Road Trip AustraliaThis section will soon contain a number of suggested itineraries – mainly road trips I have done like…

Sydney to Brisbane

Melbourne to Adelaide

North Island New Zealand


For now though, here’s a sample – the Sydney to Melbourne road trip I did in December 2010… and June 2013 saw us head up the Hume from Melbourne…

Sydney to Melbourne (or vice-versa!)

Sydney Opera House Panorama

This suggested itinerary is bookended by two diverse but equally wonderful Australian cities, Sydney and Melbourne.

Australian bitumen roadYou can travel across a lot of bitumen quickly in NSW and Victoria but both states offer a lot to see and do. Every town has history, sights, amenities and local ‘characters’ (and maybe ghosts!). The tip is to take the time to stop and discover, rather than treating places like fuel and snack stops.

You can get from Sydney to Melbourne, driving, in 12 hours but it can be far more rewarding to take two or three or more days.

One of the prettiest regions heading south from Sydney is the Southern Highlands. About an hour’s drive from Sydney, you can leave the highway and take the scenic drive through the area.

Hunters & Collectors Antiques MittagongMittagong is the gateway and has an excellent Tourist Information Centre on the Sydney side of town. It also has some good eateries and interesting shop front architecture.

On a recent trip I stopped for a burger with beetroot from the Swordfish Takeaway and that led me to the nearby antique shop, ‘Hunters & Collectors’.

It had an amazingly eclectic array of items (including large animal taxidermy) and I had a lovely chat with owner Kathy Kasz – here is a link.

Before leaving Mittagong I went to the park in the main street for a ‘refreshment stop’ and found a beautiful, large, old rose bush, full of big, sweet-smelling blooms. See, you can literally take time to sniff the roses!

Nearby Wombeyan Caves is one of the most extensive and complex cave systems in Australia. Both Mittagong and Bowral have many private gardens that open to the public in September and October.

Tulips in Corbett Gardens BowralBowral has historic streetscapes and lovely gardens. The gardens are very traditional and ‘English’. The Corbett Gardens and the gardens of the Grand Mecure Hotel are a sea of colour at Tulip time (spring). There’s also the excellent Don Bradman Museum. Yes, he was born in Cootamundra but the family moved when he was three, so it was a Southern Highlands water tank the Don took to with his cricket stump and golf ball to get his eye in.

Sutton Forrest and Moss Vale are particularly pretty towns, and the area has a very English feel with green rolling hills.

Continuing south, there’s a McDonalds (and a roadside café) about halfway between Sydney and Canberra, on the expressway at Sutton Forest. Just before the Golden Arches you pass a turn off to the Belangelo Forest, the scene of the brutal backpacker murders.

Ivan MilatAt the time of writing, the perpetrator, Ivan Milat, was ensconced in Goulburn Gaol, going on hunger strikes and eating bits of metal in an effort to get a retrial to prove his innocence. It will never happen. Especially since his nephew recently murdered a young man with an axe in the same spot. Nice family.

For those who like art, craft and tearooms, Berrima is rewarding. It’s Australia’s best-preserved Georgian settlement (1830’s).

It also has an historic gaol, courthouse and one of Australia’s oldest pubs. A self-guided historical tour is available. If you’re into books, Berkelow’s Book Barn on the road into town is worth stopping for – there are some 200,000 second hand and rare books.

Big Potato Robertson NSWNearby Kangaroo Valley is full of natural beauty including the 80m high Fitzroy Falls. Robertson is another charming little town (the movie Babe was filmed there). There is a Big Potato in town as this is the centre of the state’s largest potato growing area. I think it is a potato. Check out Ranelagh House, an ‘English Manor’ designed in 1924. Last time I passed through I dropped into the Robertson pub to find a beer glass suspended over the bar by a bit of fishing line. Curiosity gets the better of most visitors who have to part with a gold coin to find out why it’s there. The money goes to local charity – and I’m not going to tell!

Bill HaleyI would probably give Marulan a miss – there are a couple of handicraft type places and a cafe but there’s no onward passage (meaning you have to double back) and that is irritating to me. I mention Marulan however because it is the only town in the world on the 150 degree meridian and if you need to know the time, there is a strange clock in the main street – a white, somewhat tacky clock (not unlike one you would see on a classroom wall), perched above an enormous limestone rock (the largest ever transported by road from a local quarry) – and, because of it, I had an earworm with Bill Haley singing “Rock Around the Clock” all the way to Yass!

