Our outback Australia journey commenced with the lengthy 1000km (650 mile) drive from urbane Sydney to the isolated opal mining town of White Cliffs. We were unsure where the real outback began, and looked forward to exploring new territory.
The start of our drive was initially on a familiar route west through the spectacular Blue Mountains. We quickly transitioned into unfamiliar terrain after passing through the town of Lithgow. We headed north towards Mudgee, a well-known wine and gourmet food destination.
We enjoyed the unexpected sights of the Capartee Valley and the historic town of Ilford. After arriving in Mudgee we had the opportunity to squeeze in some winery visits prior to proceeding to our night stop at Nyngan. The highlight of our short visit to Mudgee was the atmospheric Pieter van Gent winery tasting shed.
After taking a bit too long in Mudgee we were concerned that we would not arrive in Nyngan until after sunset. Driving on country roads in Australia in the period prior to sunset and at night time can be risky. Kangaroos typically come out to feed on the road verges and vehicle accidents with kangaroos are a frequent occurrence. Fortunately we arrived without incident and had a quiet night in Nyngan, halfway to our first true outback destination of White Cliffs.
After an early departure we arrived in the historic mining town of Cobar. The eastern town entrance is framed on the south by the impressive slag heap remnants of the Great Cobar Copper Mine which operated from 1876 to 1919. On the north side there was sufficient large scale mining equipment on display to set machinery minded people panting with rabid enthusiasm… With stampers, head frames and loaders you knew you had entered a whole new world of mining terminology!
A very short distance south of Cobar is the Fort Bourke Lookout and the New Cobar Open Cut Gold Mine. The viewing platform provides a fascinating view 150m down to the bottom of the open cut mine which then transforms into an underground mine. The platform also provided a perfect place to teach our children about echoes.
Twelve kilometres south of Cobar we visited the Peak Gold Mine, which is a fully underground mine only evident by the parking lot and the mine headframe. The miners obviously like to drive big four wheel drive vehicles!
In addition to viewing the above ground component of a modern underground mine, the Golden Walk provides a fascinating insight into the mining practises of the late 1800s. Hand dug mining shafts litter the grounds around the Peak Gold Mine which have been fenced to be safe for visitors and also signposted to better explain the original mining techniques and equipment used.
Forty kilometres west of Cobar was the turn off to travel 32 kilometres on an unsealed road to the Mt Grenfell Historic Site. Turning off the sealed road provided us with our first taste of the true outback Australia. No other cars or people to be seen, a relatively barren landscape and plenty of opportunities to run into a plethora of emus, kangaroos, cows, sheep and goats. At one exciting moment we had two emus racing at top speed beside us in parallel to the road.
The Mt Grenfell Historic Site contains some magnificent examples of aboriginal rock art. At first glance the seemingly infertile landscape led us to speculate what it must have been like for the Aboriginal tribes to live in this area, particularly in the summer when it was blazing hot without much water. I could imagine that sitting under the few large rocks in the heat of the day would have been relatively pleasant, which could account for the sheer quantity of rock art present in a small area.
After an enjoyable interlude we finally settled in for the long drive to the remote town of White Cliffs. Prior to Cobar we had experienced fertile countryside with many trees and towns appearing at most 100km apart. West of Cobar the landscape became noticeably barren with shrubby trees. The next town of Wilcannia was 262km from Cobar, with only a single roadhouse stop at Emmdale to break the journey.
As a result of making the most of sightseeing opportunities en route, by the time we left the Mt Grenfell Historic Site our GPS advised that we would not arrive at White Cliffs until sunset. Fortunately the road north from Wilcannia to White Cliffs is fully sealed, but due to the lower volume of traffic there was significantly more wildlife along the road.
As sunset approached we both actively searched for wildlife hazards, and along the way spotted copious numbers of kangaroos which necessitated regularly braking our car. We were also fortunate to see several massive Wedge Tailed Eagles eating road carrion, which from a distance appeared larger than kangaroos! I had never previously seen such large birds of prey before, with wingspans greater than 2 metres.
After travelling over 1000km (650 miles) we finally arrived safely at White Cliffs just prior to sunset. Our long drive to White Cliffs was complete, and we had definitely crossed the threshold to the real outback Australia.