Explore rural Australia with a Sydney to Melbourne inland drive.
Melbourne is only an hour and a half flight or a nine hour drive down the Hume Freeway from Sydney. The highway was once little more than an unformed track between the two cities. Drovers and bullocky’s made the often treacherous journey to carry supplies to the outlying areas.
Today the Hume Highway is a major freeway, connecting our two largest cities in a day’s drive. The nine hour drive takes you past grazing pastures, mountain ranges and quaint historic towns. The trip down the seemingly endless freeway can become somewhat boring. However with a little local knowledge, there are so many interesting things to see and do that you would otherwise miss. Take a detour into some of the towns along the way.
Explore the heritage towns along the way
Most of the small pioneering towns have been bypassed over the years. Many of them have developed unique tourist attractions to draw travellers off the highway. Whether you have a day or two, or planning a week long road trip, it is well worth taking the time to stop by.
We have lived in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and now live on the South Coast of NSW. Having travelled these routes so often we are very familiar with them.
We haven’t outlined a set itinerary, but rather list some of the places of interest along the Sydney to Melbourne route to help you to plan your own itinerary. Each of these attractions are only around an hour apart, so you could easily see them all in two days.
Bowral and the Southern Highlands
You could easily spend a few days exploring the Southern Highlands. Just an hour and a half’s drive from Sydney you will come to the turnoff for the towns of of Bowral, Moss Vale and Mittagong.
Before turning off at Picton, you cant miss Sydney Skydives, as the colourful parachutes float to the landing fields. If you are after a bit of adventure, why not take in a birds eye view of the region with a tandem jump?
During the autumn months, the towns put on a resplendent display of golden foilage. The area has long been an affluent “commuter area” from Sydney. Graceful old buildings line the leafy avenues. Cafes line the main street, where you can relax and enjoy the brisk highland air.
Bargain hunters will enjoy a forage in the many antique shops, second hand stalls and bookshops. If you are a wine enthusiast, you will find many cool climate wineries to explore in the region.
Our favourite time of year in Bowral is “Tulip Time”. Between September and November, many magnificent public and private gardens are open for exhibition. Corbett Gardens in Bowral is mass planted with over 75,000 tulips providing a spectacular, colourful display.
Morton National Park
If you have a few days to spare, the surrounding National Parks provide the opportunity to explore the region’s natural beauty.
Morton National Park and the Fitzroy Falls are a 20 minute drive from Bowral. Here you will find six kilometres of walking tracks and timber boardwalks. Wander through cool rainforest, listening to the sound of lyrebirds echoing through the native bushland. Enjoy the many lookouts with breathtaking views over the sandstone escarpment and cascading waterfalls into the rainforest valleys below.
Heading south , you will you will pass through the grazing pasturelands of the Southern Tablelands. You may have heard that Australia was “built on the sheep’s back” and this area certainly remains the heart of Australia’s merino wool industry today.
The Hume Highway today bypasses the many old pastoral towns, but you will still get a great glimpse of rural Australia. Deserted old farmhouses, windmills, and post and rail fences line the road. In spring you will certainly see newborn lambs frolicking in the paddocks.
Deserted farm builldings
Ten minutes south of Bowral is the historic 1830’s town of Berrima. Many of the colonial sandstone buildings are well preserved, including the old courthouse and gaol. Browse through many of the arts, crafts and antique stores. Maybe even pop in for refreshments or a meal at the Surveyor General Inn, Australia’s oldest continually licensed pub.
Make sure to look out for the iconic Aussie letterboxes along the road. Farmers recycle everything from tin cans to microwave ovens to place on a post at the end of their road for their mail deliveries.
If you are interested in learning a little more about the Merino wool industry, you can take a short detour at Goulburn to visit the Big Merino. The 15 metre high concrete ram, known as “Rambo” to the locals was built in 1985 as a monument to the region’s wool industry. “Rambo” soon became a major tourist attraction for the town.
However In 2007, the affects of the bypass began to hit. Rambo was moved adjacent to the highway service centre, just off the Hume Highway. The complex has a museum showcasing 200 years of the local wool industry and a gift shop. Visitors can climb to the top and look out across the surrounding area through the rams eyes.
It is worth taking the time to fuel up and grab some snacks at Goulburn, as it will be at least an hour until your next fuel stop.
Another hour down the highway brings you to the town which was made infamous in recent years by unfortunate fast food chain advertising advertising along the highway. The red and yellow M Yass sign went viral and remains an in joke today.
