A Melbourne to Canberra Road Trip

Most people, in their hurry to arrive, head inland and up the Hume Highway. It serves its purpose, but there’s not a lot to see along the way. To extend your road trip from Melbourne to Canberra and see different parts of Victoria and New South Wales, instead choose to travel along the Princes Highway. This route cuts through Gippsland and the Monaro regions, as well as the Snowy Mountains, with easy detours taking you to the NSW south coast.

If you drove the rental car through without stopping, it would take about eight and a half hours. Ideally, though, you’ll stretch it out for three or four days to take in some sightseeing and side trips. Here are a few things you might like to see and do on your way from Melbourne to Canberra (or vice versa). 

The First Leg: Melbourne to Metung 

It’s an almost four-hour drive to Metung from the city. Leave early though because you’ll probably want to stop for a coffee along the way – Bodhi Coffee in Traralgon, with its second-hand bookstore, is a good choice – and there’s so much to do in Metung.


Set on the Gippsland Lakes and surrounded by water, this a great place to take in the views and relax overnight. If you make it in time for lunch, the old-school Metung Hotel overlooks Bancroft Bay. If it’s sunny, snag a table outside and watch as the pelicans come in to be fed at noon. 

After lunch, there are a few things to do. Want to get back to nature? There’s a pretty walk along the waterfront, but you might want to jump in the rental car and drive to nearby Paynesville. From there, you can catch the little ferry across to Raymond Island with its Koala Walk. This easy 1.3-kilometre trail takes you beneath tall eucalypts where you can see koalas in their natural habitat.  

If you want to treat yourself, go to Metung Hot Springs. Here, you can soak your cares away in pools of geothermal water drawn from 500 metres beneath the earth’s surface. Stroll among the hot spring pools, testing different temperatures, taking on the reflexology walk, heating up in the sauna and cooling back down again with a cold plunge. The entire site overlooks bushland and the lakes. 

Day Two: Metung to Cooma 

Departing Metung in the morning, you’ll gradually begin leaving the coast behind. Orbost is the start of Snowy River country and is surrounded by Cape Conran Coastal Park and Snowy River National Park. This is a great place to stop for breakfast if you had an early start – Crumb Cafe is a favourite among the locals – and you can stretch your legs with a walk along the main street.

Next stop: the other side of the border and Bombala. Its claim to fame is that, in 1903, it was suggested as the site for the Australian capital, since it was halfway between Melbourne and Sydney, but ultimately it lost out to what is now Canberra. Most people stop here on their way to the snowfields or to visit the local community of platypuses. Grab yourself a snack from the local bakery then drive out to the Platypus Reserve. They’re much easier to spot at dawn and dusk, but if you sit quietly, you might be lucky enough to see these elusive critters.

Bombala is only an hour’s drive from Cooma, so you could take a detour in the rental car to Merimbula. Situated on the Sapphire Coast, it’s a wonderful blend of rugged coastline and coastal lakes. Start in town and follow the boardwalk, which takes you past mangroves, lakes, and oyster farms. Head to Wheelers Oysters, where you can buy a tray of fresh shellfish to scoff down.

Then it’s on to Cooma… 

What to Do in Cooma 

This is the largest town in the Snowy Mountains region. Gold and ski sports initially saw the population of Cooma increase, but it was the arrival of the Snowy River Hydro Scheme in 1949 that really changed the town. More than 100,000 workers arrived from 30 different countries in what is thought to be the first example of true multiculturalism in Australia.

Discovering this history is what you’ll find at the Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre. At the NSW State Correctional Museum, you’ll discover how jails have changed from the convict days to the present. Tours are conducted by minimum-security inmates from the adjacent Cooma Correctional Centre. 

You’re only a little over an hour away from Canberra, so if you’re in no hurry, take advantage of the rental car and visit the Yarrangobilly Caves, an hour and a half away and deep in Kosciuszko National Park. The drive is excellent, but these six limestone caverns are spectacular. You can check out the largest of them, South Glory Cave, on a self-guided tour, or go on a guided tour of the others. Above ground, take a swim in the thermal pool, fed by a natural spring, with the water at a steady 27ºC all year. 


To make the most of a road trip from Melbourne to Canberra, hire a rental car before you leave.