Great travel is all about the journey, not the destination. And Tourist Drive 33 is one of the great Australian journeys.
When heading north from Sydney there are two main options for the motorist: the conventional route on the motorway, a dull and monotonous drive with the frequent complication of frustrating traffic snarls; Or, alternatively, Tourist Drive 33, a country excursion with pastoral surrounds, punctuated by historic diversions. The route drifts from the Peats Ridge exit on the M1, through the western Central Coast and across the Hunter Valley, along the historic Great North Road. The journey reveals significant national history, as well as having the potential to generate wistful nostalgia in the traveller.
The Great North Road was a magnificent engineering achievement of the 19th century. Two centuries ago, convicts toiled to blaze a viable route north. As a tribute to the industry of thousands, many of the culverts, buttresses, and bridges survive today. Pausing to inspect these rich historic wonders is where the traveller’s personal history intersects with the nation’s history. Tourist Drive 33 transports the traveller to a simpler world of rolling paddocks, roadside livestock, and quaint villages. It is the perfect antidote to leaving the entanglements of Sydney way behind. Time has less emphasis out here. There is time to remember how life once was. There is time to rejuvenate. And there is time to play.
On Tourist Drive 33, with the radio turned up, the windows down, and nowhere to be, the pleasures are uncomplicated and life is easy. As the valley vistas go by, long-lost memories accumulate: the great Australian tradition of driving holidays in a Kingswood or a Falcon; enjoying a cold milkshake at a small town café; relaxing on a rug while picnicking in a grassy paddock; buying fresh veges from a roadside stall; and chatting with locals about this year’s wine vintage.
The villages that meet Tourist Drive 33 are as charming as they are historic. Kulnurra, Laguna, Wollombi, Millfield, Cessnock, Lovedale, Branxton: names that hint at the crossroads of the regions’ rich indigenous history and the colonial heritage. Once conflicting cultures, now in historic harmony. With pride in their past and optimism for their future, the locals are friendly and welcoming, and there are infinite stories to share. Guesthouses, Bed & Breakfasts, and self-contained Retreats are tucked away in picturesque pockets along the rural drive and offer the traveller everything from rustic comfort to romantic luxury. A home cooked breakfast in a rambling country kitchen, or a romantic breakfast in bed. A bottle of local red around a roaring fire pit, or a glass of local white snuggling by the dying embers in a sandstone fireplace.
Tourist Drive 33 is a time traveller’s rite of passage. Take the exit from following the sheep on the motorway, and take in the grazing sheep in the lush rolling landscape. Take the time. Enjoy the journey. Take the road less travelled. Tourist Drive 33.