In November 2018, my #1 road trip buddy Marijs and I made the long drive from Sydney to Broken Hill and got to experience Outback NSW.
This unique little slice of Australia isn’t really on the tourist trail, but that only adds to its appeal I think. You won’t find the glitzy beach towns or hip coffee shops that mark most of the rest of the country here (glorious as they are!). BUT… you get to explore the mining towns and underground dwellings of the NSW Outback without having to deal with crowds, traffic, or other travelers, which is pretty amazing.
A few important things you should know before taking off on the Sydney to Broken Hill drive:
- This road trip is best done outside of summer due to the extreme heat the region experiences during this time of year. Aim to travel between April and early November for maximum enjoyment.
- I’d allow a full week to drive from Sydney to Broken Hill in order to enjoy all of the stops along the way. Then you can drive straight back from Broken Hill to Sydney in 1-2 days either back the way you came, or south via Mildura and Wagga Wagga.
- There isn’t much mobile coverage from Dubbo to Broken Hill unless you have Telstra.
Considered the gateway to Outback NSW, Dubbo makes for a natural stop on the long drive from Sydney to Broken Hill. It’s “only” a 5 hour drive from Sydney, so you’d be totally fine with a late start on the first day and just crashing for the night in Dubbo before really getting into the Outback.
But if you have the time, why not spend a half day exploring Dubbo?
Things to do in Dubbo
- Visit the Taronga Western Plains Zoo
- Check out the very eclectic Aladdin’s Cave Bottlehouse
- Tour the Old Dubbo Gaol (note: gaol = jail)
- Practice astrophotography at the Dubbo Observatory – the 2nd largest in Australia
- Wander around the Dubbo Regional Botanic Gardens
View from Fort Bourke Lookout.
It’s a 5-6 hour drive from Dubbo to Wilcannia, with Cobar fitting into the itinerary nicely as a stop at the approximate halfway point.
Cobar has been a copper mining town since its discovery in 1870. It’s worth a quick stop to check out the mines and learn a bit about Cobar’s mining history, but you probably won’t need more than an hour or two to take in the town.
Things to do in Cobar
- Drive up to Fort Bourke Lookout and gaze out at the New Cobar Open Cut Gold Mine. It’s actually cooler than it sounds and well worth a look!
- Peruse the rural museum at the Great Cobar Heritage Centre, which provides a hands-on experience of the town’s history.
- Amble through the Cobar Heritage Walk, which takes you past most of the places of interest in town.
- Walk along the Main Street and check out the old-timey buildings. The Great Western Hotel stands out the most with its 100-meter-long cast iron veranda (the longest in the country apparently!).
- Take a 33km detour on your way to Wilcannia to check out the aboriginal rock art at Mount Grenfell. It’s said to have some of the best rock art in all of Australia. (Note: Allow about a half day for this detour)
If you’re itching to stop for food or fuel between Cobar and Wilcannia, the Emmdale Roadhouse will sort you out. They boast the best coffee on the Barrier Highway – I can confirm this is false. Or if it’s true, then there is absolutely no coffee worth drinking on this drive until you reach Broken Hill.
Still, definitely stop for a break and to feed the resident roos out the back!
In contrast to Cobar’s copper, Wilcannia is (or used to be) all about wool. This historic port town sits on the Darling River and at one point was the third-largest port in NSW. More than that, it’s been inhabited by the Barkindji people for over 40,000 years, so there’s also some aboriginal influence.
These days, Wilcannia’s got more of a sleepy town feel to it. It’s an ideal place to slow down and relax before carrying on with the rest of your Outback NSW road trip.
Definitely not the real Bondi Beach!
Warrawong on the Darling.
Things to do in Wilcannia
- Walk around town and admire the old building facades (great for photo shoots!).
- Stay and relax at Warrawong on the Darling. Lounging on the veranda with a cold beverage in hand is a must, but also be sure to pay a visit to Rissole the resident emu and go for a drive or walk on the property’s scenic dirt trails.
- Grab dinner at the Green Dragon Restaurant, tucked in the back corner of the Wilcannia Golf Club. There aren’t many dining options in town, but this place does really good Asian fusion and understandably is quite popular amongst the locals.
- Sit down with some coffee and cake at Miss Barretts Cafe. This place is so much more than a coffee shop – it also hosts a book exchange and offers all sorts of secondhand items for sale. Sadly it was closed during our visit, but we had a peek around the grounds and through the windows and boy is this cafe quirky! It’s exactly the sort of place that’ll have you thinking, “only in the Outback”.
Warrawong on the Darling.
It’s only about an hour’s drive from Wilcannia to White Cliffs, which is actually a detour from the Barrier Highway. Whatever you do, do NOT miss this stop on your Sydney to Broken Hill NSW Outback road trip! It was the highlight of ours and we really wish we’d had more than a half day to spend here – which is why I’ve given it a full day on this itinerary ;)
So what’s so special about White Cliffs, you ask? Simply put, it’s unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been.
White Cliffs is an opal mining town where people live mostly underground to avoid the hot summer temperatures. In that sense, it’s similar to Coober Pedy – but unlike its big brother in South Australia, White Cliffs is a bit more off the beaten track and significantly less touristy. In fact, we had the whole town to ourselves when we visited.
