Cameron Corner, Outback NSW
Driving to Corner Country
When I reflect back upon my travels throughout Australia, I realise that often I am attracted by a point on a map that draws me in to ponder, 'now, that would be a great end-point to a journey'. Rarely are these places a few hours away, more often than not, they are a couple of days drive away as they are the true adventures.
One of my first ever big adventures into the outback was to Cameron Corner, the point at which New South Wales, South Australia, and Queensland meet. The adventure though is not just about a drive from one point to another, but an opportunity to experience the outback landscape, its pastoral and indigenous history, as well as a way to connect with the courageous (but often foolhardy) efforts of the explorers that ventured into the interior during the later parts of the 1800s.
There is so much to experience in outback Australia, although the uninitiated may perceive there is nothing out there, it just takes one visit to garner an insight and understanding about the essence of this wondrous country.
Cameron Corner... what and where.
Cameron Corner (aka Camerons Corner) is the surveyed north-west corner of Outback NSW and named after surveyor John Brewer Cameron who marked the border between New South Wales and Queensland for the NSW Lands Department in 1880. Once the Corner was marked, his job was then to travel east, back to the coast, placing a marker every mile along what would become the interstate boundary; a task that took two years to complete.
Before Cameron surveyed the area, famous explorer Charles Sturt led an expedition from Adelaide in 1844 in search of the fabled inland sea, and many places of the Corner Country were integral in the party's journey north; none more so than Depot Glen, a permanent supply of water near Milparinka. This oasis in the desert was the saving grace for many, but not all, in this and other expedition through the outback.
The area around Cameron Corner, known as the Corner Country, encompasses the towns of Packsaddle, Tibooburra, Milparinka and Cameron Corner itself, a small one shop/pub settlement just over the border in Queensland. Also within the region is Sturt National Park, NSW's largest park which covers 340,000 hectares and spans the dunes of the Strzelecki Desert across the ancient mesas of the Grey Range and Mt King (the Jump-Ups) and to the gibber plains, gorges and hills of Mount Wood.
The northern and western boundaries of the Corner is made of the Dog Fence, the world's longest fence at 5,614 kilometres that runs from near Dalby on Queensland’s Darling Downs to Cameron Corner and then onto the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia.
While not actually on the Darling River, it is one destination that should be included in the iconic Darling River Run touring route; one of the best in Outback NSW!
Driving to Cameron Corner:
While many view the prospect of outback travel with the premise that you need a 4WD to do it, there are many adventures to the outback that are easily done in a modern SUV as well as traditional passenger vehicle; the drive to Cameron Corner is one such adventure.
Regardless of your mode of transport always follow 5 basic rules:
- Avoid travelling in the hotter summer months.
- Always carry water (at least 5 litres per person).
- Tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to arrive.
- Ensure your car has been serviced and mechanically sound.
- If you break down, wait with your car until someone comes along.
Cameron Corner is 'easily' reached from each of the eastern capitals with some great alternative routes along the ‘road less travelled’. For the uninitiated, the more direct routes are the better option, while the more adventurous routes are best done once experience is gained.
My Adventure Route:
Having travelled often throughout Outback NSW region over the last decade or so, I tend to like the ‘road less travelled’. While adventure touring routestouring routes may take longer, it is more about the journey than the destination and there are always some great side-trips that can be incorporated.
One of my favourite adventure routes from Sydney is via the Darling River near Louth (famous for the Louth Races) and Tilpa then northward through the opal town of White Cliffs before heading west to Mutawintji National Park then re-joining the Silver City Highway at Fowlers Gap just north of Broken Hill. From Fowlers Gap, it is a drive north along the Silver City Highway for a stop at Milparinka (just before Tibooburra. While it may take a few extra days, it is a great adventure and better than just sitting on a highway wondering how far it is to the next destination.
The Darling River
Following the same route initially as the more direct ones listed below which go via Nyngan, the adventure route follows the Barrier Highway west from Nyngan as far as Cobar, then heads north along Mulya Rd (unsealed) to Louth. About 15km south of Louth (western side of the Darling) is Trilby Station which makes for a great stopover (river camping, cabins as well as shearers quarters). An alternative to Trilby Station is Kallara Station a few kilometres upstream from Tilpa. (The road either side of the Darling River is unsealed).
From Trilby Station, the route continues about 65km to Tilpa. While only a small town, Tilpa is a must for a stopover where you can experience one of the best outback pubs in NSW as well as a general store that reputedly makes the best burgers in the outback (they are good). Be sure also to drop into the pub and sign your name on the wall for a gold coin donation that goes to the RFDS.
With Tilpa done, it’s time to head north into the back-country via Peery Lake and White Cliffs (this route is unsealed).
Peery Lake is a haven for wildlife and is created from not only the overflow from the Paroo River (a ephemeral tributary of the Darling River) but also from a Great Artesian Basin mound spring. The lake is not always full so it is an amazing sight when it does contain water. Being ephemeral, when it is empty or very low, the spring is visible and it is the only location in NSW where a spring fed from the artesian basin can be seen.
Continuing on from Lake Peery via the Wilcannia-Wanaaring Road and then Keraro Road, after about 50km, the next destination of White Cliffs is reached.
The town of White Cliffs owes its existence to seam opal which was found in the area and started NSW’s first opal boom towards the end of the 1800’s. A shadow of former self, White Cliffs is a ‘must visit‘ outback town with a great pub, general store, underground motels and B&Bs, as well as being the location of the new NSWPWS centre.
From White Cliffs, the route heads across to Mutawintji National Park, one of the most beautiful and culturally rich in terms of indigenous history and living culture. The drive is about 130km (unsealed) with the route passing to the north of the park via the Broken Hill - White Cliffs Road.
