Pack the car and head 2.5 hours west of Sydney, through the Blue Mountains, and you’ll find yourself in gold rush country. A road trip through the historic Central West is packed with history and heritage.
There’s almost a sense of relief as you leave Sydney’s urban sprawl behind and make the short, steep climb through the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains.
We’re taking a weekend road trip through the sunburnt Central West region in the state of New South Wales (NSW); an area filled with Indigenous and colonial history, and sleepy small towns surrounded by fertile wheat, sheep and wine country.
As you travel through the rolling paddocks and tiny towns, you can’t help but shift into a slower, more relaxed gear.
Or hit the food and wine trail and discover award-winning vineyards around Orange and the hot air ballooning capital of Australia, Canowindra.
We’re doing a 270 km loop of the region, travelling from Bathurst to Cowra and on to Orange before returning to Bathurst.
Along the way we’ll visit historic towns and villages, each with their own unique landscapes, flavours and stories to tell.
Head west from Sydney, through the Blue Mountains, and around 2.5 hours later you’ll arrive at the university town of Bathurst, the gateway to the Central West.
Made famous by a gold rush, notorious bushrangers and, more recently, the annual V8 supercar race, Bathurst is Australia’s oldest inland European settlement.
The Georgian and Victorian buildings and stunning streetscape are among the best you’ll find in any country town.
If architecture is your thing, be sure to visit Bathurst railway station with its impressive High Victorian Gothic design, with Dutch gables topped by finials, bay windows and a cast-iron veranda.
Just near the railway station in Havannah St is Tremain’s Flour Mill (11 Keppel St).
Built in the early 1850s and no longer operational, it is the only survivor of some 10 mills that once existed in the area which was known as Mill Town. Grab a slice from Ciao Italian Pizza while you’re there.
On Gilmour Street you’ll find the Woolstone House, built in the late 1880s by the son of Thomas Kite, one of the first 10 convict settlers in Australia.
Between Russell and Church Streets is Kings Parade – the impressive centre of the city. Here you’ll find the Bathurst Court House and All Saints Cathedral, as well as the Bathurst War Memorial Carillon – a 30.5 m tower with 35 bells.
Located on the site of the old Bathurst Gaol in William Street, you’ll find Machattie Park, a late 19th-century Victorian park with a bandstand, a Begonia House (in bloom from February to Easter), a caretaker’s cottage, fernery and lake.,
If you visit in winter, The Winter Festival each July attracts thousands from near and far for its light shows and ice skating in the heart of the city.
The monthly Arts Trail, where artists from around the region showcase their work, is also a magnet for tourists.
Over at the Australian Fossil & Mineral Museum, in an old school building at 224 Howick St, you’ll come face to face with an imposing five metre-high, 15 metre-long Tyrannosaurus rex (T-rex) skeleton – the only complete cast in Australia.
T-Rex is only 360 million years old. But a stromatolite from the Pilbara region in Western Australia, is a staggering 1,500 million years old.
Where To Eat And Drink In Bathurst
The town’s main streets are home to some locally-famous institutions but few are as memorable as Church Bar (1 Ribbon Gang Lane).
Housed on the site of a former Anglican school (pictured), this is now a modern day place of worship for wood-fired pizza and cocktails.
If pub grub is more your thing, the The George Hotel opposite Machattrie Park (201 George St) is hard to beat. There’s casual bar food like burgers and fried chicken or a more sophisticated dining menu that includes char-grilled rib eye, lamb rump or pan seared salmon.
The George was actually voted one of the best casual dining venues in Bathurst a few years ago, along with other local favourites the Kings Hotel (60 George St) and Jack Duggans Irish Pub(135 George St).
Webb & Co (175 George St) – a popular wine bar, tucked away in Bathurst’s historic Webb Chambers; Italian wine bar Vine & Tap (142 William St); and Mediterranean favourite Maalouf’s (52 George St) are also standouts.
For a taste of France in regional Australia, head to Legall Patisserie (56 Keppel St). But be warned, the pastries made by chef Philipe Le Gall are so legendary they often sell out early.
The monthly Farmers Market at the Showground also showcases the best local produce and artisanal eats from January to November.
You could easily spend two or three days soaking up the colonial history of Bathurst, but we decide to hit the road and continue our journey 37 km south-west to the small town of Blayney.