Things to do in White Cliffs
- Tour *and stay at* the Underground Motel. The rooms feel like little caves – it’s the coolest thing! Plus, how fun would it be to sleep underground for a night? (Note: this hotel is closed from early December through mid-March)
- Visit the White House (aka Cree’s House) to see a creative take on designing and furnishing an underground home. This is an absolute must-do in White Cliffs!
- Peruse the Outback Treasures outdoor ‘museum’. It’s essentially a fenced-in area in someone’s backyard full of rusty… *treasures*.
- Have a look at the Stubbie House – yes, a house made of glass bottle-bottoms.
- Take a mine tour to learn about the local mining history, see some live demos of the mining equipment, and dig for opals yourself.
READ MORE IN THIS POST: White Cliffs: Underground Living in Outback NSW
The drive from White Cliffs to Broken Hill takes about 3 hours. There’s not much in-between the two, save for a roadhouse in Little Topar – ideal for fueling up if you’re low on petrol or blood sugar. If you’re lucky, you might get to share your ice cream with a visiting sheep!
Upon arriving in Broken Hill, we took it easy and hung out at the Silly Goat cafe which has AMAZING coffee and some really good brunch dishes. It’s a great spot to hang with a book or your laptop and escape the heat outside.
We also wandered down Argent Street and checked out some shops, galleries, and old heritage buildings before rounding out the day at the Broken Hill Outback Resort. It features a restored pub with a wraparound veranda – absolutely PERFECT for cooling off with a drink and some nibbles, and watching the sun go down.
There’s no shortage of things to see and do in and around Broken Hill. Apart from wandering around the town centre, you might also enjoy filling your day with the following:
Things to do in Broken Hill
- Pop into the iconic Palace Hotel and ogle all the murals that cover nearly every inch of wall space. This is where Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was filmed
- Visit the Living Desert and Sculpture Symposium about 15 minutes outside of Broken Hill. Aim to visit around sunset if you can and you’ll have a prime view of the sun going down over the Outback.
- Drive 30 minutes out to the tiny town of Silverton, where Mad Max 2 was filmed. Silverton feels not unlike a ghost town, or something from the Wild Wild West.
- Take in the panoramic views from the Mundi Mundi lookout.
- Book onto a Sky Show at the Outback Astronomy and learn about the stars and constellations visible in the night sky here.
- If your visit happens to be in September, you can’t miss the famous Broken Heel festival! Showgirls and drag queens provide nonstop entertainment during this massive community celebration.
READ MORE IN THIS POST: 10 Things Not To Miss in Broken Hill
Outdoor Sculptures near Broken Hill.
Mundi Mundi lookout.
Mutawintji National Park
If you’re into off-the-beaten-path adventures, you should definitely stop at Mutawintji National Park on your Sydney to Broken Hill road trip. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Broken Hill and makes for a great day trip, but can also be done as an overnight trip if you’re keen to camp there.
Mutawintji is Outback NSW at its best, rife with Aboriginal history and red rock adventures galore. You’d be excused for mistaking it for the Northern Territory, as it looks nothing like the rest of New South Wales.
Mutawintji is the traditional home of the Malyankapa and Pandjikali people, who have left behind heaps of intricate rock carvings and stencils. You can spot some of them while hiking through the park, or by booking a tour (more details below).
Things to do in Mutawintji National Park
- Drive the scenic Old Coach Road, a 10km stretch that follows the historic Broken Hill to White Cliffs Coach Run. Allow time for the 3km walk to Split Rock as well.
- Book an Aboriginal heritage tour to learn more about Aboriginal art and culture
- Mutawintji Gorge walking track (6km return; there’s a swimming hole at the end!)
- Bynguano Range walking track (7.5km loop; rock pools amongst red sandstone; Aboriginal rock art at the Thaaklatijika overhang)
Mungo National Park
It takes 4.5-5 hours to drive from Broken Hill to Mungo National Park, though Google Maps will overestimate this time due to the dirt roads leading into Mungo. Don’t worry, it doesn’t take a full day to make this drive! Also, I recommend you go via Wentworth (even though Google will likely choose the other route) – the roads are better on the Wentworth route.
I promise you though, Mungo is SO worth the trip either way. In my mind it’s akin to what I imagine the landscape on Mars to be like. There’s just nothing like it anywhere else in Australia (or perhaps even the world?).
Assuming you arrive in Mungo by late afternoon, head straight to Mungo Lodge and book onto their sunset tour of the Walls of China (tickets are $65). This is the most fantastic and picturesque part of the whole park and in order to preserve it, visitors are only allowed access via a tour like this. You can stick with the tour guide and learn more about Mungo, or you’re free to wander from the group to take photos.
Spend the next day embarking on the Mungo self-guided drive tour, essentially a loop around the park where you can stop off at various points of interest. There are a few walking trails and picnic areas if you have the time to linger, but if you only have time for a few stops, let it be these:
Things to see in Mungo
- Mungo Woolshed (constructed in the 1800s from cypress pine trees and once used for sheep shearing)
- Walls of China (stop at the viewing platforms, but also book a tour so that you can explore inside)
- Vigars Wells (picturesque white sand dunes)
READ MORE IN THIS POST: Mungo National Park: Like Mars on Earth