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Avoid the scenario of ending up lost and missing the sights you came to see by following routes mapped out by knowledgeable locals. Tourist Drive 3, for example, focuses on the historic stomping grounds of miners, bushrangers and farmers. It begins in Armidale, taking in some of the city's finest heritage buildings, including the cathedrals, Folk Museum, Town Hall and old Teachers College. Then, you motor through farmland peppered with cattle and sheep to the tiny village of Arding, past orchards and on to Rocky River, where gold was discovered in the 1870s. Next stop is Uralla, a charming town that prospered during the gold rush era and was also a haunt of the notorious bushranger Captain Thunderbolt. The drive loops back to Armidale via Saumarez Homestead, a gracious late 19th-century pastoral home built for the White family, now a National Trust property.
On Tourist Drive 19 from Uralla, the elm tree-lined approach to the photogenic vine-covered Gostwyck Chapel remarkably resembles the English countryside the region was named after. From there, the route passes over a narrow wooden bridge, transporting you straight back into the Australian bush, past historic Deeargee Station's huge 19th-century wool shed and eventually to the Dangar's Gorge and Falls turnoff. Picnic and hike along the gorge rim for amazing views of the waterfalls.
Travel the pioneer trail on Tourist Drive 21 from Uralla, over the hills to the lovely Banalasta lavender and eucalyptus farm, old Bendemeer coach stop and the tiny hamlet of Woolbrook, where you can fish for trout in the crystal clear waters of the McDonald River. The route then winds through Walcha, the first town settled in the region (early 1800s), and along Thunderbolt's Way back to Uralla.
Another great drive is named the Best of New England for good reason. From Armidale, Tourist Drive 17 winds along the picturesque Waterfall Way and through World Heritage-listed national parks to the most spectacular gorges, waterfalls, crystal clear streams and views in the region. Highlights of this expedition include Gara Gorge and Wollomombi Falls in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, Point Lookout in the New England National Park, massive boulders in the Cathedral Rock National Park and Ebor Falls. You also pass through the once thriving mining towns of Hillgrove and Metz, visit a trout hatchery and stop by Malpas Dam, where you might catch a yacht race in action.
From Glen Innes, Tour Drive 11 takes you on sensational journey through the past, into the land of pioneers, historic villages, fishing and fossicking areas and wild country with stunning rock formations. Emmaville and Torrington were once thriving tin mining towns. Be sure to stop at the Emmaville Mining Museum and to view relics of mining at Tent Hill and Torrington. Weird rock formations, like Mystery Rockface and Thunderbolt’s Lookout are features of the 30,000ha Torrington State Recreation Area – with streams, waterfalls and rare beautiful flora. Historic buildings are lovingly preserved at Deepwater, a proud little village where the pastoralists settled in the 1830s.
A popular short drive from Tenterfield gives you an opportunity to view some of the unusual granite outcrops which can be found throughout the district. These are quite spectacular and many unique formations can be seen, such as the Doctor’s Nose, Small Bald Rock, Draining Rock and the Mole River District.