Did you know Armidale is Australia's highest city?At almost a kilometre above sea level, the Armidalians make quite a fuss about their lofty position on the Northern Tablelands of NSW; a fact that isn't lost on the local tourism department with their ambiguous slogan: Experience the Highs.
And it seems Sydneysiders are keen to experience the highs, by making a tree-change to Armidale. And why wouldn't they? With a median three-bedroom house price of $346,000, according to Domain Group data, you can buy a house and have change left over for a premium mountain bike and a pair of hiking shoes. You'll need both to explore all the National Parks that envelop the city in a sea of green.
And if that doesn't convince you, well you can't hate a city with a main drag named after a couple of hipsters. Beardy Street runs right through the middle of Armidale, with part of it being a pedestrian mall. Story goes it got its very cool name from two of the hirsute founding settlers.
We checked in to a cute bed and breakfast on the outskirts of Armidale for a quick getaway, but within an hour of arriving, my wife is on the computer, looking up real estate in the area and dreaming of a place in the country with chooks and a vegie patch.
Armidale is a Cathedral city, proclaimed in 1885, a decade after St Peters Anglican Cathedral opened for business. Not to be outdone, the Catholics opened their own Cathedral of Saints Mary and Joseph in 1912.
Nowadays, one of Armidale's largest employers is the university, which started out as a college for the University of Sydney, before becoming the fully-fledged University of New England (UNE) in 1954. No doubt, the university helps explains Armidale's relatively young population, with an average age of 20 to 39.
What all those raging hormones on legs do for entertainment is another thing, judging by how eerily quiet Beardy Mall is when we roll into town at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon.
"I love living here," says 25-year-old Bonnie Erskine-Smith, 25, manager of Goldfish Bowl Bakery; one of Armidale's more groovy cafes - yes, it has smashed avocado on the menu for $17.50. "This is the third time I've lived in Armidale. I came here for university twice and I moved up here from the coast about 18 months ago."
Erskine-Smith says the university gives the town a bit more buzz, with students heading for the many pubs in town, or congregating at The Welder's Dog, a popular craft beer bar.
And as for bearded hipsters in Armidale? "There's a few," she admits. "But, some are just old farmers."
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Peter Georkas, principle of Hutchinson & Harlow Real Estate Armidale, says he's seeing more and more professionals from Sydney moving to Armidale to telecommute and take advantage of the lower property prices, excellent schools, NBN connectivity, and lifestyle.
And being just an hour from Sydney by air, means the big smoke is never too out of reach.
"There's a fair bit of optimism in town at the moment," says Georkas, "Especially with our local member Barnaby Joyce moving the veterinary science people here, and with the redevelopment of the hospital and the airport. We're actually a sophisticated city, rather than a country town."
Georkas says those looking for a character home, should check out listings in the central part of Armidale City. One of the most desirable addresses is Brown Street, the location of many large homes constructed of "Armidale blue-brick".
"Blue-brick homes were built from 1890 to 1910," says Georkas. "They represent the very top of the residential market at a little over $1 million."
South Hill Armidale is another desirable area, especially for its city views, while West Armidale near the university is popular with investors looking for students to pay the rent.
With winter temperatures regularly plunging below minus five degrees, the weather might be a bit off putting to Sydneysiders. "I disagree," says Georkas. "I love the fact we have four distinct seasons. And in the winter, I go home and get the fire going, or we make a bonfire and stand around it, chatting with the neighbours."
One of former Sydneysider who now calls the city home is Dina Floros, who moved to Armidale a month ago with her husband and two young children.
"We were living in a three-bedroom apartment in San Souci and the only way we could afford to buy a house would be to move to the outer western suburbs," says Floros. "We sold our apartment and bought a five-bedroom house in North Armidale for cash, and still had money left over."
Floros says the move has bought with it a complete change of lifestyle for her and the family. "I can finally see the stars at night," she says. "And there's no traffic noise; it's the best I've slept in years. Do I miss anything? Not at all. I've found a couple of places that make good coffee, we have a farmers' market to buy fresh produce, and I have a slower, stress-free lifestyle."
In making the move, Floros could keep her position as an HR manger, working remotely from home. Her husband has become a stay-at-home dad and has a lot more time to ride his mountain bike in the many forests in the area.
"I have no regrets at all," says Floros. "I was in Sydney only last week and couldn't wait to get back home. Sure, we get some rough nuts about town occasionally, but I used to see a lot worse at Central Station."
The author visited Armidale courtesy of Armidale Tourism.