The oldest town and first settlement in the New England highlands, Walcha has the most public art per head of population than anywhere else in the country.
It’s also home to the first permanent open-air gallery in Australia, while some of nature’s great works of art can be found in dramatic waterfalls and gorges.
Around town, while enjoying great food and shopping in historic shop fronts, you’ll even find the water bubblers in the park are a work of art, and find fresh cut flowers in the public toilets.
When to visit Walcha
You can see and feel the seasons change in this charming country town.
Autumn is considered one of the top times to visit, when the changing leaves on the trees provide pops of colour. The Walcha Agricultural Show shares some of the best local products and talent in the region in March.
Winter is a photographer’s delight; the overnight temperatures dip below zero and the morning frost creates a wonderland that’s sometimes joined by flakes of snow.
Spring is bursting with colour, and it’s a great time to head out on bush walks and explore the World Heritage-listed national parks. It’s also an excellent time for cyclists to head out on Walcha’s quiet gravel roads and wilderness tracks, with GPS trails for every kind of cyclist.
Perched 1067 metres above sea level, Walcha’s summers are mild and free of stifling heat and humidity.
How to get to Walcha
Getting to Walcha is part of the fun, thanks to scenic drives along Thunderbolts Way and the Oxley Highway.
It takes five hours to drive the 412 kilometres from Sydney to Walcha along Thunderbolts Way, five and a half hours via the New England Highway, and two and a half hours to wind your way from Port Macquarie up the Oxley Highway (due to restoration work, there is a temporary closure until December 2022).
The closest airport is Armidale, 40 minutes away, where Qantas and Rex provide flights from Sydney. Tamworth airport is an 80-minute drive away; there are direct Sydney flights on Qantas seven days a week, and Brisbane flights on Link Airways (formerly Fly Corporate) six days a week.
You can also get most of the way by rail. It takes seven hours and 15 minutes to travel by train from Sydney to Walcha Road Station, followed by a bus transfer to Walcha.
Whether you’re looking for an art lover’s guesthouse, a quiet farm stay, a classic motel or a room above a friendly pub, Walcha has the bed for you.
WALCHA MOTELS AND PUBS
The Commercial Hotel has been welcoming travellers for a beer and a bite since 1865. These days it has six recently renovated bedrooms above the pub; all of them have Smart TVs and access to the balcony with views over Walcha.
There are three bathrooms to share, and those arriving on two wheels can use the lock-up to keep their bikes safe.
Guests can enjoy a drink by the fire downstairs or in the beer garden, as well as a good pub meal in the dining area.
All 19 rooms have ensuites, air conditioning, and Smart TVs so you can watch your own streaming services. There are also comfortable Sealy beds, in which you can both sleep and have room service breakfast in bed.
WALCHA ROYAL CAFE & ACCOMMODATION
What was once a 19th-century Walcha pub is now a ’60s-styled motorcycle-themed cafe with rooms above.
The Walcha Royal Cafe & Accommodation has two queen rooms with flat screen TVs and DVDs, tea and coffee facilities, a bar fridge and verandah access, as well as three king single rooms. Bathrooms are shared, and there’s also a common lounge that leads onto the verandah for guests to enjoy.
For those travelling with friends or family, there’s also a two-bedroom cottage that sleeps up to seven guests.
WALCHA GUESTHOUSES AND B&BS
The Walcha Guesthouse is not only next door to the Walcha Gallery of Art in the heart of town, but it’s also owned by the same person and features original paintings and sculptures on the walls and in the backyard.
This stylish art B&B sleeps up to eight guests in four bedrooms with a large fully equipped kitchen, a fire in the lounge, a laundry, and toilets upstairs and downstairs.
You can sit on your private balcony with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and watch country life go by; as a bonus, each guest receives a $15 voucher for Cafe Graze next door.
