Narrabri – Snapshots of NSW

This is the first in a new series of posts highlighting some of the rural towns in north-western NSW and is an extension of the Snapshots of Wollongong and Snapshots of Armidale from past posts. They’ll be infrequent and pop up after the fact. My new job has me travelling around an area bounded by the New England district, North-Western Slopes and as far west as Bourke. (roughly the area inside the red line)

a map of NSW showing the reginal areas
My “patch” is bounded by the red line

It’s a huge area but as a result, I’m getting to see towns I have never been to before or spent much time in. Recently I went to Narrabri, a delightful rural town surrounded by cotton farms, wheat fields, sheep and cattle. There is also a coal mine as well as a bustling retail centre. 

An avenue of palm trees at the entrance to Collins Park

Where is Narrabri?

Narrabri is about 530 km northwest of Sydney and around 270 km west of Armidale.  It’s an interesting drive from my hometown through some fairly rugged landscapes with plenty of windy, narrow roads. Although more or less due west from Armidale, you need to head either north or south to get around Mt Kapatur.

Snipped from Google Maps

Along the way, there are signposts to several glacial areas and the Sawn Rocks are just off the highway. These basalt columns are well worth the stop and a VERY short level walk from the designated car park. Unfortunately, when I stopped there to use the loo, I did not realise it was such a short walk and did not see the rock formation. 

Some facts and figures about Narrabri

The current population of around 6000 has been steady for the past 10 years or so after a peak in the late 1990s. Farming, mining, construction and retail are the main employment sectors. The town centre has only a few empty shops and has a bustling bright atmosphere. Unlike many other country towns in NSW, it does not have that half-empty closed down feeling. There are several gorgeous renovated Art Deco buildings. A historical walking route will take you around the town sights. 

The town still has an active and independent newspaper, The Courier,  which is published twice a week. 

Narrabri was “founded” in 1860 with the first civic building (the Post Office) opened in 1861. The Namoi River provides the town and surrounding farms with water.  The town used to flood every ten years or so,  but changes were made to the water flow(? I’m not sure what) and flooding rarely happens. The surrounding areas can still be inundated when the Namoi floods. The highest ever recorded temperature was 47.8oC and the lowest ever -6oC. (incidentally once in June and another time in December!!)

A three-bedroom house will set you back around $400,000.

Other things to see in the area include: 

  • the Pilliga Forest – the largest remnant temperate forest in Eastern Australia. There is a Discovery Centre in nearby Baradine. 
  • The Australian Telescope Compact Array –  six 22m radio telescopes controlled by the CSIRO  (Australia’s peak scientific organisation) You can tour the site during the day and they also have monthly night sky photography evenings. (I’m definitely going to book my spot for one of those!)
  • Inland river fishing is a popular local pastime

Check out the regional tourist booklet for more details on local attractions.  

Getting there

Depending which way you go, it’s a 6 – 7 hour drive from the centre of Sydney. Either take the Pacific Motorway (M1) north and take a left near Newcastle to join the New England Highway (A15) and then another left to join the Kamilaroi Highway at Willow Tree. Alternatively head west on the M4 and the Great Western Highway before turning north just after Lithgow to join the Castlereagh Highway.

You can also get to Narrabri from Sydney on the daily Xplorer Train which continues on to Moree. A slower more environmentally friendly way to go!

Plans for the Inland Railway are well underway. This will be a freight route from Melbourne to Brisbane using existing rail lines which will be restored/rebuilt as needed. Inland Rail will be

a fast freight backbone that will transform how goods are moved around Australia, generating opportunities for our regions and our economy, now and well into the future.

Inland Rail Website

I certainly hope it’s up and running soon to get trucks off the roads!

Worth a second look!

Narrabri is worth a second look and I’m going to make another sojourn soon when I’m not in a rush due to work  commitments. On this recent visit in May 2022, I only had a chance to zip around the town one morning after staying overnight for a meeting. Next time, I’ll book one of the dark sky photography spots, stop at the glacial areas and Swan Rocks. I’ll also check out the nearby towns of Wee Waa, Pilliga  and Gunnedah and write another Snapshot post when I get back. It will fit in with my no-flying holiday plan well, although I will have to take the car! 

I’d highly recommend staying at the Tourist Hotel – a beautifully restored Art Deco gem with comfy rooms and a great bar.

a red brick art deco pub on a corner block
Hotel Tourist – reopened in 2019 after extensive renovations.

Narrabri is and always will be Kamilaroi (aka Gamilaroi) Country. 

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