HIGHWAY DRIVES AROUND NORTH-EAST VICTORIA AND THE SOUTHERN RIVERINA
Highways the region's lifeblood
HUME Highway/Hume Freeway (M31) aside, six major highways, plus part of the Old Hume Highway, also play a major role in transporting goods and people across the region.
PREVIOUSLY known as the Olympic Way, the Olympic Highway connects two of Australia’s largest inland cities, Albury-Wodonga, and Wagga.
The distance between these two major centres is 128 kilometres, with the stretch from Albury-Wodonga to just north of Table Top being traversed via the Hume Freeway.
The highway was named the Olympic Way in 1956 as it was the path the Olympic torch took on its journey to Melbourne that year.
Before that it was a series of interconnecting rural roads and recently the name was converted from Olympic Way to Olympic Highway.
From the Hume Freeway-Olympic Highway interchange north-east of Albury, the highway follows the main Sydney-Melbourne railway line (almost) to Wagga.
It is sealed its entire length and despite being only two lanes, it is relatively wide.
On its journey north it passes through the village of Gerogery, the township of Culcairn, home of triple Olympic equestrian gold medallist Andrew Hoy, and Henty, home of the inventor of the header harvester Headlie Taylor, and home of the Henty Machinery Field Days, one of the country’s largest annual outdoor agribusiness supermarkets.
Yerong Creek, which boasts a winery and large grain silos, is another town that sprang up with the arrival of the railway, as did The Rock, which is named after a massive rocky outcrop that looms large behind the town.
Further towards Wagga is another railway town – Uranquinty – a village chosen in 1940 as the base for No 5 Service Flying Training School RAAF.
The base closed in September 1946.
Following the end of the Second World War, the Uranquinty Migrant Centre was established because of the Displaced Persons Immigration Scheme.
It closed in 1959.
Wagga is a further 16 kilometres north of Uranquinty.
Take extreme care at the junction of the Olympic Highway and the Sturt Highway as the Sturt Highway is a major route for transports travelling from Sydney to Adelaide.
Culcairn and Henty are the two largest towns on the highway.
Culcairn, which is known as the ‘Oasis of the Riverina’, is the major service and education centre for the surrounding district and is home to many families who enjoy a relaxed country lifestyle.
The town is conveniently situated in the growth corridor between Albury-Wodonga and Wagga Wagga, with easy access to the Olympic and Hume Highways, and the main Southern Rail Line which passes through the centre of town.
The XPT inter-city passenger train stops at Culcairn Railway Station.
The heritage-listed station was opened in 1880 and in 1892 it became a junction station with the opening of the now-disused Corowa line.
The station master’s residence built in 1883, which is located opposite the station, has been restored by the Culcairn Museum Committee.
The bustling town boasts a shopping centre, a grand hotel, a new car dealership, a primary and a high school, and a comprehensive range of recreation facilities with football, tennis and netball courts, public swimming pool, golf course, lawn bowls and cricket facilities, as well as a licensed club and picturesque parks and gardens.
Built in 1891, the majestic Culcairn Hotel was once the largest hotel between Melbourne and Sydney and most of its period features remain intact, including many beautiful stained glass windows.
The smaller town of Henty, 18-kilometres north of Culcairn, sees its population swell by tens of thousands each September when it hosts the Henty Machinery Field Days, regarded as Southern Australia’s single biggest agricultural event, showcasing the latest in machinery and farm equipment.
The town is notable for several reasons.
In 1914, a local farmer, Headlie Taylor, invented the header harvester which completely revolutionised the grain industry around the world.
As you drive on the Olympic Highway you will see his statue, header, and workshop in the Bi-Centennial Park.
You turn off the Olympic Highway and cross the main Southern Railway Line to explore this delightful town.
There are several shops in the town, and several services are available.
Both towns, and some of the others along the way, offer accommodation, fuel, and meals.
To the east of the highway at Gerogery is the landmark Table Top Range with its three table-like ‘peaks’.
