GREAT SUNDAY DRIVES AROUND NORTH-EAST VICTORIA AND THE SOUTHERN RIVERINA
'Old 31' an historic alternative
These road trips, covering ground from Mansfield to Wagga, and Euroa to Gundagai, let you explore North East Victoria and the Southern Riverina region of New South Wales at your own pace.
For travel advice, more detailed maps, and suggestions on what to see and do along the route, we suggest you visit a local Visitor Information Centre where the friendly staff will offer recommendations and directions.
* Note: We have not included actual distance or duration as we believe you will want to deviate along the way
M31, or that part of the Hume Freeway/Hume Highway which passes through North-East Victoria and the Southern Riverina region of New South Wales, is not an interesting drive – it is a freeway after all and not a tourist drive – as its main purpose is as the main inland corridor connecting Sydney and Melbourne.
And it is busy.
Real busy in fact, as it is a vital link for road freight transporting goods to and from these two state capitals, as well as serving the major cities of Albury-Wodonga, Benalla, Wangaratta, and Goulburn, and all the towns and villages along its entire length.
But it need not be busy for the tourist thanks to much of the old Hume Highway, especially in Victoria, still being intact and easily accessible.
It offers an excuse for getting off the freeway and exploring the little towns, villages and now cities which were once upon a time the lifeblood of those travelling the Old Hume Highway.
For the 340 kilometre length between the township of Euroa to the south west, and the township of Gundagai to the north east, M31 only ‘passes’ through the border twin cities of Albury-Wodonga, and even that is via an internal ‘boulevard’ which splits Albury central from East Albury.
It runs just to the north of Wodonga.
This section of the freeway was completed in 2007, while the bypass of Woomargama was completed in 2011 and Holbrook in 2013, meaning the freeway/highway is now not interrupted for its entire length between Sydney and Melbourne.
And why is it both a freeway and a highway?
The New South Wales roads people still refer to it as a highway, while their counterparts in Victoria prefer to call it a freeway.
In its heyday the section of the old highway we are referring to, passed through Gundagai, Tarcutta, Kyeamba, Little Billabong, Holbrook, Woomargama, Mullengandra, and Bowna before zigzagging its way through the streets of Albury.
It crossed the Murray River a few metres upstream of today’s Union Bridge, crossed the floodplain with its dozens of creeks and streams, and passed down the main street of Wodonga.
It wended through the Victorian towns of Barnawartha, Chiltern (Conness Street, part of the Old Hume Highway, pictured) Springhurst, and Bowser, crossing the main Melbourne-Sydney railway line backward and forth on its journey.
The main street of Wangaratta also bore the brunt of highway traffic.
The Kelly Gang siege town of Glenrowan was always a popular stop-over for travellers owing to the history of the area, while Winton was another whistle-stop village on the highway before it entered Benalla, another town, like Wangaratta, which is now a city that has reinvented itself.
Baddaginnie and Violet Town have also been bypassed, as has Euroa, which sits on the south-western edge of North-East Victoria, was a popular stopping place owing to its being half way between Melbourne and Albury-Wodonga.
The freeway has not only bypassed these towns in our region, but also historic towns such as Seymour, Tallarook, Broadford, Kilmore, Wallan and Beveridge in Victoria, and Jugiong, Bookham, Bowning, Yass, Goulburn, Marulan, Berrima, Mittagong, and Picton in New South Wales.
Making a stop at an Old Hume Highway town is being promoted as a way of combating driver fatigue and for those that do pull in for a cuppa and something to eat, they will not be disappointed, no matter how small the town.
Each has its own story and, in most cases, bypassing them has helped their economy rather than see them die completely.
And the route is littered with history.
Benalla and Wangaratta are bustling rural cities, Holbrook is just as busy as it was thanks mainly to its large service centre and unusual submarine displays, while Tarcutta is home to the Australian Truck Drivers’ Memorial which stands in memory of those truckies who have died in road accidents.
Gundagai is famous for its Dog on the Tuckerbox, while Chiltern, the home of former Australian Prime Minister, Sir John McEwen, retains its gold rush era charm thanks to carefully preserved streetscapes with historic brick buildings.
Villages such as Barnawartha, Mullengandra and Woomargama are also riding on the back of the freeway bypass, especially with those looking to escape to the country yet still be within easy reach of major centres – courtesy of … the freeway!
And then there are those major centres – Benalla, Wangaratta and arguably Australia’s greatest inland city – Albury-Wodonga.
These centres are great tourist destinations as they offer the tourist a starting and finishing point to the many attractions the region has to offer.
Albury-Wodonga is the hub of the region, with major roads and highways branching out in all directions yet allowing you to return by another route.
By driving the Holbrook to Euroa section, you will be following in the footsteps of Herbert Thompson and Edward Holmes who, in 1900, passed through the region on their way from Bathurst to Melbourne in what was the first long distance motor car trip in Australia.
Most remarkable was that the ‘car’ the duo drove was a steam-driven phaeton built by inventor Thompson in his Melbourne workshop in the suburb of Malvern.
After completing trials in and around the southern city, he and his cousin Holmes shipped the vehicle to Sydney for the Royal Easter Show.
So popular was the ‘new-fangled’ motor car, that they were persuaded to drive it to Bathurst for its agricultural show.
From Bathurst they followed coach tracks to Blayney, Cowra, Cootamundra, Junee, and Wagga, before turning south towards Holbrook.
Their story, which was diarised by Holmes, is available to read on this website by scrolling to the bottom of the homepage and clicking onto one of, or all three, free to read books.
The towns and villages they passed through (Locksley was previously known as Burnt Creek) remain to this day.