Rural towns

Emma Gorge Waterfall

#1: Rural town – Daylesford, Victoria We can’t stop waxing lyrical about the picture-perfect Victorian town of Daylesford, a tree-change capital for Melburnians and the place to visit to de-stress and detach from city life, if only for a weekend. A five-day wellness festival directed by singer Kate Ceberano and artist David Bromley, Live. Love. Life., will further cement this reputation when it debuts in November, joining a roster of year-round events including ChillOut Festival, Australia’s longest-running and biggest rural LGBTQI pride festival. Of a weekend, you might find us browsing the boutiques of Daylesford’s main street, having a tipple at its bars or lounging at the lovely Lake House hotel, restaurant and spa.

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#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.

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#3: Rural town – Esperance, Western Australia How to spend a perfect day in Western Australia’s south-coast gem of Esperance, according to the team behind its coolest caravan coffee van, Coffee Cat.  You’ll find it stationed on the Tanker Jetty Headland. AM: Start the day with a Dukes single-origin long black or Bonsoy flat white from Coffee Cat, made more enjoyable by the great view of the Esperance Bay. Wander along the foreshore to town central and pick up a warm croissant with Nutella from Downtown Espresso Bar. It's now time to get in the Landcruiser and drive along Wylie Bay beach. Maybe the conditions will be good for a body surf? Continue driving the beach and arrive at Cape Le Grand National Park. Climb Frenchman Peak for a spectacular view of the Bay of Isles’ many islands. PM: For Lunch there is no better place for a barbecue than Hellfire Bay, only 10 minutes’drive from the base of Frenchman Peak. If it’s a warm day in the afternoon we need another swim. Wharton Beach is the place: the wind is offshore when the classic Esperance sea breeze is in and that’s most summer afternoons. It’s a great spot to watch the sunset. It’s back to Esperance for dinner and the Taylor St Quarters are pouring the cocktails. Scan the menu for seasonal treats: scallops, chargrilled octopus for us, or maybe the pork belly.

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#4: Rural town – Huonville, Tasmania Your launch pad for venturing into the Huon Valley and Tasmania’s south-west wilderness, Huonville is a mountain-framed pocket of creativity and enterprise. That the area is one of Australia’s biggest apple-growing regions is reflected here, and the rustic Willie Smith’s Apple Shed – a cider house, cafe and museum – encapsulates it all. Minutes from the town’s main drag on the Huon Highway, it hosts events throughout the year including live music, Sunday sessions and an artisan and produce market each Saturday. In July, you’ll find the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival here: a three-day pagan-inspired celebration of the region’s apple history. Its central focus is Saturday night’s wassail, an ancient tradition still celebrated in the West Country of England.

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#5: Rural town – Richmond, Tasmania Thirty minutes’ drive north-east of Hobart, Richmond was one of the first towns on the Tasmanian tourist trail, and still one of its most charming. With many of its Georgian buildings intact, and the oft-photographed historic bridge – Australia’s oldest still in use – a star attraction, it’s the place to come to absorb the feel of an early Australian colonial village. You’ll find plenty of modern-day interventions too, though, from cafes and restaurants to nearby wineries and their cellar doors. Stop in at Pooley Wines’ award-winning Butcher’s Hill Vineyard and Cellar Door to try some local cold-climate varietals (chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot grigio and riesling) and – on Sundays during winter (May to August) or either day of the weekend throughout the rest of the year – wood-fired pizza. Don’t pass up the freshly baked apple crumble dessert pizza. The cellar door is based in the converted stables of stately Belmont House, which overlooks town and was built by convict labour in 1832 with the same sandstone that was used to build Richmond Bridge.

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#6: Rural town – Warwick, Queensland Warwick, set in a picturesque valley on Queensland’s Southern Downs, is replete with historic homesteads (including the first colonial settlement built over the Great Dividing Range) and sandstone buildings. These days, “a lively social ambience has evolved with an abundance of coffee shops, restaurants, quality wine outlets and diverse shopping experiences,” says Bette Bonney of the Jumpers and Jazz in July festival, who advocates Warwick in winter for “those who enjoy crisp, sunny winter days, quirky colourful festivals and quality jazz.” The festival, first staged in 2004, “has become a magnet for patrons seeking that unique travel experience,” she says; “a feast of jazz, art, quirky yarn bombing (every tree in the CBD is ‘dressed’ for the occasion!), intriguing workshops, amazing food and wine and the expansive RACQ Grand Automobile Display. The huge Markets in the Park finale with free jazz on the last Sunday is a must-do closing event.”

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#7: Rural town – Port Fairy, Victoria This jewel of the Great Ocean Road was voted the most liveable town in the world in 2012. Its handsome seaside setting and heritage streetscape is complemented by a dining scene that’s growing in reputation (seek out Conlan’s Wine Store for hearty and sophisticated fare matched with regional wines, or Coffin Sally for pizza and cocktails), and its year-round calendar of festivals of every persuasion. The famous Port Fairy Folk Festival is held each March, while cooler months call for Winter Weekends, a celebration of the town’s food, art, nature, history, culture and community, which takes place every second weekend in June and July. Its can’t-miss event? The famous Dachshund Dash, of course.

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#8: Rural town – Goolwa, South Australia The historic town of Goolwa sits at the mouth of the Murray River and was once one of Australia’s major river ports. Its 1852-built wharf connects visitors to this past; as does a ride on the Cockle Train, a steam train that runs along Australia’s oldest steel-railed railway, dating from 1887. Dip into the Steam Exchange microbrewery – located in an old railway goods shed – for an ale, or enjoy a meal with river views at popular spot Hector’s on the Wharf.

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#9: Rural town – Castlemaine, Victoria An old gold-rush town in Central Victoria, in recent years Castlemaine has seen a new wave of activity breathed into its heritage buildings. Here are three to check out: The Public Inn: Castlemaine’s former fire station is now a one-hatted bistro and bar (pictured), where wine is dispensed from wall-mounted barrels and dishes are European-inspired (i.e. whiskey doughnuts or minute steak with mushy peas). The Mill: What began life in 1875 as the Castlemaine Woollen Mill is now a hub for creative businesses: you’ll find everything here from small-batch ice-cream makers and a Viennese-style coffee shop to a vintage bike seller, Pilates classes and more. Theatre Royal: One of Australia’s oldest continually operating theatres, this seasoned cultural hub today serves as a cinema screening independent films, plus a live music venue, bistro, and a bar that deals in espresso by day and wine by night.

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#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.  

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