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.

Scottish Road Trip – Stage 1 comes to an end.

It’s been 21 days since I flew out of Sydney. I am now in Aberdeen on Scotland’s east coast, listening to the calls of the giant seagulls which  have followed me for the last 2 weeks as I hugged the coast. I covered 1572 miles or 2530 km. I didn’t think Scotland had that many kilometres to do! Criss-crossing along the single track roads has added up.

I have stayed in 11 different AirBnBs, 2 guest houses and one youth hostel. I did 5 ferry crossings, one chartered boat voyage, one overnight train, 3 buses and 1 taxi ride. I  witnessed and gave first aid at one serious road crash. I have lost track of the number of castles and castle ruins I have seen and I have been to 5 museums. I have walked 285 kilometres. I lost one travel mascot and found another.

I am not going to add up how much I have spent, but it’s been a lot!! Things here priced the same “number” but cost twice as much. I mean it might cost $4 in Australia and £4 here, so in effect $8AUD.

I have met some wonderful people and become Facebook friends with one. (AMcL – that’s you!)

My overall impressions of Scotland have been very positive. I have felt comfortable going into pubs on my own and chatting with the locals. I have promised a postcard from Wollongong to Willy at the Culloden Moor Inn. He wants to show it to his mate who has been to Australia at least six times but wasn’t there on the night.

The main topic of conversation revolves around me traveling alone.  

One fellow at the  Red Lion at Forres declaring that it took some balls to travel solo and even he would be too scared to travel in another country alone.

I don’t feel brave. I have said before in another post that I don’t take stupid chances. I am usually tucked up in my room well before dark and don’t lurk in places that seem a bit dodgy. Although, that is sometimes a bit hard in cities you don’t know and you accidentally witness drug deals and prostitute haunts.

I did feel very brave staying in a youth hostel though. A first for me, and I must say I was a bit worried about a number of things:

1. Not being a youth,

2. Sharing a room with four women I didn’t know

3. Bed bugs and

4. The prospect of people throwing their shoes at me because I snore!

It turned out fine. I only chatted with the French lady who was about 10 years younger than me – the three others came in later after I was already in bed and no-one threw shoes at me! I had no red welts in the morning, so it seems my worries may have been unfounded. I sat in the community lounge after dinner editing the day’s photos and watched some other “mature” youths (average age 40) doing a whisky and chocolate taste testing  party and teasing each other unmercifully, after a wreck diving expedition. They invited me to join in. I tested the chocolate but not the whisky!

Given that the youth hostel was less than ½ the price of everywhere else I have stayed it makes good sense to try them out more often. The French lady says she really likes travelling on her own but stays at youth hostels because she can find someone to talk to in the evenings so it was a nice compromise for her.

The next phase of my adventure is with a small group walking tour in the Orkney Islands.

Let’s see how that goes!