Exploring Bathurst, Australia…A Trip Back In Time.

Absence is the sign of a great, well-enjoyed holiday – absolutely no posts until well after you’ve arrived home. That’s because you’re not only seizing every single moment you’re away. You’re also so exhausted from your holiday, that you also need to recover.

That describes our trip to Bathurst well.

On the 18th August (just over a week ago now), Geoff and I left on a four day escape to Bathurst without the kids. After two years of intermittent covid lockdowns and isolations along with just over 18 years of parenting, this represented a tremendous achievement. Indeed, it could well be argued that it would be easier to climb Mt Everest, except you’d probably accuse me of hyperbole or that old favourite….being a drama queen! Anyway, the only reason we could get away now was because Miss was off to the Gold Coast for four days competing in Nationals for cheerleading.

However, just like Cinderella, we had restrictions in place. Firstly, we had to drop her off at the station at the unholy hour of 5.30am necessitating a 4.30am wake up for this die hard night owl. Then, we had to pick her up from the local train station at 4.00 pm Sunday afternoon. Of course, we didn’t want our beloved red Alfa 959 to get turned into a pumpkin if we ran late. If you’re the parent of a teenager or if you’ve ever been, you’ll know the teenager should not be upset, inconvenienced or forgotten. Being turned into a pumpkin could be an optimistic outcome!

Well, you might ask why we would go to Bathurst when we could almost go anywhere on the planet for our special extended weekend away. Well, given the time restraints, not quite anywhere but there was still quite a smorgasbord of choice available. Firstly, since we live at the beach, we wanted to go to the country to experience something different. We are both pretty interested in history and photography and we thought we’d check out old mining towns in the area as well as the race track at Mt Panorama.

Bathurst was traditionally owned by the Wiradjuri People, or “the people of the
three rivers”, being the Wambuul (Macquarie), Kalari (Lachlan) and the
Murrumbidjeri (Murrumbidgee).
Meanwhile, the city of Bathurst was founded
in 1815, and is the oldest settlement west of the Great Dividing Range. It is located on the Macquarie River about 200 kms West-Northwest of Sydney. Following the discovery of the first payable gold at nearby Ophir, on 12 February 1851; all roads led to Bathurst. Indeed, on the 17th May, 1851 the Bathurst Free Press reported: “A complete mental madness appears to have seized almost every member of the community. There has been a universal rush to the diggings.” The goldrush has left it’s imprint on Bathurst and the surrounding regions architecturally, which was one of the reasons we were heading
up there- photography! Bathurst’s other great claim to fame is the Bathurst
1000 Supercars Race
, which goes around the legendary Mt Panorama Circuit.
Car racing is more Geoff’s thing, but I was also looking forward to driving
round the track for the first time.

So, let’s get cracking…

Day One- Umina Beach to Bathurst.

After dropping MIss off, we headed to Bathurst via the Bell’s Line Road, which is an alternate route across the Blue Mountains to the more conventional Great Western Highway via Katoomba. When asked why we went this way, Geoff tells me “it is a much more fun road with better scenery and you’re not stuck in traffic all the way. Why would you want to be stuck in traffic all the way?” Makes sense to me.

Now, I’m going to pick up our journey from Bell’s Line Road, which took us through the
Blue Mountains National Park. In 2019, four horrific bushfires swept through the
region decimating bushland on an unimaginable scale. We drove through vast
expanses of burned out vegetation at times stretching as far as the eye could see. It’s
starting to regrow, but the loss was catastrophic. You can get an impression of
the scale of these fires on the map here. Yet, we also stopped to enjoy spectacular views of soaring cliffs, and also saw a few wildflowers.

Bilpin

We arrived in Bilpin around 8.00am and were delighted to find the Grumpy Baker. We shared one of their epic sausage rolls, while I also indulged in the most luxuriously
delicious cinnamon scroll I’ve ever had, and Geoff ordered an apple turnover.
With eyes much bigger than our stomach’s, we also ordered a cheese stick for in
the car. I almost forgot to mention my coffee. I usually don’t drink coffee due
to my heartburn. However, feeling like a veritable zombie after around 4 hours
sleep, it was a must, and I couldn’t believe the difference it made. I could
well understand how coffee keeps the masses alive.