The railway town of The Rock gets its name from the huge craggy outcrop that stands sentinel above the surrounding, flat, Southern Riverina plains.
From some angles it appears as a lion’s head.
Townsfolk claim that if you stand on the summit of The Rock, which rises 364 metres above the surrounding plains, you will - in theory - have an uninterrupted view all the way to the coast of Western Australia.
For those travelling to Sydney from the border region or from Victoria, the Olympic Highway is a scenic alternative to the busy Hume Highway.
KIEWA VALLEY HIGHWAY
THE Kiewa Valley Highway, which connects Albury-Wodonga to the picturesque sub-Alpine township of Mount Beauty which sits in the shadow of Victoria’s highest peak, Mount Bogong, is located adjacent to much of the course of the Kiewa River, along whose banks are many dairy farms which are the lifeblood of the valley.
The picturesque valley is popular year round with tourists, whether they be headed for the snowfields or to Mount Beauty, a popular town noted for its cafes, bakery and caravan park, the latter situated on the banks of the South Kiewa River.
From Mount Beauty you can head to Bogong Village (closed) and the Clover Dam that holds back the waters of Lake Guy, and other dams associated with the Kiewa Hydroelectric Scheme which traps waters flowing from the Bogong High Plains.
The McKay Creek and West Kiewa power stations are the major generating elements of the scheme which provides peak load to the Victorian electricity grid.
Tawonga Huts, a series of huts and ruins, are located on the lower reaches of the West Kiewa River and are accessible by experienced hikers.
The Bogong High Plains are a popular area for cross-country skiing through winter to the early spring months. Mount Beauty is popular with mountain bikers.
From Tawonga South you can drive up the Tawonga Gap to a lookout which gives uninterrupted views of the valley and Mount Bogong.
The road also leads to Bright on the Great Alpine Road.
At Kiewa you can cut across to the Murray Valley Highway to the next valley, the Mitta Valley.
IF flat open spaces are your driving preference, then the Riverina Highway between Albury and Berrigan is the perfect drive.
State route B58 between the Murray River city and the small Riverina township, traverses 123 kilometres of virtual flat plain which stretches north from the Murray River to the Murrumbidgee River.
The two-lane highway continues to Deniliquin, home of the famous Deni Ute Muster.
The area between Deniliquin and Berrigan is known as the Berriquin Irrigation Area and the highway crosses several irrigation channels.
The only climb of any significance on the highway is just out of Albury at Splitters Creek.
From there it is flat running all the way, making this particular route easy for those towing larger caravans.
From Albury the highway passes through the township of Howlong which sits on the northern side of the Murray River.
This bustling town has become a satellite of Albury-Wodonga owing to its proximity.
The highway then continues to just east of Corowa, another river town, where it crosses the disused Culcairn to Corowa railway line.
It turns north towards Lowesdale, passing through the farming community of Buraja.
A left hand turn and you are heading straight to Berrigan, but not before passing through the village of Savernake, the centre of an agricultural area that includes sheep, beef cattle, dryland cropping, olives, and pig production.
Berrigan dates to the late 1800s and because of its proximity to the border of Victoria, the town was one of the pioneers in the push for an Australian Federation.
Talks on Federation were held in nearby Corowa.
Berrigan thrives on the farming income generated in the district and the main shopping centre bustles during business hours.
It is also the birthplace of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.
Over a century ago the residents of the town and surrounding areas banded together as firefighters to protect their community against the ever-present threat of bushfires.
They were Australia’s first official bush fire brigade.
Towns within an easy drive of Berrigan are Jerilderie, Finley, and Tocumwal.
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 river wends its way towards Benalla then on to Shepparton before it spills into the Goulburn River.
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.
Barjarg is located on the south western edge of Lake Nillahcootie, a storage built in 1967 to harness the flow of the Broken River to meet irrigation, domestic and stock and urban water supply requirements.
The main spillway features a unique Gothic arch-shaped crest that allows the discharge of 117,000 Ml/d – equivalent to the volume of an Olympic-size swimming pool passing over the spillway every two seconds.
