If you’re looking for fire-affected communities you can inject some much-needed tourism dollars back into, allow us to tell you how and where your money can be best spent.
The Christmas and New Year period saw thousands of people impacted by one of the worst bushfire seasons on record. The loss of life and wildlife, homes, communities and businesses was keenly felt all around the world – with many watching on, feeling helpless as to how their efforts could aid those struggling through heartbreaking losses.
As the fires settle into containment, many affected regions have re-opened for business, ready to welcome visitors with wide arms.
Please, #holidayherethisyear, remembering to pack light and shop locally in these recovering towns. Your tourism dollars will play a major role in aiding the local economies and restoring optimism back into communities affected by the bushfires.
*And while the destinations below are definitely reflective of business and communities that deserve support, they are in no way indicative of those that are the most deserving, nor exclusively the only places you should visit. This is just one of the many bushfire recovery pieces we will be doing, so be sure to leave your suggestions as to where we can cover next.
1. Cooma, NSW
Where is it? Cooma is located an 80-minute drive south of Canberra, within the NSW Snowy Mountain region. The drive from Sydney is just over four hours.
Featuring an array of adventure tours, fishing spots and monumental heritage, Cooma is a welcoming gateway to the Snowy Mountains. Head here in the skiing and snowboarding seasons for a Winter Wonderland, or alternatively, plan to fill your calendar outside the colder months with everything from a wildflower walk or alpine hike.
Stroll the Lambie Town Walk and have a picnic in Centennial Park. Join the Snowy Monary Fly Fishing team on a guided tour, or Alpine River Adventures for white-water rafting on the Snowy River. If walking isn’t your thing, hit the high country on horseback with Yarramba Horse Riding.
For food and dining options, click here for a complete restaurant guide.
2. Leura, NSW
Where is it? Perched on a vast ridge in the Heritage-listed Blue Mountains, Leura is a two-hour drive west of Sydney.
There is plenty on offer that makes Leura so special: from a winning combination of regal gardens, to toys in a mansion, sweet shop delights and impressive arts and crafts stores.
The Cat’s Meow features semi-abstract artworks, craftworks, furniture and trinkets. There’s the Leura Toy Shop (a major hit with kids) and a famously antiquated Candy Store in which rows of tantalisingly transparent jars loaded with traditional candies, licorice and chocolates generate a constant flow of giddy clientele.
Leuralla, a bright, white 19th-century mansion ringed by gardens and overlooking the Jamison Valley, is jam-packed with fabulous toys from the last century. A visit to Leura also isn’t complete without a bushwalk (Leura Cascades is an idyllic starting point) or a visit to the expansive 1930s’ designed Everglades Historic House and Gardens.
For more Blue Mountains, head here.
3. Bairnsdale, VIC
Where is it? The gateway to the natural beauties of East Gippsland, Bairnsdale is set on the banks of the Mitchell River, about a three-hour drive from Melbourne.
Once a thriving provincial centre, home to steam boats and traders who frequented the area in the 1850s, Bairnsdale is now a thriving hub of East Gippsland. Stop here for a history lesson, or to explore the arts, food and retail scene.
The Keeping Place in Bairnsdale is home to the heritage and culture of the traditional Gunaikurnai people in Brabawooloong Country. The MacLeod Morass State Game Reserve features 520 hectares of wetlands, rich in animal life, a boardwalk, bird-watching and a walking track. If you get hungry, Northern Ground on the main street dishes up big flavours. Try The Main Hotel for some great pub grub.
4. Orbost, VIC
Where is it? Known as the self-proclaimed heart of the Snowy River County, Orbost can be found just off the Princes Highway, 371 km east of Melbourne.
Country Victorian towns rarely get cuter than this. The Orbost Exhibition Centre and Gallery is a mighty drawcard, particularly as its found smack-bang in the picturesque Forest Park. Also found inside is The Slab Hut, a fully furnished period settler’s home built in 1872.
