With the countryside verdant and travel to regional NSW considered safe, road tripping through Central NSW this spring ticks plenty of boxes. CW editor Julie Samaras hit the road to Oberon, Cowra and Canowindra last week to take in the sights.
WHAT WE DID
Our getaway began with a scenic three-hour drive on sealed roads from Canberra to Oberon (via Goulburn and Taralga), the latter part winding along the Great Dividing Range.
At the Oberon Visitor Information Centre, Mathew and the friendly team gave us guidance on what to see and do in this charming country town that often sees snow in winter, is bolstered by forestry, agriculture and manufacturing, and is renowned for fossicking.
Oberon Visitor Information Centre, 48 Ross Street, Oberon; open 7 days 9.30am-5pm; visitoberon.com
Local tour operator Ian Redpath collected us in his pristine 4WD to head off the beaten track for a bespoke fossicking tour to one of the sparkling waterways near the village of Black Springs.
Armed with a sturdy shovel, sieves and gold panning dishes, Ian led us through the process of gemstone hunting – swirling silt and stones from the riverbed in the hope of separating gems such as sapphires, zircons, industrial diamonds or flecks of gold from the clay.
Time flies when you’re absorbed in this mesmerising activity and soon we were enjoying a refreshing afternoon tea before heading back to civilisation. While we didn’t strike it rich this time, we pocketed some pretty stones and created treasured memories.
Through Detour Adventures and Bathurst Tours, Ian offers various half-day and one-day tours and can customise itineraries for small groups and individuals to cater to specific interests, from fossicking, gardens or motor racing to food and wine, arts and culture, and more. One of the most popular is his exclusive Wednesday tour of magnificent Mayfield Garden (see below) that includes lunch seated around the mosaic table in the glasshouse.
Detour Adventures, call 1300 728 321; detouradventures.com.au
It’s hard to think of a better way to spend a glorious October morning than strolling the expansive gardens at Mayfield, Australia’s largest privately-owned, cool climate garden. For 363 days of the year, around 15 hectares of these spectacular gardens are open to the public, but during the spring, summer, autumn and winter festivals, the public is also given access to the additional 50 hectares of the Hawkins’ Family Garden. Our visit was perfectly timed to take advantage of this extraordinary bonus (the 2020 spring festival ends 25 October, so be quick!).
Inspired by the best gardens in Europe, since 1984 the Hawkins family have thoughtfully designed, developed and nurtured their glorious garden from bare paddocks. No need here for any election promises to plant “a million trees” as there are lovingly-maintained trees of almost every kind at every turn – including a pine forest, nuttery, fruit orchard, oak-lined driveway, allée of London Plane Trees and more.
The myriad of paths leads you alongside water features – from Mayfield Lake (big enough for row boats), a natural creek, trickling streams, a grotto with waterfall, and the stunning, circular Obelisk Pond.
When we visited, the gorgeous garden beds were blooming with understoreys of crimson, pink and white rhododendrons, azaleas, tulips, daffodils, bluebells, irises, hellebores, daphne, heather and more, often protected by canopies of countless deciduous trees in shades of green, silver and red.
Every corner reveals another breathtaking view or hidden gem, and climbing the gentle slope to the magnificent family chapel rewards you with a panorama of the expansive gardens to the luminous yellow canola fields and green rolling hills beyond.
General advice is to allow at least four hours to explore the entire gardens during the spring and autumn festivals; we ran out of time to explore the maze (one of the biggest box hedge mazes in the southern hemisphere), which, from all reports, is brilliant fun. Enjoy a picnic in the grounds or eat at the popular on-site café and kiosk.
Mayfield Garden, 530 Mayfield Road, Oberon; mayfieldgarden.com.au
Russell (aka ‘Captain Barnacle’ or ‘the Captain’) met us in Cowra on his gleaming red Harley Davidson to take us on a bespoke Motorcycle ‘n Sidecar Tour for two passengers, politely taking turns to ride pillion or sidecar style.
