Once again delving into my series of road trips around Australia, I thought it was time to tackle the quickest and most convenient route between Melbourne and Adelaide, Western Highway/Dukes Highway also referred to by its route number A8.
Depending on which state you are originating from, you’ll know the route as either the Western Highway (Victoria) or the Dukes Highway (South Australia). Still, in essence, it is the same stretch of road that changes names at the border.
If you are comparing tourist route options between the two cities, I’ll be the first person to admit this particular option struggles to compete with the sheer scenic wonder of the Great Ocean Road route I’ve already covered. However, that doesn’t mean there is a shortage of things to see if you are looking to get between Melbourne and Adelaide quickly and efficiently along the Western Highway/Dukes Highway route.
Along the Western Highway/Dukes Highway (A8) route, it’s a little over 700kms (726km to be exact) between Melbourne and Adelaide.
Driving between the two cities is easily achievable in a day. It’s about 8 hours driving time, but I find that with a couple of quick stops along the way it’s best to give yourself a 10-hour window to complete the drive. If everywhere in this blog post grabs your attention you could split the drive over a couple of days.
Along the Western/Dukes Highway the drive is fairly relaxed. There are a couple of small towns along the route (more so in South Australia) that can slow things down if there is a lot of traffic. But for the most part, it’s a relatively simple drive.
Fuel and service station options are fairly frequent along the Western/Dukes Highway route between Melbourne and Adelaide. Every town listed in this blog post has a service station, but you shouldn’t travel much more than 200kms between places to stop.
Absolutely. If you are in a rush you could easily get the drive done in 9 or so hours. That said you could also take your time and see some of the sights along the way and still complete the route in a single day.
The small town of Nhill in regional Victoria is the closest to halfway between the Melbourne and Adelaide. If you are looking for somewhere to stay to break up the trip between the two cities, I’ll list a few other options later in this blog post
The A8 Western Highway stretches 418km but actually starts as the M8 Western Motorway exiting off the M80 Western Ring Road around Melbourne. The M8 reverts the multilane motorway down to a regional highway listed as the A8 at Ararat and continues to the South Australian border where it becomes the Dukes Highway.
The Dukes Highway only covers 190km, splitting off the Princes Highway in the South Australian town of Tailem Bend before continuing to the Victorian Border where it becomes the Western Highway.
Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, here are my suggestions for the best places to stop on the drive between Melbourne and Adelaide along the Western and Dukes Highways.
Starting a road trip in Melbourne is one thing but, have you really seen Melbourne? If not, I’ve put together an ultimate guide that you’ll find handy before you arrive in the city. Make sure you give it a read.
Roughly an hour and a half along the Western Motorway (depending on traffic) outside of Melbourne, Ballarat could easily be considered a destination of its own accord.
This historic gold mining city, famous for the Eureka Stockade, offers plenty to see and do. So much so that I’ll put together a dedicated blog post detailing all the city has to offer shortly.
In the meantime though, as part of a road trip between Melbourne and Adelaide, Ballarat makes an ideal first stop.
You could easily take advantage of the service stations located along the motorway for a quick fuel and coffee stop. But I would also consider a quick detour into the city to at the very least drive along Sturt Street to see the stunning examples of the Victoria-era stone buildings.
It’s also a good spot to stop if you’re looking for a cafe or restaurant for a much more substantial meal.
Should you be taking the slow and steady approach to your drive between the two cities, then make sure you check out the Eureka Centre located on the site of the Eureka Stockade at the very least. This museum offers a special insight into the event that shaped the history of Australia.
Fun fact: Ballarat is the third largest city in Victoria after Melbourne and Geelong.
Ararat marks the first town you will come across once the motorway stops and the A8 route reverts back to being the Western Highway (if you don’t count the section that passes through the town Beaufort which is yet to be bypassed).
If you don’t stop in at Ballarat, then Ararat is the ideal place to stop to refuel both your car and yourself without a significant detour.
The Western Highway forms one of two main roads through this rural town with Barkley Street (the other) running parallel. Both of these offer plenty of cafe, restaurant, fast food options as well as a couple of petrol stations.
However, Ararat isn’t just a quick stop town. While you are in the area, make sure that you check out the Ararat Gallery TAMA (Textile Art Museum Australia) for a unique local art experience.
While if test your nerves is more your style, Aradale Lunatic Asylum is another unique local attraction. Built back in 1866 and decommissioned in 1998, these days tours are run through the site during the day. And for especially brave at heart, ghost tours are run at night if you plan on hanging around long enough.
Giant Koala – Dadswells Bridge
You simply can’t road trip around Australia and not stop in at the iconic “big things”! Even if the “big thing” is a kinda scary looking Giant Koala.
Another 40 minutes (or so) drive along the Western Highway, the Giant Koala, known as Sam, in the small township of Dadswells Bridge marks the gateway to the Grampians.
Built back in 1988, this 14-meter tall structure is an iconic part of the road trip between Melbourne and Adelaide, offering your typical gift shop souvenirs. But, at the same time, the cafe is also quite popular.
It is worth stopping in quickly to tick another one of the “Big Things” of Australia off your list.
Only another 20-30 minutes further along the Western Highway, Horsham is the next proper stop on the route.
