#81 – Dunkeld, VIC
On the southern end of the Grampians National Park in Victoria, in the foothills of the majestic Mt Sturgeon and Mt Abrupt, is humble Dunkeld – a town that has become an essential gastronomic pilgrimage stop for foodies everywhere, thanks to the award-winning Royal Mail Hotel.
The modern menu and the large wine cellar, coupled with amazing views of the Grampians, all serve to make the Royal Mail one of the most popular destinations in the region.
Worth an hour’s drive in itself to visit the Royal Mail. But as a stop-off to the volcanic Grampians range, it’s unbeatable.” – Justin Wastnage
Fruit and veggies are grown in the Hotel gardens and orchards, fish come fresh from the property’s dam and the rest is sourced from local farms and wineries to produce one of the most varied wine lists in Australia, with more than 1500 wines on offer. Just a short walk through town, past the shops and the museum and along a creek, is the Dunkeld Arboretum, a growing collection of trees from all around the world.
There are lots of bushwalks through the Grampian National Park or, for the less adventurous, a walk along the Royal Mail’s boardwalk past the creek where wallabies can be seen early each morning.
Where? // 253kms (3hrs) west of Melbourne.
Did you know? // Before Dan Hunter was head chef at the Royal Mail, he was head chef at Mugaritz, a Michelin two star eatery in Spain, which ranked fourth in UK Restaurant magazine’s Top 50 in ’08.
#82 – Parachilna, SA
This town with a population of seven is little more than a few guesthouses, a train station and a pub on the edge of the Flinders Ranges in outback SA.
This town with a population of seven is little more than a few guesthouses, a train station and a pub on the edge of the Flinders Ranges in outback SA. Parachilna would be a blink-and-miss-it town, were it not for the iconic Prairie Hotel offering up some unusual pub grub. There’s no chicken schnitzel here; instead, you can order up a Feral Mixed Grill of camel, wallaby, roo and goat on mashed potatoes and gravy.
If that doesn’t take your fancy, there’s always emu and damper, as well as normal rabbit, beef and sheep – as well as native fruits for dessert. Food is served in the restaurant, but many enjoy sitting on the balcony enjoying a cold beer with the flat red desert plains stretching off into the distant Flinders Ranges.
“The feral mixed grill at the Prairie Hotel is an outback classic.” – Lee Atkinson
Another spectacle is the coal train that’s so long it takes a full five minutes to pass through town on it’s way to Port Augusta every night, making the town shake and rumble as it passes. Just a 30min drive from the striking Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders, Parachilna is a great place to start a journey into Australia’s deep outback.
Where? // 470km (5hrs) north of Adelaide.
Did you know? // Popular with filmmakers, scenes from Gallipoli and Rabbit Proof Fence were filmed here, and the owner of the Prairie Hotel moonlights as a production liaison and location scout, also serving as second unit assistant director for Rabbit Proof Fence.
#83 – Sofala, NSW
Sofala, the friendliest town you’ve (n)ever been to. In 1947, when Russell Drysdale finished a painting of the tiny town of Sofala (right) near Bathurst in northern NSW, he didn’t expect it to win the Wynne prize that same year.
The old-fashioned buildings he depicted are washed with sunset colours of orange and brown along the sides of a narrow, dusty street. To this day the street looks much the same – give or take a few cars.
The peeling paint and crooked buildings lend Sofala a pioneering air and much is unchanged from more than 150 years ago. Gold was discovered in the local Turon River at the beginning of 1851 and, towards the end of the year, tens of thousands of people had rushed to Sofala to wallow in riches. Houses and shops popped up to support the miners and the gold lasted until 1948, making Sofala the oldest surviving gold town in Australia.
AT Reader Ross Johnson calls Sofala “The friendliest town I’ve ever been to. You can gold pan during the day, watch the stunning red sunset, and have a cold beer among the locals in the evenings.”
There are also plenty of walks to take, with the most popular in the Upper Turon leading to old buildings, a museum and gold diggings in the surrounding bush. It’s said that gold can still be found in the river, and panning is a popular pursuit for visitors who can also swim in the gold-flecked waters.
Where? // Around 241km (3hrs) northwest of Sydney.
Did you know? // Peter Weir, who directed such film greats as Gallipoli and Picnic at Hanging Rock, shot the very strange The Cars That Ate Paris, about a town that salvages car wrecks for money, in Sofala.
#84 – Tumut, NSW
While Tumut, in the foothills of the NSW Snowy Mountains, is the same whichever way it’s spelled, its seasons are vastly different: summer brings cool, clean and fast-moving waters perfect for trout fishing; green Kosciuszko National Park melts into the autumn colours Tumut is famous for; winter brings skiing enthusiasts as the Snowys are covered in a blanket of snow; and wildflowers jump into life on the edges of the Tumut River as spring emerges.
