Best places to travel in Australia: The best-kept secrets of regional NSW

THE TWEED

While Paul Hogan and the Hemsworths "discovered" Byron Bay and turned it into Australia's most romanticised region, its neighbour remains under the radar. But how? The Tweed is home to sleepy surf towns and many kilometres of deserted beaches. And its hinterland is home to the southern hemisphere's largest shield volcano, Mount Warning/Wollumbin, and a number of World Heritage-listed national parks. There are popular new eateries and hotels, epitomised by Cabarita Beach's chic Halcyon House (home to Paper Daisy restaurant), but most of its attractions are unheralded, hidden within a region of multi-generational farms and rainforest.

Best accommodation Sleep in cottages with views over Mount Warning and enjoy meals in a beautifully preserved Queenslander at Mavis's Kitchen (maviseskitchen.com.au).

Best local's secret Wednesday's quirky Murwillumbah Farmers' Markets are like Byron's 30 years ago (murwillumbahfarmersmarket.com.au)

BEN BOYD NATIONAL PARK

While Sydneysiders have long escaped to the South Coast, few go the full 500 kilometres to Ben Boyd National Park, where you'll find 47 kilometres of wild coastline and deserted beaches that are ideal for surfing and swimming. The park starts south of Merimbula and continues almost to the Victorian border, with the town of Eden in between. It also offers the 30-kilometre Light to Light multi-day hike, which traverses red-rock ocean cliffs, giving a good vantage point to see migrating whales from September to December.

Best accommodation Stay in a restored cottage within the Green Cape Lightstation (nationalparks.nsw.gov.au)

Best local's secret The park's northern section is home to beaches containing 3500-year-old Aboriginal middens.

WOOLI

Wooli's practically an island: a sleepy fishing town built along a three-kilometre-long finger of land between the Pacific and the Wooli Wooli River, halfway between Sydney and Brisbane. That may account for why no one knows about it, but for those who do find it, Wooli  epitomises coastal Australia. Town is no more than a bowls club, a pub and fishing charter businesses – and when the fish are biting, or the waves are on, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything open. The beaches here are empty, white-sand bays that look out towards the Solitary Islands, and the river is flanked by Yuraygir National Park.

Best accommodation Stay in a river lodge with views over the water (wooliriverlodges.com.au).

Best local's secret Wooli is home to a gourmet Italian chef (woolihotelmotel.com.au/emilios-bistro-pizzeria).

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SOUTH WEST ROCKS

There are no high rises in the Rocks (as locals call it); development looks as if it stopped in the mid-20th century when family holidays meant caravans, beach cricket and barbecues. There are great cafes and restaurants but it's the diving, surfing, hiking and swimming you'll come for. Located at the mouth of the Macleay River, five hours' drive north of Sydney, the town is flanked by national parks (Arakoon, Hat Head), while its colonial heritage is epitomised by Trial Bay Gaol (1886) and Smoky Cape Lighthouse (1891).

Best accommodation Sleep in renovated 1880s guesthouses in the heart of town with ocean views (heritageguesthouse.com).

Best local's secret The beaches at Arakoon face west across the water, offering the kind of sunsets usually reserved for West Australians.

ARMIDALE

There's something endearingly English about Armidale, from the perfectly trimmed hedges bordering the town's stately country estates, to its heritage galleries, museums and a university built with a sandstone-heavy streetscape. At a thousand metres above sea level, snow is common in winter, so find an open log fire and sip the region's cool-climate wines as you take shelter from the cold. If you drive the scenic Waterfall Way from Coffs Harbour, go further and visit nearby Uralla, former home of bushranger Captain Thunderbolt.

Best accommodation Maintain the English theme by staying within your own private English gardens just out of town (poppyscottage.com.au).

Best local's secret The Mother of Ducks Lagoon wetlands are known to bird watchers worldwide, but fly under other travellers' radar.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale June 28.

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