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- Last Updated: 09 October 2018 09 October 2018
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Drive Sydney to Broken Hill
Leave the city behind and reconnect with the soul of Australia in the NSW outback.
© Simon Bayliss 2007
Feeling fenced in? Are you and that trusty steed in the garage 'chomping at the bit' to do some real driving? Then load it up... head west and discover Australia's heart and soul. Sydney and Melbourne are fabulous Australia cities... but the real Australia awaits!
The Big Australian (BHP) has transformed into BlueScope Steel and in a similar way, Broken Hill has grown from the iconic outback mining town to the cultural centre of Outback NSW - an edifying transformation of an oasis in the desert for both locals and visitors alike.
One can jump on a plane and be there in a little over 1.5 hrs, but then one can only experience the destination and not the journey. There is so much to see and experience on the way 'out' that to fly would seem like cheating.
Driving means connecting with the land and taking in some amazing sights along the way.
The Perfect SUV Adventure
So, what kind of vehicle do you need for this outback adventure? Any vehicle type can do it! Whether in a 4WD, traditional passenger vehicle, or the type of vehicle that is experiencing the fast sales growth and sector percentage... the SUV!
If you are new to outback adventures, then this is the perfect introduction to the outback as this is easily accessible and will give you and your family the perfect 'first-up' trip to experience the iconic outback.
The route out takes in the Blue Mountains, Parkes, Cobar, and Broken Hill. Once there, Broken Hill has a lot to offer including guided tours, galleries, museums, cafes, etc, and within 20 minutes' drive is one of the most iconic and lively 'ghost' towns there is, Silverton (Mad Max territory) and Mundi Mundi plains.
After experiencing Broken Hill and Silverton, the route heads south towards the Murray via the prehistoric landforms and anthropological wonder of Lake Mungo and then on to Wentworth for the Perry Dunes and the confluence of our two great rivers - the Murray and the Darling.
The return journey through the Riverina takes in Hay (The Shear Outback) and Wagga Wagga; the perfect place to wind the tour up before heading back to Sydney via the Hume Highway.
"It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end."
Ursula K. Le Guin
DAY 1: Distance = 369km
Starting from Sydney, take the M4 west to the Blue Mountains and at Wentworth Falls (about 10km before Katoomba, turn left at Falls Rd and head to the picnic area (signposted) which is a great first stop to get some fresh mountain air into the lungs.
From the carpark, there is a great 20 minute walk to the Fletcher's Lookout which provides a magnificent view of the Jamieson Valley and Wentworth Falls.
If you have a spare 1.5-2 hours, consider doing the under-cliff track which is accessed, on the return from Fletcher's Lookout and is signposted. It is a spectacular, easy grade, walk that should take about 1.5 hrs return.
** Be sure to have sturdy footwear and warm/rain clothing - conditions can change quickly and it is always better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Do not go past the waterfalls or down the stairs - it is a BIG climb down and back up again - unless you have the extra time/day. (See Blue Mountains section for details)
The walk will return you the carpark, refreshed, and ready to head into Katoomba to experience the often crowded Echo Point for a view of the iconic Three Sisters
Continue along the Western Highway through Lithgow, Bathurst, on to Orange, Manildra and then to Parkes. The western slopes are made for afternoon photography; as the sun sets the colours of this region can be exquisite.
End of day one, check-in for a well-earned rest... for tomorrow we head for the Outback - with a very early start^!
DAY 2: Distance = 818 km
** Day 2 is a long drive and can be broken into two if time permits. Be sure to rest every few hours and do not overdo it.
Now that you have shaken off the city and are ready to do some real country exploring, arise early (about ½ an hour before sunrise) and head to the Parkes Radio Telescope, that back in 1969 received the transmission of Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon and enabling the world to see man's first steps on the moon.
On a more local flavour, it was also subject of the Australian movie, 'The Dish'.
Why so early?
Arriving at the 'Dish' pre-dawn is surreal as it resembles something from a sci-fi move, and as the sun rises, you are presented with a spectacular silhouette and realise how big it really is.
Also, an early start will avoid a dusk drive along the Barrier Highway into Broken Hill when the kangaroos are out... something the kids will like until you inadvertently run one over and for the remainder of the week you will be the person who killed Skippy.
If you are travelling 'sans' children, it is still advisable to get to Broken Hill early as they can do significant damage to your car.
