New journeys, ancient lands

By AG STAFF 7 October 2021
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Take a road trip through the wild heart of ancient Australia in country and outback New South Wales – whichever route you take, all roads lead to an unforgettable adventure.

Country NSW’s wide, open spaces are anything but empty. This is Australia’s greatest open air gallery, where nature’s untamed artistry is showcased in Gondwana rainforests and sprawling plains teeming with wildlife. And as sacred Aboriginal sites hum their timeless song, heritage towns tell Australia’s colonial story – and offer memorable dining and cultural experiences along the way.

Road trip 1: Gondwana’s playgrounds

Gondwana may have split into pieces 180 million years ago, but it’s alive and thriving in Country NSW. On a five-night road trip across the New England region, you’ll discover natural wonders born well before the Australian continent existed, along with countless cultural, heritage and wildlife highlights.

Your adventure begins and ends in Tamworth, an hour’s flight northwest of Sydney. Give yourself plenty of time to explore – after all, this is the country music capital of Australia, the mighty Kamilaroi Aboriginal nation’s heartland, and an 1800s heritage hub – before spending a night at the Powerhouse Hotel.

On day two, slowly make your way to Armidale, where you’ll stay at the Tattersalls Hotel. Along the way, visit historic Walcha’s Open Air Gallery and be awed by nature’s handiwork at Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. Here, ancient gorges are garnished with Gondwana rainforests filled with 1000 different botanical species, home to endangered brush-tail rock wallabies and glossy black cockatoos, and the powerful Apsley Falls are a sacred meeting place for the Dunghutti people. Near Uralla, visit Mount Yarrowyck Nature Reserve, where the Aniwan people painted their stories in a cave 500 years ago.

The next morning, learn about local First Nations culture at the Aboriginal Cultural Centre & Keeping Place, before visiting the New England Regional Art Museum to see the impressive Chandler Coventry Collection. Then, set off on Waterfall Way, calling into Wollomombi Falls – NSW’s highest waterfall at 220m – and Guy

Fawkes River National Park, where the Ebor Falls are surrounded by lush valleys home to 100 bird species. Afterwards, drop into Guyra en route to Glen Innes, and overnight at Waterloo Station.

Before leaving Glen Innes, soak up its creative, cultural atmosphere at the Gawuru Aboriginal art gallery and the Australian Standing Stones tribute to Celtic heritage. The best way to explore the surrounding wilderness is to get amongst it in Washpool and Gibraltar Range National Parks – both part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Then, get a glimpse of village life at Deepwater and Dundee as you make your way to Ben Falls Retreat, just outside Emmaville, where the Severn River’s gentle tinkle will lure you to sleep.

As day five dawns, take a riverside wander, fish for Murray cod or explore Emmaville’s Mining Museum. Then, follow the call of the wild to Kings Plains National Park – the traditional land of the Ngarrabul people – where turquoise parrots and swamp wallabies abound and 15km of trails twist through shrubby woodlands and McKie’s stringybark forest. At Inverell afterwards, toast the final night of your overland odyssey at The Union, before checking into Blair Athol Boutique Hotel & Day Spa.

Inverell is called the ‘Sapphire City’ so, on your drive back to Tamworth, hunt for treasures at Billabong Blue Sapphire Fossicking Park and in the town’s galleries. Or, discover the rich fauna of Goonoowigall State Conservation Area and Bundarra, home to critically endangered regent honeyeaters and platypuses – a rare highlight for nature lovers and the perfectly wild ending to a journey through Country NSW’s untamed heart.

Road trip 2: Open air galleries and gigantic skies

A unique rhythm pulses through Country NSW – here, ages-old Aboriginal culture, colonial history, modern creativity and raw nature all come together in rich layers. Start your adventure in Forbes (from Sydney, a five-hour drive or an hour’s flight into nearby Parkes). Enjoy intricate murals and colonial architecture on the Forbes Heritage Walk and Gold Rush relics at the Historical Society Museum. For a deeper look at the region’s cultural history, visit the Wiradjuri Dreaming Centre, where fascinating exhibits share the story of NSW’s largest Aboriginal nation. Afterwards, check into your retreat at Girragirra – Wiradjuri for “Be well, be happy, be merry”.

On day two, go west for 16 world-class art installations along the Somewhere Down the Lachlan sculpture trail, which follows the Lachlan River from Forbes to Condobolin. Then, after a wander around the Wiradjuri Study Centre, the Condobolin Railway Museum, or Gum Bend Lake, call it a night at the Yarrabandai Creek Homestead.

You’ll find plenty of scenic stops along the four-hour drive from Condobolin to Coonabarabran – see local art in Trundle’s Ngurambang Birrang Gallery; heritage treasures in Tullamore and Narromine, and Aboriginal artefacts at the Wungunja Cultural Centre. In Gilgandra, check out local craft at The GIL Collective before checking in at The Emu Hive in the Warrumbungles. When night falls, marvel as the black sky sparkles with billions of stars – Warrumbungle National Park is Australia’s first and only Dark Sky Park, so there’s no better place Down Under to look up and take in nature’s most spectacular art show.

Enjoy a sleep-in, then come back to earth with a look at Coonabarabran’s ancient fossils at Crystal Kingdom, then continue to Gulargambone, where there’s eclectic street art everywhere. The colourful discoveries roll on as you head towards Walgett, with the 25m-high Coonamble and Walgett Water Towers featuring big, bright murals under bigger, brighter skies. Nearby, visit the Dharriwaa Elders Group to learn about Walgett’s Gamilaraay people, unwind in the artesian baths, then continue to your Kigwigil Country Escape farmstay.

After breakfast, drive 1.5 hours west to Brewarrina, where the Barwon River is home to ingenious fish traps built by the Ngemba people 40,000 years ago, an ancient meeting place for 10 Aboriginal groups. Learn more at the Brewarrina Aboriginal Cultural Museum before hitting the road to Bourke, for a final night of self-catering at Kidman’s Camp.

Then, it’s time to make your way to Dubbo, where your epic road trip ends – but not before strolling by Heritage-listed architecture on Bourke’s Town Trail and along the Darling River in Gundabooka National Park. In Dubbo you’ll find the Western Plains Cultural Centre. Here, an ancient dendroglyph – a sacred tree hand carved by First Nations people thousands of years ago – is yet another cultural wonder in this unique, unforgettable part of Australia.

Four unmissable highlights

Gondwana Rainforests World Heritage Area, including New England, Washpool, Gibraltar Range and Oxley Wild Rivers National Parks, for wilderness at its prehistoric best.

Brewarinna Fish Traps, for 40,000-year-old artefacts that showcase the ages-old ingenuity of Aboriginal innovation and sustainability.

Quaint, heritage villages, where charming museums tell the story of Australia. Where made- with-love food is paired with local brews and big sky views, and galleries are filled with world-class art.

Warrumbungle Dark Sky Park, for Australia’s best stargazing, surrounded by desert plains and volcanic mountains. Start at the Milroy or Warrumbungle Observatory.

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