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Road trips are a great way of seeing a variety of places and getting a small sample of what each place has to offer. It’s one of my favourite things to do. We recently set off in our caravan on a road trip on the New England Highway in New South Wales from Tenterfield in the north (near the Queensland border), down to Port Stephens (north of Newcastle and Sydney).
We jammed a lot into our week cruising through the area known as the New England Tablelands and further south to the Upper Hunter and Hunter Valley regions. For most of the drive we were atop the Great Dividing Range in New South Wales High Country. This was an incredibly beautiful experience in the midst of winter when the landscape took on a different personae. Instead of green leafy trees and fields parched by the hot summer, we saw stark trees, littered autumn leaves, fields with long brown grass, fog and mist over the valleys and patches of greenery since much rain in the regions.
Our road trip from Northern New South Wales took us up the Dividing Range on the Bruxner Highway at Ballina through the green cauldron with large plantations of macadamia nuts, custard apples and dairy farms. We wound our way up through the densely forested ranges and plateaus dotted with small country townships. After a lunch stop at Casino, several hours later we arrived into the town of Tenterfield, our first stop on the New England Highway.
Tenterfield is located only 17 kilometres from the Queensland border and as far as country towns go it packs a punch. If you want adventure there is plenty of beautiful countryside, majestic national parks and massive granite outcrops to explore. History buffs and foodies will equally be entertained with streets lined with heritage-listed buildings and paddock-to-plate array of local produce on offer in the town’s pubs, cafes and restaurants.
My recommendations are to visit the historic Tenterfield Railway Museum, Centenary Cottage Museum, the very regal Stannum House and of course the famous Tenterfield Saddler (from Peter Allen’s “Tenterfield Saddler” hit song about his grandfather George Woolnough).
Our Tenterfield Accommodation was at Tenterfield Lodge and Caravan Park located only 1 kilometre out of town near the Tenterfield Railway Museum. The Tenterfield Lodge building is heritage listed and dates back to 1878 when it was the Temperance Hotel.
If you’re in town for a few days I would highly recommend venturing up to Boonoo Boonoo National Park and Bald Rock National Park, only a short drive of 33 kilometres. Bald Rock is the largest exposed granite rock in Australia at 1300m above sea level.
On day two of our road trip we headed 92 kilometres south along the New England Highway through more mountain ranges and high country scenery. We arrived into Glen Innes and were immediately struck by how lovely this little town is. It has a certain Celtic/Scottish influence that is evidenced in the monument called Australian Standing Stones and the annual Celtic Festival that is held in town.
The ‘Land of the Beardies’, as Glen Innes is referred to, goes back in time when the tracts of grazing land were named Beardy Plains, because the stockmen wore long beards. This history has been preserved and is on exhibit at the Land of the Beardies History House Museum and Research Centre in Glen Innes.
There are many fine specimens of historical buildings with a distinct art deco influence lining the main street of Glen Innes, one being the Town Hall that houses a good old fashioned cafe. The town is surrounded by impressive national parks and the district is known for its fishing, fossicking and bushwalking.
On the top of the range at a height of 1300m above sea level, sits the small town of Guyra, only 59 kilometres south of Glen Innes. Our first impression was that it is a bit of a “blink and you’ll miss” it type place and it has a reputation as being absolutely freezing in winter. But as we discovered Guyra was worthy of a stop to check out its Railway Station/Antique Machinery Museum and the Historical Museum.
The area is surrounded by two incredible birdwatching lagoons: Mother of Ducks Lagoon and Little Llangothlin Lagoon, both only a short driving distance from the town.
We were back on the road again, rather quickly, as Guyra had in fact lived up to its name of being a little chilly! 37 kilometres further along the New England Highway we reached the city of Armidale, our stop for the night. It’s claim to fame as being the highest elevated city in Australia, is probably overshadowed by the fact that it’s the gateway city to so many natural attractions nearby. These consist of the staggeringly beautiful gorges, waterfalls, forests, wildlife and scenery in the Oxley Wild Rivers, Cathedral Rock and New England National Parks.
Our Armidale Accommodation for our one night stay was at the Armidale Tourist Park only a short drive from the city centre and handy to Waterfall Way.
