Easter is a special weekend, and not just because of its religious importance.
It is the only four-day weekend of the year, the last long weekend for a couple of months and generally the one that marks the end of the warm weather.
For those reasons alone, it is the perfect excuse for a quick getaway to a place where you can either enjoy the outdoors before winter genuinely arrives or relax and indulge with plenty of chocolate eggs.
Whatever the motivation may be, it’s unlikely you’ll be Robinson Crusoe in wanting to run away from the rat race as Easter is one of the busiest holiday weekends of the year, where key freeways out of major metropolitan areas are as clogged as the arteries of a coach potato and popular surfside destinations are busier than a cinema on a sweltering summer day.
So how can you escape the Easter exodus and where you can getaway to that feels like a genuine holiday, particularly if you haven’t already planned something at this late stage? Here’s a few suggestions from us that not only end-up in a great destination but also include a great journey to get there.
Thredbo Easter egg Hunt at the top of the express chair lift. Photo: Jay Cronan
The Snowy Mountains might seem like an odd destination for an Easter escape, but it’s the ideal place to runaway to at this time of year.
Before the snow starts to fall, the shoulder season is still perfect for thrill seekers into mountain biking with Thredbo catering to all skill levels thanks to its myriad of trails. There’s also a maze of hiking paths for those looking for something a little less extreme and plenty of activities for the whole family, from the 700m bobsled luge to a nine-hole disc golf course, plus live music, an outdoor cinema and, for this weekend specifically, a selection of easter egg hunts.
There’s also a huge variety of accommodation, from secluded five-star hotels to family-focused chalets, and a selection of places to eat at Thredbo.
Not only is the destination full of adventure, but so can the journey if you step off the beaten track.
The most direct route from Sydney is a pretty straightforward drive down the Hume Highway and then via Canberra and Jindabyne, which should take around six hours with a rest stop or two.
But there are a couple of alternative routes that don’t take that much longer for those that enjoy a great drive.
The first is a simple detour around the western edge of Canberra and through the Brindabella mountains to Tharwa and then either back to the Monaro highway, or – if you don’t mind a twisty back road and the odd section of gravel – continue on Naas and Bobeyan roads towards Adaminaby.
Alternatively, you can bypass Canberra altogether and continue on the Hume to Gundagai and then come in on the Snowy Mountains Highway through Tumut and Adaminaby to Berridale. It is a brilliant stretch of road that traverses a unique and beautiful part of the country.
Whichever route you take, the Snowy Mountains is an unusual but idyllic destination for a great Easter escape.
Distance from Sydney: 495km-658km
Time to get there: 6-8hrs
Ideal car: Range Rover Sport
What to pack: Mountain bikes, hiking boots, warm clothes
Stawell is synonymous with its annual world-famous foot race (the Stawell Gift) over Easter. Photo: Mark Dadswell
It would be too easy to suggest Melburnians head due North to the Victorian alps if they’re after a similar experience.
You wouldn’t be disappointed if you did end up somewhere like Mansfield or Bright, both because of the driving roads to get there – and within coo-ee of both respective towns – are some of the best in the country, but also because of the destinations themselves.
But this is about escaping the norm, so how about the Grampians in the state’s far west? The National Park has some of the country’s most picturesque hiking trails and plenty of campgrounds, as well as the spectacular MacKenzie Falls.
If that’s not your caper, there’s excellent local vineyards and boutique providores within the area to interest foodies while Halls Gap Zoo is Victoria’s largest regional zoo and will fill out a day for the family.
However, there’s one big event that draws national attention this weekend, the annual Stawell Gift running race. As Australia’s richest running race, it not attracts some of the best athletes in the country but also creates a long weekend festival around it with activities for the whole family.
Just like the trip from Sydney to Thredbo, the quickest route from Melbourne to Halls Gap is a pretty boring jaunt up the Western Highway via Ballarat that should take around three hours.
But if you want to put an enjoyable drive into the mix, first head north west on the Tulla and skirt up and over Mount Macedon and then through to Daylesford onto Ballarat.
There’s plenty of great places to stop along the way, either for a bite to eat or to rummage through bric-a-brac shops. But this one is more about the destination; a place that is as far removed from the rat race as possible.
