Melissa Davey, The Guardian, July 28, 2015
Having grown up in Western Australia, all I knew about Albury before my visit was that it’s a stopover on the drive between Sydney and Melbourne. A poll of my Sydney and Melbourne friends revealed similar ignorance. “Albury to me has always been that place you are forced to stop for a toilet break,” one friend helpfully offered.
With the bar of expectation set, I flew out of Melbourne on a Friday afternoon for the one-hour journey to the regional city, which sits on the NSW side of the border next to the Murray river. Flights are in the range of $250-$400 return from either Sydney or Melbourne, or you can drive from the latter in just over three hours.
What I discovered in 48 hours was a place that, even in the chill of winter, is a picturesque spot for outdoor activities. There are worse ways to spend a frosty but sunny afternoon than cycling through the town, strolling along the Murray or trekking up Monument Hill. If I’d more time I would have sought out a kayak and spent some time on the river as well. A couple of apps will serve you well if walking is your thing; try the Albury historic walking tour app, or the Albury Wodonga Appy Town app.
Albury’s Botanic Gardens.
The local arts scene is also thriving, with the Murray Art Museum Albury (MaMa), formerly the Albury Regional Art Gallery, undergoing a $10.5m redevelopment tipped for completion in September. Just as the Bendigo art gallery in Victoria helped to put that regional city on the map by attracting international exhibitions (it is now one of Australia’s most popular galleries), it’s hoped the MaMa revamp will help Albury become a destination rather than a mere stopover.
But if you’re visiting before the gallery restoration is complete, there are other cultural and artistic experiences to be had, including at the Central Desert art gallery – the only Aboriginal-owned Indigenous gallery between Sydney and Melbourne. There is also the new, 5km Yindyamarra sculpture walk along the Murray river which features sculptures by some of the area’s most talented Aboriginal artists.
If good food and wine are on your radar, new cafes and wine bars that specialise in locally sourced produce are cropping up throughout the district. As a region with a strong emerging culinary scene, Albury is worth visiting for a couple of days for the indulgence alone.
4pm – check-in at Atura Albury hotel
Atura Albury is located on Dean Street right in the town centre, within walking distance of the Botanic Gardens and MaMa. The $139-per-night hotel has been getting a lot of attention of late, with branches also in the western Sydney suburb of Blacktown and in the south-east Victorian town of Dandenong.
Atura has a philosophy of supporting and promoting local music and art, with wall coverings and bespoke furniture throughout the communal spaces and corridors. The night I arrive there’s a cocktail function being held for artists exhibiting as part of the Albury Wodonga open arts circuit.
To be honest, I’m not so interested in the artistic finishings, the urbane industrial spaces throughout the building or the weirdly placed “art” behind the toilet in my room. The complimentary bikes, downstairs bar, free Wi-Fi and proximity to the main drag are what appeals to me.
7pm – dinner and cocktails
After finishing some work in my room I head down to the hotel’s Roadhouse Bar & Grill restaurant ($19-39 mains), which offers classic pub fare with an American twist such as popcorn prawns and buffalo wings. There’s also a full cocktail menu.
The Roadhouse Bar & Grill, attached to the Atura Albury hotel, serves traditional pub fare with an American twist.
The servings are generous and the food much better than I’ve come to expect from dining establishments attached to hotels. By the time we make our way through entrees of salt and pepper squid and bruschetta, our mains (a slab of Angus sirloin for me), sides of baked baby beetroot and goat’s cheese salad, a couple of bottles of Woodstock cabernet merlot and a nightcap of Camparis, it’s close to midnight and I haven’t even left the hotel.
8am – breakfast, a bike ride and the Botanic Gardens
Breakfast is complimentary at the hotel, but there are a plethora of cafes nearby and I’d recommend venturing to one of those, such as the Early Bird cafe on Dean Street. It offers fare like French toast topped with lemon curd, blueberry compote and toasted almonds, or for $10, bagels topped with smashed avocado, tomato and feta.
Then there’s Mr Benedict, also on the main drag, which serves all-day breakfasts, locally-roasted coffee and bloody Marys. It’s packed every time I walk past and obviously popular with both locals and tourists.
I grab a bike (they can be hired for $30 for a day from Cycle Station next to Albury railway station) and cycle along the Murray river, which is stunning on a chilly winter’s morning as ancient trees reflect on the water’s surface and autumn leaves cover the ground.
The Murray river in winter.
The Murray is home to dozens of endangered bird and mammal species, and there are plenty of walking trails to be found. Playgrounds and barbecue facilities also dot the water’s edge.
I drop my bike at the hotel, leaving it feeling a little worse for wear – Albury is hilly in parts and the hotel bikes were built for flatter ground. Then it’s time for the five-minute walk to the Botanic Gardens, established more than 130 years ago. With its vibrant colours, it’s the best place to read for an hour or two on a sunny day.
1pm – lunch at the River Deck cafe at Noreuil Park
Surrounded by towering elm and plane trees, and located right on the Murray river in Noreuil Park, the recently launched River Deck cafe has become a popular attraction.
Currently closed on Mondays and Tuesdays as the restaurant fine-tunes its breakfast, lunch and dinner menus, by spring the owners hope to be open seven days.
