Before having a baby, Orange’s growing reputation as a food and wine destination had seen it creep onto my bucket list. Unfortunately, I ran out of time to make it to the town, in NSW’s central west, before Oliver entered the world. When an invitation to attend a friend’s significant birthday in Orange lobbed in my inbox a year later, my interest was piqued. But would it still be worth visiting with a toddler in tow? Yes, as it turns out.
A bit of research led me straight to Heifer Station, which is surely one of the most family-friendly wineries in the country. Less than 15 minutes’ drive from town, it has plenty to entertain littlies, including a petting zoo and a sandpit complete with toy bulldozers. We nab a table outside the cellar door, housed in an old woolshed, and while away the afternoon in the sunshine. While Oliver joins other children following around the chooks that roam freely around us, we snack on a cheese platter and dips and enjoy a wine tasting, which includes Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Merlot and Shiraz. When he eventually gets bored, we wander down to see the animals together. There we meet Tilly the Shetland pony, highland cattle Curly, Larry and Monique, and Brutus, the black-faced Suffolk sheep. A small herd of alpacas can also be seen in the distance.
On the volcanic slopes of the region’s tallest peak, Mt Canobolas, the 26ha Heifer Station was once part of a larger property used by stagecoach company Cobb & Co as a change station for its horse teams, which has been subdivided into smaller lots over the years. It was a cattle station in the early 1900s, and cows still graze amongst the vineyards in winter and in nearby paddocks during harvesting.
The petting zoo was added in 2016 after census data showed young couples with two or more children were the fastest-growing demographic in the region. “At the time there was nothing around for them,” sales and operations manager James Thomas says. “It was a demographic that was largely ignored by the wine industry, and we saw that as an opportunity. A lot of people thought we were mad in the beginning, but we found that if you have something to occupy children then the parents get to have some actual adult time and that’s made us super popular.”
Older kids will also love soaring through the air on the flying fox near Lakeshore Café at Lake Canobolas Reserve on the outskirts of town, while a visit to the old-school style Coronet Milk Bar in Summer St is a must for ice-cream and lollies. On the second Saturday of each month children can also ride a miniature train run by the Orange Society of Model Engineers in Matthews Park for $2 per ride. Sadly, our timing isn’t right, but we are content with a visit to Cook Park, also in Summer St, instead.
It’s somewhere I probably wouldn’t have considered visiting before having a child, but it turns out to be a pleasant addition to our itinerary. Oliver’s face lights up when he sees the aviary filled with cockatoos and parrots. He’s entranced by the water flowing over the fountain in the middle of the park, and he loves running back and forth through the dry leaves beside the duck pond and hearing them crunch beneath his feet.
After a push on the swings, we stroll back to our accommodation, Red Door Cottage, in nearby March St. With its cute verandah, corrugated iron roof and white picket fence, the superbly renovated two-bedroom heritage home is just like one of the properties I’d seen in the ABC TV series Escape from the City that also enticed me to visit. It’s owned by BNB Made Easy founder Tim Mortimer, whose family established Mortimer Wines in the early 1990s, and his wife Flora, who comes from the Albi wine region in Southern France. As parents of two young children, they are extremely accommodating to families. We arrive to find a port-a-cot set up in the bedroom and a highchair by the dining table. Oliver makes a beeline for the toys in the loungeroom, while I am taken by the large open-plan kitchen, polished wooden floorboards, slow combustion fireplace, mosaic tiles and heritage features.