A compelling road trip around the extraordinary countryside of NSW

This extraordinary road trip, right on your doorstep, delivers beyond expectations for all the family

Travel to the serene tranquillity of Mt Kosciusko, be charmed by the Riverina Highway, from there arrive at the ancient secrets of Mungo National Park, finishing off with more than you thought possible to do at Broken Hill, and returning home via routes used by early explorers through the Blue Mountains. This is one serious road trip!

Preparing for a trip like this is not as easy as you’d think, unless, of course, you’ve done it before.

This was to be my first serious road trip in my lightweight 4WD vehicle, my RAV 4.

First I mapped out a road trail that I thought suitable for the length of time available. First lesson learned was that it always takes longer than you think, unless of course you’ve done this trip before.

5 day driving route encompassing Mt Kosciuszko, Mildura, Mungo NP, Pooncarie, Broken Hill, Cobar and Sydney
5 day driving route encompassing Mt Kosciuszko, Mildura, Mungo NP, Pooncarie, Broken Hill, Cobar and Sydney

Everything I’d read highlighted the need for preparation. From identifying the roads to take, to ensuring sufficient provisions in the way of water, food and fuel, I was determined not to enter this journey without being sufficiently prepared.

So it surprised me immensely that I under anticipated just what I needed to bring to make this trip happen.

I studies maps and worked out the length of travel in kms and time between my designated points; Sydney – Kosciuszko – Mildura – Mungo National Park – Broken Hill – Cobar – Sydney. 3,143kms – How many days could I do it in? I had designated 5 days, would it be possible in the timeframe?

Growing up in Australia had endowed me with a healthy respect in preparing for this outback trip. So I duly checked my tyres, water levels, oil and engine status and made sure I had copies of maps both local and afar to get me to my final destination. I watched the weather stations and made plans for accommodation at every stage. I knew, I felt, with frightening intensity, what lack of preparation would do. People die with regular frequency in the outback by disobeying the rules; stay with your car if it breaks down, let others know in advance of your itinerary, bring ample provisions of food, water and fuel. Yet here I was with insufficient provisions should I have broken down. Umm, not so good, I could tell.

If ever you decide to make a trip like this bring triple what you think you need, only then will you approach quantities you need for staying alive should you break down in the arid interior of this country.

I was by no means in the most isolated areas of this arid country but still I felt overwhelmed by its vastness and by the sparse desert vegetation providing the only company to my vehicle.

The constant solitude of the journey provided me amply opportunity to focus on the things I wanted to do once I’d reached my destination.

I set my sights on my first destination, Mt Kosciuszko, and after 7 hours driving I wasn’t going to let anything interfere with my plans for the evening.

Cedar cabin and native wildlife at Mt Kosciuszko retreat
Cedar cabin and native wildlife at Mt Kosciuszko retreat

I arrived in a little after 7pm, having left Sydney not much after lunchtime.

I had chosen to stay at the Mt Kosciuszko retreat, 5 minutes within Kosciuszko national park.

As I arrived sunset was fast approaching and liberally scattered around the accommodation site were kangaroos lounging in tall grasses or artfully scratching behind their ears.

The retreat, located within the park, is well away from Jindabyne shops and locale. I recommend bringing your own supplies and cooking dinner on the ample cooking facilities provided within the retreat.  I stayed in one of the Cedar cabins complete with cooking facilities where I was able to fix myself dinner and then sit out of the porch to watch the night creep in.

The park is alive with things to do all year round. I was there in spring when the hiking trails are awash with wildflowers, there’s fishing in the local streams and for trail bike enthusiasts day passes to all the mountains can provide you with hours of uninterrupted spills and thrills down the mountainside.

The rugged wildness of the drive along the Alpine Way set the scene for transition to the rural landscape that must be reproduced many times over across this country.

Drive the Alpine Way and Riverina Highway to Mildura, VIC
Drive the Alpine Way and Riverina Highway to Mildura, VIC

Then when I arrived in Mildura you know you’re in a regional hub. Mildura is a city of more than 30,000 people and a gateway north into western NSW and a centre of Sunraysia region. Sunraysia is an area of north western Victoria and south western New South Wales in Australia, known for its sunshine, grapes and oranges.

These two highways taken to arrive at Mildura, the Alpine Way and Riverina Highway are superb examples of the diversity of the Australian landscape.

Both roads are picturesque but in stark contrast to each other. The Alpine way is windy, woodsy and cool and the Riverina Highway is straight, straight and straight.

A good idea when driving either road is to share the driving and make sure you stop to take plenty of photographs, you won’t regret it.

As I was on a tight schedule I only overnighted it in Mildura and hightailed out of there early the next morning before dawn trying to make it to Mungo National Park before sunrise. However, although only 110kms from Mildura, the road to Mungo seems eternally long. Mostly because its sand and red earth, difficult to navigate when you can see the road ahead of you, reducing you to a crawl under the cover of darkness.

sunrise over Mungo NP
sunrise over Mungo NP
roadside scenery between Mungo NP and Pooncarie
roadside scenery between Mungo NP and Pooncarie

Arriving in Mungo is like stepping into a land 40,000 years old. Barren, searingly hot, with gritty vegetation clinging to the landscape, Mungo is not for the feint-hearted. It is, however hauntingly beautiful with its bonsai like trees, lakes of sand and skies of vivid blue.

