First Timer Campervanners: A Sydney to Broken Hill Outback Adventure (Plus pup!).
Your trip on your terms.
Words by Ivy Carruth | Travel in Twos
Admit it. You’ve thought of hiring a campervan and driving off into the great unknown, haven’t you? Your trip, on your terms. The possibilities are endless – it's really the ultimate bespoke holiday. Campervanning is one of those bucket list trips we’d been thinking of doing forever, but honestly, the specifics just seemed so daunting, and we let that put us off. Has that happened to you? It wasn’t just what to pack and where to go, but would it be truly comfortable for people not big on ‘roughing it’? Plus, we’re not Grey Nomads and we don’t have children – but we do have a peppy senior sausage dog called Thor. In search of sweet freedom and some wide-open spaces, we decided to go for it, an epic sojourn taking us from Sydney across NSW almost to the border of South Australia, with an ultimate destination of quirky-cool Broken Hill. It turned out to be one of the best travelling decisions we’ve ever made and our Euro Tourer gave us the adventure we sorely needed. Of course, we took Thor.
Blue Roos on our travels
The original plan
First things first - Getting ourselves ready
Booking through Apollo is easy and the staff are happy to help us newbies. As first-timers, we have a lot of questions. Like…a LOT, and to their credit, they answer every single one without snickering, HA! At our appointment to pick up the vehicle they walk us through everything we need to know; how to operate the appliances, draining the greywater and toilet cassette, folding out the bed. It’s all so manageable really, and our minds are at ease as we drive home to load up for a week on the road. Our nimble chariot is modern and spacious with a king-sized bed, gas stove, refrigerator, microwave, TV, aircon, shower (hello hot water!) and toilet. Think smart studio apartment, and you’ll have the right idea. Knowing we’d be in some sparsely populated areas (part of the allure), we meal planned and packed accordingly. There is more than enough room for necessities plus extra space for the camp table and chairs which are provided with the hire.
Inside the Apollo Euro Tourer - the rear dinette converts into a bed!
Day 1: Sydney to Dubbo (4 hrs and 45 minutes)
We’re chomping at the bit to get out of town! The drive to Dubbo is a piece of cake, and we’re pleasantly surprised by how easy it is to drive our home on wheels, even before we leave the denser Sydney traffic. We connect our phones via Bluetooth, enter our destination into the GPS, and belt out lyrics to the 80’s playlist we’d queued up for just this trip. In the back, Thor sleeps (like it’s his job) in his cuddle bed right behind my seat, no doubt lulled to Dreamland by INXS singing about a new sensation. We take our sweet time, because we can, and check into the pet-friendly Dubbo City Holiday Park around 4 pm. After settling in, we cook tea – one of our meal planned winners, and tuck in early after an easy evening of kicking back and relaxing under clear skies with friendly folks, a little Pinot and a few hands of Uno. Can I just mention here that every single holiday park we stayed in absolutely blew us away with clean modern amenity blocks? I had no idea that holiday parks had gotten so posh!
Sunset cuddles with Thor next to our Apollo Euro Tourer
Day 2: Dubbo
Up and at ‘em; it’s a gorgeous day. The sun is shining, a cool breeze is blowing, and we are winning at mornings because we’ve packed our Nespresso; let's face it – coffee is king. Once fully caffeinated, we slide into our day.
A few weeks ago, I'd gone online and purchased tickets for the Zoo, which I recommend you do as well. Skip the queue and travel smarter, not harder.
Taronga (Dubbo Zoo) is unlike anything we’ve seen before when it comes to a Wildlife Park. Animals are afforded vast spaces to roam, and their habitats are a painstaking recreation of that which would be native to them. You can bike, walk or use the golf cart (charges apply) depending on how you’d like to experience it. Entry tickets are valid for two days, so you don’t have to rush it all at once if you’d prefer to spread it out.
Hot tip: Arrive early so you can secure a golf cart, also – it’s less crowded and cooler, too.
Our goft cart at Dubbo Zoo
An Ibex at Dubbo Zoo
Famished, we head to a gorgeous veg-heavy lunch at this popular cafe, which also welcomes pets. Food is fresh, seasonal, and produce based. The 1930’s cottage in which it operates previously housed the Land newspaper, hence the name. We order fresh squeezed organic juice, the roast pumpkin bowl, and the Press Big Breakfast which is served all day. You may want to make a booking; ask for a table out back beneath the living ceiling of ferns and greenery. You’ll feel like you’re in a rainforest.
Day 3: Dubbo to Wilcannia (5 hrs and 45 minutes)
We stop in Wilcannia to take a break in between Dubbo and Broken Hill and even more so, because I found the delightful Warrawong on the Darling. Sunrises and sunsets are beautiful here, and stars poke through the black fabric of the night skies that you’ll never have known were there. There isn’t much to Wilcannia, but there is a lot you’ll want to see on the way there from Dubbo, and from there to Broken Hill. This is the beauty of a campervan. With your own little roaming home, you have the freedom to stop where and when you want to, as often as you want to, for as long as you want to. Because you can.
- A 120-km ‘paddock art’ Sculpture Trail snakes through the towns of Cumnock and Yeoval. The two-hour detour ultimately changed our minds about seeing it, but it’s a popular point of interest for people who find themselves out that way.
- Poke some fun at yourself, and stop in Nyngan (where the Outback officially begins) for a photo with the Big Bogan.
- Stop at the imposing Cobar Welcome sign, the infamous tribute to mining in the area. This is a MUST do.
- The Fort Bourke Lookout is an open cut gold mine that is gouged deep into the earth. It’s a beautiful stratum of carnelian reds and oranges and scarlets as deep down as the eye can see.