And don’t leave the region without stopping at Grandview Lookout, perfect for sweeping views of Orbost and the surrounding Snowy River.
5. Mallacoota, VIC
Where is it? Known as one of Gippsland’s great escapes, the beautiful coastal town of Mallacoota is a great place to unwind, blessed with cool ocean breezes and some of the State’s warmest water.
Spend your days exploring Croajingolong National Park, filling up your esky at Mallacoota Surf Shack and the local IGA. For shopping, the affectionately-known Sue’s Bribes is the home for gifts. You can also browse the racks at one of the local op shops: Mallacoota Community Op Shop and the St Peter’s Op Shop are our picks.
Another major ‘Coota drawcard is the April’s Wild Harvest Seafood Festival, which celebrates some of Australia’s freshest and most outstanding local seafood, produce, beer and wine. And while you’re in town, don’t leave without turning your radio dial to the 3MGB community station. The team was an instrumental source of news, alerts and comfort for communities, broadcasting 24 hours a day during the fires.
Hot tip: If you can’t make it to Mallacoota, support local businesses by buying a gift basket full of products instead. Click here to fill your esky.
6. Tharwa, ACT
Where is it? 35km south of Canberra
If you’re interested in a day trip with plenty of picturesque views, local history and a chance to truly switch off, Tharwa is our pick.
Create a custom knife at Tharwa Valley Forge, Australia’s largest bladesmithing school. Or check out the Tharwa Country Store, an adorable treasure trove of antiques and the perfect place to stop for a country pie.
7. Kangaroo Island
Where is it? Kangaroo Island lies 112 km southwest of Adelaide, South Australia, on the cusp of the famous Fleurieu Peninsula. Flights here are about 35 minutes from the SA capital, however most opt for a 45-minute SeaLink car and caravan ferry from Cape Jervis, arriving in Penneshaw (the KI’s second largest town).
Kangaroo Island is a destination for gourmands and gadabouts. A 540km-long stretch of rugged multi-hued beauty, largely preserved in its natural state thanks to its Ark-like remoteness yet still offering the comforts of modernity thanks to mindful businesses embracing everything seasonal, sustainable and the artisanal.
Seals, whales, dolphins, birds… take your pick. Kangaroo Island’s ocean life is as diverse below sea level as it is on land. Kangaroo Island Marine Adventures takes visitors directly to the action all-year long.
Flinders Chase National Park is home to iconic rock formations such as Admirals Arch (a beautiful spot for sunset) and the startlingly beautiful granite boulders of Remarkable Rocks, easily accessible on loop trails starting at the Flinders Chase Visitor Centre. Those with small children will appreciate the even tracks along the Murray Lagoon and D’Estrees Bay, while more intrepid travellers will enjoy the four-hour 8 km Ravine das Casoars hike across wild beaches and soaring sea cliffs.
If you’re hungry, feasting is all part of the KI fun. The two major pubs – The Penneshaw Hotel and The Aurora Ozone Hotel – are worthwhile, with great views for sunset dining in warm weather. Bella Cafe & Pizza Bar is a favourite among locals, and you’ll find Kangaroo Island Fresh Seafoods & Takeaway, which is actually in the Caltex, has the best fish and chips on the island. Whiting is the KI fish to order.
For more Kangaroo Island, head here.
8. Bright, VIC
Where is it? Three-and-a-half hours’ drive north-east of Melbourne
Set on the Ovens River in Victoria’s High Country, the alpine town of Bright is all about outdoor pursuits and scenic beauty.
Visit Bright anytime between April and May and you’ll witness its incredible Autumn Festival with the streets lined with trees ablaze with red, orange and copper-coloured leaves. If you’re feeling the stride in your step, then make your way through Canyon Walk.
Ginger Baker, Wine Bar & Cafe whips up amazing and drool-worthy breakfasts each morning. Wild Thyme Cafe is a completely vegan and vegetarian eatery that will knock your socks off. The Ringer Reef Winery is a small-operated winery and vineyard that has a gorgeous view of Mt Buffalo and the Buckland Valley. Head to Reed & Co. Distillery for dinner and try to nab a seat at the bar right in front of the open kitchen.