A second spillway can be operated during severe flooding.
The lake is popular for fishing, swimming, and boating and there are excellent picnic facilities and a toilet block. Camping is not permitted.
Once a small town heavily dependent on farming and logging, Mansfield has reinvented itself and is now a popular tourist destination thanks to its close proximity to Lake Nillahcootie, Lake Eildon, the major ski resort of Mount Buller, Mount Stirling and Craig’s Hut, the latter made famous in the film The Man from Snowy River.
The town also includes a memorial to those police slain by the Kelly Gang at Stringybark Creek.
The gang was known to hang out in the Strathbogie Ranges.
Lima East and Lima South are farming communities.
Closer to Benalla is the village of Swanpool which boasts a public hall/cinema, a general store and a sporting complex, while the Rural City of Benalla, which sits on the junction of the Midland Highway/Hume Freeway, is the major retail, professional and industrial centre for the surrounding area.
The Midland Highway is a two-way road, but it is wide, and most of its length is flat.
The highway (A300, B300, C518) in its entirety begins in Geelong, travelling in a large arc through country Victoria, passing through Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton, and Benalla, then south to Mansfield.
The total length of the highway is 452 km.
The Benalla-Mansfield (or vice versa) section is 63-kilometres in length, with a travel time of about 45-minutes.
But Lake Nillahcootie is worth stopping at, while both Benalla and Mansfield are bustling towns boasting excellent shopping, accommodation, eateries, museums, and craft shops, as well as oozing history, Mansfield’s dating back to 1840, Benalla’s the late 1830s.
DESPITE being gazetted a highway in 1925 and previously known as Omeo Road, the name highway is a misnomer as the road from Mitta Mitta to Omeo is nothing more than a narrow, windy, hilly two-way road that, up until 2014, was not fully sealed.
Yet it has a certain charm about it.
The final leg of a 28 kilometre section which was started in 2010, was finally completed, giving drivers and riders a sealed road for the ‘highway’s’ entire 157 kilometre length which begins at the junction with the Murray Valley Highway just east of Tallangatta, to a junction with the Great Alpine Road at Omeo.
Signposted route C543, the Omeo Highway is one of the lesser known, therefore less travelled, Victorian High Country roads, yet it is a great drive and takes in excellent views of the New South Wales and Victorian High Country.
The highway is an alternate route to the Great Alpine Road for those wanting to get to Gippsland from the border area.
Despite being fully sealed, it is not an all-weather road and during winter it is often closed because of snow coverage.
Try and avoid extreme high temperature days as you could be trapped by bushfires.
Most vehicles will have little trouble on the road, but it is not suited to large caravans and motorhomes.
Also be aware that once past Mitta Mitta there is no fuel or any other services until you reach Omeo.
For most of its length the highway follows the crystal clear Mitta Mitta River which rises in the Bogong High Plains.
From the Murray Valley Highway junction, the highway passes through mainly flat farming country to Tallandoon before it starts its gradual rise to the farming township of Eskdale.
Continuing towards Mitta Mitta there is a turn-off to Lake Dartmouth and Dartmouth township.
The lake, which is held back by a massive dam, has a surface area of 64 square kilometres and was built as a major irrigation storage for the Murray Darling Irrigation System.
A hydro-electric power station at the base of the wall generates 150 megawatts of electricity.
The lake is popular with boating and fishing enthusiasts.
Mitta Mitta township was founded during the 1840s and swelled during the gold rush era.
Today it is a small village that boasts a general store and a popular pub.
The next sign of a once-hectic period is Granite Flat which also was a hive of gold mining activity, as was Lightning Creek, which was later to become a logging camp.
Other former gold mining settlements along the route are Sunnyside, Glen Wills, and Glen Valley.
Just south of Middle Creek is the turn off to the Bogong High Plains Road.
Sitting beside the crystal clear Cobungra River is the historic Blue Duck Inn which is a popular stop-over for those travelling the highway.
