Wagga Wagga in southern New South Wales is a popular stop on the inland route from Victoria to Queensland. That will come as no surprise given the city's cultural credentials and fast evolving paddock-to-plate dining scene. Here's a checklist of ten amazing things to do in the region.
Located at a crossroads between four of Australia’s capital cities and on the banks of the mighty Murrumbidgee River, Wagga Wagga has many claims to fame.
It’s the largest regional city in New South Wales and the heart of the Riverina agricultural region — commonly known as ‘Australia’s food bowl’. The city has a proud military heritage and is home to two bases. Wagga Wagga has produced several of Australia’s elite athletes including test cricketer Michael Slater, AFL great Wayne Carey, Hockeyroo co-captain Melanie Twit, athletics Olympic silver medallist Patrick Dwyer, golfer Steve Elkington, and tennis legend Tony Roche. And if all that’s not enough to impress you, the iconic chiko roll was first served at the Wagga Wagga Show in 1951!
If you are driving to Wagga, as the locals call it, allow about five hours from Sydney, two and half hours from Canberra, four and a half hours from Melbourne, and eight hours from Adelaide. Otherwise, take a direct flight from Sydney or Melbourne. On arrival you’ll discovery a city oozing history and culture — and with a wonderful gourmet food scene to boot.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Wagga Wagga.
1. Explore local Indigenous culture
Wagga is home to the Wiradjuri first people, and means ‘a place of many crows’ in the local language. The Wiradjuri Nation is the largest in New South Wales and there are lots of opportunities for visitors to the region to learn more about its traditions. The best place to start is on a tour with Bundyi Cultural Tours. Wiradjuri man and tour guide Mark Sadler immerses guests in the intricacies of his heritage.
Also leave time during your stay to stroll along at least part of the 42-kilometre Wiradjuri Trail, some of which runs alongside the Murrumbidgee River. The trail actually encircles the entire city and links a number of sites that are culturally significant to the Wiradjuri people.
2. Step back in time at the Museum of the Riverina
Find out more about the first people at the excellent Museum of the Riverina, which is located south of the city centre by the Botanic Gardens. You’ll also discover details of those who have helped shape the city since European settlement in the 1830s. Learn about local war heroes and the complicated case behind the famous Tichborne Trial, and browse the memorabilia in Wagga Wagga’s Sporting Hall of Fame.
Interestingly, the high proportion of sporting greats that have come from the city across a variety of sports (including all of Australia’s football codes, cricket, cycling, horse racing, harness racing, dance sports, gymnastics, lawn bowls, rifle shooting, pool, swimming, netball, softball, hockey, tennis, table tennis and fencing) has become known as the ‘Wagga Effect’, and has been documented by researchers from the Australian Institute of Sport.
The museum has a second site, which occupies the historic Council Chambers building in town. It often features travelling exhibitions, but the main drawcard is being able to step inside the circa-1881 period gem. Remember to look up and take in the exquisite detail of the ceiling.
3. Learn about the region’s proud military history
Across the road from the old Council Chambers, you’ll find the Victory Memorial Gardens. Wander the crushed stone pathways past war monuments and memorials. Take some time to read the inscriptions to learn more about the area’s rich military heritage. Head towards Wollundry lagoon and while away some time watching the ducks being fed by members of young local families.
For more military history, head to the RAAF Wagga Aviation Heritage Centre just outside town. It’s housed in the original 1940s guardhouse, complete with cells for misbehaving personnel. Head inside to learn about RAAF customs and traditions, recruit training, apprenticeship school, technical training, and the training of military dogs. Outside, there’s a display of various aircraft. Don’t miss the most recent acquisition — a decommissioned F-111 fighter jet.
4. See an exhibition
Wagga has a vibrant arts scene and there are plenty of ways to indulge your inner-creative. In the council precinct, be captivated by the intricate artworks on display at Australia’s National Art Glass Collection — part of the fabulous Wagga Wagga Art Gallery. At the entrance you’ll see the bright Toorak Ceiling artwork by Australian Leonard French. It was commissioned in the 1970s by the Wicking family for their Melbourne home. Further inside, the ground floor is devoted to exhibitions while the permanent works are located at the top of the angled stairs. Together, the two floors house the country’s largest public collection of studio glass art.
