2012 should have been named The Year of the Outback, for the copious amounts of rain and flooding the whole interior had received from the previous years. For those not wanting or have not got the time for a serious Simpson trip, it is still possible to experience an outback adventure in western NSW. The infamous Darling River once the life line of the outback cuts through the interior providing several stages for the traveller to explore this region. On a recent outback trip we decided to explore the middle section, which runs from Wilcannia through Louth via Tilpa, and then wander down to Cobar.
Wilcannia isn't a flash town compared to its heyday when paddle steamers docked to exchange goods for other river ports, but there are still some old historic buildings scattered around the town. Seeing though we had fuelled and loaded up with supplies previously in Broken Hill we had no need to stop. This trip we decided to travel on the eastern side of the Darling which has had less traffic recently so hopefully the roads would be in a fair condition. The Wilcannia-Bourke road begins its journey just 6km east of Wilcannia. Being 235km of unsealed dirty roads and knowing what the road surface was like, we took time too air down from the start after gathering some local information from the Wilcannia Police Station. The road surface on last years trip up here was hard and crusty, with some deep ruts, so we half expected the same- unfortunately 2 km in to the trip we soon realized that dust was going to be a major issue so some huge gaps were put between the cars. After putting some miles under our belt we soon realized that the dust sections were only happening where the dry lower water pans used to be and as we approached the tree lines and rising several metres that the top soil was turning red. Some thing like small dunes. Here we saw an increase in the flora and fauna, from flocks of birds to acres of wildflowers; we were starting to think that this should have been called the 2012 flower sniffing tour.
The first 50km the Darling River veers away from the road but soon it finds its way back to run beside the road. Huge river gums line the banks and they seem to provide life for other native bushes that hold life again for smaller groups of birds. Soon the lower water pans gave way to better soil and time and time again we were amazed at the sea of wild flowers from purple desert peas to white alyssum ground cover flowers to colourful paper daisy’s to another yellow type pea. The show here was better than some of the gardens on the coast! With the recent rain in these areas some of the roads had some deep ruts where trucks had broken through the hard surface so at time the dust did settle but the ruts had you picking different lines across the roads. Eventually lunch was calling and our plan was to find the spot where we stopped last year where the river came close to the road.
It was great to see the river levels up on last year and flowing well but still had to imagine paddle steamers on here provide a vital transport link. After filling our self’s up with vital coffee and noodles it was only a short 30 min drive further on to Tilpa where we crossed the Darling River to the western side for the first time. A must do in this region is to visit the old 100 year old Tilpa Pub. When visiting here there are 3 must do activities one must do. They include enjoying a cooling ale (not only will you feel refreshed but it will help the local economy), for a donation of $2 which goes to the RFDS you can sign the wall inside the pub, and lastly Tilpa has the worlds smallest heritage trail- one sign on either side of the street !.
After all these activities we were looking for a place to camp for the night, it was that exhausting! An option here was to camp at the pub, but after chatting to one of the locals we found out that her family runs a farm stay just 15 mins up the road where we could camp as well as enjoy the local hospitality. Kallara Station was on the way to Louth so we decided to wander into the station for the afternoon and setup camp. Out here driveways are pretty long, and with around 3km to the homestead we knew it was huge. One thing puzzled us was why the last kilometre was long, straight and wide? this came apparent when we saw the plane in the hanger. The road was the airstrip, or is that the other way round?
Making ourselves known to Justin, the stations owner, he directed us to the camping area overlooking the Darling. Complete with flushing toilets, hot showers, and an under cover eating area with an old boiler as a heater- this place was great. Setting up camp was as easy as finding a flat piece of grass (yep lots of rain meant grassy sites), and then off to explore.
Kallara Station runs around 50,000 sheep with 3 shearing sheds, and is the largest organic lamb supplier to Woolworths, all set on 150,000 acres. Scattered around the main homestead there are links to the past in the way of vintage machinery and that you would normally only see in a museum. One thing we didn’t expect to see out here is people waterskiing, but that’s what they were doing at Kallara Station. Fitted with a 350 chev the ski boat was making short work of giving the kids a decent ski. We had an extra bonus seeing the property’s plane take off. That night the old boiler was cranked up, and I mean this boiler is that big that is possible to place large logs inside giving 360’ heat all way round. We got some prime spots as other campers pulled in during the night for a quick sleep, pack up then go the next day. Our schedule was a bit more casual, breaky then a 10 am departure heading for Louth.
As we were on the western side of the Darling now it was an easy 85km wander to Louth. The road here was no where near as picturesque as the road to Tilpa- straight, dusty with not much colour. But quite a few of the creek crossings we crossed still contained water and billabongs along the road were also full, providing life for birds and small pockets of flowers. Louth was a blessing to us, green grass around the pub, a park for the kids to play in and a great spot to stop for an early lunch. New owners have taken over the pub and with a few dollars thrown at it; the new Shindys Inn is defiantly worth a stop. The pub is full of nostalgic photos, old farm tools and fun race day articles- the beer was cold too. We considered camping on the northern side of the Louth bridge but after the recent rain the low areas we very boggy- unlike last year when the river wasn’t moving and looked dead. Louth is renown for its races every year that attracts thousands of people to the area, great for the town and great for the locals to catch up.
After a feed of toasted sandwiches and a cooling lemonade we made the decision to explore the road south east that heads 135km to Cobar instead of heading north to Bourke. Saying goodbye to Louth we were disappointed that the tar continued out of town, but soon rejoiced when we saw more long red covered dirt roads leading out of town. According to the barman they had a few mm of rain the night before so we needed to be cautious on these roads. For every negative there is a positive. With the rainfall over night it kept the dust to an absolute minimum, this made for travelling a blessing. We did see some small amounts of water on the side but nothing to worry about. Recent rainfall also encouraged the blooming of wildflowers which looked a picture under the old gums and Mulga trees. The roads from Louth to Cobar were closed recently during the heavy rainfall and it was there was evidence that it was driven in severe conditions. In some sections there were ruts up to 8’’ deep where 4wds and trucks were struggling for grip. Time like these we were happy with lower tyre pressures and good mud terrain tyres. For the first 40km towards Kerrigundi we battled to stay out of these ruts as they crissed crossed the road making the journey rougher that expected. Around the 50 km mark we were surprised at the large rises in the road, some over 30 metres high, these gave magnificent 360’ views and gave light to some great photos. The Cobar district is known for its copper mine and its feral goats. We had several ‘’close encounters’’ with the ferals as they decided they wanted to be on the other side of the road ASAP!!. Lord only knows why.
As we approached Cobar, the red dirt gave way to tar, the traffic increase and houses soon appeared. The only real thing we were looking forward to there was a hot shower, catch up with an old mate and to kick the shoes off at the local caravan park.