If you’re driving between Sydney and Melbourne with kids, the twin towns of Albury and Wodonga have historically been a favourite place to stop and break up the road trip. But these two townships (one on the New South Wales border, the other in Victoria) have much more to offer than just a place to grab a coffee. If all you plan to see are the big cities, it’s definitely worth investing at least a day here to explore the sights and get a glimpse of what rural Australia has to offer.
[For more travel tips on driving between Sydney and Melbourne with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
A road trip with kids between Melbourne and Sydney can be a long haul, so Albury and Wodonga (locally referred to as “Albury Wodonga” and pronounced as “Alburywodonga”) makes a clever pit stop to stay the night and explore some family-friendly holiday activities in Australia before hitting the road again.
Here among the big blue skies and fresh air you can indulge in outdoor activities, sample some of the local fare and get a better sense of Aussie bush life. The two towns act as epicentres for the surrounding smaller townships so there is a good mix of city amenities (such as banks, supermarkets, high street brands and even a department store) and small town hospitality.
Plus there is the quirkiness of country life to discover in fun oddities such as the shoe cobbler who “lives” in a tower in Wodonga (Water Tower Cobblers, High St., Wodonga, Victoria, Australia, +61 2 6056 2901) or the world’s largest rolling pin which is spinning on the roof at Henri’s Bakery.
Albury and Wodonga are divided by the famous Murray River and this provides the lifeblood for many of the unique activities around the area in the warmer months. The Lake Hume Weir Wall (Hume Weir Rd., then follow signs towards Lake Hume Village) is home to several species of birdlife and it is not unusual to spot flocks of pelicans, lone kookaburras, wedge tailed eagles, galahs, cockatoos and even geese ambling across the town roads. In fact, in the spring the birds are so proilferant local cyclists attach plastic ties to their helmets to deter the many swooping magpies!
The Wonga Wetlands has over 150 bird species and is a nice central location to try to view them all in a natural habitat. From here there are two very easy walks, bird hides and it all makes for a pretty place to take photographs.
Lake Hume Weir Wall was built in 1919 and, at the time, it was the largest dam in the southern hemisphere. These days its size is still impressive and makes for an interesting place to have a picnic, take a walk or let kids scoot or ride their bikes.
[For more travel tips on things to do with kids around Lake Hume and the Murray River, see the suitcases&strollers story Tumbarumba.]
If you want to actually get out on to the water, The Canoe Guy can organise canoe tours or otherwise you can do your own exploring of Lake Hume via kayak, a pleasant activity to do in Albury with kids provided you have appropriate sun protection. (Children should be old enough to understand boat and water safety before you take them out.)
If paddling seems too energetic for you but you still want to be on the water, Lake Hume Hire & Fishing Charters will hire engined boats. If you plan to fish, you will need a license before you head out (ask the charter company how to acquire this). It’s also worth asking them about their unique barbeque boat that will allow you to cook your own catch while cruising.
Hoseshoe Lagoon (corner Riverina Highway and Pemberton St., West Albury, New South Wales, Australia) also has a pretty pier that’s good for taking kids fishing. Do note that it’s not advisable to eat the fish caught here.
For those who prefer to remain on land, there are plenty of bush walks around the area. One of the most famous is the Hume and Hovell Walking Track, a trail that runs for 400 kilometres all the way to Yass. A more manageable option for hiking with kids in Albury is to try the Wagirra Trail which also takes bikes and (non motorised) scooters. Entry to the Wagirra Trail is via the Albury riverside parks.
If the kids are into all things train themed, there are several enjoyable ways to indulge their Thomas fetish. On the third Sunday of every month there is the very cute Wodonga Creek Miniature Railway (Wodonga Creek, Lincoln Causeway, Wodonga, Victoria, Australia, +61 2 6025 2329) where kids can ride a whole fleet of real miniature steam and diesel locomotives.
The trains run on teeny tracks that go through a tunnel and arrive at a real miniature train station that is oh so charming. The cost is minimal and tea, coffee and some snacks are available in the park. Everyone must be wearing enclosed shoes (they are quite strict about this and there are some spare shoes for loan if you forget) and kids under 6 must ride with an adult. The train does not operate in extreme summer conditions (over 36 degrees Celsius) or in January.
In addition to the miniature railway, for train enthusiasts it’s worth paying a visit to the longest undercover platform in the southern hemisphere at the Albury Railway Station (Young St., Albury, New South Wales, Australia). This magnificent heritage building proudly overlooks the main street and has preserved much of its original architectural feel.
In contrast, the old Wodonga station is in the midst of being converted into a lifestyle precinct and offers a different perspective on the utility of these historical buildings. You can walk right up to the decommissioned platform and gaze at where the tracks used to be. Inside the old station proper is now a fine dining restaurant, Broadgague, and in the lavoratories they still run the old station announcements. In the male toilets there is also a map showing how the building was used in it’s hey day.
Because Broadgauge is a fine dining restaurant it is best only for older kids or children who can sit still and quietly at the table. [For more travel tips on how to eat in expensive restaurants with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
To see more of the old railway line, you can cycle the High Country Rail Trail from Wodonga to old Tallangatta (over 40 kilometres one way) which follows the discarded tracks and makes for a scenic and pleasant bike ride. You can hire bikes at the Wodonga Visitor Information Centre.
[To read about a suitcases&strollers family who cycled from Alaska to Argentina, see the suitcases&strollers story Cycling With Kids.]
