New South Wales is a big place, with a lot more going on than some people seem to realise. The vast stretches of land that occupy the west of the state represent some of the most subtly scenic areas in the country; there’s just a whole lot of ground to cover between stops. With a focus on great camping, rich history and vibrantly varied landscapes, here’s seven gems in the southwest that can be strung together for a pretty great road trip.
1. Nangar National Park
Where is it: one hour from Orange
Nangar National Park stands as a lone range of mountains amidst a vast stretch of flat, uninspiring farmland. It’s an area rich in grazing, logging, copper and gold mining history, not to mention thousands of years of significance to the Wiradjuri people before that. It’s a dramatic landscape of red siltstone ranges, wide valleys, open gullies and groves of old-growth forest.
When Terarra Creek is flowing, the campground nestled in the sheltered gully beside it plays host to an army of croaking frogs and a plethora of woodland birdlife. You can drive up to Mt Nangar lookout for fantastic views across the open country to the north, or make the climb on foot for a challenging walk through open woodland and rocky gullies, and along steep ridges and rolling hills.
2. Weddin Mountains National Park
Where is it: 30 minutes from Grenfell
Not too far from Nangar, Weddin Mountains National Park is another refuge of rugged hills and crumbling ranges with similar scenery to the former. Small rocky ranges, craggy hillsides, overhanging cliffs and stunning lookouts over plains and remnant bushland.
Grassy woodland campgrounds at Ben Halls and Holy Camp provide access to some great walking trails. There’s long treks across the range, or plenty of shorter strolls to weathered caves, seasonal waterfalls, or various historical sites that represent the bushranging, pastoral and Aboriginal history of the area.
3. Willandra National Park
Where is it: one hour from Hillston
You’d be forgiven for not thinking a lot of this little park at first, spread to either side of Willandra Creek amidst hectares upon hectares of flat, dry and utterly empty grazing country. Once a near-endless sprawl of pastoral land, the park protects the remnant growth of bushland along the creek, along with the historic homestead and shearing quarters, which can be rented out for accommodation.
It makes for some peaceful outback camping, and a great area of history to explore. There’s an easy walking loop through the eucalyptus and black boxes that line the creeks and billabongs, where you’ll find the rusted remnants of the area’s past slowly being devoured by the tangle of bush. There’s been about 200 species of birds recorded in the park, and the 20km Merton trail is a great way to catch a few of them.
4. Cocoparra National Park
Where is it: 30 minutes from Griffith
In the heart of the orchards and farmland of the Riverina lies Cocoparra, a spectacular vestige of native woodland. Rocky bluffs and sheltered gullies transform into cascading waterfalls at the right time of year, while other times might reveal a colourful blanket of wildflowers instead.
There’s great camping in the grassy valley at Woolshed Flat, and a haul of picnic areas scattered throughout the park. Walking trails weave through cypress pine and she-oak woodland along rocky gorges, and climb regularly to the top of the range for views of the Riverina’s sprawling farmland all the way to the Murrumbidgee River.
5. Yanga National Park
Where is it: Balranald
You barely have to leave town for this one. Down in the very south-west of the state, Yanga is all about lakes and rivers. It’s a relatively new park, set amidst vast plains of saltbush and groves of eucalypt woodland. Several large lakes are fed by the tranquil Murrumbidgee, along whose twists and turns the park sprawls.
There’s nothing like camping beneath gnarled red gums on one of Australia’s many great rivers, and the Murrumbidgee is no exception. You can fish or canoe or swim or…well, just do a whole lot of nothing. The area’s rich pastoral and Aboriginal history is represented through fantastic displays in the restored Homestead and Woolshed from the late 1800s.
6. Mungo National Park
Where is it: two hours from Mildura
An otherworldly desert landscape of intricately carved and rippled sand, Mungo is a place like no other. From the ancient lake beds, thick mallee woodland, carpets of hardy spinifex and windswept dunes this one’s a real outback gem. There’s far too much to cover in a couple of paragraphs, but the 70km Mungo Loop drive isn’t a bad way to start.
There’s well equipped campgrounds or rustic shearer’s quarters to stay in, surrounded by spiny grasslands and the incredible formations of red and white dunes the area is known for. It’s one of the oldest places outside of Africa to have been occupied by modern humans since ancient times, and the sheer significance of such a statement is ingrained in the ancient landscape itself.
7. Kinchega National Park
Where is it: 1.5 hours from Broken Hill
Kinchega National Park covers a series of great lakes fed by the Darling River, ranging from large billabongs to expanses of water so large you can barely see the far side. The surrounding woodland and open country is home to a wealth of both Aboriginal and European history, with woolshed ruins and special cultural sites to check out.
There’s a chain of tranquil and private campsites along the Darling River, and a huge amount of native wildlife to look out for. Swimming, four-wheel driving, hiking and birdwatching are all on the table here, and for photographers, the skeletal silhouettes of dead trees along the lake banks make for some incredible sunsets.