Darling River Run Itinerary

The Darling River Run is one of the best Australia’s best touring routes encompassing some of the best destinations, attraction, and experiences of Outback NSW and while it is touted by some as a 4WD adventure, the reality is that it is easily done in an AWD SUV and even a traditional passenger vehicle with care. The route is also caravan and RV friendly with many of the accommodation options along the way perfectly suited to BYO accommodation including traditional camping as well.

The Ultimate Guide to the Darling River Run!

Best Times: Autumn - Spring

Go to Darling River Run Camping

*Summer is hot, but still great!

The Darling River Run is regarded by many as one of the best outback touring routes in Australia. While it might not the the extreme off-road, 4x4, that some seek, it is one that is easily done in almost any mode of vehicle, and has the added benefit of being easily accessible from any of the east coast capital cities; less than a days drive to get to the Darling River.

The touring route also joins many side-trips that enable access to some of the best known, iconic travel experiences in Outback NSW; and some great ‘hidden gems’.

The Darling River Run - Outback NSW Touring Routes

What is the Darling River Run?

The Darling River Run is one of the best touring routes in Australia and encompasses some of the best destinations, attractions, and experiences of Outback NSW, and while it is touted by some as a 4WD adventure, the reality is that it is easily done in an AWD SUV and even a traditional passenger vehicle with care.

The route is also very caravan and RV friendly with many of the accommodation options along the way perfectly suited to BYO accommodation including traditional camping as well.

As it basically bisects Outback NSW provide many great side-trips to further explore Outback NSW, the most of these routes will join back to the Darling River Run; many of these side-trips are touring routes within themselves.

While many plan their Darling River Run itinerary from start to finish, the touring route can be done in sections, enroute to other outback destinations, including Broken Hill.

Darling River Run Map

About the Darling River

The Darling River at Bourke, May's Bend, Outback NSW

Part of the Murray Darling Basin which covers an area of 1,061,469 square kilometres (14% of the total area of Australia), the Darling River is Australia's longest river flowing 2,739 km.

The upper tributaries of the Darling River flow from the Darling Downs in South East Queensland with the river proper starting between Walgett and Brewarrina to flow in a south-west direction through the centre of Outback NSW before joining the Murray River at Wentworth, and then continuing as one to South Australia’s Lake Alexandrina and into the Southern Ocean to the east of the Great Australian Bight.

Long before European settlement and the search to find the 'inland sea' of Australia, the Darling River region was home the first Australians and indigenous culture in the area is documented to go back over 45,000, and encompasses more than an estimated 15 Aboriginal language groups.

The river has always been an integral part of Aboriginal culture and was named after being 'discovered' by explorer Charles Sturt in 1829 in honour of Sir Ralph Darling - the then Governor of New South Wales.

 

Darling River Run Itinerary - 14 Day Adventure

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The Darling River Run can be done in either direction, downstream to Wentworth or upstream from Wentworth to Lightning Ridge.

Even through the ‘Ridge’ is not on the Darling, it is included in the touring route as it is a real ‘must-see’ destination, and a perfect ‘fit’ for the start or end of this great touring route.

Getting to Lightning Ridge

From Melbourne

Driving to Lightning Ridge from Melbourne (around 1,200km) is full of many options with the Newell Highway being the most direct, but probable a nicer touring route is via the Kidman.

The Kidman Way, which is a touring route from Tocumwal (on the Murray River) up through Darlington Point at the Murrumbidgee River, Griffith, Hillston, Cobar, and onto Bourke.

From Bourke, the route heads east along the Kamilaroi Highway through Brewarrina and Walgett before heading north along the Castlereagh to Lightning Ridge.

From Sydney

Driving Sydney to Lightning Ridge provides many options but probably the tow best being via the Kamilaroi Highway (805km), or across the Blue Mountains and along the Castlereagh Highway (725km).

Incorporating the fabulous wine region of the Hunter Valley, the Kamilaroi route incorporates the famous wine growing region of the Hunter Valley before joining the Kamilaroi Highway through the beautiful New England area and on up to Narrabri, and Walgett.  From Walgett, it is a short drive north along the Castlereagh Highway to the 'Ridge'.

From Brisbane

The wonderful Darling Downs provide two great options when driving to Lightning Ridge from Brisbane with the via Toowoomba route (735km) being slightly shorter than the Warwick and Goondiwindi route (750km).

