Straight lines are great in geometry, less so on road trips. For drives that are all about the journey, it pays to look for lines that sway and bend on the map. It’s on these byways that you stumble across the unexpected finds: a rural cooking school, a country pub serving stellar steaks, a hiking trail through a red gum forest or even an ancient salt lake that changes colour with the sky.

These four slow drives could be done in a day or two but are best enjoyed at a more leisurely pace, spread across four or more days. Consider them the perfect antidote to lockdown life, when you’re able to take them.

Go with the flow

The route: Sydney to Hay, NSW
Via Gundagai, Cootamundra, Narrandera, Leeton and Griffith

What we say: A trip from the coast to the edge of the outback sounds like an epic adventure, but this route via the Riverina turns it into an easygoing excursion.

The shuttered One Tree Hotel near Hay, NSW, was once a staging post for the Cobb & Co. coach.

The shuttered One Tree Hotel near Hay, NSW, was once a staging post for the Cobb & Co. coach.Credit:Alamy

What they say: “We have lovely sandy beaches, and the river is great for stand-up paddleboards and kayaks,” says Sheila Smith, who runs The Bank Bed and Breakfast in Hay. “We have the most glorious sunrises and sunsets, too.”

The journey: From the quirky to the cool, the towns along this route offer plenty of surprises, from Cootamundra’s Captains’ Walk, featuring bronze sculptures of 42 Australian Test cricket captains, to the art deco architecture of Narrandera, where you can catch a film at the opulent Roxy Community Theatre, one of the last intact cinemas of the style.

And yes, there’s plenty of great coffee being poured along the way, from the small-batch roasts at Cootamundra’s Dusty Road Coffee Roasters to Bertoldo’s Bakery in Griffith, where they have been serving up espresso and killer biscotti for four generations.

Should you favour something stronger, savour a dram at the Whitton Malt House near Narrandera. Want to add a touch of extravagance to the experience? Start with a detour to Tumut to enjoy magnificent vistas across the foothills of the Snowy Mountains with a Truenorth Helicopters Country Escape (three-course lunch at a winery is included).

The route finishes with a dose of outback adventure at Hay, where you can pay a visit to the Shear Outback museum or take a trip to the One Tree Hotel. Once a stop on the old stock route and a former staging post for the Cobb & Co. coach, it is now a lone sentinel in the wide open plains. Even the tree for which it was named is long gone, blown down in a storm more than a century ago.

In the foothills of the NSW Snowy Mountains, Three Blue Ducks at  Nimbo Fork Lodge offers breakfast hampers filled with local produce.

In the foothills of the NSW Snowy Mountains, Three Blue Ducks at Nimbo Fork Lodge offers breakfast hampers filled with local produce.

Taste this: An early highlight of the journey is lunch at Three Blue Ducks at Nimbo Fork Lodge in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. This new outpost of the Ducks’ empire is a chance to sample local produce including local trout with capers, garlic, lemon and dill.

In Cootamundra, top picks include wholefoods at Planted Cootamundra while in Griffith, chef Luke Piccolo showcases food grown on the family farm at Limone Dining. To taste test some of the area’s wineries, take a tour with Bella Vita Riverina Tours.

Best spots to sleep: Opt for a pretty country cottage like Narrandera’s Tall Trees Cottage; stay in one of the contemporary villas at Whitton Malt House; or enjoy old-school elegance at Hay’s The Bank Bed and Breakfast.

Tasmania’s Tahune AirWalk, suspended 30 metres above the forest floor, has views of the Huon and Picton regions.

Tasmania’s Tahune AirWalk, suspended 30 metres above the forest floor, has views of the Huon and Picton regions.Credit:Tourism Tasmania

Dive into the deep south

The route: Hobart to Dover, Tasmania
Via Grove, Ranelagh and Geeveston

What we say: It doesn’t pay to drive fast in the Huon Valley. You never know when you’re going to round a corner and be confronted with an irresistibly photogenic vista – wooden fishing boats moored in a quiet river bend, say, or a long-fringed Highland cow posing in a tranquil pasture.

What they say: “The thing about the Huon is that everything is very small-scale,” says local food stylist Michelle Crawford. “You have lots of creative people pursuing artisanal endeavours.”

