Down Memory Lane The Aussie Holiday Destinations Where Nostalgia Rules

Words by Jac Taylor

By Jac Taylor, 23/1/2018
Brought to you by Qantas

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Everyone has their own Bonnie Doon – the holiday places for which your parents packed the family station wagon with everything but the kitchen sink and headed off on an annual family holiday.

Here, we look at the trips of our childhoods, and why they’re worth revisiting as an adult.

The Sunshine Coast, Qld

Boiling Pot Lookout, Noosa, Australia

Boiling Pot Lookout, Noosa. Image: Jesse Smith / Tourism and Events Queensland

That golden stretch of Queensland, from Caloundra up to Noosa and beyond, has always provided plenty of coast – and sunshine, for that matter. There are few Brisbane kids who don’t have memories involving a Noosa beach, a bucket and a spade. In fact, a lot of those kids grew up loving the place so much that they moved there – the Sunshine Coast is now the third most-populated area in Queensland – and that means there are entertainment choices far beyond the beach these days.

Kick it old school at the Novotel Twin Waters’ gigantic inflatable Aqua Fun Park or head to Maroochydore’s too-cool Nights on Ocean markets. Get your fill of magnificent food, from sophisticated fish and chips at Saltwater to incredible degustation at Noosa Beach House or the hinterland’s The Long Apron.

The best part is that you can still escape the crowds and revive that holiday town vibe in Rainbow Beach, remote and gorgeous at the top of the vast Great Sandy National Park. Horse-riding through the surf on the beach here, looking south to the brightly multihued sand dunes, is one of the best things you’ll do in Australia.

Dubbo, NSW

Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo, NSW, Australia

Image: Taronga Western Plains Zoo via Destination NSW

Anyone who spent time in Dubbo as a young’un is in for a treat – all the best bits of your family holiday are still there. Time moves beautifully slowly regional NSW, so set your nostalgia dial to full-strength.

Tickets for Taronga Western Plains Zoo are valid for two days, so you can well and truly take your time, and you can even stay there, glamping in the freshly overhauled Zoofari Lodge or bush camping in the Billabong Camp. Old Dubbo Gaol still creeps the hell out of anyone willing to take the night tours, too — try the Twilight or Beyond the Grave tours, depending on your level of bravery (and tolerance for plastic dummies).

For a different night-time pastime, a visit to Dubbo Observatory will mean so much more to you and your grown-up attention span. There’s a big new 17-inch telescope, as well as the option to take photos of the stars by hooking up your camera (depending on the brand).

Oh, and there’s astro-themed mini golf. Really.

Mildura, NSW

Mildura, NSW, Australia

Image: Aaron Hawkins / Hawkeye Photography

Childhood holidays in Australia’s Fruit Bowl may have involved the freshest oranges you’d ever eaten but, for grown-ups, “paddock-to-plate” means so much more in a place like Mildura, where the paddock is literally outside the door. The fancy new Crafted by Mildura taste trail will have you hopping from good old Orange World through to heavenly new stops like Fossey’s Ginporium and Distillery and the Australian Inland Botanic Gardens Big Brekkie Market (for the morning after).

Go visit the free-range hens laying eggs at Benetook Farm, then dedicate some time to another Mildura resident who’s arguably the best thing that’s ever happened to this town. Passionate produce proponent and all-around good guy, celebrity chef Stefano di Pieri returned to Mildura in 2015 and now has four eateries at which to bask in his freshness-driven cucina povera (“Tuscan peasant cooking”) cuisine.

Stefano, Mildura

Image: Stefano / Facebook

Don’t ask for a menu ahead of time at Stefano’s, down in the cellars of the Grand Hotel, because you probably won’t get one – he just cooks a set menu comprised of what he knows is the town’s best seasonal goods.

Launceston, Tas

Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

Image: Rob Burnett / Tourism Tasmania

Tassie’s second-biggest city has always been in love with the arts and culture. It’s all been frightfully civilised, but that all changed in 2018, when Hobart’s famously controversial and ridiculously fun Dark Mofo rolled into town for the first time. More than 1000 people sporting pink onesies got down in a block party the likes of which Launceston has never seen.

Mofo’s first northern outing took place at the same time as the annual Beerfest, so we can confidently say that things in Launceston are shifting. You still have the spectacular Cataract Gorge right in town, the picture-book Tamar Valley and all the wildlife spotting in Narawntapu National Park, too, because there’s more to life than beer and onesies now that we’re grown-ups.

(But it’s never too early to start planning for next year.)

Mona Foma, MONA’s summer festival, has also moved to Launceston for 2019.

