I’d like to say this trip was done to visit friends or family that live in the middle of NSW or experience what country NSW has to offer, but actually the reason for this particular trip was somewhat simpler. We have a big map of our travels here, and it was looking very empty to the west of Canberra. So we headed as west for this trip to experience country NSW on a long weekend, avoiding the crowds as they came through Canberra to head to the snow. Warning – this is a long trip writeup so we’ve split it into two parts. Well over 6000 words and dozens of photos.
As is tradition, we left late around 11am with a slight hangover. While the fridge was packed in the back of the van, it only contained alcohol and soft drinks. We’d decided to shop on the way as we didn’t have much of a plan at that point. We were heading for Griffith as it was west of Canberra and we’d been told they had good pizza there. It was a simple drive through some small country towns with some very straight roads.
We noticed that the B roads in NSW seem to be much better than those in Victoria. There’s a lot of grain silos on this road, but not much else to see.
Lunch was done in Temora with a tasty salad and chips.
We ended up in Griffith around 4pm and drove around a bit. There’s two free camps in Griffith – the first is on the river close to the city centre. The other is just outside of town near Lake Wyangan. The city one is very open, close to main roads and the river didn’t look that great. There was quite a few grey nomads in massive caravans in that area. It would have been hard to get any privacy there in a smaller van like ours. The second one is in a recreational area on a man made lake. It’s a huge campground and there were only a handful of people camped there. Good, clean facilities and a lot more privacy due to the size of the grounds. There’s also some deer, goats and pigs in a pen next to the lake that you can feed and pet.
After we discovered the lake campground, we drove back into town for dinner and some drinks at a local pub. As is tradition with all NSW country towns, it was called the Queen Victoria Hotel. Dinner was at Guiseppies, which got very good reviews but we didn’t really enjoy all that much. Very good service, but the pasta was bland and tasteless and the restaurant itself was very bright and loud. Not recommended.
We got back to the campsite at around 7.30 and took about half an hour setting up and rugging up. This trip to the campsite was the first time using the LED lightbar mounted on the roofracks (also new). It was incredibly bright and pushed out a good distance forward and to the sides of the road. With the 2 HID spotlights the van did quite well illuminating the kangaroos that were on the side of the road the entire 10 minute drive.
Not that cold overnight, around 7 degrees, so we slept with the side door closed but the rear door still open. The good thing about the cold weather is there’s less insects bothering you. It was a great campsite, but there was a large group of Sikh’s camping down on the water that were blasting Indian tunes until 10pm. They were in town for the ‘Sikh Games’, which we ended up driving past the next day but didn’t see anything we liked. They very kindly turned the music down at 10pm on the dot and we headed to bed.
We woke up to a huge chorus of birds that had been nesting in the trees around us overnight. Looking outside, all we could see was fog. Not just a little fog, but full on Silent Hill fog. We couldn’t see the lake and it was only 100m away from where we had slept. We went for a walk in the eerie light and got some great photos. The red dirt (mud) of the campsite looks quite good in the photos, though Rosie did manage to ruin a pair of shoes in the mud on that first night.
After a quick breakfast we were on the road by 8am. We took an alternative road north up through Rankins Springs just for something different. The fog followed us until 11am. We were surprised at the number of cars on the road that just didn’t bother putting their headlights on in the fog. After Rankins Springs we kept on the north to Lake Cargelligo for a quick look around. We were both disappointed in their bakery options to be honest. All we wanted on this particular morning was a good meat pie, but being Sunday everything seemed to be closed.
We then headed east towards Parkes through Condobolin. We passed through a town called Bogan Gate but didn’t stop for photos due to ‘making excellent time’.
This whole day we’d been on long, flat, straight roads the entire time. Thank god for cruise control (arguably one of the best mods I made on the van). Not a lot to out there, just red dirt, some trees and farmland the whole way. All in all, a pretty relaxing drive. We stopped in Parkes and went to the first pub we saw – the Parkes Hotel. There was a Blues Brother cover band there who didn’t sing any Blues Brother songs the entire time we were there. The 4 people in the audience didn’t seem to mind, but that may have been the wine.
If you’re in Parkes, there’s only really one big thing to do and see – the Dish. So we drove the 17kms out of town and saw it, following the Here Maps unusual way of getting there. It’s been interesting using the different map software – Here is very much the most direct route, dirt roads and all, while Google sends you the most common way and avoids dirt at all costs.
The Dish is a huge radio telescope that was most famously used in the Australian movie ‘The Dish’, and less famously used by NASA to relay the first moon landing television feed. It’s very impressive to look at and definitely stands out in the middle of a huge sheep paddock. Free entry with a gift store, ‘educational’ theatre, mini-museum and cafe.
We didn’t stay long at the Dish as it was getting to 4pm and we knew our next campsite had limited spaces. The Goobang National Park covers the only mountain range in the area and has two campsites. The northern campsite is Wanda Wandong (can’t make these names up) and is larger and more accessible for 2wd vehicles from the northern entry to the park. The second is called Greenbah (or Greenbah Creek) and is located in the middle of the park and there’s about 4km of dirt track to get there. Not recommended for lowered cars, but if you drove slowly you probably would get a 2wd car in there. It’s a very pretty campground in the middle of a eucalyptus forest.
