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Outback 4WD Adventure to Cameron Corner

  • By Brendan Batty
  • 7 September 2018
  • 23 min read
  • 4 Four day trip
    Are you ready for a grand outback adventure? Head for NSW's red-desert corner country and reach the point where the borders of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia meet
  • Medium
    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.
  • 4 Four day trip
    Are you ready for a grand outback adventure? Head for NSW's red-desert corner country and reach the point where the borders of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia meet
  • Medium
    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

There is so much outback in Australia. Basically, the only place it isn't is along the eastern seaboard and around to Adelaide – everywhere else, pretty much, the red dirt continues all the way to the ocean and with it, all the splendour. As such, choosing an introduction to outback travel can be as simple as just driving somewhere in the west or north, or as hard as picking a favourite style of Mexican food – they're basically all the same, right?

For my money, though, a trip through New South Wales' Corner Country makes a lot of sense. It starts in Cobar, about the closest bit of real red dirt west of Sydney, it travels through spectacular country, takes in a few wonderful pubs and has great camping all along the way, whether you want to pay for it or not.

The red dirt continues all the way to the ocean and with it, all the splendour. The red dirt continues all the way to the ocean and with it, all the splendour.

Best of all, the distances between settlements are not large, fuel is never too hard to get and, although the roads can be rough in parts, the trip is completely accessible for any well-prepared SUV with a bit of ground clearance and an understanding of the need to take things easy.

Note: This trip is a mix of outback bitumen and gibber roads with occasional patches of bull-dust and it is dry-weather travel only.

It takes more than eight hours to reach Cobar, which is an old gold and copper mining town about 700km or so north-west of Sydney. There are two ways out, either over the Blue Mountains and through Bathurst, or south to Goulburn and through Parks and Forbes. I'm not convinced the latter is faster, despite the assurances of my travelling companions this trip. 

It takes more than eight hours to reach Cobar going over the Blue Mountains and through Bathurst. It takes more than eight hours to reach Cobar going over the Blue Mountains and through Bathurst.

We rolled into Cobar after dark. There are a couple of places to camp in Cobar, including a run-down caravan park and a couple of free campsites. Until recently, there was an excellent free camping area on the shore of the man-made lake at Newey Reserve to the south of town, but it's been closed down. The next best free campsite is the Old Reservoir, where there's plenty of open space and red dirt to park up on – avoid this spot if there's been rain. There's also free overnight camping under the Cobar sign on the entry to town, which is popular for those in caravans and motorhomes. 

Despite its plain appearance, there's a few things worth doing in Cobar. If you do sidle in before dark, take a drive up to the top of Bourke Hill to watch sunset and look down into the New Cobar Gold Mine, which isn't, despite its name, the newest. The massive open-cut mine is a wonder of mans' hole-digging ability and its scale is only truly appreciated if you see one of the trucks at the bottom.

There are a few places to camp in Cobar, including rundown caravan parks and free campsites. There are a few places to camp in Cobar, including rundown caravan parks and free campsites.

The Great Cobar Heritage Centre is also worth a look. We duck in before moving on to check out the history of the area, beginning with the Ngemba and Wongaibon peoples and the struggles European settlers had in such a dry, inhospitable land. There's also quite extensive displays about the two mines in the area, which are surprisingly interesting. 

If we'd planned more than a night in town, that night I'd have suggested our group dine at the Great Western Hotel on the main drag through town. The pub was built in 1898 and extended up five years later. Most significantly, it's got the longest cast-iron balcony in Australia which stretches for around 100 metres, overlooking the Barrier Highway and Lindsay Street.

Cobar's the last reasonably priced place to fill up before heading into the interior, so we load up on diesel and lolly snakes as we trundle out of town, following the Barrier Highway. This is a bitumen section all the way to Willcania, but the landscape starts to open up, the trees become sparser and the driving is good. 

We following the Barrier Highway to Willcania before continuing on to White Cliffs along Opal Miners Way. We following the Barrier Highway to Willcania before continuing on to White Cliffs along Opal Miners Way.

We roll into Wilcannia for an early lunch and to let the kids play in the park. By the looks of the traffic driving through town, plenty of people still don't stop in the little outback outpost, maybe because of the poor reputation the town's got as a result of poor government decisions and unflattering news reports. In reality, it's a charming, friendly town where you can get a good coffee, enjoy a few pleasant short walks and even do a bit of historic sight-seeing, with most of the significant buildings constructed in the late 1800s. The Wilcannia Athenaeum Library, now the Pioneer Museum, is the best place to visit if you're passing through in a hurry. 

We continue on to White Cliffs along Opal Miners Way. We continue on to White Cliffs along Opal Miners Way.

We continue on to White Cliffs along Opal Miners Way, barely a single lane of bitumen through red, treeless country. In testamant to the amazing things you see when you're in the outback, we come across a convoy of Model T Fords, all of which have just travelled out to Cameron Corner themselves braving the corrugations and gibbers in their 90-year old automobiles, motorhomes and camper trailers. And we thought we'd be roughing it a little in our Prado Kakadu and Kimberley Kamper.

White Cliffs is one of Australia's four distinct opal mining towns – the others are Coober Pedy, Lightning Ridge and Andamooka – and if it sparks your interest, you can fossick for the rare stones on any unregistered bit of ground anywhere in the White Cliffs region. 

