Apparently if you chose to drive straight through to Melbourne from Canberra, it can take as little as just under seven hours. I have not attempted this. Instead we like to meander – take our time – see a gallery exhibition or two – and stop for a coffee and snack whenever the urge hits.
If you have not driven south down the highway recently, and you have the time, it is totally recommended. It a dual carriageway all the way from outside Yass till you hit the outskirts of Melbourne. Turn on the cruise control (if you’re lucky enough to have it), point the car south, turn on the music, and go.
Several years ago the countryside was a dust bowl. This winter it could not have been any more different. Once you get past Yass, it is rolling green after rolling green. In the winter light with a strong low sunlight, it is completely magical.
A first option to pause on the journey south, being one and half hours out, could be Jugiong – and the Long Track Pantry. Good meals, good coffee and often crowded. One warning – there are things on shelves to tempt the cash from the purse such as jams, chutneys, crafts and a hell of a lot of other stuff. The meal may end up being the cheaper part of the spend.
Further on are the two towns of Tarcutta (2 hours from Canberra) and Holbrook (2 hrs 45 mins). Both are now off the highway and both a very quiet and peaceful. Both offer places to snack and to coffee.
Tarcutta is stunningly quiet compared to what it used to be just a few years ago – with trucks thundering through. They have a memorial to truck drivers who lost their lives on the roads. I have yet to try the cafes there – maybe next time (in August).
Holbrook has the big submarine in the middle of the town. It is always strange to see this former super killing machine now used as a distraction for children. The café behind the sub is worth a visit.
Albury is also off the freeway these days. It is often a place we stop and then for an overnight stay (to see the gallery). The city has a main street with many options for coffee and food. Ten years ago, their main street was run down but something has happened.
The centre of Albury has had a complete makeover, many of the older building have been cleaned up and a coat of paint applied. To top it all off, the city gallery, now renamed MAMA, has had a massive expansion and is jumping with activities. The national photographic prize is on exhibition there till 7th Aug. Definitely worth a stop over.
Albury is a regional city where it is obvious that the council cares about the amenities and the look of the place. I suspect they set out to attract people away from larger cities to take up a regional city lifestyle. It seems to be working. Well done Albury council.
A little secret. Down the west end of Dean Street (the main street) is an old fashioned motel with cheap prices. If you get a room at the back on the ground floor, you park right outside and the room is large with basic cooking things. During the off peak it is easy to get a room. Great value for one night. Please keep this to yourself.
The next main city is Wangaratta, being about 45 mins south of Albury. If you stay overnight in Albury, you can drive onto Wangaratta to have breakfast. We’ve pulled up a couple of times and had food at Monty’s on Reid Street. There are other choices nearby.
The Wangaratta Art Gallery has an active exhibition program, with an emphasis on contemporary textile arts.
If you are looking for accommodation – try the Park View Motor Inn – it had good prices last time we went through and again, the rooms are big with basic kitchenette facilities. And if you ask for a lower ground floor – you park right outside the door.
I have not stopped at Benalla for food or coffee – but if you are interested in the visual arts, the Benalla Art Gallery is a must. They have a great permanent collection and have two other spaces, one exhibiting contemporary works and the other has a local focus. They have a café overlooking the river – so they win points for that. The architecture of the building is interesting – in that it is built by the river – which floods often – so the whole building is perched high on stilts.
One other option for a break along the way is Seymour. I have not spent much time in the main part of the town, but on the main road in, take the left turn to head towards the town centre, but stop a 100 metres on the left to enter a very friendly country style place, Araminta’s Tea Rooms. It is one big room. On a chilly day (last time it was seven degrees outside), it can be not so warm. I suggest you give it a go – as the food is good – and as a little bonus, they sell home-made woollen beanies.
One last mention. About an hour out of Melbourne is Kilmore (again off the highway). We met someone there recently for business (they came over from Ballarat). There’s wonderful and very friendly place, Wallder’s Café, in an older building on the main street. It is very popular with locals. Generous food – they are known for their crepes – and good coffee.
And then it is onto Melbourne.
One last recommendation. If you have the time, do not enter Melbourne via the main freeways. Instead, as you start on the freeway, turn off onto Sydney Road around Craigieburn. I suggest you get ready to go left not long after you go under the over-designed rusty metal bridge thingy – which has heaps of graffiti on it.
This route is much slower but far more enjoyable if you like to see parts of old Melbourne. On the latter part of it there is a good chance you will be parked in traffic but this provides a safe opportunity to observe all the different cultures that inhabit the road on the way into the city. And you will see an amazing number of bridal shops! And yes – there are plenty of cafes along the road if you still need one (and can find a parking spot).
Sydney Road is definitely worth the time. Very cheap entertainment.
So there you have it. There are many options to stop and enjoy a township off the main freeway to and from Melbourne. Driving down will take more time than flying, but it is far more fun. You could also throw in the option of diverting through through Wagga Wagga, and heritage townships such as The Rock. But that’s another story.
See you out there sometime.