- The Great Western Hotel, also in Cobar, is a terrific stop for a cold beverage and an oven-fired pizza. Little known fact: it boasts the longest cast iron veranda in the Southern Hemisphere.
Day 4: Wilcannia to Broken Hill (2 hours)
It’s just a short jaunt to Broken Hill! As we come into town, we notice art galleries, boutiques, and funky cafes. We’ve divided our two nights here into two different accommodations, and tonight, we’re staying at the recently renovated Broken Hill Outback Resort located 15 minutes out of town. We check in and immediately are chatted up by some sweet septuagenarians who have lived their entire lives here. They come to the resort often for lunch and to meet friends on the shaded green lawn for gossip and charcuterie. There is a jovial atmosphere and we immediately feel welcome. There is so much to see and do in this vast Outback oasis, we could easily have doubled our time in Broken Hill.
Arriving at Broken Hill in our camper
Pit stop for Thor
Get right into it and have a wander down Argent Street to scope out the galleries and local shops. I stumble upon one called Eclectic, and purchase a gorgeous natives bouquet for the van. I’m also tempted by the small-batch candles and locally made Christmas ornaments.
The Palace Hotel simply cannot be missed! It holds a special license whereby Two Up can be played every day, and is one of only two clubs/pubs in Australia to do so. (The other is in Kalgoorlie, WA). The famous film, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was shot here and the vibe remains very much one of jocular glamour, playfulness, and good fun. The interiors are something to write home about. You’ll want to have your camera ready.
View of Palace Hotel from the street
Take in the natural beauty of the sculpture symposium set among the Barrier Ranges at Living Desert State Park. It’s chockers at sunset, so we go during the late day instead and it’s no less impressive. Twelve sandstone sculptures line the short trail, accessible by vehicle or foot, each with a story to tell – they’re a dramatic sight to behold.
Our trusty Apollo Euro Tourer out the front of The Living Desert State Park
Vertical Sculpture in the outback
Aboriginal art in sandstone
The Silly Goat Cafe was SO delish, we went twice. Service is attentive but unfussy, and the green smoothie will change your life – that’s not hyperbole.
Day 5: Broken Hill
We ‘move house’ to the Broken Hill Tourist Park which is smack in the middle of town. Thor meets a few friends and we get the lay of the land before we are off again on today's adventures.
Silverton is a short 20-minute drive northwest; this is the place that time forgot. Although it’s called a ghost town, there are folks around. Stop in at the kitschy Silverton Hotel for some tucker and a cider, and if you’re lucky, the four resident donkeys will sidle on up to the porch for some scritches on the nose. Keen on Mel Gibson or the post-apocalyptic genre? Visit the Mad Max 2 Museum, a labour of love that’s a bit different than the everyday. Across the road, the John Dynon art gallery is a jar-dropper. Even if you can’t afford the price tags on the imaginative art, you can have a chat with the man himself and grab a postcard. Don’t miss heading 10 minutes away to The Mundi Mundi lookout. You’ll feel like you’re on the edge of the earth, and yes – you can see its curvature in the far flat distance.
Photo: Front Façade of John Dynon Art Gallery
Fine Art in the Outback
After our productive day, we sleep well on our big bed, dreading having to leave in the morning…
But. This is where it gets interesting, and where the wonderful advantage of travelling via campervan came into play. There had been rain, lots of rain for the Outback, and because of this, the road headed east to Sydney is washed out and closed. Yes, THE road. Our original plans to continue our journey to Mungo State Park, and onward to Wagga Wagga before ending up back in the big smoke are thwarted. Instead? We backtrack– we really have no choice.
Roads closed! But we weren't worried.
The thing is, we feel ZERO stress about it. We have everything we need. The freedom we feel of having our space, and of being able to live large in that space is pure happiness, and we’re happy to go with the flow (no pun intended).
Day 6: Broken Hill to Wilcannia (2 hours)
We return to Warrawong on the Darling since it was such a respite for us the first time and it’s no less special. We set up and watch a bit of TV, catching up on the news. Once it’s dark, the bats swoop in the sky and help with insect control. We see our stars again.
Our set up with the Apollo Euro Tourer - complete with rug, table, chairs and dog bed.
The beautiful night sky
Day 7: Wilcannia to Dubbo (5 hours and 45 minutes)
Back to the Dubbo City Holiday Park where we meet some of the kindest people! I’ve fallen and injured my foot, and my new friend ‘next door’ brings me some arnica lotion. We end up sitting together for a while chatting about all the trips they’ve done in their rig. (Over 50)! They’re clearly professionals with a tent set up that houses a (I’m not kidding) big screen TV so they can see the Bathurst races. We chat long into the night, and decide we'll sleep in tomorrow - if Thor lets us.
Day 8: Dubbo back to Sydney
Thor does in fact let us sleep in, I think he's as comfy as we are! We make a big cup of coffee and open the van's doors into the sunny morning. The dew has already evaporated, so we decide to get on the road after a light breakfast of cereal and milk with fruit. Have I mentioned how fabulous it is to have a fridge? Anyway, it feels a bit surreal that we have to give up this sweet ride, I think we're a bit attached to her. We're both patting ourselves on the back for having taken the chance on a holiday that wasn't a sure thing, and that we felt a bit nervous about. It truly exceeded our expectations, and gave us the freedom and opportunity to see a part of the world in the way that we wanted to - up close and personal. We reluctantly head back home to pick up our car and then zip off to Apollo's branch so we can drop off our girl. Again, it's seemless.
So, that detour? Just another anecdote in our Great Outback Adventure! The only thing about it that we regret was that we didn’t do it for a longer amount of time. We’re already planning our next one!