Members Trips

outback rivers to the great divide

rivers & rocks tour
outback rivers to the great divide
by Ken McGuinness


Finally, a number of years after our last outback road trip, we had the opportunity to head out west for an outback tour and to road test our new camper. Here's the route for our trip:


to Gum Bend Lake on the Lachlan River

We left home under leaden skies accompanied by intermittent rain and squally winds as we climbed over the Blue Mountains and ticked off the regional centres of Bathurst, Orange and Parkes. Arriving at Condobolin mid-afternoon, we headed out to nearby Gum Bend Lake.

Gum Bend is a man-made recreational lake, fed by overflow from the Lachlan River. A pleasant camping area lies beside the lake hidden from a view of the water by a levee bank and it was here that we set up camp with space for two more camper trailers to join us next day.

After a cold night and a late breakfast we drove back into town to browse around the shops and tourist information and scout a place for dinner. Our travelling companions, Jeff, Carolyn, John and Debbie, arrived mid-afternoon with the weather still bleak. We walked the 3 kilometre circumference of the lake before gathering for happy hour. Dinner was at the Royal Hotel in a typical country pub dining room.

on to the Darling River

A cacophony of birdsong woke us next morning, happily to clear blue skies.

The plan for today would take us past Cobar on the way to joining the Darling River north of Wilcannia. Unfortunately, the wet conditions had closed roads on our planned route; plan B saw our convoy of campers detour via Mount Hope and north up the Kidman Way. After a road side stop for lunch, another to collect firewood and refuelling in Cobar, we pulled into Meadow Glen rest area on the Barrier Highway around 4pm.

Behind the rest area, red dirt tracks wind through the scrub with plenty of places to set up camp for a quick overnighter. Soon, our campfire was burning and producing coals for the night's damper and roast dinner - a worthy feast for travellers!

A cold and frosty morning greeted us the next day. While the heavy mist hung around our camp, brightly plumed birds foraged among the grasses and shrubs. Leaving Meadow Glen, we continued west along the Barrier Highway racing towards our eagerly anticipated Darling River run. A late morning tea at another roadside rest area was invaded by scores of curious birds.

About 5 kilometres shy of Wilcannia, we turned right onto the dirt headed towards the southern section of Paroo-Darling National Park. The junction was marked by the carcass of a sizeable wild boar; in the next few kilometres we passed three parties of shooters.

The East Tilpa Road cuts a path across the vast Darling flood plain and shadows the meandering course of the river itself. It took about an hour to reach our destination: Coach and Horses Campground. Turning off the road, we crossed a sandy paddock before entering a grove of trees to find the most delightful campground with large camping sites spread around a central grassed area shaded by stands of massive gum trees.

With no-one else around, we were able to take the pick of the sites with a magnificent view over a broad bend in the mighty Darling River. A few other groups arrived later in the afternoon to take other sites but still there was plenty of room for all to have their own space.

After a late lunch, we took a walk heading north-east along the river clambouring over enormous trunks of fallen gums and climbing the steep sided banks of the river. Not for the last time on this trip, we regretted not having our kayaks with us to be able to explore more from the water. Back at camp, we enjoyed happy hour watching a glorious sunset over our small part of this outback lifeline.

A leisurely morning saw us on the road again late morning continuing across the flood plain, the green line in the distance to our left a constant reminder of the river's location. The bridge at Tilpa (population: 6) provides one of only two crossings over the Darling between Wilcannia and Bourke. The name derives from the aboriginal word 'Thulpa' which means flood waters.

We called in to the small pub for a chat and morning tea before finding our way to the camping and picnic area at Tilpa weir for lunch and another stroll along the river bank. The weir holds back some of the Darling's flow to provide a water source for the local community and nearby properties.

Retracing our route back past the pub, we continued along the western side of the river on the appropriately-named West Tilpa Road. After another stop to collect firewood, we arrived at Trilby Station, our home for the next three nights, around 4 in the afternoon.

at Trilby Station on the Darling

An hour later we had set up camp on the banks of Trilby Station's own billabong, several hundred metres from our nearest neighbours camped at the other end of the waterhole. As the sun set behind us, we watched the changing shades of the soft afternoon light on the grand old river gums lining the shore, feeling very much like the jolly swagman camped by a billabong under the shade of the coolibah tree.

