Set on the banks of the mighty Macleay River, Kempsey was originally established as a timber and dairy hub and retains many of its historic buildings as a vestige of its past. Home to two great Australian icons – country music legend Slim Dusty, and the Akubra hat, which has been made in the town for the past 50 years – Kempsey is surrounded by national parks and just a short drive from the beautiful beaches of the Macleay Valley Coast. 

Slim Dusty

The Slim Dusty Centre not only showcases the 50-year music career and family life of country music legend Slim Dusty, it also celebrates the role that Australian country music has played in the culture of the NSW North Coast. Opened in 2015, the complex also features a café, function centre, an art gallery, and a retail shop featuring local products from the region. 

Sunset at the Slim Dusty Centre, South Kempsey

The Slim Dusty Centre, South Kempsey - Credit: The Slim Dusty Centre

Things to do

For an overview of the history of the region, visit Kempsey Museum, which includes a pioneer cottage furnished with original items. Next door, in the annexe of the Visitor Centre, you’ll find the Dunghutti Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery, showcasing the works of established and emerging Aboriginal artists. The Kempsey Riverside Markets are held monthly on the banks of the river, featuring locally-made products and farm produce, hand-made arts and crafts and vintage wares, as well as live music. 

Dunghutti-Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery, South Kempsey

Dunghutti-Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery, South Kempsey - Credit: Alan Guihot

Wander along the banks of the Macleay River, or dine at one of the riverfront restaurants or cafes. Seek out vintage treasures in one of the antique stores; while in West Kempsey, you’ll find many independent retail outlets including clothing boutiques, homewares and cafes. Take a guided tour of the Bucket Brewery, a microbrewery located in an old bus depot in South Kempsey.  

Kempsey Riverside Markets

Kempsey Riverside Markets - Credit: Macleay Valley Coast

For something more adventurous, tackle the Kalateenee Mountain Bike Trails, a 25km network of trails that winds through the state forest just outside of Kempsey. Hike to the top of Mount Yarrahapinni in the Yarriabini National Park; from the top of this 498m peak you can see all the way to the coast. Twitchers should follow the 2.5km walk to Boyters Lane Bird Hide, through marshland and bush teeming with life. 

Gladstone and Smithtown

Known as the ‘cultural heart of the Macleay’, Gladstone is a delightful little village 15min north of Kempsey with 19 preserved historic buildings, a heritage pub and great cafes, shopping and galleries. The Macleay Valley Community Art Gallery is a exhibition space for visual artists in the region; while the Gladstone Hub is a collective of local creative businesses  located within a heritage building. The Gladstone Quality Markets are held on the banks of the river on the third Sunday of each month. 

Boutique shopping and heritage buildings, Gladstone

Boutique shopping and heritage buildings, Gladstone - Credit: Macleay Valley Coast

Getting there & where to stay

Kempsey is a 4hr 40min drive from Sydney and 5hr 20min from Brisbane. You can also catch the train direct from Sydney and the journey takes just over seven hours. Or fly into Port Macquarie Airport and hire a car for the 40min drive. Places to stay include motels, holiday parks, historic pubs and country cottages. 

View from the balcony of The Heritage Hotel of Gladstone, Gladstone

The Heritage Hotel of Gladstone, Gladstone - Credit: The Heritage Hotel of Gladstone

Things to Do and Places to Stay