With the Christmas rush about to hit the Hume, our expert reveals why the famous highway - a connector of Australia's two biggest cities - is a road trip worth taking again and again.
Impatient? Me? You have no idea. I always peek at the last page of a book while reading the first chapter. I hate movies longer than 90 minutes so the fast-forward button on my remote control has to be replaced twice a year.
A late afternoon flight? I'm at the airport by midmorning. I'd be there earlier but my wife gives me the silent treatment when I set the alarm for 2.30am.
Restaurant bookings? I'm through those doors half an hour earlier, scouting the premises and wondering aloud why my table isn't ready.
So why is it that someone who has to be everywhere all at once, who loathes beginnings and loves endings, transforms into a completely different person on a long road trip?
I've been undertaking the 900-kilometre journey along the Hume Highway between Sydney and Melbourne for more than 20 years. It's one of the classic road treks following the country's longest dual carriageway, a return trip I complete four or five times a year to visit family.
Friends aware of my impatience are often perplexed about why I simply don't jump on a 1.5-hour-long flight instead of spending up to 11 hours hunkered behind the wheel with nothing ahead but bitumen, roadkill and swerving trucks.
How to explain that, within minutes of leaving home, I'm more serene than a Buddhist monk enjoying a year-long vow of silence? "All he needed was a wheel in his hand and four on the road," wrote Jack Kerouac in his classic novel On The Road. Throw in a thermos of piping hot coffee, a playlist of favourite songs, books and podcasts, and between Sydney and Melbourne you'll find the hidden state of nirvana.
The Hume, also known by its official moniker M31, may not be the prettiest or most captivating journey between Australia's two largest cities. Many prefer the two or three-day coastal route with its picturesque national parks, sweeping vistas of the Pacific Ocean and sleepy seaside villages.
I've completed that trip a few times. But a great road trip is not just about pretty scenery, quaint morning teas and lazy afternoon tastings at local cheese factories. It's an expedition into your own mind and state of being. Approach it with enthusiasm and you'll experience all the benefits of a meditation class without having to sit cross-legged for hours while focusing on your breathing.
For the impatient person there is the added sense of accomplishment as the hours pass and you watch the rapidly declining amount of kilometres left until you reach your destination.
And there is also the phenomenon of the unexpected discovery, something my wife and I have experienced several times when breaking the journey with an overnight stay.
A farm outside Gundagai allowed us to pick fresh vegetables for a delicious home-cooked rustic pasta dinner, the memory of which still makes me salivate.
It's become an old friend whose quirks and eccentricities I've learned to accept and appreciate.
A rural cottage in Wantabadgery - not far from where Captain Moonlite staged his historic shootout with police troopers before being hauled to Sydney for his execution - turned on an unforgettable evening sipping wine beneath a red-stained sunset, watching the local wildlife and being mesmerised by a night sky clouded with stars.
And don't get me started on Wodonga, the sister city of its Murray River neighbour, Albury. Every time we cruise through its neat streets lined with rose gardens I'm overcome with the urge to move there.
But more often than not we complete the trip in a day. Driving anywhere for extended periods requires Zen-like powers of concentration and the Hume demands a particular steely focus.
More than 30,000 vehicles reportedly use the highway during peak 24-hour periods. Many are semi-trailers and road trucks so large they create their own weather patterns. Get stuck alongside one of them on a rainy day and you'll feel you're trapped in a car wash stretching for kilometres.
Bloated roadkill is common and a reminder that, if possible, it's best to avoid driving in the dark. Potholes, although scarce because upkeep on the Hume is excellent, are difficult to spot when travelling at 110kmh until you're right on top of them. And when passing small towns keep an eye out for old men entering the highway at 30kmh as they make their way to their weekly lawn bowls competition.
But I love the Hume. It's become an old friend whose quirks and eccentricities I've learned to accept and appreciate. I know I've truly left Melbourne behind on the return leg when I hit the Great Dividing Range and the radio turns to static. I know the border isn't too far ahead when the landscape flattens on the approach to Wangaratta and to the east you can see the snow-capped High Country.
I've memorised other long, flat stretches where it's easy to forget your speed and local cops eagerly lie in wait with their revenue, err, radar guns.
I've experienced the best and worst of its rest stops (most are surprisingly clean and well-stocked with toilet paper even though long-drop dunnies attract mozzies and flies in summer).
But most of all I love the idea of the Hume, that this long and winding road connecting Australia's two biggest cities offers me an opportunity to relax, a sensation that deepens when you enter regular patches without mobile signal (there's a great blind spot not far from Yass, another past Gundagai and a decent no-radio-contact stretch near Wangaratta).
