Walcha: Creative and Vibrant
Beautiful scenery, outdoor adventures, artisanal food, boutique wines, art, antiques and delightful accommodation are just some of the attractions that make historic Walcha such a lovely place to visit or stay.
Almost two hundred years ago English explorer John Oxley forged through the bush and up into the highlands not far from where the township of Walcha stands today. And since the 1830s, this lush pasture rolling over the undulating hills as far as the eye can see has been home to sheep and cattle breeders that produce some of the finest wool, lamb and beef in the nation.
If you’re curious about life on the land, several families welcome guests at their properties, where you can participate in the day-to-day farm activities, such as collecting eggs, mustering cattle and shearing sheep. Farm stay accommodation ranges from luxurious rooms with amazing views to comfortable cottages and pretty campsites. You can expect friendly hosts, a picturesque setting and delicious home-cooked meals featuring farm-fresh produce and local wines.
For an authentic country town experience, opt instead to stay overnight in one of the charming bed and breakfasts or guesthouses. Peaceful motels, hotels, a caravan park and campsites are also with in easy reach of everything you’ll want to do.
Around here, some of the farmers are notable artists too, which largely explains why there are numerous sculptures dotted around the town’s streets and parks. The artistic community was the creative force behind Walcha’s enchanting Open Air Gallery, which today features over 50 works by local, national and international contemporary artists. Walcha locals have embraced their reputation as a very art-friendly town and with one public artwork per 75 citizens; “there can be no town in Australia that is so art friendly”, according to John Macdonald, one of Australia’s best known art critics.
Taking a self-guided walking, cycling (or driving) tour around the sculptures is a great way to explore the town. Free Loan-a-Bikes (kids, adults and a coaster for toddlers) are available for use from the Visitor Information Centre. Along the tour you can stop for delicious refreshments at one of the charming cafés, pop into the art gallery to view works by regional artists, learn about days gone by in the cluster of colonial buildings that make up the Walcha Pioneer Cottage & Museum, or search for treasures in a sprawling antique shop.
Nature’s beauty is also a major attraction. Aside from hundreds of kilometres of trout and bass streams to fish, there are thousands of hectares of scenic national parks and state forests to explore. Pack a picnic and head off to the gorgeous gorges and waterfalls.The spectacular Apsley Falls and Tia Falls are well worth a visit and both are a short drive away in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, where bushwalking, camping and kayaking are also popular pursuits.
You can also spiral down steep gravel roads into the remote World Heritage-listed Werrikimbe National Park and walk along the trails in the temperate rainforest there. Or head, via Budds Mare, to Riverside in the remote wilderness of the Macleay Gorges – a four-wheel drive vehicle is essential for this outing – and swim in the Apsley River, among other excursions in the vicinity. If sightseeing perched on a mountain bike or motorbike is more your thing, then you’ll find the winding country roads that loop around the area particularly satisfying.
Why not take a meandering scenic drive to some of Walcha’s surrounding villages. Head to Nowendoc and its jersey and goat cheese factory for a spot of lunch, or time your visit for the annual Woolbrook Stampede, or simply drop a line in the Macdonald River there to try your angler’s luck. Take a short drive to Walcha Road, the rail service village 20km west of Walcha for a great meal at the village’s famous pub. Continue to follow the railway line north through Wollun to Kentucky for a quick meal at the general store or a finer dining experience at the local winery’s restaurant after visiting the local native tree nursery. The roads to Yarrowitch and Niangala are particularly spectacular, taking you through beautifully scenic and magnificent grazing country.
But if all that cultural stimulation and adventuring in the great outdoors sounds too strenuous, you’ll find that Walcha can be a relaxing place to simply unwind on a shady verandah or nestled beside a cosy fire with a glass of New England red and a good book.