road trip : sydney to melbourne

The week before Christmas we drove from Sydney to Melbourne via the Hume Highway. We wanted to take it slow, as always, because our journey is mostly dictated by Marigold who tends to scream at the highest pitch (and for the longest time) if she’s well and truly over the drive.

So we mapped out a rough itinerary, hit the road and stopped in Goulburn on our first night. It had been a long, hot day and we spent the hottest part of it parked under a tree at a rest stop because that’s the beauty of towing your home with you; you can pull over and have a nap at any time.

The next morning we were on the road by 6:45am which, we soon discovered, is the very best way to travel with kids. Our first stop was the little town of Jugiong which completely lived up to its fabulous reputation.

We pulled into the Jugiong War Memorial Park and Showground which is perfectly located on the river, next to the public pool and right across the road from The Sir George and Long Track Pantry. You can stay here for up to 7 days for a donation which makes it one of the best free camps we’ve come across. The amenities are really well looked after, the grounds are beautiful and there’s an abundance of trees so you can while away hot summer afternoons in the shade.

From there we headed to Gundagai because, yes, we wanted to see the Dog on the Tuckerbox and we’d also heard wonderful things about Gundagai River Caravan Park located on the banks of the Murumbidgee River. It really was a beautiful spot with views of the old railway bridge, an abundance of big trees and the river mere metres from the van. All the sites were grassy which was a welcome change from the dirt patches we’ve seen at a lot of places on our travels. Gundagai has quite a few options for free camping, too.

After one night (lots of washing, a grocery shop and many hours spent watching the river), we headed off early the next morning for Victoria and stopped for morning tea at Holbrook Submarine Museum where there was plenty of space to park the van, clean amenities and a children’s park. Further down the road is the Woolpack Inn Museum and is regarded as one of the best rural museums in NSW.

From there we headed to Wangaratta for the night and while the cost of a powered site at Painters Island Caravan Park was on the expensive side, it was absolutely immaculate with fantastic facilities and beautiful, lush grounds. You can easily walk into town from the park and if you fancy a quiet afternoon in air-conditioning, head straight to the Wangaratta Library. It’s on the other side of town and is one of the most beautiful libraries we’ve come across in our travels. They had a whole room dedicated to children’s books and toys so we ended up staying for the whole afternoon. Libraries are so valuable when you’re travelling with kids and I find that librarians are always so interested in our travels and willing to offer us colouring sheets, local information and, in Wangaratta, a roll of compostable bin liners provided by the local council (I was probably a little too enthusiastic when I was given them).

We had a few days left before we needed to be in Melbourne so I asked the lovely Emma of She Sows Seeds for some recommendations. Not surprisingly she came up with the goods. She suggested we turn off the Hume Highway at Benalla and drive the Mount Buller Road past Lake Nillahcootie and over the Eildon Bridge at Bonnie Doon (yes, we laughed!). The landscape was stunning and the sky so big and blue! We stopped at the little town of Yarck for morning tea where we parked the van at the oval, about 200m from the main road. There’s amenities, a children’s park and BBQ facilities and apparently you can camp there for two nights maximum (although Wikicamps has conflicting advice about this).

We had coffee at the General Store and sat under the big tree in the courtyard while the kids chatted to the four funny sheep in the bordering paddock. A few doors down we went to peruse Books at Yarck – a delightful second-hand bookstore located in the front of an old cottage (complete with fireplace, leather lounge and rambling cottage garden). And while we only noticed it on our drive out of town, Dindi Naturals have their retail store on the main street. If you’ve never tried their olive oil soaps I highly recommend them, especially the Hemp Bag of Soap pieces (it’s my favourite gift when I’m not sure what to buy someone).

Twenty minutes down the road is Yea (rhymes with hay) and we came across Yea Riverside Caravan Park – the perfect spot for a few restful nights. We were welcomed so warmly by the owners which made such a difference to our stay. The location is quiet and peaceful, there’s a park and jumping pillow for the kids and it’s an easy walk into the little town. I did a spot of Christmas shopping at a little boutique called Nice (25 High St), we had the most lovely morning tea at Marmalades (20 High St) which is worth the visit for the aesthetics alone and Daniel gave the Grand Central Hotel the award for best pub on our travels so far. If we were child-free we would have had dinner at the Peppercorn Hotel which had an abundance of vintage armchairs dotted about inside a charming old building.

We’re so glad we’re making a point of stopping in on country towns; they have so much to offer young, travelling families and really do sell the slow, simple life quite well.

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