Court House GoulburnGoulburn is a nice, large town with a bit of history. The court house is a good example of fine colonial architecture and I have had the pleasure of seeing it from the inside after being pulled over for speeding in the wee hours aged about 19. The fine was only $130 but back then that was more than two weeks wages!

If you had an extra couple of days, I would detour from Goulburn to the national capital, Canberra, but for this exercise, let’s continue down the Hume Highway. It is the same distance, but quicker, to skirt around Yass as go through the town – what’s a few minutes?!

I dropped in to the Visitor Information Centre in Yass and get into a good chinwag with Fiona and Sue, volunteers who love the region. Learnt lots, get lots of brochures and advice.

Hamilton hume Grave YassThe Hume Highway pretty much follows the route taken by pioneers Hume and Hovell and I’ve occasionally wondered whether Hovell was a shrinking violet or not that well liked.

Hume got his name on a highway and a lake, Hovell got a street in Albury, a street in Yass and a creek near Yass. Fiona reckons it was because Hume was the man with the bush survival skills, the Aboriginal languages and the motivation that wasn’t driven by self-importance – and that Hovell was inclined to twist facts to make himself look more important and integral to the expedition. Sue told me that they had a Hovell family reunion in Yass not that long ago and it was similar to Hyacinth Bucket insisting on her surname be pronounced ‘Bookay’ – The Hovells were not at all like ‘grovel’ but were ‘Hoh-vell’. You can drop in on Hamilton Hume in Yass Cemetery. I did – it’s just a few minutes out of town – he’s there with his wife Elizabeth.

Elvis the Goat, Rollonin BowningThe ladies suggested I take a 1km detour off the highway for a snack at the Rollonin Café in Bowning.

Another thanks for the advice moment. It is a lovely wattle and daub style hut with friendly staff that knocked up a terrific ham, cheese, beetroot and onion toastie with a hot chocolate.

Out back they even have a disabled bathroom and some friendly animals.

I wandered down the yard and Mac, the 8 year-old Clydesdale came over for a pat… and then a jealous goat called Elvis appeared and pushed Mac out of the way for a pat of his own. Isn’t he just cute enough to kiss?

On The Road To Gundagai (Sign)After Bowning you can bypass or pass through Bookham and Jugiong (you can see by the size of some of the huge boulders why bushrangers found it a good spot to hide and pounce) and on to my ‘home’ turf of Gundagai.

In italics below is a story I wrote about Gundagai a bit over a decade ago, the last time I visited before this recent trip. Have a skim through because there is an update following that needs a point of reference…

“There’s a track winding back…”

Railway Bridge GundagaiSo begins the song, The Road to Gundagai, and that’s where I grew up. Gundagai. I learnt to swim in the Murrumbidgee River, collected mushrooms in an old, tin billy, dangled a piece of cotton and rancid meat for yabbies, reeled in the occasional trout and shot and skinned rabbits. It’s what rural kids did in the 1960s. We rode pushbikes to school, ate hamburgers with beetroot, drank milkshakes from metal containers and gazed in wide-eyed wonder at airbrushed Man magazines that someone had knocked off from their father. On Saturday nights we’d go to the pictures, share an underage bottle of Brown Muscat and sober up over a Coke and a chat in the Niagara café before heading home around midnight to a house that was never locked. (The photo is the lovely old railway bridge)

I’m writing about Gundagai as an example of so many Australian country towns. If you want an inexpensive but rewarding holiday, you could pull out a map of Australia and whack a pin in it. (If you get the Simpson Desert, try again!)  There are literally hundreds of small rural towns offering excellent, well-priced accommodation and lots to do. Explore the town’s attractions, take time to meet the locals and go on day trips to other towns in the area.

Dog on Tuckerbox GundagaiHaving said that, I think Gundagai is the only town with a dog on a tuckerbox.

