Travel accommodation & meals – outback & in town

I don’t mind paying a fair price for a good feed but there’s nothing worse than coughing up the hard earned readies for plastic sandwiches or those hideous frozen hamburger patties, when on the frog & toad.  Nor is it good to be kept awake all night by passing semis or the partying of neighbouring motel guests, heard through paper thin walls, when you’ve got an all-day drive ahead.  To add insult to irritation, poor quality tucker & accommodation tends to be the same price as good quality – so you’ve usually not saved any cash.  If you’re on a long drive it’s irritating to spend time looking for something better, only to misjudge appearances.   These are some of my favourite places to stop when travelling:

Recommended Accommodation — in Town:

  • Augathella Palms Motel– a handful of excellent little cabins tucked well away from the noisy roadtrains heading up and down the Matilda Highway.  A real oasis in ‘meat ant’ and mulga country.  Ideal for anyone sick of brick & tile highway blandness, who wants to stop somewhere the kids can go and run around completely safely on the streets to expend some pent up energy.
  • Bourke Riverside Motel — Fabulous, quirky accommodation on the bank of the Darling River in Bourke, north-western New South Wales. We’ve stayed here and I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone as sick as I am of generic, soul-less motels (the sort that you could easily forget what country you were in, even with the door open, because all you see outside is bitumen, parked cars and brickwork). The Bourke Riverside Motel is inimitable – it has everything you want, plus character in spades. Splendid. If you are travelling through western New South Wales, and you like character, make sure you stay here.  But it is wise to book in advance, because others are in the know.
  • Cottages on Edward— A top spot by the Edward River in Deniliquin (southern Riverina, New South Wales) – perfect for travellers who are sick of paying top dollar for impersonal & noisy motels. There are only two of these beautiful cottages so you won’t be overrun by hordes of other travellers – and booking in advance is obviously wise.
  • Brooklyn Arts Hotel – There’s more places to stay in Melbourne than you can shake a stick at but recently I decided to give a B & B a burl and was delighted.  Like most b & b’s, it’s ideal for people who love character and want something different.  Run by the very interesting Maggie Fooke, the guests are equally interesting.  Great to start the day having a chat to fellow guests over breakfast in the quirky lounge room.  There’s great shops down Brunswick street (it reminds me of how Chapel Street Prahran used to be, before it turned to tat) and  more varied cafes and restaurants per block than any other place I can think of.  Think of a country then go and eat their food, within a few blocks.  I thought it would be too far to walk in to the CBD but it’s a quick and pleasant walk and there are heaps of other people out walking at all hours, plus a number of tram routes just a rock throw away.   And to my delight I discovered it was just around the corner from The Builders Arms hotel, in Gertrude Street.  Decades ago when I lived in Melbourne The Builders Arms pub was a great spot and it still is – every night I was there, great singers and musicians were on – all free.  It’s about the only thing I like about a big city – casual live music (as distinct from impersonal stadium-style concerts).

Recommended tucker places (eateries) when travelling

If I’m coughing up cash then I want good stuff not rubbish, and there’s nothing worse than spending 3 days driving 3,000km west or south from here and only being able to find greasy rubbish to buy along the way. Mostly now I visit supermarkets and buy fruit, nuts etc. I used to stick to toasted cheese sandwiches because I didn’t think anyone could stuff that up; but a young bloke in Scone (central NSW) proved that theory wrong, by toasting the sandwich with the buttered sides on the inside instead of the outside. Yes it was dry on the outside and greasily soggy on the inside – gross.

My favourite supermarket of all time is Tambo Foodworks, on the main drag (Arthur Street – Matilda Highway) in Tambo, central (western) Queensland. Every time I’ve stopped here the staff are having a laugh. And it’s the only supermarket with a fabulous polished timber floor. It’s a classic example of a small, personable and exceedingly efficient rural supermarket that stocks all essentials and no rubbish, in a relatively small space. And they have good quality fruit too, which is an achievement, so far from growing regions, and in a hot climate. I stock up with everything from CDs and magazines to grapes and lead pencils for the kids to draw with.

For great fresh sandwiches and healthy hamburgers you can’t beat the Waltzing Matilda Centrecafe, Elderslie Street Winton (north-west Queensland). Always busy because locals and regular travellers know how good it is; but you never have to wait long as they’re ultra efficient. When passing through I buy enough caramel slice etc to last me for the rest of the day’s driving! Just make sure you don’t do what I do sometimes; run late and arrive after they’ve shut for the day (most depressing!). The cafe shuts before 5pm; before the Waltzing Matilda Centre actually shuts.

There used to be a great cafe and bookshop in Kununurra called The Boab Bookshop, but sadly it closed around 2009 – too many breakins.

If you’re travelling along the Queensland coast, Dal Santo’s Continental Deli in Ayr (north Queensland) is one-of-a-kind. Stocking everything from whole dried fish to fresh pasta and packets of Italian playing cards, it’s great to browse through while waiting for fabulous toasted sandwiches of different types of Italian salamis and fabulous cheeses etc – a world away from pre-sliced plastic cheddar, standard white bread and pressed ‘chicken’ meat. Located on the corner of Parker & Macmillan streets, it’s a couple of blocks E/NE of Ayr’s main drag, Queen Street (Highway 1), but all locals would know where Dal Santo’s Deli is so just ask for directions.

And if travelling south, in Victoria you can’t go past Tom O’Toole’s legendary Beechworth Bakeries.  I only wish he’d spread further north, instead of hugging the border at Albury and Echuca.  There’s also a top bakery in the main street of Heathcote (Central Victoria).  The bus to and from boarding school used to stop here, lucky the bakery didn’t exist then (only a greasy cafe) or we’d all have got as fat as houses.

All businesses are entirely dependent on the vision, passion and drive of the owner/manager – so once the creator leaves, the quality usually goes down the gurgler. However the above businesses have all been around for a few years and hopefully will remain good quality for a long time yet.