Most people are familiar with Sydney and its famous landmarks, the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, the impressive monolith of Uluru at Ayers Rock, the spectacular marine life of the Great Barrier Reef and the famous skyline of the Gold Coast. However, there are a lot of hidden treasures to discover on the world’s largest island, Australia.
COFFS HARBOUR and BELLINGEN
Let’s begin our journey with Coffs Harbour. It’s located 800km north of Sydney and the region is known for its gob smacking scenery – magnificent beaches, the quaint coastal and rural villages of Urunga, Sawtell, Woolgoolga, Bellingen and Coramba, dairy farms, lush countryside, the World Heritage-listed rainforest of Dorrigo, mighty rivers and crystal clear creeks, a thriving art culture, music festivals and a laidback way of life – what more can you ask for?
In 2002, the coastal city of Coffs Harbour was voted most liveable city in the world with a population under 70,000. The beautiful uncrowded beaches and the sub-tropical climate lend itself to aquatic pastimes most of the year round. Attractions include whale watching, diving, cycling, hiking, sailing, canoeing, golf and of course, the Big Banana.
Bellingen is a 30 minute drive south of Coffs Harbour and sits in the beautiful Bellinger Valley. Turning off the Pacific Highway near Raleigh, you’ll find yourself travelling along the Waterfall Way where you’ll be spoilt by vistas of lush pastures, dairy farms and the Bellinger River. The rural charm of this area is second to none and the historic town of Bellingen is one of the prettiest in Australia.
The town has many historic buildings including the Hammond and Wheatley Emporium, the Federal Hotel, the Gallery Cafe, the Cedar Bar and Kitchen which was once an old timber church, the Old Butter Factory Café, Village and Shops and the Yellow Shed which sells arts and crafts, toys, ornaments, books and music.
Bellingen is the venue for 3 major festivals – the Readers and Writers Festival in June, the Winter Music Festival in July and the Bellingen Music Festival in September.
There’s also a monthly market held every third Saturday where you can purchase locally made arts and crafts, fresh produce and enjoy a smorgasbord of multicultural food. From 10am, you’ll be treated to live music by local and national artists.
The Promised Land and Never Never Creek (yes, they do exist) are a 20 minute drive along a very pretty country road, just north of the historical village of Bellingen. Enjoy the tranquil scenery and take a refreshing dip in the icy cold, crystal clear creek. And just a hop, skip and a jump away from Bellingen is the World Heritage-Listed Dorrigo National Park.
There’s a lot to explore along the coast and beautiful hinterland. The scenery in this region really is quite breathtaking and a perfect relaxing getaway.
SOVEREIGN HILL, BALLARAT
We then move on to step back in time and experience Australia’s gold rush era at Sovereign Hill near Ballarat which is about an hour’s drive north-west of Melbourne. This replica town is so authentic, you’ll be rubbing shoulders with costumed ladies and men as they parade around the dusty streets – watch out for that stage coach! The many shops which line the main street are full of 1850s-style goods and you can sit in the local school house while you practice your ABC’s on slate boards.
Skilled craftsmen at the candle works, blacksmith’s forge, the coachbuilder’s and the confectionary factory will all give you an insight into a bygone era. You can visit the Chinese camp to experience their way of life and be amazed at the goldminers’ life by taking a tour of their little cottages.
There are three different gold mines to tour and you can pan for real gold at the Diggings – you get to keep what you find! And after a full day in this most amazing of places, finish off with the spectacular “Blood on the Southern Cross” sound and light show which tells the story of the Eureka Rebellion, a dramatic battle between gold miners and Government forces at Ballarat on 3 December 1854.
You can spend the night in the onsite hotel and on the following day, take the time to visit the Gold Museum which provides a rich history of the gold rush era of Ballarat. Learn about the Welcome Stranger, discovered in 1869, which was the world’s largest gold nugget at the time of its discovery. It weighed approximately 72 kg and was found 3 centimetres below the ground surface within the roots of a stringybark tree.
NOODLING IN COOBER PEDY
Coober Pedy in South Australia is a quirky town famous for its underground hotels and homes. It’s also the largest producer of opals in the world and you can get down and dirty and try your own luck by doing a bit of noodling in this outback town of Australia.
Because temperatures can at times reach a searing 50 degrees during summer, living underground is a very comfortable experience as the temperature is a pleasant 25 degrees year round. The idea came from returned soldiers who drifted into the area after World War 1. They introduced the method of living underground in “dugouts” as many had done in the trenches of France.
The town has 27 hotels to choose from with the Desert Cave being the best known. It’s centrally located and has 50 rooms, 19 of which are underground.
The town and region have a number of attractions such as the 5,300 km Dog Fence which begins east of Surfers Paradise in Queensland and finishes north of Ceduna in the Great Australian Bite. The Dog Fence is the longest continual construction in the world and was built to protect the sheep from the Dingoes in the north.
Another famous attraction is the Oodnadatta Track which is one of Australia’s most fascinating outback trails with colourful and ever-changing landscapes and small outback towns. You can experience this track by doing the Mail Run tour from Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy is a real outback experience.
So the next time you’re in a quandary as to where to spend your next holiday, put your sense of adventure to the test and head out to one of these hidden treasures. You’ll probably wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner.