Mini Australian Road Trip: Brisbane to Sydney via Moree and Narrabri

Relaxing in the hot springs pool at the Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre, NSW Australia
Relaxing in the hot springs pool at the Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre, NSW Australia

The late autumn sun was starting to set as we drove along the road we thought led to the telescopes near Narrabri.  The atmosphere in the car was tense as we had disagreed on whether to squeeze in a last sightseeing stop after a long day on the road.  As we drove along the sparsely used road with dusk approaching we were keenly aware that we were also short on fuel.

After much debate we came across a group of local youths who were walking on the side of the road.  They confirmed that we had taken a wrong turn.  We finally admitted defeat, turned around and headed back towards Narrabri.  The telescopes would have to wait until the following day.

Can the trip of 1098km (682 mi) between Brisbane and Sydney via the Newell Highway be considered to be a mini road trip?  It is if you only have two days to complete the road trip and have limited time for sightseeing.  We were moving house from Brisbane to Sydney so needed to arrive in time to meet the removalists at our new home.

We could have taken the shorter Pacific Highway route (921km / 572 mi) but we have driven that route many times. This time we decided to head further west and explore along the northern section of the Newell Highway around the towns of Moree and Narrabri.

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Cunningham’s Gap near Warwick, Queensland Australia

After a later than planned departure from Brisbane we headed west towards the first landmark of the trip.  The spectacular 787m (2582 ft) high Cunningham’s Gap is named after Allan Cunningham, the first European explorer to visit the region.  Cunningham’s Gap is located within the Main Range National Park and is also part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area

The road through Cunningham’s Gap is an exciting ride as it twists and turns around the mountains.  We were thankful that the road has two lanes each way so the heavily laden trucks did not block the faster car traffic.  We enjoyed passing through the first landmark on our mini road trip.

Road Trip from Warwick to Moree, Australia

From Cunningham’s Gap we drove 370km (230 mi) (approximately 4 hours) along the Cunningham Highway to Moree via the townships of Warwick and Goondiwindi.  At Warwick is the major intersection between the New England Highway and the Cunningham Highway – a shorter route to Sydney but we didn’t take it…  As we progressed further west from Warwick the terrain initially traversed a beautiful undulating green valley before transforming into a more scrubby arid plain.

Tree-like prickly pear succulent plants abounded on the road side, many of massive proportions and with beautiful edible pink fruits.  It is a pity they are an introduced weed plant in Australia, which is obvious as they look so out of place in the typical Australian countryside.  We stopped on the side of the road to have a closer look at one of them, warning our children not to touch it and also being careful not to encounter snakes in the long roadside grass.

South of Goondiwindi we crossed the border into New South Wales and into cotton country.  By this stage we were more than ready to arrive in Moree.  I was looking forward to experiencing the hot thermal artesian baths which I previously visited when I was a child.

Cotton fields near Narrabri, NSW Australia
Cotton fields near Narrabri, NSW Australia

Moree, New South Wales Australia

The Moree thermal baths originated in 1895 when a bore was sunk underground into the Great Artesian Basin whilst looking for water suitable for irrigation.  When the water emerged at a natural 41 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit) the Moree thermal baths were established.  Across the Great Artesian Basin there are now many places where additional smaller scale thermal baths have been established.

The Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre was well worth the extra effort we had made to visit.   We stayed for two hours and luxuriated in both the warm and hot waters. There are two outdoor hot pools which have temperatures between 38 and 40 degrees Celsius (100 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit).  My husband convinced our older children to first try the second hottest pool and then jump into the unheated pool – needless to say they only did it once!

Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre (MAAC), Moree, NSW Australia
Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre (MAAC), Moree, NSW Australia

I personally found that I could only soak in the hottest pool for short time periods.  The second hottest pool was where I could really relax for an extended time.  Many locals and visitors were also enjoying the heated decadence.  There was more than enough room for everyone to spread out and relax.  Even my splashing son was received with good humour!

Looking across the Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre, NSW Australia
Looking across the Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre, NSW Australia
The hot pools at the Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre, NSW Australia
Relaxing in the hot pools at the Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre, NSW Australia
The Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre Wellness Centre, NSW Australia
The Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre Wellness Centre, NSW Australia

Narrabri, New South Wales Australia

After a lovely relaxing swim we finally continued to head south to our night time stop in the small township of Narrabri, which was a short drive of 101km, 62 mi, 1:05 hrs.

Herding cattle near Narrabri, NSW Australia
Herding cattle near Narrabri, NSW Australia

Along the way we watched the peaks of Mt Kaputar National Park emerge from the flat plains to our left.  The Narrabri Visitor’s Guide provides excellent information about a good range of attractions and activities around Narrabri.

Mt Kaputar National Park near Narrabri, Australia
Mt Kaputar National Park near Narrabri, Australia

As we drove we debated whether to try to do either of our two planned visits in the Narrabri area before arriving at our hotel for the night – either the CSIRO telescopes or Mt Kaputar National Park .  My husband was keen to try to do one of them, so at short notice we took a turn off towards Wee Waa which we subsequently realised was the wrong road.  We eventually decided that we should turn around and head back to Narrabri and leave both of our planned visits for the following morning.

