Bucketts Way, the Alternative Drive North for families.

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Driving from Sydney to Brisbane – are you crazy? So many people think they don’t have time or it’s so far away. It’s a day! What’s one day when you think how much time you waste away on social media? I did this trip with my 12 month old. As it was just us driving we needed to be able to stop. Often.

The Pacific Highway up the east coast of Australia is fine unless you have don’t have assistance in the car and you need to pull over often and safely, without veering so far from the road it slows you down.

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I decided to take the Bucketts Way route. This meant there was very little traffic and I could pull over on the side and change a nappy, prepare a bottle or change outfits due to motion sickness.

Having got out of Sydney we headed north on the expressway. At Maitland we headed to Gresford and then across to Dungog. You don’t have to go to Dungog via Gresford but I couldn’t miss the chance to visit the area again. If you don’t want to turn off until later, you can follow the highway to Hexham and turn off to Stroud at Raymond Terrace.  This is a slice of Australia that is bound to get more expensive and if you look at land prices over the last ten years it seems people are already onto this little town.

Leaving Maitland, we stopped Paterson a short drive on the outskirts of town.  Paterson was settled around 1812/13 by three convicts having received permits from Governor Macquarie. It’s a pretty ‘suburb’ of Maitland and the early architecture is still evident with many houses being lovingly restored and cared for. You drive past pretty houses with lace verandah’s and large gardens. Maybe its just the joy of being out of the city and leaving the expressway behind that ignites this feeling. You feel like you are in the country here. (for overseas people – we use the word country, meaning rural areas) This is the point when you can switch your mind from hectic expressway driving to a slower, easier pace. Relax. Welcome your inner Driving Miss Daisy before you set off and you will have a most enjoyable journey ahead of you.

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Heading from Paterson – Vacy – Gresford – Dungog and then Stroud to meet the Bucketts Way to head north. Gloucester is a great place to stop, so plan your next stop around this little town. You will be surprised to find that Gloucester is both a quaint rural township but also a foodie’s paradise with several little cafes and shops selling local home made treats and products. The best chilli jam I have ever found was found in Gloucester. Stock up on snacks if you intend to stop several times.

This is remote country. So much so there was an escaped prisoner on the run and it took the police years to catch him. Putting that aside, it is breathtakingly beautiful. At every turn you’ll want to stop and snap a photo. Barrington Tops is seriously one of the most picturesque places in NSW. If you have grown up with hills and mountains around you, much of Australia will feel quiet foreign to you. Here you may feel a little more comfortable. This piece of the road will take you about two hours to get to the next township – Walcha. Be prepared for winds and low temperatures.

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Walcha is the start of the New England area. Now that you have climbed those hills your on the New England Tableland. This country is a plateau with many gorges and waterfalls throughout the area. Gorges make for treacherous travelling but also wonderful views. The area is predominantly cattle and sheep farmers and once was an area of tremendous wealth. The wealth is still there but greatly diluted in comparison to times gone by. If you are not ready to stop in Walcha, head further down the track to Uralla. Uralla is on the New England Highway and as such gets a rip roaring passer by trade. There are great cafes in Uralla. My Dad can’t pass through without stopping at the bookshop – but as I am not into books on the history of wool in this country, I can drive right on by! (I’m sure you will be able to resist the temptation as well)

Armidale is 47 minutes form Walcha and you will find this a good point to stop. Armidale is a university city and has many boarding schools. It has lovely old buildings and several cathedrals. The city is built in a valley and there are several vantage points where you can oversee the town. The highway actually by-passes the city so you would be turning off to visit. Armidale has some great little cafes dependent upon what time of day you get there.

I pushed on and was aiming for Glen Innes for dinner. In Australia out on the open road you want to get off the road at dusk. The kangaroos move towards water at this time of day and they are very hard to miss in a car on a highway at high speeds. They will create quiet a dint on the car. If you are not used to seeing road kill. There will be kangaroos all along our roads. You kinda build an immunity to it. Before you get all animal welfare on me, there are roughly 24,000,000 people in Australia. There are about 50,000,000 kangaroos.

The next town is Tenterfield and whilst they have many plush motels to stay in. They know they are at the point of where people push themselves to get to from a driving point and they charge accordingly. Sure, you’ll be an hour down the road but you’ll spend twice as much on your room. I unfortunately had to continue as the motels in Glen Innes did not have porta cots available and I had not packed mine. In hind sight I should of.

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Its an easy 3 hours from Tenterfield to Brisbane. The area around Warwick is very beautiful with lovely views. This is the mountain range that continues through to Toowoomba. When a mountain range over looks flat land below it is breathtaking. Take your time here and the road from this point and into Brisbane is greatly agricultural land feeding the Brisbane population and expressway. Stanthorpe has nice gardens and the surrounding orchards make it a popular spot. If you can get apple pie on the road side, what’s not to like?

You may not drive this route ever again in your life. The difference between driving this route and the Pacific Highway is very little. The difference between the New England highway is about 2 hours in your favour. If you don’t fancy driving all the way to Brisbane via this route, you should at the very least get to Barrington Tops at least once. It’s delightful and you won’t regret it. Be ready to sit behind some caravans. The ‘grey nomads’ are all over this drive and there are numbers of them.

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