Broken Hill Road Trip – Part 3

This is the third and final post about my recent road trip to Broken Hill. You can read the other two parts: Spring Road Trip to Broken Hill and Road Trip to Broken Hill Part 2 by clicking on the links.


Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end and the final stage of my road trip to Broken Hill was the drive from Cobar to Orange for an overnight stop, and then back home to Wollongong.

Cobar to Orange

Another full day of driving. I am not sure why I add that detail. Firstly, it’s a road trip! That’s what you do on road trips – drive! Secondly, this is Australia; it’s a long way between towns, so of course, it’s a full day’s driving!

The desert is well behind us, the roads are good, and we’re up to Disc 8 of the Steven Fry Chronicles. The fields on either side of us are now filled with waving grain crops, there’s some yellow canola and the ubiquitous purple of Paterson’s Curse is still brightening things up. It’s a curse because it is toxic to livestock and in particular horses. Sheep can tolerate eating some, but the weed spreads easily and degrades pastures.

We started early after a good rest at Cobar Caravan Park. The low background hum I heard the night before is still present. Machinery? Something to do with the mine? Before we leave town we visit the Fort Bourke Lookout where you can peer right down into an open cut mine. Even with the steel cage between you and the sheer drop, it’s a bit scary. 

Iain, without a safety harness!

Nyngan

Our first stop, 130 km east is the town of Nyngan. Some people may remember Nyngan being flooded in 1990 when it was isolated for many weeks and its people evacuated. Nyngan is on the Bogan River. Just mentioning that is enough to make many Aussie’s smile. BOGAN!! Seriously?  I take my hat off to the people of Nyngan! What a terrific sense of humour they have. Nyngan has a Big Bogan! A bogan being Aussie slang for an uncouth or unsophisticated person. Nyngan’s Big Bogan certainly is a tourist attraction. We had to line up and wait to get a photo. He’s in a park across the road from the Beancounters’ House, presumably an accountant’s office. 

The Big Bogan – and Michele!

Australia has a propensity for “Big Things” as tourist attractions. Like The Big Pineapple in Nambour, Queensland, The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, NSW. There was a Big Potato in Robertson NSW that looked like a big poo! The Big Prawn, The Big Oyster, The Big Lobster! One of my personal favourites The Big Merino in Goulburn. Anyway, I digress, 

Another scenic route (aka the long way round!)

Nyngan also has a couple of seriously good op shops. Michele, my travelling buddy and I had made a point of stopping at op shops on our road trip. We came away with some good buys and contributed to local charities. (Don’t worry folks it fits in with my year of zero pledge! I will get rid of as many items as I bought when I get home!) Next time I travel, I am going to take a close to empty bag and buy what I need from op shops as I go.

After Nyngan we head south and travel through some very small towns and right about now my phone which has been mucking up, decides to fail altogether. We don’t have a map. The roads are well signposted but I like to have an idea of where we are and how long before we get to our destination. We stopped in the small town of Tottenham, the geographical centre of NSW, to buy a map without any luck. Next Tullamore, still no map, but the phone has come back to life. Next Trundle and Parkes, our lunch stop.

Parkes – The Moon and Elvis

Parkes is a little bit famous for a couple of reasons. It has an Elvis Festival and secondly, it has a large radio-telescope which played a crucial part in the Apollo Moon Missions in the 60s and 70s. The movie, The Dish, was set in Parkes. Although we didn’t visit the dish this time, we had a great lunch at Wholesome Blend,  a healthy, tasty salad bowl and a good coffee. 

Elvis with a chainsaw?

As you do when you visit places like Parkes, we checked out the real estate prices. Very reasonable indeed!  I decided I could live in Parkes. Only four and half hours from Sydney and three and a half hours to Canberra, it’s close enough, but far enough away from city life with a good community around you. It’s even got the NBN (broadband internet).

The broad plains and rolling landscape between Parkes and Orange are delightful. Bands of yellow canola are interspersed with the green of wheat and other grains. We pass through Manildra and it’s flour processing mill and roll into Orange about 3 PM.

