A road trip to Orange or Mudgee is both an escape to the country and a delightfully wine-fuelled weekend. But is it possible to choose between the two towns, if you really had to?
While there are plenty of gorgeous towns across Australia, Mudgee and Orange are part of a region all too often overlooked for NSW’s more obvious gems. But for those of us in the know, the real conundrum is deciding the case between Orange versus Mudgee. We take a deep dive into both towns to see how each one stacks up in the following categories:
Here’s our rundown of what to expect in the case of Orange versus Mudgee.
Although the regional towns of Mudgee and Orange in NSW’s Central West are about two hours apart, they are both about three and a half to four hours from Sydney. Set off just after dawn to see the Blue Mountains under a layer of pink gauze at dawn, then slice off the highway at Bathurst, bound for Orange. The sophisticated country town is all charm, jam-packed with things to do amid vineyards, farms and forests that unfurl all around.
Drive for about four hours west of Sydney through the Blue Mountains and you will find yourself in a pleasant patchwork of countryside, with rich green and ruddy farmland broken by long lines of towering gums.
Leave the highway at Lithgow where the traffic slows and you will see haystacks, like giant nests of wool, and the smooth folds of pasture laid out like a blanket. The primary colour palette changes in the Mudgee Region according to the seasons, and admiring the foliage from autumn through to spring has become one of many reasons to book a weekend getaway – especially if it is romance you seek.
Orange is regarded as one of Australia’s best wine districts and generally, that’s what visitors to the region come here for. Orange has an altitude of 862 metres and a headlong excursion into the region starts at cool-climate wineries, from the new cellar door at Printhie Wines to the spectacular views of Mount Canobolas at Swinging Bridge Wines, a little piece of paradise.
While the region’s modern wine industry was pioneered by a few trailblazers who planted wine grapes in the early 1980s, many of the area’s original orchards such as Borrodell Vineyard and Brangayne also diversified into grape-growing in the ’90s. Rikard Wines, Mayfield Vineyards and ChaLou Wines all opened new cellar doors in 2021 and Printhie Wines also opened a restaurant helmed by head chef Jack Brown (ex-Berowra Waters Inn). Still, want to know more? Read our guide to the best wineries in Orange.
Most of the boutique vineyards in the Mudgee Region feel warm and intimate, regardless of their size.
From the plush, worn couches and terrace overlooking the vines sewn into the earth at Lowe Family Wine Co. – which is aiming to be 100 per cent off-grid – to the experience of sipping on French-style wines at the rustic cellar door at De Beaurepaire Wines, housed in 170-year-old sandstone stables, the magic of the Mudgee Region lies in the fact that every experience seems to be underpinned by passion: a passion for the environment, landscape and community.
Visitors to the rolling hills and valleys around the Mudgee Region will notice the impossibly fertile land, most visible in the overlaid embroidery of the vineyards on land that is also laced with ancient Indigenous stories.
Plot your winery weekend to include visits to our pick of Mudgee’s best wineries, including Lowe Family Wine Co, The Cellar by Gilbert, Logan Wines, De Beaurepaire Cellar Doors, Moothi Estate, and Rosby Wines & Gallery.
The dining scene
There are more than 60 vineyard wineries in Orange and surrounds but the region is also known for its incredible produce, both of which are the focus of Australia’s longest-running regional food festival, Orange F.O.O.D. Week, held in April each year.
In addition to the celebration lunches and dinners on offer during the food and wine event, visitors can bounce between restaurants where you might find a hatted chef grilling grass-fed meat farmed 100 metres from your table or chat one-on-one with a winemaker over a menu paired with local wines.
In Orange, there are a lot more eateries to choose from than Mudgee. Start with coffee at Factory Espresso a sleek local haunt that is a smashed avo oasis for weekend cyclists who want to work off all of that regional good living.
Head to Groundstone for lunch, and Lolli Redini for dinner and pop into the Lord Anson Public House and The Union Bank for classic English pub grub. Or you can take your pick from our definitive guide to eating and drinking in Orange.
The Mudgee Region is an oasis of amazing food and wine in the broad fertile Cudgegong River valley in Central West NSW. Amid swirling and sipping your way around the region’s rustic cellar doors, you must allow time to picnic on lawns at Lowe Family Wine Co. overlooking the substantial vineyard, or in The Zin House.
The Mowgee clan of the Wiradjuri nation were singing, dancing, painting and feasting in the Mudgee Region for thousands of years and the Warakirri Dining Experience pays homage to that history with an immersive bush tucker feast.
Pipeclay Pumphouse is also one of the best places to eat in Mudgee, as is 29 nine 99 (considered the best yum cha in the Central West), and Alby + Esthers, a cute-as coffee and wine bar hidden inside a stone terrace built circa 1873 – also a great place for brunch. The Mudgee Corner Store also accommodates the expectations of city slickers with great coffee and the option to get your fix of local produce, jams and preserves.
It’s only fitting that Orange has a burgeoning bar scene dedicated to sampling said nectar everywhere from country pubs such as The Gladstone Hotel, which turns on the charm, to the Borrodell SkyBar overlooking the estate’s orchard and vineyard.
Orange also has the beloved Blind Pig Sound Lounge and Bar, which as well as being a safe space for the LGBTQI+ community, has been changing in increments over the years, merging local music, wines and beers and fresh produce into the one venue.
Then there are the town’s sophisticated tasting experiences, such as Barrel & Larder, where groups of up to 12 gourmands gather to watch a local chef prepare a meal to be matched with Ross Hill wines.
The seasonal gins at Parrot Distilling Co. are also something to squawk about and Badlands Brewery is one of the best distilleries and breweries in Orange. Ferment is a good option for drinks before dinner as it’s a one-stop-shop for local wines.
