A vibrant university town, Bathurst is set high in the Central Tablelands of New South Wales, where the climate is cool and temperate.
This is Australia’s oldest inland settlement, going back all the way to 1814, and its development through the 19th century was spurred on by a Gold Rush in the 1860s.
The streets of Bathurst’s CBD are lined with stately architecture funded by that boom, and there’s a refined central park still keeping its Victorian design.
Among motorsport fanatics, Bathurst will always be known for Mount Panorama, an unusually hilly street circuit, staging the prestigious Bathurst 1000 every October.
1. Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum
In the middle of Bathurst, in handsome former school buildings from the 1870s, sits a natural history museum of huge importance.
This houses the world-renowned Somerville Collection, made up of some of the rarest and most scientifically significant minerals in the world.
Such is the size of the collection that only a quarter can be shown at one time.
As well as rubies, emeralds, diamonds and sapphires there are some of the oldest fossils of early life, three dinosaur skeletons, dinosaur eggs, a gecko trapped in amber up to 30 million years ago and a sabre-tooth cat skull.
But the museum’s undoubted showpiece is the intact Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton four metres in height and 10.5 metres long.
2. Mount Panorama Motor Racing Circuit
In Australia “Bathurst” is a byword for motorsport, for the presence of the historic Mount Panorama Circuit, which staged its first race, the Australian Grand Prix in 1938. Before that time a number of more informal circuits had been used in the area since the 1900s.
Uncompromising and challenging, Mount Panorama is a street circuit with a height differential of 174 metres, and is often described as an equivalent to Germany’s Nürburgring.
The fastest section is the downhill, 1.9-kilometre Conrod Straight, where supercars push 300km/h.
The circuit is most famous for its endurance events, and the two big landmarks in the calendar are the Bathurst 1000 for supercars in October and February’s Bathurst 12 Hour, for GT and production cars.
3. National Motor Racing Museum
At Mount Panorama, Murray’s Corner is the last turn before a pit straight and a handy overtaking spot.
This iconic location is also the setting for Australia’s National Motor Racing Museum.
There you can dig into the storied history of Australian motorsport, from the 1920s to the present day.
Mount Panorama and the Bathurst 1000 are prominent in the displays, with race-winning Fords and Holdens, race leathers, helmets and profiles of key races and drivers.
But the collection encompasses 100 cars and motorcycles spanning all racing formats, from open-wheelers to rallying, drag racing, speedway, touring cars and more.
4. Abercrombie House
The powerful Stewart family, integral to Australia’s colonisation, built themselves this grand Tudor Revival mansion not far west of Bathurst in the 1870s.
Made from rusticated granite with sandstone dressings, Abercrombie House stands out for its curving gables capped with iron finials.
Since the 60s the house has belonged to the Morgan family, which opens the property up for regular guided and self-guided tours.
There are 50 rooms, many with original fittings, and crammed with a fun hodgepodge of decoration and period furniture imported from the UK, but also from China and Thailand.
There’s a full schedule of events year round, like high tea, themed days, jazz nights and concerts, while you can browse for collectibles at the antiques shop attached.
5. Abercrombie Caves
Head south of Bathurst proper to this astounding series of limestone arch caves renowned for their karst features.
The caves were discovered by Europeans in 1842 and were later used for leisure by the goldminers working in the area.
Inside the most famous cave, the Archway, they installed the dance platform in 1880, replacing one put up 20 years earlier and still used to this day for concerts.
The Archway is officially the largest natural arch in the Southern Hemisphere, and like its neighbours has walls veneered with massive pieces of white marble.
Some others to explore are the Grove Cave, and the Bushrangers Cave, used as a hideout by the notorious bushrangers, the Ribbon Gang in 1830. The wider reserve is a wildlife sanctuary supporting kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and a wonderful diversity of birdlife.
6. Bathurst Regional Art Gallery
The excellent gallery for the Bathurst region is a purpose-built construction from 1989 shared with the regional library.
The gallery, hosting around 25 exhibitions each year, deals mainly with Australian art since the end of WWII.
Depictions of local landscapes, towns and villages feature prominently in the collection, and some of the celebrated 20th-century artists represented are Jean Bellette (1908-1991), Surrealist James Gleeson (1915-2008) and landscape painter Lloyd Rees (1895-1888). On the agenda are selections from that rich collection, national and international touring exhibitions, exhibitions for local artists and work by artists from the Hill End colony as part of a residency program.
7. Bathurst Courthouse
A regal central monument for Bathurst, the heritage-listed Courthouse building is easily spotted by its portico and octagonal dome, and has been standing since 1880. Designed by colonial architect James Barnet, this building is in the Federation Free Classical style, built from locally fired bricks, with sandstone dressings.
Still owned by the Department of Justice, the Courthouse continues to host the District and Supreme Courts, as well as the Court of Petty Sessions.
You can enter the east wing, housing the Bathurst District Historical Society Museum.