We got there around 4.30pm and the sun was lowering through huge snow gums. We got the second last campsite, away from the huge group of three caravans on the other side of the small camping area. Turns out we got the best spot, as while we were setting up (including using our brand new Kings awning for the first time ever), a group of caravaners just down from us came over to warn us that the large group was running two generators all night the previous night.
As were got the warning, the large group then got out a chainsaw and started lopping off large logs from a fallen tree in the forest a bit. If you’ve ever camped in an Australian national park, you’ll know that you almost always have to bring your own wood in as the fallen logs and branches are used as shelter for animals. We thought about it, but we didn’t think a couple of generators going overnight would convince us to leave this lovely spot, so we thanked the caravaners and continued to set up.
Darren, Kath, Ted and Jan were all from Orange and were avid caravaners. They are all in 50’s I suspect and were very friendly. I walked over to their fire (wood brought in obviously) and got chatting with them as Rosie had an afternoon nap. She came out eventually and we had a good chat then went back to respective campsites. Just as we’d finished dinner (chicken skewers and salad), Darren came over and invited us to have dessert with them. Warm apple pie and custard around a fire with some good drinks talking shit with strangers was a great way to finish off a great day.
Rosie went to bed first. I followed much later, full of wine and port and apple pie. We didn’t hear a thing all night.
We woke up early, me without a hangover for once, and quickly packed up camp.
We weren’t as quick as the Indian couple in the Pajero Sport that had turned up in the early evening and had to use the last campsite next to the loud group. They left very early likely after a rough sleep, though we caught up with them later in the day. We said a quick goodbye to the folks we’d met the night before, aired down the tyres a tiny bit (40 down to 37psi, worse fuel economy on highway but much better on the rough rocks of the dirt track) and headed north up the 20km track (Sawpit Gully Trail) to the top of the park. This road is not really suited to a 2wd car, though a lot of AWD cars would be able to do it if they were careful. Along the way we detoured up to Caloma Lookout, which lets you see just how flat and featureless the landscape is out that way.
Steep trail back down, I put it in low range to save the brakes a little. We actually were much higher up than we’d thought. We continued up the main trail towards the E Boundary Trail. Ignore Google maps, they don’t seem to have all the trails and tracks marked, but it was well signposted.
Along the E Boundary Trail we saw a huge mob of kangaroos on the paddock next door to the national park. We also saw a kangaroo with an injured leg, but there was nothing we could do for it. The kangaroos scattered as soon as they heard the car and they panicked and tried to jump onto the road in front of me to get to the safety of the tree line. The fence was probably designed to keep kangaroos out, so there was plenty of incorrectly timed jumps and rushed burrowing under the fence to get to safety, which is probably how the other kangaroo injured itself. The very last kangaroo tried to outrun us, running straight along the fence parallel to the road. He didn’t notice the other fence that marked the end of the paddock and almost ran into it. A bit of excitement on a cold morning.
The road took us to the northern campsite and then out onto the highway, were we immediately ended up overtaking the Pajero Sport we’d noticed the night before. We made it into Dubbo at 10am and parked in the city for a bit of a wander around. This was the public holiday for the June long weekend, so not everything was open, but we ended up walking a couple of km up the road to PK’s Bakery. We had a decent pie and sausage roll (finally!), then went back to the van. We visited our first Rivers store of the trip, then went to kill some time at the number 2 attraction of Dubbo – the Botanic/Japanese Gardens.
There was a lot of other people there that had been suckered in like us for what ended up being a nice enough location, but very small and kind of untidy for a Japanese influenced garden. Not the best place for a picnic, so we hopped back in the van to find a good rest/picnic spot. We found one at the Lions Park West, right on the river near the centre of town. Not a bad little park, we just laid out in the sun for a while (t shirt weather in winter!).
While I absolutely appreciate when councils and support groups like Lions put free BBQs in parks like this one, I cannot stand it when they don’t work or put out so little heat you’d be better off with a lighter and a pair of tongs. The fourth BBQ we tried turned on, but there was so little heat the left over chicken skewers took about 30 minutes to cook. Still, it wasn’t like we had anywhere else to be in a hurry.
Getting back in the van, I noticed a strange noise from the passengers front wheel well. In our little offroad drive that morning the rubber sheeting that’s connected to the inner wheel well had ripped and lost several trim clips. It was flapping around and hitting the tyre when turning. I managed to find a good fit screw in the toolkit for the non-ripped section, but ended up just duct taping the ripped area as I had no self-tapping screws on hand and no real access to drill it them in. I checked the drivers wheel well and found a similar issue where the mud flap portion of the rubber sheet had started ripping. I just fully ripped it off as it wasn’t essential, but that side had lost some clips as well. We then went to a nearby Bunnings to try find a solution to the ripped section, but wasn’t prepared to buy yet another cordless drill to fix it properly and couldn’t find any screws similar to the size needed. So the duct tape stayed on the rest of the trip and still hasn’t been fixed at the time of writing 2 weeks later 🙂
We booked into the Discovery Parks in Dubbo, which was a basic caravan park that would be filled with kids in summer, but was quiet and peaceful when we arrived. We’d splurged for an ensuite caravan site, and ended up having the first shower of the trip in our own private bathroom. Awning was set up with the side wall up for a bit of privacy, weighed down with a tookit and towball. Once again, Rosie had a bit of a nap while Scott had some drinks and read a book, but mostly watch the fun of various caravans arriving and not being able to back into their reserved spaces.
