10 Reasons to Visit Australia’s New England
Most Australian travel itineraries stick pretty close to the coast with the exception of Sydney or Canberra. Booking a few nights at a hotel in Canberra may put you further away but it will save you some money. Some may go to the Nullarbor Plain crossing with the potential visit to Uluru or the Outback. People generally don’t venture too far away from the ocean when in Australia.
It’s a real shame because the predominantly rural NSW interior is not without its considerable charms. Sure, you won’t find hostels every five hundred meters or a single night club worth a damn, but there’s no reason why the New England and North West regions of New South Wales don’t warrant a brief visit.
Having grown up from 1996 until 2006 in the area, I feel like it’s criminally undervalued. There are hidden gems scattered all across a region whose primary industries certainly don’t include tourism. But at only eight hours by train (or 5-6 by car) from Sydney and 4-6 hours drive from Brisbane, it’s not a huge sacrifice to see a bit of Australia that most people aren’t even aware exists.
Not convinced? Here, let me give you a few reasons…
#10 – The Rail Experience
Call me old-fashioned, but I’m an unabashed sucker for a good train journey. I don’t mean a crowded, urine-reeking train in Sydney’s built up metro, either. There’s something wonderfully relaxing about watching the world roll by as your train speeds through idyllic Australian farmland, quaint country towns, and rugged mountain terrain as you leaf through a book or simply listen to a little music.
Rail journeys are, in my mind, the best way to see a region. Buses are too loud, driving takes too much focus, and planes just move too damned fast.
The near eight-hour trek from Sydney to Armidale in the heart of the New England takes you through the mining country around Singleton, through the industrial steel city of Newcastle, up into beautiful green mountain country, across mile after mile of farming land, and finally into probably the most beautiful town in rural NSW.
While rail is most certainly a dying mode of transportation out of the cities, I’ll never get tired of the relaxing ride and the slightly overpriced train fare as we rattle through Australia as it exists outside of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Brisbane. It’s beautiful country.
#9 – Celtic Festival, Glen Innes
My hometown of Glen Innes is renowned for three festivals: the Celtic Festival, Minerama, and the Land of the Beardies Festival. I’ve attended just one of the three (Minerama), but I’m excited to finally be losing my Celtic Festival virginity this year.
With names like Llangothlin, Glen Innes, Tamworth, and Ben Lomond in the surrounding region – it’s easy to fathom who the area’s primary settlers were. And while you’re a long way from Scotland and Ireland, you’ll be surprised just how European the town of 6000 or so feels. With its rolling green hills and cool winters, it’s easy to forget you’re in often drought-ridden territory.
Each year the town’s humble Standing Stones monument (which offers a beautiful view of the mist shrouded town year round) is transformed into a medieval pageant of Highland games, parades, bagpipe performances, combat demonstrations, craft stores, and other tributes to the culture from which the region arose. People travel from all around the world to attend the festival, which each year focuses on a particular culture of Celtic/Gaelic history. 2013 will see Scotland take center stage. Where else in Australia can you watch some caber tossing, throw back some haggis, and see the sun set over a stone-henge like monument?
The festival next takes place from May 29th to May 2nd in 2015.
#8 – Aboriginal & Colonial History
The history of the New England/North West region of NSW is far more than just farmers battling the elements. There were bloody conflicts and displays of genocide committed against the local aboriginal population as well as the region’s notorious bushranger stories as well.
For those wishing to gain a better understanding of Australia’s original inhabitants, much of Aboriginal culture can still be explored in the region. Whether these be former tribal lands or darker monuments such as the infamous ‘Gin’s Leap’ near Tenterfield, there is an abundance of both ancient and modern aboriginal culture to be seen. Towns such as Moree and Tingha, in particular, boast large modern day aboriginal populations. Armidale also boasts an impressive collection of aboriginal artifacts at the Aboriginal Culture Centre and Keeping Place.
