High-altitude, low-stress Glen Innes isn’t just a great place for a stopover on the A15 inland route between New South Wales and Queensland — it’s also a brilliant destination in its own right.
Situated in New England’s Northern Tablelands, this might just be the friendliest town in NSW. The art of conversation thrives in shops and bars, and everyone seems to have time for a chat. Add a proud Celtic heritage, glorious surrounding landscapes and an upsurge in local creative enterprises, and you have the perfect ingredients for a memorable country escape.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Glen Innes.
From the Belle Epoque exuberance of the Town Hall to the elegant brick Post and Telegraph Office, Glen Innes abounds in delightful heritage architectural flourishes. Even Coles supermarket occupies a building with antique stained-glass windows! Look out for handsome banks, fine churches and Kwong Sing’s general store, established by adventurous Chinese immigrants in the nineteenth century. The building is still open for retail business.
Inspired by the Ring of Brodgar in the Orkney Islands and the Callanish Stones on the Isle of Lewis (both in Scotland), the monumental Australian Standing Stones on the eastern side of Glen Innes pay tribute to the town’s early Scottish settlers and enduring Celtic traditions. The 38 stones were dedicated in 1992, and are arranged to form a traditional solar calendar — while also memorialising Celtic cultures from different parts of Europe and Australia. Visit early morning or late afternoon when the stones throw their longest shadows. The convivial Australian Celtic Festival is held here each May.
Powerhouse duo Peter and Kate Lynn work with local suppliers to bring the best of regional produce to their upcycled-rustic-meets-urban-grunge bar and café. The Local serves breakfast, lunch and coffee from Wednesdays to Sundays, while The Local After Dark takes care of cocktail hour and dinner from Thursdays to Saturdays. Wholesome country fare in a spiced-up modern setting — what more could you want?
Ceramics, coloured glass, carved wood, paintings, silver jewellery, hand-printed fabrics, skincare products and jams — all lovingly made in the New England highlands — feature in the beautifully curated array of artisanal products on offer at The Makers Shed. A true hub of creativity and community, the Shed also hosts workshops, a book club and, each October, the High Country Writers Festival. Drop in for a chat with co-founder and silversmith/artist Richard Moon and be amazed by the variety of craft skills on display.
At Glen Gowrie farm on the rural edge of Glen Innes, David and Susie Scott run a small-scale distillery making handcrafted gins and liqueurs that reflect local culture and produce. Book a free cellar door tasting to sample their crisp Highland Gin, ‘navy strength’ Thunderbolt Gin (named for a nineteenth-century bushranger who once ruled these highroads), or delightful blueberry and lime varieties. German-inspired beer liqueurs and fruity Italian-style aperitifs are also on the menu.
Proudly occupying a heritage bank building on Glen Innes’ main street, The Book Market is an old-school antiquarian and secondhand bookshop with over 15,000 items in stock. The family-run business buys and sells books on all subjects, with specialties in Australiana, Pacific history and children’s literature — including rare and collectible editions. You’ll also pick up vintage comics, postcards, magazines, and even sheet music. Purchases are cash only.
With its commanding corner position and huge wraparound verandah, the Great Central Hotel (circa 1874) epitomises the relaxed charm of traditional Australian country pubs. This architectural gem also encompasses a range of great eating and drinking options, including some excellent local beers on tap. Fine dining under the chandelier at the Castlereagh Restaurant comes with a crackling open fire in winter, while more casual meals are enjoyed in the relaxed atmosphere of the Pipe and Drum Bar. The Coffee Central Café serves breakfast and lunch daily.
Lloyd Gawura Hornsby’s unique mix of traditional Indigenous and modern Western painting techniques produces works of soaring spiritual power and cutting political insight. His paintings have been displayed in some of Europe’s most prestigious galleries (including the Louvre Museum), but you can see his art right here in Glen Innes at the Gawura Gallery. It displays drawings and photographs by several resident artists, and also hosts a café, workshops in areas of Indigenous knowledge (such as dot painting and bush tucker), and a gift shop selling a wide selection of Aboriginal arts and crafts.
Glen Innes is crammed with shops offering goods you just won’t find anywhere else. At The Sage and Clover, a mouthwatering array of organic foods sits alongside ethically sourced and locally made homewares and skincare products. Needlework enthusiasts will love visiting Sew Many Fabrics, a dream store for home dressmakers that also offers a wide range of crafting workshops, and Oh! Sew Crafty, which caters for all knitting, embroidery and patchwork needs. To experience a truly eclectic country store, visit Carelles, or check out the unique (and at times bizarre) collectibles at The Knick-Knackery.
It’s a one-and-a-half-hour scenic drive from Glen Innes to the spectacularly tiered Ebor Falls. An easy walking path joins the Upper and Lower Falls carparks, providing superb views of the falls and their backdrop of naturally carved basalt columns. Wildflowers further beautify the scene in spring and summer. Continue along Waterfall Way by car for two minutes to reach the village of Ebor with its quaint teashop, Fusspots, serving delicious homemade cakes and ‘proper tea’.
A half-hour drive the other way (westward) reveals the awe-inspiring Wollomombi Falls as they drop vertically within a rugged landscape of concertina-like gorges.
For more information, visit www.gleninneshighlands.com.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Glen Innes? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Destination NSW/Richard A Stanley. Additional images: Bigstock
Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Luxury Travel, Get Up & Go, The Sunday Telegraph and The Australian. In her former career as an English Literature academic, she studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed Roslyn to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.