Canowindra describes itself as 'The Balloon Capital of Australia' as more flights are said to take place here annually than anywhere else in Australia. It is testimony to the strength of the association that Balloon Aloft have made the town its headquarters due to the gentle winds and the open and attractive countryside crisscrossed by roadways for balloon recovery.
In spite of this apparent modernity Canowindra is, in fact, a genuine old-style Australian country town. The main thoroughfare, Gaskill St, stills follows the crooked route of the old bullock track, reflecting the informal and piecemeal early development of the town. The many verandahs and old buildings contribute to the antiquated air. Indeed the entire commercial section of Gaskill St has been classified by as a Heritage Preservation Area by the National Trust.
The town is located in a natural basin on the Belubula River, 330 km west of Sydney via Bathurst, 32 km north of Cowra and 300 m above sea-level. Built on rich river flats it functions as a service centre to the surrounding district which produces lucerne, wheat, wool and fat lambs. The current population is around 1700.
The term 'Canowindra' derives from the language of the Wiradjuri People who occupied the area prior to white settlement. It is said to mean 'home' or 'camping place'.
One of the first white settlers was James Collits who was recorded as occupying land at 'Canoundra' in 1831, though he may have arrived as early as 1829. Governor Fitzroy crossed the river here in 1836 or 1846 depending on which source you believe. The Canowindra Inn was established in 1849 and a settlement developed in a piecemeal fashion around this nucleus. The town was surveyed in 1860.
In 1863 Canowindra was twice raided by Ben Hall's bushranging gang, which then included the notorious Johnny Gilbert. They robbed two nearby station homesteads then moved on to the town where they forced the residents, and the local policeman, into Robinson's Hotel, holding an impromptu and compulsory party. They returned two weeks later, after raiding Bathurst, this time holding the townsfolk at Robinson's for three days of merriment, reputedly at their own expense. The site is now occupied by the Royal Hotel. A plaque on the side of the Royal notes the historical associations.
Lucerne, which became a vital crop in the 1950s, was first grown in 1863. The first road bridge was built in 1874. The railway arrived in 1888.
Distinguished Australian novelist Kylie Tennant stayed at the Canowindra Hotel in Gaskill St in the 1930s, writing her novel Tiburon while her husband taught at the local school.
360-million-year-old fish fossils of world importance were found 9 km to the south-west of town in 1956. Another major dig occurred in 1993.
There is a model aircraft championship at Easter and the Canowindra Country Show on the fourth weekend in September. Marti's Balloon Fiesta, usually in April, attracts enthusiasts from around the world.
Things to see
The Canowindra Newsagency in Gaskill St functions as the local tourist information outlet, tel: (02) 6344 1618. The major visitors' centre in the area is that at Cowra, tel: (02) 6342 4333.
Hot-Air Balloon Flights
Canowindra is famous for its hot air ballooning. In fact Marti's Balloon Fiesta features over 50 hot air balloons and it seems as though every weekend hot air balloons take off because of the gentle breezes and the excellent thermals which characterise the area. Balloon rides take place from March to November, weather permitting. Balloon Joy Flights http://www.balloonjoyflights.com.au and Aussie Ballontrek (02) 6361 2552 or 0427 640211 both do regular flights. An unforgettable experience.
The main thoroughfare, Gaskill St, stills follows the crooked route of the old bullock track and the many verandahs and old buildings contribute to the antiquated air. The entire commercial section of Gaskill St has been classified by as a Heritage Preservation Area by the National Trust. There are a number of gift, antique and second-hand shops, open on weekends. The Canowindra Trading Post is in Ferguson St. It is open seven days from around 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
The Age of Fishes Museum and Learning Centre
360-million-year-old Devonian fish fossils of world importance were found 11 km to the south-west of town in 1956. Another major dig occurred in 1993. This has spawned the Age of Fishes Museum and Learning Centre, situated within the old courthouse in Gaskill St (opposite the pool). There are hands-on educational displays relating to the fossils and talks relating to ancient natural and geological history. There are guided tours of the centre or you can arrange to go on an actual fossil dig.
The Learning Centre is open weekends from 11.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. Talks commence on the hour with the last at 2.00 p.m. The centre is also open by appointment. Ring (02) 6344 1008 when the centre is open or (02) 6344 1427 in business hours.
Gondwana Dreaming Fossil Tours offer a chance to participate in an authentic archaeological dig. The excursions are run one weekend a month by an archaeologist who provides proper equipment and supervises participants in the correct methodology, tel: (02) 6285 1872.
Memorial Park, by Gaskill St, contains Canowindra Museum with displays relating to local history. It is open Sunday afternoons from 2.00 p.m. or by appointment. Pieces of century-old agricultural machinery are found in the grounds.
The Old Vic Inn Guesthouse
The Old Vic Inn is situated in the old Victoria Hotel at 56 Gaskill St. There are handsome guest rooms, a restaurant and an Art Gallery. The gallery is open from Thursday to Sunday, 11.00 a.m to 3.00 p.m. However, you can knock at the door any time for a viewing. Meals are generally for guests although group dinners can be organised by arrangement, tel: (02) 6344 1009.
Tastings and cellar door sales are available from Wallington's, about 10 km out of town on the Eugowra Road (tel: 02 6344 7153), and, as of October or November 1998, from Hamilton's Bluff Vineyard in Rygate's Lane, just out of Canowindra, tel: (02) 6344 2079.
25 km north-east on the road to Orange is the pleasant little hamlet of Cargo where you will find the Miners Rest art-and-craft cottage and a pub.