Paper Pear on Gurwood Street is the studio and gallery of local artist Stephanie Day. Stephanie’s handmade cards are stunning. The gallery also showcases the work of other artists from across Australia. There are paintings, jewellery and sculpture on display.
Next door is Scooter Flowers — an icon in its own right for stunning flower arrangements (it’s well worth popping in for a look). The sweet scents blend with the aroma of coffee brewing at Sista Sparrow Espresso Bar — one of the best cafes in Wagga.
On the next block over, you’ll find the latest addition to Wagga’s cultural scene: Rabbit Books Art House Studio. Thumb through unique and rare books, carefully sorted into categories on the floor to ceiling shelves. Sip a latte, a whisky or a glass of red, and read away your worries beside the crackling fire. On the other side of the cosy bookshop, watch as artists create the quirky works that adorn the walls.
5. Try a local brew
The Thirsty Crow Brewing Company is famed locally for its unusually named pizzas, including the vegetable-laden Unemployed Scarecrow and meaty Sunday Roast (complete with roasted lamb and potatoes). However, most people come here for the craft beers brewed on-site. They have equally creative monikers, such as Piranha Lager, The Pocket Rocket, and River Float Pale Ale (all will become clear on that one in a moment).
6. Eat out
Wagga’s diverse dining scene has something to offer every taste. For a special occasion, head out of town to Magpies’ Nest for a set three-course dining experience. Surrounded by vineyards and olive groves, the historic stone-clad stables-turned-restaurant offers an ever-changing menu of seasonal dishes. It’s popular for weddings, so a weeknight booking is your best bet.
If it’s a genuine ‘paddock to plate’ dining experience you’re after, you can’t go wrong at Mates Gully. Delicious meals are created using ingredients grown on the restaurant’s own farm. Produce is picked fresh for your plate each day, and in true organic style, restaurant waste is recycled to feed the chooks!
For a great breakfast or brunch, drop into The Pot ‘n’ Kettle cafe. A house-blended coffee is the perfect accompaniment, and you’ll get to enjoy the cafe’s homemade relishes or condiments (some prepared using grandma’s secret recipes) with your meal. Mind the teapots in the garden!
7. Graze on gourmet goodies
Shopping for fresh produce and gourmet goods is one of the highlights of a visit to Wagga. Time your stay to coincide with Thursday afternoon’s Riverina Producers’ Market at the showgrounds. It’s a great opportunity to connect with local growers and food producers.
For souvenirs with a difference, head to The Wagga Shop (inside the Visitor Information Centre on Tarcutta Street). Popular products include the handmade bags and scarves in the official Wagga Wagga tartan fabric, or the unique alpaca-yarn winter woollens — woven locally by Ashculme Textiles. On Tuesdays, or by appointment, you can head to their farm and studio in Lake Albert to meet the alpacas and see the looms on which these works of wearable art are created.
9. Hit the beach
Mix it with the locals at Wagga Beach — a naturally occurring sandbank on the Murrumbidgee River. Warm up in the sun on cooler days, and cool off in the water when the weather is hot. For a truly local experience, walk a little further upstream, find a spot near the rocks to ease into the water, and float back down to the beach. It’s called the ‘Wagga Beach float’ and is recommended for competent swimmers only (as current can be strong).
10. Enjoy some copper-plated pampering
For those looking for some serious holiday ‘me-time’, enjoy a soak in a copper bath filled with liquids more commonly served in china or glass! After your coffee and chamomile or perhaps red wine soak, indulge in a massage, facial or body exfoliation in the historical surroundings at Circa 1929 day spa.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Wagga Wagga? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
About the writer
Monica McInnes is a keen traveller and is always on the lookout for her next big adventure — even before the current one has concluded! Having recently returned from a three-month road trip with her young family through the Red Centre, the Kimberley, the Pilbara and along the Coral Coast, Monica is convinced that Australia is the most beautiful country on earth. She blogs about her travel exploits at Jiggety Jog.