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Seven Wonders
In this special destination feature, we shine the ‘spotlight’ on a ‘magnificent seven’ regions in NSW’s New England High Country
Words and Images by: PETER QUILTY

NENW Gallery

When it comes to discovering things to do in the New England High Country, the possibilities for adventure and new experiences are endless.

Visit an eclectic array of art galleries and museums, get the adrenaline pumping with a scenic helicopter ride, and experience some of the most spectacular national parks in all of New South Wales, if not Australia.

Treat yourself to a wide range of casual family restaurants and cafes to fine dining rooms and cellar door establishments, there’s a diverse choice of dining options, as well as cuisines in New England.

Yes, NEHC’s epicurean culture extends to pubs, restaurants, breweries and wineries.

And the accommodation options seems endless – from B&Bs, cabins & cottages, and caravan parks to free camping, farm stays, hotels and motels.

Perhaps the best way to experience this region is just to  indulge in an old-fashioned road trip: from Walcha in the south to Tenterfield in the north, there is so much to see and do in New England High Country.

From renowned collections of antiquities and Australian art to writers’ workshops, cutting-edge contemporary theatre, and stellar music programs, culture and the arts are ubiquitous in New England.

The New England Regional Art Museum in Armidale is an enjoyable and inspiring place for visitors of all ages to while away a couple of hours. The museum is the custodian of around 5000 works of art, including the Howard Hinton, Chandler Coventry and NERAM collections.

The little town of Walcha is a living, breathing art gallery, with the streets and public spaces scattered with over 50 sculptures by renowned local, national and international artists.

Imagine a place where the geology and biodiversity is unique, where you can climb giant rock formations, stroll through rainforests, encounter rare wildlife, watch powerful waterfalls, camp in the wilderness, paddle wild rivers, and find endless breathtaking views.

This is all part of the New England High Country experience – there are hundreds of thousands of hectares of national parks and state forests to explore.

Sport and outdoor activities are an integral part of life in New England. From rugby matches, mountain biking and all sorts of competitive and adventurous pursuits to leisurely games of golf and tennis, there’s something for everyone.

You don’t have to be Tiger Woods to tee off at the picturesque golf courses in Tenterfield, Inverell, Glen Innes, Armidale, Walcha, Uralla and Guyra, and on a glorious day there’s really a no better place for a visiting golf enthusiast to be.

As you’d hope in an area that has long celebrated horsemanship, there are plenty of opportunities to go horse trekking in New England.

Falls - Guy Fawkes NP

SPOTLIGHT ON ARMIDALE

The capital of New England, Armidale is a cosmopolitan and sophisticated urban centre located in a picturesque rural setting on the doorstep of some of the most scenic national parks in Australia.

One of Armidale’s best kept secrets is that there are four national parks. There’s a monumental tumble of giant granite boulders to climb in the Cathedral Rock National Park. And, along the aptly named Waterfall Way, Ebor Falls in the Guy Fawkes River National Park is one of several majestic waterfalls to admire. Much of the extensive wilderness in the New England and Oxley Wild Rivers National Parks is World Heritage listed.

The past has a place in modernday Armidale. Gracious cathedrals and stately buildings dating from the 1860s reflect the lofty aspirations of the early settlers.

You’ll find there’s always something inspirational going on in the region’s museums and galleries and on any number of stages and screens.

Armidale’s New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) is an enjoyable and inspiring place for visitors of all ages. The museum is the custodian of some 5000 works of art, with the Howard Hinton, Chandler Coventry and NERAM collections including many works from most of Australia’s leading artists.

At the University of New England (UNE), there are museums and collections embracing art, classical archaeology, local history, zoology, botany, geology, Asian musical instruments, manuscripts and rare books.

Music, both classical and contemporary, contributes enormously to the city’s cultural vibrancy. The Old Teachers College is home to the New England Conservatorium and the UNE Department of Music, which nurture the Armidale Symphony Orchestra, Armidale Youth Orchestra, Fiori Musicali and many choral and other musical groups.

For thousands of years the Anaiwan Aboriginal people hunted and gathered on the tablelands around Armidale. In 1818, English  explorer John Oxley ascended the ranges on horseback and camped for a while near Apsley Falls. He noted the ‘parkland’ he found on the plateau in his diary, and the march of European pioneers that followed changed the region forever.

