For years, the NSW Tamworth region has been famous for country music and Golden Guitars, each January the region swells with music fans for the Tamworth Country Music Festival, but if you want to experience this rural hub outside the festival, it’s just as impressive.
“The Tamworth region is a popular destination for caravanners, and for good reason,” says Eleanor Pengilley at Tamworth Regional Council.
“It’s the home of a great variety of caravan parks and picturesque camping spots, with easy accessibility for travellers who have bigger vehicles."
Roughly five hours' drive time northwest of Sydney and seven hours' south of Brisbane, you’ll find a regional hub full of polished cafes and restaurants and boutique shopping along Tamworth’s tree-lined Peel St.
Pull into a site at any number of the variety of camping areas around the region such as the leafy Paradise Tourist Park located on the Peel River and just a few minutes’ amble from the CBD, with facilities including a communal kitchen and swimming pool.
It’s a region, says Pengilley, that’s devoted to the RV and caravanning market with Tamworth Regional Council and tourism providers actively investing in accessibility and resources for travellers.
Earlier this year the Tamworth area welcomed the opening of a free camping site in the nearby township of Manilla on the banks of the Namoi River, adjacent to Manilla and Dewhurst streets. This initiative granted travellers a free stay in town.
Local council have also invested in the installation of bulk water filing stations available for public access, expanding their network of dump points to help travellers manage waste water and the relocation of the Tamworth Visitor Information Centre to the New England Highway, the main entrance to Tamworth from the south.
THE BIG GOLDEN GUITAR
While the late summer months are the most popular time to visit, Pengilley adds that the region has plenty to offer year-round.
“If you visit in summer, head out into the region to keep cool at Chaffey, Sheba and Split Rock Dams, or Lake Keepit. On the other hand, you might be lucky enough to witness the snow falling on a visit to Hanging Rock, before cosying up in front of the open fire,” she says.
Even if you aren’t visiting during festival season, you can still enjoy Tamworth’s music scene and country music roots by exploring the Country Music Trail, which features the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, the Gallery of Stars Wax Museum, Hands of Fame Park and of course, the Big Golden Guitar — unveiled by Australia’s very own country icon, Slim Dusty, in 1988.
Slim has been the recipient of more Golden Guitars than any other recording artist and the icon ‘big thing’, standing at 12m high and weighing more than 500kg, is hard to miss.
The Big Golden Guitar Tourist Centre features wax figures of performers such as Chad Morgan, Jean Stafford, Johnny Chester and the like, and the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame is packed full of music memorabilia, from costumes to the guitars of Australia’s country music greats and everything in between.
Other popular festivals held around the year include the Nundle Go for Gold Easter Festival, The Mayworth Australian Country Dance Festival held each year in May, the Hats Off to Country Festival as well as the Frost Over Barraba Arts Festival, both of which are held in July.
STEEPED IN HISTORY
Outside of music, there’s a host of specialty museums in the area.
The Powerstation Museum is located on the site of where the 1888 steam engines powered the town’s street lighting system. It’s been fully refurbished and illustrates the role of electricity in our day-to-day lives.
Visitors can always check out the latest art exhibitions for free at the Tamworth Regional Gallery. Motorbike enthusiasts will love the Powerhouse Motorcycle Museum showcasing a large private collection of more than 50 beautifully restored motorcycles from the 1950s to the 1980s including rare and limited-edition bikes.
The Tamworth Hospital Nursing and Medical Museum explores the history of medical science with decades’ worth of retired surgical tools, dentistry equipment and more. The museum also hosts new exhibitions every six months and offers a fascinating history of the evolution of medical practices.
The Tamworth Regional Film and Sound Archive is a must-see for any film or history lover with 8000 cans and cassettes of local and regionally produced visual material and over 20,000 items on their database including historical audio material.
The Film and Sound Archive also houses Ison's World War I Cinema Slides, a collection that was this year inscribed to the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.
Travelling with the family? The area is also a fantastic destination for families, with stacks of great spots for kids to explore. The Tamworth Regional Playground is more than just your typical playground. This $2.2 million development located in Bicentennial Park, includes a 9m-high Skywalk, giant slides, a double flying fox and bicycle track.
The Playground is a huge drawcard for families, especially with the nearby Hopscotch Restaurant on-site for parents to grab a coffee or for the family to stop for a bite.
Kids and adults alike love the Tamworth Marsupial Park where you can experience friendly encounters with kangaroos, emus and even cockatoos.
The volunteer-run park is entry via donation and also features another adventure park on-site with two distinct play areas for under-5s and over-5s, barbecue facilities and bathrooms.
In May this year, the town opened the Tamworth Regional Skate Park, a state-of-the-art modern skate park, with plenty of ‘learn to ride’ space for beginners, as well as barbecue facilities.
