Tamworth is famous for country music but, says Emily Herbert, it’s not just Golden Guitars and Slim Dusty statues that make this New England regional city sing.
Published in Qantas Link Magazine, Australia
We just have to say it: country music diehard or not, every Australian should experience the Tamworth Country Music Festival once in their lives and this year it’s on January 20 to 29 (see page 36). Regardless of when you visit Tamworth, gateway to NSW’s north-west, you’ll nd aruralhubwithacosmopolitanedge evident in its polished eateries, pretty boutiques and excellent sporting and entertainment facilities.
Tree-lined Peel Street is the main urban artery, a thriving thoroughfare lined with outdoor cafés and shops. Follow your nose to The Other Shop, where a vanilla-caramel candle perpetually burns. Here you’ll find high-end Australian fashion labels and cool seasonal one-offs. Once you’ve donned your Camilla caftan, float across the street to French Style for Bensimon sneakers and French espadrilles, before heading to Tarnished Interiors for new and vintage homewares and furniture.
Nearby, the city’s cutting-edge playgrounds are a drawcard for children of all ages. The Tamworth Regional Playground, a $2.2 million development in Bicentennial Park, includes the nine- metre-high Skywalk, a flying fox and bike track. While the kids play, grown- ups can pick up coffee and brownies from the on-site Hopscotch Restaurant & Bar.
For less bustle and more view, head up the hill to the Tamworth Marsupial Park, where close encounters with kangaroos, emus and cockatoos await. If the kids haven’t had enough of playgrounds, there’s another one right here; the locally designed Adventure Playground – adding weight to Tamworth’s claim to the title of “playground capital of NSW”.
Alternatively, you might want to hit the nature trails nearby. The Kamilaroi Track will take you on a ramble to Flagstaff Mountain and further on to the Oxley Lookout for a panoramic view of the city.
If you’re not in Tamworth during festival time, get your country music fix at The Big Golden Guitar Tourist Centre, which has wax figures of Chad Morgan, Jean Stafford, JohnnyChester and the like. The Australian Country Music Hall of Fame is run by volunteers and is bursting with memorabilia, from spangled stage costumes to the well-strummed guitars of Australia’s country music greats.
To get the most out of this region, having a car is a must. Forty minutes out of town is the picturesque village of Nundle, at the foot of the Great Dividing Range. Some 600 metres above sea level, it’s a refuge in summer from the sometimes brutal heat of Tamworth and was originally a goldmining encampment in the late 19th century. Its heritage endures in antiques shops and the Nundle Woollen Mill, where fleece is spun on vintage machinery and the resulting yarn is for sale in the mill shop.
Make like a fossicker and hire a kit and a mud map from the Mount Misery Gold Mine Cafe then pan for the yellow stuff in the nearest creek – good luck!
For lunch, grab picnic supplies from the Friendly Grocer on Jenkins Street and head to Hanging Rock Lookout for views of the Nundle Valley. Or dine on hearty pub grub (the herb-and-parmesan-crusted schnitzel is our pick) in the leafy beer garden at The Peel Inn .
An hour’s drive from Tamworth, up the New England Highway, is the outstanding Eastview Estate. Drop in for an afternoon tasting at the estate’s retro Speakeasy saloon and sip your way through an extensive list of homemade gins, vodkas and craft beers. Stephen Dobson, the co-owner of this distillery/ brewery/restaurant, is happy to share stories about his previous life as a Hollywood cinematographer-director.
Drive about 40 minutes north-west of Tamworth on the Oxley Highway through undulating farmland to Lake Keepit State Park. At three-quarters the size of Sydney Harbour, this shimmering expanse of water is a magnet for locals trying to escape the summer heat. And this is the season to take to the mega dam, which is at unprecedented levels after record rainfall last year. If you have the time, camp or hire a cabin here and spend a couple of days canoeing and fishing for yellowbelly and Murray cod. The excellent facilities include barbecues, a skate bowl, a water park and tennis courts. It’s hard to beat water skiing in the golden last hours of the day as cockatoos take to the sky in a white plume above you.