Armidale was of?cially declared a town in 1846. A few years later, the arrival of the railway and discovery of gold at Rocky River and Hillgrove heralded a population and building boom. Valuable minerals and metals, including tin, were discovered at other sites around the region and hundreds of Chinese joined the workforce.

It was a prosperous few decades and Armidale’s heritage architecture re?ects the grand ambitions of those late 19thcentury settlers. The Anglican and Catholic cathedrals were among the earliest buildings to grace the centre of town, along with the post of?ce, State bank and courthouse, all still in use today.

Just outside Armidale, the National Trust’s Saumarez Homestead, a 30-room Edwardian mansion, offers a truly authentic glimpse of 19th-century family life on the land.

Also of historic note out of town is Booloominbah, the 1880’s White family homestead designed by noted architect John Horbury Hunt (who also designed the Anglican cathedral).

If you’re wondering where to eat, stylish cafés buzz with activity and serve up great coffee and delicious meals all day. Restaurants, clubs and pubs also offer a wide range of contemporary Australian and international cuisines.

Where to stay depends on how far into the wilderness you’re prepared to go for the night. You can, on one hand, descend into wilderness gorge country, or, on the other hand, head for the country and relax in a lovely cottage or historic homestead guesthouse.

Boundary Falls - Gibraltar Range NP

SPOTLIGHT ON GLEN INNES

In the heart of New England High Country, Glen Innes Highlands is the destination for adventure, rich history, Celtic heritage, gourmet food and boutique shopping experiences.

The spectacular national parks surrounding Glen Innes offer over 80 kilometers of trails in the World Heritage Washpool and Gibraltar Range national parks giving adventurers plenty to explore. There are some amazing rock formations some which can be seen at the Stonehenge recreational park.

Take a step back in time to discover a town rich in history with Glen Innes home to over 50 heritage buildings, visitors enjoy the experience of taking the heritage tour using the ‘Heritage Tour’ app. This allows the discovery of the architecture, history and present day information of each building as they explore the streets. The Showgrounds are a beautifully preserved example of 19th century pavilions and grand stand, hosting the annual Glen Innes Show widely known as the ‘Royal of the North’ which includes the two-day Gourmet Fiesta – a celebration of local food and produce. Visitors can also discover thousands of items showcasing the origins of Glen Innes at the Land of The Beardies History House Museum and Research Centre, housed in the historic Glen Innes Hospital building, 1877.

Visitors can enjoy a picturesque drive to the surrounding villages of Emmaville, Deepwater and Glencoe to discover more history and enjoy the scenic drives through rolling hills. The Emmaville Mining Museum has an impressive collection of Gems and Minerals and the friendly volunteers are very knowledgeable.

The community of Glen Innes proudly embrace their Celtic and Scottish heritage participating and celebrating many Celtic experiences and ceremonies throughout the year. The community established the national monument, the Australian Standing Stones, in 1992 to honour Celtic heritage, celebrations and ceremonies. Since then the stones have become a popular attraction home to the annual Australian Celtic Festival, a celebration of all things Celtic.

The traditional owners, the Ngoorabul people play an integral role in the community and there are many opportunities to experience their rich culture first hand. Visit the prize winning Gawura Gallery with many exhibitions on display including works by owner Lloyd Hornsby. The Aboriginal Lands Council cares for over 10,000 hectares of Indigenous Protected land at the Willows and Boorabee, with 22km of Severn River frontage they have camping available and they offer groups’ guided tours.

Arts and crafts also thrive in Glen Innes Highlands. Visitors can spend time exploring the multitude of galleries, artists, crafts stores, antiques, museums and treasures. You will find crafts that date from the area’s pioneering days – saddlers, blacksmiths and farriers and a visit to Glen Innes is a chance to watch them at work or learn a new craft.

Glen Innes has much to offer in gourmet food experience with boutique and unique venues. From cafes to fine dining experiences showcasing local produce taste buds will be delighted. Be sure to enjoy a brew at the Deepwater Brewery & Cellar Door, or taste locally made spirits at the Glen Gowrie Distillery. The Glen Innes Visitor Information Centre proudly stocks local produce and handmade pieces from local artists to showcase what’s on offer.