The amenity of the Mudgee Region has vastly improved over the past decade or so as tree-changers descending on the Central West create demand for sophisticated bars such as Roth’s Wine Bar + Cellar.
The Three Tails Brewery is where you will find everyone from hardened bushies to corporate types celebrating their ‘Escape to the Country’ epiphany. Mudgee’s home of craft beer has a main bar, and Smokin’ Bro & Co smokehouse, which has brought the best of Texas barbecue to Mudgee, where smoked meats are cooked low and slow.
The Woolpack Hotel is located in the heart of Mudgee’s CBD and the whole place pops and rattles on a Friday night for happy hour with indoor and outdoor options and a big screen in the garden. Kelly’s Irish Pub is all richly dark inside like a proper pub and bright and breezy on The Balcony Bar, where the tiny town centre is spread out below.
The annual Orange Medieval Faire, held in March, is a two-day, immersive experience that boasts a range of activities for all ages including live jousting, a medieval village, traditional birds of prey and Viking re-enactments.
City kids will love buying apples directly from a grower with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows at the monthly Orange Farmers Market where the whole family can forage for healthy snacks. Lake Canobolas Reserve also supports a range of family-friendly activities such as cycling, sailing, canoeing, walking, swimming and dragon boating.
The family-friendly activities on offer in Mudgee feel a bit more under the radar than what’s offered in Orange. You will certainly feel a sense of achievement as a parent when you take your kids to kayak the spectacular Ganguddy, pan for gold at the Gulgong Gold Experience or taste honey straight from a hive at Mudgee Honey Haven.
The landscape around Mudgee has a soft look about it. It’s here, amid the green of the trees, under the blue of the sky that you can look for birds in the Putta Bucca Wetlands, see hand stencils made by the Wiradjuri people, and teach your children to appreciate the rock formations dotted around Ferntree Gully or one of the many walks around the region.
The town centre is sectioned into orderly squares and has no traffic lights and is great for wandering in and out of boutiques and homeware stores with shopaholic teens.
Active couples will enjoy tackling the Orange Villages Bicycle Trail, a six-stage, 360-kilometre cycling journey designed to showcase the Central West. The ride starts and ends in Orange, where you will also find opportunities for romance while on a food and wine tour with Country Food Trails, or during an intimate cooking class at A table of 10.
Orange F.O.O.D. Week is one of Australia’s longest-running food and wine festivals and is ripe for romantic experiences. Enjoy a dreamy private picnic at Heifer Station Winery, dinner and a gig at the Agrestic Grocer or an intimate table for two at award-winning Lolli Redini.
Doe-eyed duos will also enjoy the Orange Chamber Music Festival, which includes a line-up of local and international artists playing at a variety of locations and the Orange Winter Jazz Festival slated for the June Long weekend. Take your squeeze to Orange and you will find a raft of romantic accommodation options.
Part of the romance of Mudgee is just being in the town itself, where the friendliness of the locals has made it a must-visit destination. When the weather is cooperative, hire an e-bike from Ezyride Mudgee to help you navigate your way around the Mudgee Region using its bike paths and recommended routes.
Forget Heart Reef. Balloon Aloft operates heart-shaped hot-air balloon rides so you can better appreciate the lacquered green landscape, and the blue of the sky. Follow up with a private tasting for two at your accommodation organised by Exclusively Mudgee and keep it casual with a relaxed cooking class at The Little Cooking School.
Want to impress your other half? Book dinner at The Zin House, which overlooks the vineyards off to distant mountains, covered in wrinkled green quilts, and is full of couples whispering in little nooks. Mudgee is sectioned into orderly squares so it’s easy to get around on foot if you’re into shopping.
Orange has been established as a tourism destination for decades, so the infrastructure is there to support a stay. From adults-only glamping at Nashdale Lane on the grounds of a 24-hectare vineyard to the dinky Dragonfly Cottages, there are plenty of accommodation options to help you plan the perfect weekend retreat in Orange.
The Byng Street Boutique Hotel has a sumptuous king-size bed, fireplace and large private balcony, and the Canopy Loft at the beautiful elevated winery, Mortimers Wines offers views across the valley and a great cellar-door experience.
Book the Ultimate Wine Escape at The Rowlee Vineyard Villa and you will be treated to a tasting of Rowlee wines made from the grapes surrounding the accommodation. End your time in Orange enjoying a few tipples at Lakeview Luxury Retreat, which features three award-winning, eco-friendly penthouse suites or at de Russie Boutique Hotel where you can stroll away your Sunday afternoon.
Less is more when it comes to finding accommodation in Mudgee for a grape escape. And what this means is that the scope for a bush backdrop is bigger, and those smudges of colour from swathes of grey-green countryside are all around.
You will feel your shoulders soften the second you kick off your shoes at Strikes Mudgee, which looks out over the lucerne flats of Bunnamagoo Estate and over expansive horizons and towering skies that seem to go on forever.
The three luxurious eco tents at Evamor Valley also maximise the views over the Mudgee Region, as do the four luxury bell tents at Glenayr Farm, a 130-hectare working farm – and one of our top picks for a glamping stay in Mudgee.
If having a hatted restaurant at your doorstep appeals, then staying in the Shed by Zin should be on your radar after a day of wine tasting. Like most accommodation options in Mudgee, it makes for an atmospheric base to explore the region.
Sierra Escape is now a destination in its own right, after winning three Gold Awards at the NSW Tourism Awards.
The verdict: Orange versus Mudgee
How do the two towns stack up when compared in the above categories? It’s like comparing an apple with, ahem, an orange. Each region has its own charm and offers perfect weekend getaways in wine country that are around four hours from Sydney. The diplomatic response to the Orange versus Mudgee debate is: do both. We think you’ll come to the same conclusion.