Travelling South for the Winter

Travelling South for the Winter

For the last 6 years we have been on the road, we have done like many other travellers and followed the seasons, travelling north and keeping away from the cold.  This year, we decided on the opposite and headed South for the Winter.

Not wanting to follow the Pacific Highway the whole way, we decided on the less travelled inland route, via the New England Highway for the most part.  We spread the trip out over two weeks and discovered some great new places that are really worth checking out, so we thought we would share them with you here.

Sunny Coast to Toogoolawah

We left Eumundi due south to Beerwah before we headed up the range to Peachester, a beautiful little village on top of the range and a great place to stop for lunch.

From there, we headed via Kilcoy and pushed onto one of our favourite little towns at Toogoolawah.  They have recently opened a great little free camp right in the middle of town and we got there early enough to get a bit of shopping done at the IGA and the local butcher.  (Great Beef Cheeks – the meat not the butcher)

We spent the next day exploring town again and this time we broadcast live on Facebook.  You can see a copy of the broadcast below as we explore the main street and highlight all the town has to offer.

FRC Live from Toogoolawah

Toogoolawah to Toowoomba

From Toogoolawah we pushed on to the higher ground heading for Toowoomba, via Esk, another great little country town worth a stopover.  A quick bite for morning tea in the main street and we decided the Warrego Highway would be our best way to get up the  Toowoomba range.  You can get across from Esk to Toowoomba via the Esk-Hampton Road, but we were warned it was probably not the best route for big rigs.  Other caravanners who have been this way might be able to help us out with comments below as to the road conditions via that route.

The climb up the mountain into Toowoomba was long and steep, and my personal opinion; if you are a towing a car, take it off for the climb.  We did this and while Michelle and the kids checked out many of the roadside stalls for fruit and vegies around Gatton, I pushed on for a quick stop at Hot Wired Auto Electrical  to check out our inverter, which was playing up.

The guys there were amazing and spent an hour trouble shooting for me until they finally found out it was a faulty coffee machine.  Arrrh, but seriously they were really thorough and knew their stuff, so I am happy to recommend them.

Toowoomba for those that don’t know it is one of Queensland’s largest regional cities.  It is high on the range and at this time of the year, very very cold.  Spring is a great time to see the city with the annual Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers, but there is still plenty to see and do any time of the year.

Toowoomba Botanical Gardens & The Cobb & Co Museum

We spent a few days there and went to the Cobb & Co Museum for the kid’s history lesson, and the Botanical Gardens.  We also went to many of the small local markets which have a great range of local produce, so it was a good chance to stock up.  Toowoomba also has one of the best Tourist Information Centres we have seen in a long time.   We would love to give a special mention to Rhonda who was a lovely friendly lady with a wealth of knowledge about the local and surrounding areas.

Whilst in Toowoomba, we stayed at the Toowoomba Showground, which is possibly one of the biggest Showgrounds we have ever seen. It was massive with loads of different sites to park up on, and it has a magnificent lake right in the middle of the grounds.

Toowoomba Showground Camping

Toowoomba to Nobby

Nobby!  Never heard of it and would have bypassed it, if it had not been for Rhonda at the Toowoomba Tourist Info Centre.  What a great little find, and also the other small towns we discovered along the way.  To find Nobby, instead of heading out on the New England Highway south, take the Gore Highway south, via the Old Wyreema Road.  This way still tracks south, virtually parallel to the New England Highway but takes in the towns of Wyreema, Cambooya, Greenmount, Nobby, Clifton and ends up at Allora, where you can once again join the New England Highway.

We stayed at the Old Railway Station Camp, a Free Camp in the middle of town which does have power available if you throw in a donation.  We needed it that night due to the cold and princess would not rely on blankets and cuddles.  The campsite is right opposite Rudd’s Pub where the author Steele Rudd is known to have penned many verses from his famous Dad & Dave books.   The pub is full of memorabilia.  We soon discovered Nobby was also home to Sister Kenny who was instrumental in early polio treatments. We took the opportunity to broadcast live from Nobby and you can see the broadcast here.

FRC Live from Nobby

After leaving Nobby we went through Clifton and Allora, both of which are great little country towns to explore with each having its own unique feel about them. Both are important farming areas to the region, Clifton is also a centre for light aircraft enthusiasts, and features boab trees alongside the main street.  Allora is a larger town and littered with Heritage listed buildings and attractions including the Talgai Skull which dates back about 10,000 years and thought to be the first evidence of human occupation in the area.

Nobby to Stanthorpe

Back on the New England Highway the next day, we passed through the iconic Queensland town, of Warwick.  Closely associated with Toowoomba it is also a town with much history and heritage listed buildings to explore.  A quick stopover for lunch, then we pushed onto Stanthorpe.