And, while it won’t be far to a McDonalds, there’s every chance you’ll find a Niagara, Boomerang or Liberty Café that serves burgers with egg, bacon and beetroot and a milkshake in a metal container or a Chinese restaurant where you’ll have to ask for chopsticks.

‘Where my Daddy and Mummy are waiting for me And the pals of my childhood once more I will see…’

My mother and father will always be waiting for me. In the cemetery. On the last family visit, in January 2002, the kids picked wildflowers for the graves and we wandered for a while, with me remembering the living faces of others buried there and the children picking up a bit of history.

I directed them to two graves, side by side. One belongs to Sergeant Parry, who was shot and killed by the bushranger Gilbert, the other to Senior Constable Webb-Bowen who was killed by Captain Moonlight.

We then walked up the dry, grassy slope to a grave in the shade of a tree belonging to Andrew George Scott – aka Captain Moonlight.

Rusconi's Marble Masterpiece GundagaiThere’s always history in any cemetery in any country town and attractions and things to do. Frank Rusconi sculptured the famous Dog on the Tuckerbox and the war memorial in the main street and cemetery headstones were his bread and butter, but his crowning glory is his Marble Masterpiece in town. It is in the Visitor Information Centre in front of the shire offices, next to Carberry Park. Worth a stop just for that… Frank died, aged 90, when I was ten – I have memories of him on his verandah – white hair, green apron and kind eyes.

There’s also an eclectic, badly organised but riveting museum (most towns have interesting and quirky museums) and there are rare, old and exceptional photographs in the Gabriel Gallery (above the hardware store). There’s the old gaol and courthouse that saw the beginning of the end for Moonlight.

Gundagai Cemetery Yarri MemorialThere is the railway station dating back to 1886 and heritage listed bridges from 1867 spanning the flat above where the original town was swept away in the flood of 1852. The death toll of 89 would have been far greater but for the bravery and stamina of local Aboriginal, Yarri, who tirelessly fought the raging current in his frail dugout canoe to save 49 lives. Sadly, Yarri was buried in an unmarked grave in the cemetery… pleasingly, that has now been rectified.

Also, like similar towns, there’s fishing, bushwalks, a swimming pool, tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course, a bowling club, services club, pubs and parks, including Heydon Park, named after my father. Oh, and as for pals of my childhood – a couple of them still breast the bar at Lott’s Family Hotel and, at the Chinese restaurant, we were served by a classmate from those mushroom and yabbie-filled days. Like much of the town, she, too, hadn’t changed a bit.

Niagara Cafe Opening 1938I mentioned the Niagara café. Vic and Jack Castrission owned the Niagara from the 30’s to the 80’s. In the early days it was hailed as “one of the finest cafes in the country” and, following the opening ceremony by the Hon W.F.M. Ross MLA in 1938, the brothers donated the day’s gross takings to the Gundagai Hospital. Vic is behind the counter in the photo from that year.

In 1942, just after midnight, Jack was locking up when there was a knock at the door. He opened it, prepared to tell an unwelcome visitor where to go, to discover Prime Minister John Curtin. Curtin tipped his hat and said he had a couple of mates in the car and they were all hungry and freezing. The ‘mates’ were future Country Party leader, Artie Fadden, and future Prime Minister, Ben Chifley. Vic cooked them steak and eggs and they ate around the warmth of the kitchen stove.

“How’s the war affecting you?” Curtin asked.

“Our ration of tea (28lbs a month) runs out real quick,” Vic replied.

For the rest of the war the Niagara received 100lbs of tea and the PM always dropped in for a cuppa when he was passing through. In those days there was a big difference between corruption and repaying a favour.

Niagara Cafe GundagaiThe last ‘family’ visit to Gundagai was on January 5, 2002. The Niagara hadn’t changed a bit. I remember the date because we were sitting in a booth, having a burger and a milkshake, when a Greek Orthodox priest in his robes emerged from the kitchen, splashing holy water about. It was the day before Epiphany. I got talking with the new owner, Nick – well, he was ‘new’ to me, even though he’d taken over from the Castrissions 19 years before. We chatted about Greece, about Gundagai and about racehorses. I asked about the Castrissions. He stroked his unshaven face, shook his head and told me that the remaining brother, Vic, had died at 10:00am that morning in the Gundagai hospital. I’m so glad we took time to stop.

