Outback NSW Roadtripping
6 Days, 3000km, over a large loop across the back country of NSW, focusing on regions in Far West, Murray Riverina and a bit of Central West.
It is a very long trip where on some days we did more driving and on other days we did less.
On the first day, our priority was the outback and so off we go straight to the red earth. The return leg (over 1000km) was also broken down into two days with an intermediate stop at Griffith. 5 days to far west NSW is indeed quite rushed and intense given the massive distances between places.
Day 1: Blackheath > Bathurst > Dubbo > Cobar
Our day started off at Blackheath in upper Blue Mountains. It was a quick descent from there down to Lithgow, then towards the Central West region of NSW. There was one quick stop at Bathurst to stock up gears and items.
This is what happens when multi-day load of gear is stuffed into a very small 5-person seater (Hyundai Kona). The car is a good car with decent power and lane assist. After the trip, it turned out that most of the luggage that we bought were clothes that we never had to use. Bathurst is the first regional town in Australia for our team to visit, where wide streets and parallel parking are unlike European towns.
There was also plenty of roadwork along Gt Western Hwy, perhaps due to heavy rain and floods. After Lithgow towards Dubbo it is a scenic ride through the picturesque landscape of Central NSW, lush green hills and cattle fill the region with tranquility.
At Orange we took a back road through the country instead of the relatively straight Mitchell Hwy. The road follows the train track all the way till Dubbo. The road from Bathurst to Orange continues to be relatively hilly with smooth curves going constantly uphill and downhill. Between Orange and Dubbo we made a stop at Lake Burrendong. It looks like any other lake in regional Australia but the calmness of the water and hilly landscape did impress us.
After the lake the hilly region smoothed out on the approach to Dubbo, marking the end of the great dividing range. We passed through Geurie, a semi-abandoned historic town, and followed the train line towards Dubbo. I managed to capture the Central West XPT departing Dubbo in mid-day back towards Sydney. Throughout the way canola fields also fill the landscape on both sides of the window, giving a remarkable patch of yellow into greeny hills.
We arrived Dubbo after mid-day at around 4pm, later than what we expected. Most restaurants and cafes in regional towns close at 2-3 pm, so what's only left are american fast food chains, ie. McDonalds, KFCs and Hungry Jacks. We went into Hungry Jacks for a meal and hopped back to our car, continuing our journey towards the outback.
We continued on Mitchell Hwy towards Nyngan, where the outback truly begins. That stretch of highway is entirely straight and runs parallel to a train line towards Cobar. Flat terrain made it suitable for mass agricultural plantation, which is also what we saw along the way. Massive fields growing crops align on the side of the road.
The abandoned train station of Nyngan is now used as a museum and rest stop for passing drivers. We saw a freight train waiting at the station where some went to petrol station for coffee. On the other side of the train station we saw a museum and a tourist information centre (both of them have closed), and a helicopter. Australia imported it from the US and it is interesting to see the american appreciating their own innovation on a different continent.
Continuing onto Barrier Hwy in the night we reached Cobar, then turned onto Kidman Way for another 100km up north for our campsite. We decided to camp in Gundabooka National Park where we will wake up in the red sand, along with bushwalks to get a real taste of the desert.
After we made our turn into the national park, the paved road abruptly stops and that's where we hit dirt, unsealed roads. Another bumpy 20km followed where we rode on rough road surfaces, full body massage after massage. Fortunately, the road conditions were good and we had no problem driving through at night. Shortly we reached our campsite, reversed our car into the slot and unloaded our tents. The firewood we purchased at Cobar turned out to be quite useful and as usual, fire was lit and cooking kits were set. I finished the spare marshmallows from the Warrumbungles trip in the firepit, where others had them along with digestive biscuits.
Day 2: Gundabooka > Cobar > Wilcannia
We woke up calmly in our tents surrounded by red sand, bird chimes, desert flora and annoying flies. Flies have been attacking us the moment we exit our tent, forcing us to pack up and head straight to the bushwalk.
On the other campsite, we also met a family from the Northern Territories, travelling from Tennants Creek all the way through the red centre towards NSW. Sleeping on red sand is still an enjoyable experience and for those who haven't been to the outback, it is only the moment they wake up where they realise they are in the middle of the red earth.
Our day started with a casual stroll up the Little Mountain Walking Trail right behind our campsite. The track begins over flat earth over red sand and dense flora, then gains slight altitude at the end, going up around 100m in elevation towards Little Mountain. The mountain offers a great lookout towards Gundabooka Range where it rises to nearly 500m above sea level. It shows great significance to both european and aboriginal heritage.
Over the track we spotted a kangaroo which was too far away, refusing to let us photograph it. There were numerous ant nests along the way along with blooming flowers. This is also the first time when we realise flies in the outback are so annoying. They don't quite bite but are very aggressive and will chase around you in dozens, hitting right onto your skin and crawling on your face. Some people seem to be used to them while those new to the outback are overwhelmed and shocked by how annoying they are. We have also met national park rangers near the camping area where they simply don't care about the flies, allowing them to even crawl into their mouth.
