Australia loves its beach towns, but you can still have a splendid time by the water if you head inland. Across the country, there are several river towns that make for an immensely enjoyable short break. Some are outdoorsy, some historic, others all about food and drink. But the attachment to the river is the key thing that connects them.
WISEMANS FERRY, NSW
Built around a tight bend in the Hawkesbury River, Wisemans Ferry is home to Australia's oldest still-operating ferry crossing. Stay on the southern side of the Hawkesbury, and you've got seemingly endless riverside parkland plus the justifiably legendary Wisemans Inn Hotel. But save those cold beers for after you've been to the north of the river, and walked along the convict-build Old North Road in the Dharug National Park. See wisemansinnhotel.com.au
MARGARET RIVER, WA
Margaret River. Photo: Aaron Green/Destination WA
Most people coming to Margaret River are after the surrounding wine region rather than the town itself. But the town is lined with restaurants and galleries, while the river is frequently rather gorgeous. Several walking trails sidle up to the banks, and wildlife-spotting is practically guaranteed. Put the wine glass down for a second, and you quickly begin to see why the region took this town's name. See margaretriver.com
COROWA , NSW
Corowa Whisky & Chocolate. Photo: Alexandra Adoncello/DNSW
Corowa is one of dozens of towns along the Murray River, but it has a couple of attractions that make it stand out. First up is Corowa Whisky and Chocolate, which has a stunning location inside a former 1920s flour mill. Second is the Corowa Federation Museum, which tells the story of how a ragtag collection of colonies became a country.
As a bonus, Wahgunyah on the Victorian side of the river has several wineries – including the All Saints Estate with its marvellously out-of-place castle.
Photo: Visit Victoria/Rob Blackburn
If you have to pick just one Murray River town, however, it should probably be Echuca. Once Australia's busiest inland port, Echuca has a big fleet of paddlesteamers offering river cruises from the huge, photogenic wharf. But Echuca also offers several historic pubs, most of which have ghost stories attached to them. Hear these and explore secret tunnels on a lantern-lit night tour from the Port of Echuca Discovery Centre. See portofechuca.org.au
Photo: Dave Hartley/SATC
Mannum on South Australia's stretch of the Murray River also offers paddlesteamer cruises, this time aboard the PS Marion. Back on dry land, the Mannum Dock Museum is a fabulous place to learn about the history of the Murray and the trade that passed along it. But Mannum's true strength lies in houseboat rentals. You can hire one out for a few days – some are surprisingly plush - and pootle along the river. See psmarion.com, whitehouseboats.com.au
Brimming with 1820s convict-built architecture, Richmond's symbol is the sandstone bridge over the Coal River. But there's more to this river town outside Hobart than just a bridge. The Richmond Gaol tells of convict-era prison life, while the gloriously odd Pooseum devotes itself to digestive systems and droppings. Richmond is also the hub of the Coal River Valley wine region and Pooley Wines is the most convenient spot to indulge in a cellar door tasting. See richmondvillage.com.au
Photo: Rob Burnett/Tourism Tasmania
Even smaller and even cuter than Richmond, Ross in the Tasmanian Midlands has its own convict-built stone bridge. This time it's over the Macquarie River, and it is accompanied by a delightful sandstone town of cobbled streets and historic throwbacks. While ticking off heritage buildings on Church Street, make a beeline for the Tasmanian Wool Centre, where you can learn all about the lucrative local wool industry, and buy some rather nice merino gear. See visitross.com.au
Queens Park is the best spot to take in the Mary River, while the Bond Store is now a museum exploring Maryborough's history as a busy river port. And there's also plenty to enjoy beyond the river. Mary Poppins author PL Travers was born in Maryborough, and the Story Bank Museum explores her life. The town is also renowned for its high concentration of gorgeous Queenslander houses. See ourfrasercoast.com.au
Photo: Rob Blackburn/Visit Victoria
On the cusp of the mountains and on the banks of the Ovens River, Bright is wholesomely outdoorsy. You can have a beer at the Bright Brewery while the kids play in the Splash Park, there's a river swimming area, and the Canyon Walk explores gold-mining heritage. The more adventurous can climb up to lookouts, tackle the Mystic Mountain Bike Park or try their hand at tandem paragliding. See visitbright.com.au
Photo: Bellingen Shire Council/DNSW
Built on the banks of the Bellinger River, Bellingen near Coffs Harbour has a strong alternative lifestyle vibe about it. It's a place of community markets and craft brewing, but the river itself has strong appeal. Walk down to Bellingen Island to see rainforest and wildlife, or take a sunset canoe tour with Bellingen Canoe Adventures to get the best of it. See canoeadventures.com.au
David Whitley has been the guest of Tourism Australia and the state tourist boards.