Before we left Bilpin, I had a rather “interesting” experience. The public
toilets were a short drive down the road. Although this should
have been a very straightforward experience, I actually got locked in the
toilet and couldn’t get out. The lock was a bit complicated and I’m turning it
this way and that and pushing and then Geoff realized I was stuck and started
pushing from the outside without any luck while I kept fiddling with the lock.
By this stage, a mixture of dread, panic and potential embarrassment was
setting in as I was starting to think we would be needing to call the police to
let me out. OMG!!! That happened to a friend at a restaurant once and he was
just lucky he’d taken his mobile phone with him and called us at the table to
let him out. You could just imagine the laughter. We were such a sympathetic
bunch. So, while you might say this was karma 30 years later, I didn’t see it
that way. Anyway, I looked up and saw a second rather serious looking lock and
hey presto, I was out. The toilets had just been cleaned and it looks like they
hadn’t latched back the lock. Phew!

Bathurst

You can see how cold it was in this photo. I was very rugged up!

We arrived in Bathurst around 10.00am (can you believe we’d travelled 248 kilometres before 10.00am? I doubt it!!). Our first stop was the Visitors’ Centre where we came across one of three restored Cobb and Co. coaches in existence. Now, we really knew we were travelling back in time. We left with a swag of tourist brochures, heading for the town centre.

Almost…Geoff being Geoff, headed straight for Mt Panorama and the Bathurst 1000 track before we’d had much of a look around town. It was interesting, even a bit exhilarating, to drive round the actual track in person after watching the race on TV. It certainly gave me a much better appreciation of what the drivers go through at
speeds of up to 300 kph, even though we had to stick to the speed limit of 60 KPH which dropped down to 40KPH in a few treacherous spots. I was too tired to even think about having a go myself.

We headed back into town. After doing a quick drive around the streets where I was literally salivating over all the historic architecture, we parked at Machattie Park on William and Keppel Streets and set out on foot armed with our cameras. Machattie Park is a wonderland all by itself. Moreover, it was surrounded by an incredible array of striking historic buildings. To be honest, I didn’t know quite where to point my camera, and was very grateful for digital technology where I could snap away to my heart’s content.

After sunset, we made it to our hotel, Rydges at Mt Panoroma, which is located right on the race track on Conrod Straight. Of course, it would be incredible on race day, but entirely out of our league. We have no idea how much it would cost, but it’s booked out for the next three years. When Geoff, Mister and their crew went to Bathurst, they were slumming it in tents, although being out in the paddocks had a culture all of its own.

We didn’t see much beyond sunset and crashed for the night. The early morning start had well and truly caught up with us.

Day Two – Carcoar and Milthorpe 

The second day of our trip was a reminder that there’s only 24 hours in a day and brings to mind that old question about whether life is about the journey or the destination.

It began with breakfast at Nicky’s Cafe in Bathurst after we slept through
breakfast at the hotel. I wandered across the road dazzled by architecture and
a laser display and then wandered down an alleyway being lead by my camera and
not by the clock. We were heading for Carcoar to see an old school friend of mine and Geoff mentioned getting there before she closed but I had all day. This steady stop-start meandering continued all the way to Carcoar, and you guessed it, she was closed by the time we got there, and she’d had to shoot off to Orange. Another note to self about prioritising.

We scooted around Carcoar which was absolutely stunning. We drove back to Bathurst via Millthorpe.

Day Three- Driving Around the Bathurst Track, Sofala and Hill End

By day three, we were well and truly into holiday mode, which in our case, had nothing to do with relaxing and was all about trying to squeeze as much as we could into one day.

Rowena Conquers the Mountain at Bathurst.

Before we headed off to Sofala, yours truly finally had the chance to drive around the racetrack at Mt Panorama in our Alfa 159. While neither a Ford nor a Holden, Alfas have also had their day out at Bathurst. I was really proud of myself for “conquering the mountain” because I’ve generally been quite an anxious driver and I wasn’t nervous at all despite some very sharp bends. I’d gone round the track again with Geoff taking note of the trouble spots and thought it doesn’t matter if I take those serious bends like a snail, as long as I made to the end. After all, I wasn’t trying to be Peter Brock, the undisputed King of the Mountain! Hurray! I did it!!

