Iesha recently turned her wheels west and headed for the NSW Outback. Way out amongst the red dirt and open skies she came across a bunch of tiny towns with their own unique personalities, and stringing them together makes for a stomping road trip.
To the Outback
At the end of 2020’s lockdown, we packed the car and spent a week in outback NSW, and now at the tail end of 2021, I find myself revisiting our itinerary to do it all over again!
I was absolutely blown away by the places we visited and the people we met and I strongly urge you to visit these outback towns in NSW and support them.
Using Cobar as our base point, we road tripped across Far West NSW to uncover unique towns, great and small, and the locals that call these far-flung places home.
Menindee: The Town of Great Lakes
Drastically affected by the 2019 drought, Menindee is the definition of a true blue Aussie town filled with great people who band together to push through the worst of times.
Menindee has a population of 500 (very friendly) people, who’ll always say hello as you drive or walk past. We stopped by the local coffee shop and were greeted by a friendly local sitting outside having a coffee. He politely invited us to sit down and have a chat. This soon became a recurring theme throughout our trip, as locals in all the outback NSW towns we visited were so welcoming and keen to yarn.
Our new mate worked in the national park and told us,
‘I’ve been a local for 11 years, but you need to be here for 50 years to be considered a local!’
With over 60 years of living in Menindee under his belt, he was very passionate about his town and the great lakes surrounding it. The town relies on these lakes for their water supply and in 2019 they were almost entirely empty during the drought.
What To Do In Menindee
Luckily, after the rain, the lakes are in much better shape. If you visit, you have to drive around them to get a true feeling of their size. They’re incredible!
You can also take a cruise across the lakes with River Lady Cruises.
How To Get There
Driving from Cobar to Menindee takes a total of four hours, but it’s such a beautiful drive. From Cobar to Wilcannia the road is bitumen, but from Wilcannia to Menindee it becomes a dirt road that takes a little longer.
Broken Hill: An Oasis in the Outback
When you think of Broken Hill, oasis might not be the first word that comes to mind. I was blown away by a town that is so isolated but has so many things to do and explore.
Broken Hill is one of the major towns in outback NSW. When you drive here you’ll feel so isolated with no sight of civilization for kilometres, then suddenly you arrive in a major town!
It’s a great stopping point to stock up on supplies as there’s a variety of major shops (Coles, Woolworths, Target). Broken Hill has a strong mining history with many museums and memorials scattered throughout the town and there are still mines operating there to this day.
One of the things I love about Broken Hill is that the town has fully embraced its feature in the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert and there’s even a drag festival called ‘Broken Heel’ every year which I definitely want to go to one day.
Hot tip! If you’re heading west stock up on supplies here as you won’t find another major town for a long time! There’s a drinking water refill station for your jerry cans or water tank in the middle of town as well.
What To Do In Broken Hill
The ‘Big Picture’ Museum
The Big Picture Museum features information on the history of mining in Broken Hill and a giant panoramic painting of the plains around the town which is 100m in length and took two years to finish.
The Big Red Bench and Miners Memorial
The Miners Memorial pays tribute to all the miners lost in the Broken Hill mines over the last 120 years.
Bells 1950s Milk Bar
They serve the best waffles here with a variety of toppings to choose from.
The Living Desert and the Sculptures
12 unique sandstone sculptures placed on a majestic hilltop in the desert, each with an individual artist and story.
There’s also an Outback Astronomy experience you can take that unfortunately we didn’t get to. The stars out there are absolutely incredible so it’d be an amazing experience!
If you’re a Priscilla Queen of the Desert fan, you can stay in the actual Priscilla Suite in the Palace Hotel. It’s completely decked out with disco balls, feathers, and all things drag! There’s also a gorgeous bathroom with the ultimate bathtub. It’s a bit pricey, however definitely worth it if you LIVE for Priscilla!
We stayed at Broken Hill Outback Resort, about 15km out of the main town which has its own bar/restaurant.
How To Get There
The drive from Menindee to Broken Hill is one of the most scenic and desolate drives I’ve been on, and I highly recommend you do it! We started to venture into more red dust and the plains were spectacular.
You can also get to Broken Hill via train if driving 1,150km isn’t your thing!
Silverton: The Greatest Sunset You’ll Ever See
With a population of 50 people, Silverton could be easily skimmed over on your next road trip. But with an iconic outback pub, quirky outback art galleries, and one of the greatest sunsets in the country, this is an outback NSW town you surely don’t want to miss.
The town’s claim to fame is Mad Max 2 as the film was shot there (hence the Mad Max 2 Museum).
What to do in Silverton
Although the town is small in population, there’s over 1,000 square kilometres of common public land to explore!
You wouldn’t expect a small outback town to be a hive for art lovers, but within 50m of the main stretch through town, there are four separate art galleries.
A little hidden gem is definitely the John Dynan Art Gallery. John has lived in Silverton his entire life and owns his own gallery in town. I was so enraptured by John and his story I decided to write a whole article about him.
Other places in the town we went to were:
An iconic outback pub with a lot of history. The walls are full of countless frames and posters which give you a sense of the character and history of the pub.
Mad Max Museum
Unfortunately this was closed when we went, however locals rave about it!
Silverton Gaol Museum
The $5 entry fee gets you a full tour of the old gaol that’s now been converted into a museum.
In general, there’s just so much land out there! It’s so easy to just go for a drive and get lost in the red dust and crazy landscape surrounding you.