You can fossick for the rare stones or you just buy one from any of the opal stores around town. You can fossick for the rare stones or you just buy one from any of the opal stores around town.

Or, like the sensible people, you can just buy one from any of the opal stores in and around town, or take a tour of the mines. For us, not really that interested in opals, we finally let down our tyres and hit some dirt, searching for our next campsite, known descriptively on wikicamps as ‘Gravel pit'. 

Gravel pit, about 40km from White Cliffs and for all its grandeur, was exactly the sort of place we were looking for. Surrounded by big open sky and with plenty of room for a camp fire to do Hades proud, we settled in for the sort of night outback campsites are made for. Tall stories, slow-cooked meals and the keen knowledge that it's socially acceptable to enjoy a few more beers here than it would have been at home by ourselves.

While some in our camp could be described in the same terms as the Gravel pit we camped in (dusty), we get a reasonably early start the next morning – destination Tibooburra. We're well and truly in red-dirt country now, and the road's in reasonable condition all the way to the Silver City Highway. We cross countless dry creek beds and marvel at the low ranges that pop up and disappear just as quickly.

 From White Cliffs we hit the Silver City Highway before rolling into Tibooburra. From White Cliffs we hit the Silver City Highway before rolling into Tibooburra.

As we hit the Silver City Highway, there's a unique piece of artwork that captures everyone's attention. A lone Hills Hoist stands proud in the red, hundreds of spanners hanging from its lines. To the south, an emergency airstrip stretches into the distance, and the temptation is too much for two of our group. Can a supercharged Nissan Patrol or a chipped LandCruiser 200 get to 110km/h first, towing a caravan? After a few goes, the supercharger emphatically wins. 

A lone Hills Hoist stands proud in the red, hundreds of spanners hanging from its lines. A lone Hills Hoist stands proud in the red, hundreds of spanners hanging from its lines.

We roll into Tibooburra not long after, the two V8s a little lower on fuel than they expected to be, so we fill up. Tibooburra has an excellent caravan park with one of the most dramatic backdrops of any in the country. The town's name is said to mean ‘heaps of rocks' (or 'place of stones'), and the pile that overlooks the parks supports that argument. At sunset, they turn the most magical red and there's hardly a better spot to sit by a campfire and enjoy taking it all in.

Tibooburra's other famous landmark is the Family Hotel, with its decidedly family-unfriendly murals that line the wall (or at least ones that could cause children to ask questions you could be a little uncomfortable answering). The murals were painted in the 1960s by Clifton Pugh, Rick Amor and Russell Drysdale, all renowned artists in their own rights. Still, the beer is cold, the talk jovial and the meals good.

The track out from Tibooburra is the sort we've come all this way to experience. It's red, rough, dusty and corrugated. It's the sort of road we can proudly complain about at camp or to our city-slicker friends who just don't understand. 

On our way from Tibooburra to Cameron Corner we pass through the dingo fence. On our way from Tibooburra to Cameron Corner we pass through the dingo fence.

Not long into the day we come across our first casualty, although not one of our group. A family towing a 22-foot caravan had lost a spring and were studiously ratchet-strapping it back on as we past. With luck they'll make it back to Tibooburra to get it all stuck back together more permanently. 

Not long after we get our own casualty. Pulled up for a nature break, we notice one of the windows on a caravan is shattered and creating a breadcrumb trail for untold kilometres behind us. We surmise a rock has shattered it as we overtook a slower moving party, but there's no way to be sure. Gaffer tape and cardboard will do the trick for the next 5000km, hopefully more effectively than ratchet straps will for the earlier family. 

Just before Cameron Corner we pass through the dingo fence, the longest fence in the world. It was constructed in the 1880s and runs for nearly 5000km between the Eyre Peninsula and Jimbour in the Darling Downs to keep dingoes out of the prime sheep farming land in the south-east of Australia. I've always held a secret desire to get a job maintaining it – just driving through the outback fixing fences. What a blessedly stress-free life. 

We've made it to the bollard that divides New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. We've made it to the bollard that divides New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia.

It's the sign we've made it, though. We're on that point of Australia that arbitrarily divides New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. A white bollard concreted into the sand that we've travelled four days just to see. It's weird to be so happy about it, in those terms, but we are anyway. The local dog sidles up and drops a ball-shaped rock suggestively at our feet and the kids spend the next 45-minutes playing fetch while those driving V8s fill up again.

The Corner Store, as it's known, is a respite from the winter heat and dust. Fenn, the publican, is his usual jolly self and happily serves us a celebratory beer and burgers with the lot. The bar, like so many outback bars, has roof and walls lined with travellers' paraphernalia. Here it's five-dollar notes with a note, and other things, and hats from around the globe. 

The Corner Store, as it's known, is a respite from the winter heat and dust. The Corner Store, as it's known, is a respite from the winter heat and dust.

There's a tidy little campsite across from the store, all red dirt and space, with use of the showers and dunnies for a very modest fee, but we pass up the offer of hospitality, and celebrate our achievement a little further on. We end this part of the trip camped between two high sand dunes among the reddest dirt so far. 

As the sun sets we watch from the top of a dune, drinks and cheese in hand, soaking it all in. This is exactly what's so good about the outback.

What's your favourite outback destination? Tell us in the comments below.

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