Every road trip needs a tucker stop. Our writers track down Australia’s best.
New South Wales
Unearthed Good Mood Food, Mid North Coast
Where? On the Pacific Highway in Coolongolook, between Sydney and Coffs Harbour.
Why stop? Now that the highway is dual lane almost all the way to Coffs Harbour, tiny Coolongolook is one of the few places you can get something to eat that doesn’t involve a multinational fast-food franchise or a tiresome detour. Unearthed Good Mood Food (0487 477 711) serves organic salads, vegie and Wagyu burgers, gluten-free cakes and excellent coffee, though the velvety chocolate brownies are reason enough to stop. If you fancy fresh fish ’n’ chips, call into Salty Dog Seafood Café and Gallery (02 4997 7107) next door or for better-than-average pies, head to the old train out the back. You can’t miss this roadside stop – there’s a helicopter on a pole out the front.
Don’t leave without… checking out the gallery at Salty Dog, where you’ll find treasures made by local artisans, including clever furniture from Newcastle’s Rustic Reproductions.
SEE ALSO: The Best Road Trips Around Australia
Wildbrumby Schnapps, High Country
Where? On the Alpine Way, between Jindabyne and Thredbo.
Why stop? Is it a Continental-inspired café, sculpture garden, art gallery or schnapps distillery? Actually, Wildbrumby Schnapps (wildbrumby.com) is all of the above and more. Stop for a healthy breakfast of organic muesli with natural yoghurt, fresh fruit and honey or, for a hearty lunch, try the crumbed schnitzel with potatoes and salad. For bigger appetites, there’s always the Austrian beef goulash. Walk it off in the sculpture garden before settling in for a schnapps and gin tasting. All schnapps are made from fruit grown locally, on the slopes of south-west NSW.
Don’t leave without… a bottle of Kosciuszko Vodka or Pink Lady Apple schnapps, perfect for cold nights around a mountain fire. KVDJ
Holbrook Bakery, Greater Hume Shire
Where? On the Hume Highway, between Melbourne and Sydney.
Why stop? Landlocked Holbrook is well known for having a submarine, the Otway, on display in the park but it’s perhaps even better known for its bakery. Opened in 1899, it’s the busiest spot on the main street of this popular highway stop. Classic treats run to lamingtons, wagon wheels and neenish tarts, plus there are sandwiches, rolls, wraps and pies of all persuasions (including the notorious cheeseburger pie). Last year, a second outlet opened at the southern end of town with ample bus and truck parking.
Don’t leave without… asking what the daily pie specials are. They could be anything from kidney to lasagne. KH
The Famous Berry Donut Van, Berry
There’s nothing particularly fancy about the cinnamon doughnuts produced in this vintage caravan (0423 319 413) parked outside the Berry Service Station but no night-time drive up or down the South Coast is complete without a stop here. It’s been serving sugar-dusted rings of sweetness for more than 55 years. Our advice? Eat them while they’re hot.
The Big Banana, Coffs Harbour
It’s not a real Aussie road trip without a “Big Thing” and The Big Banana was Australia’s first biggie. Yes, it’s a tourist trap but don’t let that stop you pulling up for a chocolate-coated frozen banana on a stick. LA
Parker Street Project, Southern Grampians
Where? On the Glenelg Highway in Dunkeld, between Ballarat in Victoria and Mount Gambier in South Australia.
Why stop? Parker Street Project is not your average roadhouse. It is, in fact, the public bar and rear terrace of the famed Royal Mail Hotel, home to the most awarded restaurant in Victoria’s Western District. But while the fine-diner aspires to gastronomic greatness, Parker Street Project focuses on serving excellent-quality seasonal plates to those passing through the tiny but thriving village of Dunkeld. Much of the menu comes from the Royal Mail’s vast kitchen garden, plus beef and lamb from the hotel’s own farm. So, for example, the rib eye steak with charred onion and watercress is 100 per cent local; so, too, the roasted lamb belly with green vegetables. It’s the finest local produce served in the friendliest local pub.
Don’t leave without… trying a glass of something special – the Royal Mail has one of Australia’s most phenomenal cellars.
By Kendall Hill
King Valley Dairy, Alpine Shire
Where? Just off the Wangaratta-Whitfield Road at Moyhu.
Why stop? The Wangaratta-Whitfield Road is also known as the King Valley’s Prosecco Road, a daisy chain of six cellar doors dedicated to Italian varietal wines. Halfway along the chain is King Valley Dairy, an artisan factory (with tours and tastings) producing small-batch cultured butter – deemed by many chefs to be Australia’s best. For a gourmet snack on the go, grab a loaf of Milawa Bread and choose between native thyme, bush tomato or black truffle butter. For the best takeaway ever, add a jar of honey from the on-site hives; preserves made with fruit grown on the property; a slab of Tolpuddle goat’s cheese; and an assortment from the first-class selection of deli goods.
Don’t leave without… borrowing a rug and picnic basket and asking the staff to point you in the direction of the secret swimming hole across the road.
