Guyra NSW: A guide to New England’s highest town

The New England area of NSW is known as high country, and there’s one town that’s higher than them all.

The small town of Guyra sits at 1330m above sea level, and as you can’t see the main street from the highway it’s all too easy to drive straight through on a New England highway road trip and not see what it has to offer.

As I live in the next town along in Glen Innes I’ve visited Guyra a lot over the years but it’s always been on a day trip or as I’m passing through, rather than spending the night.

Then I was invited to Guyra to give a talk for International Women’s Day and as I took some questions one of the audience members asked if I’d ever be interested in coming to stay in Guyra and sharing the experience with readers. And you just know what happened next.

A Guyra farm stay at Bald Blair Angus

That lovely audience member was Kirsty White, an energetic and enterprising local woman who had taken a cottage on her family’s historic property and turned it into a farm stay.

Kelly’s Cottage welcomed its first guests in late October 2019 and while they’ve gone from worrying about drought to pandemics, Kirsty has continued to welcome guests whenever they’ve been free to travel to this corner of the countryside.

The cottage dates back to 1911, and was first built for Harold White and his new bride Evelyn Curtis on a lower part of the property so it could be close to water. It didn’t take long for the newlyweds to figure out it was also freezing cold there in winter, and after doing their best to stick that one out it was eventually moved piece by piece to its current location in the 1920s.

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Kelly’s Cottage has been named in memory of Eric and Joan Kelly who raised their three daughters in the home as he worked as a Bald Blair stockman from 1959 to 2003.

Now the cottage welcomes families, groups of friends, and single travellers like me to a farm style holiday on one of the oldest Angus studs in Australia.

Bald Blair Angus bulls photo credit Al Mabin

The 1300-hectare property has been in the White family since 1898 and is now run by Sam and Kirsty White with their two school aged boys lending a hand. Whenever she has a chance Kirsty loves to take guests on tours of the property in the farm’s ute to see their latest Angus bulls and merino and crossbred sheep with a visit to the wool shed along the way.

Back home in the cottage there are two living areas, a huge kitchen, and three bedrooms – one with a double bed, and two bedrooms with two single beds to sleep a total of six guests at a time.

As the winters can get mighty cold in Guyra I’ve come prepared with layers to stay warm, but Kirsty already has the wood fire burning and there are electric blankets on the bed to get them nice and toasty before you slip between the sheets.

The cottage is self-catering and you can help yourself to the herbs and fresh spinach in the veggie patch, though I’ll confess I went for the super easy option of throwing a frozen pizza in the oven.

There’s a small TV if you need one, but I don’t attempt to turn it on at any stage as I’m so happy in front of the fire with a glass or two of red and a good book.

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If you forgot to bring your own there are a few books to choose from along with scrabble, chess and a jigsaw puzzle, as well as a set of vintage binoculars in an old leather case alongside a birdwatching book.

The recently renovated bathroom has heated light bulbs to take the edge off before it’s time for a shower, as well as Thank You body and hand wash and super soft towels by Ecodownunder.

After a good night’s sleep I wake to a beautiful misty morning and the sound of bulls calling to each other. And as I bundle up in my robe and take a cup of tea out onto the verandah I’m glad I don’t have to be anywhere in a hurry. The simple joy of watching the mist slowly lift, listening to the bulls and breathing in that fresh air makes me realise how much I’ve missed farm life.

It turns out that while it may not be far from home Kelly’s Cottage is the staycation I didn’t know I needed. And I can only imagine what a great change it must be for travellers coming from further afield.

My Rural Retreat, Guyra style

One of the many things I love about small country towns is the way people like to look out for one another. And so rather than wanting to keep this story all to herself, when I started to plan my trip Kirsty suggested I also speak to another local woman who had created a special farm stay: Tina Skipper at My Rural Retreat.

My Rural Retreat view, image Amanda Woods

Found on another working Angus cattle station, My Rural Retreat has two ways to stay. The Gardeners House can sleep up to five people in two bedrooms, while the old Shepherd’s Hut can sleep two in a Queen bed with room to spare for a cot or fold out bed.

Tina has also created a great studio space with an open fireplace where she hosts workshops including pottery, painting, basketry and weaving, where people can come for the day or book themselves in for a weekend stay.

While I’ve yet to try one of the workshops after spending a night here I can imagine how much fun it would be to hang out and create with people during the day before sharing tales around the fire and pottering back to bed at night.

My Rural Retreat Guyra trees, image Amanda Woods

When I arrive for my stay the first thing I notice is the unusuall and rather striking row of trees that remind me of a leafy harbour bridge. It turns out parts of the trees were trimmed to allow the winter sun through to the house which is not only a smart move in frosty Guyra winters, it’s led to an unexpected garden feature.

My home for the night, the Shepherd’s Hut is a short walk from the main house where Tina and her family live and the Gardener’s House, and while it looks super cute and tiny from a distance I soon discover it has a bit of a Tardis quality to it and feels bigger on the inside.

As the name suggests the Shepherd’s Hut was once just that. The original 1860’s hut was once part of Ollera Station, which was the first property in this part of New England when it was settled in 1838.

My Rural Retreat Guyra Shepherd's Hut exterior, image Amanda Woods

As well as being restored on the inside and having a kitchenette with a stove, fridge, microwave, and espresso machine, the Shepherd’s Hut now has a separate bedroom attached. Then in 1998 the property’s old post office that once stood at the entrance to the homestead was turned into a bathroom became a Shepherd’s Hut extension.

In the original hut section the fire is crackling, there’s a sweet bowl of breakfast provisions on the table with delicious muesli and bananas with an old school bottle of milk in the fridge. I’ve brought my own dinner to make (okay okay, heat up in the oven) but I can’t resist trying one of the freshly baked cookies and cracking open the can of Tread Softly Prosecco to raise a glass to the night ahead.