In between cool evenings spent cocooned in the warmth of the campfire and crisp, clear mornings taking breakfast by the still, reflective waters of the billabong, we explored our surroundings on this typical outback station.

A mudmap accompanied by descriptive notes guides visitors on a 55 kilometre tour of the station. The route traverses vast, sparsely vegetated paddocks and offers a look at key features of the farm: earthen tanks, or dams, which provide water to livestock; an ex-army water tank relocated to the station to provide additional water storage; stockyards where animals are gathered to be freighted out to market; the rusting relics of long abandoned vehicles and an old double-decker bus, once the residence of a couple of old fencers who have since passed on.



During the drive, the terrain rises slightly from the floodplain to higher ground where the soil changes abruptly from grey dirt deposited by floodwaters to deep-red sand. Further on, the terrain rises again onto harsh rocky ground as you approach the old homestead.

The homestead was abandoned when the family moved to the present homestead near the river and today provides a glimpse into a life since past. Remnants of once carefully tended gardens surround the old timber building with its fly-screen enclosed wraparound verandah. Doors and windows hang ajar on rusting hinges; farm machinery and vehicles lie forgotten in the sheds.

Inside, a layer of dust blown in by windstorms covers every surface. The beds remain made, books and magazines rest on tables no longer read and in the kitchen, appliance brand names are familiar and products from our childhood still stock the pantry.

When the family first moved, the intention was that the old homestead would still be used from time to time by those working this part of the property. Today, it has the air of a home abandoned when someone walked out one morning and simply never returned.

Back at the billabong, Trilby provides a couple of kayaks and canoes for use by campers. After the early morning mist has lifted from the water, warm sun and still air in the late morning provided perfect conditions for a 2 km paddle around the waterhole. We share the water with pelicans gliding effortlessly around and small birds dancing between the reeds and small trees while age-old gums stretch their limbs out from the banks over the water.

There's an entirely different feel paddling the billabong in the late afternoon as the sun slowly disappears behind the trees. Still water makes mirror-like reflections, disturbed only by the ripple from a paddle dipped in the water and birds shriek and squawk as they return to their nesting trees for the evening.

We also took time to explore the immediate area surrounding our camp. Flocks of sheep and occasional goats graze of the grassy paddock around the small airstrip which provides the only lifeline when the property is isolated by flood. Across the paddock, there are a number of campsites established along the high banks overlooking the Darling River. Although we loved our spot by the billabong, these sites would provide equally good camping.

After three blissful nights, it was time for our fellow travellers to head home and us to continue on our journey.

to Cunnumulla on the Warrego River

After leaving Trilby, we continued east reaching the small village of Louth, the second crossing of the river between Wilcannia and Bourke. Louth was established in 1862 when an Irishman named Matthews built a pub to cater for the passing river and land-based trade; it is now famous as the location for the annual Louth Races.

We crossed the river to continue our journey on the southern side of the river, stopping only to check out Yanda campground, also on the Darling River and part of Gundabooka National Park.

After re-stocking and re-fueling at Bourke, we struck out north on the Mitchell Highway, crossed the border into Queensland and rolled into the outback town of Cunnumulla, our home for the next two nights.

We camped at a relatively new park about 3 kilometres out of town right on the banks of the Warrego River. We opted for a bush site just behind the tree line on the riverbank rather than the formal caravan sites the park offers and headed back into town for dinner. The camp oven dinner at the Warrego Hotel was accompanied by an old stockmen telling tall tales and cracking stock whips.

After a leisurely morning, we headed into town to explore Cunnumulla. Again we wished we had brought kayaks with us - our plan to rent for a paddle on the Warrego was thwarted when the operator had other commitments for the day.

The Cunnumulla Fella Centre has a wealth of historical information and displays and a very effective exhibit on the great artesian basin. Outside, a bronze statue of the Cunnumulla Fella, inspired by the Slim Dusty classic, gazes down the main street.

