For a NSW regional centre of its size, this NSW north-western city has achieved a great deal since early 19th Century explorer and surveyor John Oxley wrote “it would be impossible to find a finer or more luxuriant country than its waters.” He was referring to the Peel River Valley and the flow of water which cut a path through the very heart of what is today the State’s second-largest inland city.
Located on the New England Highway, about 420kms north of Sydney, Tamworth is Australia’s Country Music Capital, its annual festival and accompanying awards attracting worldwide interest as well as that from nationwide artists and fans. The Big Golden Guitar is testimony to the city’s strong connections to country sounds. But despite the special treatment to such events as the January Country Music Festival and Awards, and the various reminders of its musical fame, many more unrelated events have been achieved over the years.
Firstly, Tamworth was the first settlement in Australia to introduce electric-powered streetlights. It also a major hub for horse breeding which ultimately led to the opening of the largest equine livestock and events centre of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere – attracting thousands of visitors to its championship rodeos, horse jumping, dressage, and cattle sales. Here are 17 things to do in Tamworth.
- Tamworth (Country Music Capital of Australia)
- 17 Things To Do In Tamworth
- 1- Explore The Country Music Capital of Australia
- 2- Discover The Gallery of Stars Wax Museum
- 3- Explore The National Guitar Museum
- 4- Visit The Australian Equine and Livestock Centre
- 5- Visit The Tamworth Powerstation Museum
- 6- Explore The Powerhouse Motorcycle Museum
- 7- Take A Walk Along The Peel River
- 8- Go Shopping
- 9- Discover Art At The Tamworth Regional Gallery
- 10- Gaze At The View At Oxley Park Scenic Lookout
- 11- Eat Jack Creek Beef Steak
- 12- Dine In The Heritage-Listed Bank
- 13- Taste Smoked Trout
- 14- Stay in Suite 131
- Where To Stay In Tamworth
- 15- See The Grain Silos
- 16- Take A Drive
- 17- Step Back Into History At Nundle Woollen Mill
- 17 Things To Do In Tamworth
Tamworth (Country Music Capital of Australia)
17 Things To Do In Tamworth
1- Explore The Country Music Capital of Australia
Precautionary measures to prevent any spread of the COVID-19 pandemic may have forced the cancellation of Tamworth’s annual Country Music Festival in 2021, but plans are well underway to ensure 700 or more artists return between January 14-23, 2022, to perform at over 100 venues.
The city’s iconic Big Golden Guitar – it stands 12 metres high near the entrance to Tamworth’s tourism information centre – is certain to have extra sparkle over the 10 days as the country music capital celebrates the 50th anniversary of the event, Australia’s longest-running music festival.
Organisers will prepare to roll out the welcome mat to more than 50,000 loyal fans who will make the pilgrimage – by car, rail, or air – from around Australia for the 2800 events.
The Toyota-sponsored festival also boasts the longest-running music awards – the Country Music Awards of Australia – along with the Golden Guitar Awards.
A regular sight during the festival, the colourful and vibrant cavalcade, is to return along Peel Street in the heart of Tamworth along with a series of fringe events and plenty of family entertainment.
As many as 600 buskers are expected to perform along Peel Street.
2- Discover The Gallery of Stars Wax Museum
Mention the name Slim Dusty, and fans overwhelmingly think of Tamworth.
The same applies to other notable Australian country music legends such as Smoky Dawson, Chad Morgan, Jimmy Little, Frank Ifield, Buddy Williams, John Williamson, Beccy Cole, Reg Lindsay, Lee Kernaghan and Slim’s wife, Joy McKean and her sister Heather who married Reg Lindsay.
They are among a host of life-like wax models displayed inside the Gallery of Stars Wax Museum which was opened inside the tourism information centre in 1988 by none other than Slim himself.
In the style of Madame Tussauds, each model is dressed in original outfits accompanied with details of personal achievements that reflect their lives and times.
Australia’s country music capital does not just have connections with the local stars and legends though.