If you’re interested in the swashbuckling adventures of famed bushrangers such as Captain Thunderbolt, Mad Dog Morgan, or the Wild Colonial Boy – you’ll find a wealth of tall tales and genuine truths scattered across the region. Uralla, in particular, was a famed haunt of Thunderbolt and the town still does brisk business on his legacy. There are plenty of Captain Thunderbolt attractions to be found in the town included museums and the bushrangers final resting place.
Most towns of any real substance will have at least one museum dedicated to its local history. Get a feel for just how rough and tumble life west of the Great Dividing Range was.
#7 – Moree Mineral Springs
There’s no need to travel all the way to Europe or the volcanic Pacific islands to soak in mineral water and unwind. Moree may seem a dusty and unremarkable place at first glance, but its artesian mineral baths are a big draw in the region and once you dip your toes into the piping hot water – you’ll understand why.
Bringing ancient waters up from the Great Artesian Basin (almost a kilometre below), the mineral springs are renowned for their rejuvenating affects. Some even go so far as to dub them the ‘fountain of youth’. Far fetched cries of magical powers aside, you won’t find a similar experience anywhere else in Australia. It’s a real treat.
#6 – Sapphire Fossicking in (and around) Inverell
While the majority of the region’s business these days is in the form of agriculture, there was a time where the entire New England region was caught with gold and gemstone fever. People came from all over the country to try their luck panning for gold, sapphires, or other precious minerals in the rivers of the area.
Inverell is named the Sapphire City for its rich sapphire culture, but there’s no shortage of fossicking experiences on offer in neighbouring towns.
Grab a pan, head out to one of the many largely dry rivers in the region, and see if you can’t find a small souvenir to take back to your family. Don’t fancy standing out in the sun looking? Festivals such as Minerama in Glen Innes attract sellers and jewellers from all over Australia. There’s no shortage of pretty presents to be found.
#5 – Autumn in Armidale
It’s no secret that Armidale is one of my favorite cities in Australia. It might not boast a stellar night life or killer beaches, but it’s got a real beauty to it that you’ll struggle to find anywhere else. Experiencing a full four seasons including a truly magnificent autumn in which the leaves change to brilliant reds and oranges, Armidale is as close to a North American New England town as you get.
The annual Autumn Festival, held each March, is a celebration of the city’s natural beauty. Colourful parades, charity events, food, and markets all turn the town into a portrait of human creativity against the beauty that only Mother Nature could summon.
Armidale’s role as a university city also means that it has a distinctly younger feel that other nearby towns. Foreign film, art and comedy festivals, a burgeoning local theatre scene, and a large group of foreign students give the student a far more cosmopolitan feel than you might expect to find so far from the coast.
Also worth a mention are two spots that ought to excite beer fanciers: one in Armidale and one in neighbouring Uralla.
The new Welder’s Dog bar is a true Sydney hipster vibe bar serving quality Aussie and international microbrews, while Uralla’s New England Brewing Company is producing some great local beers that you can taste at pubs all over the region. You can even take a tour of the facilities.
Armidale is also surrounded by a number of beautiful natural reserves and some stunning gorge country. But I’ll comment on that later…
#4 – Green Valley Farm, Tingha
I dubbed it Australia’s strangest theme park after visiting earlier this year, and my fondness for the quirky Green Valley Farm outside of dusty Tingha has in no way been diminished. With rides pieced together from scrap metal and a great sense of Aussie pride, the park is a truly unique stop on any itinerary.
I wrote at length (and with lots of photos) about the park before, so I’ll direct you there rather than describe it all again here. Suffice to say, it’s an experience.
#3 – National Parks and Fishing
While there’s no shortage of farmland in the region, that isn’t to say there aren’t some beautiful national parks to be explored. Hikers, fishing enthusiasts, and nature lovers are in for a real treat as they traverse a land of dense eucalyptus forest, subtropical rainforest, and dizzying gorge country populated with possums, kangaroos, echidnas, and other iconic Australian wildlife.
