Resting high on the Northern Tablelands, Armidale is the most cosmopolitan New South Wales city outside Sydney, catering for 25,000 citizens from 53 different nationalities. A popular stopping place on the New England Highway, Armidale is the administrative centre for the Northern Tablelands region.
Armidale is located on the banks of Dumaresq Creek, in the Northern Tablelands and the New England region about midway between Sydney and Brisbane at an altitude (980 metres) ranging from 970 metres at the floor of the valley to 1,110 metres above sea level at the crests of the hills. A short distance to the east of Armidale are heavily forested steep gorges dropping down to the eastern coastal plain.
Armidale prides itself on education with the University of New England, three private schools, two Catholic schools, two public high schools, six state primary schools, a Steiner school and several pre-schools and day care centres.
Where is it?: New England. 566 km north of Sydney, 464 km southy of Brisbane, on the New England Highway. Armidale has a daily XPT train service from Sydney via the Hunter Valley. Armidale is situated on the New England Tablelands half way between Sydney and Brisbane. The coastal plain can be reached directly at Coffs Harbour via Waterfall Way to Dorrigo and Bellingen on the Bellinger River, a two-hour drive.
St Peters Angican Cathedral
Armidale is a cathedral city, being the seat of the Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops of Armidale. St Peter's Anglican Cathedral, which replaced the original St Peter's Church, was designed by the Canadian architect, John Horbury Hunt who also designed Booloominbah at the University of New England. St Peter's Cathedral opened for worship in 1875 and the tower was added in 1938. The Catholic Cathedral of St Mary and St Joseph was consecrated in 1912.
The court house was built in the 1850s and is still a prominent feature of the central district. Much of the rest of the city is residential.
Lookouts: The Apex Lookout on a ridge overlooking the city (3km north) has panoramic views, as does Big Hill lookout on Kempsey Road.
Events: The Australian Wool Fashion Awards, which showcases the use of Merino wool by fashion designers, are hosted by Armidale in March each year. The Autumn Festival is a popular annual event of April in Armidale. The festival features a street parade, stalls and celebrations throughout the city. It is a regular part of the city's attractions, often promoting Armidale's diverse culture (for instance, posters set up by council attempt to attract tourists with the motto "Foodies Thrive In Armidale") and autumn colours. During May the annual New England Wool Expo is staged to display wool fashions, handicrafts, demonstrations, shearing competitions, yard dog trials and demonstrations, a wool bale rolling competition and other activities.
Climate: The presence of four distinct seasons, unlike most of the rest of Australia, is the reason for the "New England" moniker and the autumn colours are a notable feature of the city. Armidale enjoys a warm summer, tones of amber during the autumn, a crisp winter and an exhilarating spring.
Hillgrove: (26 km east) is an old mining settlement (gold and tungsten) with some early buildings still intact. At its peak in about 1898, the town's population was close to 3,000, similar to that of Armidale. The post office and school are the only substantial buildings which remain. The school buildings (1897) are now used to house the Hillgrove Rural Life and Industry Museum, giving the visitor a view into the rich heritage of the past. Hillgrove Goldmining Area and also the Antimony Mine on Stockton Rd, Hillgrove have been placed on the Register of the National Estate.
Oaky River Hydro Electric Scheme (16 kms east) was Australia's first Hydro-Electric scheme. Situated in Gara Gorge, the site around the relics is a great spot for picnics.
Cathedral Rock (80 kms east) has 360 degree views from the top of the rock, and is definitely well worth the climb. The landforms, vegetation and temperatures of Cathedral Rock National Park are quite different to those experienced in New England National Park. There are easily accessible wetlands, gully rainforest, wet and dry eucalypt and wet heath. Wallabies and kangaroos tend to congregate around the marshlands at dusk. There are also plenty of wildflowers in summer and birdwatchers will find the park rewarding.
New England National Park: Armidale is surrounded by national Parks, which are known for their walking trails and waterfalls. Located between Armidale and Dorrigo, is a world heritage listed wilderness area of varying habitats reflecting dramatic differences of altitude. Ecosystems range from snow gum woodland and Antarctic beech rainforest to subtropical rainforest, including wet and dry eucalypt forest, subalpine heath and wetlands.
New England National Park (85kms east) is my favourite national park in the region. This heritage listed 29985 ha park is a haven for bushwalkers and sight-seers that offers majestic views to the coast and good walking. Point Lookout, Banksia Point or Wrights Lookout offer wilderness views. You can enjoy easy walks through dense rainforests around the lookouts, or take one of the longer, more challenging tracks. There's wheelchair access to Point Lookout viewing platform on a 100 m paved track from the car park (accessible parking and toilets).
