One hour drive from Perth lies the rolling hills, curving valleys and meandering streams of the Avon Valley where historic buildings, hobby farms, bucolic wineries and Australia’s only monastic town can be found.
By Fleur Bainger
What to expect
- See golden light bathe the landscape at dawn from a hot air balloon
- Meet an outback monk in the country’s only monastic town, New Norcia
- Stroll the historic streets of Western Australia’s first inland European settlement
- Time: 3 days
- Distance: 300 kilometres (186 miles)
- Transport: car
- Nearest major city: Perth
- Price: $$
The Avon Valley changes dramatically across the seasons: from November to April it has the hot, dry and dusty feel of the outback, with straw-coloured fields and rusty earth but from May to October, it’s as lush and cool as England, coated in a blanket of green and gentle sunshine. Throughout its country vistas are historic towns with charming main streets, heritage walking trails, boutique wineries and museums that tell tales of the area’s past.
Day 1: Historic towns, vintage cars and heritage trails
Established in 1831, the bucolic town of York, 97 kilometres (60 miles) from Perth in the Avon Valley, was the first inland European settlement in Western Australia. After passing rolling countryside, granite outcrops and eucalypt forests, take a leisurely stroll through its streets to see Victorian and Federation (an architectural mode prevalent in Australia from 1890 to 1915) style architecture. Spend half an hour dreaming of a romantic past in the York Motor Museum, where you’ll find a host of vintage cars (9.30am-2pm daily). For more history, head to the award-winning Residency Museum before stopping for lunch at Flourmill Cafe.
Pack a water bottle and sunscreen before setting off on any one of York’s walking trails or self-drive tours. There’s also an interesting Heritage Walking Trail with an audio guide and historic images that can be downloaded free here. Start at York Town Hall and learn about the 19th century buildings along Avon Terrace, the main street. For thrill-seekers tandem skydiving allows you to freefall from up to 14,000 feet over the York area. The jump departs Thursdays to Mondays. Stay at the elegant Laurelville, which has an adjoining day spa, or The York Palace Hotel which is also a great spot for dinner.
Day 2: See the earth from the air and discover a wily bushranger
Just before dawn, drive 38 kilometres (24 miles) to Northam for a hot air ballooning experience across the valley. Windward Hot Air Balloon Adventures has been sharing the region’s story while revealing its undulating patchwork of farms, bush, streams and forests for more than 30 years. The hour-long flight runs between April and November and is followed by breakfast overlooking the river. Go for a walk along Northam’s main street, skip across its 117 metre long (384 foot) pedestrian suspension bridge and stop at a typical country pub, The Riverside Hotel, for a hearty lunch before hitting the road for Toodyay.
Toodyay is a charming historic township surrounded by country properties that city slickers flock to for a weekend of rural serenity. Visit Newcastle Gaol which once incarcerated Western Australia's best-known bushranger, Moondyne Joe, and now hosts a museum. Soak up the town’s bustling cafe strip and order a coffee with a side of pop culture at the astonishing Cola Café and Museum, a 1950s-feel haunt bursting with Coca-Cola memorabilia. Marvel at Toodyay’s year-round Christmas shop then cruise out of town to take afternoon tea at a lavender farm (phone to check it's open first), or visit the free range emu farm. Finish at an organic olive oil grove where you can stay the night. An alternate luxe option, a 15 minute drive from the grove, is rural retreat, White Dog Farm.
Day 3: See how the monks of the outback live and sip boutique wine
One hour drive from Toodyay is New Norcia, Australia’s only monastic town. Join the two hour guided Town Tour (departs from the museum at 11am and 1.30pm daily) of the towering, 19th century Spanish-inspired buildings, the interiors of which have been ornately painted and carved. The town has a working bakery, library, art gallery and an interactive museum and is surrounded by a huge working farm. The resident Benedictine monks spend much of the day in silence and prayer but you may meet one of them in the town; you can also sit in on one of seven daily prayer sessions. Have lunch at the New Norcia Hotel, a short walk from the monastery.
Hidden within nearby hills and valleys are boutique wineries where you can meet the winemakers. While motoring back towards Perth, stop in to Western Range Wines and also Stringybark winery and restaurant in the Chittering Valley for a free tasting and learn about the Shiraz, Chardonnay, Verdelho and Viognier wines (among others) they make. From here it’s less than an hour drive to the metropolis where you can contrast your country escape with an evening in the heart of the city, dining at Shadow Wine Bar and staying next door at the hip Alex Hotel.
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