The bedroom is surprisingly roomy with a nice comfy queen bed with an electric blanket for happy toes on cold nights. It also has a separate heater, which I leave off until just before bedtime to warm the room a little.

There’s a small courtyard space with a fire-pit and two chairs where I happily sit for a while with a blankie before heading back inside to the inside fire and the couch.

When I first realised I would need to go out into the fresh air to get between the living area, bedroom and bathroom I was a little worried about just how fresh it would be on a Gurya winter night. Don’t get me wrong, it was only a few steps between each door so I could have just done a quick dash in my PJs.

My Rural Retreat Guyra Shepherd's Hut bed, image Amanda Woods

But I still rugged myself up in my big cosy robe and sheepskin slippers when I needed to nip to the loo in the middle of the night, and when I stepped out the door I was so glad I had. Because as soon as I saw those stars I knew I didn’t want this to be a quick dash. I wanted to stop and look up.

By keeping my porch light off I could see that blanket of stars so clearly. And as I looked up at the Milky Way a shooting star streaked across the sky, and my smile got even wider.

Things to do in and around Guyra

With only around 2,000 residents Guyra is on of the smaller side of New England towns but still has a lot to offer.

Lamb and Potato statue Guyra, image Amanda Woods

Every January the town holds the Lamb and Potato Festival to showcase their country fare, with lots of – you guessed it – lamb and potato to eat as well as market stalls and entertainment.

Throughout the year car lovers should make their way to the Burgess Garage, where an old garage on the main street has been turned into a car museum. Entry is by gold coin donation and cars include a 1960 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud II along with some classic Fords, Holdens and more.

Burgess Garage car museum Guyra, image Amanda Woods

Speaking of cars, if you fill up your tank at the Guyra Fourways Centre on the corner of Bradley and Ollera Streets you’ll be treated to old school service where one of the staff pumps your petrol for you. I’d forgotten that even happened the first time I pulled up and now stop there often as I travel down the highway to support this friendly local business.

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As you stroll along Bradley Street you’ll find the Australian Poetry Hall of Fame, which was created to celebrate and preserve Australian poetry, prose and songlines with a poetry library and archive. On Saturday mornings from 8.30am to 1pm it’s also home to the Guyra Farmers and Craft Market, the only indoor weekly market in New England where you can find local producers and crafts people.

Guyra Bush Poetry Hall of Fame, image Amanda Woods

Further down Bradley Street the Guyra & District Historical Museum has more than 3000 items on display, and is open Saturdays from 10am to 2pm.  

My favourite shop in Guyra, Brisk Trading left their old bricks and mortar store to go online only for a little while, but they’re about to come back in a new, yet to be revealed space. In the meantime they offer free delivery to Guyra and Armidale, including out to the farm stays, so you can still shop local without leaving the farm.

While you’ll find Vinnies on the main street, if you like exploring second hand shops the ADRA op shop on the other side of town is another great one to visit. I’ve picked up some great bargains here, including linen JAG tops with the price tag still on. They’re usually only open on Wednesdays and Thursdays and put a sign out on the highway to let you know when you can pop in.

And after an extensive renovation the Royal Hotel Guyra is now open for lunch and dinner Mondays to Saturdays and has a lovely pressed tin bar downstairs, and good pub accommodation upstairs. 

Royal Hotel Guyra fireplace, image Amanda Woods
Royal Hotel Guyra bar, image Amanda Woods

If you like to get on your bike, the team at High On Bikes can share the best trails in the area, and you may even pick up your new favourite bike while you’re there.

Twitchers will love hanging out and watching those birds at the Mother of Ducks Lagoon Nature Reserve on the edge of town. The reserve is a rare breeding place for some freshwater wetland bird species and there’s an observation platform as well as some picnic spots beside the water.

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And 25 minutes out of town the Little Llangothlin Nature Reserve is a Ramsar-listed wetlands where you can find more than 100 species of birds along with kangaroos and other wildlife.

As you drive north on the New England highway you’ll also see where a whole lot of Australia’s tomatoes come from. The Costa Group’s Guyra glasshouses are huge – as in, more than 300,000 square metres, or around 12 AFL football fields huge.  And they keep on growing.

Guyra tomato farm, image Amanda Woods

While I’d love to go inside to see the vertical farming in action (rather than growing in soil, the tomatoes here are planted in balsa rock in structures up to seven metres high), visitors are not allowed inside. Though they can follow the tourist street signs to the original glasshouses that can’t be seen from the highway.

If you follow Elm Street out to Blush Road (yes, named after the tomatoes) you can get a feel for just how huge these greenhouses are.

And if you’re like me and love a good massage you can also book in for a treatment with Tricia at Country Harmony. Tricia has a clinic in Uralla but also works out of her home studio in Guyra, where I’ve had some great massages with some more unusual elements including pulsing and crystal therapy in the mix. 

When you want to go exploring a little further afield, Guyra is part of one of the best drives in the area, Tourist Drive 17 that takes you along part of the Waterfall Way to see stunning waterfalls and beautiful national parks.

My Rural Retreat Guyra Shepherd's Hut fire, image Amanda Woods

And when you’ve had your big day out you can come on home to that special spot beside the fire. And keep an eye out for more of those shooting stars.

Amanda Woods stayed as a guest of Kelly’s Cottage and My Rural Retreat but as usual all opinions remain her own.

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  1. Do Uncle Billy’s Retreat on the Wandsworth/Ben Lomond Rd, & pop into Dunmore Trout Waters as well. Both places have excellent fishing , accommodation etc. Only 30 mins or so from Guyra

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