Discover the hidden charm of many Australia town that rival best of Bali
Aug 17, 2020
With international travel off the cards for the time being, many people are embracing the local road trip to scratch the holiday itch.
So there’s been no better time to get off the beaten track – especially at a time when everyone are uneasy about crowds and we value a little social distancing. While popular holiday towns like Byron Bay, Port Douglas and Lorne have their obvious charms, there are plenty of spots that are often overlooked, but still have lots to offer.
Now’s the time to hit up those untapped gems. Also, please consider travelling to one of the regions that has been hit by the double whammy of bush fires and COVID. They need our travel dollar now more than ever. Otherwise, here are some spots that fly a little under the radar.
For a long time when people headed to Victoria’s spa country / goldfields area, they would gravitate to cute-as-a-button Daylesford. Castlemaine was often overlooked, but it’s come a heck of a long way in the past decade or so. It’s only an hour and a half from Melbourne, but it has a great classic country town feel. The beautiful Theatre Royal offers a great night out, you can pick up amazing wines from Boomtown and Bress, and munch on incredible food at Wild and Johnny Baker.
Like Castlemaine, Portarlington has often been passed over for its shiny Bellarine Peninsula neighbours Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale. But these days, Portarlington has a heck of a lot going for it. There’s a ferry that runs directly from Melbourne, you can sit and down fresh mussels at The Little Mussel Cafe, and the bay beach is a delightfully tranquil spot for a summer dip. Nearby wineries like Bennetts and distilleries like The Whiskery are great places to go to eat snacks, soak up some fresh coastal air and imbibe local drops.
The Yorke Peninsula is a great place to explore, just over two hours drive from Adelaide. Here you’ll find 700km of pristine coast and the beautiful Innes National Park – it’s the perfect spot to spend your days swimming, surfing, fishing, camping and bush walking. Have a day trip on a fully functioning oyster boat, visit wineries and breweries, and be sure to have a long lunch at Marion Bay Tavern.
Just over an hour from Adelaide at Port Elliot you’ll find postcard-worthy beaches, cute homeware shops, stylish cafes and chic, beachside cottages. It has some of the most amazing beaches in the country, so it’s a prime spot for swimming, surfing and kayaking. It also has plenty of charm in the cooler months, when you can go whale watching, bike riding, skydiving and ballooning. Take a day trip to the world famous McLaren Vale wine region, have al fresco lunch at the Flying Fish Cafe and try the famous doughnut flavour of the month at Port Elliot Bakery.
This is the perfect alternative to frenetic Byron Bay. Yamba still has plenty of laid-back beach vibes with amazing surf breaks, The Pacific Hotel with its spectacular views of the coastline and plenty of cheap and cheerful accommodation options. Take a walk up to the lighthouse, visit the local farmers market and spend the afternoon lazing around the Blue and Green Pools at nearby Angourie. Yamba is about a 3.5-hour drive from Brisbane.
The small rural town of Dorrigo is an hour’s drive inland from Coffs Harbour on the Waterfall Way, a scenic driving route that winds past five stunning national parks. This character-filled town is the gateway to the World Heritage-listed Dorrigo National Park, home to ancient rainforest and dramatic waterfalls. Once you arrive you can walk the Skywalk above the rainforest canopy and visit the Food Angel Cafe where you can buy a second hand book and spend the afternoon lazily eating their delicious baked treats.
Seventeen Seventy (1770)
Fun fact: this is the only town in the world that has a number for a name. It was called this after the year Captain James Cook first landed in Queensland. Located at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, this destination is a real untapped gem with incredible beaches and a real laid-back coastal vibe. Once you arrive you can take a Scooter Roo adventure where you cruise around looking for kangaroos on a Harley Davidson. It’s also a departure point for reef cruises and fishing charters to the outer Great Barrier Reef. Eight kilometres away is its sister town Agnes Water, where you can go for surfing, fishing, kayaking or simply laze on the beach.
Just an hour from Brisbane, the Gold Coast Hinterland is a glorious area to explore. Tamborine Mountain is actually a collective term for a number of small villages stretching along the eight kilometre ridge of the mountain range. You’ll find lush rainforest, breathtaking scenery, abundant wildlife and clean mountain air. It’s a great spot for a weekend away with its country markets selling locally made arts and crafts, award-winning wineries and al fresco eateries. Have an indulgent treatment at Getaway Day Spa, go antiquing and check out the glow worms in the cave at Cedar Creek Estate Vineyard.
Launceston is often overlooked for its more glam older sister Hobart … which is understandable because MONA is mind-blowing and the wealth of great restaurants and bars in Hobart is formidable. But Launceston is a great base to explore the nearby Tamar Valley, which is beautifully sleepy and has some exceptional wines and local produce to sink your teeth into. Hop in the car for fish and chips at Chef’s Catch in Beauty Point and pick berries at Hillwood Berry Farm. Back in Launceston, do a fireside pub crawl through some of the classic older pubs, and have an indulgent dinner at Stillwater.
Strahan is steeped in history – this is where convicts and pioneers toughed it out in Tassie’s wild west. But it’s come a heck of a long way from its dark past, with shops now selling artisan wares and eateries serving up delicious local produce. Strahan is on the edge of the Wilderness World Heritage Area, so it’s a great spot for nature-lovers. There are plenty of outdoorsy activities to choose from: boat cruises provide an unforgettable journey into the pristine temperate rainforests of the Gordon River, you can fish at Lake Burbury, make the journey up to Hogarth Falls to go platypus spotting or simply walk the kilometres of wild ocean beach.
Long overshadowed by nearby Margaret River, Denmark offers some incredibly beautiful coastline, amazing rieslings, and an abundance of beautiful wildflowers. Walk the heritage trail along the Denmark River, check out the shops in town, have a picnic on the beach and check out the artists markets.
A favourite for family fishing holidays and sightseeing, Augusta is now also becoming a mecca for adventure. World-class windsurfing, kitesurfing, paddling, snorkelling and whale watching are some of the main attractions. Whale watching in Flinders Bay is fantastic from June to August as it is the first stopping point for many southern right and humpback whales that come to feed, breed and play. Other nearby attractions include Jewel Cave, Hamelin Bay and the Boranup Forest.
Escape to one of Australia’s last true wilderness areas. Arnhem Land is one of the Top End’s most spectacular natural destinations with beautiful scenery, rugged coastlines, remote islands, rivers teeming with fish, rainforest, towering escarpments and savannah woodland. Nhulunbuy and Jabiru are good bases for exploring this part of Australia. Joining an organised tour with an operator that has permission to enter the region is highly recommended.
The small town of Mataranka, south of Katherine, is renowned for its sandy-bottomed thermal pool, which is one of Australia’s most spectacular swimming pools. Witness the spectacle of enormous barramundi being plucked from a billabong on the twice-daily tours at Territory Manor. Spend some time looking around the Mataranka township. Browse the Stockyard Gallery’s exhibit of local Aboriginal art from the Mataranka and Roper River areas. Pick up a didgeridoo, postcard, whip or spear and enjoy a homemade iced coffee and a scone in the cafe’s garden.