A free-spirit studying psychology at the University of Sydney.
Published February 15th 2018
Places to see on your Great Western Roadtrip
Looking to leave the big smoke far behind? Sydneysiders are spoilt for choice when it comes to packing a bag and hitting the highway; you can go north, south, or west. Unfortunately we can't travel east by car, but we can also head into far west NSW. That is, The Great Outback. Welcome to red dirt country!
There's nothing like the diversity of the Aussie landscape, and the transition from coastal green, to rugged mountains, to the flat, arid, red earth of the outback. You'll see this as you travel between Sydney and Broken Hill.
With long stretches of sun-kissed scenery as far as the eye can see in all directions, there's no denying this is a long journey, but an unforgettable one. Cathartic even, knowing you're hundreds of kilometres away from the city, and it's just you, the land and the sky.
This being the case, it's advisable to take extra precautions for this roadtrip. Here are some, along with a route to travel, and list of places to stop at on your Great Western Roadtrip.
How to prepare for your outback roadtrip?
Long distances - one thing to know is that the stretches between towns, conveniences and reception points in the outback can be long; in some cases 2 hours or more at a time.
So it's important to pre-plan distances between stops for fuel - for both your tank, and you. Rest every 2 hours to avoid fatigue on the road, and consider stops for refreshments. Take with you emergency petrol, plenty of drinking water, a food stash, and first-aid kit.
Prepare your car - service your car before you leave. Among all things, ensure the heating/cooling system is working to keep you comfortable. Outback weather is more extreme than the coasts; we did our roadtrip in summer, with temperatures averaging in the 40's. All hail the mighty air-con!
Unsealed roads- outback roads can be covered in dust, loose gravel and rocks. This is why 4WD's are ideal; consider hiring if you don't have one, otherwise ensure you have a vehicle with adequate room between you and the road. Drive slowly in these areas, and watch out for vehicles and road masked by dust. Pack spare tires if you can.
Wildlife - touring the outback is like a safari. You're bound to cross paths with Aussie wildlife; kangaroos, emus, wild goats, lizards, cattle, and more. They particularly hang on the roadside come sunrise, sunset, and night. Drive slowly and bring your vehicle to a stop if you see any, rather than swerving. Allow for unpredicted movements.
These are but few things to consider before your Great Outback trip. Read up here and do your own research to be better prepared and travel safely.
The long journey begins - Sydney to Singleton
Traveling to the outback from Sydney will predominantly be via the A32, aka Great Western, into Mitchell, into Barrier Highway. Dubbo is a major crossroads, and your gateway to red earth. How you get here though is up to you - take the A32 west through the Blue Mountains, or travel up the coast to Singleton and follow the Golden Highway (B84).
We took the latter, leaving from the Central Coast. I caught the train to here, but if this is factored into your roadtrip, you can easily head here from Sydney via the Pacific Highway (M1). Find plenty of spots to soak up the sea before kissing it goodbye for a while.
You may also take a dip at Nobby's Beach in Newcastle. An hour from here, and 2.5 from Sydney, along the Hunter Expressway (M15/A15) will take you to Singleton. The town sits on the Hunter River, and has great colonial buildings to explore, along with accommodation like the Royal Hotel (around $70/night), if you want to break up your journey.
Singleton to Dubbo
We had fun getting lost on the way to Dubbo - travelling through Bulga, before getting to the Putty Rd Halfway House only to realise we'd almost gone 2 hours in the wrong direction, and head back the way we came. It's memories like this that make the trip, right?
Anyhow, lesson learnt: work out your route and double-check you're on it when you can. Back en-route on the Golden Highway (B84), lined by scenic countryside and rolling hills, we spent the afternoon travelling to Dubbo. It should really take you about 3.5 hours from Singleton.
Billabongs of Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo NSW
Dubbo is a country city of Central Western NSW and sits at the intersection of the Golden, Mitchell and Newell Highways. Far less dense than the big smoke back home in Sydney, it has a rich farming industry, plus a mixture of Victorian history and modern cultural centres. See the old gaols.
A major attraction here is the Taronga Western Plains Zoo. Travel by foot, bicycle or car through the sprawling parklands, home to native and international species. We slept under the stars in the Billabong Camp for a night - standard package including dinner, supper, breakfast, and an evening and morning animal encounter ($189 per adult).
Billabong Camp in Taronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo NSW
Don't worry, you don't have to sleep in the zoo. Dubbo has a number of other accommodation options to rest up in before continuing your journey. At $80/night the Ibis provided budget-friendly creature comforts and a good night's sleep on the return journey.
Dubbo to Nyngan
Head from Dubbo toward Narromine along the Mitchell Highway (A32). As you traverse the western plains you'll see the landscape grow flatter, and more barren yet, with plentiful yellow grass, and trees becoming sparser. It was exciting!
Narromine is a quaint rural town with a history in aviation. You may see sailplanes above you. If you're up for the thrill, you may have lessons and experience this for yourself at the aerodrome. If you feel like a coldie to help with the nerves, or just as an alternative, relax at the Courthouse or Royal Hotel.
Around 2 hours from Dubbo, you'll reach Nyngan. It's officially one of the outback towns, and is pretty close to the geographical centre of NSW. See the shearing shed to get a feel for the town's prime industry: wool. There's also a museum and some historic buildings around town that you may visit.
