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Travelling New South Wales - A visit to Tenterfield

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

The beautiful town of Tenterfild
Tenterfield in Autumn

Travelling New South Wales to Tenterfield, one of Australia's most iconic towns. The town is located in New South Wales in Australia, high in the tablelands just below the Queensland border. Known as the 'birthplace of the nation' it is where Sir Henry Parkes made his famous 1889 speech calling for Australia's federation. We spent a few nights in this interesting town and enjoyed exploring the historic sites, driving along the streets full of autumn trees and relaxing in the cafes and pubs. Tenterfield has something for everyone and whether you stay for a day or longer, you will find so many interesting things to see and do. A visit to Tenterfield is well worth a look.

The drive into Tenterfield is particularly beautiful in Autumn and that's exactly when we visited. Trees line the streets to welcome you with colours of yellow, orange, red and everything in between. Avid photographers can be seen along the roads trying to capture the perfect shot...which won't be hard.

This is not our first visit to Tenterfield as we are travelling New South Wales, however, this is the first opportunity we have had to explore the town. We visited historic landmarks along the Tenterfield Heritage Trail with its remarkable history in transport, defence, and politics as well as its influence on shaping the nation. We explored Tenterfield on a Sunday, so the Information Centre was not opened. Here is a link to the Heritage Trail map. To help you on your journey, read about the ten things we did in Tenterfield that I think will be of interest to everyone.

The iconic 'Tenterfiled Saddler' museum
Tenterfield Saddler

Tenterfield Saddler

The Tenterfield Saddler was made famous by Peter Allen's tribute to his past and his grandfather George Woolnough in the song 'Tenterfield Saddler'. For 50 years (from 1908 - 1960), this blue-granite saddlery on High Street was a key meeting place for men throughout the region. One famous customer was Banjo Patterson the well-loved Australian poet and author.

In 1858, the land was bought by Sir Stuart Alexander Donaldson for 32 pounds 10 shillings. In 1870 it was sold for 34 pounds to Charles Pavel the first Saddler. In 1874 he sold it to the Australian Joint Stock Bank. With its granite walls over 20 inches thick, the old building was perfect for use as a bank.

From 1895 to 1897 the saddlery was the private home of Miss Catherine Bourke, who then sold it to Dan Egan the next saddler. Major J.F. Thomas of “Breaker” Morant fame was the solicitor who arranged these last three sales. In 1972 the Tenterfield Saddlery was classified by the National Trust of Australia. The Saddlery is in its original condition with its red cedar doors and woodwork. Today the Tenterfield Saddler is full of leather goods and historical tools and is manned by volunteers.

Stannum House Tenterfield
The Beautiful Stannum House

Stannum House

Stannum House is a grand Italianate mansion built by John Holmes Reid in 1888. Over the years the house has been transformed for many purposes. Originally it served as the Reid family home for more than 50 years. A full 14-person domestic staff took care of the 12 children who lived at the house. Historic Stannum House became the social centre of Tenterfield society with visits from great Australians such as Sir Henry Parkes, Banjo Paterson and Dame Nellie Melba to mention a few.

The house was converted into a hospital during the Second World War as well as a command base for the Australian Army. It was returned to the family after the war and transformed into a boarding house in 1954. In 1997 Kirk Jensen and Peter Gelhaar purchased and restored it to its original Victorian glory. The great, great-grandson of John Holmes Reid, Peter Maxwell Reid, along with the last surviving relative born at Stannum House, John Reid Mackie opened the fully restored house in 2003.

It is a 3 storey triple brick and stucco building with front bay windows and cast-iron veranda and balcony decoration. The four-panel front door has side and fanlights and the splendid vestibule has an archway supported by Corinthian columns. Off the vestibule are 3 beautifully restored rooms that present magnificent antiques and curios, some of which were owned by the Reid family.

Upstairs are exquisite hand engraved and patterned glass windows with a Juliet balcony leading off the front bedroom. The interior has superb red cedar throughout including a unique cedar spiral staircase, and 10 Italian marble fireplaces. Local stonemasons cut the granite steps.

Cork Tree, Tenterfield
Australia's Largest Cork Tree

Tenterfield Cork Tree

In 1861 the Cork tree was brought from England in a jam tin and it still grows today in Wood Street, Tenterfield. It is believed to be one of the largest of its kind in Australia. Known as the Wishing Tree in English Folklore, it is believed to be surrounded by a strange power to bring good luck to those who walk around the tree three times and make a wish. The tree is now located on private property and is fenced off, so although we were unable to walk around it we were able to view and take photos from the street. Whether you’re making a wish or just standing in awe of its natural beauty, the cork tree is worth a visit.

Fortune favours those who see

More in me than just a tree

Look at my cork

And three times walk

Before my girth for all to see

Sir Henry Parkes School of Arts
Sir Henry Parkes School of Arts

Sir Henry Parkes School of Arts

This is a must-see when visiting Tenterfield with its historic connections. Completed in 1876 it was initially used as a working man's institute. However, in 1889 it became one of the most famous buildings in New South Wales when Henry Parkes (who was Premier of the state five times) delivered a famous speech about the future federation of Australia. Parkes called for a nation that would be both cohesive and united. Historians regard this speech as the official beginning of the movement which culminated in Federation eleven years later and produced the Australian Commonwealth in 1901.

Australia's history is told through interesting displays and the museum features the Banquet Hall, where Sir Henry Parkes delivered his famous Federation speech. A display of memorabilia from Parkes' personal life, ivory carvings and journals is situated in the gallery.

