For anyone who thinks they have Celtic blood running through their veins, or who loves fossicking, or who simply gets a kick out of exploring world heritage areas as you breathe in cool mountain air, I think I have discovered the perfect place. Situated up in the New England region of NSW is Glen Innes. A good day’s drive from either Sydney or Brisbane, the whole area is jam-packed with activities to suit even the fussiest of explorers.
Looking back at Glen Innes’ past, it was about 1838 when the first pastoralists set up nearby, and in the following decade the town steadily grew until Glen Innes was gazetted in 1852. The local Aboriginal people called the area Gindaaydjin which means ‘lots of big round stones across the flat plains’.
During the next few years the town became central to several mining areas, and with this came grand buildings – a courthouse, police station, several pubs, shops and even a telegraph station. These days as you walk around this beautiful town you’ll notice some of these buildings have been restored and re-used, and some are even heritage listed.
A fossicking good time
Our adventure started at Fossicker Caravan Park at Glen Innes, our home base for several days. Situated only 3 minutes walking distance away from the heart of town, this is the place to be. It’s quiet and has large drive-through sites with very comfortable amenities.
We didn’t have to go far to get the fossicking bug either, as the park sells buckets of mine ‘wash’ (dirt and rocks pulled out from local mines) which allowed us to get a taste for it. Successfully finding a little colour, we were keen to hit the town to explore its local history and then head out to the old mining areas.
One of the best spots to get a grasp of the local history is up at Beardies History House, only a 5 minute drive away. Here, not only can you walk around and touch mostly-restored agricultural innovation equipment, inside there is an array of local sporting memorabilia, 25 rooms with direct period displays and much more. In fact, the museum is located in the old Glen Innes hospital which was built back in 1877.
The Australian Standing Stones
It was mainly the Scottish that settled in the area and at the eastern end of town there is an amazing site that has been set aside to honour these first pioneers. Named the Australian Standing Stones, these 38 massive chunks of rock have been carefully ordered to celebrate the Celtic Nations whose descendants have contributed to the local area, and helped shape modern Australia’s way of life. There is a circle of 24 stones that represent the hours in a day, while other stones have been placed strategically around and within the circle to connect other important spiritual and powerful influences.
These stones have to be visited to be understood. They are huge, represent significant historical events, and for the kids they’re a whole lot of fun. Speaking of fun, why not try to remove the sword from Excalibur’s stone!! The park has a viewing point overlooking the stones, as well as bbqs, a Celtic family history wall, and a great coffee shop.
Digging up the past
We decided to head about 20 minutes out of town to explore the nearby mining villages of Emmaville and Torrington. Northwest of Glen Innes lies a huge mineral belt where tin, copper and arsenic were found. Tin was found out here in the mid 1800s and Glen Innes swelled with a massive influx of miners. Some reports say nearly 70,000 tonnes of tin (in its raw state, looks like large Coco Pops) was pulled out of the ground.
These days Emmaville is nothing but a sleepy little country town with a few relics laying around. If you score it right, pop into the Emmaville museum for an inside look at the days gone by. Just out of town in the forests you can still find the massive open cut mines and several huge dams where the tin was taken from.
At Torrington there is a great reminder of the realities of mining. The Historic Ottery mine is one of only a few mines left in the world where you can still view the cavity underground and above ground, along with all its equipment – and all this with pure arsenic still leaching out of the bricks. (No need for alarm, as NPWS has fenced off the mine at a safe distance.)
Walking around the area it is amazing to see the preserved relics still in place, with the 80 metre vertical drop mine (which has a large and safe cage over it), the ovens, and a huge chimney being the highlights. If you’re into old mines and Australian history, this is definitely a go-to place.
Heading back to town and further east, there are several world class national parks that are just waiting to be explored. Washpool National Park is a rainforest-filled area with cooling creeks running through the centre. There’s a maze of walking trails here that lead you along the creeks, and others that back into the valley.
Just across the road from Washpool NP is, funnily enough, Gibraltar Range National Park. This park is totally different in contrast, with its scrubby forest and huge granite boulders scattered throughout as if a giant were playing marbles with them. With amazing walking trails, stunning views, fantastic picnic areas along Dundahra Creek, this is another must-see area not far from Glen Innes.
Adventure with altitude
Glen Innes sits at about 1200 metres above sea level, which brings about very cool winters and mild weather for the rest of the year. When the conditions are right Glen Innes often sees a little snow in the cooler months, but don’t let the chill stop you from visiting.
The winter and autumn colours can be stunning, with deciduous trees turning bright red before dropping their leaves against iridescent blue skies. Festivals brighten the town and highlight local attractions and services, but more importantly, the people of Glen Innes are warm and welcoming every day of the week. Safe to say you won’t be disappointed visiting Glen Innes and the high country of New England.
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