There are endless ways to enjoy a taste of Australia, be it a fine diner in Murwillumbah or a plate of pipis on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
Journey with our writers as they take you into Australia’s best emerging food and wine experiences from our 100 Emerging Destinations and Experiences series.
1. Emerging flavours in Murwillumbah
Travelling with: Lara Picone
There’s something wonderful about watching a town unfurl its potential to become a destination. Gaining confidence in assets overlooked and coaxing out their dormant beauty. Murwillumbah in NSW is a place amid such an evolution.
A hinterland jewel shouldered by ranges of subtropical Gondwana Rainforest, punctuated by mighty Wollumbin/Mt Warning and running to the coast across a carpet of cane fields, this Tweed Shire town has been timidly emerging from its agricultural cocoon for years.
Catch views of the Mighty Wollumbin/Mt Warning. (Image: Destination NSW)
Emergence involves a chain reaction that typically dominoes in order of art, food and tourists. Murwillumbah has long had the art. The Tweed River Art Gallery began luring aesthetes back in 1988. By 2004, it required bigger digs in an architecturally celebrated new building, becoming the Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre. Artists and appreciators congregated in greater numbers and other galleries sprang up, including the M|Arts Precinct.
Creativity prospers because Murwillumbah is a muse. The Art Deco town sits between lush mountain ranges and the elegant Tweed River. She was slumped in disrepair for a long while, but she’s been attracting attention in the last few years. Some of which has come from chefs and restaurateurs lured by Northern Rivers produce and untapped potential. Adding to the noteworthy restaurants rapidly amassing on the Tweed Coast such as Pipit, Paper Daisy and No. 35 Kitchen and Bar, Murwillumbah is plating up fare worth travelling for.
Nab a seat at the intimate hatted restaurant Bistro Livi.
Awarded a chef’s hat in the SMH Good Food Guide 2023 edition, Bistro Livi is a sleek 36-seater in the M|Arts Precinct run by MoVida alumni. The minimalist aesthetic, sophisticated food and considered wine list wouldn’t be out of place in Melbourne, but instead is here.
Just south of the town centre and majestically presiding over the river is the impeccably restored Tweed River House, where diners watch the water as they move through elegant courses in the British Raj-styled manor. And Husk Farm Distillery celebrates the primary crop of the area, crafting beautiful rum from sugar cane.
Sip cocktails at Husk Farm Distillery. (Image: @SalsingHPhotography)
It’s in nearby Tumbulgum where you can stretch out on the lawn for an afternoon of nibbles and tipples at its cellar door. You’ll also find excellent coffee at Keith, locally made cheeses from Kat Harvey Cheese and craft beer at Spangled Drongo to fuel your artful pursuits.
Try hand-crafted cheeses by Kat Harvey.
If you want to lean into more active adventures, head to the newly opened Tweed section of the Northern Rivers Rail Trail. The trail kicks off in Murwillumbah before weaving for 24 blissful kilometres through the Tweed Valley, casting another lure in this riverside town on the runway to revival.
Get your craft beer fix at Spangled Drongo.
2. See a 10,000-year-old tradition evolving in Goolwa
Travelling with: Alexis Buxton-Collins
The middens dotting the sandhills around the mouth of the Murray River attest to the importance of kuti (pipis) to the Ngarrindjeri people, who have harvested and eaten these plump bivalves for countless generations. And after dismissing them as bait for years, chefs of fine diners are finally cottoning on to their potential. In a small shed flanked by colossal dunes on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, battered by the winds coming off the Southern Ocean, Kuti Shack heroes the tasty molluscs harvested by Ngarrindjeri-owned Kuti Co by serving them in laksas and with decadently rich chilli jam, lemongrass and crusty sourdough.
Indulge in a seafood feast at the Kuti Shack. (Image: South Australian Tourism Commission/Fleurieu Peninsula Tourism)
Look further down the menu and you’ll find all the elements for a sustainable seafood feast with a strong emphasis on local species: think grilled wild-caught Coorong mullet, buttermilk fried mulloway wings and crispy carp belly goujons.
Dine while overlooking the vast seascape. (Image: South Australian Tourism Commission/Fleurieu Peninsula Tourism)
3. A new way to savour the Bellarine Peninsula
Travelling with: Laura Waters
They’re a passionate bunch on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, producing everything from hand-crafted butter to smoked fish, olive oil and award-winning wines. Their mussels are so lauded they’ve landed in top restaurants around the world and now, fourth-generation farmer Lance Wiffen and wife Lizzie are lifting the veil with Portarlington Mussel Tours.
See how mussels are harvested at The Bellarine Peninsula.
No expense has been spared in the refit of Valerie, a 40-year-old Huon pine trawler: the galley gleams, the fridge stocked with Bellarine sparkling. It’s perfect for an intimate tour that shows how mussels are cultivated, pulled off the lines, cleaned and most importantly, prepared.
