The Road Trip Obsession
It probably seems odd that a guy who doesn’t drive is so damned obsessed with road trips, but there’s something about the allure of the open road and the freedom it represents that has always really spoken to me.
Like so many nomads before me, I’m drawn to the idea of having no more responsibility or role to play in the ‘real world’ than riding its roads, stopping in at its diners and cafes, and taking in the wonders it has to offer.
Or maybe it’s because as a child we lead a rather nomadic existence that saw us living all over the state and commuting to the coast to see family a few times a year. During these years of wandering the sometimes dusty and often isolated roads of rural New South Wales, I was lucky enough to call the NSW Outback home on two occasions: spending two years in Menindee and a year and a half in Tibooburra.
Living out in Australia’s parched red centre was an experience I remember vividly even though I was only eight or nine when I last called it home, and it’s some of these beautiful and often hauntingly isolated places that I highlight today.
Getting on the Road
With its sheer size and the fact that both public and aerial transport are quite expensive, Australia is a country just begging to be driven around. Whether you already own a car or you’re looking to buy a second hand car for your road trip, all that separates you from seeing a side of Australia that very few visitors do is a sense of adventure and a little inspiration.
That’s where I come in…
Highlights of a NSW Outback Road Trip
I’ve highlighted a few of my favourite places from my time ‘out west’ for you below, but be sure to visit Visit Outback NSW if you’re looking for further inspiration or information.
A bastion of civilisation amid the stark beauty of the desert, Broken Hill is often called the ‘Silver City’ due to its history as a silver mining town. One of the few places in NSW to observe South Australian time rather than NSW, Broken Hill is a fascinating fusion of the trappings of a modern, western country and the rough and tumble ways of the Australian Outback.
It is here, where iconic films such as Mad Max 2 and Priscilla Queen of the Desert were filmed that you can see both the prosperity mining brought to the town and the long shadow it casts to this day. The city of 20,000 is truly an oasis in a very harsh environment, with its parks and cafes in stark contrast to the towns and wastelands that surround it.
Whether your interests run towards colonial history, mining, the stunning scenery, or the quaintness that is a city isolated in both time and place – visiting Broken Hill is, in my eyes, a must to see the ‘real Australia’.
Located just a short drive from Broken Hill, Silverton is a small town boasting quite a few reasons why it is worth inclusion in your road trip plans. Whether you’re interested in seeing the curvature of the world while gazing out at the plains or want to visit the Mad Max Museum, this town has something to offer any visitor.
A real tourist hotspot out in the desert, there are options for kids and adults alike – museums, camel rides, shopping, and the arbitrary dinky di (authentic) Aussie pub as well.
For many Australians, they know Tibooburra as ‘that place that gets the state high on the weather’ – an isolated and often sun baked little town in the very north western corner of NSW.
More a pit stop on your Outback road trip than a destination, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to be seen in this sleepy little desert town. It’s pubs and storefronts speak to more prosperous times, and the town’s drive in theatre is one of the few remaining in Australia. A National Parks Museum and other dusty but charming landmarks exist to occupy your time while you refuel your vehicles and stretch your legs.
My childhood home in the area backed on to the aptly named Sunset Hill Lookout – a tumble of giant’s marbles (known as Tors) that affords a truly breathtaking view of the town as the sun turns the trademark red of the desert to a motley of purple and crimson.
Maybe my enchantment with the town comes from my memories of a harsh but rarely dull life in the area, but I think any Outback road trip would be improved by a stop in Tibooburra; if only so you could see where a young Aussie on the Road did his thing :-p
If standing in three states at once is your thing, Cameron’s Corner is a quirky outback attraction that might be worth the visit. Located on the axis where Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia meet – Cameron’s Corner is both pitstop (boasting a corner store, mechanic, and petrol station) and attraction.
Where else in the world can you play a round of golf that spans three states and three time zones?
A much younger Aussie on the Road had his very first date in this haunting little ghost town in the middle of nowhere.