If you’re thinking of staying a couple of days in Bright (definitely the right choice), then consider the Chalets Lumineux on Back Porepunkah Road. These self-contained spaces are sitting within lush lawns and gardens for optimal privacy.
9. Nymboida, NSW
Where is it? Nymboida is a rural town in the Northern Rivers region of NSW. It’s about 40km from Grafton, or just over two hours by car from Ballina Airport.
Come for the white-water kayaking and platypus spotting, stay for the array of community charm at your fingertips. Stop at Nymboida Coffee for a morning pick-me-up before your day of adventure, and be sure to hire all your wares from the local Nymboida Camping and Canoeing centre.
If you base yourself in Grafton, make it in late October and early November for the annual Jacaranda Festival. It’s at this time when the streets and parks are transformed as the colourful jacaranda trees explode in all their purple glory. You’ll also find plenty of arts both visual (Grafton Regional Gallery) and performing (Saraton Theatre) to fill your itinerary with.
10. Beechworth, VIC
Where is it? Beechworth is a three-hour drive from Melbourne or six hours from Sydney, an off-shoot from the Hume Highway.
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.
Hidden behind the Ford Street shops is a 150-year-old coach house where Ned Kelly used to park his (stolen) horse while drinking at the pub. Now, its home to craft-beer haven, Bridge Road Brewers.
Browsing the shops, cafes and museums can easily fill a day or more; you’ll be trying on clothes, enjoying a wine (or two), tasting honey, eating sweets, shopping for antiques and revelling in quirky finds. Try The Press Room Wine Bar for upscale fare, or The Empire Hotel for relaxed pun dining.
Gundowring is a worthy day trip, home to Gundowring Ice Cream, where the licorice flavour was just voted the best in the country. That’s a pretty big deal.
Stop for a pint at Bridge Road Brewers
11. Bateman’s Bay, NSW
Where is it? 285km south of Sydney; about a four-hour drive down the Princes Hwy; a two-hour drive from Canberra.
A beautiful seaside town at the mouth of the Clyde River, Bateman’s Bay is tucked between beaches perfect for fishing, swimming and paddling. Navigate the Clyde’s 38 km of river, which winds through national park. Visit oyster farms along the way (Wray Street Oyster Shed, The Pearly Oyster Bar, Ralston Bros).
At the beach, there’s kayaking, scuba diving, surfing and rock-wall fishing. Head to local favourite North Street Cafe and Bar for chef Drew Tweedie’s refined fare using local produce, or Sam’s Pizza for a classic pie enjoyed take-away.
Clyde River Houseboats are great value if you’ve got a big group. On dry land, Joalah Holiday Park offers quiet waterfront cabins in the Murramarang National Park. Or Lincoln Downs Comfort Inn is a country-style homestead by the sea.
12. Adelaide Hills, SA
Where is it? The Adelaide Hills are in South Australia’s Mount Lofty Ranges, a mere half-hour drive from the heart of the Adelaide CBD (or a 45-minute drive from the airport).
The Hills are alive with diversity. It’s a little bit country – expect rolling hills, curvy mountains and vineyards galore. It’s also a little bit suburban, with heritage homes and colonial gardens galore. And of course there’s the region’s cultural heritage, which makes it extra special.
A guided tour through The Cedars is a must for art-lovers, as well as the Aptos Cruz Galleries and Hahndorf Academy. If food is more your thing, spend a day at the Sticky Rice Cooking School, or book a table at one of the many (many) restaurants.
While there are too many to name, we shall try our best: The White House for inexpensive French-style fine dining, The Locavore for great wine and tapas, The Stirling Hotel for bustling pub bistro, Harris Smokehouse for a smoking showcase, Beerenberg Strawberry Farm serves so much more than strawberries, and for cheese, try wither Woodside Cheese Wrights or Udder Delights.
