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NSW road trip: an Australian outback adventure

Our camping road trip through New South Wales (NSW) was our most memorable family adventure yet. On our first leg, we took the inland route from Brisbane to Sydney so that we could explore the Australian outback and visit some unique Aussie places. On our NSW road trip outback itinerary: Dubbo Zoo, the Dish, Bathurst, Tamworth, Cowra and some beautiful NSW national parks.

Don’t forget to watch our epic NSW road trip video and find out how we planned our route and road trip budget. And, check out the other posts in this NSW road trip series.

A night in New England National Park and visiting Ebor Falls

Starting at our homestay in the lush green valleys of the Northern Rivers region in the north east NSW, we drove 313km south west through the Great Dividing Range to the New England National Park. There, we set up our first camp at the peaceful Thungutti Campground.

At approximately 1,360m above sea level, it was a much cooler November night than we expected. Taken by surprise, we had to dig around to find the few warm clothes and extra blankets we packed! But otherwise, it was a successful first night camping and we were more confident that we could camp with a baby.

The following morning we checked out the New England National Park Point Lookout. There were several beautiful bushwalks and hikes in the national park, but the lookout is also a few hundred metres along a very accessible footpath from the nearby car park. Which is good news if you have a pram or are unable to navigate steep paths or stairs. Unfortunately, the foggy morning meant that we couldn’t see much of the stunning Great Dividing Range valleys and greenery below.

Then we drove a quick 24km backwards to check out Ebor Falls in the Guy Fawkes National Park. And, I’m so glad we did! Ebor Falls is just one of many stunning falls you can find on Waterfall Way.

NSW road trip Guy Fawkes National Park Ebor Falls

Accommodation: Thungutti Campground, Tea Tree Falls Walk, Ebor NSW 2453. Camps9 reference: NSW Camp 277. Cost: $6 per adult. Pay in the honesty box and display your ticket on your tent.

What to do in Ebor: Visit nearby lookouts and hike through New England National Park. Visit Ebor Falls and other waterfalls along Waterfall Way. Cost: free/NSW National Parks entry fee. 

Armidale, Bendemeer and Tamworth

We stopped in Armidale for lunch at the New England Hotel and to pick up some warmer clothes for Little One. Then we drove to Bendemeer Tourist Park, where we stayed for one night. Because it’s located right between Armidale and Tamworth it was the perfect stopover for the second night of our NSW road trip.

NSW road trip Coleman Instant Up Tent

Accommodation: Bendemeer Tourist Park, 19 Havannah St, Bendemeer NSW 2355. Camps9 reference: NSW Camp 154. Cost: $10 per adult camping + $5 electricity. Cabins, caravans and motorhomes cost extra.

After some recommendations from friends, we spent the following day trying to explore Tamworth. I say ‘trying’ because the Australia Country Music Hall of Fame was closed for renovation and the Powerhouse Motorcycle Museum was closed on the day of the week we tried to visit. The free Oxley Scenic Lookout, however, did boast impressive views over the country town that was full of blooming jacaranda trees.

NSW road trip Tamworth Oxley Scenic Lookout

And, a delicious Black Angus Cheese Burger for lunch at the Tamworth Hotel is how our NSW road trip turned into my search for NSW’s best burger.

“The Black Angus Cheese Burger at the Tamworth Hotel was one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten…”

On our way out of town we made a slight detour to see the Big Golden Guitar, one of the many “big” attractions that can be found around NSW and Australia.

NSW road trip Tamworth Golden Guitar

Teronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo

One of the reasons we chose to take the inland route on our NSW road trip was so that we could visit “Dubbo Zoo”. I had visited when I was a kid and remember having lots of fun. So, why not visit again?

The Teronga Western Plains Zoo is located on the Newell Highway in west Dubbo about 4 km from the city centre. It’s home to over 700 animals including exotic and endangered species such as Black Rhinoceros, Sumatran Tigers, Elephants and Giraffe. The best thing about Dubbo Zoo is that the animals roam wide open spaces across 300 hectares of dedicated bushland.

