The NSW outback is expansive and in the past, hasn’t exactly been our go-to for road tripping. But with COVID ruining everyone’s euro trip plans, and locked borders meaning travel ops are limited, it’s time to give the outback a shot.
I recently took a road trip from Sydney to Broken Hill after Mazda loaned me their new CX-30. The first secret to outback travel is you hundo do not need a 4WD unless you’re venturing on long, unsealed roads. Most stuff can be reached in a 2WD, which is epic news for anyone with a city dwellers car.
It *is* worth taking a car that’s in good knick, though. A few highlights of the Mazda CX-30 for me, and some stuff to think about when hiring a car for a trip like this: the smart brake sensors, which slowed me down automatically if some idiot cut in front of me (which could easily be a literal lifesaver in some situations), Apple CarPlay so your maps and tunes come up on the dash screen, and a huge-ass boot which I promptly filled with $1 homewares from various op shops and had to put my suitcase on the back seat. I have a shopping problem.
If you head alllll the way to Broken Hill, you’re thirty minutes from one of the greatest IRL film sets ever. The Silverton Pub has been in a bazillion films and tv shows, and it’s easy to see why. It’s got that quintessential Aussie outback feel to it, and inside you’ll find tons of memorabilia like Mad Max set shots and signed posters.
If you drive a bit further down the highway, you’ll get to Mundi Mundi Plains, which is where this is taken:
They filmed Mad Max 2 on those plains, baby! Oh, and back in town you’ll find a haphazard Mad Max museum filled with old cars and other cool shit. It’s like a little wild west town, I love it.
2. Back O’Bourke
A long-time Aussie saying that’s got vibes of “out in whoop whoop”, the Back O’Bourke is a real place – at the back of… Bourke, lol.
It’s one of those spots where you visit just to say you’ve been there. But hey, isn’t that what bucket lists are about? Once in Bourke it’s definitely worth checking out the Darling River. There’s a rickety old wooden set of stairs you can walk down and honestly, late arvo with the sun setting – primo outback vibes.
3. Lightning Ridge
One of the weirdest towns I’ve ever been to, Lightning Ridge is all about opals – and like Coober Pedy, has quirks galore. Is it something about the gems that does this? Who knows.
Two key highlights in Lightning Ridge are the thermal pool – a public swimming spot that’s fed by underground bores, maintaining a soothing 40C-ish temp year round.
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21 June marks the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere, the shortest day of the year, and usually the morning when @dark_mofo hold their nude solstice swim in Hobart. These winter months hold a powerful energy for regeneration, renewal and self-reflection. It is also a great time to be seeking out hot springs and thermal baths, like this one in Lightning Ridge, north-western NSW. Famous as a black opal mining town, this dusty inland spot is also home to a 40 degrees celsius hot spring. A large, round pool, the Lightning Ridge Bore Bath is open 24-hrs and free to enter. At this temperature, it’s hotter than your regular bath, so you can’t sit in here too long (5 mins max). The heat and minerals in the water have relaxing properties, ideal for stiff bodies after the long drive to get here (8 hrs from Sydney). Winter is the best time to visit, when the outside temperature is cool. #placesweswimNSW
It’s also worth doing the self-drive ‘Car Door’ tour. Follow the brightly coloured rusted doors to check out interesting homes, old mines and more.
Moving down into what’s probably classified more as the bush, it’s less about what’s in Hay (although you’ll find country bakeries and pubs to sink a beer at), but the road TO Hay.
The Hay Plains are magnificent, especially if you’re driving at sunset. Flat all the way to the horizon, driving the highway through to Hay is one of those quintessential road trip moments you dream of when you’re planning.
5. White Cliffs
Like Coober Pedy, White Cliffs loves a good underground home, so since we can’t get to SA at the moment – why not give White Cliffs a burl?
Stay in an underground motel, marvel at the barren open outback – best of all, it’s on the way to Broken Hill so you can easily fit it into your Syd-BH itinerary. Can 100% recommend the pub for a feed, and whatever you do, don’t rely on your Google Maps for directions – it’s about 20 k’s further along the one highway.
Side note – Darla’s wheels are so filth here because we literally drove onto this farm property thinking it was White Cliffs. It… was not. Shout out to her wild 360 view monitor which lets you see what you’re reversing into, and what’s around the car as you drive off – saved me from hitting some questionable old farm tools that I couldn’t see!
Riiiight on the border of VIC and NSW, Wentworth is a town you’ll have to cruise through if you’re heading back from Broken Hill, unless you wanna retrace your steps. And it’s worth stopping in at – the town sits right on the meeting point for the Darling and Murray rivers.
Go for a walk on the “island” that sits between them – it’s this idyllic, chill spot where all you’ll be surrounded with is the sound of birds and some tall gums.
Then, hit up Wentworth Gaol – honestly, this was a surprise hit for me. Practically the same as it was back in the day, it’s filled with history and if you’re game, a super creepy, haunted men’s cell block.
7. Mungo National Park
Not exactly a secret but I can tell you this phenomenal national park is easily one of the lesser-known in NSW.
Like Visit NSW say there, it’s literally like being on Mars – red dirt, interesting rock formations and a killer sunset tour if you stay at Mungo Lodge or camp on site. Even if you can’t sleep over, a day trip is well worth it – this is a phenomenal spot deeply connected to the history of Australia, and you’ll never forget it once you’ve seen it.
Firstly, Barellan is more bush than outback and secondly, there isn’t much in town so it’s not necessarily a whole-day situation. But don’t discount it because it’s teeny – the preserved history here is wild.
Ye olde signs, a pub that towers over the town AND a giant tennis racket – yep, Yvonne Goolagong, Aussie tennis star, grew up here. It’s a great pit stop on your way back to Sydney.
Now I’m really pushing the meaning of “outback”. Carcoar is definitely more country, but again – you’ll likely pass through on your way home, especially if you go the Blue Mountains route.
Carcoar is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turn off from the highway, but definitely DON’T miss it. The town has been preserved in history, and because of this it’s been the film set for many flicks, including my stale fave – Bryce Courtenay’s Jessica.
The whole main street is a time warp back to the 1800s, and now local businesses are keeping the vibe alive but also filling the old stores with way cute boutiques and coffee shops.
Okay this is literally the Riverina so yes, I am now completely off topic but I had to include Narrandera because a) I had the best deep fried ice-cream there ever and b) the Narrandera Commons is one of the most beautiful Aussie walks I’ve ever done.
Situated right on the Murrumbidgee River, you’ll find adorable Airbnbs like Tall Trees Cottage, which even has koalas in the yard from time to time.
Speaking of koalas, hire a bike in town and ride the Narrandera Commons – there are little guys way up in the trees if you look hard enough. Even if you don’t spot one, the ride is beautiful and you’ll spot wallabies, birds and generally enjoy the serenity. Hate bike riding? You can walk it, too.
Oh, and that deep fried ice-cream? It’s at Hing-Wah Restaurant.