Glen Innes is also home to various festivals held throughout the year which cater to all interests: some popular ones include the Minerama Fossicking, Gem and Jewellery Show, a three-day festival in March and the largest of its kind; Chill N Glen, a community food festival; and the Deepwater Races in January sees the small village population grow from 400 to around 3,000.

Riverside, Oxley Rivers NP

SPOTLIGHT ON WALCHA

Settled in the early 1800s, Walcha lays claim to being New England’s first and oldest town.

Walcha is located halfway between Sydney and Brisbane on the crossroads of the Oxley Highway and Thunderbolts Way.

In Walcha, there’s plenty to do and see all year round!

The 1800s slab Pioneer Cottage and museum complex comprises a variety of historical buildings on the original land grant of 1858 to Constable Buckland including his house built in the 1860s of slabs and a shingle roof.

The wool industry hall, originally a School of Arts erected at Glen Morrison in 1887, illustrates the principle industry of Walcha, with a large collection of shearing equipment and photographs.

The Plane Hanger houses the Tiger Moth Aeroplane used in 1950 to spread super phosphate for the first time in Australia, on the local property “Mirani”, then owned by AS Nivison.

Walcha’s early history involves the Danggadi people who lived in this region for about 6,000 years in the colder months and retreated in the gorge country to the east, where fish and animals were plentiful.

The explorer John Oxley passed through the area in 1818 and named the Apsley River after the secretary of state for the colonies.

The first squatter in the district was a Scot, Hamilton Collins Sempill, who made his base near Oxley’s Camp beside a good waterhole on the Apsley River. In the 1850s and 1860s some of the early squatters were able to start purchasing their runs, and selectors struggled on their smallholdings. The town had its first school and churches established in these years. By 1900 the town had almost 1000 people and the surrounding districts another 1600. In Walcha there were four hotels, four blacksmiths, two flourmills and a tannery, as well as over 30 shops.

The town boasts two points of national interest. The celebrated overlander Nat Buchanan is buried here. He opened up much land in Queensland, Northern Territory  and Western Australia with his great cattle drives from 1859 to the 1890s.

Langford House, circa 1903

Many buildings are impressive in stature, have an interesting story and are worthy of inspection. These include the banks and public buildings such as the Court House and Post Office, all in Derby Street.

Typical country hotels are exemplified by the Commercial, Royal, Apsley and New England.

The three churches all have a history dating back more than a century. The first Catholic Chapel in Walcha was erected in 1854. The first Presbyterian church was built during 1857 and was a small wooden building. It was replaced by the present church, which was opened on May 5, 1888. The stonebuilt Anglican Church was erected in 1862.

The Pioneer Cottage and Museum also offers a fabulous exhibit of  relics from yesteryear, this is also where the Tiger Moth aeroplane, first used in aerial agriculture, is on display.

At the suggestion of the Walcha Arts Council, Walcha Council adopted the concept of developing Walcha’s Open Air Gallery.

This ever-growing public gallery is now highly regarded and renowned among the global art community, as well as being immensely enjoyed by proud locals and bewildered visitors. The Open Air Gallery consists of over 50 pieces of art, mostly sculptural. The works are dotted around the town with contributing artists coming from local, national and international origins.

The Walcha Gallery of Art is located on the main street, and showcases various artworks by local, regional and international artists, with sculptures, prints and jewellery also on display.

McCrossin’s Mill Museum and Function Centre

SPOTLIGHT ON URALLA

Known as the foodie capital of the New England High Country, Uralla offers a smorgasbord of delicious experiences, as well as rich gold rush and Indigenous heritage. Visit boutique wineries, and an artisan brewery and distillery. Try your luck fossicking for gold and gems at nearby Wooldridge.

A historic town, Uralla is between Armidale and Tamworth.

The Uralla Heritage Walk is a great way to explore the town, capturing more than 50 heritage buildings.

The natural beauty around Uralla is worth exploring. There’s enjoyable scenic drives, while cycling, bushwalking and horse riding are popular outdoor activities.