Heritage Estate Winery, Thulimbah (near Stanthorpe)

At Stanthorpe, we stayed at the Blue Topaz Caravan Park.  The park is family owned and operated by Brendan and Shonel who make you feel very welcome.  They both have a wealth of knowledge about the area and their park is in a great location if you want to explore the abundance of local wineries and fruit orchards to check out in the area.

Stanthorpe to Deepwater

Still on the New England Highway, the next day saw us cross the border into NSW and a short stop at Tenterfield, home of the Tenterfield Saddler and the famous Peter Allen.  We stopped to explore the main town area before pushing on for an impromptu stop at Deepwater.  One of those towns we have always by-passed turned out to be one of our most memorable.  We stopped off at The Longhorn Bar & Grill, formerly the Deepwater Inn, which has a Free Camp out the back.

Of course, they would love you to call in for a meal, and, we are so glad we did.  Seriously, one of the best meals we have had on the road.  And the pub oozes charm and history.  We got talking to the owners Andrew and Lynn who had their own story to tell.  In short, they moved up from Sydney and bought what was left of the pub with no roof after it was burnt down.  They spend the next few years rebuilding from scratch, leaving as much as they could of the original facade.  Never being in the hotel industry before, and being vegetarian non-drinkers they set about rebuilding a unique pub and have done an amazing job and offer a full experience, not just a cold ale.

Andrew is about to rebrand it the Longhorn Bar, they have music on offer, Lynn’s artwork adorns the pub walls, and they prepare the best meals you will find out bush, all on site, with their own handmade buns and home cooked sauces.  Yum!!!  The Pizzas are massive, and the café is open 24/7, as long as you don’t mind Lynn coming out in her nightie.

The Longhorn Bar and Grill

After eating way too much we sat by the fireplace and chatted away with Lynn who told us her amazing story about how the pub was re-built, which you can read about in more detail here: Rebuilding the Deepwater Inn and Free Camping Ground

We checked out the rest of the town the next morning, it has a great little food works store where we stocked up on a few essentials and pressed on, leaving us with a lasting impression of a place we will be sure to return to.

Deepwater to Uralla

From Deepwater we pushed on via Glen Innes and stopped off at Guyra with its claim to being the highest town in NSW.   All trip we had been trying to pre-warn the kids about how cold it would be, but having spent most of our time following the seasons they have never really experienced a cold winter.  And Guyra, being so high, didn’t let us down with how cold it was.  We stopped off for a bite to eat at the Mother of Ducks Lagoon which also has a great little free camp as part of the Lagoon,  and you can walk into town from there.

We pushed on down the Devils Pinch and into Armidale, and then onto Uralla, my old home town.  Uralla is a quaint little town on the New England Highway and also former stomping ground of Captain Thunderbolt, a notorious NSW Bush outlaw.

Having spent 5 years living in Uralla many mango seasons ago, I was keen to take the kids back in time and show them where dad used to live and work, in the days before he was Dad, that is.   Don’t you just love when you get excited about showing them something, thinking they will love the things you want to show them, but instead, they had no interest in where I used to live. They found the frost more interesting.

Apparently, Frost on the Grass is better looking around town?

Admittedly, it was the first frost they have ever seen, and it was gold seeing their faces as they were fascinated by the ice that had formed on the grass and turned it white.  Touching it, tasting it and playing with it, made us realise how kids see things so different to us and how the simple things in life can turn travelling into such a wonderful experience for them.

Uralla to Tamworth

From Uralla, it was down one more range and into Tamworth.  Another steep bit of road down the Moonbi Range.  A good road none the less, but do take care.  If you have time on the way down, Bendemeer is just before the range and is worth a stopover.

Tamworth is known as the Country Music Capital of Australia.  And, although we missed the festival by about six months, that OK as there was still plenty to keep us entertained. Whilst the festival is held in January each year, the town still has a load of country music memorabilia littered throughout, including statues of famous country musos in the main street, and of course the giant golden guitar.

We found the award-winning Tamworth Regional Playground which is more like an amusement park, with awesome rides for little kids and big kids, (Yep, I put my back out again), it also has plenty of picnic areas, BBQ’s and a café – restaurant on site. We then ventured off to the Tamworth Marsupial Park, which also has its own adventure playground. It’s located at the foot of the mountain and has loads of local native animals that you can interact with. The park is run by volunteers and entry is via a donation.

Tamworth Marsupial Park

We decided to stay just out of town and found a private campground called Hillside Farm, a 200-acre working horse stud only 8km out of town.  Dawn was our host and made us feel so welcome, taking the kids under her wing and letting them tag along to hand feed some of the foals and horses.  We were able to explore the property and walked to the top of the hill which had outstanding views over Tamworth and down towards Nundle.  See our live Facebook Feed here from Hillside Farm.

