RED DIRT, HOT SPRINGS & QUIRKY PUBS // ROAD TRIPPIN’ THE DARLING RIVER RUN (NSW)
New South Wales is a strikingly diverse state with everything from snow-capped mountains to sandy beaches, but don’t let it overshadow the landscape of the NSW outback. My advice? Grab your mates and gear up to play in the vibrant orange dust the outback is renowned for. Don’t leave the outback till you’re a grey nomad, get out there now!
Struck By Lightning Ridge
Lightning Ridge is located in Walgett Shire and is roughly an 8.5 hours drive from Lismore, where we finished our Rainforest Way Trip. Although it’s a long drive, it’s nothing a few games of ‘I spy’, old school sing-alongs and rounds of ‘Never ever have I ever’ couldn’t handle. It is however, a good idea to limit driving at night and in the evening due to wildlife, and to check the distance between petrol stations…we may or may not have made that mistake.
Driving through arid, vast landscapes we really had no idea what to expect, and we were pleasantly surprised!
Lightning Ridge (or “The Ridge”) is the Black Opal Capital of the world. Don’t worry though, despite the name, black opal isn’t black, it’s a stone with numerous radiant sparkling colours.
Lighting Ridge has a unique aura about it that none of us could seem to identify. Was it the friendly nature of the locals? Its rich mining history or the strange self-driving tours that are led by different coloured car doors nailed to trees?
During our visit to Lighting Ridge we were joyfully taken aback by the character and bizarre charm that was on offer.
Back To Basics In Bourke
Bourke is a classic Australian town that sits on the banks of the pristine Darling River. The town is rich with history and has plenty of things to see and do that kept us millennials very busy.
A highlight was the Back O’Bourke Outback Show, hosted by a true Aussie stockman named Paul. Fulfilling all your jackaroo desires, Paul demonstrated how horses are dogs are beneficial to life and work in the Australian outback and stressed trust and respect for the animals.
Paul then took us on a ride around town in his attractive horse and carriage. Waving at the locals was a truly memorable experience, even if they probably thought we were a bunch of city-slickers.
A visit to Bourke isn’t complete without exploring Gundabooka National Park although I would recommend you get yourselves a 4WD! Gundabooka National Park has that bright orange dirt that photographers seek out and after a short walk you’ll begin to understand its majesty and the sacred nature of the land.
We found many historic Indigenous artworks nestled in a cave that were painted by the Ngemba and Paakandji people, the Traditional Owners of the region.
Camp: Kidman’s Camp, North Bourke
Sink A Cold One At Tilpa Hotel!
Tilpa is a rural sleepy town with only one dirt road leading in and out. But Tilpa is home to a pub with a difference. The Tilpa Hotel backs onto the Darling River and its uniqueness lies in its walls; no literally, each wall is covered in written messages from those passing through.
Tucking into a beer and a bowl of fries larger than my head, we were fascinated by the countless messages on the walls. The hotel does however ask for a small donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service before you leave your mark on the place.
24 Hours In Broken Hill
Broken Hill was nothing short of epic. After driving on what felt like endless, flat and barren roads we arrived bleary-eyed in search of caffeine and good food. We found just that at The Silly Goat. Feasting over breakfast, talking to the helpful staff and using the WiFi, we were able to plan a cracker of a day.
First we set out to explore a tall hill called Line of Lode. The hill features an eye-catching miner’s memorial, a large oversized bench and quirky old mining machinery equipment you can climb into and grab a rustic photo.
In addition, a Broken Hill trip wouldn’t be right without a trip to Silverton; an outback, eccentric town that makes you feel as if you’ve travelled back in time. With donkeys and horses free to roam the dirt roads, corrugated iron museums and the monumental Silverton Hotel, it’s a great place to check out. The best part? The cars used in the film Mad Max 2 now call Silverton their home. It’s worth checking out.
As the day ticked past 1.00pm, we climbed back in the camper, made our 5-star lunches of tinned tuna and rice and headed out to the Living Desert Sculptures. You can either drive all the way up to the sculptures, or walk the trail. The sculptures were created in 1993 and are beautiful to photograph in the afternoon light.
Catching the last of the sun we discovered what would be our favourite place in Broken Hill; Mundi Mundi Plains lookout. We were given the inside tip to head to this incredible landscape at sunset by friendly locals. With a perfect road leading off into the horizon and skateboards in the van, could you blame us?
With no hesitation we were off skating into the yellow and purple sunset. Too much fun is an understatement. The pictures speak for themselves.
Explore The Mangroves In Menindee
Creeping at a snail pace in our camper along dirt roads we finally reached Menindee in Kinchega National Park. Although rural and desolate, we managed to get out and capture some of the unique landscape and marvel at the mass of water on its own in the middle of the desert. If you get the time, jump on the River Lady Tour and experience it all by boat.
Debrief In Wentworth
On our way out of the NSW outback, we had one last place to stop. Wentworth is known as the gateway to the central outback and is a good base for those looking to explore Mungo National Park, where the remains of the first ritual human burials were discovered.
It’s also where the Murray and Darling rivers meet; luckily you can enjoy a paddleboat ride to soak it all in! After a long trip, we decided kayaking and fishing on the Darling River would suffice, and it was the perfect simple wind down after a long day on the road.
Outback Driving, It’s Different
The NSW outback was an unforgettable highlight on our road trip around NSW, but we had to change our mindset. Exploring the outback came with many long and often desolate drives. It’s important that you prepare and make sure your safety is paramount. A 4WD is highly preferable or if you’re like us you’ll end up driving so slowly that your fitness training will comprise of running next to the vehicle on dirt roads
Out there in the sticks, there is often no reception and an abundance of unwanted wildlife on the roads, try to stick to daytime hours to travel! Yes we hit a kangaroo, narrowly missed emus and goats, broke two drones and to top it off ran out of petrol; but this is all a part of adventuring, overcoming setbacks and forming treasured memories for years to come. Read this guide to outback driving before you set off!
o Insect spray
o Drinking water
o Kayaks & fishing rod (can hire)
o An open mind
o Fix-it attitude
Time Taken / Distance Travelled
From the coast: 8 days – approx. 2,400km
ALL PHOTOS BY @patsuraseang
Written for We Are Explorers and Visit NSW
Outback portion only: 4 days – approx 940km
Start & End Points
Lismore to Sydney via Broken Hill & National Parks. For the outback portion of this road trip, check out The Darling River Run.
Written for We Are Explorers in collaboration with Visit