Regional towns that will make you feel like a local
Want to get to the heart of a community? It’s easy to feel like a local; simply take the time to understand what makes them special.
Regional towns aren’t just a destination on a map – they’re places where communities have come together and made a place their own. While it can be intimidating to be an outsider, sometimes to really get a feel for a place you need to take your time: staying longer, breathing deeper, listening closer to discover what lies at the heart of the community.
Here are four that will make you feel right at home.
Divided and connected by the Murray River, the twin cities of Albury-Wodonga offer visitors a chance to reconnect with their roots. More than one in 20 people living in Australia has ties to Bonegilla Migrant Camp, which accommodated more than 300,000 migrants arriving in Australia between 1947 to 1971.
To see how these new Australians first experienced life here, check out the post-war immigration display, Sharing Bonegilla Stories, at the Albury Library Museum. There is also a permanent exhibition on the city called Crossing Place, exploring first contact with the traditional owners of the land, the Wiradjuri, through to the modern history of the town.
Jindera Pioneer Museum, about a 15min drive north of the city, explores life on the land during the late 1800s. To turn back even further and understand the region, charge up your phone and head out on the Yindyamarra Sculpture Walk, a picturesque riverside walk stretching 5km along the Murray River. Each sculpture along the route integrates QR technology and interpretive panels to help showcase the story of the local Aboriginal people and their connection to Country along the Murray.
Most visitors who come to Echuca Moama come to see the traditional paddle steamers of the mighty Murray River, but if you look a little closer, the local focus is on the land.
The region has a well-established food and wine trail, a busy local market and the popular Perricoota Pop and Pour Festival, a wine festival that shuttles you from vineyard to vineyard to taste the fruits of local labour. However, throughout the region, there are places that have rallied to shape and protect the land.
In town, the Moama Botanic Gardens has been a labour of love for locals and a long-term community project. One of the first designed native gardens in Australia, it re-creates arid and semi-arid native Australian landscapes and features a rain garden, indigenous plantings and a dry billabong.
The theme of custodianship continues out into the region. Less than an hour’s drive from Moama, Restdown Wines operates an organic vineyard, winery and beef farm on a 445-hectare property. What makes this place different is its incredible wetland boardwalk, complete with indigenous cooking hearths and scar trees, preserved and untouched by the owners. Both guided and unguided walks are available, as are wine tastings and meals.
While Byron Bay gets the glam treatment on the ‘gram, and Nimbin is known for its counterculture and quirky festivals, Lismore in the Northern Rivers is all about community, inclusivity and creativity.
At Nightcap National Park, walk along the Bangalow palm forest trail through rainforest to Protesters Falls, named for the Lismore locals who staged Australia’s first successful anti-logging protests in 1979.
There’s a resiliency to this town: local club Tropical Fruits has been welcoming members of the LGBTIQ community for years, while popular cafe Flock was rebuilt with community support after being devastated in the 2017 floods.
On the outskirts of Lismore, the Lismore Rainforest Botanic Gardens, established in 2002 and still in its infancy, is run by a dedicated group of volunteers with tours every weekend. There’s art in the back streets and, each weekend, a series of farmers markets and fairs, including Channon Craft Market, the oldest art and craft market in Australia.
The coastal hamlet of Narooma is the kind of town you have to wade into slowly. It has a reputation as a waterworld: along with a string of beaches with striking rock formations, there is the protected Wagonga Inlet, incredible diving and snorkelling around Montague Island, and one of the most renowned rock oyster industries in Australia.
The region is the heart of Australia’s oyster coast, with an annual oyster festival, tours with tastings of the delicacy straight from the water and a number of restaurants dishing up the slippery seafood, including The Whale Inn and Restaurant and The Quarterdeck.
But beyond the waterways, Narooma has an incredible selection of often-overlooked biking trails that are the town’s best-kept secret. Hire a bike or e-bike from Southbound Escapes to tour the family-friendly 21km return Narooma to Dalmeny cycle track, which was built and funded by the community.
The Narooma to Tilba route is also popular, but there are also more than 30km of mountain bike trails in nearby Bodalla State Forest being developed by a local community of riders.