Small Town Vibes…Featuring the humblest little country towns in Australia!
It was exactly 468 steps up a gentle slope towards the primary school gates. I would attempt to kick a small stone the entire way, trying not to get my ‘Grosby’ black school shoes too dirty from the dusty, gravel roadside. On winter mornings I would rush out to the lounge room where my mum had laid my winter school uniform in front of the gas heater to get warm. I’d sit at the breakfast bench eating my rolled oats with brown sugar next to my brother and sister who were sitting there in stunned teenage silence.
I had a best friend who lived on a farm, a piano teacher that lived 5 blocks away and parents who would give me a decent amount of freedom, so long as my yellow BMX and I were home before the street lights shone their light on proud homes with white picket fences.
My second best friend was the boy who lived across the road. His name was Dougie and we would spend hours crawling through drains with his kelpie dog, Rusty. Weekends were spent catching craybobs next to the fresh smell of cow manure and riding with friends amidst the security of wide country streets. Oh…. And there’s the smell of the rain resting on a dusty road. That’s heaven right there.
I am a small town girl at heart…..
“Your life is spent trying to get out of a small town and the other half trying to get back to one”
Is there any wonder why we love travelling on Australia’s country roads, walking through streets of little country towns and imagining the lives of the people that reside behind the old stone cottage or faded weatherboard shacks. Most of these places are not in tourist hot spots, yet the majority of them have a sense of authenticity and simplicity that offer a vibe that makes you want to stay for just a little bit longer. And we do!
So where are we now?
Today we find ourselves between the moist red dirt and striped mintbush on the Lasseter Highway heading west towards Uluru National Park. We’ve been on the road now for 111 days and clocked up just over 13,000km since leaving Corindi Beach (Northern NSW) on January 3rd. We’ve spent approximately $220 per week on food and stayed at 28 different locations, 14 of them in small country towns including William Creek located along the Oodnadatta Track, a 328km corrugated dirt road between Marree and Coober Pedy.
Since my last blog we’ve explored the wineries of the Barossa and Clare Valley, cycled our way through the final days of the “Fringe Festival” in Adelaide, jumped off pontoons at Port Elliot (another gorgeous little country town), cheered cyclists at Meningie, milked cows at Murray Bridge, studied caves and fossils at Naracoorte and made teepees at Beltana Station, a sheep station located in the Northern Flinders Ranges, SA.
Many of these locations have brought the most authentic experiences and guess what? Most of them have been in small towns.
“the sky in small towns are always the prettiest”
It’s a completely different adventure when you focus on visiting ‘small towns’. Each of them has their own story and a way to contribute to your perception of the Aussie Culture. Not all of them are postcard worthy, but people are there because they WANT to be, not because they HAVE to be. They have what’s known as ‘hero moments’ which comprise of a single moment or special occasion which gives that town a unique identity and of course lots more publicity which brings a lot more people to the town.
“Can we move here mummy?” says J9 as we walk amongst the red and navy blue polo shirts that adorn the school kids as they walk to school.
When questioning our nine year old further, she states that it would be great to live in a town where she could ride her bike everywhere and go to friend’s houses every day after school. Sounds like the perfect country upbringing to me. I know what that would be like because I was lucky enough to experience it myself as a kid.
J9 was referring to a little country town called Mount Beauty (Yes, name depicts its gorgeousness), located at the base of Mount Bogong in the Victorian High Country. It’s a town that boats climate that depicts all four seasons. It comes alive during winter when alpine devotees wind their way up Bogong High Plains Tourist Drive towards the resort town of Falls Creek. It’s a small town that loves it that way. People are humble and modest in their choice of lifestyle. There’s no room for showy houses and fake tans here. The beauty lies beneath…. But shhhhh. The locals love it that way and don’t want it to change. After spending nearly one week in the town I can understand why.
Where else but small towns….
- can school-kid’s artwork be displayed in shop windows…
- does the town post office double as the newsagent, gift-shop and local art gallery…
- can you chat for ages to a complete stranger…
- can you not use your car for a whole week (or two)…
- can your kid’s teacher become your best friend…
- are locals willing to share their favourite (locals only) hangout…
- does the local publican chat to you as though you’ve lived in the town for years…
- can you ride in the back of a ute to a secluded section of the river with a rope swing…
- can you buy local produce on the side of the road…
- can you jump off the local bridge with friends you’ve just made at the local skate park….
- can you marvel at artwork on the local wheat silos…
There’s no doubt that small towns are an integral part of the diversity of Australia. I feel proud that we’ve been able to show our kids what small town living is about. We should be proud of our small towns and what they have to offer.
After all, I am proud of MY hometown.
It’s a big part of what makes me the person that I am.
Below are some of the towns that I hope you will make time to visit one day. We loved them and so will you.
