Five frequent travellers reveal their best travel discoveries of the past year.
Palace Hotel, Broken Hill, NSW
Gleny Rae, musician
Who knew the way-out-west outback town of Broken Hill is home to one of Australia’s best drag scenes? That’s what musician Gleny Rae discovered when she played a gig at the grand Palace Hotel.
“Our warm-up act was a fantastic drag show where two fabulous trans ladies glammed up and gave us the floor show of our lives,” she says, “all in this regal old pub with great food, a fun cosy front bar and a back room with tinsel and glitter and a big mural.”
In September, the town hosts the Broken Heel Festival, a party of “desert, disco, and plenty of divas darlings”.
Rae teaches music by day and spends about four months a year playing at festivals and gigs all over Australia. Two of her fave events are the Bello Winter Music festival (NSW, July) and Dorrigo Folk ' Bluegrass Festival (NSW, October).
Try this: Another discovery of Rae’s is “clothes foraging”, where travellers pilfer and souvenir items from the tall termite mounds found above the Tropic of Capricorn, from Winton through to the NT.
“It’s a tradition that started in Karratha,” she says.
“When the miners would leave the town, they’d put their hard hat on a termite mound, but now people fully dress up the mounds in frocks and shirts – whatever!”
Port Fairy, Victoria
Ardyn Bernoth, national Good Food editor
Every school holidays, Ardyn Bernoth hightails it to the buzzing seaside village of Port Fairy, about four hours west of Melbourne on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road.
“I love that it’s just a little bit too far for day-trippers,” she says.
“It’s kept its historic vibe and is still full of cute little whalers’ cottages.”
Port Fairy’s food and wine credentials are rock solid with ex-hatted chef Ryan Sessions now flipping burgers at Randy’s and Matthew Dempsey running Conlan’s Wine Store, a wine bar/restaurant with snacky shareables and top-notch plonk.
“What I love in summer is to sit in the beer garden of the Merrijig Inn, overlooking the wharf under the Norfolk Pines. I order a really good G'T and catch the last of the sun’s rays,” Bernoth says.
“I love Port Fairy. It’s got a really strong community vibe.”
Do this: “One of my favourite things to do is buy a fishing licence from the newsagent. You can still go out and get abalone on the rocks and go all hunter-gatherer.”
West Arnhem Land, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory
Morgan Disspain, archaeologist
Dr Morgan Disspain is one of those super-interesting people. An archaeological fish otolith (ear bones) expert, she spent 2019 working on a community-led project about fish, water, and cultural heritage in West Arnhem Land in Kakadu National Park.
“I was massively fortunate to be able to experience the wet and dry and watch the seasonal changes,” she says.
“The whole floodplains are full of water and birds, so green, and then, in the dry, there are small billabongs and lots of fires. It’s amazing to see the traditional owners look after the country by practising traditional burning measures, which reduces fuel load and encourages fresh growth.”
See this: Injalak and Ubirr both have spectacular rock art, with some paintings dating from 20,000 years ago. It’s accessible and you can climb up and marvel at the sunset and lush wetlands full of wildlife.
Lightning Ridge, NSW
Peter Biggs, retired firefighting and rescue trainer
Retiree Peter Biggs spent five months roaming the roads with his wife Annette in their new campervan.
In Queensland, he ate a camel burger in Cunnamulla and was visited by a family of metre-high brolgas at Longreach. But his highlight was Lightning Ridge, the outback gem renowned for its black opal and mining history.
“It’s a rough, dry, dusty, frontier-type town,” says Biggs. “But the people are spirited and proud of its opal history.”
Biggs’ highlight was Chambers of the Black Hand – dubbed “Australia’s own Mount Rushmore” – an 11-metre underground gallery of people (including the Beatles, Dalai Lama, Man from Snowy River, etc) carved into the soft, damp sandstone.
Relax here: Soothe aching muscles at Lightning Ridge’s hot, bubbling bores filled by healing water from the Great Artesian Basin.
Premier Mill Hotel, Katanning, Western Australia
Fleur Bainger, Lonely Planet writer
Travel writer Fleur Bainger was blown away by a historic flour mill turned hotel at Katanning, the tiny wheatbelt town in the south-west corner of WA.
“The Mill was bought for $1 and turned into an awesome boutique hotel with huge exposed beams, weathered brick, and repurposed industrial machinery,” she says.
“Its basement bar is so atmospheric, backed with the old vacuum grain chutes made from tin. It’s not what you expect to find in a place like Katanning but it’s a great stopover on the way to Albany, Denmark and the orca hot-spot of Bremer Bay."
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From "Merchants, Millers and Grain Buyers".....to Cafe and (very-soon-to-open) Wine Bar and stunning boutique heritage Hotel. As a chap who relentlessly adapted with the times to create new opportunity and hope with his numerous business ventures, we think the Mill's founder Frederick Piesse would have likely done this himself if he was still with us today. #premiermillhotel #katanning #thegreatsouthern #boutiquehotel #industrialdesign
Drink this: Pop into the Mill’s Cordial bar for local wines, craft beers, whiskies and non-alcoholic, old-school cordials and mixers made by hand.