The 1837 pastoral town of Yass was once considered as the site of the Australian Capital Territory back in 1908. Many of the town’s original colonial buildings, with their wide verandahs and wooden posts can be seen along the main street today. The magnificent court house was built in 1880 and seems quite a large building for such a small rural town.
The historic St Augustine’s Catholic Chapel in Meehan Street was built in 1844, at a time when Melbourne was part of the Yass Parish. Incredible, yes. The parish priest used to make the journey on horseback. The bluestone Mercy Convent adjacent was built in 1875.
Just outside Yass you will find Cooma Cottage, home of the first Australian born explorer, Hamilton Hume. The original parts of the cottage date back to 1840.
Take a side trip
While you are in the area, it is well worth taking the half hour detour to explore Canberra, Australia’s capital for a day or so.
Canberra – Australian Capital Territory
At Yass, turn off onto the Barton Highway towards Canberra. Once home to some of the area’s largest merino sheep stations, the region now produces award winning cool climate wines. At Murrumbateman you have the opportunity to call in at some of the cellar doors to sample the local produce.
Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial are Canberra’s most well known attractions. However you could easily spend a week exploring Canberra.
Lake Burley Griffin is the centre piece of Canberra, where you will find most of the museums and art galleries. You can walk or cycle around the 40 kilometres of lakeside walkways, enjoy a paddle boat ride, or cruise around the lake.
In Autumn, the weather is crisp and the golden foilage in the parks and gardens put on a spectacular display. In spring the trees come out of hibernation, with white and pink buds sprouting everywhere. This is my favourite time to visit Canberra.
Canberra Parks and Gardens
Commonwealth Park is the perfect place to enjoy the lake foreshore and browse through the sculpture displays. In spring the park comes alive with “Floriade”, a spectacular garden exhibition. Literally thousands of colourful garden beds come alive in a vibrant display. There are also many horticultural displays and festivals held during October.
Bushwalking in Canberra
Bushwalkers have plenty of opportunity to explore Canberra’s natural bush setting and National Parks. Black Mountain, Mount Ainslie and Mount Stromlo all have many marked walking trails through the local bushland. These National Parks are a natural habitat for over 500 species of wildlife, so look out for the birds and native animals on your hike.
The most memorable experience of Canberra would have to be a sunrise hot air balloon ride over Lake Burley Griffin.
Heading an hour south of Yass, you come to a monument inspired by a popular Australian folk song.
The Dog on the Tuckerbox – Gundagai
“And the dog sat on the tuckerbox, nine miles from Gundagai”, according to the bush ballad.
Well, actually the tourist attraction at Snake Gully is actually a little over 4 miles or 7 kilometres from Gundagai.
Then Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons unveiled the bronze cast statue in 1932 as a tribute to the pioneers and “bullockys” who made the highway possible. During the pioneering days, the highway was little more than a treacherous bush track which would take nearly a week to negotiate.
The Dog on the Tuckerbox memorial was inspired by the folk song “Bullocky Bill”. The bush ballad tells the woes of a drover whose dog had sat on his lunch as the final misfortune of the day.
Today the the iconic fountain is a popular stop off between Sydney and Melbourne, with garden areas to stroll through. There is also a cafe and a gift shop where you can pick up a little “Australiana”. It was also the fitting place for four hungry dogs to stop for a drink and a bite to eat on our most recent trip to Melbourne.
One more hour south brings you to one of the quirkiest attractions on the highway.
HMAS Otway, Holbrook
The last thing you would expect to find in an inland Australian park is a submerged submarine. Which is why it is worth taking the detour into Holbrook. The monument was Holbrook council’s solution to the bypass problem to develop a local tourist attraction. The HMAS Otway, an 89 metre long Oberon class submarine was installed as a memorial to submariners.
Local resident, Leiutenant Norman Holbrook was a submariner and the first member of the Royal Australian Navy to receive the Victoria Cross during World War I. The town was subsequently renamed from Germanton in his honour.
When looking for a unique tourist attraction to draw travellers off the Hume Highway, the local community conceived the idea of establishing a Submariners Memorial. The RAN gifted the fin of the decommissioned HMAS Otway to the town of Holbrook during the 1990’s.
Subsequent community fundraising and a donation from the Holbrook family enabled the town to acquire the outer skin of the Otway. The submarine was installed in Germanton Park and the memorial was dedicated in 1997.
The complex also has a cafe, as well as a museum hosting photographs, artifacts and a mock interior to give visitors an idea of what life would have been like in a submarine.