Scotts Head, NSW
Where: it’s a coastal town located in the Nambucca Shire in the Mid North Coast of NSW;
Why we loved it: This is the quintessential coastal holiday destination for those seeking something completely relaxing. Safe beaches, funky cafes and interesting day trips to other places such as “The Pub with no beer”. Great caravan park right on the beach.
Tourism: Scotts Head is popular with surfers because of the headlands projecting into the ocean in three directions, and the choice of three beaches. It’s known for right handed surf breaks, it is occasionally visited by turtles, and offshore is part of the whale migratory route. The main beaches are patrolled by life-guards from the local surfclub on weekends and public holidays
Locals only knowledge: many turtles that pop their heads up while you’re swimming;
Favourite hang-out: Ocean Street Diner located centrally opposite the Caravan Park;
Hero Moment: Scotts Head Festival – a celebration of food, wine, music and art (April)
Camping/Caravan: Yes, right on the beach but it doesn’t take dogs during the school holidays.
Where: located in the Queanbeyan Region of NSW, it lies on the Kings Highway near Lake George.
Why we loved it: The streets were clean, houses showed that people have lots of pride in their town. The local dance studio welcomed our son with open arms. Beautiful walkways and parks for the kids and a great pub in town with local artists playing most weekends.
Tourism: It’s become a major tourist centre in recent years popular with visitors from Canberra and because of it’s heritage appeal.
Locals only knowledge: the walk to the water tower provides the best view of the town and is a great dog friendly walking route for the locals; The old Railway Station is also a keeper.
Favourite hang-out: Royal Hotel (you couldn’t find a nicer publican)
Hero Moment: Bungendore Harvest Festival – a celebration of local food, farming and fibre (April)
Camping/Caravan: Not sure, we didn’t actually stay here in town as we stayed at a friend’s property nearby. Definitely worth a visit if you’re staying in Canberra on your way to Lake George.
Where: located just a bit further inland from popular tourist destination “Mollymook” on the South Coast of NSW.
Why we loved it: Rolling hills and wide streets with a great Showgrounds to set up camp. A great base for loss of day trips to the coast or inland.
Tourism: The Victorian Era comes alive in Milton with houses and shops that depict that type of architecture. The main street has some great galleries, antique stores, cafes and restaurants.
Locals only knowledge: Pidgeon House Mountain – named by Captain Cook as he sailed passed in 1770. The local aboriginal tribe named it “didthol” which means ‘woman’s breast’. It’s a difficult 3km climb to the top but is definitely worth the view. J11 still says that Pidgeon House is his favourite hike so far… and we’ve done plenty of hikes, so that’s saying something.
Favourite hang-out: We travelled 7km down the road to Mollymook for a fantastic Sunday Afternoon drink at th
e Bannisters Pavilion Rooftop Bar and Grill. It also has a pool if you fancy a swim with your cocktail.
Hero Moment: The Milton Scarecrow Festival is held annually on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June. This colourful festival involves a theme which locals and visitors are encouraged to interpret through decorating scarecrows. Entertainment includes live performances, art and craft markets, a farmyard petting zoo and children’s rides. Milton Village markets are held on the first Saturday of every month and on long weekends
Camping/Caravan: We stayed at the dog friendly showgrounds which also has a fantastic off-leash dog agility area. It’s a great base to explore the area and coastline.
Mount Beauty, VIC
Where: It’s hidden away in the Victorian High Country at the foot of Mount Bogong and the Falls Creek Conservation Park. Nearest region town is Albury/Wadonga about an hour away.
Why we loved it: It’s quiet, relaxed and friendly. The surrounding trails are great for mountain biking or running/hiking and the mountainous roads are great for road cyclists. The summer days were filled with swimming in gorges, rivers, and waterholes. This place is a hive of adventure for outdoor enthusiasts.
Tourism: Skiing at Falls Creek in Winter and Mountain Biking/Trail Running/hiking in Summer. You can also enjoy some fishing in a clear mountain stream. Boating enthusiasts will love the pondage too.
Locals only knowledge: The kids will love Mongans Bridge where locals spend afternoons after school and weekends jumping off the rope swing into the river. It also has a great camp ground opposite. Big Hill Mountain Bike Park is also great for downhill mountain biking and has a fantastic gorge for swimming.
Favourite hang-out: Svarmisk Café – Skafferi offers Scandinavian inspired treats and great coffee with friendly staff who serve their produce with love.
Hero Moment: The Mount Beauty Music Festival is a festival of music, dance, poetry, and theatre. Held in May every year where autumn colours are at their best.