You only need to venture a few kilometres out of the city along Waterfall Way to explore some of these natural wonders. Although we’d previously explored Dorrigo National Park and some of its waterfalls at the eastern end of Waterfall Way, we were keen to see some of these parks. We set off early the following day to the nearby Metz Gorge and Bakers Creek Fall and were completely blown away by the incredible scenery.
Afterwards we drove back into the city centre for a stroll around, a stop at the Visitor Information Centre, soaked up some sunshine in Curtis Park and enjoyed some tasty Danish pastries and coffee at the Goldfish Bowl Cafe. However there is a very good museum called the Armidale Folk Museum and the New England Regional Art Museum that are worth a look.
On our drive out of town we decided to check out another Armidale tourist attraction called Saumarez Homestead located adjacent to the airport. A friendly local recommended it to us and we were so glad she did. Although it involved a drive on a narrow gravel road through farmland, we reached the homestead and farm only to discover it was closed to tourists. But we did manage to have a wander around the exterior of the stately homestead, glorious gardens and outbuildings.
Australia’s Country Musical Capital and the place of my husband’s birth was a complete change in scenery compared to the New England Tablelands that we had just driven through. We descended down the rugged Moonbi Range with breathtaking scenery unfolding before our eyes as we saw vast plains of lush green farmland. I think we were expecting something a little more “Hicksville”, but soon discovered that Tamworth was a modern thriving city.
One of the main tourist attractions in Tamworth, the guitar-shaped Australian Country Music Hall of Fame was closed due to Covid-19 pandemic. However we were able to check out the Australian Country Music Roll of Renown plaques outside the centre. We visited the Big Golden Guitar Complex housing the huge guitar, the Gallery of Stars Wax Museum, Roll of Honour and Guitar Museum.
Walking around the streets and parks of Tamworth there are constant reminders that this place is the country music capital of Australia. The biggest event on Tamworth’s calendar is the annual Country Music Festival that takes place in January, incorporating the Australia Day public holiday, and attracts over 300,000 music lovers with more than 700 performers playing live at venues all over town.
If you’re in Tamworth for a few days it is also worthwhile checking out some of the other small towns and attractions in the region, such as: silo art in Barraba; historic main street in Manilla; the Woollen Mill in Nundle; hike to Hanging Rock; take in spectacular views from Moonbi Lookout; fun on the water in the aquatic playground of Lake Keepit and Chaffey Dam; go biking at the Mountain Bike Park, 10 minutes drive from Tamworth; and visit the Australian Equine and Livestock Events Centre.
Our choice of accommodation in Tamworth was at the Austin Tourist Park located on the New England Highway on the Peel River and only a short driving distance into the city centre.
An absolute must do in Tamworth is to walk or drive up to the Oxley Scenic Lookout for sunset views over the city and Peel River Valley.
After we left Tamworth we drove into the region known as the Upper Hunter and were once again in the Great Dividing Range. There was mist on the horizon making visibility a little tricky and when we entered the town of Murrurundi the town was shrouded in low clouds and mist.
We found Murrurundi to be a picturesque town surrounded by greenery with its location on the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range. This artisan town boasts many art galleries, heritage listed buildings such as Dooley’s Store and the White Hart Hotel, antique shops and cafes brimming with home cooked goodies.
The old suspension, ‘swinging’ bridge, built before World War I, is a great photo opportunity, as is the unique rock formation of the Eye of the Needle.
If time has permitted we would have liked to visit Burning Mountain, located halfway between Murrurundi and Scone. This rare phenomenon – a coal seam, buried 30 metres underground, has been burning for at least 5,500 years, but some say over 15,000 years. The best way to discover this unusual nature reserve is along an accessible 4km return track that has information panels and some steep sections.
We kept driving in a southerly direction in the Upper Hunter region admiring the pretty scenery along the way. It was only a short driving distance of 41 kilometres to our next stop at Scone.
The town of Scone is described as ‘The Horse Capital of Australia’ and claims to be the second-largest horse breeding area in the world, after Kentucky in the United States. This is evidenced by the large number of thoroughbred horse breeding properties surrounding the town and a bronze sculpture, ‘Scone Mare and Foal’ by Gabriel Sterk, prominently situated beside the highway in Elizabeth Park.