After refuelling and checking in to our hotel we headed out on foot to find some dinner.  We quickly discovered two things – that we were underdressed for the weather and that Narrabri’s main street is very long.  After a long chilly windswept walk we eventually selected the well patronised On Lee Chinese Restaurant and had an enjoyable dinner.  While I ordered our food my husband retrieved our car so we could easily and warmly get back to our hotel after dinner.

As you may expect we all went to sleep quite early, with an eager anticipation to do some more exploring the following morning before completing the remainder of the long drive to Sydney.

Sawn Rocks, Mount Kaputar National Park near Narrabri Australia

After an early wakeup we quickly loaded the car and departed for Sawn Rocks, which is in the northern section of Mount Kaputar National Park.  We selected the Sawn Rocks option as it required less time than the other two sections of the National Park.

After the 38km/24 mi trip to the north west of Narrabri we arrived in the Sawn Rocks car park and were pleased to see that we were the only vehicle.  We commenced the 750m/0.5 mi walk and I quickly felt a sense of relaxation as we headed into the beautiful forest with only the sound of the wind and the birds.  Our children are very noisy so a couple of times I suggested that they stop and be quiet and just listen.  The delight on their faces was well worth the effort.

As we progressed we saw many massive boulders on the ground beside the path.  We discussed where the rocks had come with our children, and their eyes widened when they imagined the rocks falling off the cliffs which surrounded us.

We quickly arrived at the first observation point across the fabulous Sawn Rocks.  Sawn Rocks are an impressively jagged cliff face of volcanic basalt rock crystals.  The cliff face is unusually clear of moss and lichen.  The reason why became clear as we walked closer to the cliff face.

Sawn Rocks in Mount Kaputar National Park, near Narrabri NSW Australia
Sawn Rocks in Mount Kaputar National Park, near Narrabri NSW Australia

At the cliff base is an impressive assortment of rocks which have detached and fallen over time.  I subsequently realised that the lack of vegetation meant that the cliff is relatively unstable and large rock segments must regularly fall down.  Of course this thought occurred to me as my husband and oldest son decided to scramble up the strewn rubble to have a closer look at the cliff face…

After an enjoyable time exploring the Sawn Rocks area we decided to walk back to the car and commence our second attempt to visit the telescopes.

CSIRO Radio Telescopes, near Narrabri NSW Australia

This time we actually followed the correct directions to get to the CSIRO radio telescopes which are located 25km west of Narrabri.  Upon successful arrival (where we were again the only vehicle) we were impressed by the array of six 22m/72 ft diameter radio telescopes.  The telescopes sit on lengthy railway tracks which enable them to move into different configurations.  During our visit it was interesting to observe the dishes being repositioned.

CSIRO Radio Telescopes near Narrabri, NSW Australia
CSIRO Radio Telescopes near Narrabri, NSW Australia
CSIRO Radio Telescopes near Narrabri, NSW Australia
CSIRO Radio Telescopes near Narrabri, NSW Australia

The onsite visitor centre was being refurbished during our visit but we were able to explore the external displays.  Our older children enjoyed trying out the whispering dishes.  These were two dishes mounted vertically approximately 50m apart.  If you put your head near the centre and spoke with a normal voice you could hear the person standing at the other dish.  Our children were fascinated by how the dishes worked so many questions resulted!

Road Trip from Narrabri to Sydney, Australia

We finally decided that it was time to commence the remaining 518km, 322 mi, 6:11hr drive to Sydney.  Our route was through the southern section of the New England Highway, before shifting to the M1 for the final drive into Sydney.

We travelled via Gunnedah, Muswellbrook and Singleton.  Along the way we recalled why we didn’t usually like to drive on the section between Singleton and Maitland – there was heavy traffic and many delays due to both the traffic and road works.  We missed the turnoff to take the alternative route via Cessnock which in hindsight would probably have been the faster route.

After finally joining the M1 we returned to the familiar route which we last drove only 1 ¼ years ago when we previously relocated from Brisbane to Sydney.  As we progressively tried to remember the major turns we realised that our memories had faded slightly but not too badly.  We were still able to find our way to our hotel in western Sydney, which was the same one we stayed in when we departed for Brisbane.

Sydney, NSW Australia

After a big two days of travel which had been preceded by several weeks of frantic activity to prepare for our removal we finally arrived in Sydney.  We all agreed that the detour to Moree and Narrabri had been worthwhile to enable us to explore a different part of Australia.

And you never know, one day our children may say to their children that they should visit Moree because they remember swimming in the thermal baths when they were children!  And the legacy will continue.

The Narrabri Courier newspaper has subsequently featured our trip in the article Narrabri Plays Starring Role on Travel Website.

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Have you travelled to or thinking about visiting the Moree and Narrabri region?  Please share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.

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