Driving to Lightning Ridge via Toowoomba takes the visitor the horticulturally rich region of the Lockyer Valley before crossing the Great Dividing Range at Toowoomba before heading though the Darling Downs and onto the iconic outback Queensland town of Dalby. From Dalby, the Adventure Way takes in St George before joining the Castlereagh Highway for the run to Lightning Ridge via Hebel on the Queensland/NSW border.

Going via the southern Darling Downs, the Warwick route crosses the Condamine River and heads along the Cunningham Highway to Goondiwindi on the NSW/QLD border, before joining the Newel highway on to Moree which is a nice three-hour drive to Lightning Ridge.

From Adelaide

Due to its relatively close proximity to the Darling, it is probable more convenient to start the Darling River Run from Wentworth (the Murray Darling confluence).

But if Lightning Ridge is the desired starting point for those coming from Adelaide, Lightning Ridge can be reached via the Barrier Highway to Broken Hill, through Wilcannia and Cobar, before joining the Castlereagh at Nyngan for the run north to Walgett and onto Lightning Ridge. (1,525km total)

There are many ways to travel the Darling River Run, and the following route covers most things on offer along the way, and those that are not incorporated into the route can be experienced by one of several side-trips list towards the bottom of the page.

For most of the ‘Run’, it is possible to travel on the eastern or western bank of the Darling, but for this guide, the route will follow one side or the other depending on the section.

Day 1 & 2: Experience Lightning Ridge:

With the Ridge as the starting point, it is time to experience a place that is truly a 'must-see' icon of the outback.

Home of the elusive Black Opal, Lightning Ridge is one of the most unique destination in Australia and such is the allure of 'the Ridge' that many who initially planned to only stay a day or so as part of a larger travel experience, end up staying a lifetime without being able to pinpoint the exact reason.

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Lighting Ridge is full of eccentricity, but not the type of eccentricity that one needs to be wary of, but the kind that truly envelopes any visitor and is delivered via characters that could be included in any folkloric Australian novel or film – truly warming and welcoming.

A local of the area, Laurie Hudson (Cumborah Postmaster), once wrote, "Though you've roamed the whole world over, seen most all there is to see, there are scenes you've never dreamed of, in the stone of mystery".

Like the stone of mystery, Lightning Ridge also shows its various facets of colour in many different ways depending on how one looks at it.

  • Ridge Highlights
    • Chambers of the Black Hand
    • John Murray Art Gallery
    • Lost Sea Opals
    • The Artesian Bore Baths
    • Anything on the Car Door Tours
    • The Grawin
  • Ridge Accommodation:
    • Fossickers Cottages
    • Lightning Ridge Holiday Park
    • Opal Caravan Park
    • Lightning Ridge Outback Resort & Caravan Park
    • Other (via Lightning Ridge Tourism)

The Grawin is a 'must-see' attractions near Lightning Ridge and can be experienced while staying on the Ridge or on the alternate route to Brewarrina (see below).

Anyone who has experienced the Ridge will probably tell you it is the most unque outback destinations… that is until they visit the Grawin.

Full of unique welcoming characters, a landscape that often resembles a moonscape, a few places to wet the whistle along the way, and even a place to swing the clubs. The Grawin is a not to be missed experience.

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Located about 40 km south-west of Lightning Ridge, the Grawin refers to the group of opal fields made of Grawin, Glengarry, Sheepyard, and Mulga Rush.

  • Grawin Highlights
    • The Club in the Scub
    • Glengarry Hilton
    • Sheepyard Flats
    • ANZAC Memorial

Day 3 - Drive Lightning Ridge to Bourke

Drive Lightning Ridge to Bourke

About Walgett

Walgett is located by the Namoi River near its junction with the Barwon River in northern NSW, and is the service centre for the surrounding wool, beef cattle, sheep and wheat pastoral interests.

Its attractive riverside location also makes it an ideal spot for fishing with Murray Cod and Yellow-Belly being the predominant catches.

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Those interested in bird watching can take a trip out to Narran Lake, 96 km west of the town, a worthwhile trip that can be continued onto the Grawin and then to the 'Ridge' on the road less travelled.