Ettamogah Pub, Albury
Just another 40 kilometres down the road you will find a quirky pub inspired by a popular 1960’s Australian cartoon. Famous cartoonist, Ken Maynard regularly featured the fictitious “Ettamogah Pub” in his drawings.
The recreation of the cartoon pub was built in 1987 at Table Top, just outside of Albury. The aim was to provide a family friendly hotel road stop, which has become a local tourist attraction.
Lines from the famous cartoons are emblazoned on the sloping pub walls . A 1932 Chevrolet on the roof is a nod to a cartoon in the series. When a flood carried the car onto the roof, the owners couldn’t be bothered to get it down.
Today you can still stop and have a beer and counter meal at the recreated Ettamogah pub. The site also offers cheap campsites for highway travellers, with a Ken Maynard museum and gallery. You will need to watch out for the Table Top turnoff, as it isn’t well signposted.
When wanting to break the Sydney to Melbourne journey into two days, we usually choose to stay in Albury.
Twin towns of Albury-Wodonga on either bank of the Murray river mark the NSW-Victorian border. The towns were once a busy trade route for paddle steamers along the famous river. Today the river is a peaceful backdrop to the walking trails and reserves between the two towns. You can also take a cruise along the famous river.
Heading south into the Victorian high country, if you divert off the highway you will find yourself in bushranger territory. Australia’s most notorious bushranger, Ned Kelly to be specific.
Ned Kelly, Glenrowan
An hour south of Albury, the Victorian town of Glenrowan’s bid to attract tourists off the highway is as controversial as its subject was in real life.
Outside the post office you will find a six metre high statue of bushranger Ned Kelly. This was the site of the infamous Kelly gang’s final siege, when the gang emerged from the bush clad in home made armour. Terrified locals were kept hostage in the town inn for several hours during the seige. Three of the gang died in the shootout that followed. Kelly was captured and subsequently hung for the murder of 3 policeman in November 1880.
The statue has been as controversial as Ned Kelly himself. Some hail him as a battler who fought against convention. Others condemn him as a cold blooded murderer, who should not be immortalised. Love him or loath him, his place in our folk history is here to stay.
The statue successfully draws on the bush legend to entice travellers off the highway since it was unveiled in 1992. Nearby you will find a host of “Kelly themed” attractions, as well as a gift shop and “Kate’s Cottage”, a replica of the Kelly homestead
Take a side trip into the Victorian Alps
From nearby Wangaratta you have the opportunity to divert into the Alpine regions.
The Alpine Way will take you through the heritage town of Beechworth, with its beautiful treelined avenues to Bright and the Mount Buffalo National Park. Even during summer the mountain air is crisp, during autumn the golden foilage puts on a spectacular display. In the National Park you will find many easy hikes taking you past waterfalls, natural granite formations and spectacular views over the Victorian Alps.
Benalla ceramic mural
Just 15 minutes down the road, you come Benalla, yet another heritage town in “Kelly Country” However, Rather than attracting tourists with their “Kelly Gang” links, the Benalla community has chosen artwork as a tourist magnet.
While taking the “Pawesome Foursome” on a walk around the lake on the Broken River at Benalla we stumbled upon an intriguing terracotta sculpture.
The Benalla Ceramic Mural is perhaps one of the largest community artwork projects in Australia. Commenced in 1983, it has taken 27 years to complete with the work of visiting and local artists and input from local indigenous groups.
The ceramic and terracotta Gaudi-like structure provides hidden caves to explore, a small amphitheatre and a viewing platform over the arts precinct and gardens.
Less than two hours drive from Benalla brings you to the suburban outskirts of Melbourne and the end of your road trip. We hope we have inspired you to detour off the highway on your Sydney to Melbourne drive and discover some of the interesting heritage which is hidden in our many bypassed rural towns.
Driving In Australia:
Important things to know.
- We drive on the left hand side of the road in Australia
- Once outside the city areas, it will be at least 100 kilometres between towns. Make sure to keep your fuel tank half full.
- Petrol stations in smaller towns will not open late. Make sure you fill up late in the afternoon if driving at night.
- Avoid driving at dusk or sunset. These are the danger times for kangaroos and wombats to wander onto the roads,causing accidents.
- Always keep a bottle of water in the car with you in case you do get stranded on a hot day
- Eftpos is universally accepted, however some smaller stores will have an AUD 10 purchase limit. It is a good idea to carry a small amount of cash for smaller purchases.
- Book your accommodation at least a day ahead. Smaller motel receptions may not be open after around 7pm.
- Avoid approaching any native wildlife you may come across. They may look cute, but can become aggressive if they feel threatened.