After donning the supplied (hygienic) motorbike helmets, jackets and gloves, we set off to see some of the most popular sights in town – the Cowra Japanese Garden, lookout, POW campsite and war cemeteries – before cruising the country roads out to Rosnay Organic Farm.
Touring on a throbbing Harley is certainly a fun, unusual and head-turning way to poke around town or take in some wine tasting at regional vineyards. Two thumbs up.
Russell offers a range of tours or the flexibility to design your own road trip. Prices start from $105 for two for a 30-minute adventure; one of his most popular is the 4.5-hour wine tasting tour.
Call Russell (Captain Barnacle) on 0412 573 788; captainbarnacles.com.au
Legendary Japanese landscape architect Ken Nakajima designed this masterpiece in the 1970s and loved it so much, his grandson brought Ken’s ashes from Japan to be buried here following his death in 2000. Expertly maintained, the Garden has remained true to its master’s vision over the decades and is a living testament to the Australian and Japanese people’s desire for peace and reconciliation.
Take time to explore the glorious five-hectare site, appreciate great design and skillful pruning, and feel the serenity – which I found to be an almost spiritual experience.
CW was privileged to be escorted around by the Gardens’ chairman, Bob Griffiths, who is especially proud of this jewel in Cowra’s tourism crown – and of the Cultural Centre’s shiny new black roof of traditional Japanese tiles that recently replaced the tired old shingles which posed a bushfire hazard.
We were fortunate a plethora of cherry blossoms were in bloom during our visit on 10 October, but the Gardens exude beauty and serenity each and every season. Entry fees apply, which are well spent on maintaining this (inter)national treasure.
Cowra Japanese Garden, Ken Nakajima Place, Cowra; cowragarden.com.au
Cowra POW Campsite
Just a moment’s ride from the Gardens on Captain Barnacle’s Harley is the historic WWII POW Campsite, infamous for the deadly breakout of Japanese prisoners in August 1944.
Interpretive signs and audio broadcast from the replica guard tower explain the history of the campsite, and a walking trail takes you past the camp ruins. A Corten steel sculpture by a local artist is a striking recent addition.
WWII history buffs will find Cowra a fascinating place. It’s worth dropping into the Cowra Visitor Information Centre (corner of Lachlan Valley Way and Mid Western Highway, Cowra) for more information and a short video recreation of the Cowra breakout.
POW Campsite, corner of Evans Street and Sakura Avenue, Cowra; visitcowra.com.au/pow-the-breakout/
Not far from the POW campsite lies the Japanese War Cemetery containing the graves of the Japanese prisoners who died in the breakout, as well as other internees and those killed in the battle of Darwin.
The Australian War Cemetery commemorates the four Australian soldiers killed during the breakout and those who died in training at the local military camp.
Doncaster Drive, Cowra; visitcowra.com.au/cowra-war-cemeteries/
There’s nothing quite like the romance of drifting above a bucolic landscape in a hot air balloon at sunrise – and where better to experience it than Australia’s hot air ballooning capital of Canowindra (a half-hour drive north of Cowra).
A hot air balloon flight here has been on my bucket list since the late 1970s when I frequented the township on numerous family road trips between Canberra and Queensland, and I’m grateful to the Kerr family (Graham and Jan and son Anton), owners and operators of Balloon Joy Flights, for realising my dream. The Kerrs are one of the few hot air ballooning families in Australia, where Anton has grown up ballooning in Canowindra and followed in his father’s footsteps to earn his commercial licence.
With over 35 years’ experience in hot air ballooning, our affable pilot Graham explained the science, skill and art of how ballooning works and that every flight is unique – as the route, timing and landing are all dependent on the wind and temperature at that particular moment in time. Canowindra’s hot air balloon season generally runs from March through to November, as relatively cool, still mornings are required to launch the balloons aloft, so this activity is weather-dependent.
Graham also explained the topography of Canowindra, in a shallow basin surrounded by gentle hills in all directions, creates an ideal environment for hot air ballooning.