The name Scone comes from Scotland where it was the home of the Scottish kings and the site of their coronation. You can grab a copy of a guide to the town titled Go Back in Time – Scone, from the Visitor Information Centre. It lists a total of 36 places of interest in Scone, including Airlie House, the Post Office, the old Court House, Boorer’s Mill, Campbell’s Corner, the old Police Station and Lockup, Australian Stock Horse Society Museum and the Railway Station.
After a short stop in Scone we travelled a distance of 74 kilometres to the Hunter Valley town of Singleton via Muswellbrook, through vast coal mine clad landscapes and the coal-fired power stations of Liddell and Bayswater. The contrast, after driving through the lush green farmlands of the Upper Hunter, was very dramatic. In fact when I first glimpsed the gigantic Bayswater coal station stackers emitting toxic steam into the atmosphere I was aghast.
Singleton, located on the Hunter River in the heart of the Hunter Valley, is a great place to base yourself to explore the wine and food lovers Hunter Valley wine country. We set up our caravan in the historic Singleton Showgrounds for a few days, spent some time with my husband’s cousin and took a drive out into wine country visiting many wineries, a cheese factory, a gin distillery and absorbed the breathtaking views.
The Hunter Valley is home to more than 120 wineries, gourmet restaurants, spa retreats and concerts in the vineyards. There are a few different ways to explore it, whether it be by bike, horse and carriage, in a hot air balloon, self-drive or on an organised wine tour.
The famous Hunter Valley Gardens are a fabulous way to idle away a few hours with 8 kilometres of walking paths through 14 hectares of exquisite gardens. These multi award winning gardens comprise of different garden designs from all around the world, including a Rose Garden, Formal Garden, Indian Garden, Oriental Garden, Chinese Garden, Italian Grotto and the ‘larger-than-life’ nursery rhyme themed garden – Storybook Garden.
This being our second visit to the Hunter Valley, we found it to be even more beautiful the second time around. Although some of the grapevines were stripped of foliage, there were some that donned their autumn colours with yellow and orange leaves. The surrounding countryside of rolling hills was lush, green and very pretty.
We set off down the aptly named Hermitage Road and dropped into a couple of wineries where we partook in wine tastings. Then we circled around to Wine Country Drive that took us into the village of Pokolbin, where we enjoyed lunch and then more visits to some wineries in the area. On our return trip back to Singleton we drove through the village of Broke, where there are a few more wineries and extensive farmland.
We were sad to leave the Hunter Valley, but after hearing about a lovely spot at Port Stephens called Fingal Bay, we decided we’d like to head for the coast again. Although we visited Port Stephens around 8 years ago, we were only too happy to return and see more of this stunning part of the Hunter Region just north of Newcastle.
We drove to the city of Maitland, before we left the New England Highway to head north towards Port Stephens. With 26 beautiful beaches, stunning sand dunes, coastal walks, national parks, pristine waters and a haven for boaties and sailors, this place has absolutely everything.
Our choice of accommodation was at the Fingal Bay Holiday Park, the most easterly point of Port Stephens, boasting a glorious white sand beach tucked under Fingal Head. The circular shaped bay is perfect for swimming, fishing, surfing, whale watching and beach walking. Fingal Bay beach understandably came in as number 12 in Tourism Australia’s top 20 beaches of 2020.
The infamous walk across “the spit” to view the burnt out ruins of the outer lighthouse residence is a must do, but at low tide only. Also a stroll to Barry Park Lookout at the southern end of the beach is a great vantage point to whale watch in season. The town has a great Surf Club adjacent to the beach with its own cafe for your morning coffee fix.
There are loads of local attractions in Port Stephens and far too many to mention, however here is a list of some of the things to do and see:
Our New England Highway road trip was thoroughly enjoyable despite the fact we were travelling in the winter month of June. We found the scenery along the way to be staggeringly beautiful and the Scottish influence with the names of the towns and places along the way to be extremely charming and unique. If you have a week or two to spare I would highly recommend this road trip and remember we need to support Australian regional tourism so get out there and do your bit!
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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