The Darling River Run

Simon Bayliss touring the Darling River Run, Outback NSWAround 2008 I took a trip into the unknown, a journey of discovery, and got as far as the Darling River (at Louth), and while the river was not flowing due to a massive drought across Australia, there was something magical about it.

There was an intangible energy to it that stirred something in me. I had to learn more and discover the mystical river that has been an integral part to the First Nations, particularly the Barkindji, who have been living in the area for over 30,000 years; as well as the European explorers and pastoralists who came much later.

It can be bone dry or in high-flow, either way enables people to connect with each other and the river itself.

In 2009 I was commissioned to photograph, research and write about the Darling River and Outback NSW by Outback NSW Tourism for the Darling River Run Project , and over the last nine years, I have been lucky enough to have have driven along its entirety on average once a year.

The following is my Darling River Run, the most iconic Outback NSW touring routes, covering river camping and perferred tour route.  Simon Bayliss


Best time time to do the Darling River Run

The tour down the Darling can be done any time of the year with Autumn and Spring the pick; summer can be very hot and winter can be very cold (relative term). Basically, it can be done anytime of the year if prepared.

For many, the Darling River Run is regarded as one of the best outback touring routes in Outback NSW. While it might not be an extreme 4x4 adventure route that some seek, it is one that accessible in a conventional passenger vehicle, AWD SUV, motorbike, as well as a 4WD; with the advantage of being less than a days drive to get to the Darling River.

The Darling River Run, travelling the Darling River with a Jayco Penguin Camper Trailer. Simon Bayliss

The Upper Darling River

Walgett to Louth Section

The upper section of the Darling River Run encompasses the tributaries that flow from Queensland's Darling Downs, primarily the Condamine > Balonne > Culgoa rivers, the Border Rivers, as well as those flowing north-west like the Macquarie, Namoi, and Barwon.

Iconic towns like Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, and Louth provide unique experiences for the Outback NSW visitor (not to mention Lightning Ridge to the north which is a great option). The towns and regions of the upper Darling are steeped in indigenous history and living culture as well as European pastoral history.


Section 1: Walgett to Brewarrina

The Darling River Run, travelling the Darling River through iconic towns like Walgett and crossing the Namoi River.Simon Bayliss

NOTE: Even though the Lightning Ridge is not actually on the Darling River, it should be included when visiting the upper Darling as it is a real ‘must-see’ destination.

The first downstream sector of the Darling River Run follows the Kamilaroi Highway along the Barwon River before crossing the river just before Brewarrina.


Lightning Ridge is a true ‘Must See’ destination, and something every traveller should do… or even again if you have done it before. If travelling from the Ridge, the run to Brewarrina can done via Walgett along Bill O'Brien Way and then the Kamilaroi Highway. This route will cross the Barwon River just to the north of Walgett

A great alternative though is to go via the Grawin opal fields for a unique experience of the original opal fields (before the Ridge). This option can include a lunch break at the ‘Club in the Scrub’, Sheep Yard Flat, or the Glengarry Hilton.


Western Route

Road Type: Sealed

Distance: 133 km

Road/Routes: 

  • Kamilaroi Highway

Eastern Route (Preferred)

Highlight: The Grawin Opal Fields

Road Type: Sealed and unsealed

Distance: 177 km

Road/Routes: 

  • Bill O'Brien Way
  • Llanillo Rd <> Wilby Wilby Rd
  • Kurrajong Rd
  • Narran Lake Rd
  • Goodooga Rd

Section 2: Brewarrina to Bourke

The Darling River Run travells through iconic towns like Brewarrina to experience the First Nation Fish Traps. Simon Bayliss

The Brewarrina to Bourke section of The Darling River Run is an easy drive along the Kamilaroi Highway with not much access to the river. There is an alternate route via the Culgoa River which follows its path down to where it meets the Darling River.


The Brewarrina to Bourke section of The Darling River Run is an easy drive along the Kamilaroi Highway with not much access to the river. There is an alternate route, to the north of the Darling River, that heads back out along the Kamilaroi Highway then northwest along Twin Rivers Road to West Culgoa Road.

West Culgoa Road follows the path of the Culgoa River southwest to the Mitchell Highway, then it is a short 5 km to Kidmans Camp (or about 15 km into Bourke itself). The Culgoa River joins the Darling River about 25 km east of Bourke.