Mutawintji National Park, one of the best places in Outback NSW to experience indigenous history and culture with its majestic landscapes as well as the historically and culturally significant historic site (guided access only) and is worth a couple of day's stopover (camping available). It also provides an opportunity to stretch the legs after a few days drive with 2 great walks; The Mutawintji Gorge Walk - a spectacular walk up the rivergum lined creek to the permanent water supply in the gorge, and the Homestead Creek Walk - a wonderful 4-5hr loop (steep at times) passing Thaaklatjika (Wrights Cave which contains exceptional paintings, stencils and engravings), the Rockpools, Homestead Gorge and the Byngnano Range.
In addition to the walks, there is the excellent Old Coach Road Drive which follows the route of the old mail coach road and finishes at a wonderful picnic spot and walking trail of about 3kms that leads to the Wana Karnu (Boomerang Rock) and the majestic Split Rock.
Back on the road, it is an easy 60km to the Barrier Highway for the run north via Packsaddle and onto Milparinka, 240km north along the Silver City Highway then Tibooburra.
Corner Country Towns & Locations
When heading up from Broken Hill on the Silver City Highway, about 40km before Tibooburra is the turnoff to Milparinka which is a must for anyone travelling to the Corner as it is not only a fascinating small town with some amazing historic buildings, but is also the location of some wonderful historic sites slightly further to the west that are synonymous with early expeditions into the interior by Sturt and the like.
First impressions of Milparinka maybe that it is little more than old ruins and a great pub, but though the efforts of a tireless group of volunteers, its rich history is on show at the beautifully restored courthouse. Through the efforts of local and passionate volunteers, the old abandoned sandstone buildings are being restored to ensures the rich history of the area is preserved for future generations.
Gold fever hit the area during the 1870's and those seeking their fortunes came to places like Mt Browne, Albert, and the Granites near Tibooburra. Despite gold never being found at Milparinka, there was another valuable commodity that Milparinka had which was pivotal for the survival of the other places during the boom, water, which was sourced at nearby Evelyn Creek. During this time, Milparinka boasted several hotels, shops, a bank and a Cobb & Co depot, police station and a courthouse.
While a former shadow of its heady days, Milparinka is a must see for those visiting the area as it provides a fascinating window into our history.
Depot Glen - Mount Poole:
During the 1840's, explorer Charles Sturt set out in search of the fabled inland sea and, while travelling north through this area, was in despair due to the lack of permanent water and at one stage was going to return to Adelaide. But one of his party, James Poole, discovered a permanent waterhole about 15km north west of Milparinka that provided a perfect base in the harsh wilderness. The place was named Depot Glen.
With this as a base, the advanced party headed north. A few kilometres from Depot Glen, the was a hill (now named Mount Poole) that not only provided a lookout for Sturt's expedition but is where the remaining party built a rock cairn in order to occupy the time of the base party while they waited for Sturt's return.
It is an amazing experience to stand on top of Mount Poole and, like Sturts party, looking out to the horizon, as they did. They had little to occupy their time, except for building the cairn, and were truly isolated.
Originally known as the Granites after the rocky outcrops that surrounds the town, Tibooburra was later named after the aboriginal word for 'heaps of rocks', as it was the Wangkumara and Maljangapa groups that roamed these parts for over 25,000 years and scattered throughout the area are camp sites, ceremonial sites, tool productions sites and scarred trees.
Tibooburra has a couple of great and very iconic pubs; the Family Hotel famous for its murals, and the Historic Tibooburra Hotel. Accommodation is available at the pubs as well as the Granites Caravan Park. Tibooburra is an excellent base for exploring the area and is the gateway to Sturt National Park.
Sturt National Park:
To fully appreciate the outback, Sturt National Park is perfect and provides some excellent places to camp in true isolation. There are also accommodation options at Mt Wood Homestead. While it is possible to experience the various drives while staying in Tibooburra, camping along the various drives is a great way to experience this majestic region at sunrise and sunset.
The massive arid landscape of Sturt National Park has unique beauty; it's a place of peace and solitude, the most outback of our outback parks.
The park spans the dunes of the Strzelecki Desert across the ancient mesas of the Grey Range and Mt King (the Jump-Ups) and to the Gibber plains, gorges and hills of Mount Wood. With the dingo (dog) fence forming the north and western boundary of the park, Sturt provides some great vantage points to view this extensive barrier that runs form the Darling Downs in Queensland all the way down through South Australia.
There are 3 wonderful and informative self-drive tours in Sturt National Park
The Gorge Loop Road:
This tour around Mt Wood and the Mount Wood Hills covers the outdoor pastoral heritage museum, Mt Wood homestead & shearer's quarters, the Gibber and Mitchell grass plains, the Twelve Mile Creek Gorge, and the old pastoral remains at Torrens Bore and Horton Park Station. Wildlife such as Emu, Kangaroo, and Wedge-Tail eagles are commonly sighted.
The Jump-Ups Loop Road:
The ancient land-forms that are known as the Jump-Ups are the remains of an ancient mountain range that has been eroded down over millions of years leaving the 150m plateau (mesa) and the granite strewn plains which form the catchment of the Connia Creek (ephemeral) which follows south-east into the Twelve Mile Creek. A truly spectacular site.
The Cameron Corner Drive:
In the western section of Sturt National Park is the drive to Cameron Corner from Tiboooburra which takes the visitor through a diverse landscape including the Waka clay pan, past Fort Grey (which was a provisions stockade built by explorer Charles Sturt for his inland expeditions), and on to the Corner and the world's longest fence; the 5,000+ km Dog Fence that was constructed to keep roaming dingos of the north and west out of the pastoral lands of NSW.