Lizzie is a mussel master and guests get to enjoy the results of her cooking demonstration alongside a spread of other local produce. It’s an immersive way to savour one of the Bellarine’s gastronomic treasures, straight from the source.
Sign up for the Portarlington Mussel Tours.
4. A gourmet escape to the Granite Belt
Travelling with: Lara Picone
It’s not quite often Queensland springs to mind when hunting an intimate oenophilic escape. The Sunshine State is usually called upon for its sun-bleached beaches. But, let us shake the snow globe of your expectations for a moment and allow the sparkles to settle on Stanthorpe in Queensland’s Granite Belt. Here you can hop between cellar doors, dine on incredible local produce, hunt for truffles, ogle blossoms, marvel at sculptural rock formations and even sleep in a wine barrel (yes!).
Witness scenic sunrise views.
Astonishingly, the region is one of Australia’s highest wine-growing locales. Punctuated by the natural beauty of Girraween National Park and the agrarian charm of vineyards and apple orchards, Stanthorpe is a destination worthy of far more attention than it reaps.
New and noteworthy for your maiden itinerary is the previously mentioned Barrel View Luxury Cabins, which indeed look like giant, luxury wooden wine barrels. Add to that a sip at the new Art of Krupinski cellar door; a hunt for a French Perigord truffle at The Folly Truffles; and a class at Cooked from Scratch Cooking School, and you have the makings of mini-break heaven.
The Barrel View Luxury Cabins are inspired by wooden wine barrels.
5. Canberra Wine District: a new stomping ground for oenophiles
Travelling with: Carla Grossetti
There are just too many cellar doors to squeeze into a weekend stay in the Canberra Wine District. Luckily, this year’s inaugural Stomp Festival made inroads into addressing this dilemma by showcasing more than 25 wineries and producers. Missed the 29–30 April event? No biggie. Just pore over the program and use it as a starting point to inspire your own itinerary. Book a table at Agostinis at Lark Hill, built into the side of Lake George Escarpment.
Plot a winery trail through Canberra’s wine region.
Grasp the allure of the region’s cool-climate syrah during a tasting at Eden Road Wines. Or order a tutored tasting at Mount Majura Vineyard and pop into boutique Dionysus Winery.
The Canberra region is divided into three distinct subregions, so be sure to book a few return visits to check out the 140-plus vineyards that make up this exciting cool-climate district.
Don’t expect to see it all in one visit – there are over 140 vineyards.
6. Wine meets sustainability in South Australia
Travelling with: Kate Symons
Google ‘Jock Harvey’ and ‘McLaren Vale’ and a defining quality of this community-minded local becomes quickly apparent. Jock wears many hats. As uncovered by the first three Google entries – McLaren Vale Distillery, Naked Wines and Chalk Hill Viticulture – he is a drinks guy. Scroll down a little further and there is another, perhaps even more telling, entry: Biodiversity McLaren Vale.
Co-founded by Jock in 2009, Biodiversity McLaren Vale (BMV) is a hands-on environmental stewardship initiative, run by volunteers and focused primarily on creek-line restoration. Monthly working bees attract scores of committed locals and planting partners include McLaren Vale wine brands Gemtree, Shingleback, Fox Creek, Bec Hardy and Pannell Enoteca.
Drop by Gemtree Wines for a tasting. (Image: South Australian Tourism Commission)
As South Australia’s first wine region – its wine-producing history dates to the 1830s – McLaren Vale is hardly emerging. Yet the renowned patch, positioned on the Fleurieu Peninsula, has reinvented itself of late and is now firmly established as one of the country’s most sustainable, not to mention incredible, wine regions.
According to Wine Australia, McLaren Vale is leading the way in organic practices, water management and climate-appropriate plantings, all key areas of the region’s own Sustainable Australia Winegrowing (SAW) Program. SAW ran from the early 2000s until 2019 at which point 72 per cent of McLaren Vale’s area under vine used the program to assess and improve practices. Thanks to its success, the program informed Sustainable Winegrowing Australia (SWA), which is now the single national program for those committed to sustainable wine.
Hither & Yon has cleverly set up shop in Willunga, one of the region’s cute-as-you-like villages. (Image: Josie Withers)
Crucial to the region’s success is the presence of like-minded wine folk. “Cooperation has become a cultural thing [in McLaren Vale] that people want to protect,” says Jock.
Sustainable winemaking practices are becoming more and more important to the consumer. A new report released by SWA last year found 67 per cent of those surveyed want to purchase only sustainably made wine. It’s no free ride, though. Certifications and credentials can’t do much for an average wine, nor your average wine region. Average, McLaren Vale is not.
