Halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, the historic city of Armidale sits up high in the Northern Tablelands where farmland gives way to dramatic wild gorges.
Australia’s highest city feels more like a big country town that has been enjoying a new lease on life in recent years. As well as having an evolving local food and drink scene, visitors can discover local artisans and designers at The New England Collective, a recent addition to the open-air Beardy Street Mall.
Home to one of the most impressive art collections in Australia, the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM), is a must for art lovers. The Hinton Art Collection includes works by Arthur Streeton, Margaret Preston, Norman Lindsay, and other Australian greats, with 132 pieces on permanent display.
Heritage-listed buildings can be found throughout Armidale, including the Cathedral and Post Office, and just outside the city, you can join a tour of the 30 room Edwardian mansion, Saumarez Homestead. Now operated by the National Trust, the homestead dates back to 1888 and has a heritage rose garden with more than 600 roses that were mostly bred before 1930.
Saumarez is found 3km down the road from the Armidale Airport, which now comes complete with a departure lounge and luggage belt after a $10.5 million expansion was completed in December 2017.
While I usually prefer an aisle seat as a regular QantasLink passenger to Armidale I’ve discovered it’s best to go for a window for the 1hr 20min hop from Sydney. Here you can be rewarded with views of the rose garden from above and if you’re lucky you may even see a waterfall or two in the gorges.
For guaranteed views of flat farmland giving way to steep cliff faces and waterfalls take Fleet Adventures helicopter from the Gara Gorge to Wollomombi where the second tallest waterfall in Australia drops more than 220m below you.
After watching brumbies gallop below us on an open-door helicopter tour I saw another unexpected sight. A huge, tree-covered heart in the valley below. Known as The Heart of New England the formation has been created by two rivers and can only be seen by those lucky enough to fly above.
As well as doors on and off helicopters, Fleet Adventures offer a Warbird tour in an open cockpit Boeing-Stearman biplane and acrobatic twists in both the Stearman and a T6. If Fleet’s Managing Director Lachie Onslow is around you can also ask him about the time he won the 2018 Reno Silver Jet Races in his L-39 jet Drop Bear.
If you’re traveling by car just 32km east of Armidale you can stand on a viewing platform at the edge of one of Australia’s largest gorge systems and look out at the Wollomombi Falls. For more spectacular waterfalls including Ebor Falls and Dangar Falls make a road trip of it and head on down the Waterfall Way scenic drive through Dorrigo and Bellingen to Coffs Harbour.
Eat and Drink
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all winners at the Goldfish Bowl Bakery. Here the exposed brick wood-fired oven helps to keep organic sourdough and other artisanal bread on the shelves and tempting pastries in the cabinet. On Fridays, it turns to pizza making mode with wild boar and truffle salami toppings on the changing menu.
At Bistro On Cinders delicious bento boxes and Matcha crepe rolls are waiting in a renovated Post Office sorting room with a large sunny courtyard.
For modern country pub fare, the Whitebull Hotel is a winner, while the fine dining restaurant in the Tattersalls Hotel has a focus on local produce led by French chef Jean-Luc Morcellet who previously led teams at The Savoy in London and the Shangri-La in Doha.
Sit back and listen to live music with a seasonal or classic cocktail at Charlie’s Last Stand.
And tea lovers shouldn’t leave town without a local blend from the Daily Ritual. Their New England Breakfast mix of China Golden Yunnan and China Keemun with a hint of vanilla won bronze in the 2017 International Tea Expo, while their Saumarez Smooth green tea with lime petals and lemongrass is among their other award-winning blends.
Following a $24 million refurbishment, the Tattersalls Hotel is Art Deco luxury in the heart of town.
And for a special B&B stay Loloma Luxury Bed and Breakfast is a two suite B&B in a 19th century home with a tennis court and pool.