Caroline Gladstone discovers a town rich in characters - and big rocks.
A true-blue Australian town steeped in history, Tenterfield has everything from the classic School of Arts to the grand railway station and the honour of having hosted some of Australia's most famous sons. Styled the "birthplace of the nation", it's well worth a visit.
What it's known for
The unlikely duo of Sir Henry Parkes and singer Peter Allen vie for top billing as the most famous person associated with Tenterfield.
Parkes, who was five times premier of NSW, made his first Federation speech at the town's School of Arts in 1889; the speech galvanised public opinion and ultimately led to the federation of all Australian states (then separate colonies) on January 1, 1901.
Allen, born Peter Woolnough on February 10, 1944, spent some of his childhood living with his grandfather George Woolnough, the Tenterfield saddler, after whom the ballad was written. Though Allen never performed in the town, his silver maracas - which he used during the first performance of his hit song I Go to Rio - reside in the visitors' centre in Rouse Street.
History lovers can take a self-guided heritage tour, taking in the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts, to view an exhibition on the statesman; the humble saddlery where Woolnough worked for 52 years; and the Victorian Gothic-designed railway station museum. Another treat is Centenary Cottage, run by the historical society. It showcases the lives of famous residents including Sir Stuart Donaldson, who owned the huge sheep run known as Tenterfield Station and became the first premier of NSW in 1856. Nearby is the St Stephen's Presbyterian Church where, in 1903, Banjo Paterson married Alice Walker, the daughter of the second owner of Tenterfield Station.
What you didn't know ...
Tenterfield is a notch on the famous Granite Belt, a region sprouting about 50 wineries between the town and Stanthorpe, 44 kilometres to the north. The lovely Kurrajong Downs and Deetswood wineries are close to town, while Reedy Creek is 60 kilometres away. newenglandwines.org.au.
"Old buildings and big rocks" is how the tourism authorities describe the attractions. The big rocks are the hundreds of massive granite boulders strewn across the countryside in the vast Tenterfield Shire, which houses six national parks. The most impressive is Bald Rock National Park, 36 kilometres north and named for the largest exposed granite rock in the southern hemisphere, standing 260 metres above the surrounding bushland. Nearby is Thunderbolt's Hideout, a set of caves and overhanging granite rocks where bushranger Captain Thunderbolt eluded the law.
Historic homes that were once the centre of Tenterfield high society have opened their doors to the public for the first time in decades.
Tenterfield Station homestead, the venue for Banjo Paterson's wedding reception, runs group tours, while Stannum House, a grand Italianate mansion whose visitors included songstress Dame Nellie Melba, conducts twice-daily tours from Wednesday to Sunday. Check with the visitors' centre at 157 Rouse Street, (02) 6736 1082. Also new is Tenterfield Tours, which runs excellent day tours of the wineries and parks, including lunch, from $55 a person. tenterfieldtours.com.au.
Where to eat
Try the popular cheese souffle at the Courtyard Cafe at the School of Arts, 0458 673 373, or savour homestyle fare at the circa-1860 Deloraine House B&B, (02) 6736 2777.
Where to stay
The piece de resistance is Stannum House, which has been restored to its late-19th-century glory. The three guest rooms can sleep four people each. Rates from $180 a couple include breakfast and a tour of the house, including the impressive cedar spiral staircase that leads to the tower. stannumhouse.com.au.
On a smaller scale is charming Tenterfield Cottage, built in the late 1890s and restored in 2010 with three bedrooms. Rates from $175 a couple for one night. tenterfieldcottage.com.au.
How to get there
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.