We spent two nights at a budget hotel in Dubbo so we could take advantage of the two-day pass that you receive with your Teronga Western Plains Zoo ticket. And, it meant that we could go back the following morning to feed the giraffes!

Watch a short video to see some awesome animals and hear what we recommend when visiting Teronga Western Plains Zoo.

Accommodation: Ibis Budget Hotel, Victoria St & Newell Hwy, Dubbo NSW 2830. Cost: about $85 per night (single room with en suite).

Teronga Western Plains Zoo, Dubbo: Open 8:30am – 4:00pm. Check the website for information on scheduled activities, family passes, annual passes and over night stays. (Two) Day pass cost: $43.20 per adult, $25.20 per 4-15 yo child.)

Visiting ‘The Dish’ near Parkes

From Dubbo, we drove south on the Newell Highway to the CSIRO Parkes Observatory for lunch with ‘The Dish‘. The 1,000 tonne 64m diameter CSIRO  radio telescope is located just north of Parkes, NSW, and was made famous in the iconic Australian movie “The Dish” (2000). The film was somewhat based on the telescope’s role in receiving pictures from the Apollo 11 mission and moon landing in 1969.

“Basically, it’s a really big dish with a visitor centre and a café.”

Was it worth the slight detour on our NSW road trip? I think so. If you enjoy history and space make sure you spend some time here to watch the cinema experience and read through all of the fascinating information on display.

CSIRO Parkes Observatory visitor centre: Open 8:30am – 4:15pm. Entry: free. Some activities and the 3D film are extra. 

After lunch with The Dish, we stopped at a small pub on the main street in Parkes to watch the Melbourne Cup. The small pub was soon filled with locals popping in to watch the ‘race that stops the nation’.

It was nice to visit Parkes’ main street, but the delay almost derailed the fifth night of our NSW road trip…

Lost in central west NSW

We liked ‘winging it’ with our trusty Camps 9 book and had not bothered booking accommodation in advance. It wasn’t a problem until we found ourselves stranded in the middle of central west NSW, without accommodation, without phone signal and with no idea where to go next. 

But it wouldn’t be a true Never Ending Honeymoon holiday without one of our typical travel fails! 

“A good travel fail makes the journey more memorable…”

Dan wanted to do some fishing and I wanted to have some downtime to read a book. So, we took the scenic route through 160km of tiny historic, outback towns and along deserted cliff-side roads to Wyangala Waters Holiday & Recreation Park. With the exception of hungry kangaroos at the closed gate, there was no other living creature in sight.

“We had driven 250km that day and arrived in a ghost town with a few deserted buildings and no mobile phone signal.”

Had it been just the two of us, we probably would have pitched our tent and stayed the night. But with a baby we both felt that we wanted to be a little closer to civilization than we were at that moment. So, we found a free camp site in our Camps 9 book about 50km away and left the kangaroos in a cloud of dust as we quickly scampered away.

The best things to see and do in Cowra, NSW

We raced the setting sun and finally got to a small grassed picnic spot just outside of Cowra as darkness fell. Dan set up our tent by car headlight as I fed the baby and tried not to imagine who or what lurked just beyond the beams of light. It was one of the darkest nights I’ve ever witnessed.

NSW road trip Cowra Farleigh Reserve

We explored the Farleigh Reserve picnic area the next morning and discovered that the free camp site was equipped with a toilet block containing one toilet and a couple of picnic tables. There was no shower and no drinking water. But, the very cold and beautiful Lachlan River was just perfect for a refreshing bath in the morning!

NSW road trip Lachlan River
Camping on the Lachlan River, near Cowra, NSW

Accommodation: Farleigh Reserve picnic area, Farleigh Reserve Rd, Cowra NSW 2794. Camps9 reference: NSW camp 54. Cost: free!