Oxley Wild Rivers National Park: World Heritage listed in recognition of the extensive dry rainforest that occurs within the park, and the associated rich biodiversity that includes several rare or threatened plants and animals. The main rivers in the National Park are the: Apsley River, Macleay River, Chandler River, Tia River, Styx River, Gara River, Yarrowitch River, Oaky River and the Kunderang Brook. There are a number of waterfalls situated throughout the park including: Wollomombi, Apsley Falls, Tia Falls and Dangars Falls as well as numerous cascades. The waterfalls in the park are at their best after rains and the main ones are accessible by car.
Wollomombi Falls: Australia's longest single drop falls. Here the Wollomombi River plummets 220 m over the cliff to the gorge below (after local rains) with Chandler Falls doing likewise nearby. Situated at 1160 m above sea-level there are gorge rim walks (including a wheelchair track) which take you to two outstanding lookouts, and a track, for the fit, that takes you down the gorge to the Chandler River where you can swim if the weather is apposite. The falls are on the road between Dorrigo and Armidale, and 40 km east of Armidale.
Guyra: (37 km north) At 1,320 metres above sea level, Guyra is one of the highest towns in New South Wales. 40 km north of Armidale on the New England Highway, it is on a major junction where roads from the west cross the New England Highway and link to the coast. Guyra's major industries are sheep and cattle farming, potatoes and light manufacturing. Located on a volcanic uplift of the Northern Tablelands, the town is known for its extremely cold winters, by Australian standards, with an average of 59 frosty nights having subzero temperatures each year and some snowfalls.
Thunderbolt's Cave: (27 km north) a granite outcrop which was used as a hideout by bushranger Fred Ward. Popularly known as Captain Thunderbolt, Ward operated around the New England District of NSW from 1864-1870. He was shot dead in 1870 by a policeman after trying to steal yet another racehorse. The cave lies off the New England Highway, not far from the village of Black Mountain.
Ben Lomond: (60 km north) travellers on the New England Highway in northern NSW between Guyra and Glen Innes have a treat in store when they take a short detour at Llangothlin and visit the historic village of Ben Lomond. The road winds alongside an abandoned railway line through some extremely picturesque farming country on its way up the hillside to the sleepy village of Ben Lomond. The highest town in northern NSW, it is home to the longest hand cut railway cutting in Australia, the highest passenger railway station in the southern hemisphere (at the time of the construction of the railway), and a scattering of old and historical relics of times past.
Uralla: (25 km south-west) a small village, its main claim to fame being the place where local bushranger Captain Thunderbolt (Fred Ward) was shot, killed and buried in 1870. The infamous bushranger Captain Thunderbolt (Frederick Ward) is buried in the old Uralla Cemetery (John Street). There are many references to Thunderbolt throughout the town, and the locals are quite fond of the legend. In addition to an initially controversial statue in the main street, Uralla is host to a pub, motel, rock (from where Thunderbolt ambushed passing travellers) and roads, all bearing his name.
Walcha: (65 km south) the district surrounding Walcha is a significant primary producing area. The Shire is also a well known trout fishing mecca. Natural attractions abound in the area and include the Apsley Falls located about 20 km east of Walcha just off the Oxley Highway. The first drop of the Falls is about 85 metres in depth, and the second, about half a mile further on, drops around 65 metres to the bottom of the gorge.
Walcha is the southern gateway to the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park and Werrikimbe National Park, which are registered with Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves. Composing of mainly scenic gorge country, part of it is listed on the register of World Heritage sites in recognition of its importance to nature conservation.
The Waterfall Way: Running between Coffs Harbour on the New South Wales coast and the inland city of Armidale, The Waterfall Way is a 200 kilometre drive along one of the most scenic routes in NSW. Passing through the picturesque New England Tablelands, the drive is a perfect deviation to make on a road trip between Sydney and Brisbane, allowing half the journey to be made on the coast road and half on the New England highway inland.
The Waterfall Way is an awe inspiring journey from the high tablelands of New England through the rainforests and down to the Coffs Coast. It is home to many rare and endangered plants and animals that live in an incredible variety of habitats, not to mention some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the country, which give the route its name.
The Fossickers Way: a tourist drive through northern NSW, The Fossickers Way holds many treasures waiting to be unearthed - from buildings steeped in history to picturesque scenery and quaint villages where the personalities are as big as the sky overhead. As its name suggests, fossicking for gold, semi-precious stones and other minerals is among the many activities on offer here. Towns visited on the loop drive include Tamworth, Manilla, Barraba, Warialda, Inverell, Emmaville and Nundle.
Thunderbolt's Way: a spectacular 290 km tourist drive from Port Stephens, north of Newcastle to Goondiwindi in Queensland, passing through Stroud, Gloucester, Novendoc, Walcha, Uralla, Bundarra and Inverell. Armidale and Taree are a short detour off the route. The trail recalls the region's most notorious bushranger, Fred Ward, aka Captain Thuderbolt, whose legend lives on in the New England district.