If there’s one thing this pandemic has made me crave, it is the feeling of the wind in my hair as I hit the highway, music blaring, pedal to the metal, on a family road trip.
And how appropriate, with the kids, bags and farting dogs piled into the backseat of the car, that we head to the home of Australian racing – beautiful old Bathurst.
When I say “old”, I mean that in the best possible way – historical, if you like. It strikes you the moment you drive through the outskirts of town as the giant statue of the Big Gold Panner sits atop a grassy knoll leaves you with zero doubt as to the origins of this township.
What’s so charming about Bathurst that is the locals have embraced and preserved its heritage. The town is Australia’s oldest inland settlement, and you can still see the history steeped in the wide boulevards and expansive parks.
Many historic buildings have been transformed into hip new cafes and cool restaurants. For instance, Church Bar, which was an old Anglican church hall, sits on Ribbon Gang Lane and is known for wood-fired pizza and live music in the courtyard. Vine & Tap, a contemporary Italian eatery that serves share plates of arancini balls, luscious buffalo mozzarella and rich meatballs, is located in the Brooke Moore House, named after two famous local physicians.
The moment you step out of the car in the main street, you can feel a difference in the warm breeze. It’s a dry heat which sends the flies whizzing past your face.
You can easily spot the locals, decked out in boots and unfazed by the flies. I, on the other hand, stick out like a German backpacker with my white Birkenstocks, violently swatting away the bugs.
To cool off, the family and I take a hot tip from a laid back local and hit the famous Annie’s Old-Fashioned Ice Cream Parlour in the town square. With its candy pink stripes and booth seats, it seems strangely out of place here in sleepy little Bathurst. I’d be more convinced it belongs in downtown LA.
Annie’s opened in Bathurst in 1983 and it’s not a trip to Bathurst without a scoop of Annie’s nutty, creamy Sofala Gold, named after the nearby Sofala gold-mining region.
Re-energised and ready to check out some of the nearby sites, we head across the road to the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum. Now, you know you’ve stumbled upon something truly awesome when your kids are mesmerised and fall into a hushed state of awe.
The museum permanently houses the Somerville Collection of fossils and minerals, which contains over 5000 objects including the centrepiece of the exhibition – a huge Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton.
As well as the skeleton, the gallery includes other dinosaur skeletons and fossils, a sabre-tooth cat skull, Australia’s largest collection of fossils in amber, fossil dinosaur eggs and rare gemstones and crystallised gold. Jurassic Park, eat your heart out.
The town also has other newly opened attractions for the kids. The Bathurst Rail Museum brings to life the rich social history of Bathurst as a railway town, with personal recollections and interesting artefacts. The kids can explore the stories of local people connected to the railways, past and present, who have contributed to making Bathurst the thriving city and community it is today.
The town has fantastic accommodation offerings. Just a 15-minute drive from the CBD is [email protected] – a conservation property is built underground. We pick up supplies from the local producers like the Notnats butcher, Harvest Cafe & Store and PearTree Wholefoods.
Pulling into [email protected] already feels like a dream country experience as the kids run to open the gate and then ride on the bonnet of the car (carefully) as we meander down the dirt road to the house.
Conceived and constructed in the 1990s by a German master builder, this home literally disappears into the landscape and is heated and cooled year-round by the thermal mass of the surrounding ground.
It sleeps up to five guests and as we discover, contains so many hidden nooks and crannies that it’s the world’s best house for hide and seek.
But beware, it’s also the perfect place for huntsmans. While they’re not lethal, they are large and hairy and not something you’d want the keep as a pet. In saying that, but my kids did manage to name the largest spider “Alfonzo” and ask if we could take him home with us.
The highlight for all was definitely the bathtub hidden in the outdoor cupboard – alongside the stunning native garden with winding pathways through fruit trees, lavender, rosemary, bird baths and fragrant flowers.
The evening temperatures drop perfectly to light the log-fired stove and fill the dusk air with that sweet smell of earth and wood-smoke. I strongly recommend a sundowner from the rooftop lawn while you watch the sun set over the valley in the distance. If you’re as lucky as we were, you may even catch a rainbow or two.
Two nights fly by in a flash and before we know it, we are waving goodbye to the locals and the Big Gold Panner. But I’m intent on making sure I leave with a souvenir that will ensure I don’t return to Bathurst looking like a German backpacker.
I race into Blowes Clothing to buy a shiny new pair of RM Williams boots that I wear back to the car with pride.
And we are on our way… via a quick hot lap of the world-famous Mount Panorama, of course. The wind in my hair, the boots on my feet, the kids screaming happily in the back, the 80s tunes blasting… And – surprise, surprise – the boots aren’t the only souvenir we’re bringing home. Alfonzo the spider has caught a lift with us and he’s crawling across our windscreen.
Bathurst, you truly are a town full of hidden delights.
Take me there
Transport: From Canberra it’s a 3.5-hour drive. By train or bus, it’s a 7-9 hour trip via Sydney with prices ranging from $40-$140.
Sleep: We stayed at [email protected] for five people for two nights at $392 per night for the whole house.