THE BACK WAY to Melbourne from North East Victoria and the Southern Riverina
From here to there 'the back way'
IF you have time up your sleeve with no rush to drive from Albury-Wodonga to Melbourne, there is an alternate, less-travelled, route rather than the boring – and busy – Hume Freeway.
We - and most everyone else - call it ‘the back way’, which adds about an hour to the trip but, once free of the freeway, takes you on a less congested, more scenic drive that passes through villages and towns, skirts snow-clad mountain ranges, takes you through stunning national parks, and enters the southern city’s eastern outskirts via the picturesque Yarra Valley.
Albury-Wodonga to the Midland Highway off ramp at Benalla does entail a 125-kilometre run along the Hume Freeway, but with the freeway now in the rear view mirror, ‘the back way’ takes on a different persona.
It may only be 63 kilometres in length, but that section of the Midland Highway between Benalla and Mansfield passes through scenic countryside, with the majestic Strathbogie Ranges forming the western boundary and the Mount Samaria State Park the eastern boundary.
For most of its length the highway follows the course of the Broken River which starts high up in the Alpine National Park below Mount Buller.
The highway, signed B300 between Benalla to just south of Barjarg, turns to route C518 from there to Mansfield.
It is still called the Midland Highway and is not to be confused with the Midland Link Highway which connects the Midland Highway south of Barjarg with the Maroondah Highway at Maindample.
(Yep, it’s confusing!)
Towns and villages along the way include Swanpool, Lima East, Lima South, and Barjarg, the latter once the home of a motor racing circuit which eventually evolved into Winton Motor Raceway.
The Midland Link Highway connects Barjarg and Maindample, on the Maroondah Highway which, you guessed it, is posted B300!
The Maroondah Highway follows the former Tallarook to Mansfield railway line and passes through the Lake Eildon town of Bonnie Doon, made famous as the holiday destination for the Kerrigan family of The Castle movie fame.
It travels through Merton and Yark, but at Cathkin the road then becomes the Goulburn Valley Highway which takes you through Molesworth to the bustling township of Yea.
At Yea, B300 now becomes the Melba Highway (are you still with us?), passing through Glenburn, Kinglake National Park, and Dixons Creek (the start of the picturesque Yarra Valley and its many vineyards), with the township of Yarra Glen now bypassed but worth a visit.
The next town is Coldstream, home to Coombe Yarra Valley, a chic winery and restaurant with garden backdrops in the former home of opera singer Dame Nellie Melba (hence Melba Highway).
A few kilometres away is Lilydale which sits on the outer eastern fringe of the city of Melbourne.
A word of advice when travelling to Melbourne ‘the back way’.
Follow the Melbourne signage rather than route numbers and you cannot go wrong!
Do bear in mind that the section of highway between Lilydale and Yea, and Yea and Mansfield, does get busy during the snow season with visitors travelling to the ski resort of Mount Buller.
Another alternative to getting to Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs without having to venture into the city itself, is to drive along the Hume Freeway to Seymour, then follow the Goulburn Valley Highway to Yea.
Yet another option is Yark to Lilydale, via B360 to Alexandra, Archeron, Taggerty, Buxton and Narbethong, then via the spectacular Black Spur Drive (still B360) to Healesville, then on to Lilydale.
No matter which route you choose, the scenery is spectacular, history abounds in the many villages and towns (don't forget to check out the Cheviot rail tunnel just east of Yea), while the town of Mansfield, gateway to the ski resort of Mount Buller, is worth deviating to.
There are many stops along the way to eat, so you will not go hungry, then there are all those cellar doors at the many vineyards in the Yarra Valley.
This is one 'back way' you will never forget! - Picture: Black Spur Drive, Robert Blackburn