One of the things you quickly discover when travelling around this vast country of ours is that every destination, big and small, has a surprise in store for visitors. It may not always be obvious to begin with, but it’s there, and half the fun is seeking it out! Here are five Australian short break destinations that are sure to surprise you. Remember to book your stay with Choice Hotels.
1. Port Fairy, VIC
Biggest surprise: The wealth of old-world charm
Located about three-hours’ drive from Melbourne at the far end of the epic Great Ocean Road, Port Fairy is undoubtedly one of the country’s most charming short break destinations. Just how charming it is may be what comes as the biggest surprise of your visit! Prepare to be teleported back in time to a gentler era. Framed on two sides by Bass Strait, and with a fishing fleet and flotilla of leisure craft moored along the picturesque Moyne River, the town centre is packed with heritage architecture and colonial era cottages. Port Fairy has no less than 50 buildings listed with the National Trust, and just wandering the wide streets soaking up all that historic loveliness is the name of the game here. The famous Port Fairy Folk Festival takes place in March.
Need a place to stay?
If hotels in Port Fairy are booked out, consider driving to Warrnambool for great accommodation options.
2. Bunbury, WA
Biggest surprise: The state-of-the-art Dolphin Discovery Centre
The bustling coastal enclave of Bunbury is situated 180 kilometres south of Perth. The town has gone through something of a renaissance in recent years. What was once an industrial port, largely bypassed by holiday makers heading south towards Margaret River, is now taking on all the hallmarks of a beach retreat in its own right. A revitalised waterfront, public art programme, an explosion of cafes and restaurants, and the opening of the fabulous $12.3 million Dolphin Discovery Centre in late 2018, have all done their bit to put this town firmly back on the tourist trail. Drop by the Dolphin Discovery Centre for the chance to meet one of the pods of wild bottlenose dolphins that call Koombana Bay home. Volunteers at the centre keep a lookout for the dolphins and ring the bell for everyone to assemble down at the waterfront as the pod approaches. Inside the centre, there’s an aquarium, activity centre, marine wildlife hospital and more.
3. Warwick, QLD
Biggest surprise: The prehistoric rainforests of the Scenic Rim
The drive southwest from Brisbane to the historic Southern Darling Downs town of Warwick will take you around 2.5 hours. En route, you’ll cross the majestic Scenic Rim – a ring of forested mountain ranges that forms part of the subtropical World Heritage listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. Here plants and organisms that date back millions of years can still be found and hiking through the Jurassic Park-like landscape (minus that pesky T-Rex) at places like Queen Mary Falls is a surreal experience. There’s another way to step back in time in Warwick (although not quite so far back) and that’s by riding the rails on the Southern Downs Steam Railway. This volunteer-led labour of love operates a variety of rail tours on board a fully restored steam train. Check the website for a list of tour dates. The Warwick Railway Precinct museum is open to the public Wednesday and Thursday each week.
Need a place to stay?
Comfort Inn Warwick encompasses a century-old sandstone homestead (known as La Mascotte) and a modern wing of contemporary rooms. Enjoy the surrounding gardens, the guest BBQ facilities and the outdoor pool.
4. Gladstone, QLD
Biggest surprise: The paradise that is the East Shores recreational precinct
Given that Australia’s biggest commodity port and one of the largest coal export terminals in the world is located right on its doorstep, the Queensland city of Gladstone might not sound all that appealing as the location for a tropical getaway. But the fact is this destination does have a lot to offer holidaymakers. Start in town at the superb East Shores recreational precinct – an initiative of the Gladstone Ports Corporation (GPC) – which has seen the rundown waterfront at the end of the CBD transformed into a lush, leafy, family friendly zone, complete with a boardwalk, waterpark, and plenty of shaded picnic and BBQ areas. A new cruise terminal is currently under construction. For a true beach break, head south to the satellite town of Tannum Sands which offers access to a sandy stretch of coastline, bike trails, cafes and eateries. Further south, the twin towns of Agnes Waters and 1770 also make a great day trip from Gladstone for those seeking beachy pursuits.
Need a place to stay?
Comfort Hotel Parklands Calliope enjoys a picturesque rural setting around 20 minutes’ drive from Gladstone, and combines period charm with contemporary style. Choose from standard rooms as well as self-contained cabins (popular with families). The hotel’s onsite eatery serves up hearty home-style fare. .
5. Taree, NSW
Biggest surprise: One of the longest single drop waterfalls in the Southern Hemisphere
Located on the New South Wales mid north coast, just off the Pacific Highway between Newcastle and Port Macquarie, Taree has been doing it tough this horror bushfire season. Generally though, this tranquil town by the beautiful Manning River makes a great base for exploring the picturesque Manning Valley and its many natural attractions. There are no less than nine national parks and reserves within easy reach of this destination. Don’t miss the opportunity to see one of the highest single drop waterfalls in the Southern Hemisphere. Ellenborough Falls plunges some 200 metres straight down. It’s quite a hike to the bottom of the falls, but well worth the effort to appreciate the true scale of the drop. Those on the trail of Australia’s ‘bigs’ can tick off Taree’s Big Oyster. Originally a service station and souvenir shop, now a car yard, the Big Oyster pays homage to the local oyster industry, which sees well over 1.5 million of these slippery characters harvested from the Manning River each year.
You May Be Interested In: The Ultimate Guide to Port Macquarie For An Amazing Family Holiday
Need a place to stay?
Just a stone’s throw from the Big Oyster, Comfort Inn Country Plaza Taree offers 20 air-conditioned rooms, including twins, kings and family options. Guests enjoy complimentary Wi-Fi and parking, and use of the hotel pool.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.