About Brewarrina

Brewarrina provides the visitor with an insight into the Darling River's significance to indigenous history and living culture. Beside the centre of town are the Fish Traps, an ancient arrangement of rocks used to corral fish for catching.

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Estimated to be over 40,000 years old, the fish-traps are truly a marvel and it is a moving experience to stand on the bank and imagine the history and culture surrounding them and how important Brewarrina was for the local indigenous community.

  • Brewarrina Highlights
    • The Fish Traps
    • Brewarrina Aboriginal Cultural Museum
    • The Visitor Information Centre

Day 4 & 5 - Experience Bourke

Bourke is a thriving service town and a mecca for travellers, due in part to its location at the crossroads of the north south and east-west routes of outback NSW, but more importantly due to the efforts of the town to provide an ever increasing number of experiences on offer; experiences that showcase the town’s history and unique place it holds in terms of a river port on one of our most iconic rivers.

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The jewel in the crown for Bourke is the recently developed Back O' Bourke Exhibition Centre, a world-class facility with interactive installations and stunning visual displays covering the Indigenous and European history of the region. It would have to be one of the best of its type in Australia.

But no visit to Bourke would be complete without experiencing a trip down the Darling on the PV Jandra, a faithful reproduction of an 1894 steam paddleboat that was used to collect wool bales along the route.

Just sit back while the old paddleboat weaves its way along the river, with the wonderfully rhythmic beat of the paddles hitting the water, and listen to the informative narrative of the captain on the history of the river, paddle boats and life in the region over a century ago.

  • Bourke Highlights
    • Back O Bourke Exhibition Centre
    • PS Jandra
    • The Old Wharf Precinct
    • Fred Hollows memorial and Bourkes history filled cemetry
    • Mt Oxley
  • Bourke Accommodation:
    • Mays Bend (Free camping)
    • Kidman Camp (RV and Cabin Accommodation)
    • Back O Bourke Motel
    • Port of Bourke Hotel (Pub Accommodation)
    • Other (via Bourke Tourism)

     

Day 6 - Drive Bourke to Trilby Station

Drive Bourke to Trilby Station

About Louth

Louth was originally established as a service point for the Cobb & Co coaches that serviced outback Australia, and with as the Darling River was being used more as a river transport alternative, the town established itself as a pivotal river port. Louth’s founder, T.A Mathews, established a hotel and general store to service both the booming river trade as well as Cobb & Co.

Every year, the tiny town of less than one hundred people swells by thousands when the Louth Races are held in August.

Louth is also famous for the ‘Celtic Cross’, a seven metre structure constructed by the Thomas Matthews as a perpetual memorial to wife, Mary Mathews, who died in 1866 at the age of forty-two.

The Cross has become a dedication to the early pioneering women.

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The poignancy of his dedication to his wife is that on the anniversary of Mary's death, August 19, the setting sun is reflected from the cross to point where the front door of their house was located.

Not only testament to the love and devotion of a husband for his wife, the monument demonstrates the accuracy of navigation technology of the 1800's. Its alignment was calculated by one of the river-boat captains of the Darling River.

Day 7 - Experience Trilby Station

Trilby Station, located on the western bank of the Darling River twenty kilometres downstream from Louth, is a fifth generation working sheep station which provides visitors with farm-stay accommodation ranging from river and billabong campsites to very comfortable converted shearers' quarters and cottages.

Trilby spans over 320,000 acres and historically, as Dunlop Station, was the site of Australia's first mechanised shearing shed; the transition from hand-shears to mechanical ones was not well received by many and it provided the backdrop for the song 'Click Goes the Shears' and the event of the great shearers' strike of 1891.

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Today, Trilby is regarded by many as one of the best camping and farm-stays not only on the Darling River, but Outback NSW, and through the dedication of owners, Gary and Liz Murray, the history of life on the river is well preserved and told through many interpretive experiences; in particular the historic homestead.

  • Trilby Station Highlights
    • Darling River Camping
    • Fishing and Yabbying
    • 'Mud Map' tour of old homestead
    • Bird Watching
    • Relaxing by the river

Day 8 - Drive Trilby Station to Menindee

Drive Trilby Station to Menindee

About Tilpa

Located on the western banks of the Darling River, the very welcoming town of Tilpa is a must for a stopover, whether you have a few hours or a few days for camping and fishing on the Darling River. The old pub is a true classic and has been welcoming travellers and locals for over 100 years.