The Tamworth Miniature Railway also operates on the third Sunday of every month. Families also regularly enjoy other great kid-friendly experiences around town such as Thorny’s Putt-Putt, Inflatable World Tamworth, Kids Zone as well as the Forum 6 Cinemas.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Pengilley says that travellers might be surprised to discover the abundance of options for foodies in the region as well.
“The Tamworth region is a fast-growing destination for the foodie market where locally-sourced produce is championed by award-winning restaurants, pubs, bars, cafes and at weekly markets," she says.
"Taste a Jack’s Creek steak (winner of two categories at the World’s Best Steak producer competition in Dublin earlier this year), a smoked Arc-en-Ciel Trout Farm trout (winner of medals at the Sydney Royal Fine Food Show) or sample some delicious craft brews from The Welder’s Dog.”
In particular, food is the focus when the Taste Tamworth Festival takes place each year in April. The variety of food options in the CBD is impressive, including casual cafes, pubs as well as fine dining options.
For those keen on a day trip, you’ll have a variety of options for getting out and about such as the Kamilaroi Track, taking you on a wander to Flagstaff Mountain and then on to Oxley Lookout for amazing panoramic views.
Make a stop in Barraba, an agricultural town that has become an arts and culture hub, to see the Barraba Silo Art project on the south side of the township.
Just completed this year, it features an impressive mural depicting a water diviner, painting by Sydney-based and internationally-recognised artist Fintan Magee.
The trek to Horton Falls, a spectacular 83m-high waterfall or visit Rocky Creek Glacial Area is worth it for seeing this incredible geological spot with rock formations and pools created from glaciers more than 900 years old.
Bird spotters can also keep a keen eye out for signposted bird watching routes around Barraba to help twitchers identify around 190 bird species in the area, including the endangered regent honeyeater.
Nearby Manilla has gained fame as a destination of choice for sky-high adventure. An exciting destination for those interested in sports flying, including paragliding, hang gliding and sailplane gliding, here you can sign up paragliding lessons Australia’s most experienced pilot, Godfrey Weness or you can kick back with a picnic lunch and watch others sail through the skies.
Also in Manilla, kids love the Manilla Road Safety Bike Park, a modern park with a skatepark and playground adjacent. Nearby, Split Rock Dam also has camping sites with facilities for travellers and free camping areas along the Namoi river.
For another excursion, Nundle is roughly a 40-minute drive at the foot of the Great Dividing Range. It’s a popular spot for those looking to escape the summer swelters.
Here you’ll find plenty of antique shops, historic architecture and discover more about the town’s mining history.
Nundle is also home to the Gil Bennet Rocks, Gems and Minerals Collection, featuring an incredible 1554 specimens from all over Australia. While you’re here, make like a fossicker and hire a kit and a mud map from the Mount Misery Gold Mine Cafe then set out to pan for gold in the nearest creek. The award-winning Nundle Woollen Mill is the last of its kind in Australia as the 100-plus-year-old machines spin fleece. The resulting yarn is also for sale in the mill shop.
From here grab picnic supplies and head to Hanging Rock Lookout for views of the Nundle Valley or visit Bowling Alley Point at Chaffey Dam with its uncontrolled spillway over the Peel River and plenty of beautiful spots to camp.
Known as the country music capital of Australia, did you know that Tamworth:
- Is home to the Kamilaroi people who’ve lived in the region for thousands of years. As one of the four largest Indigenous nations in Australia, you’ll find glimpses of their history in local rock art. Many local town names come from their language - Gamilaraay - such as Barraba, Manilla, Calala and Goonoo Goonoo.
- The name Tamworth comes from the English town of Tamworth, home of Sir Robert Peel, after whom the river was named.
- The Toyota Country Music Festival started in 1973 and is now the largest music festival in the southern hemisphere and in the top 10 in the world with more than 800 performers across 120 venues. The event brings in over 55,000 visitors each January.
- Outside of the annual music festival, the live music scene here, as you might expect, is certainly thriving with buskers along peel street and live music in many of the local pubs and clubs all year round.
VISITING THE FESTIVAL
Those visiting Tamworth during festival season are advised to plan their visit early and take advantage of the varying accommodation options.
“The Toyota Country Music Festival (TCMF) has grown over the years into Australia’s biggest, and is a truly unique event,” Pengilley says. “Over 10 days each January, the city of Tamworth welcomes thousands of visitors from all over Australia and the world, and plays host to 700 performers at over 2800 free and ticketed events. The diversity of performers, venues and stages, and experiences is what sets TCMF apart, as well as the family-friendly atmosphere.
“TCMF has a heap of great accommodation options for those travelling in RVs and caravans, from an abundance of caravan parks throughout the region, to camping grounds located just minutes from the Tamworth CBD.”
The Riverside Camping Grounds are the central camping hub for the event located on the Peel River and a short stroll to all the action of the Festival as well as the Tamworth CBD. Camping sites can be pre-purchased for the full 10-day festival or the final weekend only. Sites are not powered, pre-allocated or numbered, so get in early. Visit the event website for specific information, pricing and more.