Take a road trip through this food-and-wine rich region of New South Wales, taking in Cowra, Oberon, Rylstone and Mudgee, from south to north. The thermometer really drops in the Central West during winter, but there’s plenty of open fires to curl up alongside and you may even see snow.
In the beautiful Lachlan Valley you’ll find canola fields, vineyards, waterways and the charming town of Cowra.
Learn about the significant role in the nation’s war history Cowra played as a prisoner-of-war (POW) site and the location of the largest POW breakout in modern military history.
Cowra has since forged a special relationship with Japan, which is reflected in the Japanese and Australian war cemeteries and Cowra Japanese Garden.
For more history, delve into the town’s gold rush on the Cowra Heritage Walk and explore the steam trains at Lachlan Valley Railway.
For an eagle’s-eye view of the Central West take off from nearby Canowindra (25 minutes’ drive) for a balloon flight over the picturesque Belubula Valley.
Veer off the Great Western Highway to the high-altitude settlement of Oberon for its trout fishing and cool climate gardens. If mother nature’s on your side, you might even see a sprinkling of snow.
Rug up and try fly-fishing in Lake Oberon, which was formed by the Fish River Dam. Noted for its brown and rainbow trout, the lake can be fished year-round (streams are subject to freshwater fishing regulations). If angling is not your thing, take a brisk walk along the track that runs from the reservoir to the dam wall.
Oberon is also home to Australia’s largest (65 hectares) privately owned cool climate gardens. Wander Mayfield Garden’s maze, the croquet court, the Hawkins’ family chapel and the ‘Chook Hilton’ (yes, it’s a chicken house). Finish with a warm drink or a glass of red at Mayfield Café.
The world’s most ancient open caves are also found near Oberon. The Jenolan Caves system contains more than 400 limestone caves with guided tours (including night tours) taking place in 11 spectacular show caves. Accommodation is available at Jenolan Caves House.
For a luxurious place to lay your head, the historic Mutton Falls Homestead features five luxury suites, an open fire and gorgeous gardens overlooking Fish River, about 20 kilometres north of Oberon. It has a colourful history as a general store when it was robbed by bushrangers enroute to Bathurst.
Stay: Jenolan Caves’ tours, cafe, bar and accommodation is open on weekends only. See jenolancaves.org.au. Mutton Falls Homestead costs from $950 per night (sleeps 10). muttonfalls.com.au
This sandstone village on the Cudgegong River is about 50 kilometres south-east of Mudgee. Admire the historic buildings, enjoy a hearty soup or glass of wine by the fire at the landmark Globe Hotel or tuck into delicious handmade dumplings and a steaming pot of tea at 29 Nine 99.
A visit to Rylstone’s French-style De Beaurepaire Wines is a must. This family-owned single estate winery on the doorstep of Wollemi National Park produces French-style tipples which you can taste in their 170-year-old stables-turned-cellar door.
When most people think of Mudgee, incredible wineries spring to mind. Yet this gorgeous regional town also offers the chance to ditch the screens and breathe in fresh country air.
Set just outside Mudgee’s township, the new Wallinga Farmstay is the ideal place to slow down and experience country life. Pre-order fresh damper (made by the owners’ son, Cooper) so it’s waiting warm in the oven on arrival. Visitors stay in a two-bedroom cottage set in a secluded location with bucolic vistas, private deck and firepit. The contemporary cottage includes a queen bedroom and a built-in bunk room which sleeps four.
Wallinga Farmstay owners Mick and Alina Azar made a tree-change from Wollongong on the NSW South Coast to Mudgee in 2017. Raising their three children on the farm has given the family space to roam, raise animals and live a lifestyle simply not possible in the big smoke. The family of five, along with Zoe the kelpie, now share their carefree rural life with friends and lucky visitors.
Days at Willunga are spent watching ewes and lambs graze, yabby hunting, strolls around the property, backyard cricket and blazing country sunsets, glass of Mudgee wine in hand. Swap screen-gazing for nights spent roasting marshmallows and chatting around the firepit beneath a blanket of stars.
Depending on the season, a range of on-farm experiences are also on offer including hand-feeding lambs, collecting chicken eggs, lamb marking and even fencing. During our stay, we watched the Azar kids round up sheep on minibikes, met Bruno the fiercely protectively alpaca that protects the flock from foxes, and joined a yabby race at the dam
Of course, no visit to Mudgee is complete without ticking off at least a few wineries. Notable cellar doors include Lowe Wines, Burnbrae, First Ridge and Huntington Estate. Let Alina take you on a personalised tour of her favourites.
Stay: Wallinga Farmstay costs from $350 per night, minimum two-night stay (sleeps six). See wallingafarmstay.com.au
With your boot bulging with wine and produce, make plans for your return trip on your way home.
Take me there
Fly: Direct flights from Sydney to Mudgee are available with Fly Pelican.
Drive: From Sydney, it’s best to head for Oberon first (2.5 hours); from Canberra, head for Cowra (2 hours); from Newcastle, head for Mudgee (3.5 hours).
Calendar: The Mayfield Garden Winter Festival runs from July 2-17, 2022. See mayfieldgarden.com.au
Explore more: visitcentralnsw.com.au