 10 December 2016 / 2:59 pm

      A lamb can’t change its spots 😉 Hope you’re well Matt.

  26. Gibbo
    22 December 2016 / 5:08 pm

    lol, fuck ff, outer suburb of Melbourne, bloody Mexican lol. That’s in reverse if you come from easily the best and most affordable cities in Australia :/ yes Adelaide. I’ve always said Melbourne’s just up the road. On one trip back in 2001 I think it was, I’ve driven there a lot too, I made it back in the middle of the night from Melbourne home again in 5 hours. It was night, the road was clear except a few trucks occasionally, and I had a HQ SS Monaro fully worked; where else was I going to open that baby up. I glanced down at the dash just once at high speed and knew I was doing at least 200 km/hr. I didn’t do that all the way of course, half an hour or 20 minutes there, have a rest, find a nice stretch of open road again and hit it for another half an hour. I’ve got a lot of long distance driving quick that way but you need to know your car, you need experience, you need to know where you can do it with no risk to others and you need to fucking with it. But at that rate, I could’ve had lunch in Melbourne, drove home and had dinner then got back to Melbourne by midnight. Long distance driving isn’t for everyone though. If you’re generally a impatient driver, you will get stuck behind trucks doing 80 in 100 km/hr zones, you will get stuck behind convoys of caravans you just have to patiently endure; it is an endurance test, oldies sitting on 50 in 100 km/hr zones is a bit too much, but still. You will cramped up in a car for around 9 hours if you’re taking it easy or get stuck behind others often. You may also re-consider taking edgy kids who just want to stop every 20 minutes. It is much cheaper though to just get munchies at the supermarket before you go. Pies and pasties if not frozen will heat up to room temperature, ok, not hot hot, but enough to keep the wolves from the door and save yourself paying 8 or 9 bux for one item at a servo or something. Petrol is still probably cheaper than flying, it’s never taken me more than around 1 1/2 tanks of petrol to get to or from Melbourne, around 100 bux. But contrary to the article, yes there are inconveniences with airports, but it’s just a domestic flight and once you get through security you don’t have to muck around in a customs queue; I’m in Hong Kong right now and travel into China a bit, talk about customs queues. It’s never taken me much longer than 3 1/3 to 4 hours from the time I leave home and get out the airport at Melbourne. The issue is one of logistics though, when you get to Melbourne you won’t want to sit at the airport until you leave again so you will need wheels, driving solves that problem. Make sure your car is in good nick first. If you’re planning to drive take it in the week before to get it checked over even if you think it’s ok; t’s an unusual amount of work all at once for the average suburban car that’s only used to driving to work or Coles. Trust me on that, your expenses will blow out insurmountable if you’re stuck in Nhill with a busted head and you can’t get one for 4 days. Then you’ll be coughing up for more accommodation, the repairs plus the extra cost of getting the repairs done by some shrewd country mechanic who knows they;ve got you over a barrel; I’ve been there, clutch in Claire, cost me 3 times more. If you can, try to travel in a larger car, I’ve done most of my long distance trips in large cars. Once you’re on the open road humming along with no obstacles slowing you down all the time, the cost of fuel isn’t much different to a smaller car; unless it’s a pissy little Prius or something, but why would you want to be caught dead in a Prius? lol Falcons are good, larger model Holdens, Camry’s are the minimum size I would go for; in the middle of the sea with no land in sight, even the largest ocean liner is going to shrink, same when you’re in your car miles from anywhere. The added bonus about a larger car is just that, the size. Not just for leg room and storage space which is a bonus, but as we know, country roads, high speed and other drivers can be dangerous. No one survives a 100 km/hr head on crash in a Mini or VolksWagen. The more room around you in your car, the more space you have before your car impacts on you; that difference can mean the difference between life and death. Adelaide/Melbourne, Melb/Adel, is a cruisy drive though, there’s never any real rush to get to either, they rarely change and there is good reason to take it easy if you don’t drive interstate often or don’t know the road so well. 2 main rules though that helps you and everyone a lot; drive as close as possible to the speed limit, going to slow and making people impatient behind you just raises tensions among many who are on a deadline and don’t want to take the extra 2 hours to do the trip. Plus if you are going to go slow, pull over to the side of the road and let people past, we expect that, we also adhere to that. Don’t be a nuisance, it isn’t a race, but it is mostly just a one laned road most of the way and no one owns it. Don’t push others but don’t hold people up either.

  27. Ken
    9 January 2017 / 1:40 pm

    Wendy it has to be. Thanks for the heads-up on where to eat n un-square my butt.

  28. Gayle
    22 January 2017 / 11:25 am

    Want to know if anyone has done a ‘fishing’ from Melbourne to Adelaide blog? My hubby won’t road trip unless there is water to drop a line in (preferably with fish in water!)
    Love to hear from some keen anglers please…

  29. Rishab
    26 June 2017 / 8:16 pm

    Thanks for detailing it out, I am still gathering the courage to do this trip with two kids ….. thinking doing the long scenic route one way and the shorter route on my way back. Any stopover suggestions?

    • 26 June 2017 / 10:19 pm

      Good luck Rishab! If you’re doing the Great Ocean Road, I’d recommend staying overnight in Apollo Bay, Port Fairy or Portland (in Victoria); or Mount Gambier (in South Australia). Such a beautiful part of the world. On the drive direct, the most logical place to stopover would be Horsham. It’s pretty much bang-on half-way and a biggish-sized town.

      • Rishab
        27 June 2017 / 5:18 pm

        thanks Kim! appreciate the recommendations 🙂

  30. Roger Cook
    29 September 2017 / 4:41 pm

    Thanks for all the tips on this blog. We are driving to Perth for the first time on Sunday and so far I had only concentrated on the Nullarbor westward travelling. Just realised I had no idea about the trip to Adelaide from Kinglake West (where we live) so this info is very helpful. We have been to the Great Ocean Road and The Grampians etc so we sort of knew some stuff but we have a habit of just heading off with minimum idea where we will end up especially now with our motorhome. Thanks again.
    PS I hate flying because of claustrophobia so driving is a good alternative for me.

  31. Nadia F
    26 October 2017 / 3:11 pm

    Not true re: Nhill it has our favorite bakery cafe with the BEST homemade PIES and cakes and great sandwiches, homemade pasties – lots of varieties – fresh donuts etc. – its called Wimmera Cafe and you can sit inside or out or on the wide lawned nature strip opposite under the trees or in the open and go to the toilet block there as well which has hand soap, paper towels, and piped music playing! It is one of our favorite stops. Food is delicious and well priced! Lovely country bakery 🙂

  32. Duncan
    17 November 2017 / 12:27 pm

    Sounds like you’re a bit of an expert! Question for you – If I want to break up the journey and sleep the night in my car, any suggestions on the best spot to pullover and sleep?

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