On the recent 2010 trip, I was surprised to see a sign on the road to Gundagai advertising a Woolworths supermarket in Gundagai. Progress was indeed happening!! On the way into the town, I dropped in on Mum and Dad in the cemetery – had a few moments of reflection and then a stroll down to Captain Moonlite and on to some more recent graves.

Captain Moonlite Grave Gundagai CemeteryMany of the headstones belonged to folk I knew, who had passed away between visits – neighbours Peter and Val Young, who were parents of a childhood friend, Robert… Dave and Ivy Kilpatrick, Laura Morris who made it to 101 and Laura and Ivy’s sister, Edith, who died in 2009, aged 89. Edith was my Sunday School teacher.

A lot of memories and I decided to drop in to Sheriden Street (many of the town’s streets are named after poets) and take a photo of the house I grew up in. It was a weatherboard house with a front lawn and a back yard with a large chook yard down the back. Under the big loquat tree was the blood-stained chopping block. Everyone killed, plucked and ate their own poultry in those days, but only on special occasions – the rest of the year was about producing eggs. You never gave a chook a name, in case you had to kill it.

Gundagai TheatreWe lived directly opposite Carberry Park, which is just down the hill from the Gundagai Theatre. On one side, lived the Freestones. Ernie Freestone had a timber yard at the back of his house. On the other side lived the Marshalls – Margaret Marshall and her father, Charlie, who churned butter with the hand not stricken by polio. Next to the Marshalls were the Youngs, who now neighbours to my parents again. And next to them, the Glasscocks. It took me a while in primary school until I worked out why John Glasscock has the nickname ‘Brittledick’. Oh well…

So, imagine my surprise when I pulled up across the road from 278 Sheriden Street to see that they had bulldozed our old house, as well as the Freestones and the Marshalls. Bugger. The fresh food people had bulldozed my childhood. There was only one thing for it. Straight to a booth in the Niagara Café for a strawberry milkshake in a metal container. Thank God some things hadn’t changed!

Otway Submarine HolbrookSouth from Gundagai, you pass through Holbrook which, curiously, has a huge submarine sitting in a park in the main street. To come across a 90m sub in a country town is indeed unexpected. You could say, one of those WTF moments. You see, prior to World War One, Holbrook was known as Germanton – and as we were engaged in war against Germany, the town elders looked for a name change. In 1915, they decided to rename the town, Holbrook, after Victoria Cross winner Lt Norman Holbrook. When HMAS was decommissioned and scrapped, the town council acquired it. See, if you don’t take time to stop and find out why, some things might just haunt you for life! But why is the spot where the sub sits called ‘Germanton Park’?

There are two bakeries in Holbrook – according to Fiona and Sue in Yass, the one on the left (heading to Melbourne) sells Australia’s best meat pies.

Holbrook General Store 'Everything Sold Here'Across the road from there is a general store that advertises “Everything Sold Here”. I think, somehow, storekeeper Mr L. Grimwood, may be prone to exaggeration.

Albury is the next big town.

It is on the Murray River and the NSW/Vic border and is home to Lake Hume, a huge artificial lake. About 50,000 people live in Albury on the northern side of the river and nearly as many in Wodonga on the south side. Don’t follow the Murray’s example and pass through – stop a while and explore.

Jemma's Chicken with Rosemary and OrangeRydges Hotel in Albury is a good base and it is at the “Paris End of Dean Street” (the main street). It’s a comfy hotel with disabled rooms and good facilities. It has a pool, bar and excellent restaurant, Fresco’s.

Chef, Jemma, knocked up an amazing Rosemary and Citrus Chicken Breast. I usually look on salad as garnish but this salad continued to citrus theme with mandarin and spices and the plate post meal was what my mother referred to as a ‘sunbeam’ – one so clean it looked as though it didn’t need washing.  Here’s a photo – my forum MSer mates love a bit of food porn.

Beechworth Main StreetAt the foothills of the Alps, Beechworth has to be one of the prettiest and most interesting towns in Australia. It’s been wonderfully preserved and the National Trust has classified the whole town as historically important. During the gold rush there was a population of 42 000 and there were 61 hotels. Now there are around 3000 residents who, in their own way, have struck gold in having such a delightful place to live. Think honey-coloured granite, fine lacework, grand banks that are now restaurants, bakeries, boutiques and galleries. The special cemetery for Chinese goldminers is worth a visit and, under the Shire Offices, you can check out Ned Kelly’s cell. Beechworth honey is fabulous!