I’d found an issue with the fridge the day before that was confirmed at this campground. As soon as the fridge powered on, the draw on the battery was causing it to drop right down, below 11.6 volts. This just happens to be the fridge low battery cut of setting, so every time it was trying to power on it would immediately cut off. This is not a normal occurrence, usually the fridge draw only drops the voltage a few points due to natural voltage sag under load. As we were staying in a powered site, I asked the ladies at the front desk for an extension cable and connected it via our 15 amp battery charger for the rest of the stay at the park, testing it regularly to see if the battery had recovered after a proper smart charger rather than the usual alternator charging. More on this later.
Dinner was just next door at Club Dubbo (Club Dub), where we watched some footy, played a game of (free) pool and then sat down in the bistro for a surprisingly good meal. Nachos and steak. Early night after a big day, with a shower just before bed. Night temperatures were down to about 5 degrees that night, but we slept with the rear door open again and were pretty comfortable.
Tuesday after the long weekend was the perfect day for the zoo. There was barely anyone there, but every employee we talked to mentioned how they’d had 2000 visitors on the Sunday. It had drizzled the night before and the wind was picking up a bit, but nothing too serious.
We splurged and hired a golf cart for the zoo. These have a max speed of 15kph, can seat 6 and have the loudest reversing beep ever. It turned out to be a good choice as you can see a lot of the animal exhibits from within the car and take photos without having to get out. Next time we might consider hiring or bring bicycles instead though, as they have access right up to all the exhibits and it’s a fairly flat area.
The Dubbo Zoo (Taronga Western Plains Zoo) was pretty good, with lots of interesting animals you wouldn’t see at a smaller zoo. The young black rhino was fantastic and looked just like an armoured puppy. The otters and meerkats were the other favourites.
We spent about 2.5 hours doing the entire zoo and that was enough time. A quick lunch at the zoo cafe and then back to the campsite for a lazy afternoon. Or so we thought.
It turns out that a huge gust of wind had grabbed the weighed down awning and blown it over the roof of the car. Fortunately the new roof tray stopped any damaged to the car, but the wind must have been enormous as it bent the 3mm steel brackets holding the awning to the racks. The awning itself was bent out of shape in a lot of places and I definitely thought it was ready for the bin. But we had a several more days to go in this trip and a free afternoon, so we unhitched it from the rack to see what could be salvaged.
The awning is aluminium almost everywhere, so that was easy to carefully bend back into shape by hand, or by standing on it. It has popped a rivet on one end, but that’s not the end of the world and I’ve heard they do that over time anyway. The steel brackets needed a lot more persuasion, and I eventually got them back to a roughly 90 degree angle by re-anchoring them to the rack and bending them with a large adjustable wrench and my full body weight. The black paint I’d put on them a few days earlier was completely wrecked, but the awning got reattached and re-setup after only an hour of tinkering. Just in time for Rosie’s now standard afternoon nap.
I had a beer and pottered around that afternoon. I managed to put the drone up for a bit of a fly but it was too windy for the little toy drone. Some more caravan watching and book reading was done that afternoon. I checked the fridge and battery, but the same issue was occurring. So, resigning myself to what was probably a damaged cell in the battery and probably a replacement battery after this trip, I set the fridge to its most aggressive power setting so it wouldn’t trip the low voltage safety trigger for the rest of the trip. This worked pretty well as it turned out, but I still need to check to see if its the battery, the fridge or the cabling that’s causing these issues. Edit: The fridge 12V cable had been crushed or pinched at some point and was shorting out just enough juice that the battery would sharply drop, but not enough for the fridge not to work. After having both the fridge and battery tested, we tested the cable with a $25 replacement and the issue has been fixed. Big thanks to the guys at Battery World in Phillip, ACT for their help!
Once Rosie woke up, we strolled down to the Westside Hotel for a beer and a trip to the bottle shop. Dinner that night had been prepared by Rosie just before she had a nap using the Billy Boil, which is a great method of cooking if you’re ever out camping. It’s a thermal cooker, basically a Thermas, that you bring up a stew or casserole to temperature and then put it in the vacuum container to continue to cook without any need for fuel or heat. Dinner was a lovely country chicken style casserole with crusty rolls.
We stayed up watching episodes of Modern Family on the laptop, and then went to sleep. It got down to 2 degrees that night and we had the rear door still open, so a bit of a cold night for us. We decided to get some extra blankets the next day.