The walls of pub are covered with graffiti written by visitors who make a gold coin donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service for the privilege. The graffiti makes for an intriguing read while having a cold beer and a chat to the locals and other fellow travellers.

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Originally a busy port servicing the river trade and local agriculture, Tilpa was a 'crossroad' in the outback as the bridge of the river served as a stock crossing and port for the wool clip being transported down to Wentworth and onto either Echuca or Adelaide.

  • Tilpa Uniqueness
    • Only Boer War memorial with commemorative to Harry 'Breaker' Morant.
    • Shortest heritage trail in Australia comprising just two signs.
    • Tilpa cemetery is the only one in Australia with no one in it.
    • Tilpa Trading Post hamburgers touted as the 'best in the world!'

     

About Wilcannia

Located where the Barrier Highway crosses the Darling River, Wilcannia is largely undisturbed port on the Darling River. Cross the bridge driving from Sydney to Broken Hill and turn either to your right or left when you enter the town and you will be amazed at the richness of the architecture.

It is easy to see that Wilcannia was once a very important Outback NSW town and Darling River port and the remnants of a once-important inland port are evident.

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Some of the town's historic treasures include the National Trust classified old centre-lift bridge (1896), the beautiful 1880 post office, the Athenaeum Library (1883) and the impressive courthouse (1880), police station (1881), and the police residence (1880), which were all built of locally quarried sandstone and designed by James Barnet.

  • Tilpa Highlights
    • Old 'lift-span' bridge over Darling River
    • Darling River access
    • Paroo-Darling National Park

Day 9 - Experience Menindee & Kinchega NP

Menindee & Menindee Lakes:

Menindee and the surrounding area is steeped in legend and history; the region is of great indigenous significance and European pastoral history. The area is known to the Barkindji people as 'Minandichee' and it is believed this is how the name originated.

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The explorer Major Thomas Mitchell followed the Bogan and Darling Rivers down to this area in 1835 and came across the naturally formed lakes which he named 'Laidley's Chain of Ponds', the Barkindji people referred to these as 'Wontanella' meaning 'Many Waters'.

Charles Sturt, a decade later, travelled up the Darling River from Wentworth through Menindee on his expedition to find the fabled inland sea.

The Menindee Hotel was opened in 1953 to supply provisions to the surround area and the town established itself as a major Darling River Port after Captain Francis Cadell proved the river was navigable.

The Menindee Lakes originally comprised 9 natural ephemeral lakes covering an area of 453 km2 As a result of the weir, there are 4 major lakes Wetherell (including Lake Tandure), Pamamaroo (connected by a small lake called Copi Hollow), Menindee, and Cawndilla.

  • Menindee Highlights
    • Menindee Tourist Information Centre
    • Menindee Historic Tour (self drive/walk)
    • Kinchega National Park
    • Copi Hollow
    • Lake Pamamaroo
    • Ah Chungs Historic Bakehouse
    • Maidens Menindee Hotel
    • Menindee Historic Burke & Wills Tree
    • River Lady Tours
  • Menindee Accommodation
    • Nelia Gaari Station (About 1 hour upstream)
    • Kinchega National Park (Camping and Cabins available)

Kinchega National Park:

Located within a few kilometres of Menindee, Kinchega National Park provides wonderful access to the Darling River for river camping and fishing, and is rich in indigenous and pastoral history.

The park provides some of the best access to Darling River along the ‘Run’ and is rich in natural history; a place that seems designed for nature lovers and photographers.

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It's also a place to immerse yourself in Aboriginal and European heritage.

Sit back, relax and watch the native wildlife, where the red sand reaches up and touches the clear blue sky.

The much photographed Kinchega woolshed is evidence of the area’s unique European heritage.
In remarkable condition for its age, it provides a great insight to a bygone era with its many preserved examples of equipment and machinery. Over its life, the shearing shed had a throughput of over six million sheep with the last one shorn in 1967.

Day 10 & 11 - Drive to and Experience Broken Hill

No trip to Outback NSW would be complete without visiting Broken Hill, the Silver City, and it is only a short drive (115km) from Menindee along Menindee Road (sealed).

