The Big Golden Guitar, the shining beacon of the Australian country music festival, glimmers in the sun, greeting visitors to Tamworth as they roll on in via the New England Highway.
On the traveller’s way in, they’ll watch the cotton and wheat sway in the wind and the cattle and sheep grazing in the fields, and pass the bountiful olive trees planted like soldiers.
The rich black soil, which stretches from the highway to the edge of the Outback, including the Great Dividing Range, makes this region rich in produce.
Every January, visitors come to see the likes of Lee Kernaghan strumming his guitar on stage at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. Thousands descend, filling the pubs with merry sing-alongs and energetic line dancing.
But there is much more to this productive region. Celebrity chef extraordinaire Matt Moran was born and bred in Currabubula, 30 kilometres south-west of Tamworth, on a sheep and cattle farm. He’s a big advocate of local produce and farm-to-table dining, and Tamworth’s burgeoning food and wine scene is a fast becoming renowned throughout the state and country.
“Tamworth has so much to offer from amazing local breweries, wines and food to experiences like the guitar museum, motorbike museum, amazing parks and the new Escape Rooms,” says local travel agent Chris Watson from Chris Watson Travel.
Housed in the former building of the local paper, The Press is a hidden bar with an extensive cocktail menu, and an even longer whisky list. Dark and moody, it’s reminiscent of a 1920s New York underground bar with heavy leather chairs, green velvet banquettes and candlelit tables.
There’s a simple menu of pizzas and starters, such as wings and metre-long grazing boards, and your time will be spent perusing the endless shelf of local and international whiskys.
If it’s a beer you’re after, The Welder’s Dog brewery is in Armidale, 90 minutes to the northeast. Tom, Dan and Phil started life out as ginger-beer brewers, but in just three years, they’ve turned their ginger beer into proper beer.
While they still have the Farmhouse Ginger Beer on the menu, the lads have also concocted some delicious beers, including an IPA made with local hops, the Pea Blossom Lemonade and a chocolatey, coffee-flavoured Extra Stout.
For high-end dining, award-winning architectural marvel Goonoo Goonoo Station stands out on the plain. After a sumptuous meal, diners can stumble to bed in the chic country accommodation and a, it’s a 20-minute drive south of Tamworth.
The stunning Glasshouse Restaurant overlooks the scenery and sits seamlessly between two re-purposed heritage buildings. Expect dishes like native bush spiced braised lamb, Black Angus scotch fillet and a divine salted-caramel bombe alaska with Davidson’s plum. The two-page wine list is unpretentious and there is a large focus on Australian wines but there are also international bottles from France and Italy.
Labels from the Central West include Lowe organic wines, and you’ll even find a delightful shiraz viognier from Clonakilla estate near Canberra.
To soak up the wine the following morning, Hissy Fits Cafe’s breakfast burrito with bacon or mushrooms, scrambled egg, charred corn, spring onion and hash browns with chipotle mayo will help with the hangover.
It is hard to go past, when your weekend of wining and dining is nearly at an end, the many museums of the region including the Tamworth Powerstation Museum, the Powerhouse Motorcycle Museum and, of course, the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame.
A weekend away is never going to be enough when there is so much to do in this culturally abundant region.
TAKE ME THERE
Drive: The drive from Newcastle takes 3.5 hours on the New England Highway. If you’re flying from Canberra, it will take 2.5 hours. Flights costs from $552 with Qantas.
Stay: Chris Watson suggests staying at the Mercure Hotel (from $132 per night). His other hot tip is the Powerhouse Hotel Tamworth by Rydges (from $221 per night).
When: If you want to visit Tamworth during the Country Music Festival, best book your accommodation and tickets early for January 2021. But otherwise, Tamworth is lovely all year round.