Where: Armidale, NSW
Where is it: Half-way between Sydney and Brisbane, and about an hour-and-a-half drive inland from Coffs Harbour!
Ok this is a different kind of story. You need to watch the little videos along the way…
Put your hand up if you love nature-based getaways? How about that feeling of rolling through the countryside and coming into a cosmopolitan regional city that has a thriving art, culture and food scene, and where the locals are passionate about their backyard and their community?
Welcome to Armidale, in New South Wales. Heard of it? I’m embarrassed to say, before this trip, I hadn’t.
“Armidale is a hidden treasure” the locals tell me, with that sparkle in their eye.
Come with me for 3-mins, and I’ll let you in on how it was for me….
Aren’t the locals fantastic?
It’s the wilderness that gets me every time.
There are four stunning and mostly untouched National Parks within an hour’s drive of the town, and twenty with a two-hour radius.
And witnessing the sunrise at Point Lookout in the World-Heritage Listed New England National Park, was just one of the many treasures I discovered on our recent TV filming expedition.
The experience was ethereal.
Gentle hues of pinky-orange first-light floated across the top of the ancient forest, once part of Gondwana Land. You can imagine dinosaurs moving through the trees in this prehistoric land. On a clear day, like the one we were gifted, you can see all the way to the ocean.
Meet the man I was lucky enough to share this moment with. Local nature enthusiast, Heath Milne.
“Not many people know about this place. And when they do, they have your reaction. It’s special isn’t it?” Heath whispers. “It’s my deepest responsibility to be part of protecting this place. As a local, the more we share it, the safer it will be”
Another treasure is the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, home to the famous Wollomombi Falls, the second tallest in the country. The Gorge – carved out over millions of years – defies belief as you roll past nearby farmland that sits on the highest plains in the country.
There really is no other way to get a true lay of this unique landscape than from above.
Come with me as we jump on board a scenic chopper flight with local pilot James from Fleet Helicopters, who are also part of the dedicated firefighting team who help protect the region.
“We’re a close-knit community who not only love our backyard, but we’re there for each other, it’s the fabric of this region” James Rainger, Pilot with Fleet Helicopters.
It has a thriving entrepreneurial spirit that I found on almost every corner.Dubbed the Cathedral City, Armidale is a cosmopolitan regional hub that’s home to a fascinating and diverse culture.
Tattersalls Hotel is the perfect example. The 170-year-old hotel is a testament to the spirit of Armidale locals, like John Cassidy Jr who owns and runs the hotel.
“As a 170-year-old hotel, we take our responsibility as the owners very seriously – we spent five years passionately renovating it. When people walk in, they’re always surprised by the luxury and our incredible chefs. You would expect to find this 5-star boutique hotel in Sydney, but not here in the country. It was important to us to give back to our home. We are really proud.” John Cassidy Jnr.
Armidale also has a rich arts reputation with the New England Regional Art Museum curating 5,000 works of art, making it one of the most significant in regional Australia.
I was swept away on our tour of the Hinton Collection. Rachael Parsons colourfully brought the paintings to life right off their canvas.
And I was left feeling grounded and inspired after my tour of the Aboriginal Culture and Keeping Place with Director Rose Lovelock. The exhibition, following the theme “Always Was, Always Will Be”, is contemporary and vibrant, yet timeless.
“I love what our Aboriginal artists are painting, there is colour, hope and optimism in these works. This is an example of how we have survived and adapted over tens of thousands of years, and will continue to do so, together. This is a place for all to come and learn and share all of our cultures. It’s a meeting place. And the doors are wide open”
And to round it all off, while many of us may likely head to Armidale for its world-class National Parks, or its revered art and culture, there’s always time for a brew and a burger at the end of a big day exploring.
Which is why I want to introduce Sam Martin, a dentist and serial beer lover who, like so many I met during my week-long adventure, is injecting a little love back into the city he was raised in.
You must check out Great Hops Brewery.
“I didn’t just build this brewery, so many other people it built it with me. I love the locals who come out here, every other Friday night and support this place. I could never have imagined it being so busy on a Friday. We’re not in the centre of town, but they still all roll up. I think a lot of these country landscapes are so understated and so beautiful this is just one of those places you have got to come and experience.” Sam Martini, Great Hops Brewery.
Thanks for having us Armidale. It was so wonderful to breathe your fresh country air and experience that feeling of freedom again after the year we’ve all had. You’re a tonic for us all…
A special thanks Bruce Davis – our photographer and editor for this special video series.