I’ve done the road trip between Sydney and Melbourne many times before. Twelve hours cooped up in a small car hurtling down the Hume Highway only taking breaks to fuel up and grab some more junk food isn’t exactly what I would call a relaxing road trip though!
That’s why K and I decided to take it slower on our recent move to Melbourne from Sydney with the first carload of our possessions (everything else is boxed up and stored at his parents house!). We decided to drive down the coastal Princes Highway from Wollongong to Eden before turning inland to Melbourne over a leisurely two days, splitting the fourteen hour drive over two days.
We left Sydney on a drizzling Friday morning and spent some time caught up in peak hour traffic before reaching blue skies and a clear road to Wollongong. Choosing not to stop in Wollongong, we drove half an hour further and stopped into Kiama to check out the Kiama Blowhole (my first time!) and for a quick morning tea treat at Flour Water Salt Sourdough Bakery. I had never heard of the bakery before, but I think it may actually be part of a chain as I saw another outlet further down the coast in a sleepy little town. Either way, it’s one of the few places in town that are unashamedly modern and hipster with modern minimalist décor with a touch of rustic living.
K ordered a Brioche Roll with Ham, Swiss Cheese and Dijon Mayonnaise, lightly toasted. The brioche roll was deliciously sweet and the cheese melted just right, creating an interesting blend of sweet and savoury. As he devoured the roll, I found myself eyeing the deli section of the bakery, offering everything from homemade gluten-free pasta to picnic packs for day-trippers.
I had more of a yearning for something sweet for morning tea, so I ordered the sweet Pear Frangipane Tart. It wasn’t quite as sweet as I was actually expecting, which probably worked out a bit better! I particularly liked the crust on this tart, which was nicely baked with a vague caramelised or burnt butter flavour.
Note – while I don’t think this tart was either gluten-free or vegan, Flour Water Salt had a number of different options across both its savoury and sweet menus for those with dietary requirements. Whatever your dietary need, it can be accommodated!
We jumped back on the road and found ourselves in Batemans Bay a few hours later for lunch. Wandering around somewhat aimlessly struggling to decide on where and what to eat (neither the local Chinese takeaway nor the Hogs Breath Café was particularly appealing!), we finally stopped in at The Starfish Deli, right on the water’s edge. We walked in towards the end of their lunch hour rush so service was a little patchy, though friendly.
Still quite full from our morning tea, we decided to share a main and an entrée. The main actually came out first – their daily special of the Grilled Swordfish with chips and salad. It’s a pity that we couldn’t order some seafood that was a bit more local, but the waitress had informed us that they weren’t serving oysters that day as the river was currently too dirty to harvest oysters. Nevertheless, the swordfish was still cooked well with firm smooth flesh, especially with its accompanying herbed butter.
The entrée came out a little while later, Dips served with woodfired pizza crust. I thought the pizza crust was done perfectly as it was crispy on the outside while still being a tad doughy on the inside – but K would have preferred it baked for a little while longer so that it was perfectly crispy throughout. The pumpkin dip was definitely my pick, as the hummus lacked any punch of flavour.
Absolutely stuffed to the brim, we returned to our car and kept driving down the coast until we reached our accommodation for the night – an evening at the caravan park in Merimbula. For a cheap family-friendly holiday resort, the individual cabins were surprisingly well furnished and decked out. The next time I visit Merimbula, I would probably look at staying an extra night or two in a nicer Airbnb apartment or resort as the area was quite pretty.
We also didn’t get much of a chance to try any of the cafes or restaurants in Merimbula as we chose to go to the supermarket to buy supplies for dinner and breakfast instead of going out to eat. We were just too full from lunch still! Some microwave soup and salad from Woolworths saw us through the night.
Early the next morning, we hit the road again, with a slight break to check out the beautiful scenery near Eden. Later that morning, we stopped at Cann River, a tiny town with a single main strip of shops and cafes that rely on the tourist trade for survival. K was desperate for a coffee, but with each café advertising themselves as having the “best coffee” or “great coffee” or “superb coffee”, it was difficult for him to make a choice!
He ended up getting his coffee from the Cann River Bakery as I declared that I wanted a bit of a morning tea break. While the coffee was only middling, the Apple and Cinnamon Teacake was absolutely stunning. A buttery, moist little cake lightly spiced with cinnamon and chunks of fresh apple, it was a real delight. I’d drop in again just to try some of the other flavours of teacakes!
Our final stop on our road trip was Orbost, a tiny little town in East Gippsland. With four middling cafes in town to service the small population, we chose what looked like the best option – the Wishing Tree Café. It was located opposite an empty lot on the main street, in which was located one of the most stunning blossom trees I’ve seen (see my Instagram photo).
K ordered a simple toasted sandwich – Chicken and Avocado Focaccia. You can’t go too wrong with this combination, especially when it’s made using a herbed focaccia roll.
I stupidly chose one of the warm lunch options that had been on display in the bainmarie for who knows how long…the Spinach and Mushroom Quiche with a side salad. The bottom of the pastry had gone a little bit soggy, and there simply wasn’t enough flavour in the eggy quiche. I couldn’t even add a little bit of cracked black pepper or sea salt to the quiche as there was only table salt or white pepper. At least the grated beetroot helped save it from being completely flavourless.
And there you have it – two days of café stops along the Princes Highway from Sydney to Melbourne! There’s obviously a heap of much more famous foodie places that we didn’t stop at along the way (Berry Doughnut Van, Rick Stein’s at Bannisters), but I was more interested in seeing what impromptu unplanned walk-in dining experiences would be like. On the whole, I’m largely impressed with the quality of food available for the casual road-tripper, which just goes to how advanced Australian cafes and chefs are compared to many other parts of the world.