#1: Foodie favourite – Mudgee, New South Wales A perennially popular spot for weekends and mini-breaks, Mudgee is a food and wine destination worth allocating a few extra days to explore. Savour the drops at one of its many family-owned cellar doors – the region has 150 years of winemaking under its belt and is renowned for its cabernet sauvignon and shiraz – and enjoy leisurely breakfasts, long lunches and degustation dinners at sophisticated, local-produce focused eateries. Fine diner Pipeclay Pumphouse, based at Robert Stein Vineyard & Winery, affords the chance to indulge in all of the above. Positioned lakeside in an atmospheric space that, in its pumphouse days, serviced the winery, menu options include a degustation of five, eight or 10 courses with matching wines. Or, for small plates and wine in an old converted cheese factory, travel 10 minutes down the road to The Cellar By Gilbert.
#1: Coastal haunt – Byron Bay, New South Wales This famous east coast town has long been adored for its incredible beaches and epic surf breaks, but this is no ordinary seaside holiday. With an eclectic culture unlike any other, Byron Bay is the destination where alternative new agers merge with the uber-stylish, and bronzed backpackers mingle with local hipsters. And while we will always love the iconic lighthouse walk, pandanus palm-lined Wategos and epic surf breaks at The Pass and Tallows, it’s all the happenings in town that excite us. With a recent surge in cool new places to try, our Byron Bay insider, Lara Picone, shares her top five new places to check out.
- Barrio Located at Habitat, a live/work/play development in Byron’s industrial estate, is this casual but sophisticated Argentinian-inspired eatery with a vibrant, hearty menu.
- The solar train The old defunct railway has been given life with this solar-powered train (the world’s first!) that leaves town and heads to North Beach Station near Elements resort and Barrio.
- The Bower This daggy motel has had a cool makeover that is New York-meets-Byron Bay. The property also features a beautifully restored 100-year-old cottage.
- The Byron Bay General Store The historic store (built 1947) has been converted into a cool cafe, the new hipster hang-out where you receive a 10 per cent discount if you ride your bike in.
- Duk Run by the people behind 100 Mile Table, this chic Asian eatery is a welcome addition, with excellent food and mood.
#1: Neighbourhood – Chippendale, New South Wales The inner-city hub of Chippendale in Sydney has come a long way since its days as an overcrowded slum in the 19th century, jammed with tightly packed houses and the stench of nearby abattoirs. Hell, it’s come a long way since it was a semi-industrial hub for the likes of the rag trade, when the giant Carlton and United Brewery (originally Tooths) was still producing beer here in the late 20th century, a place of bustling activity during the day and a no-go zone at night. Now it is a much sought-after address, its old warehouses filled with art galleries (check out the renowned White Rabbit Gallery on Balfour Street for contemporary Chinese art), creative agencies and eateries (try the myriad offerings along Kensington Street), and its skyline dominated by the masterful Jean Nouvel-designed One Central Park, a 33-storey vertical garden of some 30,000 shrubs and 70,000 plants. In fact, the only thing jam-packed into Chippendale these days are diners enjoying the Asian hawker fare on Spice Alley and bright young things sipping drinks at the revitalised Old Clare Hotel.
#2: Rural town – Bellingen, New South Wales Eat: In June last year, the team behind renowned Sydney restaurant Bloodwood opened Popla in this creative little town on New South Wales’ Mid North Coast. Based in a heritage-listed weatherboard cottage, it specialises in open-hearth cooking. Drink: Housed in an old factory, the funky Bellingen Brewery Co. is a craft brewery and boutique bar that also exhibits art (it shares its space with Big Fig Arts) and hosts live music. Play: Held in July, Bello Winter Music festival brings local, national and international performers, including alt-country troubadour Justin Townes Earle, to the town’s pubs, halls and streets. Stay in a bell tent in its camping village, or opt for a cosy B&B. Explore: Head 30 minutes out of town to Dorrigo National Park and its treetop walk, which culminates in views of ancient rainforest. Twenty minutes in the other direction will take you to great surf beaches.
#4: The burbs – Manly, New South Wales From beachside beauty spots where art and surf coexist to inner city enclaves dedicated to the pursuit of living well, these local haunts have all your desires covered. Learning to surf is almost a rite of passage for Australians given our land is girt by sea, and a favourite place to learn some board basics is on the sands of the celebrated northern Sydney beachside suburb of Manly. Lessons at Manly Surf School are stacks of fun, with adult and kids’ lessons throughout the year. Then dry off and head to one of the many cafes serving up serious coffee and beachside cool: the lovely Boathouse at Shelly Beach with its Instagram-worthy interiors; the Nordic cool of Fika Swedish Kitchen; or Barefoot Coffee Traders and Showbox Coffee Brewers, always packed with locals.