Broken Hill:

The capital of Outback NSW is undoubtedly Broken Hill, an oasis in the outback which provides the perfect base for exploring the NSW region known as the Far West including the cast Corner Country to the north.

A premier touring destination, Broken Hill is known for its artists, living indigenous culture, and the evocative Living Desert Reserve with internationally renowned Sculpture Symposium.

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The towns name is attributed to an 1844 account by the explorer Charles Sturt who noted in his dairy "Silver ore was later discovered on this broken hill in 1883 by a boundary rider named Charles Rasp".

Today the city sits on one of the world's largest known silver-lead-zinc lodes which is seven kilometres long and over 220 metres wide.

With many unique attractions for the outback traveller, there are two in particular that are the 'must-see' of the area; the Living Desert and the 'Sculpture Symposium'.

The Living Desert, about ten kilometres out of town, is a 2,400-hectare reserve complete with several breathe-taking walking trails.

Add to that, the nearby town of Silverton is a must to visit.

Silverton, few outback places are as iconically outback Australia and visitors come from far and wide to this little town on the edge of the real outback.

Silverton was once a thriving mining town, which later become a ghost town, only to be currently re-inventing itself as lively destination of museums, art galleries and unique cafe's and gift shops. Add to that, a VERY iconic pub adorned with images of films made in the area, including Mad Max with Mel Gibson.

To the west of Silverton is Mundi Mundi plains, a perfect place to watch the sunset over the remote outback, and sitting at the lookout, it can be an ethereal experience.

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  • Broken Hill Highlights
    • Line O Lode
    • Miners Memorial
    • Bells Milk Bar
    • Sculpture Symposium
    • Galleries & creative spaces
    • Silverton
  • Broken Hill Accommodation
    • Imperial Fine Accommoation
    • Broken Hill Tourist Park
    • Other (DNSW)

Day 12 - Broken Hill to Bindara Station

Drive Broken Hill to Bindara Station

About Bindara on the Darling

There is nothing better than a farmstay, and there is such a wonderful variety to choose from when travelling Outback NSW and the Darling River Run.

All are unique and each has a special experience on offer, Bindara Station is no exception.
At Bindara in the Darling, you can experience the very best of genuine country hospitality.

Your hosts will make you feel welcome from the moment you arrive and relish the opportunity to share their lifestyle with you.

Accommodation options at Bindara include seven double rooms in a couple of cottages, two of which can sleep four people. The historic homestead and the guest accommodation are set in the shade of big old River Red Gums, close to the Darling. For those who prefer to BYO accommodation, Bindara offers some wonderful river campsites.

The theme the Arnolds firmly believe in is ‘sustainable future’ and it is evident in the bountiful fruit and vegetable garden piled with natural mulch, a wind light power generator, solar panels on the water pump and for those who order a meal, freshly grown (or caught) produce on your plate are testament to the hard work that goes into the clever and sustainable use of what nature has on offer.

Day 13 - Bindara Station to Wentworth (Via Lake Mungo)

Drive Bindara Station to Wentworth

About Pooncarie

The area, originally known as ‘Pooncaira’ came into existence during the 1940’s as European settlers took up illegal livestock runs on crown land and by the 1960’s the Federal Government took control of the area by formalising the illegal land claims.

More settlers followed and soon the town was gazetted as Pooncarie which become a service town for the outlying pastoral properties.

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With the increasing paddle steamer traffic transport the woolclip onto the southern seaports, Pooncarie established itself as an important, if not short-lived, Darling River Port.

Today, Pooncarie is a great little Darling River service town for those travelling the Darling River Run or exploring the lower Darling region of Outback NSW, especially nearby Lake Mungo.

The town comes to life each year when the visitors converge on the small hamlet to attend the Pooncarie Cup (Horse Racing).

About Lake Mungo

In theory, Lake Mungo it is little more than the remnants of an ancient dry lake with a twenty-kilometre sand dune ridge formed on one side, but in reality, it is one of the most significant anthropological and archaeological sites in the world. Mungo exhibits 40,000+ years of continuous human habitation.

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The much photographed 'Walls of China' and the ‘lunette’ are highlights all visitors should experience as the story they reveal is truly remarkable.

So significant is the region, it has been internationally recognised with World Heritage listing.

