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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.