It’s the Koala (and supermodel) capital of the world, apparently.
That’s the sign that greets you (minus the supermodel) when you’re about 15 kilometres out of the Australian town that’s quiet and unassuming and also happens to be the former home of the not-so-quiet and unassuming supermodel, Miranda Kerr.
The truth is though, you’re more likely to see a Kerr in town rather than a Koala, although trust me, I damn near searched for both of them. Spoiler: I saw neither.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Gunnedah a couple of times now, both times for work, but fortunately I got to squeeze a bit of pleasure time in there too. Gunnedah is about a 5 hour drive from Sydney or a 7 hour drive from Brisbane if you really don’t stop anywhere along the way, but then, what’s the point of a road trip if you don’t stop and take in the towns that people often zoom past?
I remember speaking to a local ahead of the first time I made the trek there. I only remember it distinctly because the beginning of her sentence on how to get to my hotel started with “Turn right at the only set of traffic lights in town.” Instantly I had my mind set that this would be a very long week. Some blogs had me convinced that I would need to bring modern conveniences with me as if I was travelling not only a long distance, but also a long way back in time. The blogs were very wrong.
This big-little town itself centres around the main road, the Kamilaroi Highway and has everything you’d expect in a big-little town. There’s supermarkets (THREE of them, all the majors, what a luxury!), five petrol stations, a bevy of shops, cafes, bistros, clothing stores, banks and of course a little-known family restaurant called McDonalds.
Gunnedah is the little sister to the big and shiny town of Tamworth – famous for its country music, the not-so-big golden guitar and a functioning airport – that’s only 45 minutes or so away – depending on if any cows cross the highway while you drive – which happened to me more than a few times.
But Gunners is a town with a lot of heart, as I discovered spending my time with the ladies of the local CWA Branch, and the people that live there (generally very friendly and very lovely) are very proud of their town and its rich heritage.
They’ll tell you that a bunch of famous ‘Gunnedahians’ have come from there – Miranda, Erica Packer, comedian Tom Gleeson, ‘I love a sunburnt country’ poet Dorothea Mackellar and a smattering of rugby league and union legends. It’s also been the location of a major film (Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns) and is home to the best koalas and best pizzas* in the world. I, sadly, was only able to verify one of these claims.
I stayed at the Gunnedah Lodge Motel, which stood out from quite a few of the local offerings as it was super clean, modern, and had plenty of parking. The rooms, although reminiscent of modern sheds, were quiet, cool and had most of the mod cons you’d expect from a motel, and some you wouldn’t, like bed lamps with USB chargers in them. Fancy.
I ate mainly at the local pubs and bistros around town. The stand-out for quick and mostly satisfying bistro food was The Gunnedah Hotel Bistro (7 days a week, 298 Conadilly St) which served up both salad and schnitzels the size of my rather large head and a sign that greeted customers warning them the kitchen would have to stop food service if the power failed. The nerve.
I also had to try the pizza’s from Terry’s Pizza, (Daily from 5pm, Gunnedah Civic Mall opposite Town Hall) which, with a 4.5 star rating on TripAdvisor, and an interior reminiscent of the 80’s retro pizza shops I fondly remember, was an instant winner. Terry served me, I just knew it was him without even asking. He was, just like his interior, a bit worn around the edges but warm, friendly and legendary. The pizzas, more Aussie style than italian, come loaded (absolutely loaded) with toppings that are locally-sourced and in most cases also locally produced, smothered in cheese and are served up, not necessarily fast, but definitely hot and fresh. Plus while you wait you can always ogle the giant black and white photos of famous Gunnedahians that Terry has bolted to the walls. It’s brilliant.
All in all, as far as NSW road trips go, it’s definitely a big drive. Is it worth it? Definitely if you’re heading in that direction to visit other major towns that are dotted around it like Tamworth, Muswellbrook, Armidale, Dubbo.