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Limestone caves, gardens and farmstays in the NSW Central West

Towns and regions impacted by the summer bushfires have plenty to entice families, writes ANGELA SAURINE

The Jenolan Caves

Each summer, Aussie families flock to the coast – and increasingly the mountains – to bask in the sunshine and spend quality time together as they enjoy a vast range of leisure activities during their annual break. But this year was different, with many trips interrupted and plans thwarted by unprecedented bushfires that ravaged some of our favourite holiday playgrounds. A few months on, these destinations are continuing to recover, with bushland regenerating and wildlife returning.

Kids at the Bathurst Rail Museum

Although the Bathurst Region was not directly affected by the summer bushfire crisis, tourism was hit hard as a result of several combining factors. Bells Line of Road, a major route to the region from Sydney, was closed for 12 days in December 2019. The main route, The Great Western Highway, also closed twice over the same period.

An aerial view of Mayfield Garden near Oberon. Image: Melissa Millard

The Jenolan Caves was closed throughout January 2020, as it was under threat from the Green Wattle Creek bushfire. Several outbuildings were lost, and firefighters worked tirelessly to protect the heritage-listed Caves House, which reopened at the end of the month. But a week later, heavy rainfall and flash flooding caused landslides, blocking the only remaining open road into Jenolan Caves, forcing the closure of the popular tourist destination again. It reopened in late February, with a limited timetable, but surrounding bushwalks and some cave tours remain closed due to bushfire and flood damage.

The Blue Lake at the Jenolan Caves. Image: Destination NSW

Check out the Mt Panorama Circuit racing track, go fossicking in Sofala and visit Australia’s largest privately-owned, cool climate garden, Mayfield Garden, near Oberon. The Bathurst Rail Museum, which opened in late February, has a kids’ room containing the largest fixed BRIO set in the world, a café where you can enjoy lunch inside a restored timber train carriage, and a HO scale model railway modelling the Tarana to Bathurst line. The museum is housed in the historic railway workers cottage, displaying the social history of Bathurst as a railway town, with stories from former railway workers on how the railway line opened NSW up to the west. Farmstays, such as Barcoos Farmstays Bathurst, are a great accommodation option, or stay in a self-contained cottage or in a motel in town.

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