The second -largest country music event in the world after Nashville happens at this mid-sized town in the North Western region of New South Wales.
Known for its equine livestock and horse-related events, Tamworth makes a fitting venue for a ten-day country music extravaganza every January, with thousands of live performances, an awards ceremony and tons of side events, from amusement rides to rodeos.
If you come at any other time, you can track the history of Australian country music at the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, as well as the Big Golden Guitar, hard to miss for the 12-metre instrument out front.
In 1888 Tamworth became the first town in Australia with electric street lights, and you can visit the old power station to learn how this came to pass.
1. Tamworth Marsupial Park
In the hills above Tamworth there’s a bush oasis where you can get in touch with the wildlife of New South Wales.
At the 14-hectare Tamworth Marsupial Park you and your family can meet and interact with kangaroos, wallabies, emus and Indian peacocks.
The park has a stunning free-flight aviary, walking tracks through picturesque bushland and a sprawling adventure playground with two age-appropriate play zones.
The cockatoos, corellas and galahs win over a lot of people, approaching you for pats and having a chat.
This attraction is on the Kamilaroi Walking Track, linking it with the Oxley Lookout to the west and the peak of Flagstaff Mountain to the east.
2. Tamworth Country Music Festival
Hundreds of thousands of country music fans from far and wide descend on Tamworth for this world-famous event, across ten days in mid- to late-January.
This is the largest music festival in the southern hemisphere, and there isn’t a spare bed to be had in the town throughout, with many places booking up as much as 12 months in advance.
On an ordinary year there will be 700+ artists performing at 2,800 scheduled shows, but music fills the town, and Peel Street turns into one big stage with up to 600 buskers at once.
The event ramps up to the Golden Guitar Awards, the most prestigious prize-winning ceremony in Australian country music.
At the FanZone you can get up close to your favourite acts, while the Regional Australia Bank Family Zone puts on rides and entertainment for families.
3. Australian Country Music Hall of Fame
On the same theme, the Hall of Fame opened in 1992 and is actually in the shape of a guitar when seen from the air.
For fans of the genre this is a place to pay homage to the luminaries of Australian country music, like Tex Morton, Buddy Williams, Slim Dusty and Smoky Dawson, right up to contemporary stars like Beccy Cole, Amber Lawrence and Adam Harvey.
As well as profiles for each artist you can peruse costumes, photographs, instruments, gold LPs and all sorts of personal effects, from furniture to motorcycles.
4. Walk a Country Mile Museum
The entrance fee to the Hall of Fame also covers this interactive exhibition, which first opened in 2001 and moved into the former visitor information centre in 2014. What you’ll get here is an absorbing timeline of country music in Australia, from its roots in traditional folk ballads and convict songs in the late-18th century, through the emergence of Americanised modern country in the 1920s and 1930s to the thriving contemporary industry.
There are richly detailed videos setting out each milestone and the stories in the music, as well as display cases full of instruments, records, posters and other memorabilia.
5. Tamworth Regional Playground
A wonderful resource for parents, the massive Tamworth Regional Playground is the only attraction of its scope in regional Australia.
It’s difficult to list everything this free attraction has to offer, but there’s an outdoor gym, splash pad, cafe with free Wi-Fi, a miniature “play town” for littler children, junior and senior play zones, a flying fox, bike track an embankment slide, mammoth swing and sand play area.
One outstanding element is the record-breaking “Skywalk”, at more than nine metres in height and with four towers and three giant slides, one 13 metres long.
6. Oxley Scenic Lookout
A light walk on the Kamilaroi Track from the Tamworth Marsupial Park, there’s a set of splendid west-facing lookouts perched high over the town and Peel River.
Just behind the decks are information boards helping you brush up on the history of the town and its heritage.
Naturally the prime time to come to the Oxley Scenic Lookout is around sunset, when you can see the ridge of the Liverpool Range trimmed with gold.
The lookout is equipped with barbecues, parking and public toilets, and you can set off along the walking tracks for the marsupial park and Tamworth Botanical Gardens.
7. Powerstation Museum
Image: reKabled, new media work by Josh Chaffey. Image credit: Josh Chaffey
This museum opened in 1988 to mark the centenary of Tamworth becoming the first town in Australia to use electric street lights.
More than 21 kilometres of lights became live on Friday November 9, 1888. At this site you can visit the Municipal Electric Showroom building (1907), which explains the evolution of electricity as a public resource, and presents a huge collection of 20th-century electric household appliances for cooking, heating, cleaning, cooling and entertaining.
Next door is a replica of the 1888 power station, housing the world’s only two John Fowler steam engines still operating, as well as reproductions of the 1888 Crompton Patter No. 15 Dynamos.