Once you pass the level crossing, you’ll find yourself in the main street, which is home to four pubs and one supermarket. There’s also a bakery, a Chinese restaurant called Heng Sing and a post office that doubles as a bank, among other things.
Many of the historic buildings that line Adelaide Street, the main thoroughfare, are classified by the National Trust for their historical significance.
A thriving agricultural industry makes the region a haven for delicious fresh produce, farmers markets and quality cool climate wineries. Be sure to visit the Blayney Farmers Market, held on the third Sunday of every month.
The Blayney Post Office Bed & Breakfast (60 Adelaide Street) is a good spot to stop for the night if you’ve been driving all day.
Otherwise, take a scenic drive to nearby towns including Barry, Carcoar, Lyndhurst, Mandurama and Neville, each with their own fascinating stories to tell.
You’ll cross old wooden bridges, pass through scorched rolling hills and soak up some stunning sunsets as you travel through the region.
On our recent visit the skies opened and the area received a much-needed downpour, washing away the dust and turning the singed land a subtle green.
Travel down the Mid Western Highway and take the Carcoar Dam Road to The Blayney Wind Farm. It’s one of the largest of its type in Australia with 16 operating wind turbines, and a viewing platform for visitors.
You can spend the night at any one of the village pubs or B&Bs in Blayney Shire, including the historic Royal Hotel Mandurama (14 Olive Street), built in 1899. Check out Airbnb for local farm stays as well.
It bills itself as “the town that time forgot”, but when it comes to Australian history, the tiny village of Carcoar is a treasure trove of stories.
It’s actually one of the country’s oldest settlements, near the banks of the biblical-sounding Belubula River, and the scene of Australia’s first daylight bank robbery.
A National Trust-classified village, Carcoar was gazetted as a town in 1839 and is now home to about 400 people, with 35 well-preserved historic buildings dating from 1845 to 1941.
The dominating shingled spire of St Paul’s Anglican Church, designed by Edmund Blacket and built in 1845, overlooks the village. Not far away is the stone 1870 St Mary’s Catholic Church.
Other reminders of a bygone era include the Saddlery (1844), now a private residence, and the convict-built Stoke Stable (1849), which is used by the historical society as a museum.
We arrived on Australia Day – the country’s national day – and the Carcoar Village Fair was in full swing. There were street parades, food and produce stalls, vintage cars and characters in period dress.
At the newly-named Kurt Fearnley Park on Icely Street, families sought shelter from the searing 35c heat as children splashed about in the river.
Over at Bellubula Street, Atticus Hortley, a snake oil salesman (pictured), was pushing potions on unsuspecting locals near The Royal Hotel, while a ghost was seen in the halls of the Carcoar Courthouse (below).
The imposing colonial-era building (often used as the set for period movies and TV dramas) witnessed the trials and committals of bushrangers, and at least one murder inquest.
In fact, Carcoar had something of a wild reputation with bushrangers with the Paddy Curran, Frank Gardiner and Ben Hall gangs all roaming the region.
In 1863, bushrangers John O’Meally and Johnny Gilbert, members of Hall’s infamous gang, attempted Australia’s first daylight bank robbery in Carcoar.
Casually fronting the teller of the Commercial Bank (above), Gilbert demanded all the money. But the clerk produced a pistol, took a shot at them and the pair fled.
The original bank building is still standing, but these days it’s home to possibly Australia’s strangest private toy museum.
There are actually five museums in Carcoar: the Carcoar Hospital Museum, Court House Museum, Carmanhurst Military Museum, Stoke Stable Museum and the 20th Century Toy Museum – all of which provide a fascinating insight into Australia’s early colonial history.
The next morning, after a 45-minute trip down the Mid Western Highway, we arrived at Cowra on the banks of the Lachlan River – a town best known because of its unique wartime link with Japan.
During World War II, around 1,104 Japanese prisoners of war launched a mass escape from a detention centre on the edge of town.
More than 200 were killed in the bloody attempt, as well as four Australian soldiers, in what is known as the Cowra breakout.
It was the only battle fought on Australian soil during World War II and the site is already on the national heritage register.
Instead of bitterness, the post war period saw the people of Cowra build a close relationship with the Japanese, many of whom visit the town each year.