This is the Country of the Aniwan People and “Uralla” means ceremonial meeting place. The Aboriginal history of this area dates back at least 50,000 years. Aborigines are proud participants of a vibrant Indigenous culture of artists, professionals, youth and Elders who welcome those interested to discover their past and enjoy the feeling of Country. Come and view the Aboriginal rock art at Mt Yarrowyck and marvel at the history and culture of the Aniwan.

Early morning on Bridge Street, Uralla

Remember to put the following on your must-do list:

  • McCrossin’s Mill Museum – award winning and whimsical as well as very informative.
  • Wineries and distilleries and breweries
  • Dobson’s at Kentucky is a big player, having won silver and a double gold in San Francisco last year – open for tastings 7 days a week.
  • Merilba and Dobson’s have wonderful restaurants which are open on the weekends.
  • New England Brewing is at the top of town, next to the Top Pub – an innovative brewer with at least eight of their beers on tap and gourmet treats, open Wed-Sat.
  • Sunhill Goat Dairy producing really beautiful cheese (heavenly goat camembert!) as well as soothing and enriching natural cosmetics and bath products (for blokes, too – great shaving cream).
  • Boutique shopping in Uralla township – great creative outlets including Highland Living, Melrose and Anna Sutherland (won gold on her first outing at the Royal Easter Show) as well as the innovative Little Birdy in Hill St.
  • National parks and tourist drives – Uralla is virtually surrounded with astonishing beauty. The smaller parks and reserves have something fabulous to visit as well as the big ticket items like Waterfall Way. Wonderful for cycling and motorbike riding as well as casual driving on beautiful country roads, discovering the unexpected in the smaller hamlets and localities within Uralla – Kentucky, Kingstown, Invergowrie including visiting Gostwyck Chapel and Deeargee Woolshed – a working shed from 1872 which attracts photographers from all around Australia and the world.
  • Uralla Soundtrail – the first one in Australia, listen to wonderful collection of characters and stories – and Heritage Walk (follow the green numbered plaques on so many buildings and pick up acopy of the booklet, Find Charm in Uralla from the VIC.)
  • Fossicking for gold, diamonds, sapphires and garnets at the Wooldridge Fossicking Reserve.
  • Bird watching at Dangar’s Lagoon and Racecourse Lagoon – while the water lasts!

There’s also plenty of accommodation offerings from eclectic to sophisticated B&Bs, motels, pubs, caravan parks and free camping in Uralla, at Mt Yarrowyck and at Bundarra.

Other activities include golf, horse riding, bush walking, and many other local clubs.

Transport – fly to Armidale, rail to Uralla, drive – all roads lead to Uralla – via NE Hwy, Coffs Harbour via Armidale, Port Macquarie and Pacific Hwy via Walcha, via Thunderbolt’s Way.

Mother of Ducks Lagoon

SPOTLIGHT ON GUYRA

Guyra is located on the New England Highway at the crossroads between outback and the coast, between Sydney and Brisbane.

There are a myriad of things to see and do in Guyra – including trout fishing, birdwatching, and Rotary Park and Playground.

Guyra celebrates the start of the fishing season with Troutfest that is held over the October Long Weekend. Many of the rivers and streams benefit from a fish stocking program.

Located on the edge of Guyra, Mother of Ducks Lagoon Nature Reserve offers a special birdwatching experience. The reserve is a rare breeding place for several freshwater wetland bird species and a resting place for numerous migratory birds. Mother of Ducks Lagoon is an RV Friendly venue with overnight stays permissible.

Rotary Park is the ideal stopping place for those travelling through Guyra. The park provides a magnificent playground that is fenced, sheltered, soft fall grounded and suitable for all ages from toddlers through to adults. It offers swings, spring riders, spinner stands, slides, a huge climbing frame, flying fox, and much more. At Rotary Park you will find seats and a sheltered picnic area,  exercise station, free BBQ and public toilets.