Those steam engines are turned on during the Tamworth Country Music Festival and during select holidays throughout the year.
8. Big Golden Guitar
Travel around Australia and occasionally you’ll come across a “big thing”. There are more than 150 of these structures, and the first ones were put up as tourist draws in the 1960s, each with a relationship to their place.
Appropriately Tamworth’s big thing, from 1988, is a blown-up version of the Golden Guitar Awards presented to artists during the Country Music Festival.
Set right on the Goonoo Goonoo Road, this now iconic monument is 12 metres tall and 4 metres wide, and sits in front of the Big Golden Guitar tourist centre.
Go in to take a look at Australia’s National Guitar Museum and the Gallery of Stars Wax Museum, while there’s also a cafe and souvenir shop.
9. Powerhouse Motorcycle Museum
Crowded into this museum are more than 50 motorcycles from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s.
Polished up to a shine and arranged in neat rows, all of these machines are in perfect order and come from a whole wealth of manufacturers, among them Norton, Triumph, Ducati, Honda, Laverda and Velocette.
A real standout is the extremely rare late-90s MV Agusta F4 Serie Oro.
Notable mention also goes to 1956 Ducati 125cc Sport, the 1959 Velocette Viper 350 and the 1974 Norton 850cc John Players Special.
At the front wheel of each bike there’s an informative factfile, and if you have any questions you can ask one of the clued-up attendants.
10. Tamworth Regional Gallery
As an institution, the regional gallery in Tamworth goes back to 1919 when it was set up with a donation of 100 paintings and works on paper by the Australian landscape painter John Salvana.
In 2004 the gallery moved into a new, modern building and down the years has picked important donations and bequests, of early Australian silverware, Aboriginal works from Utopia in Northern Australia and fibre textile art by some of the country’s leading craftspeople.
Since 1975, the latter has given rise to the Tamworth Textile Triennial, Australia’s principal textile art exhibition.
11. Bicentennial Park
On the east bank of the Peel River, grazing Tamworth’s Central Business District, Bicentennial Park is best known as the home of the previously mentioned multimillion-dollar regional playground, which opened in 2015. The park is transformed into a live stage during the Tamworth Country Music Festival, and when we wrote this article in 2020 work was underway on a series of outdoor monuments to honour the genre’s most famous performers.
Apart from that, there’s a pair of duck ponds, grassy areas, winding trails, views east to Flagstaff Mountain and plentiful trees supporting numerous bats that emerge from their roosts at dusk.
12. Tamworth Botanical Gardens
The town’s relatively young botanical gardens were planted in the mid-1990s at Victoria Park, but also spilling into neighbouring Oxley Park.
There’s an active community group looking after this attraction, which encompasses just under 30 hectares and features a Japanese garden, water gardens, various beds planted with arid-climate species native to the region, a New Zealand garden, a bush chapel and open grassy space.
You can also head inside for botanical exhibitions and displays of Aboriginal artefacts.
13. Calala Cottage Museum
Tamworth Historical Society maintains this fascinating piece of heritage, constructed by the town’s first mayor, Philip Gidley King, in 1875. Thanks to donations down the years, Calala Cottage is loaded with collections, mainly from the late-19th century, including painted portraits, clothing, photographs, furniture, pre-electric kitchen equipment, home appliances and Aboriginal artefacts.
The cottage is run by volunteers and opens Wednesday to Sunday.
At the same site, check out Tamworth’s oldest surviving building, a shepherd’s hut first erected in 1840.
14. Chaffey Dam
Tamworth’s water supply is regulated by this impressive dam upstream on the Peel River, completed in the late-1970s and rising to more than 55 metres.
You can come to the main lookout to size up the reddish rock wall, as well as the bell-shaped “morning glory” spillway, able to discharge over 900 cubic metres of water per second.
Endowed with trails, a campsite, barbecues, showers and toilets, the reservoir is a go-to for outdoor recreation.
You can canoe and kayak in the water, fish for trout, yellowbelly and catfish, and see if you can spot water birds like pelicans, plovers, cormorants, ibis and various duck species.
15. Australian Railway Monument and Rail Journeys Museum
Remote Werris Creek, about half an hour south-west of Tamworth, is at an important railway junction where Main Northern, Mungindi and Binnaway-Werris lines all meet.
The station here, dating back to 1880, is the third-largest in all of New South Wales and is beautifully preserved.
There’s also a museum of real scale that would take an enthusiast hours to get through.
As well as a spectacular model railway layout, there are historic tools, uniforms, documents, tickets, photographs, posters, and multiple pieces of footage to be viewed.
The outdoor Australian Railway Monument warrants some of your time, commemorating the railway men and women who have lost their lives in accidents over the last 170 years.