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.
All things Slim Dusty
Arts & culture
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. In the charming nearby town of Gladtone, 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.
Foodie delights & vintage finds
Wander along the banks of the Macleay River to dine at one of the riverfront restaurants or cafes. The fantastic Garden Bar and Kitchen is just a 10-minute drive from town and has unbeatable views of the waterfront. Take a guided tour of Bucket Brewery, a microbrewery located in an old bus depot in South Kempsey.
Seek out vintage treasures in one of the antique stores in town; while in West Kempsey, you’ll find many independent retail outlets including clothing boutiques, homewares and cafes. Meanwhile, 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.
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.
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 Gladstone Quality Markets are held on the banks of the river on the third Sunday of each month. The next village north of Kempsey on the Macleay Valley Way, Frederickton is a must-stop to taste the famous croc pies at Fredo Pies & Cafe, or to tee off at the nine-hole Frederickton Golf Club.
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.