Some of the best artists to hail from North America have been lured by the country music festival and the sounds of string guitars and Aussie vocals.
Leaving their mark on Tamworth have been Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Queen’s Brian May, and members of the Eagles, to name just a few.
The Gallery of Stars Museum is at 2 The Ringers Road, Tamworth.
3- Explore The National Guitar Museum
Step inside the National Guitar Museum (it opened in 2020) on an extended walk through the wax museum and prepare to see around 45 signed and unsigned guitars of varying shapes and sizes, including Smoky Dawson’s Riffle guitar, Tommy Emmanuel’s first Maton guitar, and the signed Washburton guitar of KISS’ Paul Stanley.
There is even a showcase of unusually designed Aussie stringed items, including an Arnott’s Biscuit Tin three-string guitar and a guitar decorated in Aboriginal artwork.
One to grab everyone’s attention is a 1970 guitar which is in the shape of a boomerang.
Australia’s very own world sensation Keith Urban signed one of his guitars while fellow Australian Troy Cassar-Daley signed his guitar by summing up “Tamworth is like a big warm hug”.
For another insight into Tamworth’s music connections, it is worthwhile visiting the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Peel Street.
The museum’s collection of memorabilia – from early pioneers of country music to today’s stars – were donated by the artists or their families.
The National Guitar Museum is at 2 The Ringers Road, Tamworth.
4- Visit The Australian Equine and Livestock Centre
There is no horsing around when it comes to the events held at the colossal Australian Equine and Livestock Centre on the outskirts of Tamworth.
This world-class facility – a 10-year dream of supporters – is the largest of its kind in Australia if not the Southern Hemisphere and fittingly cost a king’s ransom to create, design and build.
Since its first stage opening in 2008, the modern centre has hosted many rip-roaring challenges, from major championship rodeos and show jumping to dressage, and is home to local cattle sales and the annual Tamworth Show in September.
The centre’s positioning in Tamworth made good sense as about 40 percent of the NSW horse population was found within a 130km radius of the city.
A bit more horsepower is planned for the October long weekend in 2021 with the venue to host the four-day inaugural annual National Thunder Motorcycle Rally, including bike displays, plenty of music and food.
Centrepiece for major events is a large indoor sandy based arena with measures 80 metres by 40 metres with tiered seating for more than 3500 onlookers.
Adjacent is a smaller indoor arena that doubles as a stabling block for events in need of extra stables.
There are as many as 478 stables found within six blocks around the complex.
What this venue brings to the region’s economy is far-reaching as it already attracts about 7000 competitors, 9000 horses and 16,000 head of cattle to its events each year.
That means 120,000 visitor nights a year.
The Australian Equine and Livestock Centre is at 503 Goonoo Goonoo Road, Tamworth.
5- Visit The Tamworth Powerstation Museum
It is not just its appeal as a country music capital that puts Tamworth under the spotlight.
At 8 pm on November 9, 1888, Tamworth’s mayoress Elizabeth Piper turned a tiny gold key which would change the after-dark landscape of the regional centre for years to come.
It was the first time in Australia that streets would be lit by electric power, the newfound lighting replacing the increasingly expensive gas lights.
Melbourne was to follow six years later, Sydney another 10 years later.
This history-making moment, which linked almost 22kms of streets, and much more about the city’s history with electricity, is highlighted at the Tamworth Powerstation Museum, which opened in 1988 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary.
It is housed inside the original 1907-built electrical showroom building on Peel Street, on the site of the 1888 power station.
Whether you choose to wander through the museum on your own or join a tour with one of the knowledgeable volunteer guides such as 82-year-old Ian Hobbs, a visit is as enlightening as some of the surprising exhibits.
Those items on display include a pictorial history of the early development of electricity.
There is also a vast collection of 20th Century electric appliances used for heating, cooling, cleaning, cooking, and entertainment, together with one of Australia’s largest collections of electric lights.
The museum also boasts two John Fowler steam-driven engines, the only two of their kind in the world still operating.