After going round Bathurst i.e. the track, we were off to the former gold mining town of Sofala, followed by Hill End. Artist Russell Drysdale immortalised Sofala with his award-winning landscape (pictured above). I have a feeling my parents had a print of Sofala at home growing up as it feels very familiar. Another artist, Donald Friend, was with Drysdale at the time and did his own version which isn’t as well known. For some time, I’ve been wanting to get out to Sofala and and photograph my own version. I was most annoyed that a telegraph pole was put right in the way along with all the parked cars, but otherwise the scene looked pretty much the same. However, being Winter it didn’t have the omnipresent sense of blazing heat of Drysdale’s work.

Next stop Hill End. By now, we were hungry and I remembered reading about Hill End Pies at the Hill End Estate found at 3664 Hill End Road, Hill End. Thanks to plumber turned pastry chef, Steve Rattray, we were in for a treat, especially with the Danish pastries we had for dessert. Oh golly! I’d get in the car and go there now if it weren’t for the 319 kms drive!

This kangaroo and her joey have seemingly taken up residence at the “Hill End Hilton”.

Day Four – Abercrombie House, Bathurst.

Abercrombie House, Bathurst

Unfortunately, by the time we reached Day Four, we were living on borrowed time and needed to be back home by 4.00pm to pick up miss from the station. Their team came a very close second at Nationals and we were looking forward to seeing her, while also not real thrilled about going back on the leash and the time pressures involved. Yet, in our usual carpe diem style, we headed out to historic Abercrombie House. We couldn’t leave Bathurst without experiencing this magical castle.

Built in the 1870s by Bathurst pioneers the Stewart family, Rex and Mary Morgan bought the house in 1969 it’s been the home of the Morgan family since then. They’ve fully restored the house, outbuildings and grounds and share it with the community. As it turns out, Rex Morgan also founded a successful private school on Sydney’s Northern
Beaches, Pittwater House. My best friend used to go to Pittwater House and they
used to stay in dormitories at Abercrombie House for a week, which included
dinner at the main house one night. It sounds like quite the experience, especially with
plenty of ghost stories thrown in.

While we were wandering through the gardens at Abercrombie House, a message came through from Miss saying they were arriving back at the station early. Being 4.5 hours drive away, we weren’t going to make it back in time, and we could relax a little. My friend was driving her home. Returning home after only four days away felt rather brutal. However, we’d had a wonderful time and now needed a rest.

Have you ever been to Bathurst? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Best wishes,

Rowena

4 thoughts on “Exploring Bathurst, Australia…A Trip Back In Time.

  1. TanGental

    Glad you got away Ro and didn’t spend it all in the loo. Looks a fab area to visit. You can see the Victorian fingerprints all over that architecture..

  2. Rowena Post author

    It was fabulous, Geoff. I know what you mean about the Victorian stamp on that architecture. I love all the fine attention to detail and felt to an extent that I’d been born in the wrong era, although I love some really modern architecture as well….not just the boring modern plain brick home without any flair or individuality whatsoever.
    BTW you wouldn’t believe the trouble I had getting that post up. I had it all ready to go with a few more photos and it wouldn’t post and I found out it hadn’t been saving either for something like fourteen hours. By this point, I was really freaking out as I’d spent so much time on it and was hoping to get a good response and circulate it a bit more widely. Eventually, I cut and pasted it into word. Tried pasting it back as a slab into WP but it wouldn’t allow me to put in photos and so there I sat way into the night, pasting in each paragraph and re-writing the thing going more than slightly mad. I’m sure I don’t even need to mention that by this stage I was oscillating between feeling more than slightly mad and spiralling down a downpipe of depression. As it turned out, it actually got more momentum with the rework and I could almost say it was worth it.
    BTW some of my favourite bits of the trip were actually along the road and rather unexpected and having a close encounter with a skippy on the road which kept hopping back in front of the car was also exciting. Indeed, much more eventful than our laps around the Bathurst track.
    How are you going? I hope you are well and I’m pop over now for a visit. Shame you couldn’t join us here. I’ve just made some cheese biscuits with chives which have a scrumptious cream cheese and chive filling. They are dangerously addictive.
    Best wishes,
    Ro

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