Between Orange and Cowra in the central west of NSW lies a little town with a burgeoning artistic bent and a big claim as the ballooning capital of NSW. With a host of boutique wineries, picture-perfect sunrises over gentle hills and skylines dotted with hot air balloons, Canowindra in the Belubula River Valley can take your breath away with its poignant vistas. A four-and-a-half-hour drive from Sydney over the Blue Mountains and past rolling paddocks, vineyards and rivers, the journey takes you to a place steeped in local culture, which makes for a colourful weekend getaway. With all the charm of a quaint country town, there is plenty to see and do – especially when the annual balloon festival is on. Just make sure you have a stomach for heights.[fold]
See and Do:
Canowindra Balloon Challenge, Balloon Glow and Night Market: Each April, Canowindra holds the beautiful light spectacular of the balloon glow as part of the week-long Canowindra Balloon Challenge ballooning festival. This year, it happens on Saturday April 20 at Canowindra Sports Complex, with gates opening for the night market at 4.30pm. The Balloon Glow itself happens at 7pm with around 15 balloonists showing how it’s done and inflating their balloons to light up the night sky. There’s something overwhelmingly magical and festive about the firing up of a whole row of brightly coloured hot air balloons in the crisp darkness of the night. It’s a sight you’re not likely to forget. The accompanying night markets include local food, wine and entertainment and are a highlight of the Canowindra Calendar. For dates of balloon events check out: canowindrachallenge.org.au
Vineyards and cellar doors: Home to some picturesque vineyards with unique cellar doors, there is a strong focus on organics and sustainable practices in Canowindra. Call ahead to make appointments at Wallington Wines (with their unique straw-bale winery construction) , Rosnay Organics and Tom’s Waterhole. Or visit Taste Canowindra for a comprehensive rundown of wines available from the local area.
42 Ferguson Street
Age of Fishes Museum: Worth a visit if you are interested in the evolution of Australia as a continent, the museum was founded to highlight the impressive fossil find (the first in 1955) of thousands of freshwater fish remains in the local area dating back to the Devonian Period (360 million years ago), or ‘Age of Fishes’.
Corner of Gaskill and Ferguson Streets
River Bank Gallery: With a thriving local creative community, this gallery in the old Georgian-style bank showcases a range of works including that of artist-in-residence David Isbester. Well known in the local area, his distinctive canvasses are on display in the gallery and he works with curator Catherine O’Brien and the wider community to put on exhibitions of local work. You might even be lucky enough to have a chat if he’s around when you drop in.
71 Gaskill Street
Blind Freddy’s Bushranger Tours: With a long history that includes gold prospecting and fossil finds, it’s no wonder that Canowindra has some bushranger stories too. For a bit of fun, take the Sunday walking tour and hear all about the good, the bad and the notorious of the local area.
52 Gaskill Street
Canowindra’s main street (Gaskill Street) is heritage listed and is an engaging mix of old-world green grocers, haberdashery stores and artisan clothing boutiques – all within a stone’s throw of one another.
Town & Country Trader: Specialising in bric-a-brac and old wares, this little shop on Gaskill Street is a goldmine for some of the best-priced bits and pieces around. You can forage through anything from old wicker prams and pre-loved travel cases to step ladders and tables, all at prices that make it hard not to jam your car full.
55 Gaskill Street
The Plague and I: This colourful little patchwork supplies store in the heart of the main street is filled with everything you could ever need for quilting. The shop holds classes and stocks a comprehensive collection of fabric, threads, quilting guides and finished pieces.
86 Gaskill Street
Canowindra Craft: Inside this local craft store is a shelf that houses a famous selection of local preserves, honey, slices and biscuits all made by Canowindra locals. Tomato jam, dark honey and vibrant pink coconut slice are a local pride, restocked regularly by industrious home cooks. It’s an added bonus that you can purchase local crafts, potted succulents and fresh eggs while you’re here.
88 Gaskill Street
Studio 66: Showcasing the work of local fibre artist Carolyn Kohler, this shop displays her range of wall art, clothing and accessories made of merino wool and silk woven with a felting technique. Predominantly fleece based, Kohler’s work is wearable art that is inspired by the colours and seasons of the local area.
66 Gaskill Street
Eat & Drink
Finns Store: The old general store is a beautiful building dating back to 1874 and has been restored to house three distinct businesses: Swinging Bridge Cellar Door, Finns Store and the Melissa Barber Galleries. The cellar door wing showcases the wines of the local Swinging Bridge Vineyard where you can have a taste and a cheese board. Finns Store, in the centre, is a treasure trove of homewares, gift items, furniture and clothing, artfully curated and run by Geoff and Jacqui Yeo and serving coffee from Orange roaster Bill’s Beans along with all day Spanish breakfasts or plates of the day. The final wing houses The Melissa Barber Galleries and offers a chance to see more of the local artistic community.
35 Gaskill Street
Trojan & Co: Over the road, espresso bar and home décor shop Trojan & Co. serves bruscetta, toasted sandwiches, milkshakes and daily sweets with Art of Espresso Coffee, all surrounded by crisp cushions and modern object d’art.
44 Gaskill Street
Deli Lama: This local deli is the go-to spot for cheeses, regional and local produce and providore items. Perfect if you’re thinking of putting together a picnic spread and finding a spot with a nice view to enjoy it.
87 Gaskill Street
The Old Vic Inn: The iron lace veranda of the Old Vic is an iconic sight on Gaskill Street, with the hotel dating back to 1865. It has had a few incarnations, but today it’s a cosy guesthouse in the heart of the small town with open fires, a dining room where the long bar used to be and bed and breakfast.
56 Gaskill Street
Everview Retreat Cottages: 18 kilometres out of town and built from local stone and wood, these self-contained cottages have 360-degree views of the surrounding vineyards and Lachlan Valley. Packages can include breakfast hampers, dinners and balloon flights, depending on what you feel like.
72 Cultowa Lane
A number of the vineyards also include self-contained cottages – so be sure to ask when you call for opening times.