We also know the wineries deserve some love, of which there are too many to name. A comprehensive list can be downloaded here.
13. Two Rocks, WA
Where is it? Located on the northern edge of Perth, Two Rocks is about 61km outside of the CBD.
Filled with pristine beaches, natural bushland and a community of inspired artists, Two Rocks (and neighbouring Yanchep) is filled with promising itinerary fillers.
Visit the Yanchep National Park, which frames the town, only stopping for a picnic by Wagardu Lake. Experience the underground world of Crystal Cave, a limestone cave which you can peruse on a 45-minute guided tour.
14. Tenterfield, NSW
Where is it? You’ll find Tenterfield a comfortable three-hour drive from Brisbane and the Gold Coast – right on the NSW and Queensland border. Armidale and Ballina airports are just over a two-and-a-half-hour drive away.
Nestled within the heart of Australian heritage, take a trip to the gateway of both the New England and Northern Rivers regions.
Stroll the historical streets on the town’s self-guided heritage walk, making your way through antique buildings with plenty of stories to tell. Be sure to stop at the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts, now a National Trust Museum where the colonial politician made his famous 1889 speech calling for Australia’s federation.
There are a breadth of eating opportunities on offer. Our Place Wine & Espresso Bar sources local food and wine or, for a more casual option, try Tenterfield Gourmet Pizza. Visit the first pub in NSW, The Jennings Hotel or The Tenterfield Tavern for classic, hearty fare.
For more itinerary-fillers, Tenterfield Tourism has all the info.
15. Cranbrook, WA
Where is it? Billed as ‘The Gateway to the Stirlings’ – referring of course to the nearby Stirling Range National Park – Cranbrook can be found 320 km south of Perth in the Great Southern Region.
You might recognise Cranbrook for a couple of reasons. Firstly there are the incredible pink salt lakes that dominate the region – well worth exploring on a trip here. Second is Bluff Noll. It’s the highest peak in southern WA, with more than 1000 species of wildflowers, including a range of carnivorous sundews – step off the track at your own peril.
When you’re done exploring the natural landmarks, set your sights on some of the local vineyards. The Frankland River Wine Experience is a must-do while in town, as is a visit to Alkoomi Winery, Bobtail Ridge Winery and Ferntail.
Click here for more info on getting around Cranbook.
16. Milton, NSW
Where is it? Located in the pristine Shoalhaven region of the NSW South Coast, Milton is three hours’ drive from Sydney and a two-hour 35-minute drive from Canberra. Nearby you’ll find Lake Conjola, and the seaside towns of Mollymook and Ulladulla.
The South Coast town of Milton is not as ‘secret’ as it used to be, but still serves up plenty of adorable low key charm.
The newly-renovated Milton Hotel serves as a part restaurant, part brewery, helmed by local chef (ex-Bannisters) and pro body boarder Damien Martin. Cupitt’s Kitchen is much-loved winery with a vineyard setting perfect for kids and dogs. In Ulladulla, The Ruse overlooks the harbour, serving up an inspired menu inspired by Central American flavours.
17. Southern Highlands, NSW
Where is it? The Southern Highlands is just a 90-minute drive south of Sydney and two hours’ north of Canberra. Train and coach services are also available.
When in the Southern Highlands, do as the locals do: eat (and drink) well.
Moss Vale’s Birch is a beautifully conceived offering with award-winning chef Lachlan Houghton (Vue de Monde, Three Blue Ducks) heading the kitchen. Head to the ivy-covered The Boston Ivy in Mittagong for cracking coffee and classics with a twist (prosciutto blue cheese sandwich with caramelised fig jam, anyone?) Bowral’s Ludo is an Instagram beacon of beautiful blues and Parisian-chic fittings. And don’t miss Moss Vale’s exceedingly pretty Highlands Merchant.