The impeccably maintained Japanese War Cemetery contains the remains of those killed – and all other Japanese nationals who died on Australian soil – during the war.
Take time to visit the five-hectare Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre, a joint venture between the people of Cowra and Japan. It was opened in 1979 and is a little piece of Japan in the middle of the Australian bush.
The garden is worth visiting year-round but is at its most colourful in September, when the cherry trees blossom.
If you feel like a casual lunch in an open-air setting, head four kilometres out of Cowra to the Quarry Restaurant, with its courtyard set amid the vines.
The puddings lovingly made by Anne Loveridge are a truly memorable experience. There’s also a sizeable wine list as the Quarry is the cellar door (open Thursday to Sunday) for a number of local vineyards.
If you’re staying in Cowra for a few days, you might even consider a day to trip to Wyangala Dam, the state’s second-oldest irrigation dam located about 35 minutes or 50km to the south-east.
It’s a great spot for swimming, fishing, boating and water skiing. You can even camp over night.
Due to Australia’s prolonged drought, water levels in the dam have fallen dramatically as the image above shows.
It has exposed areas not seen since the dam was upgraded in the early 1970s.
(Thankfully, the area received some heavy rain not long after this blog was written, boosting storage at the dam from 7% to 13%.)
Leaving Cowra, we headed north on the B81 and Cargo Road, arriving in Orange just under 90 minutes later.
The town spreads out below Mount Canobolas, an ancient volcano 1,395 metres above sea level that is often capped with snow in winter.
Local heritage has been thoughtfully preserved here, with many streetscapes, buildings and trails listed by heritage bodies.
Street after street are lined with gracious Federation homes and buildings such as the 19th century mansion Duntryleague, which now serves as a golf club.
Drop by the 17-hectare Orange Botanic Gardens and visit Emmaville Cottage, the house (below) where one Australia’s best-known poets, Banjo Paterson, was born in 1864. (The house was relocated to the Gardens in 2013 for preservation purposes).
Banjo Paterson, of course, penned the words to Australia’s unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda, in 1895.
A memorial to Paterson includes an automated spoken narration about the poet’s life and times, along with excerpts from his works, including Clancy of the Overflow, Waltzing Matilda and The Geebung Polo Club.
Superb seasonal menus with sustainable local produce.
A thriving agricultural industry makes Orange a haven for amazing fresh produce, farmers markets and some of Australia’s best cool climate wines.
You can learn about the art and science of winemaking from Australia’s first carbon neutral winery, Ross Hill Wines(134 Wallace Lane) or stop for a tasting at pioneering local winemaker Philip Shaw Wines (100 Shiralee Road).
You might prefer to join an organised wine tour of local vineyards.
Back in town, browse the town’s gourmet food stores, including The Essential Ingredient (145 Summer Street). If you’re there on the second Saturday of any month, treat your tastebuds at the Farmer’s Market.
Orange is also home to exceptional restaurants, creating superb seasonal menus with sustainable local produce.
Enjoy contemporary Italian and French cuisine at the one-hat Lolli Redini (48 Sale Street).
There’s also plenty of places to stay, including small hotels and B&Bs, to homesteads on sprawling grounds and vineyards with self-contained accommodation.
via Bathurst and the Blue Mountains
We’ve only scratched the surface in terms of places to go and things to see in the Central West.
But after four days, it’s time to start the three-hour trek back to Sydney, with a pit stop (pardon the pun) at the Mount Panorama race track on the outskirts of Bathurst.
Whether you’re a high-octane fan or not, you just cannot visit Bathurst without taking a spin around the iconic circuit, while admiring the stunning views from the top.
The 6.12 km track is a public road for most of the year, but is closed for for a few days for races like the Bathurst 1000 in October or the Bathurst 12-Hour in January, held last weekend.
Leaving Bathurst, we passed through Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains. We had a rest stop at the scenic village of Blackheath, not far from the Three Sisters at Katoomba, ordering coffee at the Blackheath General Store (249 Great Western Highway).
The good thing about Blackheath is that it tends to attract fewer tour coaches compared to neighbouring towns like Leura or Katoomba, so it’s one of the more relaxed places to wind up a visit to the historic Central West.
© 2020 Bernard O’Riordan (Travel Instinct). All Rights Reserved.
You Might Have Seen Our Work In These Publications