Tumut is encircled by popular walking tracks and, as AT panellist Peter Russell-Clarke adds, “The nearby Blowering Reservior (right), the end of the Snowy Scheme, abounds in brown and rainbow trout. Up the road is the apple capital of Oz, Batlow, so one doesn’t only smile at cattle and sheep and trout.”
“One of Australia’s really beautiful towns. Surrounded by high rolling hills that underscore the true Australian landscape, Tumut is refreshed by its picture-postcard river.” – Peter Russell-Clarke
During the 1850s rush, Tumut’s population boomed with prospectors staying or passing through to mine for gold in the neighbouring towns.
Today, the only thing in Tumut with a booming population is the eccentric museum near the main road, which is home to 3000 novelty salt and pepper shakers.
Where? // 180km (1.5hrs) west of Canberra.
Did you know? // Tumut could have been Australia’s capital. In 1908 it was one of the nine towns shortlisted for the honour.
#85 – Ross, TAS
the main intersection of Ross, a convict-built town in central eastern Tasmania. Temptation comes in the form of the local pub. For those who drank a little too much last night, salvation is found in the church opposite. Damnation is embodied by the old town gaol, now a private residence. And the town hall represents recreation.
These four corners of Ross are just a small portion of the many 19th Century buildings scattered around town. There’s the circa 1836 Royal Army Corps headquarters, the female convict factory site, as well as plenty of other sandstone colonial buildings along the old elm tree-lined streets.
The Ross Bakery has been operating for more than a century and offers visitors a taste of that wonderful Tasmanian speciality: the scallop pie. The most famous attraction is said to be the Ross Bridge, built by convicts in 1836.
It’s the third oldest in Australia and the arches spanning the Macquarie River are covered in intricate carvings. In fact, when the bridge was finished the carvings were deemed of such high quality that they won the convicts who carved them their freedom.
Where? // 117km (1hr 40mins) north of Hobart, 78km (1hr) south of Launceston.
Did you know? // The Ross Bakery formed the inspiration for Studio Ghibli’s cult anime film Kiki’s Delivery Service, and every year Japanese fans make the pilgrimage to Tasmania to have their photo taken in front of it.
#86 – Augusta, WA
One of the few places in the world where you can watch the sun rise in one ocean and disappear into another, without having to travel an inch. One of the few places in the world where you can watch the sun rise in one ocean and disappear into another, without having to travel an inch.
Situated at the southwestern tip of WA with the Indian Ocean crashing on one side and the Southern Ocean smashing on the other, Augusta makes the Top 100 quite simply for its stunning natural beauty.
The type of place where you commonly find you’re the only person surfing on the beach, the town was the third settlement in WA but, amazingly, remains largely untouched – and often overlooked. A thriving community with a fascinating history museum, Augusta forms the coolest, most southerly region of the Margaret River Valley, and as a result is home to some world famous wines.
South Augusta is also the southernmost tip of WA, called Cape Leeuwin, and is the point at which the Indian meets the Southern – and the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse stands to mark the spot. Opened in 1896, the landmark tower is still serving as an important navigational and weather facility worldwide – definitely worth a visit.
The dilemma: to visit in summer for the warmth and waves? Or in winter to watch the whales migrate? Not to worry, though; the great wine is all year round . . .
Where? // 318km (5hrs) south of Perth.
Did you know? // In 1986, a 114-strong school of whales beached themselves at Augusta, with hundreds of people pouring in from the southwest to mount a rescue effort. After three solid days, 96 of the whales were returned safely to the ocean.
#87 – Kingscote, SA
Kingscote, Kangaroo Island
The main town on Kangaroo Island, Kingscote was the first settlement in SA in 1836. The main town on Kangaroo Island, Kingscote was the first settlement in SA in 1836. On a boat-studded harbour overlooking the Bay of Shoals down to the beaches of Nepean Bay, the small township is home to great galleries, boutique shopping and delectable eateries.
AT reader Debra Wedmaier reckons KI is the best gourmet region in Australia, and that Kingscote is a top place for its pelican feeding. “Living on the Sunshine Coast, I’ve seen Pelicans being fed many times, but never like this,” she says.
Every day visitors share the jetty space with the birds while locals carry out the feeding and an informal info session. You’ll need an empty suitcase to carry all the fantastic KI produce, like the delicious sauces, jams and pastes and the Emu Ridge distillery’s famous eucalyptus drops.
Try the local lobster oil, drop a line off the jetty and stop in to the Island Pure Dairy to try the Haloumi Cheese. The local wine complements the great food and Debra suggests you pick up her personal favourite, the Island Sting Honey Liqueur.