There is also a working replica of the 1888 Crompton Pattern No 15 Dynamo which represented the start of electric street lighting in Tamworth – and Australia.
The Tamworth Powerstation Museum is at 216 Peel St, Tamworth.
6- Explore The Powerhouse Motorcycle Museum
The impressive private collection of bike-loving Powerhouse Hotel owner Greg Maguire, on show at the Powerhouse Motorcycle Museum, will have enthusiasts staying longer than originally planned.
Located adjacent to the hotel on Armidale Road (New England Highway), the museum boasts as many as 50 motorcycles at any one time, although Greg’s collection numbers more than 200, the remainder stored away for future displays.
The motorcycles, in pristine order, represent models from the 1950s to the 1980s, in the words of the owner “from my era”.
Among the treasured models are vintage BSA Gold Stars, Ducatis, Triumphs, Hondas, and Velocettes, to name a few brands.
The museum is also home to a rare limited-edition F4 MV Augusta Series.
One notable exhibit that stands out is far from pristine – a 1924 Harley Davidson postie bike, found on a country property in a rusting state with dilapidated leather fittings.
It was bought at auction at a higher-than-expected price. Asked whether he would restore the bike, Greg responded, “I want to display it as it was found.”
With a broad smile, he recalled the day he paid well above the bike’s value, the story behind that sale as enthralling and captivating as the bike itself.
The Powerhouse Motorcycle Museum is at 250 Armidale Rd, East Tamworth.
7- Take A Walk Along The Peel River
If you want to stretch the legs on a morning or afternoon stroll, Tamworth has some interesting alternatives depending on your fitness and needs.
Locals like to take the path that passes the family-friendly Bicentennial Park playground and follows the levee of the Peel River.
The Peel River levee bank trail loops more than 6km and is fully sealed and gently undulating, often shared by joggers and cyclists.
It passes the picturesque sporting oval with its picket fence and towering trees, a venue in summer for cricket, in winter Australian Rules.
While on this walk it is worth heading down Pioneers Parade lined by bronze busts of some of Australia’s country music legends, including Tex Morton, Reg Lindsay and Chad Morgan.
8- Go Shopping
Those seeking some shopping therapy prefer to walk along nearby Peel Street, where shops of all sizes and styles are willing to accept your credit card, along with the various cafes, restaurants, museums, and galleries.
Peel Street presents a maze of mainstream stores along with smaller fascinating gift shops and boutiques such as the Magic Pudding with its mix of homewares and food items and The Lemon House for its homewares, furniture, gifts and more.
Prepare to interrupt the shopping spree with a call on local favourite Ruby’s Café and Gift Store for a latte or Sonny’s Bakery for a pastry with a warming coffee – before or after you photograph one of the seated bronze statues of country music legends Slim Dusty and Smoky Dawson.
9- Discover Art At The Tamworth Regional Gallery
For more than 100 years, Tamworth has been displaying artwork worthy of a top regional gallery.
From its early days in 1919 when Australian artist and collector John Salvana – best known for his impressionistic landscapes – gifted 100 pieces of artwork and art reference books, the gallery has grown to feature ever-changing touring exhibitions without losing sight of the achievements of local artists.
Today it takes up space inside a modern purpose-built Tamworth Regional Gallery, adjacent to Tamworth Library, hosting workshops, lectures, artist talks, events and engaging public programs.
Until July 25, 2021, the gallery is displaying original costumes from the Australian film The Dressmaker as part of its touring exhibition. Prior to that, the gallery housed photographic and mesmerising video work from Vic McEwan’s Haunting exhibition.
The Tamworth Regional Gallery is at 466 Peel St, Tamworth.
10- Gaze At The View At Oxley Park Scenic Lookout
For a bird’s eye view of Tamworth and beyond, take the winding short drive along a sealed road to historic Oxley Park Scenic Lookout and prepare for a “wow” factor.
Many prefer to visit at sunset as the streetlights are switched on for the evening.
