A weaving meander from coastal hinterland to mountainous high country, Thunderbolt’s Way is one of Australia’s most beautiful drives.
Running from Gloucester in the pretty hinterland of the Mid-North Coast to Inverell on New England’s western plains, it’s a 290km odyssey that weaves over the Great Dividing Range, climbs over 1000m in altitude and provides spectacular scenery around every bend. Thunderbolt’s Way takes you from verdant rolling farmland into the wilds of several national parks and through quaint country towns where you can enjoy quality coffee, a good feed and even a spot of shopping.
The journey is so named in honour of feared and revered bushranger Frederick Ward, better known as Captain Thunderbolt, who roamed these parts in the early 1800s. A criminal with good taste, evidently! And while Captain Thunderbolt’s namesake can be driven in its entirety in one day, it’s best enjoyed slowly over three or four days.
Gloucester, Barrington & The Great Dividing Range
The opening leg of Thunderbolt’s Way is one of its prettiest. In the verdant hinterland of the Mid-North Coast, the road weaves across rolling farmland and alongside clear flowing rivers and streams.
Feel the temperature drop and the coastal humidity subside as you push north towards Walcha across the Great Dividing Range. You’ll experience tight hairpin bends coupled with open sweeping corners, breathtaking vistas and pristine wilderness. Listen out for the iconic call of the native bellbird; they love this kind of terrain and so will you.
Once you’ve crossed the Great Dividing Range you will come to Walcha, a small farming community on the fertile plateau of New England High Country.
The town’s slogan is ‘where wild rivers run’, and that’s apt given its close proximity to the dramatic gorges and winding rivers of the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.
There you can enjoy exploring waterfalls, hiking, camping, bushwalking and more. While in the town itself you’ll be treated to an abundance of outdoor sculpture in the famed Open Air Gallery, with an accompanying immersive audio tour in the Walcha Sculpture Soundtrail. Boutique shops, quality coffee and a wonderful community spirit are also there to be relished.
Just half an hour’s drive north of Walcha you’ll find the next significant town, Uralla. A charming historic village, Uralla’s streets are dotted with heritage buildings, museums, artisan bakeries, microbreweries and wholefood stores.
Uralla seamlessly blends country charm with foodie culture and is bound to be a highlight of your trip along Thunderbolt’s Way.
There are plenty of fabulous accommodation options, not to mention dining and shopping opportunities. But if you prefer the great outdoors, Uralla is within close proximity of Dangars Falls and a number of walks in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. It’s also perfect for a leisurely country bike ride.
Just a short detour up the road from Uralla you’ll find the New England region’s capital, Armidale. Once in Armidale, there’s no shortage of places to wine and dine, stylish accommodation and breathtaking national parks and waterfalls to explore.
Nearing the end of your Thunderbolts Way journey you will find picturesque Inverell nestled along the banks of the Macintyre River. Steeped in history, the stunning streetscape of historic buildings is sporadically filled with fabulous boutiques, an art gallery or two, gift & homeware shops as well as great cafe’s and pubs. The National Transport Museum is a must-see and why not try your hand at sapphire fossicking.