There are more than 80 cellar doors in the region, from quaint set-ups such as Samson Tall to established digs such as Wirra Wirra, and the show-stopping d’Arenberg Cube, arguably the most impressive wine tourism attraction in the country.
See the show-stopping d’Arenberg Cube. (Image: South Australian Tourism Commission/ d’Arenberg Cube)
The Chalk Hill Collective site, which includes Never Never Distilling Co., Cucina di Strada and some of the best views the region has to offer, is perhaps one of the prettiest spots in the country on which to sit back and sip. Hither & Yon, meanwhile, has cleverly set up shop in Willunga, one of the region’s cute-as-you-like villages. From here, grab a cruiser and set off on the eight-kilometre Shiraz Trail. On Saturdays, the township bustles with the Willunga Farmers Market, the state’s first and still one of the country’s best.
A grape’s throw away, you’ll find yourself facing pristine coastline, of which McLaren Vale has 30 kilometres. This maritime influence has its impact on the region’s wine, which heavily favours red Mediterranean varieties. Almost, that is, as much as it favours sustainable practices.
Experience unique wine tasting at Never Never Distilling Co. (Image: South Australian Tourism Commission)
7. Rub shoulders with restaurant royalty in Trentham
Travelling with: Jo Stewart
For a town with a population of about 1000, Trentham’s food scene punches above its weight. From a pub meal by a crackling fireplace at the Cosmopolitan Hotel to a wholesome brunch at Trentham General, the pretty Victorian town just 75 minutes from Melbourne is a tried-and-true foodie escape. It’s now also a place to elevate your kitchen skills, with two highly respected culinary figures sharing their encyclopaedic knowledge with visitors lucky enough to nab a spot in their red-hot classes.
Sit by the fireplace at The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Trentham. (Image: Rob Black Burn Photography)
Malaysian-born Tony Tan came to Australia as a teenager and made his mark on the gastronomic world by operating restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne, running a cooking school and presenting episodes of SBS-TV’s Food Lovers’ Guide to Australia.
Meet the renowned Malaysian chef Tony Tan. (Image: Mario Schembri)
From his new base in Trentham, his highly sought-after, boutique cooking classes (capped at eight participants) are announced via his mailing list. Tony explains the ethos behind his teachings: “It’s a school of Asian excellence with a certain modernity and personal expressions along the way.” Expect to learn the secrets to making the perfect dumpling, sago pudding or radish cake before sitting down at Tony’s dining table to enjoy eight dishes (with wine, of course).
Local restaurateur Annie Smithers also teaches masterclasses sporadically throughout the year. The celebrated chef of du Fermier, owner of Babbington Park farm and champion of regional dining shares her knowledge with a select few via sell-out masterclasses that include a sit-down lunch and wine. Sign up to her mailing list and be ready to pounce once new classes are announced – they book out lightning fast.
Make your way through the wine list during your visit. (Image: Rob Black Burn Photography)
8. A taste of Country at Kakadu Full Moon Feast
Travelling with: Elizabeth Whitehead
Indigenous culture is shared through art, landmarks and stories. But what about food? Bininj man Ben Tyler of Kakadu Kitchen is on a mission to “connect people with the flavours of Kakadu and Australia” through native, foraged ingredients artfully woven together to tell a story of Country and tradition.
The Full Moon Feasts hosted at Cooinda Lodge are an opportunity to treat your tastebuds as well as connect with the land you’re on. Each feast is unique, dictated by the Indigenous seasons (there are six in Kakadu) and what plants are in bloom. Right now, the trees are dripping with finger limes, which add a tart pop to the main course – wild-caught barramundi grilled with paperbark. For dessert, lime curd is topped with green ants, delivering a sucker-punch of citrus flavour and rounding out a spectacular meal.
Savour a spectacular meal at Kakadu Kitchen.
9. The country pub revitalising Rockley
Travelling with: Emily Murphy
While the tiny NSW village of Rockley may only have 10 streets and 180 residents, it does, like every Australian town, have a classic country pub. Reopened by chef and restaurateur Matt Moran in 2022, The Rockley Pub is his most personal venue yet.
Meet chef and restaurateur Matt Moran of Rockley Pub.
With family ties to Rockley and his Moran family farm close by, Moran wants to revive the village as a destination in its own right and support local food and wine producers while he’s at it. As a pioneer of the paddock-to-plate movement in Australia, Moran’s menu features locally sourced meat from the Central Tablelands in iconic pub meals such as dry-aged pasture-fed sirloin, parmesan-crumbed chicken schnitzel and mushroom and sage fettuccine.
The pub represents the first stage of his wider plan to reinvigorate the town, a 30-minute drive south of Bathurst, with plans to add a bakery, general store and more accommodation.
Grab a bite of burger and chips at The Rockley. (Image: Emily Murphy)