Yellow poplars rustle in the wind as red leaves whip across the bitumen that carves through the New England countryside. Craft beer breweries and trendy cafes lure visitors to quiet towns surrounded by blonde fields. Monuments and museums teach curious travellers about Australia’s proud bush ranger and Celtic history.
You won’t need to leave the blacktop on a visit to New England High Country, so this destination is perfect for all van types. But there’ll be plenty of open road highway driving across these sweeping high plains, so ensure your van is equipped with an emergency stability control system for instances in which you may have to break quickly at high speed. AL-KO’s Electronic Stability Control (ESC) will help keep you out of trouble.
From autumnal colours to country hospitality, there are many reasons to visit the New England region of New South Wales this autumn. Here are our top eight:
1. COUNTRY FOOD
It may be home to Australia’s biggest country music festival, but there is more to Tamworth than Akubras and Blundstone boots. The hub of the New England has a growing food scene and one of the best places to sample the local produce is at The Pig and Tinder Box. Located in the heart of the city, this boutique pub is housed in a heritage-listed former bank building, adding to its cool vibe. On the menu, you can expect to find delicious bar food such as hickory smoked Piallamore brisket, with a sweet and sticky bourbon and Coke barbecue sauce, as well as pork belly san choi bow. Not far down the road you’ll also find Ruby’s Cafe and Gift Store, which is a great spot to head for breakfast. Ruby’s modern menu features smoothie bowls, pastries and fresh juice. There’s a back garden and play area for travellers with children, too.
2. AUSSIE TUNES
It would be amiss to visit Tamworth without learning a little about our country music culture, and the best place to get a snapshot of it all is at The Big Golden Guitar Tourist Centre (you won’t miss the massive replica guitar on your way into the city). Check out the more than 20 guitars autographed by the industry’s biggest performers, before moving on to the quirky Gallery of Stars Wax Museum. It’s a little drab but has country charm, and you’re sure to learn a lot about country music and artists including Slim Dusty, Lee Kernaghan and Troy Cassar-Daley.
3. THE GENTLEMAN BUSHRANGER
In the 1860s, bushranger Fred Ward ruled the New England highways. Known as Captain Thunderbolt, he would hold up mail coaches and steal horses. He evaded police for six years, until they eventually shot him dead in 1870. But he hasn’t been forgotten, at least not in the tiny town of Uralla. Australian history buffs can visit his gravesite at Uralla Pioneer Cemetery, along with a statue of him and museum exhibition dedicated to telling his story. Sift through countless Thunderbolt memorabilia at McCrossin’s Mill Museum, in a restored 19th Century flour mill a short stroll from Uralla’s main street.
4. CRAFT BEER
While you’re in Uralla, be sure to call into New England Brewing Co., where you’ll find uniquely flavoured pale, brown and golden ales. Sample a seasonal release, too, with subtle ingredients such as lemon myrtle and strawberry gum frequently mixed into batches of craft beer. As you approach the warehouse/bar you’ll be able to smell the smoky aromas emanating from old-fashioned wooden vats of beer inside. If you’re not driving or plan to hang around for a while, grab a tasting paddle from the Brewery Bar (open Thurs-Sat) and pair it with a pizza made from local ingredients (available Saturdays).
5. AUTUMN COLOURS
As you continue out of Uralla, take a 10-minute detour south-east to Gostwyck Chapel. You don’t have to be Christian to appreciate the beauty of this brick church. It’s located on a private wool station but the owners are said to be fine with tourists stopping by to take that quintessential autumn holiday snap. Officially known as All Saints Anglican Church, Virginia creeper climbs the walls, with leaves changing from yellow to orange and red – making for the perfect Instagram shot.
6. CHARMING CHURCHES
If you love photographing churches or learning about Australia’s religious past and present, then allow plenty of time to explore Armidale. The city has churches, chapels and cathedrals on seemingly every street, and you can take them all in on a heritage bus tour or, at your own pace, on a self-guided walking tour. If you only have time to see a couple, St Peter’s Cathedral (Anglican) is charming with its bells, while Saints Mary and Joseph Cathedral (Catholic) are also beautiful. When it’s time to rest your feet, throw down a picnic rug in pretty Central Park.
7. ARMIDALE ART
With six gallery spaces, featuring classic works by artists such as Arthur Streeton, art lovers should free up an afternoon to spend at New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM), in Armidale. The museum is one of the region’s biggest drawcards and a good spot to regroup and rejuvenate after a long day of travel. Home to an impressive 5000 artworks, there is something to suit every traveller’s tastes, from the renowned Howard Hinton Collection to contemporary exhibitions by local artists. The storeroom tours are a fabulous way to learn more about NERAM’s collection, while, downstairs, the Museum of Printing (open by appointment) has a fascinating display of 1900s typewriters, as well as steel and wood type.
8. CELTIC TIES
If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about your Celtic ancestors, Glen Innes is a good place to start. Every autumn (May 4-7, 2017), travellers descend on the town to celebrate their roots at the Australian Celtic Festival. The festivities include Highland dancing, pipe music, workshops and jousting. The town’s other big claim to fame is the Australian Standing Stones, inspired by the Ring of Brodgar, in Scotland’s Orkneys. The circle of 40 tall granite monoliths was created in honour of our Celtic pioneers and, since opening in 1992, has become a national gathering place for clans. The on-site cafe, Crofters Cottage, has also been designed to replicate a Taigh Dubh (a traditional house in the Scottish Highlands), and it’s a good spot to enjoy lunch.