Flinders Chase National Park is right on your doorstep, as are the dunes of Little Sahara – great for sliding down with the kids, all a stone’s throw from Kingscote in one of Australia’s most prized regions.
Where? // 186km southwest of Adelaide on KI (around 4hrs, including the ferry ride from Cape Jervis into Penneshaw).
Did you know? // Kingscote was first named Angas after the early settler, George Fife Angas (another of our Top 100 towns, Angaston, is named after him). An argument with another of the island’s founders, Henry Kingscote, resulted in the town being renamed Kingscote.
#88 – William Creek, SA
Dry, dusty and sparse – three words that are excellent for describing the outback. And the lengthy look down the Oodnadatta Track, which seems almost endless from William Creek in far northern South Australia, isn’t too far from that description either.
With a population of three permanent residents and two workers, William Creek is officially the smallest town in South Australia. Despite that, it’s situated smack in the middle of the world’s largest working cattle property, Anna Creek Station, which is almost half the size of Tassie.
“William Creek has a pub, a parking meter for a Cessna and bits of Woomera rocket on the old Ghan railway platform. Utterly unique.” – Peter Robinson
As original as a bush boozer can get, the William Creek Pub is like a life-size scrapbook. Thousands of mementos are nailed to the wall, from bras to business cards, drivers’ licenses, passport photos (AT panellist Fleur Bainger’s is up there, apparently) and anything else passers-by can use to mark the significance of their journey through town while enjoying a refreshing cold beer.
But it’s not just a watering hole; it’s a bush mechanics’ outpost, a petrol station, a camping ground, a restaurant and a hotel. The town can be easily accessed by the town’s only airstrip, while scenic flights are run during “winter” or any other times when there’s water in nearby Lake Eyre.
Where? // 165km east of Coober Pedy, 1000km (14hrs) northwest of Adelaide, it really is in the middle of nowhere.
Did you know? // William Creek Pub is the only iron corrugated hotel left trading in South Australia.
#89 – Wisemans Ferry, NSW
With 360-degree views of four national parks, how could this small historic town not be in our Top 100? With 360-degree views of four national parks, how could this small historic town not be in our Top 100?
On the edge of the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney, Wisemans Ferry is a popular destination for visitors escaping the hustle and bustle of the city. Established by convict Solomon Wiseman in 1817, the town is well known for its quaint ferry services that run across the river to St Albans, the Hunter Valley and Gosford.
Originally created to transport goods to Sydney and convicts working on the Great Northern Road, the ferry now caters to sightseers who cross the river.
The area could be mistaken for a fairytale hideaway, set around by the Dharug, Yengo, Cattai and Marramarra National Parks that offer plenty of activities, be it walking, riding or exploring the convict past of the region.
Carved out of solid rock by convicts between 1826-1836, the Great Northern Road can still be travelled on today and has a distinctive 19th Century feel to it. This feeling continues on Wisemans Ferry’s main street, particularly in its Inn. Originally built by Solomon Wiseman in 1826, the sandstone building even has a convict ghost.
Where? // 75km (1hr 15mins) northwest of Sydney.
Did you know? // In the nearby Marramarra National Parks is the Maroota Historic Site (Devil’s Rock), listed on the National Trust for its rock engravings. It contains more than 60 engravings, including one unique engraving of a sailing ship with a figure on it. Access, however, is restricted to Aboriginal and educational groups.
#90 – Halls Gap, VIC
Aboriginals have called the extensive rugged ranges around Halls Gap in western Victoria home for at least 5000 years. Resting in the middle of the Grampians Geriwerd National Park and with views of some of the country’s most dramatic scenery, Halls Gap is a town steeped in adventure and culture.
A short drive down the main road fetches you up at Brambuk, the longest-running Aboriginal centre in Australia, shared between the five local Aboriginal communities of the region.
There are amazing walks into the national park from here, where hidden caves filled with ancient art can be seen. The ranges flanking Halls Gap offer grand views of the town nestled in the centre of the valley, beside a deep lake with schools of fish waiting to be tempted by a dipping line or two. In spring, Halls Gap comes alive with colour from the thousands of wildflowers that grow in the Grampians.
AT Reader Steve Draper also recommends the Halls Gap YHA for its eco-credentials. “It’s completely powered by solar panels and the hot water is provided using solar energy also. Rainwater is collected in several large tanks and used throughout the hostel and non-drinking water is recycled.
Buckets are even left in the bathrooms to encourage people to collect their shower water and pour it on the plants. You can’t do much better than this when it comes to green travel!”
Where? // 262kms (3hrs) northwest of Melbourne.
Did you know? // One of the most important Aboriginal rock art sites is near Halls Gap. Known as Bunjil’s Shelter, the artwork is of Bunjil the creator of the Earth.