The School of Arts is owned by the National Trust, and in 1957 was the first building in NSW to be gifted to the trust by an Act of Parliament. Members of the National Trust receive free entry into the museum. The complex also features the Tenterfield Cinema and Theatre. This cinema features state of the art digital projection and screenings of all the latest movies, as well as live performances of music and theatre.

Tenterfield Railway Station
Tenterfield Railway Station

Tenterfield Railway Station

In 1886 the Tenterfield Railway Station was opened becoming the last station built on the Sydney to Brisbane railway line. For 103 years, Tenterfield Station made history hosting the full range of trains from yesteryear to the XPT. Services declined gradually from the 1970s and finished completely in October 1989.

The complex includes the station, station master's residence, goods shed, barracks, railway yard and signalling equipment. Today, the station has been transformed into a railway museum with a collection of well-preserved railway artefacts with many of the original operational facilities still in working condition.

Glenrock Gardens Tenterfield
Glenrock Gardens

Glenrock Gardens

The privately-owned Glenrock Gardens are an award-winning country garden established over 30 years ago. Being English-inspired they have iconic drystone walling and steps, intermingled with classic Australian eucalypts, surrounded by local granite boulders and Aussie bushland.

The 10-acre gardens were voted the Best Australian Garden in 2006 and are incorporated within a working farm. A series of lakes divide the parkland, the northern prairie borders and woodland gardens with the terraces, croquet lawns, spring borders and double borders. These spectacular gardens are just stunning in the cool autumn weather.

Thunderbolt's Hideout
Thunderbolt's Hideout

Thunderbolt's Hideout

Captain Thunderbolt is the longest roaming bushranger in Australian history, living between 1835 and 1870. Frederick Ward, was very familiar with the Tenterfield region, using it as both a hideout and hunting ground for his hold-ups. Thunderbolt began his bushranging career by escaping from the notorious Cockatoo Island Prison in Sydney Harbor. He was serving a sentence for horse stealing. He was eventually shot and killed (age 35) at Uralla in 1870 by Constable Walker.

Thunderbolt’s Hideout is 12 km north of Tenterfield, along the Mount Lindesay Road. The site is signposted and the hideout is a short 150 metre walk from the road. Large granite boulders form two caves. The large area between the rocks was used to stable Captain Thunderbolt’s horses and the small shelter under the large rock was a great place to camp. The top of the rock made an ideal lookout, as this was the main road to Warwick during the gold-mining days.

If you love a bit of Australian history, explore these caves and relive the stark reality of being a bushranger and an outlaw.

Mount Mackenzie Scenic Lookout
Mount Mackenzie Scenic Lookout

Mount Mackenzie Scenic Lookout

The Mount Mackenzie Scenic Lookout is 13km from Tenterfield showcasing the town’s spectacular surroundings. The Lookout and Drive are named after Sir Robert Mackenzie, a Scotsman who was granted the first official grazier licence in 1842 for the land that was later to become known as Tenterfield Station.

The Mount Mackenzie Scenic Lookout is almost 1,300 metres above sea level and provides some of the best views in the Northern Tablelands. To the north, you can see the Boonoo Boonoo tableland, made up of Bald Rock and Boonoo Boonoo National Parks in New South Wales, and Girraween National Park in Queensland.

The road to the Mount Mackenzie Lookout is 13km from Tenterfield and is sealed. Alternatively, take the one hour, 38km Mount Mackenzie Scenic Drive to the top of the lookout, and enjoy the picturesque surrounds of the mountains, farmlands and rock formations. Or enjoy this road in the reverse, and continue along Kildare Road for an alternate loop route back into Tenterfield. The drive is interesting and the lookout is very peaceful.

Commercial Hotel Tenterfield
Commercial Hotel

Commercial Hotel

To finish our day touring Tenterfield, we stopped in at the Commercial Boutique Hotel in the main street. This recently restored 1940s hotel has retained its heritage and old-world charm. A beautiful open fire is a perfect ambience as you enjoy lunch, coffee or one of the extensive selections of local wines and regional craft beers. The back deck and grassed beer garden are ideal for watching the sunset over the western hills.

Tenterfield Showground
Tenterfield Showground

Tenterfield Showground

We stayed at the quiet and peaceful Tenterfield Showground, camping by the Tenterfield Creek. The campsite is within walking distance of the main shopping precinct including supermarkets, Post Office, retail outlets, coffee shops, newsagent and Tenterfield Visitor Information Centre. The showground is one of Tenterfield’s historical precincts with 140 years of history.

  • Reception Hours - Daily 8.00 am to 8.00 pm

  • Bookings - Call into the caretaker's cottage (62 Miles Street) or call 0499 885 386. All campers to report to the caretaker before entering the campground.

  • Cost - $33 per night

  • Dump Point - available for campground guests and the general public.

  • Directions - turn left (if coming from the south) or right (if coming from the north) off the New England Highway, into Miles Street (at the Visitor Information Centre). The entrance is 200 metres on the right.

  • Pet Friendly

Tenterfield Location

Tenterfield is at the junction of the New England and Bruxner Highways, 715 kilometres north of Sydney (10-hour drive), 275 kilometres south of Brisbane (3.5 hours) and about three hours from Ballina.

Continuing our journey Travelling New South Wales

As we continue our journey travelling New South Wales, it’s impossible not to be spellbound by the wonderful mix of beauty and history. We loved our stay and would definitely return to this iconic town. Visit Tenterfield, you won't be disappointed!


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