Published in the RACQ’s The Road Ahead
Wend your way down the highway, taking delicious detours as you go
A road trip along the New England Highway is the ultimate foodie adventure. It’s the alternative, lesser-travelled route from Queensland to NSW. With its four distinct seasons, it’s known for its lamb and beef, stone fruit, berries, delicious baked goods and cool climate wines. On a leisurely foodie trip, you’ll find tasty treats to last you the journey, so pack a cooler bag for farmgate finds and hit the road.
Start your gourmet adventure in Stanthorpe, Queensland’s cool climate wine region and fruit bowl. There are around 50 wineries dotted around the region, and its restaurants have a genuine farm-to-table ethos. For a bespoke dining experience, Essen, a modern Austrian restaurant offers a hyper-seasonal menu that changes weekly.
It’s a short hop over the border to Tenterfield, a charming colonial town. Once best known for Peter Allen’s Tenterfield Saddler, nowadays there’s a slew of new eateries, such as Stonefruit Bar, the name a nod to local produce. Don’t miss the Commercial Boutique Hotel, a country gastropub that has been renovated in art deco style, which is the perfect place in the cooler months to tuck into wintry fare and cosy up to the fire.
Head south through grazing country to Celtic Glen Innes, which is home to Australia’s only standing stones and is the place to stop for traditional tea and scones.
Wine buffs should make a scenic detour to Topper’s Mountain Wines (by appointment). They use the region’s deep volcanic soil and high elevation to experiment with rare varietals, such as Tinta Roriz, and their local produce platters are extraordinarily good.
Otherwise make a beeline to Armidale via Guyra, where in January, the Guyra Lamb and Potato Festival is a lot of fun.
Stately Armidale comes alive during autumn, when the deciduous trees are blazing with colour. After a cheeky craft brew at The Welder’s Dog, dine at Tattersalls Hotel, which re-opened in 2018 after a stunning renovation. Their elegant art deco dining room is winning accolades for its high-country cuisine with a French twist – think Bourguignon-style beef cheek with gorgonzola polenta – perfect cool weather fodder.
Back on the road again, it’s a short drive to cute little Uralla. The air is cooler here, and the English influence is obvious and not just because of the temperature. There are plenty of cafes, but for a road trip snack done right, you can’t go past The Pie Mechanic. This slot-in-the-wall bakehouse churns out creatively-flavoured pies like The Deer Hunter – venison, lentils and red wine.
From Uralla, steer south to dot-on-the-map Kentucky, an unlikely foodie hub and home to Dobson’s Distillery. Run by the Dobson Family, this grain-to-glass distillery makes small-batch gins, whiskies and liqueurs. They offer tastings (try their Sweet Pea Gin made of 27 botanicals) and their restaurant is open on weekends. There’s atmosphere in spades with the sensational Belle Epoque interior, speakeasy and the prohibition vibe.
Trundle down the highway and you’ll arrive at Tamworth, Australia’s “Country Music Capital”. These days, there’s a surprising number of good eateries. Standouts are Camp Grounds for loaded toasties or award-winning The Workshop Kitchen for all-day dining.
A 20-minute drive south, another delight awaits. Once you drive past the majestic gates and down the avenue of trees, you know you are in for something special. Goonoo Goonoo Station (pronounced Gunna Gunnoo) is a colonial sheep station that has been renovated and reimagined as classy country luxe accommodation with a sophisticated restaurant, Glasshouse.
As you continue south, the region is dotted with colonial hotels, a reminder of Australia’s gold rush heyday. One such hotel is Willow Tree Inn, an hour south of Tamworth, which has been lovingly restored and turned into a foodie destination with an acclaimed restaurant, Graze. Their tender Colly Creek meat comes from pastures just 2km away and is aged in-house with a window into the dry-ageing room.
As you drive from Willow Tree to the Upper Hunter Valley, grazing country gives way to grapes and before long you will arrive in Pokolbin, the heart of the Hunter Valley. Boasting big names such as Tyrrell’s as well as boutique wineries, the Hunter Valley specialises in Semillon, Chardonnay and Shiraz and new wave wines such as Vermentino and Sangiovese.
Being wine country, there’s good eating on offer from hatted restaurants to charcuterie bars. High on the hill overlooking vineyards at Bistro Molines, you’ll think you’ve been transported to French Provence. If you feel like splurging, treat yourself to Sebastian, the new restaurant at Spicers Tower Lodge, which pays homage to the flavours of Spain’s Basque region. There are plenty of other fantastic foodie activities, such as a hands-on cooking class, artisan cheese making and chocolate tasting. Luckily, there is a bike trail to work it all off.
After soaking up the epicurean experiences, finish on top with a sunrise hot air balloon ride, a fitting finale to your New England foodie adventure.