For people who drive between Sydney and Brisbane with any sort of regularity, the New England Highway (A15 route) is very much considered the alternate route. A great backup option in the event that bushfires, floods or any other sort of issues temporarily rule out the faster and much more popular Pacific Highway route.
However, if your trip to Queensland has you heading west of Brisbane, to say Toowoomba, the New England Highway makes a lot more sense. Or you just might want to mix things up and take the inland route for something different.
A stark contrast to the beaches and plantations of bananas and sugarcane that highlight the Pacific Highway, the New England Highway follows the Great Dividing Range through rural livestock farmlands, historic settlements and the hideouts of infamous bushrangers.
The New England Highway is a very different experience, that you should complete at least once while road tripping around Australia.
To drive from Newcastle to Toowoomba along the New England Highway is roughly 980km, and it will take you about 9 and half hours behind the wheel (plus stops).
The A15 route between Sydney and Brisbane, which is predominantly the New England Highway is a little over 980km. However, expect the driving time to be about 12 hours (plus stops).
The New England Highway isn’t the most straightforward option between New South Wales and Queensland. Especially compared to the Pacific Highway route which is nearly entirely motorway now.
That said the drive along the A15 route isn’t a challenge either. You will just need a little bit of patience waiting for overtaking lanes and when driving through some of the towns along the route.
As a rough guide, you’ll be able to find a service station about every 100km or so. All the stops listed in this post have a petrol station and other services.
Yes. I would suggest you give yourself 10 hours to complete the drive if you are in a hurry. But a full day will give you the chance to see some of the sights along the way as well.
Yes. But it is a full-on day behind the wheel. You will need at least 12 hours just to complete the driving let alone any stops you plan on making along the way.
Glen Innes sits roughly halfway between Newcastle and Toowoomba.
The New England Highway travels 890km between Hexham, NSW and Yarraman, Queensland.
The New England Highway starts as the A43 route (Maitland Road) branching off the Pacific Highway at Hexham, specifically at the Hexham Bridge (just outside of Newcastle, NSW). It continues as the A15 and then the A3 route, to Yarraman (Qld) where it ends at the D’Aguilar Highway (where the A3 route continues north).
With that said, here are my tips and advice for the best places to stop while driving along the New England Highway between Sydney/Newcastle and Brisbane/Toowoomba.
No matter if you are starting the trip from Newcastle, or from further south like Sydney (and beyond), the city offers plenty to see and do before embarking on the trip up the New England Highway.
The second-largest city in New South Wales warrants its own series of blog posts. Which I will get to in the not too distant future… However in the meantime here are a couple of quick recommendations of things to see and do in Newcastle before heading any further on the trip.
The Newcastle foreshore is well worth a visit to see the bustling harbour in full swing. Walk along the waterfront to take in the sites from Nobby’s Lighthouse and the Newcastle Breakwall all the way to Honeysuckle where you will find a number of cafes, bars and restaurants.
While you are in the area, make sure you also visit the iconic Fort Scratchley, Newcastle Beach (and/or the Bogey Hole) and the Newcastle Memorial Walk.
If your trip starts from well outside Newcastle, it might be worth organising to stay in Newcastle for a night (or more to see the sights) before heading further north.
I have a couple of recommendations on places to stay:
- Rydges Newcastle – A very comfortable option right in the heart of the city with views over both the city and the harbour.
- Honeysuckle Executive Apartments – Ideal for longer stays in Newcastle, easy walking distance from the key attractions.
- Noah’s On the Beach – A slightly cheaper option right on Newcastle Beach.
Leaving Newcastle you have two options, either following the A15 route via the Hunter Expressway (which is faster) or following the New England Highway the entire way from Hexham.
Either way, these two options come together just before Singleton (the town Branxton if we are being specific), making the Hunter Valley township an ideal first stop on the trip along the New England Highway.
Check out the local cafes which line the New England Highway at this point of the trip for breakfast or a caffeine hit before continuing along the way.
Also make sure you check out the Singleton Sundial, a giant sundial structure built as part of Australia’s bicentennial celebrations in 1988, and one of the iconic “big things” Australian road trips are known for.
If you are in a hurry, Singleton has all the usual fast food and service station options if you want to make it a quick stop before continuing on your way.
A coal mining and horse breeding town on the edge of the Hunter Valley wine region, Muswellbrook is another option for a quick stop if you need fuel and/or food depending on how early you hit the road.
