Whether you're heading south or north, the feeling of hitting the road is liberating and exciting, but after a few hours driving the struggle to find a decent coffee and fresh food can slowly deflate the holiday high. Too many country bakery pies, bless 'em, can leave you feeling bilious, and highways lined with fast food chains are no substitute for well made simple food, good coffee, a friendly face and if you're lucky, a great view.
Knowing where to stop for sustenance can turn any good road trip into a great one, and if like me you're prepared to organise your journey around breakfast, lunch and dinner, let this list of favourite road stops between Sydney and Melbourne be your guide.
COASTAL ROUTE (Princes Highway)
Cafe 3858, Heyfield
A pretty detour off the highway between Traralgon and Sale, Cafe 3858 serves up a menu of locally sourced produce. Try a traditional breakfast with local bacon and eggs or the best-selling parma ($20) – chicken breast with panko crumbs, house made tomato sauce and cheese. Everything is made in-house, including serious cakes and slices, and a shaded courtyard garden is the perfect place to rest and rejuvenate.
14 George Street, Heyfield VIC, 03 5148 3447. Open Tues-Fri 9am-4.30pm, Sat and Sun 9am-3pm.
Provincial Lane Cafe, Bairnsdale
At the rear of Bairnsdale's Provincial Lane store, the Provincial Lane Cafe has garnered load of fans since it opened 18 months ago. Baguettes and quiches give a nod to the French theme but house made muffins, cakes and scones are the real winners. Try a Devonshire tea ($10) – fluffy scones with raspberry jam, thick cream, coffee or a tea from their extensive range of blends. Follow with a little antique browsing – a nice way to stretch your legs before you head back on the road.
300 Main Street, Bairnsdale VIC, 03 5152 4213.
Open Mon-Fri 9am-4pm, Sat 9am-2pm, provinciallane.com.au
Wild Rye Baking Company, Pambula
Baker Todd Wiebe uses organic flour, traditional methods and the best quality local ingredients he can find. Grab a barbecue rump pie ($5) and you'll understand why queues are the norm. Wild Rye also sells fabulous sandwiches – think panini stuffed with double smoked ham, salad and house made mustard mayo ($8.50) – and lovely cakes. Take your pie and a traditional Danish apple kringle ($3.80) to the nearby Pambula River for the perfect road-stop picnic. Cash only.
26 Quondola Street (Princes Highway), Pambula NSW, 02 6495 6649.
Open Mon-Fri 6.30am-4.30pm, Sat and Sun 6.30am-2.30pm (Sundays closed off peak).
Bar Beach Kiosk, Merimbula
Made out to look like a surfer's shack, the Bar Beach Kiosk has one of the best positions on the South Coast – overlooking pristine sand and water. The kiosk serves up the perfect post-swim food – think free range eggs and bacon in a crusty roll ($7.50) or zingy smashed avocado with fetta, lemon and toasted seeds on ciabatta ($9.50). House made sausage rolls, indulgent cakes and slices and Dimattina coffee will get you back on the road in fine form. Cash only.
Off Lake Street, Merimbula NSW. Open daily 7.30am-5pm (Closed from April-October).
Bodalla Dairy Shed, Bodalla
This gorgeous retro milk bar and cafe with huge outdoor terrace overlooking bucolic countryside is just the place to break your drive. Stock up on great dairy products including plain and flavoured milks, cheese and yoghurt, or stop for an icy cold traditional chocolate milkshake ($4.50), or a meal from the ever-changing menu – maybe an old-fashioned beef burger ($12.50) or hot scones with jam and cream ($5.50) – all made using the truly great local produce. Kids will love the playhouse and the baby animals.
52 Princes Highway, Bodalla NSW, 02 4473 5555. Open 7 days 9am-5pm, bodalladairyshed.com.au
Little Gunga, Milton
If it's truly great coffee you're after, make sure you stop at Milton's Little Gunga. Using Di Lorenzo and Umami coffee, Little Gunga eschews decaf, sweeteners, super-sized drinks or cups of tea, aiming for a stripped back coffee experience. Same for the food – think house made peanut butter cookies ($1.50) croissants with Nutella or jam, Persian love cake or banana caramel tart (all $4). A warm retro industrial interior will make you feel like you're back in Sydney or Melbourne. Cash only.
6/41 Wason Street, Milton NSW, 0416 037 345. Open Tues-Sat 7.30am-2pm.
The Blue Swimmer, Gerroa
If you're tired of just seeing the ocean from the car, stop at The Blue Swimmer and enjoy its lovely beach view. Holidaymakers may linger over lunch and Allpress coffee but even if you're just passing through, a brunch of crushed potatoes, smoked ocean trout, lemon hollandaise and poached eggs ($17) is definitely worth taking time over. Fish and chips ($19) and a steak sandwich ($20) sit comfortably next to more expensive menu options. Be warned, this lovely cafe gets very busy in peak season, so call ahead.
19 Riverleigh Avenue, Gerroa NSW, 02 4234 3796. Open Wed-Sat 8am-late, Sun 8am-3pm, theblueswimmer.com.au
UP (OR DOWN) THE HUME
Fowles Wine Cellar Door Cafe, Avenel
Never was a cellar door so fortuitously positioned. About 130 kilometres from Melbourne, the elegant winery pops up just as your legs need a stretch and your stomach starts grumbling. Think cheese platters ($28 for four or $9 each) or the ploughman's lunch – local smoked ham, terrine, pickles, cheeses bread and egg and bacon pie ($30). Toby's Estate coffee and an indulgent raspberry and white chocolate muffin with berries and cream ($7) are very hard to ignore. Friendly staff are good with children too.
Corner Hume Highway and Lambing Gully Road, Avenel VIC, 03 5796 2150. Open daily 9am-5pm, fowleswine.com.au
Benalla Gallery Cafe, Benalla
With a balcony overlooking the Benalla River, the Gallery Cafe is a great place to head for some fresh air, a walk and a bite to eat. Simple food made well – maybe a platter of local cheese and antipasto ($20) – a wall of local wines, and indulgent house made cakes, make the idea of eating in the gallery even more appealing. Exhibition entry is free too, a good excuse to head back onto the highway feeling inspired.
Botanic Gardens, Bridge Street, Benalla VIC, 03 5762 3777. Open daily 9am-4pm, benallaartgallery.com
Long Track Pantry, Jugiong
Let's face it, the towns between Albury and Goulburn are never going to feature in any good food guide, but the Long Track Pantry is the wonderful exception to the rule. Don't miss the brekkie roll with local free range eggs, crisp pancetta and roasted tomatoes ($14), but if you're willing to share, the Long Track lunch plate with smoked trout pate and red onion relish, marinated feta, chicken and pistachio terrine, artichokes, and toasted Turkish bread ($20) is a great way to try the best of the region's produce.
Riverside Drive, Jugiong NSW, 02 6945 4144. Open Wed-Mon 8am-4pm, longtrackpantry.com.au
Red Tree Cafe, Bowral
Unlike many small country towns, Bowral has several good eating options, but for a quick road-stop the Red Tree Cafe's casual, cosy atmosphere and fast service does the trick. Contemporary food, such as the bruschetta with green pea, mint and lemon pesto with labne or goats feta cheese, crisp pancetta and basil pesto ($15) makes a great breakfast or lunch, and the range of tarts, brownies and muffins ($5-$6.50) served with ice-cream and berries are pretty tempting with a mid-afternoon coffee.
52 Station Street, Bowral NSW, 02 4862 5417. Open daily 8am-4pm, redtreecafe.com.au
What's your favourite road trip food stop?