100 BEST TOWNS IN AUSTRALIA
From wine-growing hubs to beachside hideaways and remote outback communities, Australian Traveller has searched high and low to determine which are Australia’s Best Towns. But before you get to the list, here’s how we made our decisions . . .
About the 100 Best Towns in Australia
Here at Australian Traveller, we’re very lucky to be able to get out and see much of the country. But everywhere we’re asked the same question: what is our favourite town? Everyone here has a different opinion. So, for our fourth birthday, and the fourth of our popular “100 Things” editions, we set out to answer that much-debated question. Which is the Best Town in Australia? And boy, did we open up a can of worms.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. How else can you explain the mullet, the Hypercolour T-shirt or the Kia Sportage? For some people, the perfect town is a largely untouched seaside hamlet. For others it’s anywhere with a quintessential outback pub full of hard-living characters. So we decided to simplify things a bit. We created a shortlist of around 300 towns we liked, all with a population of less than 45,000 – some with fewer than 50. We then created a Judging Panel of 12 people who’d been there and seen almost all of Australia. We made sure they represented different tastes; we had fashionistas, grumpy old men, sports nuts, tourism industry experts, travel writers, and even some well-travelled normal people. That would keep the research experts happy.
But then we had to ask the right question of our panellists. So we made it very simple and open. “Regardless of where the town is located, would you recommend a good friend drive an hour out of their way specifically to visit this town?” They then gave each town a rating, and added a few suggestions of their own. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, we totalled the votes and came up with a list.
Then we poured ourselves a stiff drink. A strange thing had happened. Places that polarised opinion didn’t do as well as places that had mass appeal across all demographics – Byron Bay, for example, had as many fans as detractors – but by the end we had an amazing list. That’s right. The best town in Australia is not Beechworth, Margaret River or Strahan. It’s Yamba. That’s right, Yamba. And we are willing to make a small wager that you didn’t think the best town in Australia was Yamba. Or that the second best was Esperance.
But once we poured ourselves a few more stiff drinks, it started to make sense. Esperance is utterly beguiling. It is a magnificent place. And so is Yamba. And that’s the key. These top towns often have highly commercialised neighbours, much in the public eye. But they also have that “X” factor. They are unique, they are still beautiful, but they are often hidden gems.
So the question has been answered. We asked our experts to recommend to their friend the top places to take some time out on their next trip. And Australian Traveller is the travellers’ friend.
As always, we recognise that a project of this nature is open to debate, and we welcome it. So if your favourite town isn’t here, whether you’re from Bathurst, Bowen or Busselton, let us know via firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us where we got it wrong. We’d love to hear from you.
The Australian Traveller Team
Click HERE to view our Judging Panel.
Explorer Matthew Flinders first splashed ashore from his trim sloop, Norfolk, in 1799 near Clarence Head, a monolithic heap of rock that shields Yamba from the wilder excesses of the Pacific Ocean, to fix a leak and maybe have one. He’d been despatched from Sydney to find a new Eden, but from his vantage point atop a craggy promontory, now Pilot Head, he blithely dismissed the shoaling, turbulent estuary as dangerous and unworthy of further examination, before sailing away. A shame, really, because he completely missed what he was sent to find; the largest estuarine system on Australia’s east coast,...
It’s the real secret of WA. Esperance is insanely beautiful, and is described by most who see the remote area as the most beautiful coastline in Australia. The brilliant aquamarine water fades into deep blue and the sand is so blindingly white it looks like snow drifts across the road. Esperance was “discovered” by Europeans quite some time before the rest of Australia, with the islands off Esperance – The Recherche Archipelago – appearing on maps printed in Holland as early as 1628. Esperance was named by the French, the first Europeans credited with landing in the bay in 1792,...
Port Douglas is a traditional boom and bust kind of town. In 1877 the village boomed like any good Australian town when gold was found in the nearby river system. And when the railway snaked into southern rival Cairns 14 years later, it was all bust for Port Douglas, dwindling to a small fishing village of 100 in the 1960s. Which is right about the time arch white-collar criminal Christopher Skase stumbled upon it and decided to build a world-class resort. His development of the Sheraton Mirage on Four Mile Beach marked the beginning of the revival that saw Port...
The trifecta of the best Australia has to offer: red dirt, white sand, blue sea, and it’s all found in one place. A whopping 2389km north of Perth, straddling the peninsula between Cable Beach and the mangrove flats of Roebuck Bay, the 126-year-old town of Broome – where the outback meets the sea – has a past as varied and colourful as the scenery. The influx of Chinese and Japanese pearl divers in the 1870s are responsible for a thriving China Town that comes to life during the annual September Shinju Matsuri Festival of the Pearl – dragon boat races,...
Port Fairy, Victoria’s oldest port, was a favourite hunting ground for whalers and sealers who once ruled the town. It was also a destination for escape during the 1800's for Irish immigrants fleeing the potato famine that was raging back home. A hint of that old Ireland fishing village flavour still lingers, and it maintains one of the state’s largest fishing fleets, where many fishermen return to the port unloading an abundance of crayfish, abalone and sharks off their boats. “Like the original Belfast (as the town was originally named by its Irish protestant whaler settlers), this town holds its...