Only another 30 minutes or so up the road from Singleton, Muswellbrook is an alternative option especially if you are trying to complete the trip up the New England Highway as quickly as possible.
In Muswellbrook the New England Highway weaves its way straight through the centre of the town, so you can take advantage of a quick stop without any major detours.
It’s worth noting that there have been plans in place since 2006 to bypass the New England Highway around Muswellbrook, however, this hasn’t eventuated yet.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the town’s name had a variety of spellings up until Muswellbrook was officially gazetted in 1949. Some of these included Musclebrook, Muscle Brook, Muswellbrook, Muswell Brook, Muscletown and Musswellbrook.
The historic town of Scone is world-famous for its horse breeding; in fact, it is the second-largest horse breeding area in the world and is known as ‘The Horse Capital of Australia’.
So if horses are your thing, then it is well worth the short detour off the New England Highway into the township of Scone.
Otherwise, the historic buildings that make up the town are also worth exploring while you are in the area.
If neither of those really appeal to you, just 20 minutes further along the New England Highway is another unique attraction well worth a short detour – Burning Mountain Nature Reserve.
Burning Mountain, also known as Mount Wingen, is a result of an underground coal seam that is believed to have been burning for roughly between 5500-6000 years having been discovered by European settlers in 1828.
This unique phenomenon has resulted in a scorched landscape with smoke emanating from the ground. Something extremely uncommon in Australia.
To explore the site yourself follow the signs off the New England Highway to the car park. Then take the 4km Burning Mountain walk to the summit. The walk will take you a little over an hour so just keep that in mind if you are trying to do the drive up the highway in a single day.
Home of the iconic Big Golden Guitar and the famous annual Country Music Festival, The regional city of Tamworth is well worth a stop on your journey north along the New England Highway.
If you’re out to tick off another of the iconic “big things” from around Australia off your list, then a quick stop in Tamworth is a must. Don’t worry the Big Golden Guitar is located right in the local tourist centre right on the New England Highway; just keep an eye out as you drive into town.
At the Big Golden Guitar, you can also discover the Country Music Wax Museum and National Guitar Museum as part of the tourist centre to delve a little further into the celebration of music that Tamworth is well known for.
You’ll also find a wide selection of fast food, coffee and service station options all within a short walk of the Golden Guitar all well set up for the number of tourists who follow this route.
Beyond the Big Golden Guitar, you should also take a quick detour into the city itself to pay a visit to the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame. While the Country Music Festival is held in January, the Hall of Fame is open year-round to celebrate the city’s rich history in country music.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Tamworth was the first place in Australia to supply electricity to the public at large? The Powerstation Museum celebrates that history.
While not quite halfway in the trip, with the amount that Tamworth does have to offer, it also makes for an ideal spot to stop overnight if you are looking at breaking up the drive over a couple of days.
Given the number of people who attend the Tamworth Country Music Festival each year, there are a good number of accommodation options around the city. My picks include:
- Best Western Sanctuary Inn – Located a short walk from the heart of the city, a very nice and comfortable option.
- Powerhouse Hotel Tamworth by Rydges – A step up again, should you be looking for a luxury stay in Tamworth.
- Tamworth City Motel – A cheaper option right on the highway if you are just making a quick overnight stopover.
Bushrangers left their mark in rural parts of Australia during the 1800s, but very few more so than the infamous Captain Thunderbolt (Frederick Ward). The longest roaming bushranger in Australian history.
Captain Thunderbolt’s legacy is ever-present in this Northern Tablelands region of New South Wales but it’s the small town of Uralla on the New England Highway, his final resting place, where you can’t avoid his place in history and well worth a quick stop on the drive-through.
The first part of this history you will come across is Captain Thunderbolt Rock, a cluster of granite boulders just before you arrive in Uralla.
But the best place to discover more about Captain Thunderbolt and the significance of the rocks is the McCrossins Mill a heritage-listed mill turned museum.
You will also find a statue of Captain Thunderbolt at the intersection of the New England Highway and Thunderbolt Way (Salisbury Street in the town), a road named after the bushranger following his original route between the Hunter Valley and the North West slopes and plains.
Beyond the history of the bushranger, Uralla offers a couple of service stations and cafes as you pass through the town.
It’s another town that the New England Highway now bypasses, but Armidale is still worth the short detour, especially if you didn’t stop in at Uralla.
