Ten top Aussie towns to visit: Australia's most beautiful small towns

Australia is generally thought of as big cities, bush and outback, but a key part of the recipe is the often-overlooked small towns sprinkled in amongst it. These laid back beach hang outs and garden-dotted country settlements can produce heavy doses of distinctive charm. For every drearily functional regional hub, there's a little spot that'll give you dreams of moving there – and here are ten of the prettiest.

Hahndorf, South Australia

Settled by German migrants in the 19th century, Hahndorf doesn't half play on its heritage. That means German-style architecture as well as oompah bands, steins and lederhosen. But the setting is beautiful, too, with a handful of vineyards on the hills, and the sort of Australian bush scenery that inspired legendary German-Australian landscape artist Hans Heysen. Heysen's home and studio, the Cedars, is open to visitors. See hansheysen.com.au, hahndorfsa.org.au

Bowral, New South Wales

For cricket tragics, Bowral is where Donald Bradman called home – and the Bradman Museum will undoubtedly be the first port of call. But for everyone else, Bowral's strength is handsome old buildings such as Retford Park and Hopewood House, plus the greedy collection of carefully-tended gardens. Corbett Gardens and the Southern Highlands Botanic Gardens are the stars, but there's less primped beauty around nearby Mt Gibraltar. See visitsouthernhighlands.com.au

Rainbow Beach, Queensland

For some, Rainbow Beach is simply the closest access point to Fraser Island. For others, it's an archetypal chilled beach town with surf club and holiday park. But Rainbow Beach's main strength is the eponymous beach. It curves for miles, ending in a small lagoon, and is a four wheel driver's delight. It's also backed by cliffs and dunes made from multi-coloured sands – hence the 'rainbow' part of the name. See visitsunshinecoast.com

Beechworth, Victoria

The prettiest town in Victoria's High Country doesn't half milk its Ned Kelly heritage, but beyond the bushranger tales, Beechworth's strength is preservation. Several buildings built on the back of the 1850s gold rush still stand, with the town hall, post house, old gaol and courthouse being amongst the most handsome. Elsewhere, particularly along Ford Street, it's all about the consistency of stout stone buildings and graceful verandas. See beechworth.com.au

Yamba, New South Wales

When Australian Traveller magazine picked Yamba out as the best town in the country back in 2009, it was something of a surprise. There's not a lot to do beyond surfing, sunbaking and strolling, but Yamba has a magical collection of pretty beaches. Despite getting on the traveller's radar, Yamba still maintains its easy-going beach town charm. See yambansw.com.au

Strahan, Tasmania

Proving that Sydney hasn't got a monopoly on exceptionally photogenic harbours, Strahan on Tasmania's wild west coast has a gorgeous waterside location. But the jutting headlands and islets seen from one direction are matched by the green forest backdrop. Several creeks run into the harbour, with walking trails alongside them. The most lovable of these heads to fern-framed Hogarth Falls. See strahanvillage.com.au

Montville, Queensland

Essentially one long road clambering up a mountain, Montville is cutesy tourist central. Gift shops, fudge stores, cafés, bed and breakfasts, galleries and tea rooms line Main Road, meaning you don't notice the lug up the hill because you're too busy stopping to graze and browse. But this Sunshine Coast hinterland town's real charm comes in the gaps, where the views from the ridgeline peer out over the Glasshouse Mountains. See visitsunshinecoast.com

Apollo Bay, Victoria

The great, sweeping curve of the beach is Apollo Bay's most appealing feature. Gentle green rolling hills add a sense of idyll on the eastern side, but the clincher is that the town has two bays rather than one. Mounts Bay on the western side is where the Barham River emerges into the ocean from a tangle of waterways, and seals hang out on the rocks of the Marengo Reefs Marine Sanctuary. See visitapollobay.com


Leura, NSW

Leura has plenty of the natural majesty that the Blue Mountains region is known for. The Gordon Falls Reserve, Sublime Point lookout and Olympian Rock should sort you out for wonderviews of the Jamison Valley. But Leura also does a great line in gorgeous gardens – those at the Everglades Historic House top the bill – and handsome old houses turned into B&Bs or rental cottages. See leuravillage.com.au

Esperance, WA

The edge of the world feeling provides a considerable part of Esperance's charm. But Lucky Bay – reputed to be Australia's whitest beach, and home to a mob of sunbaking kangaroos – doesn't half help too. Looking out into the Southern Ocean, Esperance gawps towards the 110 islands of the Recherche Archipelago – there's always one you can frame a picture with. See visitesperance.com

Disclosure: David Whitley has been a guest of Tourism Australia and the state tourism authorities.

See also: Better than the beach: Australia's ten most spectacular places to take a plunge

See also: Paradise on a budget: Australia's cheapest islands