The largest inland city in New South Wales rests amid farmland in the Riverina region.
Wagga Wagga, which means “place of many crows” in the Aboriginal Wiradjuri dialect, is on the banks of the wide and slow-moving Murrumbidgee River.
One river-loop on the edge of town has been turned into a beach, where you can laze on the grass under mature trees or wade into the cool, clear river waters.
As for culture, the regional art gallery in Wagga Wagga is a national platform for studio glass, while there’s a superb museum about the Riverina, which has its own identity and even tried to secede from New South Wales during the 1930s.
1. Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens
Wagga Wagga is laced with gorgeous parks and public spaces, but the pinnacle is the botanic gardens, brimming with plants and trees that do well in the city’s hot and dry climate.
In 20 hectares you can amble around a camellia garden, Shakespearean garden, cactus and succulent garden, native flora section, island and bamboo garden, to name a small few.
Crowning the camellia garden is the intricately painted and decorated Chinese pavilion, a bicentennial gift from Wagga Wagga’s sister city, Kunming in China.
There’s a beloved miniature railway, which we’ll cover later, as well as a small zoo, free-flight aviary and adventure playground for energetic youngsters.
2. National Art Glass Gallery
Wagga Wagga’s regional art gallery started collecting glass in 1979 and has since put together Australia’s leading collection of contemporary studio glass.
There are more than 600 pieces in these reserves, representing a wide variety of forms, styles, subjects and techniques.
Selections from this inventory go on display at curated exhibitions, but you can also check out temporary shows for important Australian and international glass artists.
To promote the art form and nurture up-and-coming talent, the gallery hosts the annual National Emerging Art Glass Prize.
3. Wagga Beach
The coast may be hundreds of kilometres away, but there’s a great alternative on a bend in the Murrumbidgee River, five minutes at most from the CBD.
As it happens, Wagga Beach is occasionally rated among the best in the country, the only inland beach to earn such recognition.
Wrapped in kurrajongs, river red gums and yellow box, there’s an accommodating golden sandy strip next to the river’s shallow languid waters.
Flanking the sand you’ve got shaded grassy areas for barbecues and picnics, along with a playground for kids.
The natural setting supports rich wildlife, and if you’re lucky you may see an echidna, squirrel glider or platypus.
Meanwhile the beach can be a stepping stone for a kayak adventure down the river, or a hike on a stretch of the 42-kilometer Wiradjuri walking track, which weaves through the city and its immediate countryside.
4. Museum of the Riverina
At two locations, the Museum of the Riverina opens a window on Wagga Wagga, the Riverina Region and the people and events that have helped define them.
The permanent collection and Sporting Hall of Fame can be found at the botanic gardens, while temporary exhibitions take place in the Historic Council Chambers near the Wollundry Lagoon.
One episode from Wagga Wagga’s past covered in detail is the Tichborne Case from the 1860s and 1870s, when the Wagga Wagga butcher Arthur Orton claimed to be an English heir who had disappeared, and was thought dead in a shipwreck.
Helping to relate stories like this are more than 15,000 objects in the museum’s collections, from photographs to textiles and antique figurines.
5. RAAF Wagga Aviation Centre
Wagga’s RAAF Base was established south-east of the city in 1940 and to this day hosts six units, including the headquarters of the Royal Australian Air Force College.
This is the last of what used to be a network of bases in the Riverina Region.
The heritage centre, documenting the history of the RAAF and its links to the Riverina Region, opened in an old guardhouse in 1995 and was given a major update just over a decade ago.
Belonging to the base there’s a small collection of early jets, among them a Gloster Meteor, a CAC Cabre, an English Electric Canberra, a Dassault Mirage III and a General Dynamics F-111. Inside you can peruse tons of RAAF artefacts, from recreated quarters to ration packs, musical instruments, uniforms, pennants, a Bristol Beaufighter cockpit, engines and lots more.
6. Victory Memorial Gardens
This park on the Wollundry Lagoon was laid in the early-1920s in honour of Wagga Wagga’s citizens who fought and died in Great War, but is a prime spot to just drift off with a book for an hour or two.
The space is embroidered with formal flower beds, clipped lawns, fig trees and palms, and has dedications to both World Wars and the Vietnam War.
The stately circular Chisholm Fountain was moved here from the Civic Centre precinct for Anzac Day in 2006, and is ringed with rose bushes.
Families adore the park for its playground and the bank of the lagoon where you can feed the ducks (grains, not bread!).
7. Collins Park
Stepping into this park in the heart of Wagga Wagga, the first thing you’ll notice is the trees, most of which are more than a century old.
These plane trees and bunya pines loom large over the serpentine paths and offer lots of shade for the lush grassy space below.
Collins Park is endowed with a gazebo, a barbecue area, picnic areas and a spacious play area for wee ones.