FRC Live from Hillside Farm

Tamworth to Nundle

Nundle! Another reason you should get off the highway. We have heard about it, but somehow managed to by-passed it for years, but so glad we stopped in for what was another highlight of our trip.

We stayed in town at the Fossickers Way Caravan Park, a really clean park set in an ideal location right on the river, with great facilities and the friendliest down to earth hosts, Heath & Kim.  The park also has the local Information centre on site, which has the biggest Gem and Stone collection and staff that are passionate about the area and will tell you all the good spots to go and see.

Day two we were off, first stopping in at Machina, an old converted shipping container on the corner of the main street serving up freshly made doughnuts and coffees.  Being a former Gold Mining town, we then went off in search of our millions at some of the local panning spots, where they tell us you can still find traces of gold.

This included a drive up to the historic location of Hanging Rock which is where it all started.  It was a steep climb up the hill with a couple of tight hairpin turns, so be prepared if you are taking up the caravan.   You can camp up at the Sheeba Dams Reserve Camping Area and find out much more about the history of the Gold Rush days.  There is also a Trout farm hidden in the hills where they hatch, grow and sell Rainbow Trout.  They are not open all the time, so best to ring ahead if you are thinking of calling in.

Hanging Rock’s Awesome View

We got back in town just in time for the free 2 pm daily tour of the Nundle Woollen Mill which is one of the only remaining woollen mills in the country.  It is purpose built and still operating with machinery dating back over 100 years.  We spent quite a few hours there before doing a tour in an old Gold Mine just in town, then finished with a walk through town and explored the rest of the village and historical buildings.  Unfortunately, we were a bit rushed, but we thoroughly enjoyed our time in Nundle and wish we had more time there.  You can see our video review of Nundle here.

FRC Live from Nundle

Nundle to Murrurundi

Back to the highway, we headed down yet another mountain range into Horse Country.  Watch your breaks on this one; it is quite steep but well-sealed and wide.  Murrurundi lies at the foothills of the Liverpool Ranges and is almost totally surrounded by the ranges.  It is usually lush and green, so we were surprised to find it lacking more colour than usual.   It is also where the railway line north used to stop due to the steep range before they dug a massive tunnel to get through back in 1877.

It has long been horse country with the establishment of the Emirates Park, now teaming with Aquis Farm to be one of the largest thoroughbred breeding facilities in the area.  And, in February each year, it is home to the King of the Ranges Stockman’s Challenge event which showcases some of Australia’s best stockmen and women competing over a four-day event.

At Murrurundi we stayed with Doug and Carol at the Murrurundi Caravan Park. What a great couple that run a really clean and friendly caravan park.  The park is only a short walk into town and offers a full range of camping from a low-cost options for FSCV right up to onsite accommodation. They are part of the Kui Parks Group, who offer Free Range Camping Premium members a complimentary 6 month membership to stay at any of their parks to try them out.

FRC Live from Nundle

There was actually more in the area to see that we had planned for including the ‘Eye of the Needle’ cliff top walk.  It is only a 5 min drive out of town and while it is a bit steep in places, it was not too difficult.  We had to walk through a narrow gap between two towering pieces of rock formation to get to the lookout.  The views from the top were outstanding, and the kids were excited when we had to seek shelter in a small cave due to the rain.

Walk through the ‘Eye of the Needle’ to see the views over Murruurndi

Murrurundi to Branxton

Our time was fast running out and the plan from here was to push on and get to Sydney, however, Mother Nature had other ideas.  About 2km out of Branxton the rain came down, no problems, we put on the windscreen wipers.  Problem 1.  One of them fell off.  Problem 2. There was not enough room to pull over.  Problem 3.  We were stuck in a traffic jam.  Which as it turns out was probably a good thing, as it meant we could go slow, just enough to see where we were going and eventually take the off-ramp into Branxton.

Too late and tired to fix the windscreen wiper, we found the Branxton Oval RV Stop located right in the middle of town.  Which happens to be near the local pub, and has the best meals, so we were all happy and well fed.

Branxton  Main Street & RV Stop

Turns out Branxton is another great place to stay and check out, especially if you like your wine.  Located on the northern gateway to the Hunter Valley regions of Pokolbin and Rothbury with many wineries, including the now famous Wyndham estate complex in easy reach to town.

So that was our quick trip south, so many new places we discovered along the way, unfortunately not enough time to stay longer and take more in, but we will return on the trip back north.

Hope you enjoy your travels and on another note, you may notice that in many of the photos the areas we have been in have been quite dry.  The drought has well and truly taken hold in many of these areas, so we are sure that your support as you pass through town and hopefully stop off for a while will be greatly appreciated.

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Travelling South for the Winter
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