After the Blue Mountains we decided to head straight west across the New South Wales Outback, to give our new car a little taste of the open road.
Nyngan was the first tiny town we stopped at on our way across the state. Not much to see but we did stay at a Nyngan Riverside Tourist Park, which had a hilarious camel you could feed.
Mount Grenfell is a site of Aboriginal cave art that we stopped at on our way to Wilcannia from Nyngan. It was a bit of a drive off the main highway on dirt track, which was quite exciting as it was the first time we’d taken our vehicle off the pavement. Mount Grenfell was also the first place that we saw wild kangaroos, which was super exciting at the time (we didn’t know at this point that we were about to enter the “real” Outback and see hundreds of wild kangaroos). It was also the first time we experienced bush flies, which was much less fun.
Nevertheless the ancient art was interesting and we went on a short bushwalk around the area where we got our first views of the Outback. It was a lot less barren than I thought it would be! To be fair, we were still pretty far east, though it’s still considered to be the Outback to the coastal city folk.
Wilcannia and Warrawong on the Darling
Our next stop was a small town called Wilcannia, where there wasn’t much to see but there was an awesome campground called Warrawong on the Darling. Chris convinced me to go for the bush camping option, where I’ll admit we actually got a pretty amazing campsite. Side note: Up to this point I have generally not been super into camping as it makes me twitchy being away from running water and WiFi for too long. As we’re camping for a lot of this trip, it was always going to be a bit of a personal growth experience. This may have actually been the turning point where I decided that being all by ourselves in the woods was kind of fun.
Anyways, we were the only people camping on this little “island” between the Darling River and a billabong (I honestly totally just learned that a billabong is a dead river, and not just the name of a bikini company). The wildlife in the area was pretty amazing. There were a number of dirt tracks in the area you could follow, so one evening we took a drive around and saw tons of kangaroos and some really big gum trees (one was named Big Red). Another day we sat around our campfire for hours before noticing there was a meter-long monitor lizard sitting on a branch above us. There were also tons of birds and parrots in the trees and water around the camp, including some huge pelicans. Of course we also saw an enormous spider one night, and after that were afraid to leave our car after dark.
A bit north of Wilcannia is a tiny town called White Cliffs. Like Wilcannia, it used to be a lot bigger but is slowly shrinking. This is kind of a weird phenomenon to us, as in our experience towns only grow bigger, not shrink and disappear. But apparently this is a common occurrence in Outback Australia. Anyways, White Cliffs is famous for its opal mines, which we drove around to see. Anyone is allowed to just go in and “fossick” for opals as long as you respect other people’s claims.
The drive to White Cliffs, however, was possibly the most exciting part of our visit. This was because it had rained the night before, which meant that water had pooled on the roads and all the wildlife came over for a drink. We literally saw over a hundred kangaroos on the 100km stretch of road. It was pretty amazing, although Chris was annoyed because our drive took twice as long as planned since we had to go so slowly.
From White Cliffs we took a short excursion to Peery Lake in Paroo Darling National Park. This is where we learnt that in the Outback, lake and river do not mean “here is a place where there is water”. What they in fact mean is “here is a dry river bed or salt pan that may fill with water every few years, if you’re lucky”.
Once we got over that confusion we took a walk around anyways and spotted some roos and our first wild emus, which was pretty cool. There were even adorable emu babies!
Broken Hill is the biggest Outback town in New South Wales, so here we stopped to regroup at an actual motel. We got some milkshakes at a sweet fifties diner called Bell’s Milk Bar and ordered take-out pizza for dinner, which was a nice break from camp food (our repertoire is admittedly limited, but we are slowly expanding our cooking abilities).
We also visited the Living Desert Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, where we saw tons of roos, including the first joey I’ve ever seen peeking out of its pouch.
There was also a nice sculpture display we visited at sunset.
Silverton is a ghost town (or small enough to be called one) that we visited as a quick road trip from Broken Hill. When mining was around it was actually a bustling place, but now only about 50 people live there, and I’m pretty sure they only do to run the tourists services. Silverton’s claim to fame is that due to its remote Outback location and appearance, a number of movies were filmed there. The most notable of these is Mad Max 2, which they have a whole museum devoted to that some guy just set up by himself.
Peterborough and Willangi Bush Escapes
After Broken Hill we officially crossed into South Australia. It was pretty exciting except for the part where our apples and tomatoes got confiscated, as we were unaware you couldn’t bring fruit into the state. Our first stop was Peterborough, where we were actually bush camping on a nearby station called Willangi Bush Escapes. Station stays, i.e. being hosted on someone’s farming station, are a pretty bustling enterprise in a lot of the Outback, and usually pretty cheap. The hosts, Neil and Antoinette, were super nice and also had the most adorable dog. We got a secluded campsite surrounded by rolling hills and full of roos and parrots, in addition to the nearby sheep of the station.
Peterborough is a quirky town with lots of railroad history. We avoided the pricier tourist activities and settled for a wander around town (where we saw a giant teddy bear and also a statue of Bob the Railway Dog) and a visit to the nature reserve.
Orroroo (a name I can’t say) was a teeny town we passed through and saw a very large 500-year-old gum tree. We also visited Magnetic Hill, which is an optical illusion type thing (I think, there is one in New Brunswick too I believe) where it looks like your car is rolling uphill. Kind of silly but Chris enjoyed himself.
Mount Remarkable and Alligator Gorge
We stopped for a bushwalking break at Mount Remarkable National Park on the way to Quorn. We were going to do a short walk through Alligator Gorge, but took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up on a several hour hike (Pro tip: Take a picture of the map before you go, do not assume there will be signposts along the way). Chris was pretty sure we were just lost and following an animal track for miles, but we eventually found civilization again, even if it was a rough 6km road back to our car. The scenery in the gorge was pretty magical and we saw a lot of lizards, though Chris was not impressed with the number of steps or spiders’ webs we had to paw through (none poisonous though, we think).
Next up: 4WD time!