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  • Writer's pictureKaren Herbert

Holiday Nostalgia - We Survived Australia With Maps, Not Apps

Updated: May 11, 2023

A travelogue of my driving trip on the east coast of Australia.

In 2003 my sister and I planned an epic trip to Australia. 2003 was that awkward time when email was normal, but Google wasn’t all-encompassing yet and maps were still something you bought in a gas station instead of opening an app on your phone. Using the bare-bones hotel listings on the newfangled Google search engine yielded only a few confirmed reservations. For the remaining nights, we decided to trust our travel-savvy to find hotels along the route. We would be driving up the eastern coast, from Melbourne to Brisbane, approximately 2900 kilometers (1800 miles). My sister had purchased a brand new Rand McNally road atlas of Australia, and we boarded our plane for an adventure.

Internets Best Karen, driving in Australia, left side of the road, Australia Pacific Highway
Ready to drive on the left side of the road with the steering wheel on the "wrong side," too! (author photo)

Our first stop was Melbourne, Victoria, at the curiously named Miami Motor Inn, within walking distance of the famed Queen Victoria Market. We found the staff welcoming when we checked in midday, pointing the way to the market, amazed that we decided not to surrender to jet lag. We found that our small room had an oversized modern en suite bathroom. This was an important feature I learned when seeking out accommodations Down Under since many smaller hotels offered hostel-type rooms with shared bathrooms and showers. The next morning, we had our first “brekkie” -which is what Australians call breakfast. I tried the Vegemite on toast, too salty for me, but reportedly very nutritious. The Miami Motor Inn is still in business and looks as charming as it did then.

Brochure photos of the Miami, and my first brekkie Down Under. (author photo, brochure photos)

Our next stop was Beechworth, in northeast Victoria, where we found ourselves at the La Trobe Best Western on the grounds of La Trobe University. At Reception, we found that the hotel was operated by students in the hospitality program and had previously been a hospital, which explained the wide hallways and doorways. Our room was fine, but the highlight was dinner at the hotel bistro. We shared delicious entrées that were cooked by culinary students. Definitely a hidden jewel!

In the morning, we saw the campus grounds resplendent with autumn colors. I have since learned that it had not been a typical hospital. It was previously the Kerferd Clinic, a mental health facility built in 1976 and connected to the Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum, perhaps discreetly referred to as Mayday Hills Hospital. La Trobe University purchased the site in 1996 and operated the hotel school. The property was sold in 2011 but has reopened as the George Kerferd Hotel. Bonus - as we were leaving the city, we discovered the Beechworth Bakery - “Australia’s Greatest” - a sweet surprise!

Photo of the 2003 La Trobe brochure, the university campus (author photos), and the current view of Kerferd Hotel. (website photo)

Onward to Sydney, certainly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I had a reservation at a Bed & Breakfast in King’s Cross, a vibrant downtown area. The rate at Hotel 59 was even then an incredible A$99, which was about $67 US dollars. We had a king room, with an en suite bathroom. We arrived late, climbing up narrow stairs from a delightful café where we would have breakfast. I had an email from the owner, George, with a code for the lock. That felt very modern to us at the time.

The room was perfect, and George had left us a note with a hand-drawn map showing how to walk to Circular Quay (pronounced “key”) where we could catch a ferry or a train or visit the iconic Sydney Opera House. The walk led us through the Royal Botanical Garden, and we were also just a block from the metro station if we wanted to go farther. We met the congenial George the next morning when he cooked our brekkie down in the café. Great place to stay in Sydney!

Sydney, Australia, view from Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge
Walking from Hotel 59 in King's Cross to Circular Quay. What a view! (author photo)

At this point, we were out of reservations when we departed Sydney. Time for our travel-savvy to kick in, but it wasn’t going to be that easy - Australian highways are nothing like our US highway system. In addition to driving on the left side of the road, there aren’t interchanges every ten miles with hotels planted in every corner. We had picked up a Best Western Australia booklet at the La Trobe. Since this was also before hotels offered internet, I was thrilled at this find. We consulted the map and, cross-referencing the listings, chose the Colonial Motor Inn just past Kempsey, New South Wales as our next stop.

We arrived at dusk, pulling off the Australian Pacific Highway. The fading light illuminated two long white buildings with picturesque blue and white trim, feeling a little old-fashioned in a Bates Motel sort of way. The air was chilly as the sun set and there was the faint eucalyptus scent that was ever-present. Even so close to the highway, there was no traffic noise. My sister spotted the reception sign, and we registered quickly.

Spotting a chalkboard marked with specials of the day reminded me that I was hungry. I asked the manager if there was a restaurant with the motel. No, he told me, but there were menus in our room. If we phoned him with our order, he would pick it up and deliver to us and add the amount to our bill. Uber Eats in 2003!

The room was modern, not at all Bates Motel. I disliked driving on the left after dark, so we called our order to the manager, and it wasn’t long at all before he delivered our meals. I don’t remember what we ate, but we loved being able to eat in our pajamas. In the morning, we were surprised to find we were adjacent to the Macleay River and took a few moments to enjoy the view. The same manager was still on duty when we checked out and gave us a map with hand-written directions to Dorrigo National Park with a waterfall that we shouldn’t miss. The Colonial Motor Inn gave us comfortable beds, excellent service, and guided us to our next day’s adventure. A win!

The Colonial Motor Inn, Kempsey, NSW, on the banks of the McCleay River (all author photos)

The next stop would be crossing into the state of Queensland, and on the map, Nerang looked like a fairly large city. To our disappointment, there was no listing for Nerang in the Best Western directory, but I felt confident we wouldn’t have a problem finding a hotel. However, there were none at the first exit we tried. It was after dark, and since nothing was in view, we decided to have dinner. We found a restaurant in a typical shopping center, and I asked the server if she could recommend a hotel. She didn’t live nearby, but helpfully brought us the phone directory. Yes, in 2003, we still had to let our “fingers do the walking” through the Yellow Pages. One problem though, we didn’t have cell phones on this trip.

I went to the payphone outside and called the first hotel in the phone book. They had nothing available, but the voice on the line assured me that there were rooms at the Hinterland Hotel and gave me the address. Our map wasn’t that detailed, so I was at a loss and wondering if I had the coins to make another call, but a young woman waiting to use the phone gave us the directions. It was a short drive away, thankfully. This hotel would have been completely forgettable but for the fact, we had to register in the attached casino! Gambling is legal in Australia, and we got to see it up close. Still in business and touted as a “local icon.”

The last day in Queensland would be our last stop before going to the airport. Again, we looked in that Best Western Australia directory and decided on the unlikely named Hotel Hacienda. It was close to the Brisbane airport and that was enough for us. Our Rand McNally had a good city map of Brisbane, so we managed to find the hotel, which was tucked into a residential area. It was a sunny afternoon and the woman who checked us in recommended taking the CityCat ferry boat to Queen Street Mall where there would be lots of choices for shopping and dining.

We enjoyed the ride on the Brisbane River, and it was the perfect end cap to our trip on the continent of Australia – from Queen Victoria Market to Queen Street Mall.

Still in business though the name has changed to the Alloggio Hotel. (picture from

Using printed hotel directories, Rand McNally maps, and payphones seems very Boomer-ish now. The map was helpful along the way for locating national parks and museums, too. There are dozens of travel apps and smartphones now, but the serendipity involved in accomplishing a trip without those conveniences made our adventure extra special.

Great Ocean Road
View from the Great Ocean Road along the Southern Ocean (author photo)

Disclaimer: I received no compensation from the hotels mentioned. Photos are mine or from hotel websites.

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