Western Route (Preferred)

Highlight: Cross the Culgoa River near where becomes the Darling

Road Type = gravel (dry weather road)

Distance: 137 kms

Road/Routes:

  • North east along Kamilaroi Hwy 8km
  • Left at Collerina Rd: 36km
  • Left at Weilmoringle Rd: 77km
  • Left at Mitchell Highway to Bourke: 16km

Eastern Route

Road Type = Sealed

Distance: 97 kms

Road/Routes:

  • Kamilaroi Highway

Section 3: Bourke to Louth

 The Darling River Run - The best camping (Tent and RV) like May's Bend on the Darling at Bourke. Simon Bayliss

Travelling The Darling River Run from Bourke to Louth is normally via the Bourke-Wilcannia rd on the east of the river past Gundabooka NP.

An alternative route is possible on the west as it passes through some wonderful red soil country and across the Warrego River.


Now we are getting into the good stuff!

The eastern route, past Gundabooka NP, is the best maintained and as such the most used.

The western side is longer but much more scenic with a variety of landscapes and the opportunity to visit Toorale NP. Check conditions before using this route.

The western route will also cross the Warrego which in can flow into the Darling when there is a good high flow.


Western Route (Preferred)

Highlight/s: The changing terrain from unsealed road.

Road Type = Gravel (dry weather road)

Distance: 125 kms

Road/Routes:

  • Out through Nth Bourke
  • Take the Wanaaring/Tibooburra Rd 
  • Turn off at Pera Bore (21 km)
  • Head southeast: 104 km (Crossing over the Warrego after about 80km)

Eastern Route

Road Type = Gravel (dry weather road) - mostly

Distance: 99 kms

Road/Routes: 

  • Bourke-Wilcannia Rd

The Central Darling River

Louth to Menindee Section

The middel (or central) section of the Darling River Run covers the more remote and outback areas of river plain; including the ephemeral Paroo River.

Iconic towns like Tilpa, Wilcannia and Menindee (Menindee Lakes) offer plenty if iconic outback experiences.


Section 4: Louth to Tilpa

The Darling River Run - The Central Darling iconic town of Louth and nearby Trilby Station. Simon Bayliss

The Louth to Tilpa section of along the Darling is one of the best with 2 great options; the east route provides some great access to the river along the way while the western route passes some great historic properties like Trilby Station, Idalia Station and Kallara Station. (all providing camping and farm stay facilities)


Short and sweet (relative term) is the run from Louth to Tilpa.

Be sure to visit Louth, if you missed coming to Trilby Station via Toorale NP, it is well worth a visit.

From Louth, it is a great run along the eastern side of the Darling. *NOTE if using GPS, ignore its location of Tilpa as it is further down on the other side of the river.

If travelling along the western side, keep an eye out for Kallara Station about 15 minutes upstream from Tilpa.


 

Western Route (Preferred)

Highlight/s: Trilby Station and Kallara Station

Road Type = Gravel (Dry weather road)

Distance: 89 kms

Road/Routes:

  • Take MR68A from Louth <> Tilpa: 89k m

Eastern Route

Road Type = Gravel (dry weather road)

Distance: 92 kms

Road/Routes:

  • Bourke-Wilcannia Rd

Section 5: Tilpa to Wilcannia

The Darling River Run - Camping by the Darling and enjoying the Tilpa Pub, one of the best in Outback NSW. Simon Bayliss

With the choice of an eastern and western route, the Tilpa-Wilcannia section of The Darling River Run passes though some wonder country of the Central Darling. The eastern route passes though the Paroo-Darling National Park (and the wonderful Wilga camping site) while the western route tracks through the Paroo-Darling conservation area.


With the choice of an eastern and western route, the Tilpa-Wilcannia section of the Darling River Run passes through some wonderful country of the Central Darling.

The eastern route passes through the Paroo-Darling National Park (and the wonderful Coaches and Horses Campsite) while the western route tracks through the Paroo-Darling conservation area.


Western Route

Road Type = Gravel (dry weather road)

Distance: 129 kms

Road/Routes:

  • Take MR68A from Tilpa <> Wilcannia: 129 km

Eastern Route (Preferred)

Highlight/s: Coaches & Horses camp ground

Road Type = Gravel (dry weather road)

Distance: 145 kms

Road/Routes:

  • Bourke-Wilcannia Rd <> Barrier H'way: (138 km)
  • Barrier Highway <> Wilcannia: (7 km)

Section 6: Wilcannia to Menindee

The Darling River Run Itinerary - Wilcannia, Outback NSW

Travelling The Darling River Run from Bourke to Louth is normally via the Bourke-Wilcannia rd on the east of the river past Gundabooka NP. An alternative route is possible on the west as it passes through some wonderful red soil country and across the Warrego River.


