The Country Charms of Armidale

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30 Day Travel Challenge – A Place That Makes Me Laugh

This is ostensibly part of the 30 Day Travel Challenge, but I kind of veered off topic and just talked about how amazing Armidale is.

The original challenge called for me to write about a place that makes me sad. The closest I’ve come to an emotionally charged location would probably be the DMZ in South Korea. While I can appreciate that visiting a place like Gallipoli or Auschwitz would certainly conjure up powerful sadness – I’ve not had the chance to experience those places just yet.

And there are certainly places in Australia associated with great feelings of sadness as well. Even my fifteen year old self could appreciate the powerful emotion attached to a place like the tastelessly named ‘Gin’s Leap‘ in northern NSW. This otherwise unremarkable cliff was named for the dozens of Aboriginal men, women, and children that were driven to leap off it by early settlers. But while that did make me sad, it’s not a destination I’m likely to ever visit again.

Belying its dark history, Gin's Leap looks like any other hill in country NSW. Photo courtesy of Narribri Tourism

So, I took a page from the book of my friend Kimberly and decided to choose a destination that makes me laugh. No place makes me laugh on its own, but I had lots of laughs in lots of places. Side splitting, tear inducing laughter has been had all over the place. I’ve chuckled in Portland, laughed my ass off in Sydney, giggled in Idaho, and chortled in China.

And the winner is…

But if I had to choose just one location, I’d probably opt for Armidale in northern NSW. Sure, it’s not a glamorous travel location, but three years of college and drunken silliness have provided me with countless funny memories. The time a friend tried to ninja fly kick me off of our verenda missing and knocking himself out on the concrete below; the masturbation challenge; dislocating my shoulder playing theater sports; and the time a girl managed to outsleaze the sleaziest guy I know. I don’t know that he’s ever fully recovered.

A much younger (and skinnier) Chris at a redneck ball in Armidale. 2003.

I was lucky enough to spend three years in Armidale studying theater, and I still enjoy getting back to the town whenever I can. Unlike most country towns, Armidale has a really multicultural and cosmopolitan vibe. Due to the presence of the University of New England, there’s no shortage of festivals; performances; and art shows to capture the eye and the imagination.

Why Visit Armidale?

Armidale is not without charms of its own though. As a part of the New England region – Armidale is one of the few places in Australia that sees all four seasons. It’s in autumn (fall) that the country town really excels. Its streets are transformed into broad avenues flanked by vivid red, yellow, and orange. It really is something else. March 31st of each year sees the annual Autumn Festival as well.

There's no shortage of beautiful flora to be seen in Armidale. This was taken in October 2010.

Hikers and nature enthusiasts will find Armidale to be something like heaven. There’s a whole series of amazing national parks to explore on foot or by helicopter. Secret pools to swim in as you watch grey kangaroos bound effortlessly through the thick gum scrub.

Drivers will find no shortage of scenic drives either. The road through Glen Innes to Grafton sees the terrain switch from traditional bush to a stunning inland rain-forest. A fishing enthusiast is going to find plenty of places to pursue trout – both in their natural habitat and at a series of trout farms that allow fishermen to cast in a few lines.

There’s a rich tapestry of Australian history to explore as well. Bushrangers and tough-as-nails Aussie farmers; rich landowners and the local Aboriginal tribes. There’s a bit of something for everybody. Saumarez homestead is definitely worth a look to see how the wealthy landowners lived, and nearby Uralla is the home of the infamous folk hero, Captain Thunderbolt.

Armidale might not be a place for the adventurous or the party people, but there’s a lot of charm in this very green corner of inland Australia. Whether you’re a hiker, fisherman, rock-hound, or history nut – there’s something for you in Armidale. And no, they’re not paying me to say that.

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