When is a motel a hotel and a hotel a motel? It's a question that more and more travellers have been struggling to answer of late as regional centres declare, "we'll have what they're having". Such places, after all, are seeking to emulate the kind of design and luxury standards once confined to our major cities. A suitable case in point, Tamworth's Powerhouse Hotel, long the accommodation of choice in the thriving New England country music festival capital, recently completed a bold $12 million upgrade lifting it to near enough five-star standard.
The Powerhouse, named after a power station that once occupied the long and narrow site, is set on Armidale Road, East Tamworth, about five hours' drive north of Sydney. (Power, in fact, has played a big part in Tamworth's history with the then town of 3000 in 1888 becoming the first recipient of full electricity in Australia). The regional city's attractively-landscaped main drag, Peel Street, is a five-minute drive from the hotel and home to statues of country music legends Slim Dusty and Smoky Dawson. Sadly, Tamworth's annual country music festival, which turns 50 next year, was not held this year due to the pandemic.
Before the refurbishment, the Powerhouse, based on a stay many years ago, was a bit like that song, A Little Bit Country, a Little Bit Rock 'n Roll in that it was more motel and less hotel. Now we can confirm that the reborn establishment is a lot more hotel and a little less motel. Happily, you can still drive your vehicle right up to the door of your room (a motor inn convenience that's easily taken for granted). The Powerhouse is owned by Greg Maguire, an ambitious Tamworth burgher who also operates extensive beef cattle properties outside of town and which also goes by the name of Powerhouse. The hotel is one of a number of existing and new inland NSW country establishments to have engaged leading city-based interior designers in recent times. In the Powerhouse's case, Paul Kelly Design, a Sydney interior design firm, was commissioned to reimagine the establishment. And the impressive transformation extends all the way from the reception and restaurant to the 81 guest rooms including 20 family and corporate traveller-friendly apartments perfect for longer stays.
The Sydney design studio's skill is reflected in the elegant guest rooms, the standard of any big-city boutique hotel. My commodious king suite, decked out in shades of blue, green and grey, features all of the accoutrements of a big city hotel room including a plush pillow top king bed with a leather bedhead, Smart TVs in both the bedroom and living room, 24 hour room service and a shaded outdoor terrace space.
The perfect place to sample the hotelier's own beef is at the Powerhouse's stylish Workshop Kitchen, off the lobby, with a wood-fired grill though there's a variety of options for non-red meat eaters on the extensive menu. Elsewhere, for breakfast, brunch or lunch hop along to Hopscotch Restaurant & Bar set in Tamworth's attractive Bicentennial Park beside the Peel River. For a foodie excursion out of town, make a reservation at the imposing Glasshouse restaurant which overlooks farmland belonging to the stunning Goonoo Goonoo Station (goonoogoonoostation.com) which also offers first-rate accommodation.
The Powerhouse has its own motorcycle museum, with the collection owned by (yes, him again) Greg Maguire, on the same site as the hotel (the latest acquisition is a former postie's ancient Harley-Davidson rescued from an old farm shed). Aside from its cheesy Golden Guitar big thing monument, many of Tamworth's most appealing attractions exist out of town such as the quaint historic mining village of Nundle, about 45 minutes south of the city via some lovely New England region countryside. Fans of Dorothea Mackellar, who penned the classic poem, My Country, can head to Gunnedah, about an hour west of Tamworth. En route, admire the kind of "sweeping plains" that inspired the poem and at Gunnedah itself, where Mackellar spent some of her youth at her family homestead, Kurrumbede and there's a brand new silo mural dedicated to My Country and the poet herself.
The demonstrable improvement in quality accommodation choices in NSW over the past year or so couldn't have come at a better time in one of the worst of times when many of us are electing to explore our own state. Tamworth's Powerhouse is a fine example of what can be achieved with the right amount of investment and the right degree of expertise.
King rooms start from $211 a night. Powerhouse Hotel Tamworth, 248 Armidale Road, East Tamworth, NSW. Phone (02) 6766 7000. See rydges.com
Denied international, and often interstate, travel it's a pleasure to reconnect with the bush with hotels like Powerhouse helping to draw the city and the country closer together and with a modicum of style and luxury.
Unless you open the curtains to the adjacent car spaces, my ground level room lacks a little natural light. Then again, in Tamworth's baking summers, a bit of shade is definitely a plus.
Anthony Dennis stayed as a guest of the Powerhouse.