CAIRNIE COUNTRY COTTAGE
Cairnie Country Cottage is a sweet rural retreat just eight kilometres outside Walcha. The self-contained cottage, surrounded by century-old gardens, sleeps two people, and has a wood fire and a large kitchen complete with a full-sized fridge/freezer, oven, stove and microwave.
Breakfast supplies include cereal, bread, bacon, and fresh eggs from the chickens you may meet in the garden.
OLD GREENWELLS B&B
One of the oldest farm buildings in the New England highlands, the Old Greenwells homestead dates back to 1856 and has been lovingly restored in recent years.
The Old Greenwells B&B has two bedrooms, one with a queen room and ensuite, and a twin room. It boasts views over the Langford Valley and is only a three-kilometre drive or 15-minute walk into town.
WALCHA CAMPING AND CARAVANNING
APSLEY FALLS CAMPGROUND
On the western edge of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, Apsley Falls campground is around a 15-minute drive from Walcha, but feels like it’s in another world. There are picnic tables, barbecue facilities and toilets at the campground, which is suitable for caravans.
It’s a great base for bushwalking and birdwatching; you may even see platypus at dawn or dusk, or catch a glimpse of a spotted-tailed quoll with a torch at night. Be sure to book ahead to secure your spot.
Restaurants and cafes in Walcha
Southern fried chicken, Himalayan dumplings, and pub and cafe classics are among the ways to satisfy your appetite during your Walcha visit.
APSLEY ARMS HOTEL
This old Aussie pub has some surprises in store. Since chef Ganesh Sedhain bought Apsley Arms Hotel in early 2022, it’s where you’ll find some of the best meals in town.
Originally from Nepal, Ganesh worked as a chef in Sydney restaurants (including Bondi Icebergs) before moving to the countryside.
Along with succulent steaks, sous vide short ribs and crispy skin Atlantic salmon, the menu includes Nepalese specials with Himalayan dumplings, handmade Himalayan chicken pie and more to try.
The happy result of a Covid career pivot, Walcha Taphouse has been the town’s friendly small bar since opening in 2020.
With a focus on craft beer and artisan distilleries, particularly from New England producers (including Uralla’s New England Brewing Co and Glen Innes’ Glen Gowrie Distillery), it’s also where you can tuck into juicy Southern fried chicken, fried pickles and loaded fries, or opt for a cheese or cured meat board, and duck and shiraz butter pate.
With its new bi-fold windows and shaded outdoor seating area, it’s hard to believe the Cafe Graze building was once one of Walcha’s banks.
This top spot for breakfast and lunch focuses on simple things done well, including eggs benedict, corn fritters and steak sandwiches.
While your meal is being prepared you can take a look around the tempting range of gifts and homewares, ranging from local Walcha-made candles to Marimekko pencils.
THE FRUIT SHOP
On the corner next to the sculpture on the roundabout, The Fruit Shop stocks locally-grown fruit, but it’s also where you can join locals at the coffee window to pick up a cuppa and a quick bite.
You’ll find ethically sourced and hand-picked Blackboard Coffee with a range of toasties, house-made pies and sausage rolls, and the simple joy of local wood-fired fruit toast with butter.
WALCHA ROAD HOTEL
Head 19 kilometres out of town to find the historic Walcha Road Hotel. This quaint pub was established in 1882 and sits across the road from the heritage-listed Walcha Road railway station.
The building underwent a major refurbishment following a fire in 2004, and now has a larger bar, back verandah, new modern kitchen and baking facilities.
The hotel chef and owner is also a baker, and if you order ahead you can also pick up a fresh loaf of sourdough bread after enjoying a meal.
Things to do in Walcha
Follow the open-air art trail, feel the mist from thundering waterfalls, discover pieces of the past in heritage buildings, and join in the fun at Walcha’s motorcycle rally.
WALCHA’S OPEN-AIR GALLERY
Australia’s largest and first permanent open-air art gallery started in 1996, when local farmer and sculptor Stephen King offered to create a fountain sculpture for McHattan Park.