Kerry van der Jagt
Arthur Clive’s Family Bakehouse, Scenic Rim
Where? On the Cunningham Highway in Aratula, between Brisbane and Warwick.
Why stop? Arthur Clive’s Family Bakehouse in the small town of Aratula treads a diplomatic line between old-school (caramel slices, lamingtons) and new (sourdough, carrot bread). It’s the meat pies, though, that have truckies applying the air brakes at the town approach. The Pennell family has been baking in these parts for more than 80 years and has perfected the recipe for properly flaky pastry with slow-cooked beef browned in the Pennells’ homemade “secret recipe” Worcestershire sauce. The place sells more than 3000 pies a week, with the standards – steak, pepper steak and bacon and cheese – supplemented by specials such as bourbon beef and chicken mornay, all served (probably by a family member) with genuine warmth.
Don’t leave without… stocking up on regional produce at Aratula Markets (07 5463 8144) a few doors down.
Retro Espresso, Fraser Coast Hinterland
Where? On the Bruce Highway in Tiaro, south of Maryborough.
Why stop? This two-pub town on the Mary River is home to arguably the best coffee on the Bruce Highway. The shop dates from the 1880s, a former bootmakers’ workshop, where owner Vincent Rovere now makes surprisingly excellent coffee for travellers stopping to stretch their legs. Retro Espresso (07 4193 9304) revels in the kitschy side of the good ol’ days, with footpath chairs fashioned from Golden Fleece oil drums and a 1960s Parker dining table, where you can sip your Number 96 coffee (the house’s own blend) among Vincent’s collection of old airline bags, Sunbeam Mixmasters and childhood board games. Food offerings are limited but sugar-dusted Greek kourabiethes, chewy Florentines and fruit and seed biscuits will fill the gap until your next stop.
Don’t leave without… popping into the Information Centre and Craft Cottage a couple of doors down for a bag of honey-roasted macadamias from nearby Bauple to snack on in the car. NM
Portland Roads Ice Cream, Cape York
If you’ve made it as far as the pretty little seaside community of Portland Roads near Lockhart River, about two-thirds of the way from Cairns to the tip of Cape York, it will have been a while since you’ve had ice-cream. It’s sold from a shack high on a hill on the road into the village – they’ll have a blackboard on the street if it’s open.
Derwent Bridge Wilderness Hotel, Central Highlands
Where? On the Lyell Highway, between Hobart and Strahan.
Why stop? The pub at Derwent Bridge offers a taste of civilisation in the heart of Tasmania’s Southwest Wilderness. Run by Carol and David Fitzgibbon for almost 30 years, it’s a haven of wood-panelled interiors and warming hearths, with sweeping rainforest views. Hikers, bikers and busloads of tourists pull in to recharge while driving across the island or after exploring the World Heritage-listed forests nearby. The menu runs to pub classics such as porterhouse steak, plus local delicacies including wallaby and river trout. But perhaps the surest antidote to bracing winter days in the bush is one of chef Ima De Silva’s Sri Lankan curries.
Don’t leave without… trying one of the classic Tasmanian Bakeries meat pies, lavished with mash and gravy. It’s only available in winter, when you need it most. KH
Kate’s Berry Farm, Swansea
One of the highlights of visiting Wineglass Bay on the East Coast is stopping at Kate’s Berry Farm on Swansea’s southern outskirts. Order tea and scones, smothered in thick homemade jam (full of strawberries, raspberries, Himalayan wild berries, youngberries or wild blackberries) and pick up a jar of jam or a bottle of strawberry wine to take away.
Balladonia Roadhouse, The Nullarbor
Where? On the Nullarbor, almost 200 kilometres east of Norseman at the Western Australian end of the 90 Mile Straight.
Why stop? It would be a stretch to call it gourmet but compared to what you’ll find at the other half-dozen or so roadhouses on the long, straight, flat road that crosses the Nullarbor (think chocolate bars, stale crisps and deep-fried everything), the café at the Balladonia roadhouse (08 9039 3453) serves a decent burger and the coffee is quite good. If you stay overnight at the attached motel or caravan park, come back for dinner – the Balladonia beef and Guinness pot pie and the lamb shanks with mash are pretty tasty, too.
Don’t leave without… checking out the bits of NASA’S Skylab space station. It crashed to Earth nearby in 1979 – the United States President, Jimmy Carter, even rang the roadhouse to apologise for littering – and there’s a small museum at the service station detailing Balladonia’s 15 minutes of fame. LA
Lacepede Seafood, Limestone Coast
Where? Just off the Princes Highway in Kingston SE, between Mount Gambier and Adelaide.
Why stop? The Limestone Coast is famous for its southern rock lobster and one of the best places to try it – without paying a small fortune – is Lacepede Seafood (08 8767 2549) down by the jetty in Kingston SE. Buy takeaway cooked lobster and chips then picnic in the adjacent shady park. It’s worth the short detour off the highway. Open daily during lobster season (October to May).
Don’t leave without… snapping a selfie with Larry the Lobster on the north side of town. Local legend has it that it was only meant to be 17-feet high but the builder used metres instead. LA