Peter Allen’s life-size cardboard cut-out and silver-sequined maracas stand proudly in the middle of the Tenterfield Visitor’s Centre -“ a tribute to the entertainer who has long been associated with this northern NSW town. Tenterfield has embraced the legacy of Allen’s iconic tunes such as Tenterfield Saddler and I Still Call Australia Home but it could never have been big enough for his shimmering personality and props which defy the slow pace of this sleepy, rural town.
The Tenterfield Saddlery in High Street, where Allen’s grandfather plied his trade and inspired the song, is part gift shop, part museum. The blue granite building with its 20-inch-thick walls has been a bank, saddlery, private residence and is now a must-see for any Allen fan. Layers of history unfold, literally, with original wallpapers, kerosene tin chests and an old bookshelf crammed with an eclectic mix including press clippings covering the life and times of every resident (past and present) of Tenterfield, a book of Banjo Patterson’s poems (a former customer) and a program from The Boy From Oz. You can buy a T-shirt (of course) or an oilskin coat or just wander in and chat to the knowledgeable folk who seem to know every date and happening within these massive walls.
Tenterfield offers much in the way of classic Australian country ambience where the mist rises on a cold morning to reveal the clear, big skies of the northern tablelands district of New South Wales. You could include Tenterfield in a car-based trip, taking in the other New England towns of Armidale and Glen Innes, which are surrounded by remnants of our pioneering past. Nearby are fantastic national parks and reserves, just perfect if you love exploring the tall forests and waterfalls which this region has been blessed with.
Bald Rock National Park is a short drive from Tenterfield and you can walk to the 1,277-metre summit of the granite dome that is the main feature of the park. This mini-Uluru is the second largest monolith in the southern hemisphere and you can take a quick and incredibly steep walk to the top for fine views over the Queensland border country and to the coast on a clear day. It is a vast and rugged landscape, which surprised me as I thought most of the land in these parts had been cleared for farming. The alternative to the short, lung-busting walk to the summit is a steady climb through a succession of tall New England blackbutt eucalypts and the stunted heathland of banksias and ti-trees on the wind-swept summit.
The tall forests shelter a rich collection of native fauna and you will see many wallabies and kangaroos throughout the park. Koalas are present but hard to spot and the birdlife would please any keen birdwatcher.
Nearby are the must-see Boonoo Boonoo Falls which tumble down to the rainforest floor of the valley. In summer it would be fantastic swimming in the upper falls, which are a short walk from the car park. The falls are reached by a beautiful forest drive off the main road to Bald Rock and if you like camping you will love the secluded sites in and around the falls.
Also worth exploring are the wineries -“ mostly within a short drive from the town centre -“ but check times and openings first as they can be fickle, depending on the season. Beyond the town are some great places to take in the rural heritage and beauty of the New England district: drive out to some of the old mining towns such as Torrington and Urbenville or do the Granite Drive with sweeping views back over Tenterfield and the border country from Mount Mackenzie. Take a picnic lunch and explore more of the national parks or state forests where, again, the wildlife is jumping.
Tenterfield has the usual range of accommodation options you’d expect in a small country town including 3.5 star motels, pubs, caravan parks and a couple of guesthouses. Camping in the national park is a great option if you’re so inclined with some lovely sites to pitch a tent. Check with the Visitor’s Centre for details and prices. The centre also has notes on town walks featuring some impressive and beautifully maintained Federation and Deco period architecture, more drives and tours and a song-sheet for Tenterfield Saddler just to make your trip authentic and to pass the hours if you’re driving on further afield.
Visitors Information Centre, 157 Rouse St (New England Hwy), Tenterfield, NSW 2372. Phone 6736 1082 or www.tenterfield.com
NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service -“ Northern Tablelands Region, New England Hwy, Glen Innes, NSW 2370 (park entry fees apply). Phone 6732 5133 or www.npws.nsw.gov.au