Some quick Googling in the morning revealed that there was a lot more culture and history to Cowra than we expected. And, Cowra’s strong ties to Japan and the world wars are evident in various forms throughout the shire. So, if you’re driving past on your own NSW road trip, check out Cowra’s unique history by visiting:

  1. the very informative prisoner of war camp site where, on 5 August 1944, four Australian soldiers and 231 Japanese soldiers were killed when at least 1,104 Japanese prisoners of war attempted to escape from the prisoner of war camp.
  2. the Australian World Peace Bell that was awarded to Cowra in 1992 for its long standing contribution to world peace and international understanding.
  3. the peaceful Japanese garden.
NSW road trip Cowra prisoner of war
NSW road trip Cowra World Peace Bell

Free camping at Cacoar Dam (near Bathurst)

After a day of history and culture in Cowra, we stocked up on water and food supplies and drove 63km east to Cacoar Freecamp & Windfarm on the Belubula River.

We did a lap around the camp site to select our home for the next two nights on our NSW road trip. We were well away from other caravans and campers, and far enough away from the strange man we encountered near the closed toilet block on the hill.

Never Ending Honeymoon at Cacoar Dam Freecamp and Windfarm

Accommodation: Carcoar Freecamp & Windfarm, 234 Carcoar Dam Rd, Carcoar NSW 2791. Camps9 reference: NSW camp . Cost: free!

Cacoar Dam was a lovely place to rest and relax for a couple of nights. Dan enjoyed some fishing (we ate sausages and soup for dinner), I enjoyed some reading time and Little One enjoyed some tent play time. But we still didn’t have the most relaxing time…

Creepy wildlife at Cacoar Freecamp & Windfarm

We’ll always remember Cacoar as the place where we were spooked our of our minds. Not once, but twice!

As Dan was fishing, I was watching the shadows of hundreds of little spiders slowly creep up between our tent and the tent fly. Hundreds of little spiders. Dan came rushing back in to the tent to tell me that the same little spiders had started to crawl up his legs as he stood on the bank of the dam. He was horrified to learn that they were engulfing our tent. It was the stuff of nightmares.

Thankfully, the spiders only hung around long enough to shelter from the gale force winds that threatened to blow our tent over that afternoon. Who thought camping near a wind farm would be windy?

NSW road trip Carcoar Dam and Windfarm sunset

More terror at Cacoar Freecamp & Windfarm

Later that night, I kicked myself for not camping closer to the open toilet block. Shaking my head, I opened the tent in the almost pitch dark to see a man standing next to a tree 50m away from our tent. Just watching.

My first instinct was to scream. But there was no one around to hear us.

Who knew we were even here? Why hadn’t I messaged our families with our location? How could we be so relaxed with a baby in the tent?!

Instead, I kept my torch light on the man and calmly whispered to Dan to poke his head out of the tent to see if he could see the same thing I could. “Yes,” he whispered in reply. “Well, crap,” I thought as my heart beat little faster.

If the spiders weren’t the end of us, this was. What did we have to lose?

“Oi! What are you looking at?!” I called out into the dark. Dan jumped in surprise. We called out again before finally building up the courage to approach the man. Or maybe I made Dan go out first. Either way, as we got closer the shadows shifted. Suddenly, the man in the shorts was just a small tree sapling growing out of the stump of a larger tree.

Relieved, we retreated red-faced back to our tent for a beer and some sleep.

The rest of our stay at the dam was lovely. The cold showers were refreshing in the morning and we enjoyed the peace and quiet for a couple of days.

Going the distance in Bathurst, NSW

We packed up our camp and headed north and then east, stopping to check out Bathurst on our way to the coast. We drove to the Mount Panorama Circuit where the Bathurst 1000 touring car race is held each year and discovered, much to Dan’s delight, that we could drive on the circuit!

Where next on our NSW road trip?

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