The Darling River Run links the Darling and Murray rivers for a time-traveller’s drive into the ancient Aboriginal landscapes and early European settlements that defined Australia.
The wide-open spaces of Outback NSW are easily explored on the Darling River Run, which meanders 930 kilometres from Walgett to Wentworth. Along the way, adventurous travellers will find stunning national parks, classic outback towns and Indigenous and colonial history that takes you to the heart of Australia’s identity and cultural heritage.
Yet Outback NSW has plenty of contemporary hum too, whether you’re enjoying one of the country’s most eccentric race meets, experiencing life on a sheep station, or sinking beer with the locals in a bush pub.
Walgett to Brewarrina: for Artesian Bore Baths to soak in
Walgett, at the northern end of the Darling River Run, sits snug in rolling farmland and is notable for its muscle-soothing Artesian Bore Baths. Further west is Brewarrina, once significant as a hub for the Cobb & Co. stagecoach company, and for being the highest point on the Darling River accessible by paddleboat.
Brewarrina’s most astonishing landmark is the 40,000-year-old Indigenous fish traps, among the oldest human structures on Earth. Book a tour of the fish traps with an Indigenous elder through the Visitor Information Centre for more insight, and stop by Brewarrina Aboriginal Cultural Museum to learn about local creation stories and culture.
Brewarrina to Bourke: for outback inspiration
Bourke was established in the 1860s as the hinge between outback, agricultural land and east-coast towns. Bourke Town Trail takes you past historic buildings such as the courthouse and colonial-era hotels, now slumbering beneath eucalyptus trees where cockatoos cackle. Take a cruise into history on the Jandra, a replica Darling River paddleboat.
The very contemporary Back O’ Bourke Exhibition Centre provides a fascinating look at the opening up of Outback NSW and its place in Australian lore.
Visitors are introduced to Indigenous history, early European exploration, and the development of Bourke’s wool industry, all enlivened by the personal stories of settlers.
Bourke to Louth & Tilpa: for tiny towns with lots of character
Louth is a dot on the Darling River centred around the friendly Shindy’s Inn, but in August its 50 inhabitants are joined by 5000 outback travellers in caravans, utes and dust-covered cars, here for the Louth Races, first run in 1880. Some racegoers wear high heels and Flemington frocks; others cow suits and pink wigs. As races progress, the beer shed gets more raucous and red dust swirls. Other events over race weekend include a golf challenge, fishing competition and damper bake-off.
For a true outback experience, stay at Trilby Station, a vast Darling River property that runs merino sheep and offers camping and accommodation in renovated Stockman’s Cottages and a Shearer’s Bunkhouse.
As you drive onwards, emus flee across the red plains like animated feather-dusters. Blink in the dust and you’ll miss Tilpa, but make sure to stop for a cold beer at the Tilpa Hotel, which features walls scrawled in messages from thousands of passing travellers.
Tilpa to Wilcannia: for its arts community
Wilcannia is another once-bustling riverside town associated with the wool trade. Sturdy colonial-era buildings remain, and today the town has a reputation for its arts community – look out for works by local Indigenous artist Eddy Harris.
Nearby Paroo-Darling National Park is an expanse of saltbush plains, but in rainy years the wetlands expand and the desert blooms, and some 20,000 waterbirds are a spectacular sight in a normally dusty landscape.
As you drive out of Wilcannia, mulga stands twisted like bonsai and the sky is vast and hot. Then the faded orange Bynguano Range appears, and you’ll see why Mutawintji – or ‘place of green grass and waterholes’ – got its name.
The national park’s ragged gorges cup permanent waterholes where the Malyangapa and Wiimpatja Parlku people have performed initiation rites and rainmaking ceremonies for thousands of years. Hand stencils, engravings and depictions of animals create one of NSW’s most stunning rock art sites.
Wilcannia to Menindee: for a slow-cation
The Darling River helped open up inland Australia to European settlement, and Menindee features yet more attractive colonial-era architecture. Visit Old Kinchega Homestead beyond town for the story of Aboriginal and European heritage on an 1880s’ sheep station.
The romantic will enjoy a tour across Menindee Lakes on the River Lady. Late-afternoon light transforms drowned river gums into contemporary orange sculptures. Pelicans paraglide overhead, egrets strut, and clouds bustle across a wide blue sky. In moments such as these, the beauty of Outback NSW is revealed once more.
Menindee to Pooncarie: for a pit-stop at Mungo National Park
Pooncarie, another river port, is the jumping-off point for World Heritage-listed Mungo National Park and its famous Walls of China dunes, where eroded sedimentary layers of coloured sand and clays make for fabulous photos.
The region has a strong Indigenous heritage. Mungo Man was discovered in 1969 and is the oldest human remains found on the Australian continent, while the remains of Mungo Woman are the oldest ritually-cremated remains found anywhere, providing a key archaeological insight into the earliest spiritual beliefs of humankind some 42,000 years ago.
Wentworth: for a final stop by the river
The Darling River Run ends in Wentworth at the confluence of Australia’s two greatest rivers, the Darling and the Murray. This was Australia’s busiest inland port in colonial days. Wentworth Pioneer Museum has the story, as well as some startling fossils of the megafauna that once roamed Australia.
The kids will want to hit the river for swimming, boating, fishing or kayaking. The Murray is another destination of old frontier settlements, paddle steamers, mist among towering gum trees, and terrific food. Your journey has ended, but another adventure might lure you with thoughts of lazy days, and more discoveries around the next river bend.
Make sure you stay up to date with the road conditions before you set off with the latest travel alerts at Visit NSW.