After my family had been trapped by rising flood waters, we sought shelter in the town’s pub and I was dragged hand-in-hand out beyond the skeletal remains of buildings for a picnic with a girl I thought was terribly beautiful. I couldn’t tell you her name now, but I do remember my heart doing little flips when she grabbed my hand and pulled me back from the edge of the swollen river.
She wore makeup. I think I was in love.
While I can’t guarantee such formative experiences for every visitor, there’s something special about the sleepy little watering hole that exists near the ruins of a genuine ghost town – Mount Browne. Taking a walk through the husks of what had once been a mining community is an opportunity to walk with the ghosts of Australia’s past, and the restored Milparinka Heritage Precinct gives you a juxtaposition through which to compare it.
Australian opals are renowned across the world for their startling beauty and range of colours, so why not visit a genuine opal mining settlement as part of your trip? Lightning Ridge might be better known, but I’ve got fond memories of taking a family holiday to White Cliffs’ famous underground motel.
You read that right: a hotel cut into the very heart of the Australian outback where you can escape the heat without having to leave the comforts of civilised living behind.
Above ground, the solar panels glitter and the claim entrances dot the white landscape like hundreds of oversized ant-holes. Some liken it to a moonscape while others compare it to some kind of post apocalyptic settlement carved into the rock, but either way it’s a sight to behold.
Sturt National Park
The largest national park in New South Wales, the Sturt National Park is known for the ambitious explorer who risked his life to survey the country’s harsh interior.
A vast, empty space of sand dunes, mesas, and rocks – the Sturt National Park is stark in its beauty, and far from lifeless. If the spring rains are favourable, the desert is briefly transformed into a field of wildflowers, and year round you can spot some of Australia’s iconic wildlife right alongside animals and plants you’ve probably never heard of.
From the towering red kangaroo to herds of emu cutting across the dunes to venomous snakes and hardy lizards, it’s about as close to going on safari as you can get on Australian soil.
Another former home of the Aussie on the Road, Menindee is located quite close to Broken Hill and is perhaps most famous for the lakes that surround it. When they’re full, the Darling River fed foursome hold more water than Sydney Harbour and become a mecca for fishing and watersports.
Even when dry, the Menindee Lakes are still something special to behold. The bony fingers of trees reach up into unbroken blue sky while below the clay slowly dries and cracks.
Menindee itself isn’t a town full of tourist attractions, but its proximity to the Menindee Lakes and its historic significance as part of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition makes it worth a look.
“To know Bourke is to know Australia“, said famous Australian author, Henry Lawson. So isolated is Bourke that ‘out back o’ Burke’ has become a phrase used to describe isolation.
While not as far west or even as isolated as some other cities in the region, Bourke is one of the more tourist friendly stops on an Outback road trip. Located along the route of the Darling Run (a route following the Darling River south), there are plenty of tours, cruises, and attractions to give visitors a better understanding of Outback Australian life.
You can check out Visit Bourke for a better idea of what the town has to offer. All I remember of it was answering ‘Yes’, when somebody called out to a Chris other than me. How dare they!
Once Australia’s third largest inland port (don’t ask me what the larger ones were), Wilcannia is another example of a town built in prosperity and now existing in the sleepy twilight that comes afterwards.
It’s heritage buildings speak of a time when paddle steamers made their way up and down the Darling, and settlers from all over the world rushed to be a part of Australia’s prosperity. It’s also a great place to see the alien Sturt’s Desert Pea in bloom, and ideally located as a day trip from Broken Hill.
Now that I have my very own spiffy Yakima roof-rack to add some much needed storage space to the family car(s), I’m hoping I can convince a sibling or three to tag along for a road trip later this year!
Failing that, I’ll need to get my own car.
And a license…
Have you ever taken an Outback road trip in NSW or another Australian state?
Have you had the pleasure of visiting one of these isolated but beautiful towns?
What is an often overlooked part of your own country that more people should explore?
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