There is more to an Aussie summer than just the coast. Discover a different kind of summer holiday by heading inland to our regional towns for a whole host of experiences that you won’t find anywhere else.
As the days heat up and planning for the summer holiday begins, it’s tempting to just make a beeline for one of Australia’s tried-and-tested coastal towns. But resist the automatic beachside booking in favour of a trip to one of these inland hamlets, and be rewarded with cooler temperatures, scenic beauty, gourmet offerings and outdoor adventures – all minus the crowds.
With its outback temperatures and vast blankets of red earth, the Northern Territory might not be the first place that comes to mind for a summer escape. But drive three scenic hours south of Darwin along the Nature’s Way to Katherine, and you’ll be in the jumping-off spot to some of the most memorable summer experiences in the country.
Uniquely positioned where the Top End’s tropics meet Central Australia’s outback, Katherine is located on the edge of the Nitmiluk National Park with its multitude of waterfalls, walking trails and pristine outback swimming holes (oh hey Edith Falls, we’re looking at you).
Australia’s only tropical limestone cave system, Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park, is 30 kilometres south of the township (and 15 metres underground). The Top End park offers a respite from the heat and a fascinating insight into the local Jawoyn people.
But if you opt for just one summer experience while in Katherine, make it the famous Nitmiluk Gorge (or Katherine Gorge), one of the region’s most spectacular sights to behold. Hire a canoe and paddle underneath majestic sandstone cliffs and past waterfalls, ancient Aboriginal rock art and local wildlife, or take a sunrise or sunset boat cruise for moments that will linger in the mind long after you leave.
Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, Hahndorf, should do the trick if your taste is a little less focused on nature and a little more focused on your stomach. This historic town is just 30 minutes from Adelaide, making it conveniently located for a day trip or weekender. Expect serious family fun in summer, too, with plenty to appeal beyond German sausages and sauerkraut. Take the kids on a strawberry- and cherry-picking adventure at Beerenberg Farm, or if you’re in town as summer comes to a close, head to Glen Twin Estate in Houghton to pick your own figs. Scrub up on Australian history and German folklore, have a putt at mini golf, and meet some friendly animals at Hahndorf Farm Barn.
As if all of this wasn’t quirky enough, Hahndorf’s main street is a fairytale display of 19th-century German architecture with artisanal food stores, galleries showcasing cuckoo clocks and wooden folk art, boutiques, a craft brewery, winery cellar doors, a gin distillery and German-style pubs. And then there’s the sniffing, swirling and sipping to be had at over 50 cellar doors on offer in the Adelaide Hills, just 20 minutes away. Time your stay in Hahndorf for late January when the Crush Wine Festival runs , and make the most of the high altitude and cool temperatures in the lush vineyards. With long lunches, degustation dinners, acoustic sound sessions, lawn games and picnics across more than 30 venues, it’s the kind of summer soirée full of good times that you’ve been waiting all year for.
Summer’s scorching days might send most to the beach, but others will prefer to head to higher ground – 1000 metres above sea level, to be precise. Two-and-a-half hours southwest of Brisbane lies the charming town of Stanthorpe, with its perfect 27°C mid-summer days and bucolic setting of cow-grazing farmlands, fruit orchards and vineyards (Australia’s highest).
In winter, Stanthorpe is Queensland’s coldest town; in summer it takes on new life as a food bowl with its verdant hills producing colourful fruits and vegetables and vines bursting with grapes destined for some of the country’s most interesting wine varietals. Known as ‘the apple capital of Queensland’, Stanthorpe is a gourmand’s delight. A summer holiday here warrants plenty of tasting – of the cheese and truffle variety – at providores such as Stanthorpe Cheese and the Truffle Discovery Centre.
The Southern Queensland countryside is home to more than 50 vineyards. And if you need to work off some of that earlier indulgence, you can pedal your way from cellar door to cellar door on a cycle-and-sip wine tour. The more adventurous can venture 30 minutes south of Stanthorpe to Girraween National Park with its granite outcrops, natural pools and hiking trails offering dramatic panoramas.
The cute-as-a-button hinterland town of Montville, just 90 minutes north of Brisbane on the Blackall Range, will appeal to nature lovers and art aficionados alike. Considered by many to be the creative heart of the Sunshine Coast hinterland, the town, more of a village thanks to its population of less than 1000, is teeming with charming boutiques, studios and art galleries boasting work by both up-and-coming and established local artists.
Beyond the township lies the lush eucalyptus forests of the Kondalilla National Park with its ample hiking trails and myriad places to cool off including rockpools, bubbling brooks, and a majestic 90-metre-high waterfall. At the end of a day’s exploring, check in to one of the many rainforest retreats, cabins and cottages to rest among the trees and breathe in that fresh mountain air.
Wisemans Ferry, NSW
The beauty of Wisemans Ferry lies in its unique location. Perched on the banks of NSW’s beautiful Hawkesbury River, it is also surrounded by no less than four national parks. Less than 90 minutes north of Sydney, this charming town has long been a weekend getaway favourite among Sydneysiders with its charming houseboats, waterfront holiday homes, excellent restaurants and outdoor activities all up for grabs in the summer.