Ben Lomond Train Station

Guyra is also steeped in heritage and history. The first recorded European settler in the region was the explorer John Oxley who, in 1818, described the rich pasture lands as, “The finest open country or park imaginable.” The legendary Captain Thunderbolt found few spoils in the Guyra area, although he did hold up a house at Sandy Creek and a store at Ollera. One of his hideouts, Thunderbolt’s Cave, can be found just off the New England Highway at the top of “The Pinch”. The advent of the railway in 1884 brought development to the area and on March 20, 1885 the village of Guyra was proclaimed. By 1890, Guyra had postal, telegraph, money order and savings bank facilities, a railway station, three hotels, a public school, three churches, police station and a sawmill. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the region boasted an extensive mining industry centred around gold and tin; there was even a diamond mine on the lagoon. Guyra is probably most famous as the home of the Guyra Ghost which made national news in April 1921. The mystery of who, or what, haunted a local residence remains unsolved.The Guyra area has an Indigenous heritage with a number  of significant sites scattered around the area. Aboriginal people have lived in the area, used the resources and managed the environment for thousands of years. Several rock art sites depicting animals and tools and axe grinding groove sites where stone axes were sharpened are found in the area. The Guyra & District Historical Museum commenced in 1988 and now contains over 3,000 items. The collection comprises many domestic and rural items from the Guyra District. The museum also has a large photographic collection of Guyra buildings, families and activities from days gone by.

And Guyra is rich in local produce. Held annually in January, in conjunction with a variety of events, the Guyra Lamb and Potato Festival aims to showcase local produce, with delicious lamb and potato meals, boutique stalls, and daily entertainment and activities. Meanwhile, Costa Tomato Farm supplies tomatoes 365 days a year under the Blush brand and private label brands. Blush tomatoes are grown in one of Australia’s largest and most advanced glasshouse facilities, located in Guyra. With its ideal climate of cooler summers and high light levels in winter, Guyra is the perfect location for growing flavoursome tomatoes.

Mount Mackenzie Scenic Drive

 SPOTLIGHT ON TENTERFIELD

Located in the NSW high country, Tenterfield offers the trifecta of countryside, national park and history, enticing travellers with its genuine stories, people and adventures.

Known as the birthplace of Australia, Tenterfield is full of simple, honest treasures waiting to be found. 

Three hours from Brisbane and across the range from New South Wales’ northern rivers, this town inspires with its alpine summers, vibrant autumn reds, white-frosted winters and floral springs.

Adventure seekers, history buffs and boutique lovers alike are bound to find something that speaks to their true soul in this town cocooned by national parks.

The streets are lined with heritage-listed buildings from bygone years, which match the inspiring homewares and antiques you’ll find within them.

Stop by the Sir Henry Parkes School of Arts Tenterfield and you’ll find yourself in the original hall where Sir Henry Parkes delivered his famous speech calling for the federation of the colonies.

If walls could talk, these buildings would have a story or two to tell, but none more so than the original Tenterfield Saddler (Est 1870), which has been captured in the lyrics of Peter Allen, “time is a traveller”. The song, released in 1972, is about the musician’s life and a tribute to his grandfather George Woolnough, who worked at the saddlery.

Pubs, cafes and paddock-to-plate events showcase the exceptional local produce like poultry, pork, nuts and blueberries, adding to this town’s warm and inviting nature.

But it’s the geographical surroundings that really arouse the appreciation for this humble town and give visitors the chance to ground themselves with nature.

National parks and state forests encase this town with lush green forests, woodland canopies, cascading waterfalls and enticing swimming holes, all just waiting to be explored.

From calming, creek-side walks in the centre of town, to exploration  of the scenic rugged landscapes of the surrounding national parks – activities range from slow ambles to adrenaline inducing ones.

Bushwalkers will be rewarded with breath-taking views of the fascinating landscape, including panoramic views from lookouts scattered around, as well as unique granite formations, which can be seen along the scenic drive to Mount Mackenzie.

Mix history and adventure to explore the hidden caves, walk in the footsteps of bushrangers, stroll along the boutique-lined Main Street, or take a scenic drive up one of the besieging mountains.

In this historic town in the New England region of NSW, learn about nation-building history, enjoy elegant wineries and explore superb wilderness nearby. The fascinating Tenterfield Railway Museum is in the 1886-built Tenterfield Station. After exploring the town, visit cool-climate wineries such as Zappa Wines, Reedy Creek Estate or Splitters Swamp Vineyards.

