A weaving meander from coastal hinterland to mountainous high country, Thunderbolt’s Way is one of Australia’s most beautiful drives.
Running from Gloucester in the pretty hinterland of the Mid-North Coast to Inverell on New England’s western plains, it’s a 290km odyssey that weaves over the Great Dividing Range, climbs almost 1000m in altitude and provides spectacular scenery around every bend.
Thunderbolt’s Way takes you from verdant rolling farmland into the wilds of several national parks and through quaint country towns where you can enjoy quality coffee, a good feed and even a spot of shopping.
Something for everyone? You betcha.
The journey is so named in honour of feared and revered bushranger Frederick Ward, better known as Captain Thunderbolt, who roamed these parts in the early 1800s. A criminal with good taste, evidently! And while Captain Thundebolt’s namesake can be driven in its entirety in one day, it’s best enjoyed slowly over four or five days.
GLOUCESTER, BARRINGTON AND THE GREAT DIVING RANGE
The opening leg of Thunderbolt’s Way is one of its prettiest. In the verdant hinterland of the Mid-North Coast, the road weaves across rolling farmland and alongside clear flowing rivers and streams.
Feel the temperature drop and the coastal humidity subside as you push north towards Walcha across the Great Dividing Range. You’ll experience tight hairpin bends, breathtaking vistas and pristine wilderness. Listen out for the iconic call of the native bellbird; they love this kind of terrain and so will you.
- Camp at a number of riverside grounds. Try Bretti Reserve for free camping on the gorgeous Bernard River.
- Self-contained Riverview Cottage at The Steps campground set beside the picturesque rapids of the Barrington River.
- A range of cabins and motel rooms at Riverwood Downs, a picturesque 750-acre property near Gloucester.
- Roadies Café, Gloucester
- The Roundabout Inn, Gloucester
- The Settlers Arms, Dungog
- Rent a kayak from Barrington Outdoor Adventure Centre and play on the gentle rapids of the Barrington River. Self-guided multi-day trips available for the adventurous.
- Four-wheel driving in Barrington Tops or Nowendoc National Parks
- Go horse riding at Camp Cobark, a working cattle property 34kmm west of Gloucester
Once you’ve crossed the Great Dividing Range you will come to Walcha, a small farming community on the fertile plateau of New England High Country.
The town’s slogan is ‘where wild rivers run’, and that’s apt given its proximity to the dramatic gorges and winding rivers of the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.
There you can enjoy hiking, camping, bushwalking, horse riding and more, while in the town itself you’ll be treated to boutique shops, quality coffee and a wonderful community spirit.
- Cheyenne Wilderness Retreat, a working farm on the precipice of the gorge country
- Walcha Guesthouse, a restored historic saddlery on the main street
- Valley Views Cottage, self-contained, private-access house in town.
- Graze cafe, Walcha
- Aspley Arms Hotel, Walcha
- The Commercial Hotel, Walcha
- Visit the charming Walcha Handmade for a spot of shopping
- Take a self-guided tour of the Walcha Open Air Gallery
- Go for a hike in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park
Just half an hour’s drive north of Walcha you’ll find the next significant town, Uralla. A charming historic village, Uralla’s streets are dotted with heritage buildings, museums, artisan bakeries, microbreweries and wholefood stores.
Uralla seamlessly blends country charm with foodie culture and is bound to be a highlight of your trip up Thunderbolt’s Way.
There are plenty of fabulous accommodation options, not to mention dining and shopping opportunities. But if you prefer the great outdoors, Uralla is within close proximity of Dangar Falls and a number of walks in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. It’s also perfect for a leisurely country bike ride.
- Wayward Jerseys Farmstay for an authentic farm experience the family will love
- Aurelia’s Farm for comfortable self-contained accommodation for up to six people
- Grace Cottages for stylish, private accommodation a stone’s throw from town
- Top Pub, Uralla
- Naturally Healthy Wholefood Café, Uralla
- Alternate Root, Uralla
- Take a drive or cycle on Tourist Drive 19 to see the charming Gostwyck Chapel and more
- Learn about Captain Thunderbolt’s death at the McCrossins Mill Museum, where the story is told in a series of paintings
- Have a beer or six at the New England Brewing Company
Just a short drive up the road from Uralla you’ll find the New England region’s capital, Armidale. We recommend veering off the main road here and instead taking Tourist Drive 19 to get to Armidale.
This will take you through stunning backcountry, past the gorgeous Gostwyck Chapel, the historic Deeargee Woolshed and Dangar Falls. Once in Armidale, there’s no shortage of places to wine and dine, stylish accommodation and breathtaking national parks and waterfalls to explore.
- Petersons Guesthouse and Winery for luxurious country hospitality in an historic homestead
- Elderslie Bed and Breakfast for stylish accommodation in a newly renovated farmhouse
- Poppy’s Cottage for a more intimate style of bed and breakfast, just out of town
- The Goldfish Bowl café
- Go for a drive along the famous Waterfall Way to see the stunning gorge country and plenty of waterfalls
- Take a hike in one of several national parks
- Splash out on a scenic flight over the gorges