Australian Traveller looks at the Outback NSW Loop, one of Australia’s 10 Greatest Outback Journeys.
09 Outback NSW Loop
It’s easy to divide outback NSW into bite sized and easily digestible chunks – sticking just to Lightning Ridge and surrounds for example, or Silver City with a quick side order of White Cliffs. But an itinerary like that just wouldn’t be worthy of true Australian Travellers. So we’ve pieced together a journey that includes the lot. A 2600km odyssey spanning from the very north of the state, cutting through the centre and taking in everything from the back of Bourke to Mungo’s eerie plains to iconic Silverton. We’ve left Milparinka and Corner Country for our “Four States, Many Corners” itinerary, but this one – the all-encompassing Outback NSW Loop – begins and ends in iconic Broken Hill.
Home of jagged, insectile Pro Hartworks, garishly painted Vee-Dub Beetles and stepping-off point for the much-photographed Silverton, Broken Hill is about as quirkily outback as it gets. You could easily spend most of your allotted two to three weeks exploring the marvels of this area, including Australia’s largest Royal Flying Doctor Centre and the wonderful Bells Milkbar, a ’50s style diner, but you’ve bigger fish to fry and plenty of miles to cover. So set your sights on famous Bourke, via Wilcannia – known as the Queen City of the West in its heyday – and spend a good night camping in Paroo-Darling National Park. A perfect way to begin your journey.
In the words of the great Henry Lawson: If you know Bourke, you know Australia. So wind your way there on the starboard side of the Darling River and experience it at your leisure. Paddleboat your way up the Darling if you like, before immersing yourself in the interactive Back O’ Bourke exhibition centre, or check out the first lock ever built in Australia.
Go walkabout in Brewarrina, once a major Aboriginal gathering place, before heading through Boorooma, beyond the Murrumbidgee floodplains and on to Walgett. Authentic Aussie opals await you at Lightning Ridge, as does a relaxing evening over a cold beer in Walgett’s Pub in the Scrub. Then on towards Nyngan (with its Agricultural Expo in August) through Carinda to gawk at the almost 20,000 hectares of semi-permanent wetlands that make up the Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve. No touching, though; the reserve doesn’t cater for day visitors or campers.
Heading west along the Barrier Hwy, you’ll pass the Miandetta and Canbelego State Forests on your winding way to Cobar. Once here, check out the Great Cobar Copper Mine and Open Cut Pit – a massive feat of engineering when you consider it was all done with picks and shovels. If you’re astronomically inclined, take a quick peak at the Commonwealth Meteorological Station and learn about the Radar Tracing Process (there’s nothing quite like those outback Australian night skies).
Turn south next along the Kidman Way, named for cattle king Sir Sydney Kidman. After refuelling at the Gilgunnia rest stop, head past Mt Hope and the Mallee-rich Nombinnie Nature Reserve to Hillston. Once there, water-ski the artificial lake or sway across the River on their swinging bridge, experience a night camping in a small town with an old charm feel. Then The Lachlan Valley Way will carry you southwest, through the Moon Moon State Forest, One Tree and on to pretty Hay, where you can stimulate mind and imagination in one of Hay’s five museums (the POW and Internment Camp Interpretive Centre or the Shear Outback should get the ball rolling), then continue southwest alongside the miniature Yanga Nature Reserve to Yanga and Yanga Lake. The road curves north through Balranald then west through Benanee to Euston, where you can leave the tourist parks behind and camp on a sandbar alongside the mighty Murray.
Flank the Euston State Forest on the road out through Monak, skirt around the Mallee Cliffs National Park and roll straight into Mildura – which, with an average of 122 bluebird days, is the perfect place to hot-air balloon and experience a bird’s eye outback view. For the wingless adventurer, though, indulge in a day of water sports or take a breather on the riverbank.
Lake Mungo and Mungo National Park are technically side trips, but we can’t allow you to overlook this stunning outback destination 128km northeast of Mildura. The park is a historical landmine of artefacts and fossils that establish Aboriginal existence as far back as 60,000 years. There’s definitely plenty to experience within the park (such as the famous Walls of China), and camping and self-contained accommodation is available in the old shearer’s quarters – so no need to rush through it all in one day.
Be sure to check out the junction of Australia’s two largest rivers (the Darling and the Murray) before scooting either the fast route via the Silver City Hwy to Broken Hill, or the slow and interesting way via Palinyewah and Pooncarie (“The Port”, for those in the know). On the road to Menindee, rest your head at Bindara Station to learn how life in the outback really works (www.bindarastation.com). The dream is then over as you amble your way back to Broken hill for a milkshake at the famously quirky Bells Milkbar. What a journey . . .
Who got there first? // Charles Sturt discovered the Darling and Murray Rivers in the 1830s in search of his infamous inland sea, and came across the junction where Mildura now resides and passed through what we now know as Hay. European settlers followed William Hovell to Hillston, and it was John Oxley who discovered Nyngan and Walgett in the 1800s.
Don’t miss // The Hay Rodeo. Test your saddle-person-ship against seasoned competitors each October, with Open Barrel Racing, Open Bull Race, Ladies Barrel and comedy clowns. Camping available on site.
Dos + Don’ts
1. Mildura is in the middle of an area called the Fruit Fly Exclusion Zone, which means it’s illegal to bring fruit when you travel there.
2. Take care at railway crossings – some don’t have flashing lights to warn of approaching trains.
3. Don’t pitch tents under gum trees. Their branches sometimes snap without warning in high winds, or even in very calm, hot conditions.
4. Large, slow-moving, agricultural vehicles use highways and local roads. Drive with care.
5. It’s illegal to drive on dirt roads closed due to rain, so pay close attention to local weather and condition reports.
Did you know? // There are three towns in outback NSW that claim to be the literal origin of the phrase “beyond the Black Stump”. They are Gunbar, Coolah and Merriwagga. A fourth, Blackall, is in Queensland.
Drive time // The total distance for this NSW outback odyssey is around 2600km, and will take anywhere from two to four weeks to really see everything.
Accessibility // The main roads on this loop are almost all sealed, save for some of the side trips and within some national parks.
More Info // For more info on the Outback NSW Loop, check out www.outbacknsw.com.au/.
Sidetracks // Outback NSW Loop
1. Lake Mungo // It no longer holds water, so don’t be fooled by the name. However, guided tours are available to explore this World Heritage-Listed site. Harry Nanya’s tours (www.harrynanyatours.com.au) are an excellent starting point.
2. Perry Sandhills // Just north of Wentworth and thought to have formed after the last Ice Age, they are, more importantly, a backdrop for loads of movies and TV ads.
3. Lightning Ridge // North of Walgett, take an underground mine tour in the only place in the world to mine black opals, or soak in the natural Artesian bore baths.
4. Tilpa // Out towards Bourke from Wilcannia, past the Paroo-Darling State Conservation Centre, this is a welcoming (if eccentric) town with a cemetery with no-one in it, and Australia’s shortest heritage trail (two signs on either side of a road).
5. Louth // Midway between Tilpa and Bourke, Louth was described by Henry Lawson as “a place that loved a drink, a party and a punt.” Especially each August when the Louth Races boosts the sub-100 population to around 8000.