Rutherglen Main StreetEven non-wine drinkers will enjoy a sojourn to Rutherglen. The scenery and well-preserved 19th century buildings make it simply a lovely spot, and the wineries are inviting and rewarding. Some of the world’s best fortified wines come from here (tokays and muscats) and the reds are big with some little-known varieties (e.g. Blue Imperial, Durif). The town is just lovely – you can go down one way (say, via Corowa) and return up the Hume.

On this visit I dropped into the information centre (lovely looking café there as well) – they let you know which wineries are open on any given day. I headed out to Campbells – a family winery for five generations – sampled a terrific, crisp Riesling and a Trebbiano over a chat with Alan. He explained that all the winemakers get on well with each other and work together to push the region, not just their own brands.

All Saints Winery Tasting RoomTo combine a tipple with classic architecture, head to the castle-like All Saints. The original owners (1860s) were Scottish and would have been homesick without a castle! Because I was driving I couldn’t have a big tipple, but I enjoyed a glass of 2011 Riesling and a double cream brie with quince paste and crackers. Julia, Courtney and Farrah made me feel very welcome.

Found out which places in Rutherglen are the best for some indulging – for a divine lunch head to Jones Winery, for a drink to Tuilleries Wine Bar and for dinner, Terrace Restaurant. And, while they were charging my phone, I found out about the Chinese dormitory (just across the lawns). Apparently, in the 1880’s, good Australian labour was hard to find (they drank too much), so the winery recruited Chinese fruit pickers who had come for the gold rush but not made their fortune as planned. Obviously they weren’t afraid of hard work… less obviously, they had their own vices, and quickly planted poppies among the vines to get opium!

Farrah, by the way, commutes from the little town of Yackandandah. Yackandandah also began as a gold town but is now a quaint village with excellent trout fishing, horse riding and bushwalking. It’s a little less ‘touristy’ than Beechworth.

Let’s continue south on the Hume, where we pass through Ned Kelly country…

Ned KellyNow… will the real Ned Kelly please stand up? Is he Mick Jagger, John Jarrett or Heath Ledger? Was he a ruthless, murdering outlaw, an Aussie Robin Hood or just a naughty boy? The Kelly gang is as important in Australian folklore as Jack the Ripper is to Londoners, and the gunfight at the OK Corral to Americans. ‘As game as Ned Kelly’ is part of the language and on Remembrance Day (11 November), some people remember Ned’s last words, ’Such is life’, delivered from the gallows in Melbourne Gaol.

My view of Ned… if he was around today, he’d probably be a charismatic larrikin with a couple of petty busts to his name but, back then, he was a rebel with a cause.

His trademark armour helped the myth along, but there was a definite antagonism between authority and the Irish. Kelly’s sister, Kate was assaulted by a constable at the Kelly home in 1878. Beaten off by family members, the constable threatened them with charges of attempted murder. This forced Ned and Dan Kelly to flee and led to the fatal police attempt to arrest them at Stringybark Creek.

Big Ned Kelly GlenrowanAt Benalla, a barbershop where Kelly had once taken refuge from police, the old courthouse and the Costume and Pioneer Museum, tell the colourful, tragic Kelly gang story, as does the Ned Kelly Memorial Museum at the back of Kate’s Cottage in Glenrowan.

Personally, I find Glenrowan a bit disappointing. I’ve stopped there a few times now, and it just hits me as soulless. I know the descendents of the Kelly family have tried to put a stop to ‘glorifying’ Ned, but a tasteful recreation of the pub where the last stand took place would be a better attraction than shops flogging tea towels, coffee mugs and Ned Burgers. Apparently the State Government has allocated some funding. I hope so. Not to ‘glorify’ Ned, but to capture a time and place in history. There is still a lot of ‘Ned’ in the Australian character.

And then it is a short drive from Benalla to Seymour and on to Melbourne.

Melbourne Yarra River by Night Panorama