Tree-framed streetscape of Olive at Loch café in Victoria
Holidays

Five road trip destinations to have on your radar

With our sights set on the freedom of the open road, here are five off-the-beaten-track towns we can’t wait to visit.

By Shell on Oct. 12, 2021

Whether toward beach or bush, for love of food or in search of adventure, the great Australian road-trip beckons over the summer months. The good news is that you don’t have to venture far to discover some of the country’s most atmospheric – and seriously addictive – holiday destinations. From the Scenic Rim in Queensland to South Gippsland in Victoria, here are five off-the-beaten-track towns calling us back.

Smiths Lake

Getting there: 280km (three hours) north of Sydney

What the village of Smiths Lake might lack in population, it compensates with in personality and natural attractions. Drawing its name from the coastal lagoon it overlooks, the town’s smattering of holiday homes are enveloped by tall eucalypt stands, a natural magnet for kookaburras and cockatoos who are particularly chatty at sunset – days here typically end in a blaze of colour.

For watching the sun dip below the horizon, follow the lead of locals to the Pacific Palms Recreation Club. One of only a handful of places to grab a meal in this pocket of the state, the cheap-and-cheerful establishment is all about the setting – order fish and chips and sit beside the gently lapping water. It’s hypnotic.

Part of NSW’s Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park on the Barrington Coast, the village is, unsurprisingly, a mecca for water-lovers. Jump in a kayak, and paddle to the Frothy Coffee Boatshed for a milkshake; you’ll be sharing the water with pelicans, and few others. Or venture to remote Cellito Beach, where sea eagles swoop overhead. 

Robertson

Getting there: 140km (1 hour 45 mins) south of Sydney

While Bowral, Berrima and Moss Vale often steal the Southern Highlands spotlight, Robertson is the region’s quiet – and charming – achiever. The historic surrounds appear to have slipped from the English Cotswolds, so bucolic are the rolling green meadows fringed by heritage gardens. Small wonder this was the setting for 1995’s farm-life film, Babe.

But it’s also about water: Fitzroy, Carrington and Belmore Falls all cast a dreamy mist over native bushland, while Nellies Glen, Blue Pool and Jump Rock at Macquarie Pass deliver cool waterholes for post-hike dips. Reward yourself with coffee and cake at The Whey Café inside the Robertson Cheese Factory; be sure to take away fromage, cured meats and accompaniments from The Dairy Store.

Save room for a piping hot chicken, leek and camembert pastry at the Robertson Pie Shop – or their remarkable cream-laden cherry pie. Still hungry? The Robertson Public House (‘Robbo Pub’ to locals) has been grilling steaks and pulling beers since 1887. Some things never change: good old country hospitality.

Boonah

Getting there: 90km (1 hour) south-west of Brisbane

You travel through serious cattle country on your way to Boonah from Brisbane. When you arrive, you’re welcomed into a village time forgot, all pretty timber houses and wildflowers surrounded by a spine of mountains.

Part of Queensland’s Scenic Rim, the town exudes country swagger – from the old-school department store (Maynards) to overstuffed sofas and equally bulging cakes at Arthur Clive’s Family Bakehouse, creating indulgent treats since 1936. More such await at nearby Fassifern Valley’s Kooroomba Vineyard and Lavender Farm. Begin with lavender-infused ice-cream, and end with a cellar door chardonnay.

But bliss in Boonah is not all about consumption – stretch your legs in any of the seven surrounding national parks, or sail, paddle and waterski across the Scenic Rim’s Lake Moogerah and Lake Maroon.

Trentham

Getting there: 100km (1 hour) north-west of Melbourne

Follow your nose to Trentham, a toy-sized town atop the Great Dividing Range north-west of Melbourne – high enough to enjoy a flurry of snow each year. Freshly baked sourdough perfumes the streets here, thanks to talented bakers (and the 130-year-old wood-fired oven) at RedBeard Bakery. You can also grab coffee and cakes, but the rock-star is the crusty bread.

Whether because of abundant produce or calming countryside, this part of Victoria – between Daylesford and Woodend – seems to attract artisan producers and makers. Yes, RedBeard's bakers. But also cherry and chestnut growers at The Nutty Orchard, and boutique oil pressers at Wallaby Creek Olive Grove.

Trentham is backdropped by the soaring eucalypts of Wombat State Forest, where visitors to the Blue Mount lookout enjoy dizzying vistas over Mount Macedon, the You Yangs and Dandenong Ranges. Lay down a picnic rug beside Trentham Falls, the highest of its kind in Victoria, tumbling 32 metres from basalt cliffs and reminding you why nature rules.

Loch

Getting there: 110km (1.5 hours) south-east of Melbourne

From its achingly pretty deciduous-leaf-lined main street, to its 1900s cottages hosting twee boutiques and cafes, Loch is a village made for postcards. Set among the hills of the Strzelecki Ranges in South Gippsland – halfway between Melbourne and Wilson’s Prom – Loch is a creatives magnet. Drop into Peter McEwan Ceramics for custom-made pottery, Carringtons for a cornucopia of antiques and one-off homewares, or Yakkity Yak for ethically sourced cashmere and quilts.

It’s also home to forward-thinking foodies: look no further than Olive at Loch, where you can have a stellar coffee with a slice of rhubarb meringue cake while perusing a collection of covetable knick-knacks. Or Loch Brewery and Distillery, offering dark chilli ale and gin liqueur.

Overindulged? Traverse the path between the village and Loch Memorial Reserve along an abandoned railway line (the town was a stop on the defunct South Gippsland Heritage Railway), and over a suspension bridge at Allsop Creek to ogle the scenic gorge.

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