Washpool National Park, near Tenterfield, was recently voted one of Australia’s top five national parks by the Sydney Morning Herald. More than 140 species of bird call the gorge country home, and rarer Australian animals like pottaroos and quolls can even be spotted here.
Other worthwhile national parks in the New England include New England National Park, Guy Fawkes River National Park, Torrington State Recreational Park, and the Nimboida National Park.
Fishermen will find no shortage of places to cast their lines, either. Copeton Dam near Inverell and Keepit Dam near Gunnedah offer perfect playgrounds for both fishing enthusiasts and water sports lovers, and there’s also an abundance of commercial trout farms in the region for those who want to boost their chances of a catch.
If you’re a fishing newbie like me, I’d recommend checking out Total Fishing Tackle and getting yourself some fishing gear.
#2 – Experience Country Life
You’re not going to find a lot of cinemas, nightclubs, or trendy shopping spots here (although Armidale and Tamworth do boast a few of each) – but you will find a wonderfully quaint window into rural Australian life.
Farm stays such as those offered by Silent Grove Farmstay (near my true home of Ben Lomond) offer you a chance to live like a local, do a little fishing or yabbying (freshwater lobster), and a bit of 4WDing for much cheaper than you’ll find at bed and breakfasts closer to the coast.
Most towns still maintain a historic ‘main street’ lined with beautiful architecture and faded signs promising 2 cent matinees or authentic wool sweaters. Glen Innes, in particular, has a wonderfully old-school feel to its main street.
Tea houses, cafes, craft shops, and boutiques are king all through the New England. You may be hard-pressed to find a name brand, but shoppers are bound to fall in love with the veritable mountain of boutiques in most towns. Cafes, coffee shops, and the like are plentiful and offer a nice alternative to McDonalds or service station pies. You won’t find many places with the notorious Sydney prices, either.
#1 – Tamworth Country Music Festival
You really can’t go past the Tamworth Country Music Festival as a cause to venture inland. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the steel guitar and banjo, there’s something about a town gripped by festival fever that is just too infectious.
Each year (next year it’s January 18-27), the always too hot for comfort city is overcome by country music fanatics. Hotels book out and couches quickly fill up as people travel from all over Australia and the world to see the best of Australian country music (and a little international flair too).
It’s not all gigs, though. Talent competitions, rodeos, line dancing, parades, and the popular Fitzroy Street Stalls offer a variety of ways to while away the warm days before finding a pub and listening to some great country music. It’s a festival I’ve not yet had the pleasure to experience, but would someday love to cover.
Australia’s country music scene is a different beast to the more well known American style. Get out to see some real Aussie musicians and bush poets do their stuff. Incidentally, bush poetry has its own day of days in Tenterfield each year in the form of the Oracles of the Bush festival.
As you can see, there’s plenty to see and do in the often overlooked and criminally underrated New England region of New South Wales. Festivals, Australian heritage, history, and natural wonders are all in abundant supply – it’s just a shame more people aren’t aware of it.
Interested in exploring the New England? See below for tourism pages for the region’s major cities and towns. Don’t say I don’t ever do anything for you.
- Armidale – The New England’s cultural heart.
- Bingara – A quaint town nestled on the banks of the Gwydir River.
- Emmaville – Quiet former mining town.
- Glen Innes – Australia’s Celtic Capital.
- Guyra – Home of the delicious Lamb & Potato Festival.
- Inverell – The Sapphire City.
- Moree – Home of the Artesian Mineral Spa.
- Quirindi & Werris Creek – Heart of the Liverpool Plains region.
- Tamworth – Australia’s country music capital.
- Tenterfield – Bush poetry and the ‘birthplace of Australian nationalism’.
- Tingha – Home of Green Valley Farm and various aboriginal sites.
- Warialda – Beautiful mining and nature spot.
Have you paid a visit to Australia’s New England? What are your favourite spots?
If you have any questions at all about Australia’s New England, don’t hesitate to post it below.
I’m always checking my comments and will reply as soon as possible.