Gundabooka Ranges. This is also the typical scene of Outback NSW, where it is called semi-arid terrain. The soil in this part is significantly dryer than on the east coast, but they still do receive occasional rainfalls where large rain clouds penetrate through the great dividing range. Plants, flowers and different animals all thrive under this unique biome. It is rather different from what many might have imagined - desolate red desert with literally nothing.
Shortly after completing the walk we hopped back onto our car, drived out of the campsite and straight towards the aboriginal craving sight. Aboriginal arts are very new and sound very interesting to us asians and europeans, so off we go through another hour of full-body massage as our vehicle bump all along the dirt road. Throughout our ride we saw many kangaroos and emus crossing the road as well, some emus crossing as an entire family.
offroad driving on a 2WD
logbook - common sight in these national parks
The south side of Gundabooka is very different, others commented that it looked better. At the start we passed through a series of rocks and the track was not quite obvious. We deviated slightly from the track, went a bit of off-track bushbashing and gradually merged back onto the track. After a descent we reached a creek which is where the encravings are.
The encravings are comprised of dancing people and emus, possibly depicting the daily life of people in that place (ie. hunting for emus). While the patterns are simple we still took some time appreciating the wisdom of the first nations people.
Then back into our car and we drove all the way back to Kidman Way, out of the national park. At the junction into Kidman Way we did a driver switch and took some photos around it. Members from Scotland spotted the "Ben Lomond Rd", which ironically shares the same name as a mountain in Scotland. Not quite the same, huh?
Through Kidman Way we drove straight for about an hr (over 100km) towards Cobar. We walked into Subway and IGA for food and did some route planning. After discussion we decided to only do a relaxing drive down 3 hrs towards Wilcannia, somewhere close to Broken Hill for our night.
Cobar shows what a typical outback (or reginal australian) town is like. Victorian style buildings, wide streets and large parking spaces.
This town also has 5G internet connection, thanks to Telstra (the mobile data provider).
From Cobar we merged back onto Barrier Hwy towards the west. This is also when the sun sets, projecting a lovely orange shade onto the green bush along the way.
We spent a night on a campsite near Wilcannia, right on the side of Darling River. The owner has warned us that rain in that area has made the ground wet, but it turned out to be quite decent. Flatter terrain and clear sky also means we have direct view over the milky way, spanning over the sky like a giant disc.
Day 3: Wilcannia > Broken Hill > Mildura
It was a good night sleep on thick grass and almost right after waking up, we hopped onto our car and started our way to Broken Hill. A quick stop was made at Wilcannia to fuel up our vehicle, where we were surprised by how simple the petrol station was - just a giant oil tank and nothing. There is a dog trapped inside the fence for oil tanks, perhaps breathing in carcinogens every day. A friendly lady also lived next door, guiding us over which fuel to feed into our car.
With a well-fed car we pulled out of Wilcannia onto the ~200km drive to Broken Hill. The terrain is significantly more barren compared to the prev. section from Cobar. Trees have gone and only short grass and flowers remain. While there is a kangaroo warning sign we didn't see even one on our drive. However, there are sheep and stocks crossing rather frequently. Over the course of 2 days, we've also had bird strikes where our car hit birds trying to fly pass the highway.
The canola fields always manage to impress us on the long straight drives we go through. They might seem to be the same but still look increadibly amazing.
As we approach Broken Hill the barrier ranges starts to fade in. This is also where the highway - Barrier Hwy - got its name from. The last bit into Broken Hill was quite windy as the road juggles through the terrain. Barrier Ranges isn't particularly high up from sea level but is still a remarkable feature in miles of flat earth.
Also visible is the McDonald's sign - the first one in over 700km from Dubbo. We all got so excited just as American fast food pops up (a sign of civilisation :D)
And here we are in Broken Hill! A major mining town in the far west of NSW, closer to Adelaide than Sydney. The town has some good pubs and historic streets, looking as if it has been frozen in time for decades. We went into Palace Hotel for a sip, which is one of the well-known pubs in Broken Hill. Another well-known one is the Democratic Pub right opposite, along with a Broken Hill Pub down the street. We also hopped into the visitor centre for souvenirs while I enquired about the road conditions in that area.
In the hotel, we ended up choosing some Queensland wheat beers with low alcohol content.
After a quick stop in the city (and me going to Hungry Jacks for iced mocca) we went back to our car and drove 20mins north for Living Desert State Park. This is where we did a bit of bushwalk over the Barrier Ranges, saw some flora and sculptures. The sculptures are made out of sandstone shipped from the Blue Mountains. They are so iconic that they are often seen as the symbol of the far west region of NSW.
