We’ve all heard of Tamworth, famous for the Big Guitar and of course the annual country music festival which is a massive event for the town and local area. But have you ever heard of Nundle a short 40min drive to the south east ? Back in its heyday of the 1800’s gold was found and the rush was on.
As of any place fortunes were lost and found but today the town is still alive and well with tourists and a few old prospectors still scratching around in the valley. Gold was first found just out of town at Hanging rock where today you can visit a host of mine sites, some are just pits in the ground but there are a dozen or so that you can freely walk in some distance. The ground in the hanging rock area is bloody terrible being solid rock and not much dirt to actually dig through - the old timers did it tough and then combine this with the bitter winters, lack of water and the stifling hot summers. The Hanging Rock diggings contained a host of mines and from this the first little village appeared with Chinese moving in to mine, create food gardens and open up stores. Over time the gold ran out here and just down the valley in the Peel River more gold was found, creating the Peel River diggings. Nundle was buzzing when gold was found with 16 pubs ( reportedly !! ), banks, 1 school, a church, court house and even a wool mill, all this built in the late 1800’s. Soon after this Nundle was officially declared a town and slowly grew towards the 1900’s with another church, Post Office and even a council office.
Today Nundle is like a step back in time where you can freely fossick for gold and crystals, walk the streets visiting the old buildings and museums, grab a coffee or drive the history trails. A unique coffee shop in Nundle its the Mount Misery Gold mine cafe. Not only can you get the best coffee in town, but for a small entry fee you can go behind the cafe into parts of the old mine and explore the relics, read the 100 year old reports and newspaper clippings and admire the huge array of memorabilia that has been collected in the area and now displayed here in the 100 metre long mine walk. A quirky feature about this cafe is that it was also once the site of the local coffin making shop. For those into fossicking and rock collection head down to the Nundle caravan park come Tourist info centre where you can admire the life time collection of all things rock by the late Gil Bennett. The staff at the centre are all clued up on the display and will even give you a map of where to fossick in the area.
The map will see you head up towards the Hanging Rock area, some 5 km south of town passing roadside mines, old mullock heaps and pine forests. One of the must do’s is the short drive to the lookout where at 1100 metres high it will have you gobsmacked with the surrounding views looking down and across the valley. The area surround the lookout has a rich history also where if you head just another few miles you’ll come across Sheba Dam Reserve. These days is a great base to camp ( all free with bbq’s and toilets ) to explore. Sheba dam was originally set up in 1888 to hold water and to serve the miners with water when needed. Built in several weeks they played an important part to the miners way of life. Locals in the know find semi precious gems around the dam such as sapphires and zircons. For the nature buffs there is a walking trail around the dams. This area near Sheba was the site of Hanging Rock Village where there were sly grog shops, stores and a School of Arts, there are a few signs highlighting the old buildings that once was, sadly over the past 150 years they have fallen down or just been forgotten. The Hanging Rock area covered 15 000 acres and a great deal of gold was found within this area which was sent to Maitland and later onto Tamworth - apparently this gold discovery some say was the start of the growth and prosperity for Tamworth.
Heading east from Sheba an old road cuts through the pine plantation with historical significance. Right at the start of Forest way lies an old cemetery dating back to the mid 1800’s. No ordinary cemetery as this is where the original founders of the well re-known Ashton Circus are buried. Mrs Ashton was buried here back in 1852 when she gave birth to her daughter and died shortly after. A stroll around this cemetery reading dates and ages leaves you a little solum thinking just how tough life was. Continuing on down Forest way there are signs and plaques where the old pub was and Gibbons Inn, where Ashton Circus performed every day except for Sundays. The road heads 20 km to Ponderosa Park where another free camp is at your fingertips amongst huge pine trees with soft tree ferns growing underneath. Ponderosa Park was once the site of an old sawmill where timber was sent to the coast and locally. Closing down 60 years ago they now operate in Nundle. You can walk around the old site today looking at the relics left behind and reading the info boards on the companies history and around the camping area you can dig for Zircons in the rich soil.
If you’ve had enough of the hinterland history trail, head back in to Nundle and explore the tourist walk where there are nearly 30 POI along the way. Museums, boutique shops and galleries now fill the proud standing historical buildings, all this and it’s only 2km long !!. It’s easy to spend a few days here at Nundle, especially when you have a choice of camping, and free at that. As well as Ponderosa Park, Sheba Dam another free camp is located 4km on the northern side of town called Swamp Creek. Not only is it free but the area comes with toilets, shelters, fires permitted and you can fossick for gems in the creek nearby, all this with great views to the surrounding mountains.
Heading out from Nundle towards Tamworth is the magnificent Chaffy Dam that supplies water to the Tamworth area. This huge expanse of water is available to the public to camp beside ( with a small fee ), swim, fish in and boat on. When Chaffey Dam was built the village of Bowling Alley Point was flooded. These days all that is left are 3 original stone buildings, the old 1877 cemetery and when the dam is low a few ruins are visible in the swamp. Back in 1864 a wrought iron bridge was built across the Peel River ( now concrete ) but sadly it was washed away in a flood in the 1980’s. The bridge was constructed at Newcastle and was bought up in pieces by bullock teams that took many days. Pretty amazing that in this area there were a stack of hotels, school, PO and nearly 50 assorted buildings but sadly due to ‘progress’ this history is all but gone. Nundle - I’ll be back.