The city of Griffith sits in the fertile plains of NSW’s Riverina region, ensconced in vineyards, rice fields and orange groves.
This was a planned city, set on a curious system of circular streets and radiating avenues.
Waves of Italian immigration throughout the 20th century have had a lasting effect on Griffith’s culture and identity, bringing winemaking knowhow, a wider variety of fruits and vegetables and a joy for food and drink that is unmistakable today.
You can treat yourself to cannoli, gelato and authentic salami from businesses that have been going since the 1950s, and spend days touring the Riverina’s cellar doors.
1. Griffith Pioneer Park Museum
At this excellent museum complex you can dip into the history of Griffith but also discover how the massive Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area created the Riverina’s “food bowl”. As well as a huge collection of artefacts covering more than a century of local history, the park has several heritage buildings that have been moved to this site.
Bagtown is a throwback to Griffith’s pioneer days in the 1910s, carefully recreating historic amenities like the post office, general store, newsagent, hairdresser, bakery and more.
Griffith’s Italian ties are explained at the Italian Museum and Cultural Centre, with absorbing firsthand accounts by immigrants, household items, clothing, tools and more.
Finally the Wine Museum, supported by several local wine brands, recalls the birth and development of winemaking in one of Australia’s most productive regions.
2. Riverina Wine Region
Around a quarter of all the wine produced in Australia comes from the Riverina wine region, surrounding Griffith.
Here warm climate varietals like Semillon, Shiraz and Chardonnay grow on flat plains in loamy, red-brown earth.
Vineyards are bathed in year-round sunshine, with baking hot summers and cool winters.
Griffith’s Italian heritage comes to the fore, as you’ll tell from names like De Bortoli and Calabria Family Wines.
These are just two of a whole directory of wineries near Griffith, and special mention has to go to Yarran, Berton and McWilliam’s Hanwood Estate.
Such is the abundance that it might be easier to put your wine experience in the hands of Griffith Tours or Bella Vita Tours, giving you a custom itinerary.
3. Hermit’s Cave
On Griffith’s north-eastern outskirts there’s a sudden rocky mass, which is actually an outlying hill of the McPherson Ranges.
Between 1929 and 1952 the reclusive Italian immigrant Valerio Ricetti made this place his home, singlehandedly building shelters, water cisterns, drystone walls, gardens and paths over a kilometres of the escarpment.
There’s almost no equivalent to Hermit’s Cave in all of Australia, and the site was placed on the New South Wales State Heritage Register in 2007. You can hike up the stiff slope to admire Ricetti’s work, read the information boards and enjoy far-reaching views over the Riverina’s fertile plains and up to the peaks of Cocoparra National Park.
4. Lake Wyangan
This recreation honey pot for the Griffith area is manmade, and took shape in the 1950s on the site of former gypsum mines and an existing natural swamp.
What you’ll find at Lake Wyangan is a scenic expanse of water with open green space on its shores for picnics and games.
By the water are barbecues, sheltered picnic areas, a free campsite with power, toilets and hot water, as well as a free-to-use boat ramp and jetty.
Children can make the most of the playground, and will have a great time checking out the animal enclosures for chickens, deer and goats.
5. Griffith Regional Art Gallery
Griffith boasts one of the top regional galleries in New South Wales, housed in a handsome Art Deco building from the 1930s.
In its inventory are two important collections: First off there’s the life’s work of fashion designers, Ross Weymouth and John Clarringbold, comprising no fewer than 12 winning items from the Australian Gown of the Year Awards.
The gallery also holds Australia’s National Contemporary Jewellery Collection, gaining new pieces every other year from the biennial National Contemporary Jewellery Award, hosted here.
On the program are up ten exhibitions every year, showing selections from the collection, as well as landmark touring shows and showcases for local talent.
6. Spring Fest
Every October, Griffith celebrates the arrival of spring with two weeks of street parties, food, wine and open gardens.
The event’s signature is the spectacle of more than 70 sculptures along Banna Avenue, made with local oranges by dozens of volunteers.
These are made up of 100,000 oranges and are inspired by the famed lemon sculptures of Menton, France.
They take on all kinds of weird and wonderful forms, from a Cinderella-style carriage to a giant guitar and grand piano.
The sculptures can be admired for free and are the linchpin of Spring Fest, which also stages a garden festival with open garden tours, a multicultural festival and a lively launch party.
7. Bertoldo’s Bakery
This beloved family bakery/deli on Banna Avenue is now in its fourth generation, and opened in 1952. If you love discovering time-honoured local spots, Bertoldo’s Bakery is a must.