Our glorious sunrise flight finished with a traditional champagne breakfast and prayer (expressing gratitude for returning safely to earth) and delicious coffee roasted by the multi-skilled Anton himself at Delice Coffee Roasters, 18 Tilga Street, Canowindra.
WHERE WE ATE
A Little Taste of Thai
Generous servings of delicious Thai food at country town prices with warm hospitality and live music on the Friday night we dined in. Highly recommend Verity’s Special (vegetarian) with fresh coriander, basil and garlic. Tasty! CW dined here compliments of Oberon Council.
A Little Taste of Thai, 105 Oberon Street, Oberon.
Run by husband and wife team, Joel and Kim Arnott, this friendly country café was bustling when they hosted us for Saturday morning breakfast. They use local produce from local farmers to create their seasonal menu and free-range pork to make their own bacon, hams and hocks. Kim added some tender, freshly harvested asparagus to my order of delicious house-made baked beans on sourdough toast.
While we dined, regular customers Lexie and Mark dropped off a basket of freshly picked garden greens before sitting down to a hearty breakfast at the socially distanced table next to ours. Shop the in-store pantry for jars of jams and relish or baked goods (like traditional fruit cake, scones, muffins, savoury tarts), made on site to take a taste of Long Arm Farm away with you.
The Long Arm Cafe & Produce, 133 Oberon Street, Oberon. T: 0435 524 168; facebook.com/thelongarmfarm
One leg of our Captain Barnacles adventure took us through picturesque countryside to Rosnay Organic Farm near Canowindra, where we were warmly welcomed by founder Richard Statham and his son Sam, and the multi-talented Pennie Scott (aka the Bush Goddess) of Bush Goddess Feasts.
As the sun set over the vineyard and olive groves on a perfect evening, we were seated at an outdoor table laden with one of Pennie’s fabulous feasts created using local produce – such as broad beans from her garden, fresh asparagus, Rosnay olives and figs, neighbouring free-range eggs and pork and cheeses – perfectly paired with a selection of Rosnay Organic Wines.
Bush Goddess Feasts cater for groups of various sizes (minimum numbers apply) and dietary requirements, with a philosophy embracing provenance and ethical production, which enhances the flavours and the pleasure of eating great food.
Rosnay, Rivers Road, Canowindra; rosnay.com.au
Bush Goddess Feasts; call Pennie on 0427 441 107.
WHERE WE STAYED
After the three-hour drive from Canberra and an afternoon fossicking, what better way to relax than taking in the breathtaking views of the spectacular Tarana Valley from our rooms at Hickory Moon, five minutes from Oberon.
Step through the entry into the spacious kitchen-living area comfortably equipped with a chaise sofa and two snuggle chairs to sink into while gazing out the floor-to-ceiling windows – or drink in the majestic views while soaking in the tub in your bedroom. This tastefully appointed two-bedroom home sleeps six (two main bedrooms each with king-size bed, ensuite and in-room bathtub; and a double sofa bed in a quiet corner of the spacious living area with access to a third bathroom).
Fully self-contained and ideally designed for adult occupants, Hickory Moon offers serenity and seclusion in an idyllic bush setting. Wake to the sounds of birds and a possible visit from a curious rock wallaby and joey – or two. You might even glimpse a train crossing the valley far below enroute to Bathurst or Sydney.
Call Maxine 0429 361 926; hickorymoon.com.au
Conveniently located not far from the main street, this well-appointed, spotless motel is obviously popular with travellers as the ‘No Vacancy’ sign was illuminated the night CW stayed.
The retreat suite is spacious and features a balcony with views to town as well as a luxurious tub in the bathroom, ideal for soaking in after a full day’s sightseeing.
Cowra Services Club Motel, 105-111 Brisbane Street, Cowra; cowraservicesclubmotel.com.au
Spring is a great time to explore Central NSW, only around two hours from Canberra’s doorstep. There’s so much to see and do.