The weather on that day wasn't as good. In the distant is a wind farm and when visibility is good Menindee Lakes can be seen from here. During a perfect day the sun will align right in the hole of the sculpture in sunset.
As we were about to leave a large group of emus popped into our eyesight. The family walked casually along the bush, perhaps looking for food.
Without much time to spare we headed down Silver City Hwy straight to Mildura, crossing into Victoria. The way over Silver City Hwy is also equally as barren as Barrier Hwy, where the land stretch all the way till the horizon.
As we approach Sunraysia (the area along the banks of Murray River) we enter a fruit fly exclusion zone. There are clearly marked signs instructing drivers to dispose off fruits, as they carry a risk of bringing in fruit flies. Shortly after Wentworth, we queued for a one-way bridge over the Murray River, and that marks the entry into Victoria. This is the very first time for many in our group to enter Victoria.
The pic might look like it was snowing but it isn't. Our front windscreen was so dirty at that point.
With a quick shopping in Coles Mildura we went back to NSW and off to Mungo National Park. It was around 100km over unsealed dirt roads till we reach the campground in Mungo. We parked our car and loaded our tents out. The milky way was going so low on that night that it was literally just above our tents.
Day 4: Mungo > Balranld > Yanga > Griffith
Being right in Mungo we started off with a tour around the world natural heritage site. This place is known for a lake that dried up thousands of years ago.
After packing up our tents we went to Mungo Lookout for a view of the national park. The vast green bits is the Mungo Lake where it used to be a lake and has dried out. In the distant are where those lunettes (walls of China) are, a unique formation in Mungo that made this place unique and spectacular.
After the lookout we hopped onto the car, first visiting the information centre. There are some well-maid displays around, showcasing the long history of civilisation in this place, along with the connection with aboriginal people.
Soon after we drove down to Walls of China viewing platform. Without a guided tour our trip was restricted to just the viewing platform and not onto the lunettes themselves. It was rather unfortunate but zooming in from the viewing platform still gives a rough idea on how they look like.
The view is much better from another lookout down the scenic drive. Our drive unfortunately ends there as the section beyond is still under repair from storm damage. This has been a norm in national parks across Australia as extreme weather leads to extensive damage and need for repair works.
This concludes Mungo National Park and we started driving out of the park. Shortly after the exit we saw a campervan stuck in soft sand as the family on board was trying to get their vehicle out. We assisted them by placing trunks and sticks onto the wheels, increasing grip of the tire with the soil. This also shows how hazardous unsealed roads can be without a 4WD.
As a reward we got some Newtown beers to drink in the car.
After around 100km of unsealed dirt roads, we finally reached sealed roads, as we speed all the way through Balranld, a town on the Sturt Hwy. We stopped at a random spot on the highway for a break.
From Balranld we went into Yanga National Park, discovering the oasis of the semi-arid region. There is a giant lake in the national park and we did a relaxing stroll along one of the tracks.
The sunset is what makes the park truly impressive. This is definitely the best sunset we've seen in the entirely trip.
The park also had some good looking flora and vegetation along the fields and near the lakes.
On the night we drove along Sturt Highway to Griffith, making a brief stop at Coles Griffith, then towards Cocoparra National Park to spend our night there. The Murray-Riverina is very different from the outback with rabbits being the most common animal seen on roads.
Day 5: Cocoparra > Goulburn
We woke up in Cocoparra National Park, a park in close proximity to Griffith. The hill is surrounded by colourful trees and flourishing wildlife, with locals enjoying their time over the waterfalls around the park.
Followed by bushwalks around the hill. We went on-track then off-track, scrambling and bouldering up rock after rock. Locals told us that it is rare for water to be visible on these waterfalls - they only appear after heavy rains.
After the walk we tried to drive to the south of the park, but heavy rain and severe washouts of the unsealed road means this is not possible for our 2WD. We decided to do a detour instead, driving out of the park to the main sealed highways, then back into the park.
After a scenic drive along the unsealed forest roads we reach the base of Mt Brogden. The hill is 200m tall and took us around an hour to reach the summit.
On the summit we saw wide fields over the Murray-Riverina region. Vast agricultural heartland stretch till the horizon, drained by major rivers running through the land.
Having spent most of our day in the park, it really is time to drive back to Sydney. We went along Burley Griffin Way towards Harden and Yass, where we joined M31 Hume Hwy towards Sydney, staying one night in Goulburn at Bungonia NP.
Day 6: Goulburn > Sydney
This is a short day as all we did was to complete the final stretch of Hume Hwy towards Sydney.
Campbelltown marks the beginning of Greater Sydney. We went along M5 and onto M8 Westconnex towards St Peters, then slowly towards where we live as we drop off our gear.
And concluding with a meal at Duck Inn near Redfern. The pub food is very good, unlike typical aussie pubs.