Words: Phil Suriano
Photos: Courtesy New England High Country
Over the past year, COVID lockdowns have restricted the way we travel and way we interact, depriving us of the simple things we often take for granted. Things like catching up with mates or being able to jump in the car and go for a long drive.
Now, the future is looking up. Travel restrictions are easing, and with it, new freedoms are presenting new opportunities to go driving again, especially for those of us in a car club. But where to go?
In NSW, there are plenty of options, but in my opinion, you can’t go past New England High Country. Rich in history, cultural attractions, foodie experiences to satisfy all tastes and appetites, natural beauty and rural tranquility, the New England region is one of the state’s gems.
New England High Country (NEHC) straddles the Great Dividing Range in Northern NSW, between the NSW north coast and the state’s central west, stretching up to the Queensland border and encapsulating the townships of Walcha, Uralla, Armidale, Guyra, Glen Innes, Inverell, and Tenterfield.
With its high altitudes, the area is synonymous with four spectacular seasons and an ever-changing landscape. The natural and diverse beauty of the landscape is a sight to behold, so no matter which route you take, road touring in NEHC will not disappoint.
Find us on Four Wheels
The six regional councils that make up the NEHC region have joined forces with Hema maps to produce the ‘New England High Country – Adventure Drive Map’ - an initiative specifically aimed at bringing car clubs to NEHC.
Presenting nine of the best touring routes in the region, along with beautiful photography and information on the attractions on each route, the detailed map also features colour coding for each route, with all the essentials, like fuel outlets, caravan and camping spots, rest areas and visitor centres identified, too.
Just Right Routes
Some of the nine featured routes on the map may be familiar, but others will be new, even to NSW residents.
Comprising a mix of highway, arterial and sub-arterial roads, the routes vary in length, complexity and average speed, so each has their own appeal. With most of the featured routes passing through a National Park, there are all manner of natural attractions on offer, including some truly stunning views. There’s an abundance of colonial and indigenous history in the region, too.
Being aimed at car clubs and understanding the constraints that apply to some classic cars, all nine routes are made up of sealed roads and a fuel outlet is never too far away.
Nine to Explore
The following is a snapshot of some of my favourite routes that will surely serve as inspiration to car clubs in NSW and beyond for future club runs. For the full nine routes, you’ll have to pick up a copy of the New England High Country – Adventure Drive Map. Contact any NEHC visitor centre to request a copy for your club.
Offering wide-open vistas of rolling hills and impossibly green farmlands, Thunderbolts Way begins in the hinterland near Barrington (around 130km north of Newcastle), climbing the Great Dividing Range and passing through the delightful towns of Walcha and Uralla before continuing to Inverell.
Attractions include Walcha’s Open Air Gallery, the Pioneer Cottage Museum and the awe-inspiring Apsley Falls to the east of Walcha. Further along, Uralla’s cafes and pubs offer country charm at its finest, with the Aboriginal cave painting site at Mount Yarrowyck Nature Reserve and historical gems in Inverell.
One of the most amazing roads in the state, if not the entire country, it’s better to be a passenger on this route, as there’s so much beautiful scenery to see, including waterfalls – lots of them!
Crossing the Great Dividing Range on a mountain pass with hairpin bends and long, steep hills, this route’s multiple lookouts offer incredible views over the gorges to the coastal flats beyond.
At the end of Waterfall Way, Armidale is the perfect spot to rest, resupply and rejuvenate before setting out to explore more, or just head back to the coast on the same route – it really is that good.
It may be a little more obscure, but the Bruxner Highway is no less appealing. This east-west link in the north of the New England High Country takes you from the Northern Rivers coast, through Lismore and Casino, to Tenterfield - just a short hop from the Queensland border.
The historic township of Tenterfield and surrounding villages have lots to offer, including the Tenterfield Saddler, made famous by Aussie entertainment legend, Peter Allen.
For adventurers, the impressive views from Bald Rock National Park (just north of Tenterfield) are a teaser for other natural attractions in the area.
Tourist Drive 11
A short 114km journey of richly contrasting landscapes steeped in the history of the old mining boom, Tourist Drive 11 heads north out of Glen Innes, passing through the villages of Emmaville and Deepwater.
The Emmaville Mining Museum houses over 4,000 gem and mineral specimens, while at Deepwater, you can stop in at the Deepwater Brewery or pull up alongside the river, where you may spot a resident platypus.
This loop route returns south to Glen Innes via the New England Highway, with the opportunity to explore the Land of the Beardies History House Museum along the way, or gather at the Australian Standing Stones.
Ideal for an afternoon or morning drive, this 90km journey from Guyra to Inverell takes in the townships of Tingha and Gilgai, and is filled with interesting sights along the way, including charming farmland and entwined native bushland.
In Tingha, the Wing Hing Long and Company store is now a museum, highlighting the contribution made by Chinese immigrants to rural NSW.
Ten kilometres from Tingha, Green Valley Farm is another popular attraction – if you fancy an adventure slightly off the beaten track along the New Valley Road. The area also has many significant Aboriginal sites, most notably the Tingha Stone Woman.
Find out More
These highlights only scrape the surface of what there is to see, experience and enjoy in NEHC. To find out more, go to: newenglandhighcountry.com.au.
You can also reach out to NEHC visitor information centres via the following numbers:
Armidale Visitor Information Centre – (02) 6770 3888
Glen Innes Visitor Information Centre – (02) 6730 2400
Inverell Visitor Information Centre – (02) 6728 8161
Tenterfield Visitor Information Centre – (02) 6736 1082
Uralla Visitor Information Centre – (02) 6778 6420
Walcha Visitor Information Centre – (02) 6774 2460
To request a paper copy of the Hema New England High Country – Adventure Drive Map (while stocks last), contact any of the aforementioned visitor centres.
In the past decade, the communities of New England High Country have shown their resilience in the face of one crisis after another, with crippling drought, devastating bushfires and more recently, a reduction in visitation with COVID lockdowns interstate and internationally. Local tourism is vital for regions in recovery, so consider this magnificent place in our own backyard when planning your next club drive.
Whether it’s a day trip, weekender or something longer, not only will you be blowing the cobwebs out of the car (and yourself!), you’ll bring vital revenue to the region, too.