Suburban sprawl recedes and the snarl of traffic softens; the tree line thickens and the road widens as you enter lush farmland. Welcome to the Avon Valley, a region of modest, rural charm that’s earned a reputation for its fresh homegrown produce, and slowing down the pace of life for those used to the mania of the city.
Dozens of century-old buildings form beautiful country streetscapes. The picturesque towns of York, Toodyay, Goomalling, Beverley, New Norcia, Northam, Bindoon and Chittering boast unique architecture and heritage, and distinctive back stories. According to local folklore, the Shire of Chittering derived its name from the Aboriginal chitta-chitta, meaning ‘place of the willy wagtails’.
The iconic Avon River snakes through each of these townships, uniting the region with its inviting grassy banks, surrounding bush tracks, abundant birdlife and popular white-water rafting routes. Rafting is far from the only thrill-seeking activity available in the otherwise tranquil region, however. Adventure sports like motor cross, skydiving and paragliding are popular for those looking for a thrill, while hot-air ballooning is available for a more serene adventure.
The warm hospitality of the residents is a distinct feature of the Avon Valley, especially if you head beyond the markets and farmlands into the delightful
There, you will discover that local pride and attentiveness extends beyond the tending of their produce, directly into the beautiful heritage towns they call home.
1. Wander a trail skirting the Avon River, and keep an eye out for water birds.
2. Lift off in a hot-air balloon as dawn breaks over the valley.
3. Pluck delicious fruit right off the tree or vine, in one of the region’s orchards.
4. Reminisce over the fine collection of vintage motor vehicles on display at the York Motor Museum.
5. Drive to Mt Brown Lookout and sense the spirits of star-crossed lovers from opposing tribes, tied to Mt Brown and Mt Blakewell.
6. Plunge down the rapids of the Avon River through the lushest parts of the valley.
7. Visit local galleries, or hunt down local antiques.
8. Join daily prayers at the monastic town of New Norcia.
9. Go on a heritage tour, and hear the stories behind century-old buildings.
10. Immerse yourself in the fields of wildflowers during spring.
For more, visit scooptraveller.com.au/AvonValley.
1. York was settled in 1831, making it Western Australia’s oldest inland town.
2. There are 185 heritage-listed buildings in Northam.
3. The Avon River is one of the only places in Australia where majestic white swans are able to breed and survive naturally in the wild.
DO AND SEE
Beyond the quaint heritage towns and surrounding farmland lies an unspoiled wilderness teeming with life. It is appreciated best in the cooler months, before summer brings the dry heat notorious to this inland region. The Avon Valley National Park is 4800ha of native bush, home to more than 80 species of birds. The Avon River cuts through the park, and if you follow the rushing water, you’ll stumble across Bald Hill, which provides views of the bushland below.
Head east towards York and climb to the peak of Mt Brown, 964m above sea level, for a panoramic vantage point over the town and the Southern Flinders Ranges. To the south, beautiful Gwambygine Park has one of the few remaining permanent pools of the Avon River. Watch the trees for birds, and keep an eye out for long-necked turtles in the clear pools below.
One of the most popular treks in the area is the Golf Links Reserve Trail, a 4km track beginning at the York Golf Club and continuing through bushland, over ridges and past the 415m-tall Mt Bakewell. The Bilya Track, near Toodyay, follows the Avon River 5.6km north. The bird hide over Red Banks Pool is a highlight of this trail, offering the opportunity to see extensive wildlife. The famous 75km, multi-use Kep Track begins in Northam, following the old railway tracks through the Perth Hills to Mundaring. For a manageable hike, try the Blackboy Ridge Walk Trail in Chittering Valley. It’s a 1.5km meander through wildflower-strewn hillsides to a lookout with stunning views over the Brockman River below. Allow for a 45-minute return; there is also a picnic spot at the trailhead.
Slide into a canoe, kayak or raft and see the valley views as you’re propelled along the rushing, white waters of the Avon River. The highest graded, fastest flowing rapids include Emu Falls and Super Chute. While these rapids promise the region’s most adventurous white-water experience, they are notoriously short and fast, and only available to those bringing their own equipment. For optimum time on the water, choose the section between Syds and Bells rapids, which cuts directly through the picturesque Walyunga National Park. From here, rafting companies offer equipment hire and short guided courses down the river.
Chittering Wildflower Festival
Each spring the Chittering Valley comes alive with wildflowers. The
town of Bindoon has its gardens out in colour and celebrates the season with its annual September festival. The restored Bindoon Town Hall houses a massive showcase of flowers. The Bindoon Tale Trail is in bloom, for those wishing to take
a stroll through the history of Chittering. As well as delicious food and market stalls as well as art and photography, activities like the Quilts in Spring, the Apron Revival, and Historic Vehicle Day will keep everyone entertained. Check chittering.wa.gov.au for a programme, wildflower maps, guided tours and accommodation.
Get in the clouds
Strap yourself into a paraglider or hanglider and soar over the hills, or hop into a light plane and hurtle across the wide-open skies. Stillneed more adrenalin? Take on the rush of skydiving. If plunging 14,000ft towards the earth isn’t what you’re after, hot-air ballooning offers a gentler way to rise above the clouds. Running between April and November, this is a major regional highlight from multiple lift-off points. Once the ascent begins, the pre-daybreak start will prove well worth it, as you drift over rolling hills and watch golden sunlight spread over the lush, green valley.