Nyngan sits on the Bogan River and marks the point where the Mitchell Highway becomes the Barrier Highway (A32). You can't miss the Big Bogan Statue (2015) while you're here. Complete with a Southern Cross tatt, it doesn't get more fair dinkum than this. Continue on or stay the night in the Riverside tourist park or Outback Motor Inn.
Nyngan to Cobar
An hour and a half's drive from Nyngan (A32) will get you to the next major stop, Cobar. Like the vegetation, you'll notice such stops also growing less dense.
You'll pass Hermidale, a 'blink and you'll miss it' kind of place the size of some roadhouses along the Pacific Highway (M1). As tiny as it is, there's a general store/post-office and servo to help keep you and the car up to speed. And like any good Aussie town there's still room for a tavern with Toohey's on tap.
Beautiful red dirt along the highway between Nyngan and Cobar
After a good drive, we stopped to unwind in the mining/pastoral town of Cobar. It's quaint with rugged character, with the area having a fruitful history in gold, silver, lead, and zinc mining. The town was so prosperous at one stage that it had its own stock exchange and was home to 10,000.
Learn about both the Indigenous and mining history of the area at the Heritage Centre, catch a great view of an open-cut mine from Bourke Hill Lookout, grab a coldie at the pub overlooking the Barrier Highway, or pick up something nice from one of Cobar's gift shops. Motor inns make it a place you can comfortably break up your trip.
Cobar to Wilcannia
Brace yourself for this next leg, between Cobar and the next main town Wilcannia. 2 hours and 40-ish minutes and about 260km's will get you across this long but scenic section of the Barrier Highway. You are well in the outback now. Check you have a full gas tank before leaving Cobar.
A free rest area with toilet can be found in Cubba (Meadow Glen) and a number of other points along the highway. See here for the list, including the distances of each from Cobar and Wilcannia, and the facilities they offer.
We stopped for a sit-down meal and coffee at the Emmdale Roadhouse. The colourful milk-bar style house was a comfortable 'halfway point' to unwind between drives - with the added bonus of refreshing showers for a small fee.
Wilcannia is Kelpie town - seriously, there were so many of these adorable doggos roaming around one of the small stores. It's also, in a sense, a snapshot of Australian history. The town is known for its Indigenous population, some members having called this location home for 40,000 years.
Paddle-steamers connected Wilcannia to broader Australia in the 1800's. Today, the town and its friendly locals welcome you to stop and experience some bygone eras with the old post office, courthouse, Knox & Downs store, pioneer museum, and clubhouse.
Wilcannia to White Cliffs
Our destination for this trip was under an hour away from Wilcannia. It was time to part ways with our homie, the Barrier Highway, and take the Opal Miners Way. A smaller road by sunset, we saw red-dirt country grow more desert-like, and plentiful wildlife along the sides of the road. Always keep an eye out and remember to proceed slowly if you spot any.
It wasn't long until we reached the unique underground town of White Cliffs. It was discovered by opal miners, who then decided to stay for the long-term in underground dugouts, and the town organically grew from there. It was surprising how spacious and cool it is in these homes beneath the earth. Experience this way of life for yourself at the underground motel.
Sleeping in caves and waking up to desert as far as the eye could see was an unforgettable experience. The staff are welcoming and are quick to become friends with their guests - including resident dingo halfie, Sophie. Don't worry, she's a big puppy who loves a swim in the pool with you.
Yes, there's an open-air pool overlooking the desert - the perfect oasis to escape the outback heat. The motel also has a bar and restaurant for your leisure, winding corridors through the earth, a gallery/museum, and rooftop observatory. See the Milky Way unlike anywhere in the city.
The motel is in fact closed for refurbishment at the time of writing this article however it's advised that it will reopen in March 2018.
While in White Cliffs, be sure to meet the locals and explore underground mine shafts. A good place to start is Red Earth Opal which has beautiful opals for sale, a cafe, and best of all, a tour into the mines at 3pm most days.
It's not all underground. A general store and pub sit above ground and welcome locals and visitors alike. Take the car for a driving tour of this area and catch some beautiful panoramic views like the above.
Beyond - Broken Hill
We didn't have time to travel beyond White Cliffs on this trip, but a popular Outback destination can be found a bit further west: Broken Hill, aka Mad Max country. Reach this place in just over 2 hours along the Barrier Highway from Wilcannia.
Broken Hill is another remote mining town of the outback, surrounded by red, rocky desert. Be sure to check out the Living Desert sandstone sculptures, said to be especially beautiful by sunset. In addition to local icons like the Mad Max Museum (next door in Silverton), Broken Hill has a range of accommodation options including our good old friend, the Ibis.
Broken Hill is also an ideal base for outback day-trips and tours. Companies like Silver City Tours and Tri State Safaris take you, in comfortable buses, through nearby national parks and towns including White Cliffs and Silverton. These can be single or multiple day adventures - great if you want a break from being behind the wheel.
White Cliffs, NSW
Anyway, I hope you enjoy your epic outback adventure. It's quite the distance from Sydney, but you get to see Australia's beautiful changing landscape for yourself - from the lush coast to our rugged red earth. Unwind on the road and experience these remote towns - above and beneath the ground.