With the sun up, it is time to hit the road. There are several choices for breakfast along the way. Peak Hill (50km), Tomingley (+18km), or Narromine (+38km) - the latter having the greater choice.
At Narromine, take the Mitchell Highway (71) to Nyngan and then join the Barrier Highway (32). From Nyngan, the Barrier Highway will take you through Cobar (132km), Wilcannia (+250km), and finally Broken Hill (+196km).
This last stretch is a long one with some big things to watch out for - Roadtrains. Twice the length of a normal semi-trailer and twice as hard to pass, so always err on the side of caution when over taking. When approaching from the opposite direction, give them plenty of road (they appreciate it) as they can sometimes get a bit of a sway on windy days and your vehicle is much easier to maneuver than theirs.
If all went to plan, you have arrived mid to late afternoon after a very long drive. Time to grab some accommodation, wash the dust off, and reflect on the achievement of reaching 'the edge of the outback'.
If time permits, head straight to the tourism office (which closes at 5pm), pick up a key to the Sculpture Symposium and venture out to see the magnificent colours of an outback sunset. While soaking up the view, consider that while you have driven a long way to reach the outback, you are only about 1/5 of the distance to the west coast of Australia. It is a big land.
DAY 3: Exploring Broken Hill
The first two days have been about the journey: the next two are about the destination. Broken Hill has a lot to offer, great cafes, sites, and galleries. Much of what is on offer is easily accessible by foot, so time to stretch the legs and get out and explore.
The first port of call should be the tourist office (Cnr Blende & Bromide Streets) and then up to the' Line O Lode' (Basically the original mullock heap - it is hard to miss); which is the best place to get your bearings of the town and a perspective of the area. At the top, take in the spectacular views, grab some refreshment at the Café and be sure to visit to the Miners Memorial - a solemn dedication to lost miners. There is much to do to occupy the day and evening.
DAY 4: Distance = 100 km tour driving
Pastoral interests in the mid 1800's opened up this country (to the detriment of the indigenous inhabitants who had been here for 40,000+ years) and being such marginal land, unviable for small landholders, became part of the Kidman cattle empire. 30km north-west of Broken Hill was the scene of a lot early prospecting and upon the (false) rumor of gold finds, the town of Silverton was born and soon become the boom town of the area with 1,700 inhabitants - but its rise was short lived.
With the discovery of the 'Line of Lode' by boundary rider Charles Rasp' in Broken Hill; most deserted the town in favor of the real boom of Broken Hill. But Silverton lived on (just) and over the years has been immortalized in film and television - Priscilla, Mad Max II, A Town Like Alice, and many others.
It is a must to visit.
It is easy to spend ½ a day here looking over the old ruins and well preserved buildings in addition to the many artists' galleries. The Silverton Hotel is a great for light refreshments and whiling away the time looking over the vast collection of photographs of films and television series that have used Silverton as a location.
There is an option to spend the whole day in Silverton or go back to Daydream Mine, where you can tour the old underground mine to glimpse what early mining in the area was like. (The Daydream mine turn off is back towards Broken Hill, about 10kms, and is a 40 minute drive from the turnoff).
As the day draws to an end, head to Mundi Mundi lookout (5 km past Silverton); an exquisite place to watch the sunset.
This is the western side of the Barrier Ranges and overlooks the Mundi Mundi plains which are basically the edge of the vast Outback, stretching as far as the eye can see and continuing in that nature for about 4,000km; all the way to the west coast of Australia.
Sitting there you cannot help but think about the land, its original inhabitants and the tenacity of the early explorers. It is truly a moving and spiritual experience.
The end of another day and it is time to head back to Broken Hill. Be aware that at this time of the day there may be kangaroos and emus along the way so keep an eye out and take it easy.
DAY 5: Distance = 350 km
The Broken Hill area is much about mineral resources and now it is time to take in two other intrinsic resources of the area; anthropological/geological history and water.
Leaving Broken Hill and heading south-east to Menindee Lakes, then following the Darling River down as far as Pooncarie, the next destination and overnight stop is Lake Mungo (Mungo National National Park which is part of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage area).
