The Melbourne-Sydney flight path is one of the country's busiest travel routes. The Hume Highway, its terra firma equivalent, is one of the country's most boring. Or so people keep saying. But with flight restrictions still in place and interstate road travel looking like an increasingly good option, the 800 kilometre stretch of bitumen might well be the answer to itchy feet. With an almost non-stop speed limit of 110km/h, it takes roughly eight hours to drive between the two capitals, but travellers with time on their hands will do well to put the brakes on. Heading north to south, here are five places worthy of a pit stop or an overnighter.
THE SIR GEORGE, JUGIONG
The lovely little Murrumbidgee riverside town of Jugiong is nicely timed out of Sydney for a morning coffee, breakfast or a sun-drenched lunch. On the main street, The Sir George hotel (sirgeorge.com.au) is a heritage pub that has been renovated to perfection, with wood floors, cosy fires, a rambunctious dining room and a courtyard sporting vegetable plots, wisteria arbours and a kid's cubby. Settle in for a gourmet pub grub menu of pulled pork burgers and beer battered hoki and chips or hit the bakery counter for sourdough doughnuts and lamb pies. Stylish accommodation in the property's old stone stables and sleek new black barns opened last year. Next door, The Long Track Pantry (longtrackpantry.com.au) has shared tables along a vine-shaded verandah, the perfect place to imbibe barista coffee and oversized cookies or dine on smoked salmon and rocket toasties and three-cheese tarts. Inside, pick up trout pate and local wines for the hamper and pantry staples including house-made chutneys and jams.
KIMO ESTATE, GUNDAGAI
Kimo Hut on Kimo Estate, Gundagai. Photo: Hilary Bradford
One of the most underwhelming stops on the Hume Highway "five miles from Gundagai" is the Dog on the Tuckerbox. The legendary poem about a loyal dog is stultified somewhat by the lack-lustre copper statue sitting next to a servo, but it nevertheless attracts passersby. Far more exciting is Kimo Estate (kimoestate.com). The 2800-hectare sheep and cattle farm, one of the oldest properties in this region with a history of squatters, settlers and explorers, has now turned its hand to accommodation. The property sleeps up to 32 guests in an assortment of farm digs including two beautifully restored worker cottages, a corrugate iron shearers' quarters, and a couple of rustic old barns. New to the fold are three architecturally designed pitched-roof hilltop eco-huts, which are off-grid but luxurious with mid-century chairs, lovely linen and cable-knit throws. The highest of the huts, Sweeneys, has a wood-fired hot tub where couples can delight in views over Murrumbidgee River country.
THE TEN MILE, HOLBROOK
Holbrook was one of the last of the towns along the highway to be bypassed, and it's worth taking the small detour to stretch your legs along the heritage main street. Walk past old wide-balconied pubs, red brick Victorian buildings, curio shops and museums and don't miss The Ten Mile café (thetenmile.com.au), the town's long-awaited answer to decent coffee and food. Two adjoining shopfronts – the century-old local garage and mechanic workshop, have been given a warehouse makeover with white paint, red brick feature walls and pitched corrugate ceilings with exposed beams. Sit around antique farmhouse kitchen tables to sample the likes of pulled pork tacos, corned beef toasties, and ham-heavy ploughman's lunches. Soak up the country air supping on tea and carrot cake or brownies in the rear courtyard. Diagonally opposite the café, the HMAS Otway Submarine, is a startlingly large and obscurely located submarine, set in the middle of a park. There's a small and intriguing museum explaining how it ended up here, plus picnic tables, barbeques and a public toilet. It's a great place to give the dogs – and the kids – a run around.
CIRCA 1928, ALBURY
A room at Circa 1928, Albury. Photo: Supplied
Book well ahead if luxury spa accommodation is on your itinerary. Albury's only five-star accommodation, Circa 1928 (circahotels.com), is a brilliantly boutique hotel which opened in the former Commonwealth Bank building in the heart of town last year. The hotel features just two suites (and five spa treatment rooms) that are themed around two artists – Pro Hart and Andy Warhol, both born in in 1928, the same year the colonnaded Art Deco building was opened. The suites have all the niceties - king beds, copper claw-foot tubs, luxe linen, fluffy dressing gowns and local wine. There's a small design shop downstairs and the Indigenous art work on display is worth a stop in its own right. Expanding on this theme, at Noreuil on the Murray River, take a walk along Wagirra Bike Trail, where you'll find 11 contemporary Indigenous works that make up the marvellous Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk. The nearby River Deck Cafe (riverdeckcafe.com.au), amid the plane trees on a bend in the river, is another top spot.
FOWLES WINERY RESTAURANT, AVENEL
View over the vineyard at Fowles Winery. Photo: Supplied
On long weekends and busy traffic periods, only the fortunate few scored a seat at Fowles Winery restaurant (fowleswine.com), on the highway about 90 minutes north of Melbourne. That changed last year when the Fowles family renovated and expanded their restaurant and adjoining cellar door and produce store. Now diners can sit in a modern space with timber tables and chairs overlooking the rolling Strathbogie Ranges. Dishes have an Italian influence. Try cheese plates with quince paste, antipasti platters with pickles, salami and arancini balls and local dishes including Avenel mushroom soup with truffle oil and a salad of local figs, prosciutto and goat's cheese. There is a charming inner courtyard for outdoor dining, with a small playground.