#4: Coastal haunt – Cabarita Beach, New South Wales The Tweed Coast has always been a favourite for holidaymakers in the know, but in 2015 it became a truly coveted destination when Halcyon House opened at Cabarita Beach. This luxury boutique stay gave new life to the run-down 1960s Hideaway motel, with a complete makeover: breathtaking interiors by Anna Spiro (pictured), a fabulous on-site restaurant Paper Daisy, a light and breezy day spa, old-fashioned service that saw visitors flocking here from across the country. But those who knew Cabarita before the Halcyon, in the halcyon days, know that it’s always been a little pocket of paradise, bordered by a nature reserve, lake and sugar-white beaches. And it’s just a bonus that there’s now a pretty place to lay your head at night.
#4: Alternative capital – Newcastle, New South Wales “My favourite thing about Newcastle? The beaches are always at the top of my list, as is the case for most people here. In the last few years there have been a lot of changes to the infrastructure and overall vibe of Newcastle. What was once a ‘dead’ town now is buzzing with new bars, weekend markets, a growing music industry and amazing places to eat. Don’t leave town without spending a few hours eating and shopping down Darby Street before heading to the beach, which is only a short drive or a beautiful walk away.” -Morgan Clark, co-founder of Pushing Pansies
#5: Neighbourhood – Surry Hills, New South Wales “Sydney’s Surry Hills presents a constant temptation to eat, drink and spend far too much," says Australian Traveller editorial director Leigh-Ann Pow. "When it comes to coffee, my favourite places are Three Williams on Elizabeth Street (you can often spot members of the South Sydney Rabbitohs there after training at nearby Redfern Oval), Bills on Crown Street, and the original Bourke Street Bakery. I love to shop at the regular sales at Extinct, Dinosaur Designs’ samples and seconds shop (Elizabeth Street), and browse the lovely stationery at Paper2 (Crown Street). And when I don’t want to spend a cent, I stroll the maze of streets off Albion Street admiring the eclectic mix of architecture that characterises the area.”
#5: Top secret spot – Milton, New South Wales Where? Around three hours’ drive from Sydney in the Shoalhaven region. What? Established in 1860, the entire town, filled with picture-postcard historic buildings, has been classified by the National Trust of Australia as a historic village. Why? With its pretty main street and the frisson of creativity running through it, Milton (known as Milly; neighbouring Mollymook is Molly) is the kind of place that once you discover, you keep coming back time and time again. Check out the boutiques and cafes on the main street, pop into the monthly arts and craft market, stop by Merry Maidens Veggies for bio-dynamic produce, and then head to the nearby hinterland town of Woodstock for lunch at Milk Haus, housed in an old cheese factory.
#5: The burbs – Parramatta, New South Wales Eat: Parramatta, and neighbouring Harris Park, have a lock on some of the best Indian food in Sydney, from dosa to biryani; try Ginger Indian Restaurant for delicious North Indian curries. Drink: There is no signage at Uncle Kurt’s; it’s hidden below a car park (Horwood Place). If you do manage to locate it, you will find a graffiti-daubed space serving up serious cocktails and NY deli fare. Play: What with a revamped Tropfest film festival that took place in Parramatta Park this year; the Sydney Festival program getting bigger and better here each year (including the ever popular Spiegeltent); the Riverside Theatre attracting artists and performers from all over the world; and the colourful Parramasala festival, a three-day celebration of the diverse cultures that thrive in the greater Sydney area, there’s never a dull moment in Parramatta, literally!
#7: The burbs – Cabramatta, New South Wales The south-western Sydney suburb of Cabramatta, located roughly 30 kilometres from the city, serves up a cultural melting pot of ethnicities, cuisine and culture. Here, five spots to sample on your next visit:
- While the rest of Sydney prides itself on its coffee culture, tea is hero here. Teabags T-shop serves sweet, refreshing fruit teas served in easy to carry zip-lock bags.
- Get hands on with the local cuisine by ordering the DIY rice paper rolls option at various eateries in and around John Street; Phu Quoc is a favourite with locals.
- If the size of the crowd waiting for tables is your metric of how good a restaurant is, Pho Ann might be the best around, with locals milling patiently at the entrance watching those inside slurp up bowls of the delicate broth.
- Eastland Supermarket Sieu Thi Dong Khanh has aisle after aisle of Asian staples, from fresh noodles to spices to gleaming woks.