Now Walcha’s Open-Air Gallery features almost 60 artworks created by local, national and internationally renowned artists, including some that were originally created for Sydney’s Sculpture By The Sea. Even the verandah poles and street furniture are works of art in this small country town.
You can download a Walcha Open-Air gallery map and a guide to the artworks, or pick up copies of both from the Walcha Visitor Information Centre. For a deeper dive, listen to artists share the stories behind some of the artworks on the Walcha Sculpture Soundtrail.
WALCHA GALLERY OF ART
As well as the permanent artworks around town, you can also see temporary exhibitions at the Walcha Gallery of Art.
Exhibitions can include paintings, charcoals, sculpture, ceramics and jewellery in a contemporary gallery space. If you’re lucky you may even be in town for an opening night, when you can meet the artists and locals over a drink.
OXLEY WILD RIVERS NATIONAL PARK
Oxley Wild Rivers National Park stretches from the Wollomombi Falls outside Armidale down to Tia Falls (that’s Tye-ah, not Tee-ah) near Walcha, with around 500 kilometres of wild rivers and the state’s largest area of dry rainforest in between. Both Apsley and Tia Falls are spectacular to see after rain.
Apsley Falls are just 19 kilometres from Walcha on a sealed all-weather road, with wheelchair-accessible pathways and platforms where you can look out over the 85-metre-high waterfall. Find out more about the falls as you listen to tales from elders, rangers and scientists on the Apsley Falls Soundtrail.
Tia Falls are another 22 kilometres down the Oxley Highway; as well as being able to admire the falls, you can cook up lunch on the free barbecues and walk through wildflowers in spring.
When Barry and Beverly Marshall first saw Langford House it looked like a derelict building, with collapsed verandahs and no hint of what lay inside. But when they walked through the front door they knew they’d found something extraordinary.
Built in 1903, on the spot John Oxley originally camped on back in 1818, the grand two-storey home still had its magnificent mahogany staircase, stained glass windows, antique light fixtures and many more period features.
After adding extra rooms, a glass atrium over the old courtyard, and more than 600 pieces of cast iron for new verandahs, the couple opened Langford House for weddings and events. Tours of Langford House are also available by appointment.
WALCHA PIONEER COTTAGE AND MUSEUM
Fun farming fact: Walcha was the first place in Australia to spread superphosphate by aeroplane, and at the Walcha Pioneer Cottage and Museum you can see the Tiger Moth aircraft that was used to do it in February 1950.
The museum is also home to historical buildings, including the Pioneer Cottage that dates back to 1862, machinery sheds with a horse-drawn vehicle and early agricultural machinery, a reconstructed blacksmith shop, rare tools and household items from colonial times.
The museum is manned by volunteers and is open on the weekends and other times by request.
You never know what you might find in Walcha’s Big Black Building and Antique Junque stores. With 57 stalls under one roof, the Big Black Building offers an eclectic mix of clothing, jewellery, homewares, books and more.
At the other end of Derby Street, every available surface and shelf in Antique Junque is covered with glassware, books and assorted old wares. Prepare to lose track of time as you work your way around these stores.
HERITAGE WALK OR RIDE
New England’s oldest town has lots of history to share, including the Old Stone Anglican Church (c1862), Court House (c1878) and Fenwicke House (c1880s).
To take a stroll through the past, pick up a map for a walking tour of Walcha’s historical buildings from the Visitor Information Centre, or download a brochure.
If you’d prefer to explore on two wheels, the Visitor Information Centre also loans out bikes for free.
WALCHA MOTORCYCLE RALLY
The stunning mountain scenery and winding roads around Walcha have made it one of Australia’s top towns for motorcycle riders.
On the third weekend in November, the Walcha Motorcycle Rally brings all kinds of bike enthusiasts together to enjoy a mix of biking and country fun, including motorcycle skill shows, adventure rides, woodchopping, live music and a demolition derby.
If you don’t have a bike you can still get a ticket to the show, and can watch the street parade on Saturday morning.