Camping/Caravan: Mount Beauty Holiday Park has beautiful grassy sites by the river with views of Mount Bogong or a more secluded campfire site. It’s very family friendly with lots of free activities for the kids. It’s walking distance to the town as well.
www.cohuna.org .au (yes, they even have their own gorgeous website)
Where: located on Gunbower Creek which is a major tributary of the Murray River. It’s a comfortable 3hour drive from Melbourne between Echuca and Swan Hill.
Why we loved it: The town had a welcoming feel straight away. They had a local parkrun which we attended as well as a beautiful creek for swimming. This is J11’s favourite town so far.
Tourism: Most visitors to the area appreciate the protected waters of Gunbower Creek for water skiing and swimming while the Murray River is only 10 minutes away. It’s ideal for camping, fishing and bushwalking. City folk love coming here for the peace and serenity.
Locals only knowledge: Jumping out of the trees into the duckweed infested Gunbower Creek. We originally thought the duckweed to be dirty but local kids told us that it was perfectly ok. They even showed us some of the best trees to jump from into deeper sections of the creek.
Favourite hang-out: Factory and Field is a cool vintage shop located in the old butter factory on the outskirts of town. It sells linen, gifts and antiques as well as having a coffee shop. The six metre high ceilings with exposed brickwork make it an appealing destination for a browse through the vast range of wares.
Hero Moment: The annual “Bridge the Bridge” festival held in March. This sporting festival includes swimming, a triathlon, cycling events and fun runs. Lots of locals and interstate competitors come here for the fun and the friendly rivalry.
Camping/Caravan: We stayed at the dog friendly Cohuna Holiday Waterfront Park which was a big park with very few people there at the time. We stayed in the unpowered section which was completely waterfront. It was fantastic. You can also stay at the free camp ground on the banks of the Gunbower River in town. We saw lots of caravans there… including another Spinifex (I wonder if they are reading this blog?). https://www.cwhp.com.au/
Where: located in the heart of the Bellinger Valley between the coast and the Dorrigo Plateau on the scenic Waterfall Way (near Coffs Harbour).
Why we loved it: It’s full of interesting characters who aren’t afraid to express themselves artistically and creatively. It’s an alternative town without being too happyish. It’s buzzing with markets, cafes, galleries, festivals and events.
Tourism: it has a strong infinity with the arts and boasts some famous filmmakers, actors, journalists and musicians. It’s the perfect daytrip from Coffs Harbour and has great river rafting, kayaking and fishing opportunities all nestles amongst the regions precious natural environment.
Locals only knowledge: You’ve just got to try the canoeing in the area. The Bellinger River is the perfect location to get amongst the flora and fauna of the region. You can even do full moon kayaking and there’s places toward Dorrigo that have some white water as well. Contact Daniel and JO at Bellingen Canoe Adventures for a serene experience you won’t want to miss. http://www.canoeadventures.com.au/
Favourite hang-out: Any of the cafes, restaurants and boutiques are worth a visit. The vibe amongst this town is amazing.
Hero Moment: The list of festivals are huge but one that you don’t want to miss is the Bellingen Winter Music Festival held in July every year. http://www.bellowintermusic.com/ Great food, great people, great workshops and great music.
Camping/Caravan: We stayed at the dog friendly showgrounds. They were pretty rough and ready but suited our one night stay.
Port Elliot, SA
Where: Located on the Fleurieu Peninsular between Victor Harbor and Goolwa.
Why we loved it: It’s filled with old stone cottage houses amidst sandy beaches and a rugged coastline. It has a great bikeway that extends all the way from Victor Harbor to Goolwa as well as some great walking tracks near the old train line. It was quiet when we were there however we’ve been told that it comes alive during holiday periods. Horseshoe Bay had a great little pontoon that the kids could swim to and jump off. On dusk we spotted plenty of dolphins in horseshoe bay as well. There’s lots of great trail runs and hikes in the area as well.
Tourism: The Cockle Train (on Australia’s oldest Steel Railway) is an old steam train that travels along the old route between Goolwa and Victor Harbor. It only runs on weekends sop don’t expect to see it running during the week, unless it’s school holidays.
Locals only knowledge: The Victor Harbor Heritage Trail is a great dog and child friendly hike that takes along the beaches and headlands between Petrel Cove and Kings Beach. Watch out for dolphins and whales off shore. Understand the landscape, geology and European and Aboriginal history through the interpretive signage along the trail.
Favourite hang-out: You have to visit the Soul Vine café located at the Authenticity Wellness Spa just outside of town. It offers seasonal, organic and delicious meals, sourced locally and organic wherever possible. The Kombucha and the home-made soups are definitely worth a try. http://www.authenticity.com.au/soul-vine-cafe/
Camping/Caravan: We stayed at the dog friendly showgrounds. If we didn’t have a dog, we’d definitely stay at the Big 4 Tourist Park which is located right on the beach.