Some of the best drives in the country are out the back of Bourke – literally – and the best time to get behind the wheel and explore the outback routes is now, when the flora and fauna go wild.
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service has identified three of the most awe-inspiring outback NSW routes, where diverse landscapes either side of the road are at their most spectacular in the cooler weather, after years of being dry.
The routes take travellers past sprawling sand dunes, epic national parks, quaint town pubs and cultural and heritage hotspots for some truly unforgettable experiences. Jump in the car and take a bespoke journey of discovery into an outback territory which is not actually that far out the back.
A grand tour of the lower Darling, this route leads through one of the Outback's most impressive natural treasures – the magnificent ephemeral freshwater lakes of Menindee Lakes and Kinchega National Park. Now at above 80% capacity, the lakes system is currently home to hundreds of thousands of birds, including pelicans and pink-eared ducks. After seasonal rains, this territory transforms into a lush green environment, a stark contrast to its yellow sand, smoky-grey soil plains and bright blue skies. The drive joins the Darling River Run in several places, taking in the historic village of Pooncarie, the outback centre of Broken Hill and the sleepy country village of Wentworth. Along the way, camp a night or sleep in shearer’s quarters at Kinchega, stay in one of Broken Hill's character-filled hotels or the shearer's cottages quarters in Mungo National Park or the lavish Mungo Lodge just outside the park.
Take Route 79 north from Wentworth to Broken Hill, head east to Menindee along the Menindee-Broken Hill Rd and through Kinchega National Park to explore. Head back to Menindee township and south along Pooncarie Rd (Darling River Run route) roughly 28km past Pooncarie, then take Top Hut Rd to Mungo National Park. Approx 590km.
The largest loop off the Darling River Run, the Corner Country Loop in the central Darling region, explores the western-most part of Outback NSW. The region is bordered by the world's longest fence, the Dingo Fence, built during the 1880s, at a length of 5,614kms. The route leads through an amazing diversity of contrasting landscapes, from grey-soil plains and creeks to red sand dunes and mesas the Sturt National Park. Drive underneath soaring wedge-tailed eagles and past rolling tumbleweeds, roaming emus and bounding kangaroos. Stay in historic Bourke, formerly the world's largest inland port for wool exporting and once home to bush poet and writers such as Henry Lawson, cruise the Darling River on PV Jandra and have a bite to eat in a quintessential country pub.
From Broken Hill, head north along Silver City Route 79 past Milparinka and Tibooburra, to Sturt National Park, enjoy aspects Cameron Corner on the loop roads through the park, prior to returning to Tibooburra. From here take the Wanaaaring Road east to Bourke. Approx 430km.
This side-trip from the Darling River Run will take you to the legendary, eccentric Australian opal mining town of Lightning Ridge. Stop off and have a go at finding an elusive dazzling dark black opal, explore quaint art galleries and have a play of golf on a course set on an old opal field with greens of oiled sand. Head south along fully-sealed Kidman Way to the woodlands, floodplains and sandhills of breathtaking Gundabooka National Park. Climb Mt Gunderbooka, rising 500m among rust-coloured cliffs, for a breathtaking view of the outback, and follow the new interpretation trail which highlights geographical facts and historical fables, such as the local capture of infamous bushranger, Captain Starlight. Then camp under the starlit sky on the river bank at newly-opened Yanda campsite.
From Walgett, take Castlereagh Highway north to Lightning Ridge, visit Grawin Opal Fields, then head back south along Route 55 and west along Kamilaroi Highway to Brewarrina. Approx 290km . From here, travel west along Kamilaroi to Bourke, and south on Kidman Way (Route 87) to Gundabooka National Park. Approx 165km.
For those who want to enjoy some of the best outback drives, but are happy to leave the directions to the experts, Tri State Safaris offers a tag-along option to their tours. Driving behind the guide's vehicle, tag-along drivers are equipped with a UHF radio to hear commentary and ask questions along the way. Tours include all meals, accommodation and camping permits along the way.
Alternatively, take a break from driving and travel with the tour guides. Tri State Safaris is currently offering a special rate on their Menindee Lakes/Kinchega National Park day tour, of $159 for a second adult traveller (20% off regular price of $199) until October 31, 2013.
For bookings and more information on the drives, national parks, tours and attractions in Outback NSW, see National Parks - Outback, NSW.