The journey: Artisanal cider is big in the Huon, and some of the best is on offer at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed, where you can also grab a bite to eat. Continue on to Ranelagh to taste pinots and more at the sophisticated cellar door of Home Hill or the more rustic nearby Kate Hill Wines.

At Huonville, you reach a fork in the road. Take the diversion to the east and you’re on the way to Cygnet, a charming hamlet with a surprising array of homewares stores and boutiques. Not far away is The Farmhouse Kitchen, a welcoming cooking school where Giuliana White shares the secrets of Puglian cuisine.

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Alternatively, if you want to stick with the direct route, head west to Geeveston, a former timber town known for the life-size wooden statues of local characters that dot the streets. Stop in at Mikkris House to pick up a hand-turned wooden bowl, then head to the nearby Tahune AirWalk to discover the view from canopy-level.

Keep heading south to reach Dover, a good jumping off point for visiting Hastings Caves. Ensconced in the forest, stairs lead down into a vast cave festooned with dazzling dolomite formations including columns and flowstones, stalagmites and stalactites. The thermal baths are an added attraction.

If you want more outdoor action, hop into a kayak to explore the area from a different perspective; Esperance Adventures offers options to suit every skill level. Or if you want to find what lies beyond the end of the road, head to Cockle Creek, the jumping-off point for the South Cape Bay Walk.

Allow four hours’ return for this exhilarating walk through the wilderness, which passes through ferny dells, marshlands and tall eucalypt forest before depositing you at the southernmost edge of Australia, where the Great Southern Ocean crashes into the shore.

Take in the autumn colours of the Huon Valley.

Take in the autumn colours of the Huon Valley.Credit:Tourism Tasmania

Taste this: The Ranelagh General Store is known for burgers topped with anything from pulled pork to ribaldo cod and capers, while down Cygnet way, the wood-fired pizzas at Port Cygnet Cannery are superb. Perhaps the area’s signature dining is found at Cygnet’s Red Velvet Lounge, where the menu ranges from free-range roasted chicken to Moroccan-inspired meals.

Best spots to sleep: The Huon Valley is small enough to base yourself in one spot, and there are plenty of villas set in idyllic locations to choose from. Top picks include Coast House, set on its own private peninsula at Beaupre Point, where you may spot wombats or wallabies wandering past; and Villa Talia at Wattle Grove, equipped with Persian carpets, a marble kitchen and an outdoor bathtub.

Fine food at Morrisons Riverview Winery in Echuca, Victoria.

Fine food at Morrisons Riverview Winery in Echuca, Victoria.

Country comforts

The route: Melbourne to Swan Hill
Via Daylesford, Bendigo and Echuca

What we say: From the rolling hills of Daylesford to Bendigo’s gold rush grandeur, from colourful silo art looming large above compact townships to the surreal beauty of a vast salt lake, every day on this trip exposes you to a different setting.

What they say: “If there’s one thing you’ll discover as you travel along, it’s the vibrancy of our small towns,” says Jessica Warburton of the Pioneer Settlement at Swan Hill. “The hero is our great Murray River, and our love for it. We are river towns.”

The journey: Any trip that takes in Daylesford is off to a good start. Already blessed with a picturesque setting amid the hills and a vibrant food scene – not to mention the mineral baths in nearby Hepburn Springs – the bustling town also has plenty of inviting boutiques. Meander through the atmospheric Convent Gallery and browse antiques outlets including Artedeco, Found and Brick Lane Bazaar.

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North of Daylesford, Bendigo is nurturing a food scene of its own, with top spots including Harvest Food Wine Deli, where the croissants are made by a Michelin-starred pastry chef, and the acclaimed urban winery, Ellis Wines. Don’t miss the Bendigo Art Gallery, either. Speaking of art, head north-east to start exploring the Silo Art Trail. One of the most imposing works is at Colbinabbin, where six silos adjacent to the main street were painted by Tim Bowtell. A short drive away, Rochester has its own painted silo, too, as well as some laneway murals.

Echuca’s heritage streetscapes make this river port a must-visit, while a canoe trip along the waterways or a hike through the redgum forests of nearby Gunbower Island – the largest inland island in Australia – gives you the chance to get active.

At Swan Hill, fuel up with coffee at Cafe 202 or At FortyOne before exploring the area’s history at Pioneer Settlement and the Heartbeat of the Murray laser light show. Projected onto the river, the show is a remarkable recounting of the story of the Murray.