You can drop by for super-fresh bread, and a choice of Italian sweet treats like cannoli, biscotti and gelato.
Among the savoury options are a range of sandwiches, wraps, sausage rolls and roast chicken, while the coffee is up there with the best in town.
8. Codemo Smallgoods
Another Griffith institution, this company has been in the smallgoods (salami, ham and sausages) business since the 1950s.
Codemo’s delectable choice of cured meats is prepared on site in small batches.
There’s a wide variety of prosciutto, bacon, cooked ham and sausages.
And when it comes to salami you can choose from a host of northern and southern Italian specialities, including everything from extra hot to mild, as well as black olive and cacciatore.
Of course, you’ll be free to sample all these cold cuts before you buy.
9. City Park
Families with restless children need look no further than this park that opened in 2011 on the edge of the CBD.
The headline at City Park is the sensational playground, which comes with the tallest rope-built climbing frame in the Southern Hemisphere, a double flying fox and an enormous splash pad.
There’s also a fenced-in playground for toddlers, exercise stations and ample lawns for picnics and relaxation.
The park is threaded by Griffith’s canal, with waterside paths and a footbridge crossing the water.
10. Cocoparra National Park
A short way north-east of Griffith, the flat plains of the Riverina region are interrupted by a range of prominent hills, the tallest of which is Mount Bingar at 455 metres.
These are conserved by an 8,347-hectare national park, a destination for bushwalkers who want to tackle some rocky scenery and soak up some marvellous views.
Something compelling abut Cocoparra National Park is how the landscape changes through the seasons, and if you happen to be in the area after heavy rainfall, be sure to visit the park to see its waterfalls in full flow.
You can gaze awestruck at the creased rock faces, hike in forests of kurrajong, Dwyer’s mallee gum and white cypress pine, and discover beautiful wildflowers and orchids in spring.
11. Centenary Sculptures in IOOF Park
Directly west of City Park is another green space name for the International Order of Odd Fellows.
In 2016 a set of seven granite sculptures was erected here to celebrated the city’s centenary.
These works were hewn from three-tonne blocks in a remarkable flurry of activity, involving 17 intense days of labour by leading stone sculptors recruited from around the world.
Represented in the park are Liu Yang (China), Renate Verbrugge (New Zealand), Chris Peterson (Netherlands), Miguel Isla (Spain), TOBEL (Germany), Francesco Panceri (Italy) and Hew Chee Fong (Australia). Each sculpture interprets the theme, “The meaning of water in Griffith, and the city’s cultural diversity”.
12. Griffith Regional Theatre
For live entertainment, the local go-to is the Griffith Regional Theatre by the university, seating 520 and equipped with state-of-the-art stage, sound and lighting facilities.
The theatre’s program is curated to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, so along with cutting-edge drama and dance there will be major touring music artists, tribute acts, musicals, cabaret, shows for children, comedy and a lot more besides.
The venue is also used for community and school performances, while Artspace is an annual program of exhibitions by artists from the region.
13. Altina Wildlife Park
For a family day out, this zoo is a simple drive down Kidman Way and is known for the unique tours taking you past enclosures for endangered Australian and exotic species.
These tours are given on horse-drawn (pulled by a Clydesdale) or motorised carts, in the company of an entertaining and informative guide, and lasting around 2.5 hours.
During this adventure you’ll witness a wealth of animals, from African lions to white rhinos, spotted hyenas, American bison and lemurs.
The trips are arranged to coincide with feeding times, for an up-close glimpse of behaviour only seen in the wild.
14. Griffith Visitor Information Centre
On Griffith’s main thoroughfare, Banna Avenue, the visitor information centre is impossible to miss for the WWII-era Fairey Firefly mounted atop a column.
This is the Griffith Memorial to Airmen, unveiled in 1969, and the plane was used for naval reconnaissance in the war.
The information centre behind is an ideal first stop in Griffith.
For starters, there’s an interpretive display area charting Griffith’s progress since 1916, and of course you can peruse all the usual brochures, leaflets and maps.
The gift shop is also worthwhile, stocking locally made Indigenous arts and crafts and delicious artisanal goodies from the area like honey, prunes, balsamic vinegar, wine, nougat, olive oil, nougat and relishes.
15. Griffith Easter Party
Another landmark on Griffith’s event’s calendar is this multi-day celebration over the entire Easter weekend.
The party has its roots in the local wine industry and usually coincides the end of vintage each year.
From Thursday to Monday there will wine tasting, food stalls, cooking demonstrations, jet boat races and a ton of activities for families.
Little ones can attend an Easter-themed story time, hunt for Easter eggs, while for grownups there’s live music at local clubs and pubs into the night.