Harry’s On Green Lane wine bar and bistro is an idyllic slice of Parisian-salon-meets-Raffles style. In Moss Vale, the new Southern Highlands Brewing Co’s Taphouse is part beer-hall, part bistro. Mittagong’s Eden Brewery serves up its handcrafted beers using green energy; and the historic Burrawang Village Hotel is a refreshed watering hole.
Book a room at The Loch, so you will be right in position for the Sunday long lunches that showcase paddock-to-plate fare.
18. Corryong, VIC
Where is it? 120 km east of Albury, Wodonga, near the pristine upper reaches of the Murray River.
Known as the birthplace of the legendary Man From Snowy River, there is plenty more to Corryong than poetry and fiction.
Head to Playle’s Lookout for panoramic town views, taking in the nearby Snowy Mountains and Kosciuszko National Park. And if all that nature works up an appetite, Black Sheep is a trendy cafe with views of Mt Mittamatite. Legends on Hansen also lives up to its name, or try the Upper Murray Community Bakery for some take-away goods.
Treat It Naturally serves as a gift shop and massage therapist all in one – just for those who deserve it!
19. Sale, VIC
Begin your Gippsland Lakes boating journey in Sale. Here you’ll have access to the entire lakes region, eventually connecting to the ocean at Lakes Entrance.
Back on land, explore the precinct’s selection of cafes and restaurants, or check out town talents at the Gippsland Art Gallery. There’s also plenty of history to discover at the Gippsland Armed Forces Museum.
20. Taree, NSW
Where is it? You’ll find Taree on the Mid North Coast, 16 km from the mouth of the Manning river, just over three hours northeast of Sydney.
‘Go big or go home’ or so the expression goes and Taree certainly received the memo. In town you’ll find the iconic Big Oyster, opened by Nick Greiner in 1990. Obviously worth the trip on its own, there are a few options to fill your stomach while you’re in town.
Raw Sugar Cafe is a breakfast favourite, as well as Cafe Thyme. For a nice view, try Sailo’s, or TwoHans for sushi. To wash it all down, there are an array of Manning Valley vineyards that deserve a little attention. Jacaranda Estate Vineyard takes its name from the two magnificent old Jacarandas at the front gate, or try Villa d’Esta Vineyard, the place that produces using traditional Hungarian winemaking techniques.
21. Shoalhaven Heads, NSW
Where is it? Another South Coast beauty, Shoalhaven Heads is a 2.5-hour drive from Sydney.
Fine surfing beaches, access to the Shoalhaven River AND surrounded by wineries – the charms of Shoalhaven Heads on the NSW South Coast are evident.
By day, play 18-holes at the scenic Shoalhaven Heads Golf Club, or pack a locally shopped picnic in the Native Botanic Gardens – The Dairy Bar, Table Talk Cafe and Pizza Loco are great places to stock up.
Bangalay Villas gets a lot of attention from locals and visitors, for both its restaurant and accommodation; it’s one of the prime spots to eat, play and stay on the NSW South Coast. Coolangatta Estate is another standout in the region, with an appetising modern Australian menu alongside a cellar door. Mountain Ridge Wines is also fun for live music once a month.
22. Rutherglen, VIC
Where is it? Rutherglen is a small town in northeastern Victoria, right on the Murray River border with NSW.
If you’re frequented a bottle-o in the last, oh 100 years, you’re likely to know all about Rutherglen. Boasting more than 20-award winning wineries (alongside outstanding restaurants and cafes) thirsty holiday-goers should put this town high on their to-do list.
Scratch the surface on a long history at cellar doors (Jones Winery Restaurant, Chambers Rosewood Vineyards, De Bortoli Rutherglen Estate, Morris of Rutherglen), sit down for a wine and dine (Terrace Restaurant at All Saints Estate, St Leonards Vineyard Cafe, The Pickled Sisters Cafe) or sleep among the vines (Moodemere Lake House, Grapevine Glamping at Cofield Wines, Mount Ophir Estate).