Australia's top tourism towns for 2021 revealed

How much do you know about Mudgee? Not much, eh? Well, the Mudgee region in NSW has just been named the nation’s top tourism town. So now you know a little more about Mudgee!

Australia’s Top Tourism Town Awards saw towns with a population of over 5000, and those with populations under 5000, battling to be named the best for tourism.

Mudgee claimed gold in the over 5000 category, while Noosa (Queensland) took silver and the bronze went to New Norfolk in Tasmania.

Known for its award-winning boutique wineries and cellar restaurants, the Mudgee region in Country NSW offers much more than just a trip for tipplers, such as gold rush heritage to World Heritage wilderness and a raft of outdoor activity options.

The temperate climate has fuelled winemaking since the 1850s. The temperate climate allows for the slow ripening of grapes that produces robust wines. But the same climate is perfect for getaways long and short.

Nestled on the banks of the Cudgegong River, Mudgee’s rich pastoral history and colonial gold rush era is reflected in the tree-lined heritage streetscapes. And a short drive north will see you in Gulgong, a colonial gold mining town with about 130 heritage-listed buildings, including Australia’s oldest operating opera house. Or across in Rylstone, you’ll find more magnificent heritage buildings and landmarks – some dating back to the mid-19th century.

As for activities, well, you can check out the local farmers’ market, enjoy breakfast and brunch at trendy country cafés, admire Aboriginal rock art, take a dip at The Drip Gorge, walk in the wilderness or Putta Bucca Wetlands, kayak along Dunns Swamp or take in a stunning sunset at the lost city at Castle Rocks.

Noosa is no stranger to top tourism awards, having enjoyed wish-list status for many Australians past and present.

There’s the beach ideal for lazing by with a book, a dip or a surf. Or maybe paddling along the picturesque Lake Weyba is more your scene. Noosa is a great base from which to take country drives, seek culinary sensations, beers and brews, live music, arts, boutique shopping or heart-pumping action. Whatever your pleasure, Noosa has you covered for holiday fun and adventure.

A short trip to Maleny-Montville hinterland and you can enjoy fine food, bakeries, a brewery or two (make sure you check out Brouhaha for a sip and sup) and let’s not forget the dairy famous in the region – Maleny Dairy.

Read: Why the Sunshine Coast hinterland is Queensland’s best-kept secret

Way further south is Tassie’s top tourism town and the nation’s bronze medallist, New Norfolk – a bustling town on the River Derwent with a rich history, quality produce and pretty rural scenery.

The town is the third-oldest settlement in Tasmania and the commercial and residential heart of the Derwent Valley.

There’s a rich history evident in the myriad early buildings around town, including one of Australia’s oldest pubs, Australia’s oldest Anglican church, St Matthews, and one of Australia’s few traditional village squares.

Read: The luxury river cruise everyone can afford

According to Discover Tasmania, New Norfolk is a hop-growing haven that produces most of the hops for Australian breweries. It’s also close to Mount Field National Park and the south-west wilderness beyond.

The small town is dotted with eclectic antique stores, a distillery, historic buildings and is the perfect stop on a west coast road trip, or simply for a day trip out of Hobart.

Now for the smaller towns with populations under 5000. Berrima, located in NSW, claimed gold for the 2021 Small Tourism Town category with Victoria’s Port Fairy securing silver and Stanley in Tasmania taking bronze.

Berrima is a historic town located in the lush Southern Highlands countryside. An idyllic village packed with charm and character, it’s a top spot to take some time to drink delicious local wines, discover gorgeous riverside walks and explore the beautifully preserved Georgian heritage.

Port Fairy is a charming fishing village at the end of the Great Ocean Road and a popular stop for day trippers and weekend warriors. It’s home to one of the busiest fishing ports in Victoria, and a great place for a pier walk where you’ll watch as the fishermen haul show off their daily catch of crayfish and abalone.

You can head out to sea on a guided fishing trip or take a cruise out to the seal colony on Lady Julia Percy Island. Port Fairy is an arts town, too. Its diverse array of boutiques, antique stores, and art and craft shops scattered throughout the town can take an entire weekend to peruse, but we recommend taking a few days more to really soak up the scene.

Stanley, in Tasmania, is a town of perfectly preserved colonial buildings, genteel cafes and quality B&Bs. It’s nestled at the base of the Nut, a famous flat-topped, volcanic plug rising 150 metres straight up from the water’s edge and is also close to fascinating nature experiences and Tasmania’s Tarkine wilderness.

Among other things, a highlight of this small town is to sit down to Stanley’s famous fish and chips, enjoying the views of Bass Strait, then climbing the winding path to the top of the Nut for a spectacular 360-degree view and an aerobic workout, Stanley-style.

The top tourism town awards celebrate Australian towns that demonstrate commitment to encouraging tourism and increasing visitation to their destination.

Read: Things you shouldn’t do on a tour of Tasmania

“As we get closer to all interstate borders reopening and enjoy a renewed focus on domestic tourism, these awards put the spotlight on our tourism communities and the amazing experiences that can be had throughout Australia,” said Australian Tourism Awards chair Daniel Gschwind.

“Our tourism industry has faced enormous challenges over the past 18 months, but the awards have provided a welcome reminder to us all of how resilient, strong and inspiring the tourism community is.

“All of our finalists can be extremely proud to represent their state or territory in this national competition,” he said.

“The submissions showed what a truly diverse country we live in, with inspiring experiences throughout. Congratulations to the winners and all finalists.”

Have you been to any of these towns? How was your experience? Do you have any must-dos for our members? Why not share them in the comments section below?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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