5-6 minute read.
The best part of an Aussie road trip is, discovering small town attractions that aren’t widely advertised. Halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide (roughly 4 hours drive from either) lies Nhill; a friendly farming community in regional Victoria, where you’ll find what I consider, Australia’s greatest cheesecake, and the only Pinball Museum.
I visited Nhill to research my family history, as my grandmother spent much of her childhood around Nhill, and I recently found out I had cousins I’d never met down there.
Even though I had family roots, I found Nhill to be welcoming and homely. Walking into the bakery, two local farmers immediately stopped their conversation to say “G’day”. Later that evening, at the pub for dinner; it wasn’t an intrusion, it was expected I’d sit at a table with locals to chat, and of course they knew the Cameron’s of Nhill—one of them had been engaged to my cousin’s brother!
But it wasn’t just the locals that made Nhill intriguing, I was surprised by the array of attractions offered (many free); enough to easily fill a couple of days, including:
Scrumdiddlyumptious home-made cheesecakes at Amber’s Sweet Bliss Cafe. Fresh baked daily, I was lost in the orange and ginger cheesecake, which was light and fluffy; with a hint of citrus, and a barely discernible kiss of ginger, built atop a crunchy baked biscuit base. A contentious statement but I reckon it was Australia’s greatest cheesecake. They also bake muffins, cookies, and scones (I bought a date and pumpkin scone to takeaway, which was intriguingly sweet and savory).
A Weeping Yellow Gum tree, a tree so rare, it’s the only known specimen in Australia and has stood on what was my family’s farm for hundreds of years, and is protected by the National Trust. It’s not known how the tree came to be, stories range from a seed being mutated after being struck by lightening to merging with another seed in a ducks belly, but regardless, sit beneath (or eat cheesecake under) the only weeping yellow gum tree, known to exist, and bathe in it’s magical and inspiring glory.
Australia’s only Pinball museum, which houses working pinball machines from the 1960’s to modern games including The Simpsons, Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy. Adorning the walls are rare collectibles and memorbilia including film star autographs and original sketched plans for a pinball machine. The museum is housed in the Oasis Motel on the highway, just before you hit town and within the motel reception you’ll also find rare gemstones, meteorites, and fossils including Megalodon teeth (hence the dinosaur out the front of the motel).
A talking draught horse statue, stands in the median strip, near the Nhill tourist information centre. It commemorates the importance of draught horses to Australia’s development. Adjacent to the statue is a pillar with a button; push it and you’ll be rewarded with a fifteen minute dialogue of how draught horses shaped Australia, including a poem capturing the working day of a horse.
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Award winning Australian Poet, John Shaw Neilson spent time around Nhill, and his old residence is now found by the Nhill Lake. It’s more of a memorial, and the Lake provides a glimpse into the original marshland that Nhill was built on. It’s a nice spot for a picnic and there’s an old stagecoach with historical photos, showing farming life in Nhill.
Historical locations are dotted around town, noted with signs showing the first Dr’s surgery, and the first pub in Nhill. The silo near Nhill railway station, was the tallest in the Southern Hemisphere when it was built. About 15 minutes out of town, in an open grassy paddock, there’s the remnants of the Miram East school which my grandmother and great aunt attended during World War Two. Back then, if you built a school, and provided lodgings, the department of education would provide a teacher. The Miram East school housed on average 6 pupils, in a single wooden classroom. You can find more information on the regions history, at the Nhill historical society and museum.
Ten minutes drive north is the Nhill Aerodrome and Aviation Heritage Centre. It provides history on Nhill’s importance as an aviation hub during World War Two, along with restored planes.
North and south of Nhill, the Big Desert National Park and the Little Desert National Park, offer a glimpse of the outback, including emus, close to Nhill and you can camp or go for a desert walk.
Lake Hindmarsh (Less than an hour’s drive North West of Nhill) was completely dry when I visited (mid July 2018) and I walked into the middle, surrounded by dried grass, which quivered and wavered as the wind caressed it. It was eerie, peaceful, and fascinating. The perfect place to lay down a blanket and read a book, or in my case, I wrote a poem capturing the moment, which you can listen to on my patreon page.