There are plenty of free parks for kids in Albury Wodonga. If you have preschoolers, the Albury Botanic Gardens (Corner Dean St. and Wodonga Place, Albury, New South Wales, Australia + 61 2 6043 5699) has a sweet children’s garden that is completely enclosed. It contains a small veggie patch among a few other small installations and is good for kids who aren’t ready for large playground equipment yet.
Oddies Creek Playspace (Wodonga Pace, turn left from Wodonga at the extension of Ebden St., Albury, New South Wales, Australia, +61 2 6023 8111) has an impressive playground that will have kids climbing, balancing, swinging and generally having a ball.
[For more travel tips on more free things to do with kids in most cities, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
In the summer if it’s just too hot to do any other activities, water play is always a fantastic option for hot and tired parents and kids. The Albury Swim Centre has a huge multi-storey waterslide and diving pool as well as the two main pools and a pool specifically for babies.
WAVES at Wodonga’s YMCA is generally open from mid September to mid April and includes two pools, a toddler pool and the splash park.
If you are going through Albury Wodonga in the winter or the height of summer and need a respite that will allow the kids to run around but is still indoors, there are the indoor playcentres in Wodonga Zealous Kidz and Scrambles. The indoor play centre in Albury is called Rumble Tumbles.
For some bona fide country craft, make an appointment to visit Eunice Eiseman at Stanley Bears. This amazing woman hand-makes teddy bears using real German mohair and in the traditional style with glass eyes, sewn (not plastic) noses, fully mobile joints and a little hunch in the back. These are heirloom investment pieces lovingly crafted for longevity so some of the more exclusive bears are not suitable for kids under 5. (Sadly, this is the last year that Eunice will create her series of special limited collector’s bears.) As an alternative for little ones, Eunice does have the Grandparents Choice bears which are suitable for all ages. The Stanley Bears are in such demand that Eunice doesn’t even have a shopfront; you need to make an appointment via email to visit her and choose your bear.
If you’re interested in locally created wooden products including toy trucks, trains and planes covered with non-toxic paints, Albury Wodonga Woodcrafters has a showroom with a small selection.
Hairdress and barista combo, Gloss N Bean, also has a very limited selection of rustic wooden toy trucks created by craftsman Jim Wright from Tumbarumba, a small neighbouring town, that are worth checking out. [To find Jim’s direct contact, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Like any good country market, Little Me Markets specialises in boutique, handcrafted goods from children’s clothes to games, toys, baked goods and personalised interior decorations. Check the website for dates.
If you collect vintage children’s books, particularly old favourites such as Enid Blyton hardbacks, café East Side Story has a small collection on display that are available for sale.
There are plenty of family-friendly cafes, restaurants and pubs around Albury Wodonga. Almost every establishment will welcome kids and many of the facilities for children are quite impressive. For instance, Blazing Stump Hotel is a family-friendly pub in Albury Wodonga that has a large supervised indoor playground with a jumping castle and TV screening kids shows. Better still, there is a live CC TV feed so parents can still keep an eye on their kids without having to be restricted to the playroom.
Sodens pub also has an indoor playroom with playground plus the additional treat of free iPads for loan that come loaded full of kid-friendly apps.
A unique way to get to meet the locals is to bring your own ingredients and make your own woodfired pizza. Or scones. Or cake. Or damper. The Community Wood Fire Oven is located in a park and operates every second Sunday of the month and is open for the public to use for free. Bring your own ingredients and start baking your picnic with the other families.
Kinross Woolshed, as it’s name suggests, is a large bistro housed in an old sheep shearing shed. The heritage and history of the shed have been preserved throughout so it’s a really rustic and lively place to hang out and often has live country entertainment such as singing, shearing demonstrations and trivia nights.
On weekends it’s a pleasant place to have brunch in the sunshine as there is a huge field where the kids can run around. The meals are huge so kids can often split with their parents; midweek kids eat lunch free.
Or if you’re hankering for country baked goods, drive 10 minutes from Albury to the Howlong Country Bakery (53 Hawkins St., Howlong, New South Wales, Australia, +61 2 6026 5141) for the delicious baked goods including enormous scones with the jam and cream already slathered on, perfect as a takeaway snack.
If you are planning to only spend a couple of hours in Albury Wodonga with kids and need a fuel and coffee pitstop, both 1CON1C and Piccolo Pod are mobile coffee vendors conveniently set up in service station carparks, making them an easy place to pop in to collect your takeaway coffee fix before you hit the road again. In Wodonga Delibean is another good option.
The Lake Hume Tourist Park has a range of self-contained cabins and camp sites right on Lake Hume and next to the weir wall. It’s a good spot to base yourself if you want to be close to all the water activities and mixing with lots of other families.
If you prefer to be in town, Quest Albury has serviced apartments that are very centrally located and come with full kitchen and laundry facilities. Guests of the serviced apartments get free access to the local Albury outdoor pool (not on site).
For something that feels more like a home than a generic serviced room, Albury Wodonga Apartments offer fully furnished houses, units and town houses. All come with full linen on the beds, kitchen facilities and laundry facilities but in a more personalised environment than the larger chains.
A few blocks walk from the main street in Albury and opposite Oddies Creek park is Albury Paddlesteamer Motor Inn, a cheap and cheerful motel option right next to the Murray River that has it’s own outdoor pool. They offer a large family room that can sleep a family of up to five people.
Albury Wodonga make for a good halfway point on a drive between Sydney and Melbourne. For more travel tips on things to do in Sydney and Melbourne with kids, see the suitcases&strollers stories Sydney Insider and Melbourne.
Images: suitcases&strollers, Robert Blackburn, Destination NSW, Visions of Victoria