Day 14 - Experience Wentworth

Back in 1844, explorer Charles Sturt described the area that would become Wentworth as "Magnificent trees droop like willows to the water's edge with evening's mildest radiance in their foliage, throwing a soft haze over the distance...", and the Wentworth of today has lost nothing of that ethereal beauty.

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Wentworth is located at the junction of our two great rivers; the Darling River joins the Murray and the two flow, as the Murray River, to Lake Alexandrina and into the Southern Ocean.  

  • Wentworth Highlights
    • Old Wentworth Gaol
    • Perry Sand Hills
    • Junction Park
    • River Cruise
    • Wentworth Pioneer Museum
    • PS Ruby Heritage Paddle Steamer
    • Jade's Art Gallery & Cafe

Darling River Run Accommodation

Whether you bring your own accommodation (Caravan, Motorhome, or Tent), looking for a great outback NSW farmstay, or want to treat yourself to a bit of luxury along the way, there are some excellent options along the Darling River.

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Note: Each town, region, or National Park along the Darling River Run have many listings on their respective websites, but listed below are some options that have been used are recommended by Red Dirt Studio.

Darling River Run Camping

If camping is your thing... whether it is in a tent, motorhome, camper-trailer, or caravan, there are many great places along the Darling River.

Some of the following are free, while others are hosted campsites on station farm-stays or National Parks.

Regardless of what they are, there are some of the best places to camp in Outback NSW along the Darling River.

  • Bourke:
    • Mt Oxley )Fppd & Huts by Mt Oxley)
    • May's Bend
  • Louth:
    • Shindy's Inn
    • Trilby Station
  • Tilpa:
    • Tilpa Wier
  • Wilcannia:
    • Coaches & Horse Camground
  • Menindee:
    • Nelia Gaari Station
    • Darling River campground
    • Bindara on the Darling
  • Lake Mungo
    • Belah campground
    • Main Campground
  • Wentworth
    • Willow Bend Caravan Park

'Outback Bed'ding It'

Outback Beds is a group of accommodation providers located across Outback NSW and southern Queensland with accommodation ranging from farmstay (camping and cabins) to country town motels and B&B’s; all providers are unique and not just accommodation.

The service provided by Outback Beds, allows the traveller to stay in unique and quality assured accommodation across a diverse range of iconic outback New South Wales and Queensland destinations.... staying in the outback with friends.

  • Lightning Ridge
    • Fossickers Cottages
  • Bourke:
    • Food and Huts by Mt Oxley
  • Louth:
    • Trilby Station
  • Tilpa:
    • Kallara Station
  • Wilcannia:
    • Warrawong on the Darling
  • Menindee:
    • Nelia Gaari Station
    • Bindara on the Darling
  • Lake Mungo
    • Mungo Lodge

Darling River Run Side Trips

While there are more than enough experiences along the Darling River to occupy a week or two, there are some amazing side-trip to further explore outback NSW for those that have the time, or those who are inspired to return and experience more of Outback NSW.

While there are many touring routes across Outback NSW, these are the ones that veer off the Darling River Run and return to it further along the touring route.

Broken Hill - Lake Mungo Loop

Broken Hill Loop

Corner Explorer

Corner Explorer

Gundabooka Loop

Gundabooka Loop

White Cliffs Mutawintji Loop

White Cliffs Mutawintji Loop

Darling River Run Outback Safety

To get the most out of any outback trip, it is best to remember a few golden rules to this type of travel and while the Darling River Run is relatively close to towns and cities, the same rules apply to ensure the best possible experience.

  • All ways let someone know where you are and heading.
  • Make sure your vehicle is well prepared.
  • Include at least one spare tyre.
  • In the event of a breakdown, stay near your vehicle.
  • Carry adequate fuel, food and water.
  • Drive to conditions.
  • Keep to, or below, the speed limit.
  • Slow down on dirt and gravel roads when your vision is obscured by the sun or dust.
  • Dust from other vehicles, especially oncoming vehicles, can obscure hazards.
  • Avoid travelling at dawn, dusk and at night as wildlife and stock wander.
  • Observe RTA and local council advisory signs and notices concerning road closures.
  • Rain may cause the closure of unsealed roads.
  • Care for the environment and take your rubbish with you.
  • Leave gates as you find them....
  • Random access through private property is not permissible.
  • Stop, Revive and Survive.

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