Kendall Hill: The post lockdown road trip every Melburnian has dreamt of

Hope springs eternal, which is just as well given all the false starts we’ve had these past umpteen months.

As I’m packing the car to head north – to cross a border! – I’m reminded of the last time I made this journey. It was more than a year ago, in June 2020. Back then I wrote, “It’s time for new beginnings – to rule a line under lockdowns.”

We all know how that turned out, especially for Melburnians like me. The trips I managed to squeeze in last year feel like false starts now. But this, fingers crossed, is the return to real freedoms.

I set out on a bright spring morning armed with optimism and a sweet new ride I bought in February that’s barely done more than 5km at a stretch since.

Heading up the Hume on a T-shirt-warm day, I discover the Victorian countryside’s transformed in my absence. Big winter rains have turned the land greener than I can ever remember seeing it at this time of year.

Sheep and cows graze in paddocks of fresh grass as high as their bellies. Full dams sparkle in the sunshine. The unfolding landscapes are so vivid they look like they’ve been colored in.

I’d forgotten how soothing it is to feast your eyes on vast horizons.

By sheer dumb luck I decided to break the drive midway in Beechworth rather than go straight through. The Victorian High Country town is looking ravishing, its elm-lined streets sporting new coats of green and everything in extravagant bloom. The rhododendrons are ridiculously pretty.

I wake the next morning to radio headlines declaring the border reopened at midnight, which is news to me. There’ve been so many announcements about our borders reopening at 80 percent vax rates I’d assumed I was good to go. Just one of what will likely be many missteps as I learn how to travel again.

On the road, familiar place names flash by like old friends. Ruffy, Dookie and Boho, Warrenbayne and Baddaginnie, Mullengandra, Woomargama. Signposts of a drive I’d normally do two or three times a year. And Billabong Road, Tumbarumba – surely one of the most Australian addresses ever.

At Holbrook I spy something odd. A tour bus. I haven’t seen one of those since I don’t remember when. It unloads a bunch of silver nomads, who park themselves at streetside pub tables for lunch and ales. They all look chuffed to be back out in the world.

Arriving in Bookham, the tiny village beside the Hume that my friends call home, there are long hugs and lovely words. More old friends I haven’t seen in ages start arriving. It feels like a homecoming.

We’ve waited a long time for this reunion. I imagine there’ve been similar ones across the nation lately as borders reopen, restrictions ease, flights fill up and we can finally reconnect with loved ones.

Kendall Hill
Barney’s Cafe at Bookham serves the best coffee on the Hume Highway.

My country friends kept themselves busy in these strange times turning the town’s former church into accommodation, and I’m honored to be one of the first guests. They’ve done such a beautiful job with the reno. It has great bones – “one of the neatest and smartest of country churches” declared Freeman’s Journal when it opened in 1911 – with a green porphyry exterior, Gothic arches, and interiors lit by stunning stained-glass windows. With a full kitchen, including an island made from the old altars, and a long dining table, it’s a heavenly venue for our get-together.

There are two big dinners, including one for 10 on Saturday night – a belated birthday celebration – that I have to cook for. The meal turns out fine (I have a crucified Jesus watching over me from the kitchen window), but the highlight of the night is us. Together again. And finding, as you do, that despite the many missing months, the friendship flows as warm and strong as ever.

After dinner we go round the table sharing how this strange time’s affected us. We’ve all been incredibly fortunate, we agree. We haven’t lost anyone or fallen sick; we’ve got by without any great suffering. But most of us have changed in some way.

Some have become fitter, many have embraced new challenges. M got his artist mojo back and now draws or paints every day. He looks so happy. For T it’s been a “reinvigorating” time, not least because she’s breathed new life into this old church. (They’re still sorting out what to call it, but likely The Church, or The Old Church, at Bookham. Check it out if you’re heading that way. It’s just across from Barney’s Café, home to the best coffee on the Hume.)

The other thing we all agree is that we’ve missed people. Missed each other. And we’ve promised to meet again next month for a party in Sydney. It’s not about hope anymore. I know it’s going to happen.

This article originally appeared on Escape

About the author


Hi! I’m Ozzie!

Before joining Australia Exploring, I was a writer at Tripadvisor.

I'm looking for the best posts for you about travel adventures in Australia and around the world. This website has the purpose to inspire you to travel… travel more and better. I hope it can help you explore the world a little bit better.

I graduated from the University of Sydney. I live in California with my wife and two children.


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