Town Highlight – Mundi Mundi Plains
The highlight of Silverton however, is without a doubt Mundi Mundi Plains Lookout. This lookout is about 15 minutes further west of Silverton but gave us one of the most spectacular sunsets we’ve ever seen.
The full moon was out, so as the sun set in the west and filled the sky with glowing reds, oranges, and yellows, we turned to the east to see a cotton candy pink and blue sky with the full moon in full view.
Hot tip! Take a few drinks and snacks and set up chairs to watch the sunset. Make sure you stay for 10-15 minutes after the sun has set as the afterglow across the plains is definitely worth sticking around for.
Accommodation in Silverton is limited so I recommend camping. There’s a caravan park that provides unpowered and powered sites, however, locals will tell you you can free camp almost anywhere in the local common.
Locals recommended we find a nice spot alongside the dried-up creek which runs all through the common. We ended up parking up just off a dirt track from the main road to Mundi Mundi Plains, near the creek.
White Cliffs: The Underground Town
Driving into White Cliffs, the landscape looks like something out of a sci-fi movie. This outback NSW town offers something so unique that can’t be found anywhere else on the planet.
Although White Cliffs has a population of a mere 100 people, when you drive into White Cliffs you quickly notice there are not many buildings or people walking the streets. That’s because the locals live underground in dugouts!
The purpose of these dugouts is to help regulate temperature as the winters in White Cliffs are bitterly cold and the summers extremely hot. The underground temperatures remain steady throughout the year at around 20-23 degrees Celsius with no air conditioning, heating or power required.
White Cliffs is also most famous for opal mining. The ‘White Cliffs Pineapple Opal’ cannot be found anywhere else in the world and is highly sought after by miners in the area. Some giant pineapples are sold for almost $200,000.
White Cliffs definitely gives off a ‘life on Mars vibe’ as you drive around town as there are giant crater-sized mining holes everywhere!
What To Do In White Cliffs
Head to the tourist information centre (which is the town general store) and the lovely lady will give you a town map that highlights the points of interest in the area and a heritage trail to follow around the town, which includes the first ever solar power station in the world!
Fossick for your own opal!
A portion of the mining area is free rein as many of the mining shafts have been abandoned but are still open holes in the ground. Just be careful as there’s no safety equipment or signage out there and some of the holes can be 20m deep (so maybe don’t go fossicking after a few beers!).
Southern Cross Opal Showroom
The owner has a great documentary playing on loop about the town and its mining history which is worth a watch. The owner’s a miner himself and all the jewellery he sells is mined and made by him and his son.
White Cliffs Pub
I definitely recommend going to the town pub for a beer and a feed. Outback pubs are always a great gauge for the town and the culture and this one was no exception.
An opal showroom made out of 50,000 beer bottles!
White House Dugout Tour
The highlight of this outback NSW town for me was the White House Dugout Tour. They run tours at 11am and 2pm each day and $10 per person gets you a guided tour through an actual dugout home. The owners are a married couple – the husband is a resourceful tradie/miner husband and his wife is a talented artist.
They have made the most luxurious architectural underground home. It’s aptly named the ‘White House’ as all the walls and ceilings underground are completely rendered and painted white.
I was in awe the entire time and suddenly wanted to live in a dugout in White Cliffs. You aren’t allowed to take photos inside so you’ll have to go check it out for yourself!
The White Cliffs Underground Motel gives you the opportunity to stay in your own dugout room! Unfortunately it was closed when we visited as it shuts down during the summer months, (and COVID-19 forced them to close down even longer). The motel is due to open up in July and looks like it’d definitely be worth the experience!
There are also plenty of free camping sites available. We free camped at a campground called Potch Gully which can be found on the town map and Wikicamps.
Tilpa: The Town of 9 People
A true outback town, for what Tilpa lacks in people it certainly makes up for in space to explore.
My one piece of advice for the journey to Tilpa, is to make sure your vehicle is up to the challenge. You’ll definitely need a 4WD to get here as the dirt road’s extremely corrugated and bumpy for hundreds of kilometres.
We ran into some trouble on the dirt road from Wilcannia as our trailer wheel came off the axle of the trailer. We couldn’t have been in a more deserted area and had not had reception since two days earlier in Silverton.
Luckily a group of tradies heading to Tilpa ended up driving past us and stopped to help after about half an hour of us trying to fix it ourselves. One of the great things about travelling in the outback is the willingness of the community and the locals to help you out.
What To Do In Tilpa
Tilpa was one of my favourite towns because of its remoteness. Its official population is nine, and the town consists of a pub and a playground!
After our long journey and trailer issues, we were dying for a beverage and headed to the pub. I definitely recommend visiting the Tilpa Pub – it truly is the definition of a proper bush pub. When we went to order food they told us they simply didn’t have any because it hadn’t been delivered yet. We laughed, ordered a beer instead and had a chat with a few of the locals who were larger than life!
If you go to Tilpa, camping is probably your best bet. There are a variety of free camp areas along Tilpa Weir which is where we stayed on our first night.
Our second night we stayed at Kallara Station which is a privately owned property with powered and unpowered sites and a few lodges you can book too. There are a few privately owned properties in the area that you can pay a small fee to stay on, which I highly recommend checking out!
Kallara Station gave a real insight into proper farm life. There were lots of dogs (which was a big win obviously), and the property sits on 150,000 acres, which gave us the ability to access amenities but still camp far away with absolutely no one else in sight.
We ended up spending the entire second day just parked up along the river reading, listening to podcasts and driving the motorbike around the property.
The tiny outback towns of NSW are unique and surprising, each in their own way. Next time you feel like driving far, far away, head to outback NSW.