High in NSW‘s Central Tablelands, Orange is a city with a cool, temperate climate, at odds with a latitude further north than Sydney.
Towering to the south-east is the extinct volcano, Mount Canobolas, which is often dusted with snow in winter, and Orange has earned the nickname “Colour City” for its russet autumn foliage.
Much of the countryside is given over to vineyards, and there’s a ton of wineries and cellar doors awaiting you.
Orange grew up on the back of Australia’s first gold rush in the middle of the 19th century and has no lack of historic architecture as well as a genteel Victorian Park to admire the autumn colour.
1. Cook Park
As Orange was being developed in the 1860s this 4.5-hectare plot was set aside as a public reserve.
This space was drained and landscaped, and trees acquired from the Sydney Botanical Gardens were planted in 1878, while the ornamental lake followed in 1880. Cook Park brims with history, at Bastick Cottage (1887), the Band Rotunda (1908), the Blowes Conservatory (1934), the Frank Mulholland Sunken Garden (1935) and the fernery.
There’s a cannon that used to guard Sydney Harbour, as well as a field gun captured in France in 1918. In April and May this one of the prime places in Orange to watch the leaves turn, just a few minutes on foot from the CBD.
2. Orange Botanic Gardens
Another of the best places to see the spellbinding autumn colours in Orange is the Botanic Gardens, opened for Australia’s bicentenary in 1988. There’s a 50-50 divide between native and exotic plantings here, and around a third of all the specimens are labelled.
In the gardens’ special collections are heritage roses and the plants of the Central Tablelands, and if you come around April or May the foliage takes on beguiling red and gold tones.
Some sub-gardens keep in mind are the heritage orchard and two billabongs, between which stands the magnificent Federation Arch by sculptor Bert Flugelman (1923-2013).
3. Orange Wine Region
Almost overnight, Orange has emerged as a formidable cool-climate wine region.
This has a lot to do with the fecund volcanic soils, moderately warm summer highs, undulating landscape and consistent breezes that keep spring frosts at bay.
As well as being very productive, this wine country is incredibly pretty and understandably attracts a lot of tourists to its rambling vineyards and cosy cellar doors (tasting rooms).The main grapes grown in Orange are Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Shiraz, normally going into blends but sometimes making single varietals.
As for wineries to visit, the choice is huge, and just a few of the more renowned are Heifer, Rowlee, Philip Shaw, Mortimers, Ross Hill, Swinging Bridge and Brangayne, all within a short trip of the city.
4. Mount Canobolas
The natural landmark that defines Orange’s cityscape is Mount Canobolas, rising to 1,395 metres in the immediate south-west.
It’s mind-boggling to think that is the highest peak between the Blue Mountains and the Indian Ocean, several thousand miles to the west.
Cloaked with vegetation, Mount Canobolas is an extinct volcano, and its fertile volcanic soils support vineyards on the north-facing slopes.
The summit is often snow-capped in winter and grants a stupendous 360° view, over Orange, reaching out to the Blue Mountains in the east.
The mountain is snaked by trails to help you get to a variety of beauty spots like waterfalls and lookouts on the slopes.
The Spring Glade track is an exhilarating way to reach the top, wending its way through dense groves inhabited by ringtail possums and sulphur-crested cockatoos.
5. Orange Regional Museum
Right next to the regional gallery is this stylish museum building opened in 2017, appearing to emerge from the ground and topped with an environmentally-friendly grass roof.
Exhibitions at the Orange Regional Museum are updated at short intervals, but are sourced from a large collection that covers Aboriginal culture and history, 19th-century gold mining, Orange’s built heritage, important local people, migration, wartime, sports and local industries like wine, wool and agriculture.
In 2020, upcoming exhibitions dealt with wartime propaganda, women videogame creators, early Australian photography and mugshots from the 1920s.
6. Orange Heritage Trail
The city has more than 40 places of historic interest and beauty, some going back to the mid-19th century Gold Rush, and you can see many of them via this self-guided, 46-stop walk.
You can pick up a leaflet for the Orange Heritage Trail from the Visitor Information Centre, setting off up Byng Street for a 90-minute trip back in time.
The route is marked with interpretative signs, and among the sights to take in are the Court House (1881), Orange Gaol (1860s), the Metropolitan Hotel (1864), the Italianate Town Hall (1888), the Digger’s Arms Hotel (1877), the Holy Trinity Church of England (1879), the Union Bank (1857) and Orange Post Office (1880), to name a small handful.
The signs will fill you in on some riveting stories from Orange’s early days, dealing with early merchants, robberies, industry and the ins-and-outs of 19th-century society.
7. Orange Regional Art Gallery
At the time of writing in May 2020 Orange’s esteemed regional art gallery was temporarily closed for a $4m redevelopment and scheduled to reopen in 2021. The project entails an extension, which will give it a light-flooded exhibition space, conservation areas and a lecture theatre.
In the meantime the museum’s collection has grown to more than 1,500 works of Australia art from the 1920s to the present.