Two great routes for the run to Menindee from Wilcannia… at a good distance to experience the remoteness of Outback NSW.

My recommendation is the western side of the Darling as it passes Nelia Gaari Station, a GREAT place to stay with some of the best Darling River camping - helped as it is at the upper reach of the water that is backed up from the Menindee Lakes.

The eastern side it certainly good if you want to do the drive straight to Menindee.


Western Route (Preferred)

Highlight: Nelia Gaari

Road Type = Gravel (Dry weather road)

Distance: 158 kms

Road/Routes:

  • South along Barrier Highway: 8 km
  • Right onto SR10 <> Menindee Rd: 142 km
  • High Darling Rd <> Pooncarie-Wentworth Rd: 7 km
  • Menindee Rd <> Menindee: 1 km

Eastern Route

Road Type = gravel (dry weather road)

Distance: 154 kms

Road/Routes:

  • Reid St out of Wilcannia MR68B <> Menindee Rd: 139 km
  • Menindee Rd <> Menindee: 15 km

The Lower Darling River

Menindee to Wentworth Section

The Lower Darling section of the Darling River Run, Menindee Lakes to Wentworth, covers some of the best outback attractions and experiences of Outback NSW including the iconic Lake Mango (Mungo National Park), a ‘must-see’ destinations with its much-photographed ‘Walls of China’, dunes, and Lunette landscapes. Lake Mungo is more about just an outback landscape of ethereal beauty as it has its very own unique story it has to tell about the richness of indigenous culture.

The other major unique feature of the Lower Darling is the confluence of the Murray River and Darling River, the point the the tow rivers meet before continuing, as one, to Lake Alexandrina.


Section 7: Menindee to Pooncarie

The Darling River Run Itinerary - The Darling River at Menindee - Main Weir, Outback NSW

The Menindee-Pooncarie section of The Darling River Run can be undertaken via west of the Darling River (through Kinchega NP) or the eastern side which which is the more direct route.


The route to Pooncarie has the more direct route (the eastern side) but by far the best for me is the western side which starts with a visit to Kinchega NP and then past some of the Menindee Lakes (Cawndilla and Tandou) before heading back east to join the Darling and a visit/stay at Bindara Station.

From Bindara, it is a wonderful drive to Pooncarie.


Western Route (Preferred)

Highlight/s: Bindara Station

Road Type = gravel (dry weather road)

Distance: 185 kms

Road/Routes:

  • Old Pooncarie Rd (via Kinchega) <> Polia Rd: 84 km
  • Polia Rd <> High Darling Rd: 91 km
  • High Darling Rd <> Pooncarie-Wentworth Rd: 7 km
  • Pooncarie-Wentworth Rd <> Pooncarie: 3 km

Eastern Route

Road Type = Gravel (dry weather road)

Distance: 125 kms

Road/Routes:

  • Menindee <> Pooncarie Rd

Section 8: Pooncarie to Wentworth

The Darling River Run Itinerary - The Darling River at Pooncarie, Outback NSW

This section of the run can be undertaken via the east of the Darling River (which will enables you to visit Lake Mungo and the Mungo National Park) or the western side which affords more access to the river.


For those wishing to visit the iconic Lake Mungo, which I highly recommend, the best option for the Pooncarie-Wentworth section is via the eastern side of the Darling River.

Allow the best part of the day to visit Lake Mungo, or better still, spend a full day (there are camping/RV options nearby).


 

Western Route

Road Type = Gravel (dry weather road)

Distance: 116 km (*126 km)

Road/Routes:

  • Pooncarie <> High Darling Rd: 3 km
  • High Darling Rd <> Low Darling Rd: 67 km - * (or High Darling Rd<>Garston Rd: 79 km - then 3.3 kms to Low Darling Rd)* 
  • Low Darling Rd <> Silver City H'way: 40km *(or Garston Rd<>Silvercity H'way 35 km
  • Silver City H'way <> Wentworth: 6 km

Eastern Route (Preferred)

Highlight/s: Lake Mungo

Road Type = Gravel (Dry weather road)

Distance: 120 kms

Road/Routes:

  • Wentworth <> Pooncarie Rd

The Darling River Run Itinerary - The Darling River at Wentworth, Murray Darling Confluence - Outback NSW


For More on the Darling River Run, including routes, itineraries, maps, accommodation and more, please see the NEW Darling River Run Website.

Red Dust on Snow  - Simon Bayliss