Art and literature
You could spend a week browsing the many exhibitions and galleries showcasing local and touring talent. The Avon Art Society boasts three galleries, while the Great Southern Gallery has a variety of art, from pottery to glassware in two York galleries. The New Norcia Museum & Art Gallery (formerly St Joseph’s Aboriginal Girls’ orphanage) exhibits its own history, along with the Gardner Botanical exhibition, and contemporary and European art. The community markets feature regional artisans, as do fairs running through the year. The region is also well known for literary festivals.
TIP See if you can spot all 10 outdoor artworks that feature in the Bindoon Sculpture Trail. Some of the more well-known are El Toro (Chittering Road), The Birds (Chittering Valley Road), The Nest (Chittering Valley Road), and The Travelling Monk (corner Chittering and Julimar roads).
Top heritage spots
The Avon Valley is steeped in colonial history, captured in the heritage buildings still standing in the townships. York and Northam have the largest number and variety of heritage- listed buildings, hotels and churches. The Old York Hospital was built in 1890 and designed by George Temple-Poole, who also built the Courthouse Complex and the Old Post Office, used today for all kinds of events.
The York Palace Hotel is still available for guests to overnight in the aptly named heritage rooms. Built in 1870, Connor’s Mill in Toodyay is three storeys high and houses original working machinery, which turns wheat into flour for visitors.
The Old Northam Railway Station, built in 1900, is used today as a museum with more than 1200 historical items on display, and an authentic steam locomotive.
The Residency Museum in York has a similarly large variety of display items, capturing the everyday lives of locals more than a hundred years ago. For the car enthusiast, the York Motor Museum has one of the most renowned collections of vintage cars in Australia, and features more than 150 pristinely maintained automobiles.
EAT AND DRINK
The country cuisine offered in this region is deliciously fresh, produced and served by proud, hospitable locals. Visit a bakery for fresh bread bread before heading to one of the many olive farms for famously pure olive oil. Take your newly bought bread, oil and fresh fruits to picnic beside the Avon River, or up at the iconic Julimar Lookout – what could be more heavenly? Head into town if your appetite demands something more wholesome, and enjoy generously sized pub meals among friendly locals.
Leanne Co-owner of the Bindoon Bakehaus
“This region actually produces the most fruit and vegies in all of WA…The development for agriculture in this area is huge. The more we tap into that, the more we can use our local produce.”
Rocco, Golden Grove Orchard in Chittering
“You get visitors coming for the first time and they’re always overwhelmed by the region. We don’t use fertiliser, we don’t use chemicals, we don’t spray our fruit – it’s just the flavour of the fruit.”
Taste the fruit of the vine
Follow a short (76km long) but enjoyable wine trail through the rolling green hills of the Chittering Valley. Incorporating four wineries, each
with their own unique character and style, the trail allows plenty of time to savour the wines on offer while enjoying the scenic views. Start with Kyotmunga Estate, overlooking Brockman River and Avon National Park (you can also taste home-grown extra-virgin olive oil and Kalamata olives here), then head onto Stringybark Winery, before stopping at Briery Estate, and finally Riseborough Estate in Gingin.
Don’t leave withouT…
This is prime citrus-growing country, so make sure you take the opportunity to pick your own fruit. At Golden Grove Orchard, you can also buy freshly squeezed 100 per cent orange, lemon, lime or grapefruit juice (when seasonally available), and lemon squash. Homemade Devonshire teas are served in an old packing shed on weekends from April to November.
The region’s biggest festival stems from the legend of Moondyne Joe who was
a highwayman in the area during the colonial times. First Sunday every year. Jan.
Countryman Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day
Come along and enjoy the day in the fabulous setting of Gidgegannup Showgrounds, Midland. May.
This world-famous event is one of the most difficult and punishing river races in Australia. Competitors take on the 124km stretch of rapids over two long days. Aug.
Toodyay International Food Festival
Combine the thrill of the Avon Descent with delicious international cuisine. Tempt your taste buds at dozens of stalls as the main stage comes to life. Free family activities all day. Aug.
A Taste of Chittering
Sip regional wines, shop at local market stalls, savour lunch in the country air, see free entertainment, and enjoy the activities. Aug.
Avon Valley Writers Festival
Sixteen renowned West Australian authors gather over the weekend, to present talks and workshops for aspiring authors at the Toodyay Public Library. Sep.
York Bzzaar Art and Craft Fair
A wonderful showcase of lovingly decked stalls of handmade art
and crafts, held in the beautiful York Town Hall, plus craft workshops, magic shows and even camel rides. Sep.
Wildflower Festival, Bindoon
In spring, when the countryside is ablaze with colourful blooms, more than 200 wildflowers are displayed in Bindoon Town Hall, with the opportunity to purchase seeds and other local produce, arts and crafts. Be sure to check out the photography exhibition, and the classic cars, with activities for the kids too. Sep.
A family day of fun and entertainment under the majestic shade of Mt Bakewell in York. Nov.
- Spend the day at Duidgee Park in Toodyay. Ride the miniature railway along the river, and take a spin in the skate park.
- Hoddywell Archery Park caters to shooters of all ages and levels.
- Visit WA’s last remaining sock factory and the old fashioned Lolly
- Shop, then dress up as a convict at York’s Residency Museum.
Caravan parks are scattered across the region. Numerous farm stays offer the best of country living, from fruit picking to the rooster crowing at sunrise. For a romantic weekend, pick one of the contained cottages or B&Bs for a quaint, quiet getaway. Immerse yourself in the prevalent heritage of the region, and stay at a colonial homestead or a restored hotel. Many of these accommodation options may also offer access to hiking trails and encounters with local wildlife.
Drive up the Great Eastern Highway, 100km northeast of Perth to Northam. To get to York, turn off from Great Eastern onto Great Southern Highway. Follow Great Southern past York, and head south to reach Beverley.