There’s a memorial too for a local member of the New South Wales contingent killed in the Boer War in 1900. In front, the canon has a story to tell: Originally cast as a warship gun in 1795, it was fitted with wheels in the mid-19th century during the Landing Flat Riots.
Later, in the absence of a town clock, this gun marked the stroke of noon for Wagga Wagga.
8. Wollundry Lagoon Loop
Starting in front of the National Art Glass Gallery, Wollundry Lagoon meanders west, past the top end of Wagga Wagga’s CBD.
You can walk or cycle along the tranquil, tree-lined banks on a three-kilometre loop, and the whole time you’ll be right beside the Civic Centre precinct and its array of attractions and shops.
As well as the art gallery and Victory Memorial Gardens, the Civic Theatre, Visitor Information Centre and the Council Chambers Site of the Museum of the Riverina will all be effortlessly close.
The lagoon remains important to the Aboriginal Wiradjuri people, and is tied to the Dreaming story of the Wawi spirit that inhabits and protects the water.
9. Wagga Wagga Rail Heritage Museum
Still in use on the Main South Line, Wagga Wagga Railway Station is heritage listed and was completed in 1879. If you find yourself passing through you could take a little while to tap into Wagga Wagga and the Riverina region’s rail heritage.
You can start on the platform where there’s an exhibition of archive photography and artefacts.
Cross the footbridge and you can take a peek inside the old gang sheds, housing vintage tools, railway trikes and yet more memorabilia and photographs.
In a separate building close by you can also check out the station’s heritage model trains, including several different working layouts for both freight and passenger trains.
10. Oasis Regional Aquatic Centre
Bolton Park is the setting for this great pool complex right on the edge of Wagga Wagga’s CBD.
The Oasis Regional Aquatic Centre has year-round appeal thanks to its indoor and outdoor facilities.
Inside you’ve got a 25-metre, 10-lane pool for laps, along with leisure pools, a program pool and a special pool for toddlers.
Outside there’s an Olympic-sized competition pool accompanied by a dive pool with a platform up to five metres.
Come on a hot summer’s day and you can while away a few hours in the shade, and have a barbecue in the adjoining grassy space or grab a bite at the cafe.
And if you’re missing any gear you’re sure to find it at the Oasis swim shop.
11. Lake Albert
Another excellent, not to mention scenic, recreation area on the edge of town is the man-made Lake Albert, which covers 125 hectares and has been here since 1868. On land there’s a 5.5-kilometre mixed-use trail around the lake’s perimeter, also enhanced with fitness stations at four locations.
Bosely Park on the west shore is home to the Wagga Wagga boat and sailing clubs, and has public boat ramps, as does Apex Park on the opposite shore, along with a children’s playground.
12. Wollundry Olive Groves
This farm is on a bucolic hillside a few minutes north of Wagga Wagga, producing award-winning extra virgin olive oil and first-rate table olives.
The entire range at Wollundry Olive Groves is grown, processed, packaged or bottled at the farm, and you can find out more about every stage on a visit.
You’ll meet the growers, tour the picture-perfect groves and sample some of the best olive oil and olives you’ve ever tasted.
What’s fascinating is that the oil’s complex aromas and flavours vary by season, and you’ll discover just why.
13. Willans Hill Miniature Railway
There has been a miniature railway in the botanic gardens for more than 40 years, and this continues to run on the first and third Sundays of the month.
There are three possible routes on a total of three kilometres of line.
This comes with two stations, three bridges, two tunnels and a variety of buildings.
The railway has a fleet of six locomotives, the newest of which was purchased in 2018. Model train enthusiasts should mark the first Sunday of November in their diaries, when aficionados from all over Australia come to show off their collections.
14. Wagga Wagga Visitor Information Centre
Backing onto the Murrumbidgee River a few seconds on foot from Baylis Street, the city’s visitor information centre is the obvious resource for travel inspiration, maps, leaflets and the like.
But the reason it makes it onto this list is because it’s also a gateway to all the great food and drink coming out of the agricultural Riverina region.
This could be wine, craft beer or cider, or, food-wise, natural licorice, olive oil, preserves, confectionery, honey, pistachios, premium vinegar or hot sauce.
And if you’re in need of a souvenir or something giftable there’s a big selection of indigenous arts and crafts as well sustainable home design handmade with recycled red gum.
15. River & Wren Market
At Turvey Park near the botanic gardens, the River & Wren Market is an indoor artisan market held six times a year, and another opportunity to shop small and local in Wagga Wagga.
As a fine showcase for local crafting talent, each event is attended by upwards of 110 stallholders, and thousands of shoppers.
You can seek out fashion-forward and on-trend clothing, accessories, jewellery, home design and art, all locally produced.
Also on hand are regional wine, artisanal cosmetics, freshly roasted coffee, seasonal produce straight from nearby farms and handmade delights like macaroons.