Stretching more than 800 kilometres, the Hume Highway is the fastest transport route between Sydney and Melbourne. With all town detours and bypasses completed in 2013, the route has an almost non-stop speed limit of 110km/h getting travellers between the two cities in roughly eight hours. But it seems the quicker it takes, the more reason there is to stop. Here are nine reasons to put your blinker on.
Clementine Restaurant, Yass
It's worth timing your drive for a stop-off at foodie newcomer Clementine (clementinerestaurant.com.au) in a 1950s weatherboard house-turned-whimsical restaurant. The deck overlooks the grassy front yard to the local church so you know you're in the country. Chef and owner Adam Bantock is enjoying a tree change, and the opening hours back this up. Catch brunch (including baked egg shakshouka with cumin and sourdough) from Friday to Sunday and dinner (think crisp pork belly with white beans and baby carrots) served Thursday to Saturday. Young ones can have poached egg and soldiers any time. For a sleepover, the nearby historic Globe Inn (theglobeinn.com.au) is a gorgeous two-storey guesthouse with a huge verandah and five queen rooms with ensuite.
Clementine restaurant in Yass.
Long Track Pantry, Jugiong
If you only pull over for one coffee, best make it here. The Long Track Pantry (longtrackpantry.com.au) in the Murrumbidgee riverside village of Jugiong, one minute off the highway, has evolved from a lunch stop serving cheesy bacon and egg pies, three-cheese tarts and corn and ginger fritters, into a cafe-cum-grocer-cum-boutique. There's local wine, pantry staples such as chutneys, oils and vinegars, plus gift-worthy kitchen and home wares with a distinctly country living feel (cushions, baskets, brooms). Cross the road to a small park and playground, and stay tuned for the spring 2016 opening of next door's The Sir George hotel (sirgeorge.com.au), which promises "unique dining and accommodation… with a boutique bar, restaurant and artisan bakery".
HMAS Otway Submarine, Holbrook
Tarcutta lies almost exactly between Sydney and Melbourne making the nearby teeny town of Holbrook a good place for a halfway break. It has a heritage main street with antique and bookshops, but most travellers let the dogs and kids loose in the shadow of an oversized submarine. It looks completely out of place in regional NSW, but that's part of the allure. The story behind it is captivating too – spend 10 minutes in the museum where there is a surprisingly informative hologram show telling the story of Captain Holbrook and his daring. There's a so-so cafe, picnic tables, barbecues and adjacent park with a playground and toilet.
HMAS Otway submarine. Photo: Paul Jeffers
Atura hotel, Albury
Central Albury's newly renovated Atura hotel (aturahotels.com/albury/) is easily the hippest accommodation on the highway. Originally opened by Gough Whitlam in 1979, the hotel has had many facelifts, but its latest reincarnation is surely its best. For starters, the rooms, with plush carpet, bathroom decals and designer cool chairs, are all the same king size. Guests looking for a premium stay can opt for "local experience" packages and luxury add-ons including "date night" at Atura's Roadhouse Bar & Grill in the open-plan lobby. (It has a pool table and ridiculously good espresso martinis). Stepping out, Boom Boom Wine Bar (boom-boom.com.au) is a little bit of Melbourne in the country.
Albury's Atura hotel. Photo: Mark Lane
Noreuil Park, Albury
If you have bikes strapped to the back of the car, pull up at this riverside precinct, no more than eight minutes off the highway. The 15-kilometre Wagirra Bike Trail wends through here along the Murray River, past mature eucalypts and wattle trees abundant with birdlife. A highlight of the trail is the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk, a moving natural world gallery of 11 contemporary Indigenous sculptures. Also at Noreuil, check out Oddies Creek playground (with modern equipment including a 30-metre-long flying fox) and River Deck Cafe (http://riverdeckcafe.com.au), which stands amid the plane trees overlooking a popular swimming spot.
Youngsters play in the Murray River, Noreuil Park, Albury. Photo: Rick Stevens
When state government funding for Murray Art Museum Albury (mamalbury.com.au) fell through, the local community and its philanthropists opted to pick up the multimillion-dollar shortfall so that this exceptional regional creative hub could go ahead. With a lobby that encourages pedestrians to shortcut from the main street through an exhibition space to the civic square, plus activities and exhibitions to suit all ages, it's a gallery for the people. Break the drive with a cultural look-see followed by lunch at adjoining Canvas (canvas-eatery.com.au), owned by an ex-Fitzroy restaurateur, who serves wild mushroom flatbreads, lamb meatballs and excellent macchiato, on an umbrella-clad deck.
The Murray Art Museum Albury (MAMA) is helping put Albury on the map.
Junction Square, Wodonga
The revamped heritage railway station precinct in Wodonga's town centre has given the Victorian border town a rebirth of cool. Part of a $2 million urban renewal project, the grand old station and surrounding carriage sheds provide a contemporary place for the city's latest food venues. David Kapay, formerly of Jamie Oliver's Fifteen in London, returned home to open modern European Miss Amelie, in June. Next door is The Goods Shed (thegoodsshedwodonga.com.au/), a casual bistro and "craft-beer cafe". Junction Square boasts grassy spaces, outdoor tables, market umbrellas and pop-up container shops Piccolo Pod coffee and Andiamo Street Food serving sliders, calzone and pizza.
King River Cafe, Oxley & Brown Brothers, Milawa
Oxley and Milawa are neighbouring towns about 10 minutes off the highway near Wangaratta. For such small places, they yield a bounty of gourmet food, wine and produce. The picks for lunch are King River Cafe (http://kingrivercafe.com.au/), a cosy place with tables in the garden, serving detour-worthy dishes including roesti cakes with sour cream and sweet chilli. In warmer months, Brown Brothers (brownbrothers.com.au) has beanbags and tables on the lawn, and a wine bar menu listing charcuterie and cheese boards. There is a playground, and cellar door here, too. Staying? Check into Lindenwarrah luxury hotel (www.www.lindenwarrahhotel-victoria.com ).
Fowles Winery, Avenel
Overlooking the Strathbogie Ranges, Fowles Winery (fowleswine.com) sits on the highway about 90 minutes from Melbourne, but the noise soon dissipates once you step inside the restaurant and its charming inner courtyard, where trees and tables surround a central fountain. It has an air of Tuscany about it and the menu follows suit. Dishes include Caprese salad with buffalo mozzarella and chicken liver pate, or go local with Avenel mushroom soup with truffle oil and a salad of local figs, prosciutto and goat's cheese. There is a small playground and a cellar. Fittingly, RACV members receive a 15 per cent discount so you can stick a box of that buttery chardonnay in your car boot.
See also: Australia's 10 most beautiful drives