I took this back in 2012.

Orange

We have told our AirBnB host we’ll be arriving at five so we stop at Cook Park. Cook Park is a cold climate park and is set out in the shape of the Union Jack with bisecting diagonal pathways. It was certainly worth the visit with some colourful peonies and tulips on display. 

Orange hosts a Food and Wine Festival and is renowned for its “foodie” status. There are a lot of wineries in the surrounding area. However, we found it hard to get something for dinner.  Because of COVID restrictions, most places required a booking. We hadn’t booked and everywhere was packed because of reduced seating requirements.  After two circuits around town, we managed to get into the Parkview Hotel and had some very fine bangers and mash. (Pork and fennel sausages, truffle-infused mashed potatoes and squeaky fresh green beans.) I must admit I was ruing my Year without Alcohol pledge in such a fine wine town but trust me my soda water was delicious! (Note: no non-alcoholic beer or kombucha  in a cosmopolitan Orange pub even though it was available in Silverton!) 

The AirBnB The Swales was marvellous and I’d highly recommend it. Our host Mal was helpful and the very canny way they were able to divide their substantial home into two separate sections by simply closing two connecting doors, was very clever. They provided the makings for a good DYI breakfast.

Last day on the road.

Orange is about 4 hours from Wollongong so we did not plan any further stops and left town around midday after scoping out op shops and having one last look around. We bought a bottle of wine to give as a gift to Louise who had lent us our desert dress-ups. (See this post) Heading east from Orange there are places to stop and if you’re not in a rush to get home, have a look at Bathurst and Katoomba. Katoomba is the heart of the Blue Mountains and is a popular day-trip spot for tourists and locals. After that, it’s just suburbia and traffic and life back in the saddle! Sigh!

From Jewel-sea to far horizons.

It was great to see the blue-blue ocean again and smell the salty air but as I looked at my still dusty, insect-splatted car with the red bull dust trickling out from behind the number plate, I remembered how beautiful the flat red heart of Australia is too. 

The words of Dorethea’s Mackellar’s poem sprang to mind and I concur with her wholeheartedly.

I love a sunburnt country, 

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges, 

Of droughts and flooding rains.

I love her far horizons, 

I love her jewel-sea,

Her beauty and her terror – 

The wide brown land for me!


I’m planning my next road trip already! Six weeks in Victoria in 2021, provided the border is open of course! 

PS: We didn’t get to finish the 12th and final disc in Steven Fry’s Chronicles, we ran out of time!  

A mere 2,700 odd kilometres!

PPS: My phone ended up dying completely two days after we got home. $530 and a new screen later it’s all good! 🙁

PPPS: I now have a large touring map book under the front seat of my car.

Broken Hill Road Trip Part 2

This is the second post about my road trip to Broken Hill and covers part of the trek back east.


For much of the time as we drove through the Aussie Outback, I had the song by James Blundell and James Reyne looping through my head.

“way out west where the rain don’t fall, working for the company drilling for oil….”

The catch was that it was raining! The week before we headed out, the township of Broken Hill had actually flooded! (a flash flood!) Some of the unsealed roads remained closed and there was water lying in ditches by the roadside. As a result, things looked green and relatively lush. 

The wildflowers had bloomed and there were flashes of colour everywhere. Many of these “wild” flowers are in fact escaped garden flowers and technically feral weeds.  Nonetheless, there were fields of purple Paterson’s’ Curse, yellow daisies and mauve sweet asylum. The perfume and the buzz of bees made a heady mix for the senses. 

Following the Darling

After four days in Broken Hill and environs, our next stop was Cobar. Thankfully the roads were open and we were able to do some dirt driving. I bought my Suby just for this purpose! We took the scenic route, turning north-east at Wilcannia passing through Tilpa, Louth and Bourke before heading almost directly south into Cobar. A mere 677 km, 220 of it dirt.