Displays here recall Bathurst’s growth as a garrison town, the first gold discovery in NSW, Cobb & Co stagecoaches and the history of bushranging in the region.
The textile collection is highly regarded, including what may be the colony’s earliest wedding dress.
8. Machattie Park
Right in the shadow of the Courthouse is a park inaugurated in 1890, and still holding onto its original layout and much of its ornamentation.
Making your way round Machattie Park you’ll see dainty monuments like the Crago Fountain band rotunda, Caretaker’s Cottage, Munro Drinking Fountain and Lake Spencer.
The park is also endowed with lots of mature exotic trees like English oak, red beech, Atlas cedar, Chinese elm, pin oak and Deodar cedar, to name but a few.
The deciduous trees here take on beautiful red and gold hues in autumn.
By the rotunda at the back of the Court House you’ll find the Begonia House & Fernery, a mainstay of autumn in Bathurst, presenting more than 100 begonia varieties.
9. Chifley Home
Ben Chifley, the 16th Prime Minister of Australia (1945-1949), lived at this house at 10 Busby Street with his wife Elizabeth, on and off from 1914 until he died in 1951. Chifley spent the first quarter of the 20th century as a railway worker before entering into politics, and the house reflects a working class lifestyle frozen in time in the 1940s.
Throughout the Chifley Home there’s evidence of the hardships of the Great Depression, austerity measures and wartime rationing.
These are contrasted with the ceremonial gifts he received as Prime Minister and Treasurer of Australia.
10. Kangaroo Boundary Road Reserve
Just next to the circuit on the west side of town there’s a big piece of remnant bush with level paths and clear views to Mount Panorama and back over Bathurst.
What you’ll notice right away is the large quantity of kangaroos romping around the reserve in mobs.
These are harmless, but you’ll need to keep your distance.
Information signs have been put up about the kangaroos and native birds, and there are a couple of places where you can take a seat and admire the views over the town.
11. Evans Crown Nature Reserve
Further out, Evans crown is a road trip east, outside the village of Tarana.
You can get there in about half an hour from Bathurst, and you’ll know why you made the journey when you witness the peculiar granite tors littering the reserve.
The highest point is Crown Rock, at just over 1,100 metres and a place where the Waradjuri Aboriginal people would conduct initiations and dance rituals (corroboree). As well as boasting amazing geomorphology, Evans Crown is valued for its wildlife, including wombats, echidnas, eastern grey kangaroos, red-necked wallabies, platypuses, sugar gliders and possums.
12. Hill End Historic Site
A day trip to keep in mind is this Gold Rush town an hour north of Bathurst.
At the peak of its prosperity in the 1870s, Hill End had a population of 8,000+, but this dwindled sharply as the gold supply began to run out.
Eventually the town found a new, quieter vocation as an art colony.
What you see now is a street plan in picturesque bush scarred by long abandoned mines, with a combination of vacant plots and preserved heritage buildings.
Hill End is dotted with places where you can find out how gold was mined in the NSW Gold Rush, for instance at the Colonial Gold Mining Company’s roasting kilns and battery structures.
There’s a trove of mining equipment and carriages dating back 150 years, and you can relax and have a barbecue in the ground of the Historic Hill End Hospital.
Another beautiful relic from the Gold Rush is the small town of Sofala, rumoured to be the oldest settlement from the Gold Rush in Australia.
Gold was found here in Summerhill Creek in February 1851, and within a matter of weeks thousands had flocked to the area.
There are plenty of buildings left over from those early days, like the Royal Hotel (1862) on Denison Street, which still offers accommodation to prospectors.
Indeed, people still venture to Sofala with pans or metal detectors to hunt for gold.
You can test your own panning skills on the banks of the Turon River, or just admire the historic townscape and idyllic hilly backdrop.
14. Inland Sea of Sound
In late February, the summit of Wahluu-Mount Panorama becomes the venue for a two-day arts festival, taking place with the blessing and cooperation of the area’s Aboriginal elders.
Inland Sea of Sound mixes music and art for a broad audience, bringing major recording artists to a regional destination but also providing a springboard for local talent.
In the line-up for the 2020 edition were Mama Kin Spender, Killing Heidi, Missy Higgins, Timberwolf, Thando, to name a small handful.
15. Bathurst Sheep and Cattle Show (Heritage Park)
This complex just east of Bathurst has an interesting story, as a WWII army camp established in 1940 and then as the Bathurst Migrant Camp until 1952. Since the 1970s this has been the scene of the Bathurst Sheep and Cattle Show, which eventually evolved into a permanent attraction, educating youngsters about rural life and Aboriginal culture.
Typically you can see a working dog in action, milk a cow, watch sheep being shorn, and find out about the different sheep and cattle breeds in New South Wales.
There’s an animal zone with native Australian species like emus and kangaroos, as well as a nine-hole putt-putt course, hay rides and a whole program of activities and classes, ranging from bush dancing to whip-cracking, archery and stargazing.