I’ve been planning a road trip to Broken Hill for a few years. The dry dusty desert with its red soil, saltbush and the flat, flat plains is a radical change from my usual views of the deep blue ocean and sandy beaches. A wide vista with nothing but nature on all horizons without a man-made structure in sight contrasts against a built-up busy city with its forest of cranes clicking together even more Lego like apartment blocks.
After my first visit, back in 2013, I was so enchanted by the place that I had intended on moving there for a year on a short-term secondment for my job. The dry heat is a respite from the enervating humidity we have on the coast. While my hometown of Wollongong may not get as hot, the drippy February days that hover at 80%+ humidity can become intolerable. The dry heat of the ‘Australian Outback’ is easier to endure. That escape to the desert never eventuated and hence the plan for the road trip in the October school holidays.
The car was packed on Thursday night and I was away five minutes after the school bell on Friday afternoon with my travelling companion and colleague, Michele.
It’s a long way!
It’s a bloody long way to Broken Hill from Wollongong! The one-way trip is a little over 1,100 klicks! Too far to go in one hit, even if you share the driving. Our first stop was Wagga, or more correctly Wagga Wagga, just over four hours drive south-west.
We stayed at a very good AirBnB. Sue and Roy are long time hosts and enjoy meeting the people who stopover at their stylish Californian Bungalow. It’s in a great location being right near the railway station and easy walking to the CBD of this ‘vibrant regional city.’ They provide a very good breakfast which includes fruit, homemade bread and cereals. The garden is lovely and although we did not have time to enjoy it, I am sure that it would be very pleasant to sit on their veranda amongst the colourful flowers and relax. At less than $90 for the night for two bedrooms, it was also excellent value!
Next day we hit the road early anticipating a full day of driving. It was our original intention to go via Ivanhoe. However, there had been heavy rain the week before and more forecast for the next few days. The rain had been so heavy that the dirt road from Ivanhoe to Wilcannia was closed to all traffic so we needed to go via Hay on the sealed Silver City Highway.
Check the road conditions
Before you start your road trip to Broken Hill or any other place, you should check road conditions by logging into Live Traffic.com . I have an all-wheel drive Subaru Forester which can easily handle some light 4-wheel driving, but you should consider the capability of your own car before heading way out west. The road conditions, while usually OK, can become corrugated and potholed after rain. Your Toyota Starlet will probably not handle it!
Our home for the next four days was best described as “rustic”. An old miner’s cottage with comfy beds, great hot water and enough space to sleep six comfortably. Although needing a little love and a better lounge, it was clean and tidy and in a good location being about a ten-minute walk into the main part of town. The kitchen was good but missing a few basic items. It even came with an (empty) pool!
Broken Hill was and still is a mining town. Surrounded by arid semi-desert. It has a current population of 17,000 and at its peak, it had around 30,000 people and 70 odd pubs! Many of these pubs have closed over time. Some lay forlorn and forgotten while others have been repurposed as guest houses or galleries. These days around 20 are still operating.
The town is bisected by a huge pile of mining tailings – the Line of Lode. On top of the pile are the Miners’ Memorial and a precariously positioned café. The view over the flat plains is terrific.
Things to do in Broken Hill
There’s enough to do in Broken Hill and the surrounding attractions to keep you busy for 3 – 4 days. It’s much closer to Adelaide than Sydney and now that that border is open that’s another option for travelling to outback Australia.
While in Broken Hill we visited Silverton. Apart from being a heritage-listed ‘ghost town’, Silverton is the site of one of the Mad Max movies. While you’re out that way visit the Umberumberka Reservoir and the Mundi Mundi Lookout. The lookout is very popular at sunset with a 360o view that goes on forever. I tried some astrophotography, but the moon was too bright being a day off full. Next time I will need to time the trip with a new moon.
You can spend a day wandering around town and doing the heritage walk. There are some fabulous old buildings, which are well worth the look.
With some COVID19 restrictions still in place, there was not much open on Saturday night and the streets were pretty empty, except for a bright blue ute that was making itself heard!
Other activities include the Living Desert State Park, a rail museum, the cemetery which has another heritage walk, and if you’re into it, there are a few galleries including Pro Hart’s Gallery. The Palace Hotel is also popular being one of the sets for the iconic Aussie movie, Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I’d also recommend having a meal in the bistro.
Priscilla Inspired Dress ups!
Speaking of Priscilla, Michele and I planned some dress-up photoshoots which were plenty of fun. Portrait photography is not yet my strong suit but it’s an area I want to work on. My Scottish travel buddy Iain and Iain McIain also came out of the closet and joined in on the act. The 2020 Broken Heel Festival normally held in early September, was cancelled due to COVID. Judging by the posters up around town it would be well worth heading out west for!
Stay tuned for my upcoming post; Road Trip to Broken Hill Part 2 where I will give more information about our return trip through the townships of Wilcannia, Bourke, Cobar and Orange.