Where to Eat, Drink and Stay in Aussies Quiet Country Towns

Penguin, Tasmania

When it comes to transforming quiet country towns into must-visit destinations, some enterprising Aussies are leading the charge.

If there’s one thing that’s more Australian than meeting friends at the pub for a drink, a natter and a saucy chicken parmigiana, it’s working to create the kind of environment in which locals – and visitors – can gather, celebrate or unwind.

Across the country, visionary Australians in regional and rural towns are rolling up their sleeves and taking charge of community-led tourism, building a drawcard to attract visitors to their town in a move they hope will help kickstart or bring money into the local economy.

Here are three of the finest country venues for a drink, a bite to eat or, in the case of Carcoar’s inn-turned-boutiqueaccommodation, a place to rest your head before doing it all again the next day.

Carcoar, New South Wales

Carcoar, NSW

With its concentration of 19th-century buildings, quirky museums – such as the Carcoar Hospital Museum and the 20th Century Toy Museum – and quiet Central West location in a valley beside the Belubula River, it’s easy to see why locals refer to Carcoar as “the town that time forgot”. But when TV presenter Edwina Bartholomew visited with her husband, Neil Varcoe, earlier this year, she could only see its future.

“There were plenty of amazing drawcards, from spectacular dining at Antica Australis to fun boutiques such as Tomolly and The Rustic Flamingo,” she says. “We saw the potential to showcase Carcoar as a tourism destination in its own right.”

The couple’s decision to buy The Victoria Hotel, a boutique 177-year-old guesthouse, and renovate it into a chic accommodation offering comes at just the right time. The town’s schedule of festivals and events (including the popular Carcoar Show) is picking up steam and The Carcoar Royal Hotel has reopened to great fanfare. But every mustvisit destination needs somewhere to stay.

“We aim to open in 2025, with offerings for families and pets, as well as space for functions,” says Bartholomew. “Ultimately we want people to rethink Carcoar as a side-trip destination and say, ‘I’m going to holiday in Carcoar… and maybe I’ll do a side trip to Orange’.”

Penguin, Tasmania

For Scott Seymour, who owns the Penguin Beer Co., with his wife, Tara, it was all about the name. “You can’t drive past a town called Penguin and not have a look,” he says with a laugh. Enchanted by the region’s stunning coastline and scenic walking trails, the couple moved their family from Bendigo, Victoria, 12 weeks later – a 2020 seachange that inspired their beachfront taphouse and diner.

“We wanted a fun place for locals to gather but we also knew it was the kind of space that could attract visitors.” To be fair, Penguin wasn’t without its attractions. Located on the north-west coast of Tassie, it’s home to a three metre-tall Big Penguin, sports the state’s largest covered markets and, yes, has a penguin rookery nearby. But the Seymours’ move paid off.

Since opening in mid-2021, the taphouse’s promise of craft beer and food on a deck with direct beach access has drawn visitors in droves, marking a big change for the small town. “Plans are underway to redevelop the local caravan park into a beach resort, the foreshore is being upgraded and new shops, such as Village Wine Store, have opened. It feels like the town is on the verge of a massive phase of growth.”

Maffra, Victoria

Ask Lashay Tricker to describe her hometown and she launches into an ode to its homesteads, oak-lined streets and rich farming heritage. “We’re right by the mountains yet close to beaches and we have all these original shopfronts.”

Stop in at the historic Gippsland town situated some 220 kilometres east of Melbourne and you might spend a morning browsing Johnson Street’s charming stores and cafés (don’t miss The Pickle Pot or The Book Shoppe), an afternoon wine tasting at Blue Gables Vineyard or testing your legs on one of the region’s cycle trails. According to Tricker, the town of about 5000 people was missing just one trick. “What we didn’t have was a key attraction to put Maffra on the foodie map,” she says, “which is a shame considering the number of stellar producers we have in our region.”

Earlier this year Tricker, a secondary college teacher, teamed up with beef farmer and stock agent Nicky Reeves to buy and transform a century-old derelict milk factory into what has become Maffco Brewery & Taphouse. The three-storey building with a 14-metre-high ceiling – a combination of restored brick and reclaimed timber – is now a focal point for premium Gippsland products, including local craft beers, cheeses and hearty pub meals utilising local lamb and beef.

Expansion is already in sight, with the duo planning to add a paddockto- plate restaurant. And new spots, such as café The Beet Baristas, are opening up. “Maffra’s seen a huge increase in visitor numbers in the past 18 months,” says Tricker, “and we’re looking at ways to get them to stay in the local area a little longer.”

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SEE ALSO: The Australian Towns You Need to Visit

Image credit: Tim Bean (Carcoar), Chris Crerar (Penguin)

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