SUMMER HOLIDAYS WITH KIDS IN BIG SKY COUNTRY
All parents have to admit that a holiday with the kids in tow isn’t a true holiday.
So, the next best thing is to take the old proverbial “if you can’t beat ‘em, join em” line to heart and choose a holiday destination where you can get alongside your young cherubs and enjoy the attractions together. Ah, togetherness. Isn’t that what real family summer holidays are all about?
Big Sky Country is an area in New South Wales that gives you a unique and diverse holiday experience that can be as much fun for the grown ups as the kids.
Encompassing the New England plateau, with historic and picturesque towns such as Armidale and Glen Innes, the warmth of genuine country towns like Tamworth, Gunnedah and Inverell, out west to the black soil plains of Narrabri and Moree, then north to Tenterfield - the birthplace of our federation, Big Sky Country offers a wonderful range of holiday experiences for families.
Here’s a guide to some of the family-friendly activities and attractions on offer this summer in Big Sky Country, NSW.
Search for buried treasure
The travel brochures call it “leisure, pleasure and treasure” - kids just call it “fun”. The thrill of squatting in a creek bed, sifting through clumps of old dirt and discovering precious gems or gold is like playing in the dirt and being rewarded for it. Fossicking requires a good deal of patience and persistence, but you’ll find these attributes will be rewarded almost 100 per cent of the time, especially if you go fossicking with a guide. The best fossicking areas can be found in Glen Innes, Inverell (its other name is Sapphire City), Uralla and Tenterfield. Gems hidden just below the surface include sapphires, topaz, zircon, beryl and crystal.
New England Fossicking in Glen Innes offers trips year round. Inverell, Uralla and Tenterfield Visitor Centres have detailed maps and guides
The easy alternative to fossicking on location is to purchase a bag of sapphire wash from one of the visitor offices in the region. Then you can take it home and sift through it in your backyard!
Life on the farm
For a suburban or city kid, getting involved in the daily life of a working farm has to be one of the most grounding experiences they can have. There’s an abundance of farm stays scattered throughout Big Sky country, offering comfy self-contained accommodation, while at the same time giving children the chance to help with the daily chores or observe the goings-on of farm life. For farm stay options, ask at any of the visitor information centres within the Big Sky region.
Cotton on to cotton
If you’ve ever wondered how your jeans began, drop into The Australian Cotton Centre (ACC) in Narrabri for the story of “field to fabric” and a stimulating lesson on Australia’s third biggest export earner. If you’ve visited Questacon in Canberra, you’ll have an idea of what to expect at the ACC. Nine high tech interactive displays focus on a different aspect of the cotton farming process, each of them designed to put the visitor “in the boots of the cotton farmer” and get them thinking about the issues and challenges of the industry. Tours of local cotton farms are also available through the ACC, but the best time to do these is ginning season (March to July).
A healing swim
The warm waters from the Great Artesian Basin have been flowing up into the town of Moree ever since they were accidentally discovered in 1895. These naturally heated mineral waters now fill the Moree Spas and your small change will get you in for a refreshing dip. The high mineral content of the water is said to be therapeutic for muscular aches and all manner of ailments - there are people who travel to Moree specifically to bathe in these healing waters every year.
A decent bush walk means parents can get a little relaxing exercise while children can burn off some of their relentless energy at the same time. Big Sky Country has an abundance of National Parks and reserves, all within easy driving distance of the major towns. You’ll find spectacular scenery, interesting plant and animal life, a choice of walking trails, amazing geographic formations, pools for a quick dip, waterfalls (always better after rain!), picnic and camping areas.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service has detailed information but you can also get details from the visitor offices as well.
History doesn’t have to be boring. There’s a number of attractions in Big Sky Country that bring it to life. You can follow the trail of bushranger Captain Thunderbolt (aka Fred Ward) by visiting McCrossin’s Mill and Thunderbolt’s grave in Uralla; as well as his hideout near Tenterfield. Pioneer Village, in Inverell, recreates an early Australian village and is chock-full of fascinating memorabilia. Set aside at least two hours for a roam around here. Also in Inverell, the Transport Museum is an impressive collection of cars, buses, motorbikes, fire engines and trucks, dating from 1900 to the present day. Kids are permitted to hop aboard a classic Sydney double decker and sometimes take a seat in a car that takes their fancy.
Unless you’re a photographer, children and animals are usually a good mix. There are some animal attractions in Big Sky kids will love. The Waterways Wildlife Park, on the edge of Gunnedah, has koalas you are allowed to pat, as well as a good collection of other native animals such as dingoes, emus, birds and lizards. Tamworth’s Marsupial Park is a perfect spot for a picnic with entertainment - provided free, by the resident animals. Look out for the cheeky cockatoos! A guided trail ride on horseback is a wonderful way to see the country. Tamworth has a handful of different horse riding tours, as does Armidale. Your best bet is to ask at the visitor information centres.
A network of stunning limestone caves in the Ashford region north of Inverell provides a much more affordable alternative to the more well-known stalagmite and stalactite caverns. Admission to the Ashford caves is free but you’ll need to bring your own lanterns or torches.
Just because you’re a few miles from the coast doesn’t mean you can’t cool off. Lake Keepit between Gunnedah and Tamworth, and the Copeton Dam south of Inverell both have exceptional State Recreation Parks with brilliant facilities. In addition to sailing, swimming and generally mucking around in the water, they both have nine-hole golf courses, tennis courts and a huge range of activities for the kids. If the cabins, chalets and caravan sites are booked out, you can always pitch a tent along the lake shore.
Catch your own dinner
Fishing is probably one of the cheapest holidays activities around and, provided you don’t expect them to stick at it all day, the kids will love catching their own dinner. Some of the best spots in Big Sky Country include the Horton and Gwydir Rivers around Bingara, the eastern-flowing rivers in Armidale’s gorge country where you can fly fish for trout and dams like Split Rock (via Manilla), Lake Keepit (Gunnedah), Copeton (Inverell), Pindari (north of Inverell) and Glenlyon (west of Tenterfield).