Exmouth, WA

Turquoise Bay, Exmouth, Western Australia

Image: Tourism WA

For a wild, sparsely populated place in the far-flung reaches of Australia’s largest state, Exmouth sure is seeing a lot of change. If your dad was a David Attenborough type (which, let’s face it, he was), you probably childhood holidays camping in the spectacular wilderness here, spotting passing whales or the area’s famous whale sharks.

But the residents of the Ningaloo Reef are finally ready for their close-up: you can swim right up next to whale sharks and, now, even humpback whales. These responsibly run in-water interaction tours are bucket-list stuff, yet they’re surprisingly accessible. It’s a far cry from patting the dolphins down in Monkey Mia (though that’s still a wonderful experience, by the way).

Port Lincoln, SA

Port Lincoln, South Australia

Image: John Eyre / South Australian Tourism Commission

Similarly, down on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, the country’s “seafood capital” is becoming more about seeing the sea life than eating it (actually, that’s a lie – the food is still incredible). You can choose to take a dip in the wild waters of the Great Australian Bight with anything from inquisitive sea lions to hopefully not quite as inquisitive Great White sharks. Or you could spot them from above on a joy flight, from the shore on the epic drive along the jaw-dropping coast on the Whalers Way, or stay at the Marina and just watch the fishing fleets come and go.

You’ll have time to revisit all those childhood things, too: the Maritime Museum and cute little Rose-Wall Memorial Shell Museum are both just so wonderfully… Port Lincoln.

Darwin, NT

Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin, Australia

Crocasaurus Cove. Image: Shaana McNaught / Tourism NT

The Top End is hot. We know you knew that. We mean “popular” hot. Darwin has grown up since you last saw her, with a waterfront bar scene, hipster cafes and the Darwin Festival, an international-level cultural stew that skips the big-city posturing and just gets straight to the fun.

Head outside the city limits, though, and those childhood camping spots are reassuringly the same. Nitmiluk (formerly Katherine Gorge) still has the gorge cruises, plus kayaking if you’re feeling rugged; the crocs sailing past you are the non-man-eating freshwater kind, according to the rangers here. Kakadu is a showstopper, no matter the season, and campsites near the waterfalls have been improved over the years (Gunlom falls is our pick).

Otherwise, staying in Batchelor, the gateway to beautiful Litchfield National Park, ticks all the reliving-your-childhood boxes: particularly the butterfly farm and petting zoo, and a great old-school pub lunch at the Rum Jungle Tavern.

Forster, NSW

Forster-Tuncurry, NSW, Australia

Image: Ethan Rohloff / Destination NSW

For Sydney kids, any trip “up the coast” often included a stay in Forster. Sitting on a thin island-like peninsula at the mouth of the Coolongolook River and Wallis Lake (where, if you’re lucky, you’ll be surprised by a pod of friendly dolphins), both dotted with cool little islands inhabited by nothing bigger than waterbirds and bold and colourful little crabs, this is still pretty much paradise.

The whole area begs to be explored in a tinnie and, now you’re in charge, you can get one from a whole bunch of boat hirers from Green Point to Paradise Marina in Forster itself, as well as fishing gear to while away the hours. These days, you can add to that a glass-bottomed kayak, stand-up paddleboard, luxury houseboat or fully loaded barbecue party boat or pontoon.

All those bush walks your mum dragged you on are still there and so much easier now your legs are longer: don’t miss Booti Booti National Park or summiting Tomaree Head, then finish with all the local oysters you can eat (now you’re no longer horrified by them) from Wallis Lake or Hamiltons Oysters.

Mudgee, NSW

Mudgee, NSW, Australia

Image: James Horan / Destination NSW

Rustic charm, cellar doors, antiquing… Yeah, I remember impatiently twiddling my thumbs as a kid in Mudgee, too. They mightn’t have a childhood dream holiday made back then, but good news! You’ve grown up – and Mudgee has, too.

More than 40 cellar doors are suddenly a very, very good thing, and it’s not even the be-all and end-all of your average Mudgee weekend anymore. Romantic B&Bs have levelled up, like the stunning Ruwenzori Retreat or the sandstone gorgeousness of The Tannery, while a hot-air balloon flight over the vines is what childhood fantasies are made of. Scandi-style homewares and genuinely edgy galleries mix with the older-style boutiques to make shopping in Mudgee a real experience, and the foodie scene has only got better with age.

Unless you’d just like to pop into The Lollipop Shop – yep, it’s still there, and everything tastes just as good as when you were a kid. Trust us, we taste-tested it all, just to be sure.

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