Cut off from the outside world, the Hume helps guide an impatient man into a sea of tranquillity. By journey's end I'm rested and looking forward to being reunited with family and friends. But it doesn't take long before I'm ready to hit the same highway again.
After all, there's no better road than the one that guides you home.
Detours and departures
"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I intended to be," said the author Douglas Adams, and the Hume offers many options for those wanting to break the Sydney-Melbourne journey with an overnight stay.
We spent a relaxing night last summer half an hour south of Gundagai at Hillview Farmstay, which offers a variety of packages from one-bedroom cottages to glamping safari tents and domes. It's dog-friendly and a perfect stopover for kids of any age to get up close and personal with a wide range of farm animals.
Gundagai, with its famous dog on the tucker box statue, is part of Australian folklore and is seen by frequent Hume travellers as a rough halfway point in the journey. Countless accommodation options are available further west as well toward Wagga Wagga, which is where we found another favourite, Paton's Place Rural Stay, a cottage set on farmland close to Wantabadgery where Captain Moonlite laid siege to a sheep and cattle station in 1879.
The Hume journey gives the traveller an opportunity to appreciate the vastness of Australia's plains so it's the last place you would expect to encounter a submarine. But you can find one in Holbrook - the 90-metre-long decommissioned HMAS Otway - immersed in parkland 40 minutes north of the Victoria-NSW border. They might live hundreds of kilometres from the ocean but the locals are well prepared for rising seas due to climate change.
An hour and 20 minutes north of Gundagai is Gunning, another country town with historical colonial ties. It was here in 1824 that Hamilton Hume (yes, the highway is named after him) set out from his sheep station with William Hovell on a four-month, 1900-kilometre overland trek that led them to Geelong and back. The Pye Cottage Museum on Gunning's main street - one of the last remaining slab settler cottages in the area - is worth a visit to experience what life was like more than a century and a half ago.
But if you prefer to go back in time much further a 90-minute detour north of Gunning finds you at the Wombeyan Caves, an underworld maze of limestone caves, caverns and hidden passages formed when dinosaurs walked the earth, all carved beneath a 400 hectare reserve.
On the Victorian side of the border nothing beats a detour through bushranger country where Ned Kelly and his gang roamed and robbed until their historic showdown with troopers in the siege at Glenrowan. You can visit the cell that held Kelly in the old Beechworth jail and inspect the site of the old Euroa bank, scene of the gang's most infamous holdup.
Tyre pressure? Check. Oil levels? Check. Fuel? There's no excuse for running on empty when you're on the Hume Highway. Service stations are ubiquitous on this stretch and if you want to plan your journey you can find a full list of them at: roadnow.com/australia/petrol-stations-along-motorway-M31. Several apps are available for those with electric vehicles and you can also find a detailed map of charging stations across the country at myelectriccar.com.au/charge-stations-in-australia
It's next to impossible to get lost on the Hume. If you plan a side trip or two there's always Google Maps. We favour Waze - a user-generated app that gives you plenty of warning about potential hazards, speed cameras and roadworks. But be mindful that all these apps relying on GPS technology often get confused in tunnels and complicated intersections. Nothing is more accurate than the many roadside signs.
It's rare to go half an hour on the Hume without seeing a sign letting you know there's a McDonalds or KFC outlet waiting for you 15 minutes ahead. And while it's an enticing prospect - road trips tend to heighten the appetite, particularly for fat and sugar - driving with a leaden belly filled with burgers and fries always leads to feelings of regret, guilt and drowsiness. We always pack bottles of water, a thermos of coffee, fresh and dried fruit, and some nuts for snacking. A packet of salad mix and fresh bread rolls with a boiled egg makes a great healthy lunch and avoids that junk-food hangover.
But if you want something more it's hard to go past the Niagara Cafe in Gundagai - a classic Australian/Greek milk bar that offers everything from burgers and chips to truffled terrines and grilled Barramundi. The Merino Cafe in Gunning is worth a visit for those with a pang for authentic country scones and cakes. And try making a quick visit to the Long Track Pantry in Jugiong without filling the car boot with a range of award-winning jams, relishes, chocolates and gift hampers.
A wee little matter
Roadside restrooms can be a lottery at the best of times and if you don't enjoy one-ply toilet paper, pack your own roll. But most roadside toilets and rest areas on the Hume are usually clean and easily accessible. For aspiring dunnyologists hitting the road, consult toiletmap.gov.au
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