Australian country hospitality is legendary and if there was ever a year to experience it for yourself, 2021 is it! Farming communities form the backbone of this wide brown land of ours, and every rural centre has its own unique story to share. Start with these six amazing country towns and immerse yourself in their history and culture.
1. Gundagai (NSW)
Located on the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney in southern New South Wales, nowhere embodies the idea of the quintessential Aussie country town like Gundagai. Long celebrated in Australian popular culture, the town was established in 1840, but moved to slightly higher ground in 1852 following a devastating flood. Prosperity followed on the backs of gold and agriculture and today Gundagai is home to a wealth of period buildings and monuments. Drop by the Historical Museum to get more of the backstory.
Signature experience: While the classic Aussie tune Along The Road To Gundagai extols the virtues of country life, it’s the iconic Dog on the Tucker Box monument, erected in 1932, that draws most visitors to the town. The monument is actually located about eight kilometres from Gundagai at Snake Gully.
Need a place to stay: Comfort Inn Sovereign Gundagai is located on the edge of the town centre, within walking distance to several historic points of interest. Enjoy comfortable accommodation, with free parking and Wi-Fi.
2. Tamworth (NSW)
Sadly, the Tamworth Country Music Festival will not go ahead in 2021 (the first time the event has been cancelled in its almost 50 year history) but any time is a good time to visit the epicentre of the Australian country music scene and immerse yourself in the heritage of this much-loved music genre. Make your first stop the guitar-shaped Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, which houses a rotating array of memorabilia alongside the permanent Walk a Country Mile exhibition. You’ll also see life-size brass statues of country music legends Smoky Dawson, Slim Dusty and Joy McKean in Tamworth’s main street.
Signature experience: Few visitors leave Tamworth without snapping a selfie in front of the Big Golden Guitar at the Visitor Information Centre, which is also the home of the new National Guitar Museum.
Need a place to stay? Located in the heart of the CBD, CH Boutique Hotel, Ascend Hotel Collection melds Art Deco style with modern convenience. Just five minutes’ drive west of the city centre, Quality Inn Ashby House Tamworth offers terrace suites, premier and deluxe rooms, a family suite, and a self-contained apartment. Fancy diving into a guitar-shaped swimming pool? You can’t go past a stay at the Econo Lodge Savannah Park Tamworth.
3. Forbes (NSW)
Basking on the banks of Lake Forbes and the Lachlan River in NSW’s Central West, Forbes has a look and feel befitting a town where the early streets were (figuratively) paved with gold. The town was established during the gold rush of the 1860s and 70s but would go on to become a key agricultural hub, which it remains to this day. Where there was great wealth in the 19th century, there were bushrangers, and many visitors to the region are keen to explore the stories of Ben Hall and Kate Kelly (the younger sister of bushranger Ned Kelly). Drop by the Forbes Historical Museum to learn more.
Signature experience: Follow the Sculpture Down the Lachlan public art trail, which begins in the centre of Forbes and will eventually stretch all the way to Condobolin. The trail currently incorporates 14 works.
Need a place to stay? Comfort Inn Bushmans at Parkes makes an ideal base for exploring Forbes, Orange and Dubbo. The hotel offers a range of accommodation options, set in beautifully landscaped grounds.
4. Warwick (QLD)
In Queensland’s Southern Darling Downs, lovers of fine architecture will treasure a visit to Warwick – one of inland Queensland’s most historic towns. Regal sandstone edifices dot the city centre and include the colonnaded Post Office (1898), the fabulously ornate Town Hall (1888), the still-in-use Court House (circa 1882), and the soaring second St Mary’s Catholic Church (circa 1926). Download a copy of the excellent Heritage and Historic Building Trails guide published by Southern Downs and Granite Belt Regional Tourism, and set off to explore the city centre on foot. The guide also covers the nearby towns of Allora, Killarney and Stanthorpe.
Signature experience: Warwick is probably best known for its combined Rose and Rodeo Festival in October, but for the rest of the year you can’t go past the opportunity to journey back in time onboard the Southern Downs Steam Railway. Check the website for excursion dates to neighbouring regional centres.
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.
5. Barmera (SA)
Bustling Barmera sits in the heart of South Australia’s 10,000-square-kilometre Riverland region, which follows the course of the mighty Murray River as it weaves its way through the state’s north-east. Not only does Barmera enjoy close proximity to the river, it also has beautiful Lake Bonney on its doorstep, which is hugely popular with water sports enthusiasts and aquatic adventure lovers. If you can do it on or in the water, you can probably do it here. Swimming, sailing, windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking, boating, water skiing, jet skiing, boating and fishing are all on the holiday agenda.
Signature experience: While most visitors spend their time in or on Lake Bonney, others simply want to photograph it. Barmera attracts photographers of all skill levels looking to capture the changing face of the lake throughout the day, and its especially ethereal beauty at dawn and dusk.
Need a place to stay? Enjoy the country hospitality on offer at Comfort Inn and Suites Riverland. An outdoor pool, tennis courts and even a golf course make this an awesome option for active travellers.
6. Shepparton (VIC)
Situated in the heart of the Goulburn Valley food and wine region in northern Victoria, regional hub and service centre Shepparton offers easy access to a cornucopia of farm-gate food experiences. The city’s famous herd of 90 multi-coloured, highly Instagrammable cow sculptures underscores the prominence of the local dairy industry, but the region is also famous for fruit growing and wine production. Drop by The Food Store on Fryers Street to taste-test an array of local specialties and top drops in one convenient location. Foodies won’t have it all their own way in this town. History lovers will want to check out the Shepparton Heritage Centre Museum, while culture vultures can take heart when the new state-of the-art digs for the Shepparton Art Museum (SAM) open in early 2021.
Signature experience: Don’t miss the chance to soak up the stark and arid beauty of the Australian Botanic Gardens, located just a short drive south-west of the city centre. The gardens include plantings of native grasses, a wetland area, and a 30-metre-high reclaimed landfill site that offers sweeping views of the surrounding region.
Need a place to stay? Overlooking Victoria Lake, Shepparton’s Quality Hotel Parklake is the largest hotel in town and features modern room styles and plenty of amenities. Walk to the town centre in minutes from the charming Quality Hotel Sherbourne Terrace, which offers a seasonal outdoor pool, spa and sauna. Comfort Inn Peppermill is conveniently located on the southern approach to town and has an onsite restaurant and beer garden.
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.