Beechworth is by far the best-preserved 19th Century gold mining town in Australia. Not a single building in the town’s centre feels 20th, let alone 21st, Century. The Beechworth streetscape is so instantly charming because the buildings were largely constructed in the same style, at roughly the same time, and with the same material – the local honey-coloured granite. Ned Kelly, the town’s most notorious loiterer, could ride into Beechworth today and, ignoring the cars and oddly dressed people, it would look much the same as when he left in late 1880. In fact, he’d probably be arrested and charged...
Beguiling Byron. A place of happy beach existence, where sophisticated barefoot executive meets trust-baby bohemia meets yoga master. It’s the ultimate Australian town where no-one is out of place: DINKS, Reiki masters, ferals, wealthy Europeans and British backpackers all live happily here. Its carefully crafted laidback ambience and ability to totally unwind the most knotted of shoulders make it virtually unmissable for most travellers. For the first timer, the town itself can be underwhelming and, within an hour of arriving, many wonder what the fuss is about. But within 48 hours the cynic is usually converted and another I-just-looove-Byron-ite is...
One in a long line of unaffected and modest towns along the Great Ocean Road, Apollo Bay has everything, plus a few extras. On one side you’ve got a perfect beach that never gets too crowded, and on the other the magnificent cascading Otway Ranges. But it’s what lies between that puts Apollo Bay on our Top 100. Its 1700 unpretentious residents live cosmopolitan lifestyles, with cafes, restaurants, shops and fresh seafood direct from The Fisherman’s Co-Op, while surrounded by two stunning natural wonders. It’s the starting point for the popular Great Ocean Walk and just 30mins away lie the...
In AT’s book, it’s a crime not to visit Strahan if you head to Tasmania. It really is an amplification of everything that Tasmanian tourism stands for. On the edge of the magnificent Macquarie Harbour, Strahan started life as a sleepy fishing village with a small timber industry. It was considered isolated and left behind by "progress" through much of the 20th Century. And being "left behind" has left us with something monumentally special: a chocolate box-perfect town enveloped by virginal rainforests. The area is an assault on the senses, with a purity and clarity that isn’t replicated anywhere else...
More than any other town on our Top 100, AT’s panellists clamoured to make positive comments on Margaret River, the unofficial capital of WA’s southwest. “A recipe of surf, grapes and rainforest, best served with company,” said the MyPOWER team, who cycled through on their big lap of Australia and found it very difficult to leave. “More than possibly any other wine region stopping point, Margaret River is a town in its own right,” said panellist Justin Wastnage, “with great places to eat and real pubs for those odd occasions when you don’t have any cellar door purchases to BYO.”...
With its rich blend of Australian history and beach culture, The Rocks, as it’s affectionately known, is a shoe-in for our Best 100 Towns. The largest seaside town in the Macleay Valley, its surrounded by largely untouched waterways and national parks and is so popular for its variety of beaches, including Trial Bay Beach (one of the few east coast beaches that actually faces west), that distant Queensland surfers have been known to leave their smorgasbord of local beaches to migrate the 6.5hrs south its shores. Sitting on the northeast point of town, the Arakoon State Conservation Area is home...
The Great Alpine Road snakes through northeastern Victoria and as every corner is turned, a new farm or vineyard comes into sight, each with the freshest of fresh produce all begging to be sampled. Past all these gourmet delights, Bright is found on the edge of Mt Buffalo National Park with much more to offer than mouth-watering food and wine. Bright is a home away from home for outdoor types of both the normal and extreme variety. “People rave about the splendid autumn, but Bright offers a rejuvenating escape any time of year.” – Ken Boundy Bushwalking, fishing and cycling...
At the geographical heart of Australia, the best way to appreciate Alice is from Anzac Hill around sunset. Smack in the centre of town, this little hill supplies 360-degree views of the Alice grid and, to the south, the unfolding spectacle of the ancient McDonnell Ranges as the sun paints shifting hues of orange and crimson across them. Surrounded by desert, the inexorable flow of somewhat dirtied blow-ins decked out in Akubras with corks, thick socks and cargo pants provides unparalleled people-watching opportunities, while the rich mix of its 28,000 residents promises depth and grit. Aboriginal communities, desert-hardened white Australians,...
Surrounded by 87,500 hectares of natural forest courtesy of Croajingolong National Park, Mallacoota is a small coastal fishing town popular for its secluded beaches and pristine waterways. The town’s remoteness is a draw for city folk looking for a quiet holiday experience, while its northern climate takes advantage of the state’s warmest winter temperatures and fresh ocean breezes, making it a year-round destination. Mallacoota straddles the banks of an extensive lake system with great wildlife, bushwalks and water activities. “Understated and unspoiled nature in the raw, set around pristine rivers, lakes and coastlines. Victoria’s best-kept secret.” – Ken Boundy Less...
If the Adelaide Hills is fairytale country, Hahndorf is its fabled gingerbread cottage. It’s definitely baked with tourists in mind – and, yes, it requires a bit of a sweet tooth – but, given a chance, Hahndorf delivers a rich palate of cultural, intellectual and artistic heritage for those who seek it. Wandering through Hahndorf by ancient elms and gorgeous examples of early timber and brick cottages is a temporal trip to an aesthetically dreamy Germanic settlement grafted on to early colonial Australia. Interiors burst with delectable smells and tastes; delicacies like cheeses, chutneys, sauces, cured meats and wines overwhelm....
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