Touring Guide: Tingha, NSW

On the northern tablelands of New South Wales is an old town with a rich history. The free-camping is incredible, too. Don’t miss Tingha, NSW…

Tingha at sunset.

Back in 1870, major deposits of tin were discovered on the northern tablelands of New South Wales. These deposits were found predominately in Tingha, which was settled in 1841 by Sydney Darby looking for pastoral land. Within 12 months, more than 8000 people moved towards Tingha, including hundreds of Chinese people.

It wasn’t long before the mines became a commercial affair due to the huge amount of tin that was found and, as the majority of the tin was on the surface, little machinery was needed, allowing the miners to make good money. 


The boom gave the town a school and a general store with a post office, but the boom was over by 1900. The amount of tin that was mined was staggering, to say the least. Reports indicate that more than 70,000 tonnes were mined within a five-mile radius of the centre of town.

Old mine head in the Tingha region.

At the peak of the boom, Tingha was the largest tin-producing district in the state. In 1885, it was established as a private town to service the mines. New dredges were brought in to rework the old ground in the 20th century with little success, and little remains of the old mines except for rusting relics and massive pits that were dug for extracting the tin.

For a fascinating insight in the history of Tingha, the Wing Hing Museum in the main street is a must-visit. It is an early 19th century store that was owned by the same Chinese family for more than 80 years. The building and fittings have remained intact from the early 1900s, and it is one of the few buildings left in Tingha from the tin-mining boom era. The interior of the store remains as it used to be, containing items from Tingha’s Chinese and tin-mining history.

Today, its a quiet place, with fewer than 1000 people living in the district, yet the town supports a school, several shops and a caravan park. Most people who come to Tingha do so to fossick for gems and crystals that have ‘grown’ in the sandy surface soil over millions of years before being dug up when the miners were looking for tin.

Relics such as this are a reminder of the region’s rich history.

Most fossickers head to the Tingha plateau reserve, which an area around the small settlement of Stannifer, about 10km from Tingha. This area was also mined for tin many years ago, which has left some interesting scars upon the landscape, including massive deep trenching with huge piles of sand piled beside the pits. 

Some of these pits extend for hundreds of metres, 50m wide and very deep. Most these days are full of water but there’s still plenty around and you can crawl down inside to sense the vastness of what the miners did.


Some of the areas that were mined were thick with quartz. Some contained a lot of what’s known as ‘jelly bean’ quartz. Jelly beans are quartz crystals that have been rolled and tumbled in waterways until their original sharp, angular crystal shape have become rounded and smooth so that they look like a jelly bean. In reality, they look almost like any other water-worn, smooth pebble you may find in a river or at the beach. Yet they can be beautiful and clear, like a glass bead.

Copeton Dam.

Around the masses of old mullock heaps, it’s pretty easy digging as you look for crystals, jelly beans, smokey and clear quartz, and others. Deep in the forests of Tingha are relics of an old stone baker’s oven and baking pits. Even better: the site of and unground wine cellar of the Mannix Hotel nearby. The story goes that the pub burnt down and, shortly after, the owner’s young daughter fell down a mine shaft and died. 

Unfortunately, the owners had enough bad luck in this area and decided not to rebuild the pub so they moved away, never to be seen again, leaving only a stark reminder where their little girl was buried.

Kev Smith at the site of the old Mannix Hotel.

Another attraction nearby is Copeton Dam, which has some pretty impressive stats. It is three times the size of Sydney Harbour when full, has some of the best freshwater cod fishing around (monsters over 1m are caught regularly), it is more than 100m deep, and offers an array of water sports. But to be honest, this place is amazing, with some of the best waterfront camping you’ll find.

In 1930, a proposal was made to dam the valley for irrigation for nearby towns and agricultural growth, but World War II eventually broke out and funds dried up. But by 1966, money was sourced and the current location was approved, with work commencing in 1968. The project took five years to complete and over the years the dam size has increased with a higher wall and nine flood gates.

Before the valley was flooded, two small towns were abandoned: Boggy Camp and Dasey Town. Stockyards, a cemetery and buildings now lay deep underwater.  A little morbid, but it’s not until the dam suffers severe droughts that the relics rise from the deep.

In 1994, the dam registered an extremely low two per cent water level. It was possible to see some of the many cemetery headstones, the mine tower and old fence lines.


Most people head to Copeton for the stunning camping spots and watersports where you can fish, sail, or just swim in this vast waterway, and with around 45 square kilometres of water to explore, it’s not hard to find a quiet cove.

There are lots of beautiful roads such as this in the Tingha region.

Choices for camping are pretty darn good, too, with kilometres of free-camping through to paid sites if you stay at the Inland Water Holiday Park, located on the northern side of the dam along Auburn Vale Road from Inverell.

With waterfront sites, fires and dogs permitted, showers and toilets, plenty of boat launching spots with total serenity, you’ll fall in love with this place. 

Free-camping opportunities can be found on the eastern side, coming in from Howell, but there are no facilities so you’ll need to be totally self-sufficient as it’s a long way back into town.

On the road through Howell, the Conrad Mine began operation back in 1898, with nearly 17,800 tonnes of concentrate silver, lead, copper and arsenic being extracted. Some of the original shafts that were all dug by hand are nearly 250ft deep.

Eventually, the good fortune ran out and the mine was shut in the mid 1950s. Currently, safety procedures are in place to clean the site up and to preserve it for historical reasons.

While the Conrad mine was operational, other areas were explored within the region and smaller mines were opened with some degree of luck. Sapphires were found in the area and by 1970 there were over 100 mining operations in the district all searching for this shiny stone. Inverell is now known as the Sapphire City.

Tingha at sunset.

Halfway between Copeton Dam and Inverell on the Copeton Dam Road, the local shire has put aside a large lump of land where you can fossick for free. Sign-posted at Staggy Creek, it’s only a short drive through several paddocks to the digging fields. Staggy Creek Reserve is part of an ancient creek bed where it’s been eroded down to what it is today.

Even though the ground has been dug over for the past 20 years, it’s still pretty exciting to scratch around for an alluvial diamond, black tourmaline, tin or clear quartz. 

The best way to explore here is just to walk around and check out the amount of holes that others have dug. Either dry sieve or if there is any water in the small dam, let the water wash the dirt away and hopefully expose a surprise or two. 

Tingha is surrounded by over 2000 acres of open common, which is great for four-wheel-drivers, motorcyclists and fossickers. It’s not an area where you’ll experience extreme four-wheel-driving – you might not even lock the hubs – but the Tingha region has some of the best camping you’ll find. History and relics can be found, too, and if you are lucky, you might even find a gem or two.


  • LOCATION: Tingha is on the northern tablelands of New South Wales, about 630km from Sydney. The nearest major town is Inverell, 30km away, with most major facilities to cater for all needs.
  • WHAT TO TAKE: This depends on what you’re planning to do. Fuel, takeaway food and basic items can be bought nearby in town. Keen fossickers might take a spade and a sieve to search for gems.
  • CAMPING: Tingha has a single caravan park with all amenities in town. Powered and unpowered sites are available.
  • ACTIVITIES: Fishing, fossicking, birdwatching, photography, walking trails, exploring the region and relics, etc.
  • MORE INFO: Inverell Information Centre: (02) 6728 8161.