Motel style cabin accommodation, meals and local wines are available at this traditional country pub.
After leaving the pub, the highway meets the Benambra-Corryong Road before you continue your run into Omeo.
And for those who love fishing, there are any number of spots along the way to dangle a line.
There are also spots along the river that are popular with white water rafters.
MURRAY VALLEY HIGHWAY
ROUTE B400, the Murray Valley Highway, once ran from the South Australian border with Victoria to Corryong located at the head of the Upper Murray.
Today the highway ends at the Murray River Bridge at Robinvale.
For most of its length from the tourist playground of Yarrawonga-Mulwala to Albury-Wodonga, the highway follows the route of the Murray River and, to a certain extent, does the same to Corryong, running almost parallel with the Murray River Road.
Most of the highway is straight and flat on its easterly run through the village of Bundalong and the famous wine growing region of Rutherglen to Wodonga.
It remains flat running through Bandiana, Bonegilla, Ebden, and Tallangatta, but becomes hillier and windier once you pass the site of Old Tallangatta.
From there to Colac Colac the highway climbs through Bullioh, Koetong, Shelley and Wabba, before flattening out on its run into Corryong.
The landscape changes dramatically once you leave Tallangatta, with wide open plains and a flat road skirting the Mitta arm of Lake Hume, suddenly merging with the lower slopes of the Alpine National Park.
The views along the entire length are also spectacular, especially those of the many vineyards around the Rutherglen region and those of distant snow-capped peaks in winter.
But there is more than just views to be had on this great drive.
Bundalong on the shores of Lake Mulwala near the confluence of the Murray and Ovens Rivers, is a great camping and fishing spot, while Rutherglen is a historic town built on the back of the gold rush era but has since made a name for itself as one of Australia’s – and indeed the world’s – great fortified wine growing regions.
Barnawartha North is home to the Northern Victorian Livestock Exchange and a major distribution centre for Woolworths.
The Rural City of Wodonga, with the City of Albury, combine as Australia’s greatest inland city.
Once a major rail and stock head, Wodonga is now a major educational and industrial centre and owes some of its economy to the sprawling Army base at Bandiana.
Before swinging towards the mountains, the highway passes through historic Bonegilla which has existed since 1878.
From 1889 until 1981, a railway line ran through the village, transporting stock and goods for the Upper Murray region and transporting goods to the end of the line at Cudgewa for the building of the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
Bonegilla though is better known as Australia’s first post war migrant reception and training centre which opened in 1951 and closed in 1971.
The highway passes through Ebden and across a causeway at Sandy Creek where you get a wonderful view of pylons which once supported the railway line.
They now support a rail trail bridge across this section of Lake Hume.
Tallangatta, the town that moved in the 1950s, is bypassed by the highway and a little further east the old town’s layout can still be seen when the level of the lake drops.
Koetong boasts a popular pub, while the timber town of Shelley laid claim to having Victoria’s highest railway station, at 781 metres.
The highway finishes at Corryong, a picturesque town located at the base of the Australian Alps.
This is Jack Riley country, the legendary Man from Snowy River.
THE OLD HUME HIGHWAY
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 - boring, in fact.
It is a freeway after all and not a tourist drive as its main purpose is to provide the quickest 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 a busy drive for the tourist, thanks to much of the old Hume Highway, or Route 31, especially that part still in use between Albury-Wodonga and Melbourne, is a viable alternative and still follows the same route driven by motoring pioneers Thompson and Holmes in 1900.
‘Old 31’ is still 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.
The old highway has been replaced by the Hume Freeway (M31) which, for the 340 kilometre stretch in this region 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 its way through the Victorian towns of Barnawartha, Chiltern, 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.
It was a popular stopping place owing to it 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.
Instead of returning to Melbourne by ship, the duo opted to drive back.
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.
Villages aside, all towns have at least one food outlet, the larger ones, multiple outlets, plus a bakery (or two), hotels, fuel, shopping, and accommodation.
The cities of Albury-Wodonga, Wangaratta, and Benalla boast all services.