Most travellers treat small towns as bathroom breaks or petrol pit stops but every town has a story to tell, and Nhill’s is worth checking out. Little has changed in Nhill since it’s inception, apart from what’s stocked in the shops, and it’s refreshing finding towns where life goes on, regardless of what is happening elsewhere in the world.
Spending the night, visiting the sights, shops, and dining out, helps keep small towns alive with your tourism dollars.
The drive from Melbourne to Nhill takes you through the Grampians which offer unique Aborginal rock art and wildlife including kangaroos and koalas. Nearby are famous wineries. The drive from Sydney is straightforward until Hay, then it zigzags along single-lane country roads, it’s picturesque but you’ll need GPS to know which streets to turn at.
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Nhill is more than just a quick pit stop, it’s a genuinely friendly community, with fascinating free attractions, close to desert national parks, and Aboriginal rock art. Don’t regret just passing through, stay a night or two, and explore it all, in Nhill.
To hear more, check out my podcast episode about Nhill on Travelosophy.
Most shops in Nhill are cash only. There is an NAB ATM on Victoria St and the IGA Supermarket next to the Caltex Roadhouse offers EFTPOS.
Attractions in Nhill
Pinball Museum, 21-22 Dimboola Rd Nhill. Free entry. Open 7 days a week, 9am to 9pm (check with motel).
Weeping Yellow Gum, Cameron Reserve, Western Highway, Lawloit. Approx 15km south west of Nhill. Free entry.
Talking Draught Horse Statue, Goldsworthy Park in Nhill, opposite Amber’s Sweet Bliss. Free entry.
John Shaw Neilson’s house, left side of Western Highway (heading towards Adelaide), after the shops, in front of Nhill Lake, next to the caravan park. Free entry.
Miram East School, Miram East Rd, Nhill. Look on the left, for a brown signpost that says Historical Site.
Nhill Aviation Heritage Centre, Nhill Aerodrome, Nhill. PH: 0428 911 387. $5 entry, open weekends 10am to 4pm or by appointment.
Places to Stay in Nhill
Nhill Oasis Motel – Includes free breakfast and the pinball museum
Zero Inn Motel – Has a pool
Acacia Motor Inn – Includes breakfast and a pool
Little Desert Nature Lodge – Wildlife and desert scenery
Click on hotel links to check prices and make a booking.
Places to Eat in Nhill
Amber’s Sweet Bliss, 29-31 Victoria St Nhill PH: 0418 415 756
Oliver’s Cafe, 34 Victoria St Nhill PH: 03 5391 3094
Olivia Rose Cafe, 24 Victoria St Nhill PH: 03 5391 1661
8, 9, 10 Takeaway, 13 Davis Ave Nhill PH: 0498 639 461
Wimmera Bakery, 16 Nelson St, Nhill PH: 03 5391 1395
Farmer’s Arms Hotel, 2 Victoria St, Nhill PH: 03 5391 1955
Union Hotell, 41 Victoria St, Nhill PH: 03 5391 1722
Opening times can vary so call ahead to double check
Nhill Tourist Information
Goldsworthy Park, Nhill 3180 (on the median strip in town). PH: 03 5391 3086
Nhill Historical Society
104-106 Macpherson St, Old Shire Hall, Nhill 3180
PH: 03 5391 2185 or 03 5391 3131
Nhill Free Press (local newspaper)
14 Victoria St, Nhill 3418 PH: 03 5391 1555
Fuel in Nhill (and after hours food)
BP Nhill Roadhouse, 18 Western Highway Nhill PH: 03 5391 1995
Caltex Roadhouse, 94 Victoria St Nhill, PH: 03 5391 1561
>> If you love travel, then you’ll adore my podcast, Travelosophy.
>> If you enjoyed this, then why not check out my road trip-from ghost towns to the outback blog post.