Armidale marks roughly the halfway point between Sydney and Brisbane on this particular route and is the last major township you will come across in New South Wales as you make your way towards the border, making it an ideal spot if you need to stock up with anything significant along the way.
This historic agricultural city features a number of stunning heritage buildings, well worth the stop alone.
Of particular note are the New England Hotel, State Bank, Saints Mary & Joseph Cathedral, Town Hall, St Kilda Hotel, Court House and Post Office, all of which can be visited as part of a documented heritage walk around the city or with the local heritage bus tour.
If you have the time, the New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) is also worth a visit. Home to the second-largest art collection in New South Wales, it features 5,000 works of art including the Howard Hinton and the Chandler Coventry Collections.
It’s also worth noting that if you are diverting around natural disasters, particularly fires and floods along the Pacific Highway (or vice versa), Armidale and Coffs Harbour are interlinked by the aptly named Waterfall Way.
At some stage, I will document the Waterfall Way route properly as it is an adventure in its own right. As you might imagine there are a number of stunning waterfalls to visit between the two major interstate routes. The closest to Armidale being the impressive Wollomombi Falls.
Glen Innes, NSW
Located at the intersection of the New England Highway and the Gwydir Highway, Glen Innes is a regional transport hub with a significant livestock industry and some amazing heritage-listed buildings.
While the town itself isn’t that big, it services a broad area. As such Glen Innes is more known for its events than its attractions, like the Australian Celtic Festival, Land of the Beardies Festival, Pastoral and Agricultural Show and the Glen Innes Cup horse racing event.
That said it is still worth stopping at Glen Innes, even just briefly. Be sure to visit the Australian Standing Stones (the local equivalent of Stonehenge) a significant part of the Celtic celebration due to the close ties of the early settlers to Scotland.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Glen Innes is typically one of the coldest places in mainland Australia outside of the Snowy Mountain region. So have a jumper handy, especially in winter.
It’s also worth noting that the Gwydir Highway interlinks all three major highway routes between New South Wales and Queensland, the New England, Pacific and Newell highways. So if you need to travel between the two states during any sort of natural disaster, travelling via Glen Innes will give you plenty of options.
Tenterfield is your last stop within New South Wales along the New England Highway route.
It’s also another small regional junction town where the New England Highway crosses the Bruxner Highway which also interlinks the Pacific Highway and Newell Highway.
But it’s the history and landscape that makes Tenterfield worth visiting, or at least its surroundings.
If Captain Thunderbolt’s story captivated you while you were in Uralla, just 12km outside of Tenterfield (along the Mount Lindesay Road) you can visit the rock formation and caves known as Thunderbolt’s Hideout.
One of several known hideouts for the infamous bushranger, it’s definitely the most easily accessible and well worth a visit after delving into Captain Thunderbolt’s earlier in the road trip.
Not far from Thunderbolt’s Hideout (only another 1km along the road) you’ll also be able to explore the World War 2 fortification known as the Brisbane Line.
This series of tank traps were built as a second line of defence in the event that Australia was invaded during the war. While they were never needed, it’s a relic of the impact of the war that you will discover much more of if your travels have you heading much further north.
If the history doesn’t grab your attention, then check out Bald Rock in the Bald Rock National Park right on the Queensland/New South Wales border.
Also found just off Mount Lindesay Road, the 500 meters wide and 750 meters long Bald Rock is the largest granite monolith in Australia and the most iconic feature of the region known as the Granite Belt.
If you are feeling energetic enough (and have a couple of hours), the Bald Rock Summit walking track will take you all the way to the top where you will get uninterrupted views out over both New South Wales and Queensland.
Wallangarra, Queensland/NSW Border
Have you ever wanted to be in two places at the same time? The border town of Wallangarra is where the New England Highway crosses from New South Wales into Queensland.
Marked by a simple white sign and small fence, if you are so inclined you can put one foot in each state, although it’s the big Queenslander sign that will probably grab your attention the most.
If solely for the purpose of taking a couple of quick photos at the border, Wallangarra is worth a quick stop, but the border marking isn’t as nearly impressive as the one at Tweed Heads on the Pacific Highway route.
Stanthorpe is the first major township in Queensland along the New England Highway and is also the point in the journey where you would rejoin the A15 route if you detoured along Mount Lindesay Road to explore all the sites out of Tenterfield.
The New England Highway does bypass Stanthorpe, and to be fair if you are in a hurry you could very easily skip it. That said, time permitting it is worth a quick stop as well, especially for wine lovers.