Others like to go bushwalking, many a fitness fanatic opting for the moderately rated 5.8km loop trail, while most like to set up a picnic around lunchtime (toilets and tables on-site).
The history of the lookout – named after early 19th Century explorer and surveyor John Oxley – is as fascinating as the view, and it dates back to 1936.
For more things to do in NSW read:
11- Eat Jack Creek Beef Steak
Whether you love your meat rare or medium, The Workshop Kitchen inside the Powerhouse Hotel, is a tantalising hot spot to dine, a virtual institution in Tamworth for its succulent Jack Creek Beef (a multiple winner of the world’s best steak) cooked over the ironbark woodfired grill or from the woodfired oven.
The buzz from the open kitchen adds to the restaurant’s vibrant atmosphere, whether it is for breakfast (the full breakfast is a must), lunch, or dinner.
It is no surprise that the restaurant has also gained popularity for its extensive wine list with 200 on the menu.
It was the first restaurant in the region to be awarded a 2 Glass rating at the 2020 Australia’s Wine List of the Year Awards through its variety, almost 50 labels offered by the glass.
Adjacent to the restaurant is an equally appealing and relaxing Coal Bunker Bar, a hive of activity before dinner for its array of cocktails and handpicked local craft beers. Expect to sample some top-shelf spirits or perhaps a whiskey (or whisky) from a cabinet featuring labels from around the world.
The Workshop Kitchen is one of a number of interesting places to eat in Tamworth.
12- Dine In The Heritage-Listed Bank
On Tamworth’s Peel Street, you can bank on enjoying a casual dining experience with your choice of beverage at The Pig and Tinder Box, the name of one of the earliest watering holes in the New England region (1848).
The small boutique-style bar – affectionately referred to by locals as The Pig – is housed inside a grand heritage-listed former bank building, which was built in 1892 long after the area’s gold rush.
Share plates are a popular choice on a menu that offers modern Australian cuisine with European and Asian influences.
Bao buns, pork dumplings and Korean fried chicken among the favourites along with homemade pizzas. And dining here will not burn a hole in the pocket.
The Pig and Tinder Box is at 429 Peel St, Tamworth.
13- Taste Smoked Trout
A 45-minute drive from Tamworth, hidden in a sub-tropical rainforest not far from the Sheba Dam Recreational Reserve, an area popular for fossicking for sapphires and zircons as well as gold, is a tiny gem that specialises in smoked trout and various smoked meat dishes.
Through its smokehouse, the family-owned Arc-en-Ciel Trout Farm has the Drunken Trout Café, a casual daytime dining experience particularly popular on weekends, the café aptly named after the farm’s Sydney Show award-winning mint and gin trout recipe.
Owner Russell Sydenham is proud of his achievements in trout farming, the various offerings on the share plates indicative of the quality and taste of his family’s onsite smoked delights.
Visitors can also buy – and take home – vacuum-packed whole trouts, smoked and unsmoked, of popular choice the lemon and dill smoked trout and understandably the mint and gin award winner.
There is also a choice of meat and trout pates along with smoked beef pastrami and beef jerky.
Arc-en-Ciel Trout Farm is at Malonga, 52 Shearers Rd, Hanging Rock.
14- Stay in Suite 131
The key card to suite 131 at the Powerhouse Tamworth by Rydges has great significance for fans of country music.
In more than 30 visits, the legendary Slim Dusty and his wife Joy McKean requested to stay in the corner suite, something that has not been forgotten by the staff of the hotel. And despite Slim’s passing, Joy continues to stay in the suite when visiting for such events as the annual Country Music Festival.
For many country music performers and legends, the hotel has been their regular home-away-from-home, attracting such international stars as Bob Dylan and Kenny Rogers.
A young Keith Urban began his career in the hotel foyer playing his acoustic guitar in the hope of attracting a few influential fans.
Located on the site of a giant power station which, for generations until the 1980s, was the power source for NSW’s second-largest inland city, this family-owned hotel does not forget its special guests and, in reaching for the stars, has undergone a three-year $13 million redevelopment to ensure a more pleasurable stay.