Distance from Melbourne: 250km-320km
Time to get there: 3-4.5hrs
Ideal car: Subaru Outback
What to pack: Tent, sleeping bags, baked beans, marshmallows
Lawson Park Hotel, Mudgee Photo: Supplied
There is something special about Autumn in the country, a certain quaint charm that goes further than the crisp weather and friendly locals.
Mudgee is nestled in the central tablelands on the other side of the Great Dividing Range, and while potentially not as popular as its regional compatriot, Orange, Mudgee is fuses the essence of a quintessential country town with a burgeoning boutique food and wine culture.
Visitors are treated to a heady combination of local produce and artisan markets, a vibrant display of local art on display at several local galleries or explore the countryside with guided kayak tourers of the Cudgegon River in the nearby Wollemi National Park where outdoorsy types can learn about the historical significance of the area.
But when it comes to Mudgee the main drawcard at the vast array of vineyards. The wine region is not as big as the nearby Hunter Valley, but that also means its not as crowded. Try visiting the local cellar doors for a tipple of the region’s latest drop, which specialises in a variety of reds and chardonnay.
However, for those with little tots in tow, once a month – including Easter Sunday – visitors can take tours of local farms where you can get your hands dirty and see a functioning market garden and oil farm.
Driving from Sydney, visitors have two potential routes leading out of the big smoke. The simple way is to jump on the M4 out of Sydney and on to the Great Western Highway through the villages of the Blue Mountains, where you can stop in at the Three Sisters at Katoomba or enjoy one of the shorter bushwalks.
However, for a bit of driving pleasure, the Bells Line of Road is your best bet as the road twists and turns its way through the mountains before meeting up with the Great Western Highway just past Lithgow. Each route will take between three and four hours, depending on traffic of course
Mudgee caters for all types with accommodation options stretching from caravan parks and motels through to romantic B&Bs and top shelf resorts.
Distance from Sydney: 250-280km
Time to get there: 3.5-4 hours
What to pack: Comfy boots, a corkscrew and a designated driver
Ideal car: Skoda Superb wagon
Wilsons Promontory Photo: Jason South
Wilson’s Promontory, Victoria
While most long-weekend warriors may be heading north to the mountains or west along the Great Ocean Road, we reckon you should head in the opposite direction, slip out to the south-east of Melbourne and make a date with the Wilson’s Promontory National Park.
Known for being the southern most point on mainland Australia, Wilson’s Promontory is also a bush walkers dream.
With up to 22 different walking tracks, ranging from short to medium in length and difficulty, the national park gives visitors the chance to experience a wide range of wildlife and the natural beauty of the area.
The national park is serviced by a very large camping site at Tidal River, which also has a limited amount of powered tenements. From there campers can experience the surrounds of the Promontory and get up close and personal with kangaroos, emus, wombats and an array of native bird life.
While Bass Strait and the Southern Ocean might be about to turn into Mr Hyde for the winter and the water may be getting a bit cold for the average swimmer, the waters off the southern tip of the Promontory offer some good diving sites. There are also many small islands that dot the seas surrounding the national park which support colonies of penguins and seals and pods of dolphins often patrol the many beaches.
There are many guided tours that operate around the area, including sea kayak tours that take adventures to more secluded spots over a number of days.
The main route out of Melbourne to Wilson’s Promontory is along the South Gippsland Highway, but if you have the time take a scenic route along the coast from Phillip Island and stop in at a number of small hamlets along the way to finding your own secluded slice of nature.
Distance from Melbourne: 240km-280km
Time to get there: 4 hours
What to pack: Camping gear, hiking boots, swimmers and camera
Ideal car: Nissan X-Trail
Top 10 Easter Travel Tips
1. Check your tyre pressures, fluid levels and headlights before your departure
2. Do the same on your trailer/caravan if you’re towing
3. Plan your trip and know where to stop for a rest
4. Keep an eye on weather reports ahead of the journey
5. Make sure you’re awake and alert if leaving early in the morning
6. Don’t overpack the car
7. Make sure snacks and water are easily accessible
8. Don’t stress and drive erratically in slow-moving traffic
9. Play driving games and/or music to keep kids entertained
10. Don’t drive under the influence