- Fabric shops are another specialty, festooned with colourful bolts of fabric outside, with everything from zippers to thread spools inside.
#9: Coastal haunt – Eden, New South Wales The history of this small town on the far south coast of New South Wales warrants a visit alone. In the 19th century, Eden was a thriving whaling town, though its success was not owed to the skills of the whalers alone. Legend has it that killer whales would knowingly assist in the hunt by coaxing passing humpbacks into Twofold Bay and into the path of local whalers, who would harvest them for oil and bone. Take a self-guided tour of the Killer Whale Trail to learn the story of the town’s whaling stations and Old Tom, a legendary killer whale. Thankfully this waterway, known as ‘Humpback Highway’, is safe from whalers these days, and between September and November these creatures can be spotted as thousands of them pass by on their way to Antarctica.
#9: Foodie favourite – Bangalow, New South Wales This town in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Byron Shire, is the perfect place to indulge in the best produce of the region away from the bigger crowds that Byron itself attracts. “Bangalow brings together the best of what the regional restaurants and producers are doing on a weekly basis and showcases it in the one place during the Sample Food Festival every September,” says Jacqui Riley, north coast resident and owner of Jacqui Riley Divine Cakes. “And it has a stylish country charm.” It’s also a handy base for discovering the rest of Byron Shire. “Its close proximity to the plethora of markets and dining options in nearby Byron, Federal, Brunswick and Mullumbimby makes it the perfect foodie destination on the far-north coast.”
#10: Camping spot – Dawson Spring Campground, Mt Kaputar National Park, New South Wales It’s hard to tear yourself away from some of the country’s more popular national parks and their associated camping spots, the Blue Mountains, Kakadu and the like, but think outside the box, turn your gaze a little further inland and you’ll find some places you shouldn’t overlook. Take Mount Kaputar National Park, an hour’s drive from Narrabri in northern New South Wales. The Dawsons Spring campground is a good central base from which to explore, replete with hot showers (yay!), set among a copse of towering snow gums. From here you can set out to the Mount Kaputar summit walk from where it’s said you can see 10 per cent of the state. While in the park don’t miss the Sawn Rocks, a short drive away to the north. These hexagonal pillars rise out of the bush like the pipes of a cathedral organ, the result of cooling lava from an ancient volcano.
#10: Neighbourhood – Barangaroo, New South Wales “What I love about Barangaroo is that it has a real urban village feel to it,” says Somer Sivrioglu, executive chef of Anason, one of the first restaurants to take up residence in the newly minted Sydney CBD precinct: a considered collection of restaurants, bars and shopping that is proving a huge drawcard to weekday workers in the surrounding office blocks and weekend revellers. “My barber is there, I can shop in good quality little shops, no big names. The food is amazing, there’s good coffee and, I think, the best ice-cream shop in Sydney (RivaReno Gelato Barangaroo),” he continues. “I think Sydney lacks waterfront venues that are for the locals and for local tourists; this is the best choice in town to take friends and visitors.” No wonder Somer’s been referred to as the unofficial Mayor of Barangaroo; it’s definitely got our vote now.
#10: Rural town – Scone, New South Wales You’ll find the appealingly named Scone in the Upper Hunter region of New South Wales, a rural hub known as the Horse Capital of Australia (thanks to its reputation as the second-largest horse breeding area in the world after Kentucky, USA). The Scone Horse Festival, which takes place each May, celebrates all things equine with rodeos, street parades and stock sales. To immerse yourself fully in country life, stay at the working property Belltrees Estate, a 30-minute drive from town towards Barrington Tops National Park and home to the White family since 1831. Accommodation options include cottages and a 4WD-access-only mountain retreat, all centred around the famous grand homestead that dates from 1908.
#10: Alternative capital – Armidale, New South Wales “Armidale is one of those rural communities that punches far above its weight," says Deborah Pulkkinen, managing director of Wayward Trails. "This is the kind of place you come for a holiday and end up living happily ever after. I believe they call it a tree change. If you want culture and art, you really can’t go any further than Armidale. We have such a variety, from the famous Hinton collection at NERAM, our regional art museum, to endeavours such as Go Create! in Kentucky, which provides a textiles and art retreat. "Obviously my bias is towards food and beverage and you cannot get more paddock-to-plate than here. Throw in some craft beer, world-class gin and cool-climate wines and I don’t think you could find a better region for local produce. Armidale is also a very picturesque town, fully experiencing all four seasons: a bit of a rarity in Australia. Armidale is very ‘Southern Highlands’, but the beauty of it is that it is relatively undiscovered.”