We follow the heritage trail around Cunnumulla passing historic sites, drive tracks near the Cunnumulla sandhills, pass the Robber's Tree and cross the Darby Bridge to do the Warrego River Walk in the late afternoon. Back at camp we join in happy hour at the communal campfire while the sun sets over dark, still waters of the Warrego.

to Broadwater lagoon then the coast

An early start next day saw us on the road by 815 heading est out of Cunnumulla. Six hundred kilomteres later, after a lunch stop in St George on the Balonne River (where are those damn kayaks!) and afternoon tea at Moonie, we turned right into Lake Broadwater Conservation Area.

We set up the camper with a view of the lake as the sun set behind us and cast a warm glow over the scene. A short walk along the lake yielded enough wood to set a campfire to hold the cold night air at bay.

After a spectacular sunrise, we drove on through Dalby and the Sunshine Coast hinterland to camp at Dicky Beach. In the morning, while the camper was attended to we enjoyed a cafe breakfast overlooking Bribie Island (yes, we could have used the kayaks here) and later continued on to Brisbane to overnight with family.

Bald Rock National Park

After a late morning and under leaden skies, we headed south back into New South Wales and over the Great Dividing Range to Bald Rock National Park for a two-night camp. Rob and Carol from the CamperTrailers Group joined us for the first night and we had the place to ourselves on the second night.

Bald Rock is Australia's largest exposed granite surface, measuring 750m long, 500m wide and 200m high. At 1,277m above sea level, the peak of Bald Rock offers a spectacular 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside. To get there, you have a choice of a short, steep scramble up the face of the rock or a more leisurely and circuitous approach. Given the wet conditions, we chose the latter.

Its a slow reveal : the walk begins at the day picnic area and undulates through temperate rainforest and over creeks before the track starts to climb slowly. Here and there you see large granite rocks scattered though the bush, then larger boulders as the vegetation thins. Higher up, massive boulders make you feel like you're walking through a giant rock garden.

Along the way, interpretative signs provide guidance on the geological history and formation of the site and the amazing variety of flora: wild flowers and ferns, climbers and vines, down to the tiniest of mosses and lichens clinging to the rocks.

As you wind around the monolith, huge tors and balancing rocks create a series of corridors and tunnels before you eventually emerge from the tree line near the top of the Bald Rock. Here, a series of four or five large round rocks are lined up like billiard balls waiting for the cue stick to send them tumbling over the edge. On the opposite side, Bald Rock falls gracefully away to the valley floor 200 metres below, its face streaked in beautiful shades greys and greens.

Fortuitously, the sun broke through the clouds just as we sat down to admire the view and have a coffee and snack. The variety of small plants which cling to life in crevices here at the top creates the impression of a designer rock garden which would not be out of place in a high-end home renovation.

With the rock face still wet from recent rain, we decided not to tackle the climb down the face of the rock, instead retracing our steps to return to camp.

not that Stonehenge

Leaving Bald Rock, we began the trek home down the New England highway. South of Glen Innes, a small sign pointed to Balancing Rock, a roughly spherical granite monolith about 2.5 metres in diameter, in a field to our right. Backtracking a few hundred metres, we turned into a recreation reserve which provides access to a large area strewn with more large granite boulders of varying shapes and sizes. A variety of birds darted in and out of view as we wandered around the area.

The area is know as Stonehenge, an obvious reference to the similarity in rock features with the English Stonehenge. The recreation reserve is on the site of the now-abandoned, Stonehenge public school and seemed like a good spot for morning tea.

last camp, last campfire...Quirindi Creek

After another pub lunch at Thunderbolt Inn in Uralla, we camped for our last night beside Quirindi Creek in the small town of Wallabadah. Immediately adjacent to the camping area, the First and Second Fleet Memorial Garden records the names of all those who came out to Australia on eleven ships in 1788 on stone tablets which stand in the gardens. The stories of those who arrived on the ships, their life, and first encounters with the Australian country are presented on storyboards along a meandering path through the garden.

We had our last campfire for this trip on the grassy slope by the bubbling waters of the creek before heading home next morning.

Images from this trip


september 2013