There are self drive tours of the park that you can do, or, for the less adventurous, you can do a tag-a-long tour with the Indigenous guides at the visitors centre. These 2hr tours give you a small insight to the history of the land and its relationship with the indigenous people who call this country home.

You’ll hear about Mungo lady and Mungo man and their journey through 32,000 years, and of the changes over the millennia to the ancient lakes system turning this land into what it is today.

Ancient lake beds and fossil remains in Mungo NP
Ancient lake beds and fossil remains in Mungo NP
Historic shearing shed at Mungo NP
Historic shearing shed at Mungo NP

I found Mungo NP was the highlight of this trip for me being intensely connected to the land. However my aim was to do this trip in 5 days and so after a night of time lapse photography and the breaking of dawn over yet another day in the continuum of time I found myself moving on from Mungo via an  easy drive to Broken Hill.

Broken Hill was an overwhelming contrast to Mungo. The people, the city and its surrounds beckoned me to walk their paths.

Old and new, evidence of mining is everywhere in Broken Hill
Old and new, evidence of mining is everywhere in Broken Hill

The difficult part came when, at the visitors centre, the dozens of things to do at Broken Hill confronted me. I could have easily spent a week there between the architecture, the art and gallery scene and the landscape.

However with only 24hrs there, I chose to visit the living desert and sculptural park, a phenomenal park of wildlife and exotic flora.

Living Desert outside of Broken Hill
Living Desert outside of Broken Hill

It’s a private park and so the charge for entry was additional to my NSW parks pass but it’s quite reasonable for a day, or half day, whichever you want to spend there. Kangaroos, wallabies, an abundance of birdlife and plenty of reptiles; there’s critters to make you smile or grimace depending on your affinity with nature.

Kerosene grass and painted dragons are in  evidence everywhere throughout the park
Kerosene grass and painted dragons are in evidence everywhere throughout the park

From Broken Hill the return trip to Sydney was long but uneventful. Between Sydney and Broken Hill the only logical stop for the evening is Cobar. Cobar is a mining town and truck stop for traffic in transit.

I found a small motel for the night and managed to snag the last room they had for the night. It was bright and the staff friendly. I was, however, up early the next morning for the last 8 hrs of my journey.

Being on a budget I set myself a target of spending no more than $80/p/n for accommodation each night and found it was unbelievably easy to do.

Hard to believe but it was incredibly easy to find great value budget accommodation in each location. My brief was simple, accommodation for less than $80p/n in each place I stayed.

So I had found rustic self-contained cabin accommodation in Kosciuszko NP and stayed in the comfortable shearers quarters at Mungo NP. In Mildura I stayed at the Golden River Caravan Park and Broken Hill, the Broken Hill Tourist Park, both provide excellent cabin accommodation.

All accommodation was under my set goal of $80p/, some substantially cheaper, and I had ample space, amenities and things to do at each location.

Also importantly I researched each accommodation before leaving Sydney as experience has taught me to leave nothing to the last minute, in some of these location it might have meant the difference between sleeping in a bed for the night or sleeping in the car. To my way of thinking, sleeping in a bed will win out every time!

Not wishing to spend the night sleeping in the back of my car for any reason I also gave my car the once over before commencing my journey. I scheduled a check up for basic maintenance such as fluid levels, oil changes etc. The battery, tyres and brakes were checked also.

Be prepared was my motto so I made sure I’d included in my provisions an emergency first kit, especially items such as a flashlight, blanket, pillow, first-aid kit and some basic tools. I also brought plenty of water and extra snacks, just in case.

I used a portable navigation system to help me through those places where I just wasn’t sure which road to take. Don’t rely on the navigation system on your smart phone, as there are just too many remote locations I traveled to where there was no cell phone reception at all.

This trip was a little over 3,000kms so to be sensible there should have been at least 2 drivers. Two drivers would have also afforded me the luxury of snapping happy shots from the car as we traveled and allowed me to completely rest when I wasn’t driving.

Most importantly to the overall success of this trip I had made a thorough itinerary and I stuck to it, even though I wanted to dwell a little longer here or there. I firmly understood the importance of communicating that itinerary to someone back at home and made sure I phoned them daily to let them know I had arrived at my next location or was leaving for the next.

Doing a trip like this pushed me to the edge of my comfort zone and by doing that I found enormous pleasure in succeeding in what I did.

Best times of year to do such a road trip is autumn or spring when the desert is not so hot and the mountains not too cool. Local company NRMA provides maps and guides to all locations for this trip and their friendly staff at any branch can advise you on activities in each location given the time you have to spare.

This trip was exhausting to do in 5 days but a more leisurely itinerary of 10 days would allow you to not miss the key highlights in any region and enjoy time to smell those roses that bloom along the way. I’ve been to many destinations, both local and international in 2012 and I rate it as my most exciting trip this year.


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