Some of the modern artists represented are Grace Cossington Smith, Hans Heysen, Brett Whitely and Ian Fairweather, together with contemporary artists like, Emily Kngwarreye, Margaret Loy Pula, Harrie Fasher and Kevin Connor.
The last exhibition before the temporary closure was the Days of Summer woodblock series by Italo-Australian painter and printmaker Salvatore Zofrea.
8. Pinnacle Lookout
On the east side of Mount Canobolas there’s a majestic overlook just ten minutes by car from the centre of Orange.
From the car park there’s a short but vertiginous climb, up more than 200 steps.
But the trees lining the trail offer lots of cover from the sun, the constant birdsong is lovely, and you’ll know why you made the effort once you reach the top.
The view reaches out for many kilometres over Orange and the Towac Valley.
The lookout is within a reserve, with toilets, bluestone barbecues and shelters at the bottom of the trail.
9. Lake Canobolas
Below the north slopes of Mount Canobolas sit the glistening waters of Lake Canobolas, a reservoir supplying water to Orange for the first half of the 20th century.
In the 1970s the lake was turned into a leisure destination and is a relaxing spot for a wander, having a picnic, barbecue or doing some fishing.
Make sure to watch the water as it’s not unusual to see a platypus surfacing, and on your walk allow a minute to appreciate the Old Pumphouse, built when the reservoir was completed in 1918 and restored to its former glory after more than half a century of decay.
10. Ophir Reserve
At this rugged but tranquil reserve on the Summer Hill and Lewis Ponds you’ll encounter real Australian history.
In 1851, what is now Ophir Reserve was the first place where gold of any real quantity was discovered in Australia, helping to establish Orange as a permanent settlement.
The gold supply didn’t last, and the panners had moved on in less than a year, but there’s a working goldmine here today that you can explore.
You can test your own fossicking skills in Summer Hill Creek, borrowing a pan from the Orange Visitor Centre, or you can simply savour the peace in the wooded gorge where the two creeks converge.
Geologically, this is a fascinating spot, still riddled with long abandoned lead mines that can be explored with caution, and you can take a picnic or camp for the night by the creek.
11. Nangar National Park
Orange is a jumping off point for another piece of natural drama, conserving a chunk of the Nangar-Murga Range.
These peaks rise suddenly over the farmlands of NSW’s Central West, and the highest point is the summit 778-metre Nangar Mountain.
Far from any sources of light pollution, the night skies are famously brilliant in Nangar National Park, and by daylight people head come for refreshing walks in autumn, winter and spring or to gaze at the slopes embroidered with flowers in summer.
There’s a phenomenal lookout atop Mount Nangar, and endless nature-spotting opportunities in a land roamed by various wallaby species and kangaroos, where birds of prey like hawks and peregrine falcons catch the air currents along the ridge.
12. Orange Adventure Playground
Smaller family members will be delighted to know that Orange boasts one of the finest adventure playgrounds in New South Wales.
This means swings, slides and climbing obstacles for children of all sizes and abilities, and comes with smartly designed elements like a tree house, rocket ship, farm tractor and rock wall.
Children can even learn road safety on the bicycle track, while there’s a cafe, picnic areas, barbecues and pretty much all you could want for an economic family afternoon out.
13. Huntley Berry Farm
Out on the basalt plains by Mount Canobolas, you’ll find the not-for-profit Huntley Berry Farm in bucolic scenery and growing 11 kinds of berries, from blueberries to raspberries.
The pick-your-own season, when you can fill a bucket in the fields, runs from mid-November to May, and during this time there’s much more going on around the farm.
Children will get to meet rabbits, goats, chickens, guinea pigs and the friendly family dog, while there are landscaped grassy spaces for games and picnics under mature trees.
At the shop you can browse gourmet jams, chutneys, fruit syrups and vinegars made on the farm.
14. Borenore Caves
Head west of Orange, past Borenore and you’ll be soon arrive at a reserve containing more than 40 limestone caves.
These are famed for their jagged karst characteristics, but also Silurian-period fossils of reef wildlife like trilobites, brachiopods, corals, crinoids and gastropods.
Among the largest and best-known of these caves are the Arch Cave, Verandah Cave and the mysterious Tunnel Cave, a 110-metre passage descending into the foot of a tall hill.
The Tunnel Cave is used for hibernation by the eastern bent-wing bat so is off limits from May to October.
Don’t forget to bring a torch if you’re going exploring, to admire the majestic concretions Arch Cave in all their wonder.
15. Gosling Creek Reserve
Closer to home is a reserve that has been set up on what used to be a pine plantation, reachable on foot or by bike.
This is also the scene of Orange’s first manmade water supply, at a reservoir completed in 1890. Since the land’s regeneration, some 50 native species have bounced back, resulting in a riot of colour in spring and summer when the wildflowers are in bloom.
There are also impressive specimen trees like two giant sequoias and a Deodar cedar, thought to have been planted when the reservoir was first dammed.
Activities on the menu at Gosling Creek Reserve include walking, cycling, picnics and fishing for golden perch and trout, while kids can run rampant at the playground.