There are ample opportunities for family picnics on the riverbanks, hikes in the national parks, mountain biking, camping, fishing, waterskiing, wakeboarding and tubing. Hire kayaks, a half-cabin boat or runabout for the day, board the 1800s-inspired Hawkesbury Paddlewheeler or go all out and book a houseboat for a unique overwater holiday experience that doesn’t require a boat license.
Those seeking luxury may want to glide downstream to the lauded riverfront restaurant, Berowra Waters Inn, while history buffs, on the other hand, can delight in learning about the area’s Aboriginal and European history, with the area dotted with heritage shops and sandstone escarpments that are quintessentially Australian.
If self-drive holidays are your thing, may we recommend the riverside town of Bellingen, located exactly halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, on the doorstep of the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforest. The Waterfall Way, beginning in Coffs Harbour, is one of the best scenic drives in NSW. And if you base yourself in Bellingen, where the drive passes through, you’ll be perfectly positioned to speed off on a summertime road trip that snakes through four national parks, country farmland and – you guessed it, stunning waterfalls.
The drive extends all the way to Armidale, two hours away, with spectacular views and countless nature experiences along the way, including the 220-metre-high Wollomombi Falls and gorge, one of NSW’s highest drops. Back in town, embrace the markets, festivals and live music Bellingen is known for, and make the most of the river by hiring a kayak or canoe, or booking a whitewater rafting experience.
Paynesville, in the East Gippsland region, is known as the boating capital of Victoria, and for good reason. With direct access to Lake King and Lake Victoria and canals that wind through town, Paynesville makes an ideal summer destination, offering opportunities to water-ski, jet-ski, windsurf, kayak, hire a boat or join a river cruise. A walking track from Sunset Cove takes you along the water’s edge, and Eagle Point and the world-renowned Mitchell River Silt Jetties – the longest in the world – are a short drive away.
One of Paynesville’s most popular summer activities, however, is taking the ferry across the water to Raymond Island – known for its sizeable koala population. Expect plenty of koala sightings high up in the trees as you take the 20-minute walk or cycle around the island’s ‘Koala Trail’, and then relax with a tasty spread at one of the island’s many picnic sites.
As the summer days roll into the picturesque village of Bright in Victoria’s Alpine Valleys, so, too do those with an appetite for outdoor activities and adventure. Perched 319 metres above sea level, the summertime visitors who venture along the four-hour drive north-east of Melbourne to Bright are spoiled for choice in this verdant spot, where river activities, mountain hikes, cycling and birdwatching are on the daily agenda.
A popular escape from Victoria’s scorching mid-summer temperatures, Bright’s subtropical highland climate paints a picture-perfect backdrop of consistently mild, cool nights and warm, dry and sunny days ideal for climbing, canoeing, cycling and camping in the wildly beautiful Mount Buffalo, one of Australia’s oldest national parks. The Murray to Mountains Rail Trail can be walked or cycled, and the mountain bike tracks at Mystic Mountain rival some of the best in Australia. Splash Park is a favourite for families and don’t forget to look up: paragliders are a regular sight in these parts.
Bright is also known for its vibrant food and wine scene, and the Pedal to Produce cycling route takes you past lush countryside as you pedal from farm gates to cellar doors. Feathertop Winery is a must-visit, but if you fancy a day without driving, Billy Button Wine is conveniently located in the heart of the township.
Instead of heading to the busy beaches of Yallingup, Rottnest Island or Esperance, why not head to the Southern Forests and Valleys region, to pretty-as-a-picture Pemberton? In under a four-hour drive southwest of Perth, you could find yourself in one of the state’s most beautiful self-drive regions. From the Aboriginal word meaning ‘plenty of water’, Pemberton is a fisherman’s dream, and Pemberton Pool and the Big Brook Dam, a freshwater lake surrounded by towering karri forest, are popular swimming spots.
The Gloucester National Park is home to The Cascades and Lefroy Brook’s rocky rapids, but it’s the park’s magnificent giant karri trees that take the cake in this part of the world. Hop in the 4WD and take the famous Karri Forest Explorer Drive, winding through a seemingly endless land of towering timbers that can grow as high as 90 metres. If your nerves can handle it, climb the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree – the taller of two fire lookout trees that can be climbed in the area – by scaling the trunk’s ladder 65 metres high to the lookout, where 360-degree views of the forest canopy and glimpses of the Yeagarup Dunes and coast beyond await.
If you take your self-drive adventures seriously, don’t skip going off-road at the epic snow-white dunes of Yeagarup – the largest inland dune system in the southern hemisphere. Reward yourself at the end of the day by sipping on stellar wines and local produce (such as WA marron and local truffles) at one of the town’s eateries.
Visit our Reclaim Summer hub for more ways to experience the best of summer.