A word of caution! The road from Menindee to Pooncarie is unsealed and does not take a lot of traffic. If not in a 4x4, do not attempt this route if it has been raining or is forecast to rain. Take the Silver City highway to Wentworth. From there, you can call Lake Mungo Lodge and ask about the condition of the road from Mildura to Mungo (which also takes more traffic). If driving in the hotter months, carry water and let someone know you are driving the road.
Approximately 30km past Pooncarie, the Lake Mungo turnoff is signposted to the left. - follow this road for another 50kms. Accommodation is available at Lake Mungo Lodge (bookings essential) or in the camping area. The lodge also has limited supplies and a nice restaurant.
There is a lot to experience and explore at Lake Mungo and the best start is Educational Centre which provides a great insight to the geological and anthropological history of the area. The centre is located at the original Mungo Station, which was for many years a fully operational sheep station.
Now the fun begins! From the centre, travel across the original lake-bed to the 'Walls of China'. This 'wall' was formed by prevailing winds pushing the lake-bed sediment to the eastern side of the lake; subsequent wind and rain have eroded the various type of sediment to form the lunar-like formations for which it is famous.
A track used to circumnavigates the lunette and dunes (13km) enabling exploration by car and one highlight is Vigars Well, a watering point for the Cobb & Co coaches that passed through the area en route from Sydney to Adelaide in the second half of the 1800's, but has been closed to damage of the sensitive area. Many of the photos presented here were taken before the closure.
The Lake Mungo area is of great cultural and archaeological importance; particularly with the discovery in the early 1970's of the Mungo Lady and Mungo Man, whose remains have been dated at 42,000 years old. The significance of these modern humans (Homo sapiens) represent some of the oldest yet found outside of Africa, and is evidence of the continual indigenous habitation of the region and the basis for the continued living indigenous culture of today and why it is so important.
For a great insight to the indigenous history of the area, be sure to do the one of the Harry Nanya Tours.
Day 6: Distance = 145 km
With only a couple hours drive to the next destination of Wentworth, there is plenty of time to further explore what is on offer within the Mungo National Park. Continuing the tour, return to the Menindee-Wentworth Road and on to Wentworth. It is possible to take the Mildura Road - about 100km of unsealed road - and an extra 50km (approx) to the trip. Wentworth is a great little town with plenty on offer for the traveler; two in particular that are not to be must are the Perry sand-hills and the confluence of the Murray & Darling rivers.
Be sure to go to the tourist office for some VERY helpful directions on the best ways to explore the region.
The Perry Dunes (6km north-west of Wentworth) have been formed over many thousands of years as a result of wind erosion and are best viewed at dawn or dusk as this is when the colours are at their most vibrant. Amazingly, these dunes were used for WWII bombing practice.
Wentworth is where our two great rivers (the Murray and the Darling River) converge to continue their journey, as one, all the way to Lake Alexandrina in South Australia and finally into the Southern Ocean.
These two rivers, combined with their tributaries, bring water from Queensland (The Darling River) and the Alpine regions of NSW and Victoria (The Murray); forming the Murray-Darling Basin.
Day 7: Distance = 630 km
All good things must come to an end and it is time to head back eastwards, but that does not mean the end of the adventure; there is still plenty to explore.
Head off to Mildura and at Buronga take the Sturt Highway (20) to Balranald and then Hay which is a perfect place to take a well deserved break. Here you will find 'The Shear Outback', an award-winning tourist and educational attraction relating to our shearing heritage.
Continue the journey along the Sturt Highway via Narrandera to Wagga Wagga. Having already traveled some 500km to reach Wagga Wagga, and with 400km remaining to Sydney, it is a great place to refresh overnight before tackling to remaining part of the tour.
Day 8: Distance = 400 km
From Wagga Wagga, head to the Hume highway for the remaining 4 hour drive back to Sydney.
To break the drive up, plan to stop at Gundagai (Fuel & Food) and be sure to visit the Dog on the Tuckerbox, classic Australian folklore.
Back on the Hume with about 325km remaining to Sydney, it is a good time to reflect what you have achieved, seen and experienced.
It really is an amazing country!
Preparing for an Outback SUV Adventure
- Have your car fully serviced
- Ensure you have a spare (inflated) tyre - and know how to change one!
- Join a Motoring Organisation (NRMA)
- Always carry water
- Drive carefully at dusk and dawn when the kangaroos are active.
- Carry good maps.
- Distance between towns can be large so keep an eye on your fuel.
- Take a break every few hours.