Cowra is a country town with a genuine difference. While it offers plenty of experiences that include superb local food and wine, extraordinary pastoral surroundings and picturesque waterways, a significant part of what makes the town what it is today is its role as a prisoner of war camp during World War ll. There is much in Cowra today which serves as a reminder to the events that took place during the war, such as the stunning Japanese Gardens, the remains of the POW campsite, the Japanese cemetery and Australia’s World Peace Bell.
Cowra is located on the lovely Lachlan River, and it’s a major administrative centre for a rural area which has an economy driven by wool, livestock, wine and tourism. Cowra is surrounded by grazing regions and fertile farmlands, and the town itself boasts quality restaurants, galleries and craft shops.
In 1944, Cowra was the site of the largest prisoner of war breakout in modern history, when more than 1,000 Japanese prisoners who were being held captive escaped, with 231 dying. The traumatic incident has led the town to promote pacifism and international harmony in a range of ways. The people of Cowra and the nation of Japan have forged a remarkable friendship and undertaken a journey of reconciliation and healing.
Things to do
- Experience Cowra’s connections to Japan:
- Take in the fabulous Japanese Gardens. Located on 5 hectares, the large garden is connected to the site of the POW breakout by a commemorative drive lined with cherry trees.
- Visit the remnants of the POW campsite and cemetery, where you’ll find the graves of the Japanese soldiers who were killed in the breakout and all Japanese Nationals who died on Australian soil during World War II.
- Drop in to the Cowra Visitor Information Centre, and take a look at a free holographic presentation of the POW breakout, a scale model of the camp and original artefacts from the camp.
- Ring Australia’s World Peace Bell. In the centre of town, the bell is made up of melted-down coins supplied by the 100+ member countries of the United Nations. Visitors are free to ring the bell.
- Check out the Cowra Heritage Walk, which covers 15 sites of historic interest in the centre of the town. Gold fever swept Cowra in the 19th century and many buildings were constructed during that period. Download a brochure before you go.
- Call in to the Cowra Regional Art Gallery. It offers a diverse program of exciting and vibrant exhibitions, public events and educational activities. If you’re up for a spot of shopping, the gallery shop offers items including cards from major Australian art institutions, handmade cards by local artists, jewellery, felting, scarves and glass.
- Experience some exceptional wine tasting experiences. Cowra is rich in wineries, from quaint cellar doors to vineyard art galleries, and you’re just about guaranteed the chance to sample some of the state’s most promising wines. Cowra’s weather, with warm days, cool nights and dry summers, results in some superior and award-winning varieties.
- Take a look at the large, detailed Aboriginal murals painted by a local Aboriginal artist, Kym Freeman. The colourful art depicts the history of the Wiradjuri people who inhabited the Cowra area before English settlement. You’ll find the murals on the pylons of the bridge over the Lachlan River.
- If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, try the modern Australian fare at The Quarry Restaurant and Cellar Door, the Ilfracombe and Company Café, or the Breakout Brasserie Café.
From Canberra, take the Barton Highway and Hume Highways to Yass. Shortly after passing Yass, turn left onto Lachlan Valley Way, which will take you through Boorowa and into Cowra. The entire route is well signposted.
When to go
- The Japanese Gardens burst into colour when the cherry blossoms appear in late September or early October. In Spring, the golden wattle puts on a fabulous show throughout the region. Around September and October, you’ll likely drive past extensive fields of vivid yellow as the canola crops on the surrounding farms burst into intense colour.
- Cowra is a hive of activity throughout the year, and it’s smart to check out the events calendar when you are planning your trip.
- Duration: The drive to Cowra takes around 2¼ hours from the Canberra CBD.
- Distance from Canberra: 190km each way.
- Recommended for: anyone with interest in Australian history, Japan, military history, gardens, wine or cultural experiences.
- More information: Visit Cowra.