Stanthorpe, and the area around it, is best known for its vineyards with the town’s unusually cold temperatures by Queensland standards ideal for certain types of wine production.
If wine isn’t your thing but the granite scenery that lines this part of the route has, Stanthorpe is also an ideal place to base yourself to explore more of the Girraween National Park, best known for Balancing Rock. Another iconic feature of the Granite Belt, along the Queensland/New South Wales border.
Known for its roses and rodeos, Warwick is a historic city and one of the major hubs in the Darling Downs region of Queensland.
The New England Highway travels directly through the centre of Warwick and after a series of small towns, it makes an ideal spot to stop and refresh. Especially if you need to pick up any essentials to continue the trip.
While you are in Warwick make sure you check out some stunning original sandstone heritage buildings in town including the Town Hall, Post Office, Court House, Police Station and a number of churches.
You’ll also notice a number of rose gardens around the CBD as you wander around, in testament to its reputation as the rose city.
If the history doesn’t grab your interest, maybe the cowboy lifestyle of this regional area is more your style. Check out the Australian Rodeo Heritage Centre to discover more about Australia’s professional rodeo scene as well as a little more understanding of the livestock farming this region is famous for.
The Instagram fanatics also flock to Warwick between December and March to get photos amongst the fields of sunflowers that the area is also known for.
Shortly after Warwick, the New England Highway and the A15 route head in their own separate directions.
The New England Highway continues along the A3 route to Toowoomba and beyond, while the A15 continues following Cunningham Highway east to Ipswich where motorways link to both Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
Fun Fact: The is a short 13km section of the route out of Warwick where the road is known as both the New England Highway and the Cunningham Highway.
Should your road trip have you continue further north along the New England Highway, your next major stop is the regional city of Toowoomba.
Toowoomba is Australia’s second-largest inland city behind Canberra, making it a destination in its own right.
With plenty to offer, you could easily spend a few days in Toowoomba or it could be your ultimate destination. So much so that at some point I will give the city its own dedicated blog post.
In the meantime, I do have a few recommendations of things to see and do in Toowoomba, also known as the Garden City there are a number of stunning gardens and parks all over the city which really come to life in the Spring.
One of the more impressive examples is Laurel Bank Park Gardens which is home to a special themed display garden that changes each year in the local celebration, the Carnival of Flowers. There is also a unique scented garden specially designed to allow the visually impaired to appreciate the flowers as well.
If you really enjoy the flowers and gardens, also be sure to check out Queens Park and Lake Annand Park.
Sticking with the outdoors theme, also be sure to visit Picnic Point Lookout for stunning views out over the unique Table Top Mountain.
Picnic Point is a great place to wander around and stretch the legs, taking in the number of viewpoints that look back towards Brisbane (well off in distance). The is also a cafe and BBQs etc. for a very relaxed approach to enjoying the view.
Feeling more adventurous? How about hiking to the top of Table Top Mountain is also popular. Not for the faint of heart, this strenuous climb is rewarded with its own stunning views.
Toowoomba’s history can be explored in the impressive Cobb + Co Museum. In part celebrating the rich history of the Cobb & Co stagecoach companies that operated across Australia during the 1800s, the museum showcases a unique part of Australian outback life.
The Cobb + Co Museum houses the National Carriage Collection and well as the National Carriage Factory showcasing the skills used to create these early modes of mass transport.
Just to mix things up, and entertain the kids, the museum also houses a stunning collection of local megafauna who roamed the area 10,000 years ago and a Sciencentre with activities specially tailored for children as well as some rotating exhibits.
For something a little more cultural, how about a visit to the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery? Home to a number of collections, the star attractions are the diverse The Fred and Lucy Gould Art Collection and Lionel Lindsay Gallery and Library.
With all that in mind, it is well worth organising to stay in Toowoomba for at least a night (probably a few more) before continuing your journey.
I have a couple of recommendations on places to stay:
- Potters Toowoomba Hotel – A very nice luxury accommodation option with an on-site restaurant a short walk from the centre of the city.
- Athena Motel Apartments – Ideal option for longer stays, just outside of the main CBD area.
- Downs Motel – A great cheaper option for short stays a short walk from the centre of town.
If you are looking for a faster option along the coast, also check out my Pacific Highway blog post as well.
If you’d like to get more information to help plan your trip to and around Australia… Check out the rest of my blog posts.