Where To Stay In Tamworth
Such was the magnitude of this project, the Powerhouse Tamworth by Rydges is now recognised as the NSW New England region’s only five-star hotel.
Straddled along a narrow 700-metre stretch of land separating the New England Highway from the railway, the refurbished hotel – owned by local cattle pastoral identity and long-time hotelier Greg Maguire – now boasts 20 new luxe-serviced self-contained apartments (a mix of one and two-bedroom options, and a three-bedroom villa) along with its 61 rooms and suites.
Because guests can park their cars in front of their rooms, it has often been referred to as a motel, and that continues to remain the case. But the extensive transformation has given the property a huge lift in luxury, both outside and indoors.
From the rooms’ contemporary leather bedheads to the marble bedside tables and bathrooms and the double-glazed windows, the hotel oozes with luxury, its upgrade designed and implemented by Australian award-winning design team, Paul Kelly Design.
In line with 21st Century necessities, the hotel is high tech with high-speed complimentary wi-fi, giant smart TVs on acoustic wave walls, wireless mobile chargers, and multiple USB ports.
Centrepiece is The Workshop Kitchen for its renowned wood-fired grilled steaks and extensive award-winning wine list’ Adjacent is the chic Coal Bunker Bar. High-tech conference rooms have been upgraded to meet the needs of businesses.
The hotel is one of a host of establishments to stay in Tamworth. They range from camping grounds to B&Bs, motels, budget-style hotels and apartments.
Powerhouse Tamworth by Rydges is at 248 Armidale Rd, East Tamworth.
15- See The Grain Silos
Whether you head north, south, east, or west of Tamworth, the drives can be as interesting as they are pleasant on the eye.
Not much fuel is needed to reach some of the quaint outlying villages, spectacular valleys, and panoramic lookouts. And you are sure to be wowed by some of the attractions that come into view around the next turn.
Head north to the tiny town of Barraba, for example, and along Manilla Road in the Nandewar Ranges are three towering privately-owned grain silos that have been used as a canvas by Brisbane street artist Fintan Magee to paint three murals of a larger-than-life water diviner who looks a lot like Prince Harry, we thought.
The silos are among 28 in Australia to make up an ever-expanding trail of silo art.
16- Take A Drive
Drive 45 minutes south of Tamworth along Nundle Road and you can capture a view of the waters of Chaffey Dam and the vast cattle stations such as Powerhouse Pastoral before reaching tiny Nundle village which boasted a bigger population in the 1800s for its gold findings.
A further 15-minute drive east will have you standing at the appropriately named Hanging Rock where you are rewarded with a spectacular panorama of the Nundle Valley from a lookout perched 600 metres above sea level.
The view is also worth putting brush to canvas.
17- Step Back Into History At Nundle Woollen Mill
While in the former gold rush village of Nundle, it is almost mandatory to call in on the multi-award-winning Woollen Mill, to step back in time to wool processing on machinery that is a century old.
For a majority of the 30,000 visitors a year, the sole purpose for visiting Nundle is to call in on the mill and its range of quality woollen items sold exclusively in the mill’s shop.
One person who likes to spin a yarn about the mill is Nick Bradford who with his wife Kylie took over the more recent ownership and runs morning and afternoon guided tours for interested guests.
Merino fleeces are brought in shorn, sorted, classed, and scoured to be processed on original old-world machinery designed and built in England and mainland Europe.
It is music to the ears as all the well-drilled parts of the machinery are brought to life in the processing, the wool ultimately dyed and dried with as many as 39 different colours of choice.
Despite the heritage listing of the machinery and the overall reconnection with Australia’s wool heritage, the mill only opened in 2001.
Yet the feeling is that the mill had been a part of the village for many more years such is its magnetism.
It is the only remaining traditional commercial spinning mill in Australia.
Nundle Woollen Mill is at 35 Oakenville St, Nundle.
For details on the various attractions, activities events along with where to stay and eat, check out the Destination Tamworth website.