As you make your way from Victoria to South Australia, the towns get progressively smaller, and Horsham is the last of the big towns along the route without any significant detours.
If you are in a hurry and aiming to get the trip done as quickly as possible, then I’d highly recommend stopping in at Horsham to grab any supplies you might need for the rest of the drive to Adelaide. For the next couple of hours on the road, there are a couple of small towns along the way that do have small service stations and cafes, but in terms of options, particularly supermarkets and retail stores, Horsham is the last option for a while.
Should you be looking to split the drive up over a couple of days and possibly spending some time in the Grampians National Park, Horsham offers the most choice of hotel-style accommodation, although having not stayed there personally, I can’t provide any recommendations.
Pink lakes have become quite the Instagram phenomenon, and the aptly named Pink Lake alongside the Western Highway is one of the better examples.
Just north of Dimboola, this quick stop along the route offers a lookout over the salt flat which is typically pale pink, however, the colour will vary greatly depending on recent rainfalls.
You will also find a path to walk down to the edge of the lake, to get a closer look at this interesting natural occurrence. Or, if you are just looking to break up the drive, there are some picnic tables and a public toilet.
Well worth a quick stop if you’ve never seen anything like it before.
Silo Art is a big part of this region of Australia, and Kaniva offers a great example of the artwork created on these massive structures.
Either Kaniva or Nhill could mark the halfway point in the trip between Melbourne and Adelaide, but I would skip Nhill and continue on to Kaniva.
The Silo Art is only a mild detour off the Western Highway and best viewed from the public park alongside it. Keep an eye out for the Sheep Art scattered around the township. Although a couple of examples are on display in the aforementioned park.
The park also has a public restroom which might be handy given the lack of fast food/truck stop style service stations along this section of the route.
You could easily get away with only stopping into Kaniva for a couple of minutes, but if you do need lunch at this point of the trip, there are a couple of small cafes near the roundabout on the highway.
Bordertown, South Australia
Bordertown marks the first stop on the trip once you cross into South Australia, and the Western Highway turns into the Dukes Highway.
Oddly enough though, Bordertown doesn’t actually mark the border between South Australia and Victoria. The border is actually 18km east, so you are well and truly in South Australia once you arrive in Bordertown.
In terms of towns along this route from Melbourne to Adelaide, Bordertown is one actually of the best tourist setups.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Bordertown is the birthplace of former Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke?
The Hawke house is actually quite the local tourist attraction and an interesting stop if you are looking to break up the drive.
Also, make sure you check out the colony of rare white kangaroos that Bordertown is famous for. The colony is located in a small wildlife park on the way into town. You will definitely see them from the side of the road as you drive into town.
Bordertown also has a couple of larger brand name service stations (BP/OTR and Caltex/Ampol) along the highway and a decent number of local cafes and restaurants, just a short detour into town. Making it a better lunch stop option if Horsham was way too early and the options were too limited in Kaniva.
If you are looking to break up the trip, Bordertown could be a good option to stay overnight with a couple of different accommodation options. Again, I haven’t stayed there, but there are several options.
Tailem Bend, South Australia
There are a number of really small farming towns along this next section of the Dukes Highway. Some with their own Silo Art installations worth a very brief visit if you have the time.
That said though, the next major town worth stopping into along the way is Tailem Bend.
As you continue along the Dukes Highway will go past The Bend Motorsport Park, which is well set up with a decent size truck stop (BP/OTR) and even a big Rydges Hotel and Big 4 Caravan Park if you are feeling too tired to finish the trip at this point.
While further into town there are a few more service stations (BP, United and Shell), cafe/restaurant options and a couple of pubs and motel/hotels as well.
Tailem Bend is a small town, marking the end of the Dukes Highway (A8) route and where you will join the Princes Highway (A1) for the final leg into the city.
If you have the time though, make sure you take the opportunity to stop and take in the stunning views over the Murray River.
Pro Tip: The Subway restaurant within the United service station offers a particularly great view!
And if you are taking your time to this point to see all that the route has the offer then stop in at Old Tailem Town to see an interesting collection of historic Australiana.
Murray Bridge, South Australia
At this point in the trip, you might have seen all you really wanted to see, but there is still one detour worth making – Murray Bridge.
From Tailem Bend, the Dukes Highway/Princes Highway is basically motorway for the rest of the trip back to Adelaide. Except for a bridge over the Murray River as you approach the aptly named town of Murray Bridge.
However this isn’t the historic bridge that the town is named after. That requires a short detour into town.
Murray Bridge is the location of the very first bridge to built over the iconic Murray River in 1879, the waterway that is life blood of this part of Australia.
The bridges (the road and rail bridges) are part of a heritage precinct (and still used for both road and rail traffic) that define the creation of this small (but growing) town just outside of Adelaide.
While you are in town, head down to the riverbank to check out the view of the two bridges as well as some of the riverboats that make the length of the Murray their home. There is also a collection of historic rail carriages from he trains that have frequented the town since the bridges construction.
But for something truly unique, check out the Murray Bridge Bunyip. I’m not going to explain it, just look for the signs and find it for yourself.
Adelaide, South Australia
If you are a looking for a more scenic option, also check out my Great Ocean Road/Princes Highway blog post as well.
If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.