Some of the lunch offerings today include eye-fillet steak served with mushroom, tomato, spinach and a choice of Béarnaise or red wine sauce; slow-cooked pork belly with chestnut spaetzle; and ricotta gnocchi with herbed-sautéed garlic mushrooms, spinach, creamed pesto and parmesan. Dishes range from $14 (soup) to $30 (Riverine premium scotch steak).
Dessert at the River Deck cafe: chocolate pudding with liquorice and freeze-dried raspberries.
I recommend sitting outside on the deck, which overlooks the park and the water. Despite the serene location and upmarket menu, the River Deck is extremely child-friendly and there is a large playground outside as well.
4pm – a visit to the Central Desert art gallery
Aaron Perkins-Kemp-Berger (left), the manager of Albury’s Central Desert art gallery, with owner-curator Sam Juparulla Wickman.
I am so lucky that on the day I visit the Central Desert gallery (611 Dean Street), owner-curator Sam Juparulla Wickman and manager Aaron Perkins-Kemp-Berger are on hand and willing to give me a private tour.
This small upstairs gallery is flooded with natural light, which bring the works to life. The gallery opened in May and Juparulla Wickman tells me it was “standing room only” as locals came to support them, buying 11 of the works on display.
On the day of my visit there’s an exhibition representing the “dot-dot movement”, which came out of central Australia, Juparulla Wickman tells me.
“These works are traditional expression but with a contemporary twist, and many of them represent bush tucker and food gathering practices,” he says.
“We’re not a souvenir shop, we’re a fine arts gallery, and we want to encourage local artists to get involved and then take them on a journey from their art through to curation.”
On 15 August, the gallery will launch its Ochre exhibition, a collection of works that recall the colours of 90s Indigenous painters, representing a feast of country and colour.
A work from the Central Desert fine arts gallery.
8pm – dinner at the Border Wine Room
The Border Wine Room offers high-end food with wine to match. Tonight we go for the six-course tasting menu ($109 with matching wines) which changes fortnightly. Among the dishes tonight is beetroot gnocchi, stout-braised beef cheek and a cheese platter with crostini and quince.
The cosy upstairs restaurant also features an elegant bar serving snacks like edamame and spiced almonds. And on the first Saturday of every month, the Border Wine Room offers the chance to sample their new menu by way of an eight-course degustation, with diners then asked to rate each dish and provide feedback to the chef ($85, or $115 with wines matched).
8am – breakfast at Green Zebra cafe, followed by the Yindyamarra sculpture walk with local elders
The Green Zebra specialises in handmade pasta dishes, but is also open for breakfast and is the place to go if you have a hankering for classics like bacon and free-range eggs ($14) or bircher muesli ($10.50). Everything is made in-house or sourced locally.
After breakfast we head off on the Yindyamarra sculpture walk, a 5km amble on the Wagirra trail between Kremur Street and the Wonga Wetlands and featuring 11 sculptures along a route created by local Aboriginal artists.
“Yindyamarra” is a concept in Wiradjuri culture meaning respect, to be gentle, polite, honour and do slowly. With this in mind, we take our time strolling along the trail, admiring the art which tells of the local Aboriginal history and its cultural significance to the Murray river region. Today, elders Uncle Tony and Uncle Curtis lead us along the path.
An artwork on the Yindyamarra sculpture walk in Albury, NSW, representing the bogong moth migration.
There are big plans for this route, Uncle Curtis tells me. Eventually he’d like to see it stretch for 70km. Already the path is busy with joggers, families and cyclists..
We come to Uncle Tony’s favourite piece, a large “googar”, or goanna, carved from wood. “He fell off the back of a truck,” Uncle Tony says. “He was a monster ... we had to carve him down. Then we soaked him in cedar oil. He’ll last 20 years.”
An artist himself, Uncle Tony taught local school students how to sand and carve the sculptures that now feature along the walk. Works by prominent local artists can also be found, including a series by Carmel Taylor of vertical message sticks with native animals intricately carved into red river gum.
Uncle Curtis and Uncle Tony with a wooden goanna sculpture along the Yindyamarra sculpture walk in Albury.
The sculptures are accompanied by interpretative panels and videos, which can be swiped with a smartphone.
2pm – lunch at Brick Lane
It seems fitting that a weekend of food and wine should end with another generous meal. Brick Lane’s menu features a range of energising foods, including smoked salmon on quinoa fritters, Moroccan vegetable stew served with lamb kibbeh, and wild mushroom risotto. Prices range from $14-$18 for breakfast and lunch, or $22-$35 for dinner.
Lunch at Brick Lane in Albury: chicken breast with avocado salsa and sweet potato crisps.
I choose the chicken breast with avocado salsa and sweet potato crisps paired with a sauvignon blanc, before taking a final walk along Dean Street until I reach the edge of the Botanic Gardens. From there I trek to the top of Monument Hill where a white ferro concrete tower stands built by residents to commemorate those who died in the first world war.
From the top there are stunning views of the Albury Wodonga region to admire.
- The writer travelled as a guest of Destination NSW
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Melissa Davey from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.