Tourists escape to the country as budgets tighten
When the beach house breaks the budget, a sea of cabanas blocks the ocean views and the sunburn stings: that's when the countryside comes calling.
Albury, a NSW regional city on the banks of the Murray River, has been named Town of the Year, as Australians increasingly seek out long weekends in the regions.
The border town has been awarded the top gong by travel site Wotif, based on search trends, affordability, accommodation quality and reviews.
Mayor Kylie King said Albury was no longer considered a stopover for intercity travellers, but a place where tourists can soak up its heritage streetscapes, food, wine and waterways.
"We're all familiar with some of those beautiful coastal destinations, but there's an element of discovering something they haven't seen before," Ms King told AAP.
"If you have that mindset, it opens up a world of possibilities."
A YouGov survey of 1024 Australians commissioned by the website found nearly half were opting for short and local long weekend trips due to pressure on household budgets, while a similar number wanted to escape the fast pace of the city.
Regional centres Ballarat and Echuca, in Victoria, Toowoomba, Queensland, and Orange, NSW, also made the top 10.
Though Launceston in Tasmania took out last year's top spot, beachside towns have dominated the awards in the last five years.
Bundaberg in Queensland was one of four coastal spots to make this year's list, alongside Port Lincoln, South Australia, Merimbula, NSW, and Dunsborough in WA.
Awarded second place, Bundaberg was lauded as the gateway to the southern Great Barrier Reef.
Local tourism chief executive Katherine Reid said the region, made famous by its rum, held a strong sense of nostalgia.
"COVID made us all stop and think about our life and about those wonderful experiences we had," Ms Reid said.
"Bundaberg is one of those places that you can still have a holiday park experience, or play cricket on the beach, or go and get some fish and chips, or go for a bushwalk and ride your bike.
"People are looking to reconnect with those childhood memories."
New Norfolk, on Tasmania's River Derwent, rounded out the top three.
Mayor Michelle Dracoulis said the town of 6000 had a strong community spirit and a respect for its history, including the Bush Inn, a colonial-era pub.
"From my house, I can walk 100 metres down the street to the Bush Inn, knowing that generations before me walked into the same place and sat around the same fire," she said.
"You don't see that everywhere."