It's not quite the Wild West, but Tamworth sits in prime farming country and the town is not so much a regional centre as a holy land – a pilgrimage destination for many music-loving Australians. The religion is country music, the god Slim Dusty, and the holy grail is the world's biggest golden guitar.
Armidale's heritage buildings, gardens and moss-covered churches look like the stage set for a period drama. This old-world scenery coupled with spectacular autumn foliage (March to May) plays a big part in attracting people to this regional centre, which sits at an elevation of 980m and is surrounded by some of Australia's best grazing country.
Tenterfield & Around
Tenterfield is the hub of a region boasting a smattering of villages and 10 national parks. In the town itself are dozens of charming heritage buildings, including the train station from 1886 (no longer in service, but home to a museum). The town is the birthplace of entertainer Peter Allen (the 'Boy from Oz').
It might not be that aesthetically fabulous but its sapphires are. Pick up a fossicking map at the visitor centre and sample olive oil at Olives of Beaulieu. An early-20th-century manor house, Blair Athol Estate B&B has stunning grounds peppered with a rich mix of flora from Himalayan cedars to boabs.
Businesses with names such as Glen This and Wee That hint at the Scottish heritage in Glen Innes (population 5173). The visitor centre is on the New England Hwy and there are standing stones off the Gwydir Hwy. Land of the Beardies History House fills an old hospital with eclectic artefacts. If you fancy saddling up, take a pub crawl on horseback.
Dramatic, forested and wild, Gibraltar Range and Washpool National Park lie south and north of the Gwydir Hwy, about 80km east of Glen Innes on the road to Grafton. There are two camping areas; Mulligans is near Little Dandahra Creek, which is ideal for swimming. Of the many walks, the 100km World Heritage Walk is a standout.
This small town straddling the Gwydir River is horse-riding country; try it at Gwydir River Trail Rides. For fair-dinkum Aussieness, complete the five-day Jackeroo/Jillaroo Adventure ($670). Fossickers Way Motel is one of the few hotels on the main road between Tamworth and Warialda.
This charming town (population 597) is recommended for its tranquil perch between the Great Dividing Range and Peel River. There's a mining museum, some cute little old wares shops and an intriguing Woollen Mill, one of only two in the country. Peel Inn is an all-round great pub. Meals include delicious local trout. The visitor centre is on Jenkins St.
Settled in the 1830s, Barraba, with its old wide streets and elegant awnings, was put on the map during the gold-feverish late 1800s. Travel 3km north, turn right onto Woodsreef Rd and you'll come to Ironbark Goldfield and Woodsreef Reserve, where you too can use a shovel, pick and pan. Millie's Park Vineyard, also north of town, has wines, a barbecue and a nature walk.