Our route more or less hugged the Darling River. You could see it was well below its banks and the river red gums still desperate for a flooding to kick start their reproductive cycle. It’s very hard to imagine that towns like Menindee, Bourke, and Wilcannia had ‘ports’ with active paddle steamers moving wool, minerals and wheat to the South Australian coast in the 1880’s.

It was a  seasonal route even back then before wide-scale theft of water by large corporations in Queensland. (Yes! I’m talking about you, Cubbie Station!).  The river height obviously varies greatly with new bridges built very high and looking more like sky platforms than bridges. 

The terrain was flat and still dominated by saltbush and spinifex. There were emus but strangely, I didn’t see any live kangaroos. There were, however, large wedge tail eagles in abundance, both on the ground eating road kill, and soaring high above us. 

Wilcannia

Wilcannia is a small, but once grand town. The heritage-listed civic buildings indicate that it was a thriving place. Now it has a small, declining population of around 550, seventy five percent of which are indigenous Australians. The town’s welcome sign was not very welcoming. Since Aboriginal people are in a high-risk category for COVID19, the potential for a tragedy is high if visitors share their germs. One of the underlying themes of our road trip was to spend a little bit of money in each place we visited to help out, even in a small way, the local economy. Given we were not symptomatic, we decided that use of the public toilets, a cup of tea and cake were essential! 

Towns like Wilcannia have gotten a bad rap over the years as being unsafe, but I certainly felt welcomed and sitting by the river on a glorious spring day was well worth the stop. The locals were friendly and chatty. As I was lining up the shot of the Post Office, a fellow who was sitting in his ute waiting for his friend to post a letter. moved forward for me so I could get a clear shot! He reversed back when I was done and we exchanged a raised hand and a friendly smile.

Tilpa and Louth. 

These small villages fit into the “blink and you’ll miss it’ category. Tilpa, unless we missed the main part of town, had a tennis court and a pub. That’s it. The pub was very busy with many well-used 4WDs parked out the front and two large tables full of people ignoring social distancing rules. 

Friendly (?) locals at Louth

Bourke. 

We nearly didn’t go to Bourke. Taking the scenic route added 220 km of dirt road and 3 hours to the trip. The road had been closed and initially off the itinerary, but I’m glad we did. The town was bustling. Again filled with attractive heritage buildings from yesteryear. We had a very good pizza at the Port of Bourke Pub washed down with a (non-alcoholic) beer! In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised that most of these Western pubs had non-alcoholic beer available, you can’t always get it in Wollongong. (See my post about why I am avoiding alcohol for a year)

We walked down to the “port” on the river and watched some kids jumping into the water, enjoying their school holidays in an old fashioned style without a digital device in sight! An elegant old building being used as a guest house was up for sale. I could do that. For a while. Another adventure to add to the “after I win the lottery” list. 

Cobar

The last stretch of road from Bourke to Cobar was sealed all the way. The desert was replaced by woodland with eucalypts and small shrubs.   It was getting late, the sun was low and the spectre of bounding kangaroos crashing through the windscreen was a concern. Sadly, the only critters we saw were feral goats. I gave up counting. So many, too many.  

Cobar like Broken Hill is a mining town. It is also a haven for those who like old architecture. We stayed in a cabin at the caravan park, which was very good. Spacious and well set out with a good amenities block. We didn’t have time to see much as we arrived late. 

There was a dull but persistent humming in the background wherever you went in the town. At first, I thought it was the rumbling of trucks passing, but I think it may have been a ventilation fan or some other mining machinery. 

On to Orange.

The next morning the final destination for our road trip was Orange, the self-proclaimed foodie capital of NSW, and the topic of my next post. Once again taking the scenic route (read: the longest way around!) via Nyngan and the geographical centre of NSW. 


I acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners of the land we travelled through and thank them for allowing us to enjoy their beautiful places.

Spring road trip to Broken Hill, Australia.

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.

Dirst road and blue sky

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!

Mining town

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.

Miner's memorial Broken Hill
Miner’s Memorial

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.

Silverton, 30-ish km west of Broken Hill.

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.