Nearby national parks are perfect for outdoor adventure, from bushwalking and swimming to camping and picnicking.

There are lots of places to stay in Tenterfield, which is about 60 minutes from Glen Innes, and a scenic drive from Armidale, Byron Bay, Lismore, Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Visitors can fly into nearby airports in Armidale, Ballina, Toowoomba, Gold Coast and Brisbane, and hire a car or catch a bus.

A visit to Tenterfield is not complete without discovering the local art scene - Make it Tenterfield is a collective of 22 artists and makers, each showcasing their wares and talents in a transformed creative makerspace.

View over the town of Inverell from McIlveen Lookout

SPOTLIGHT ON INVERELL

Dubbed the “Sapphire City”, Inverell is nestled in a picturesque valley beside the Macintyre River of NSW. This New England regional town is renowned for its proud pioneering history, its beautiful restored buildings, and the production of many fine gemstones from which Inverell has earned its epithet.

There is always plenty to see, do and experience, with both visitors and locals being able to enjoy a wide range of unique opportunities. The city and its surrounds offer boutique shopping, cultural endeavours, outdoor adventures, natural splendours, and more.

From local attractions to national events, Inverell has plenty to captivate the creatively-inclined and the culturally-minded. Lose yourself among the art gallery exhibitions, meander along the mosaic footpath, or head to New England  Woodturning, where you can see a master woodturner at work.

Inverell is proud of its heritage and has a number of attractions to help celebrate it. Explore the city and discover the past through its authentic and restored architecture, local art exhibitions, tribute memorials, historic, monuments, museums, cemeteries, and natural wonders.

With a mouth-watering array of bakeries, cafes, clubs, restaurants, and takeaways to choose from, Inverell has a selection of food and beverages for everyone to enjoy. Test your tastebuds with some different cuisines, relax and unwind in our cosy coffee shops, or enjoy a night out at one of the authentic hotels.

The Inverell Visitor Information Centre has a booklet “A Heritage Walk in Inverell”, which is a great way to have a look around the centre of the town whilst learning about its heritage.

Grove Homestead at Pioneer Village

Copeton Dam is a fisherman’s paradise. The dam is three times the size of Sydney Harbour and is home to a diverse range of wildlife. The dam is flush with yellow belly and is one of the only waterways in NSW that has no closed season on the massive Murray Cod.

Make a trip to the Inverell Art Gallery, an essential stop on any visit to Inverell. Entry by donation.

Come and see the Pioneer Village for yourself, set your own pace, bring a picnic lunch and enjoy the tranquility of days gone by. Wander through the village and view the authentic local buildings housing some amazing collections and memorabilia.

Inverell is widely renowned as the Sapphire City and is most famous for the incredible deep blue variety of the gemstone. Fossickers can avail themselves of a number of free fossicking areas, or if you prefer, you can visit Billabong Blue Fossicking Park where the staff will provide you with all the equipment and tuition to give you a great chance of finding one of these beautiful stones.

Australia’s toughest one day cycle race, the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic is held annually in May. This gruelling 22km ride will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2020.

With over 200 members and 120 vehicle exhibits, ranging from vintage, veteran, classic and motorcycles, the National Transport Museum has become a valuable tourist attraction for the North West and New England area. Some of the vehicles on display include a 1906 Dayton (believed to be the only one worldwide), 1912 Renault, and various Holden and Fords including GT Falcons, 1926 Diana, 1929 Packard, and a wide range of Chev’s just to name a few.

Meanwhile, the Brighter Access Inverell Sapphire City Festival is hosted annually each October, and includes: Race Meeting, Art Competition ,Concerts & Tours, Open Gardens, Flower Show, Bowling Carnival, Lapidary Club Show, Festival Parade & Finale Evening, Fireworks, Poets Breakfast, Quilt Show, Street Parade and Crowning Ceremony for the Festival Queen, Princess & Junior Princess.

Tags: New England Armidale NSW New South Wales Glen Innes UNE University Uralla Inverell Walcha Tenterfield Guyra
Category: Features
Written: Sun 01 Dec 2019
Printed: December, 2019
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