We’ve left the best to last. The salt-laden surface of the 20,000-hectare Lake Tyrrell captures shimmering reflections, sometimes glowing with a pink light, or seeming to hold clouds in its depths.

Taste this: In the mood for steak frites or a twice-baked gruyère souffle? The classics are on the menu at Daylesford’s Bistro Terroir. In Bendigo, notable newcomers include Alium Dining and the city’s first rooftop bar, Nimbus. The steaks at the Gunbower Hotel are superb – the beef is raised by farmer/publican Richard McGillivray – while for a water-front meal, Morrisons Riverview Winery in Echuca and Spoons Riverside, Swan Hill hit the spot.

Best spots to sleep: Treat yourself to a gourmet getaway at Daylesford’s legendary Lake House or if you are travelling with a group, check into Yandoit Church, converted into a stylish three-bedroom getaway through a clever refurbishment. For simpler fare, book one of the glamping tents at Balgownie Estate, Bendigo’s oldest working winery, or one of the safari tents at the newly opened Koondrook Retreat on the banks of Gunbower Creek.

Mount Ngungun in Queensland’s Glass House Mountains National Park.

Mount Ngungun in Queensland’s Glass House Mountains National Park. Credit:Tourism and Events Queensland

Here comes the sun

The route: Brisbane to Gympie, Qld
Via Landsborough, Maleny, Montville and Nambour

What we say: On this itinerary, it pays to turn your back on the beach. Travel from Brisbane to Gympie through the lush hinterland and you can expect wonderful walks, fine food and sweeping views in all directions – emerald rainforest on one side, sapphire blue waters on the other.

What they say: “This drive is simply spectacular,” says Angus Richard, past president of Hinterland Tourism. “There are wonderful rainforest walks, great galleries, and all these small towns and villages. There is also a great food focus, from farming to restaurants to locally made products.”

The journey: When the Glass House Mountains loom into view, you know the adventure has begun. Take time to tackle one of the area’s hiking trails: the relatively easy walk to the summit of Mount Ngungun, through forests and fern gullies, can take about two hours’ return.

As you head north, you are following routes originally laid out by timber cutters and followed by the Cobb & Co. coaches travelling to and from the Gympie goldfields. Traces of that history can be found in the most unlikely places: Maleny’s extra-wide main street owes its dimensions to the days when it provided a turning circle for ox-wagon trains dragging timber.

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Visit the lovely seven-hectare Maleny Botanic Gardens or browse the shelves in one of the town’s three bookshops. Montville is home to Queensland’s first certified Fairtrade and organic roaster, Montville Coffee; sample the brews at The Edge’s cafe, which also serves up sweeping views, or head to Poets Cafe, where they make their coffee using water from their own natural spring.

Art lovers will want to explore the town’s artist studios and galleries, or head for nearby Nambour, where colourful murals and sculptures feature on the two-kilometre public art trail. Retro fans will also love Nambour’s flourishing vintage scene: try Mr Beesley’s Vintage Clothing or Arsenic & Love Letters.

Allow plenty of time to explore the area’s forests, rich in piccabeen palms, bunya pines and blackbutt trees. Stroll to the 120-metre-high Mapleton Falls or walk through Maleny’s Mary Cairncross scenic reserve, where pademelons and whipbirds make their homes. Nearby, Obi Obi Creek offers the chance of a platypus sighting, particularly in the early morning or at dusk. Or take in a different view from the Mary Valley Rattler, the steam train that chugs its way between Gympie and Amamoor.

Obi Obi Creek, Maleny, in Queensland.

Obi Obi Creek, Maleny, in Queensland.Credit:Alamy

Taste this: Asian flavours are on the menu when you book a table at The Tamarind at Spicers Tamarind Retreat at Maleny, while French-inspired cuisine is served at The Long Apron at Spicers Clovelly Estate at Montville. Nambour’s craft brewery, Stalwart Brewing Company is winning fans, as is Montville’s Flame Hill Vineyard , set 420 metres above sea level.

Best spots to sleep: Wake up to jaw-dropping views thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows at Glass on Glasshouse, or nestle into the forest at Starry Nights Luxury Camping, where each glamping tent is kitted out with recycled barn floorboards, a king-size bed and a woodfire stove.

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