Situated at an elevation of 863 metres in NSW’s Central West, Orange is becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination for wine and food lovers, as well as those seeking a permanent ‘tree change’. With a population of nearly 40,000 people, Orange and its surrounds hum with activities of all kinds, and tourists flock here each year for festivals such as F.O.O.D Week and vibrant arts events, as well as visiting year-round for the exceptional dining and boutique winery experiences it has to offer.
Orange is well known for its long history of fruit growing – apples, stone fruit, cherries, berries and, of course, grapes. The first grape plantings were recorded in the mid-19th century and, when the railway was built in 1877, the commercial production of table grapes began. Over a century later, the Fardells at Nashdale Vineyard and Bourke family at Millthorpe pioneered the now-flourishing wine industry with their plantings in the early 1980s.
Here, Swinging Bridge owner and winemaker Tom Ward shares his thoughts on what to see and do in Orange, whether you’re looking for an adventurous, indulgent, entertaining or relaxing stay. Take your pick of activities, from wandering through glorious parks and gardens, to visiting wineries and dining at some superb restaurants, and discover all that’s great about this beautiful part of the world. One of the best places to start your exploration is at the Orange360 website, which has information on all aspects of the best that Orange has to offer.
There are now more than 60 wineries and 40 cellar doors in the Orange district, with over 1500 hectares under vine. On the Escort Way, for example, where Swinging Bridge is located, you’ll also find other great wineries such as Heifer Station and Orange Mountain Wines, which offer among the best cellar-door experiences in the region.
If you feel like immersing yourself more completely in the wine experience, there’s the opportunity to book a bespoke wine-trail tour and have a vigneron give you a behind-the-scenes insight into what goes on in the cellar. Many of wineries also offer dining options – be it a generous tasting plate of local produce at a cellar door, or a spectacular lunch or dinner at a winery restaurant, such as at the multi-award-winning Racine, set among the vines at La Colline Vineyard. Slow Wine Co’s cellar door in Millthorpe even transforms into a tapas wine bar on Friday and Saturday evenings.
To get a real sense of the unique nature of Orange’s situation, it’s definitely worth a trip up to the peak of Mount Canobolas, where you’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views of the district. It’s also fascinating to see firsthand how the native flora is regenerating so quickly from the fires that ravaged the mountain in February 2018.
Orange is blessed with beautiful public parks and gardens, where you can get back to nature without leaving the city. Among them, Cook Park, on Summer Street, abounds with magnificent deciduous trees that put on a glorious show of colour in autumn, as well as providing welcome shade in the heat of summer. Not only is it a magnet for photographers, but it’s great for the kids, too, with play areas, as well as ponds (and lots of ducks!) to enjoy. Don’t miss The Park Guildry (open daily 10am-4pm), which houses exhibits of local crafts, including, knitting, woodwork and pottery, as well as delicious homemade treats, such as jams.
Situated on the outskirts of town, the stunning Orange Botanic Gardens offers some great walking tracks, as well as an adjacent kids’ adventure playground. If the kiosk is open next door, grab a coffee. Or pick up a takeaway from one of the town’s outstanding coffee shops like Byng St Café or Bills Beans in town before you head out.
Near the foot of its namesake mountain, Lake Canobolas (open daily from early morning until sunset) is a beautiful spot to take a picnic or have a barbecue. Depending on the season, not only are there great walking tracks, but there are cycling, canoeing, sailing and even dragon boat racing held here, and you can also have a dip in the warmer months. The Apex Adventure Playground is a kids’ favourite, and your ‘fur kid’ is welcome, too, as long as it’s kept on a lead.
It’s not all wines on the drinks list in Orange – at Small Acres Cyder, the district’s famed orchard produce is put to good use by James and Gail Kendell, who are the first to have made locally grown cider and perry from heritage varieties in the region. They’ve won a number of prestigious awards for their efforts, and it is well worth a visit to sample their wares.
Boasting award-winning brews with quirky names like Draughty Kilt and Brewbacca Kolsch, Badlands Brewery is a must-visit. While his focus is on traditional craft beers using classic methods and ingredients, expat Englishman Jon Shiner also likes to dabble in some more quirky options: think hazelnuts, figs and, yes, even chocolate…
Fruit and vegies never taste as good as they do when they’re freshly picked, and they don’t come any fresher when you pick them yourself. So, take the opportunity to visit one of the farms open to the public to pick your fill of their seasonal crops, from berries and stone fruit, to figs, chestnuts and tomatoes.
While food and wine may be top of the list on any visit to Orange, there are plenty of opportunities to burn off a few of those extra calories and get in touch with the abundance of native flora and fauna. Because the region has four such distinct seasons, there’s an incredible variety of experiences available, depending on when you visit. Autumn’s blazing colour and winter’s crisp frosts (and occasional snow) are when Orange comes into its own. In particular, a walk up Mount Canobolas in winter is spectacular, with the likelihood of snow crunching underfoot and decorating the treetops overhead. Or take a self-guided walk along heritage trails through the city and discover its beautifully preserved historic buildings.
Cyclists will love the scenic trail that runs past the Pinnacle Lookout, with a number of wineries, cafes and restaurants along the way. The picturesque loop trail that takes you to Forest Reefs is also a must for cyclists, especially on a bright, crisp winter’s day.