Exploring the historic Yass Valley at a gentle pace

Sitting at the kitchen table, all we can hear lately on weekday mornings (and all day long) is the sound of earthmoving machinery and trucks excavating the centre of the road, making way for the light rail, which is said to be coming one day. We long for some quiet, so an invitation to enjoy a short break in the countryside is most gratefully accepted.We head out of the city, down the Barton Highway towards the Yass Valley in the southern tablelands of New South Wales. It’s just a short trip across the border from Canberra, and the Saturday morning traffic is flowing smoothly. Having set off a little earlier than planned, we are in no hurry.

Our itinerary is perfectly-tailored, and includes a heritage walk around the Yass township, visits to a couple of museums, and a second hand store that’s said to be a treasure trove. Overnight accommodation has been booked for us in The Garden Wing at Coodravale Homestead, Wee Jasper, which is an hour’s drive from Yass. And we’re expected for dinner at the Duck ‘n’ Fishes Cafe at Coodradigbee Homestead in the Wee Jasper Valley.

After a coffee and a bite to eat, we begin the heritage walk around the town. The first building to catch our eye is the Mechanics’ Institute building. It’s a shade of dusty pink with dark trimmings, and has a pair of kangaroos on the roofline. Designed by Sydney architect, Thomas Rowe, and built in 1869, it once housed a substantial subscription library and a large dance hall. For a time, it was the social hub of the region.

The Yass Railway Museum and Australia’s shortest railway platform is on Crago Street. Old rolling stock, a model railway and an assortment of vintage railroad memorabilia can be seen on a tour of the museum, which is led by enthusiastic local volunteers.

Vintage wares, curiosities and collectibles can be found at Ross’s Relics, and also Meri Collectables, on Comur Street. There’s also a couple of well-stocked op shops on Meehan Street. To our delight, we manage to find a few bargains. A pre-loved Lowepro camera bag for Peter, and a lightweight jacket and cardigan for me. Both of my things are in lovely shades of green.

The bells are still rung regularly at St Clement’s Anglican Church

Wee Jasper

It has been a lifetime since I was in the Wee Jasper district. My father, András, took the whole family to Wee Jasper, and Good Hope, many times in the 1960s, and this visit would bring back many happy memories.
The landscape on the drive from Yass to Wee Jasper and surrounds is spectacular. Golden hues of the sun-parched, undulating grasslands dotted with willows and eucalypts are a contrast against a cloud-filled sky. One cannot help but stop the car, often, stepping out to snap a few photos, smell the fresh air, and admire the views.

The district is an iconic part of Australia and our nation’s early history. In 1824, explorers Hamilton Hume and William Hovell passed through the Yass Plains during their expedition to Victoria. On reaching the Murrumbidgee River, they found it to be flooded, so they had to build a makeshift punt from a cart covered with a tarpaulin. This enabled them to cross the fast flowing river.

The Taemas Bridge crosses the Murrumbidgee midway between Yass and Wee Jasper. Two miles downstream from this one (above), which was opened in 1931, there was a bridge of the same name built in the 1880s. A newspaper article from 1881 reports that “hearty cheers were given for the Queen, and prosperity to the town and district of Yass” at the official opening. The old bridge was washed away in 1925.

The Wee Jasper Bridge across the Goodradigbee River, completed in 1896
On the road to Wee Jasper you will see some of the most scenic and diverse geological landscapes in Australia. Hillsides and paddocks look as if they have been brushed with thick lines of black. And multi-coloured rock formations make interesting boundary walls along the side of the road. The gem of the region is said to be Carey’s Cave, located six kilometres north of the Wee Jasper village. Discovered in the 1800s, it wasn’t opened for guided tours until 1968. We have it on the list for next time.

Great food and relaxed country hospitality at Duck ‘n’ Fishes cafe at Cooradigbee, Wee Jasper
The Duck ‘n’ Fishes Cafe at Cooradigbee Homestead, and the Coodravale Homestead are just two of the treasures tucked away in the Wee Jasper Valley, alongside the Goodradigbee River. Other accommodation options in the area include camp sites, farm stays, country-style inns, B&Bs and luxury villas. More on our stay at that historic property, and the hospitality enjoyed at the Duck ‘N’ Fishes Cafe, in an upcoming article.

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