On many trips, I’ve bypassed places like Bourke, just to get off the tar and to keep heading west. But the phrase ‘the back of Bourke’ got me thinking. The iconic town, located 800km north-west of Sydney was first seen by European overlanders in the early 1800s, although the traditional owners of this land, the Ngemba and Paakandji people, have called this place home for hundreds of years. Charles Sturt passed through the area in 1828, but it was explorer and surveyor Thomas Mitchell who colonised the settlement on the banks of the Darling River. The river was used to transport various types of freight and the fledgling settlement began to boom. The picturesque town, where you can visit galleries, exhibition centres or even cruise the Darling River on a traditional steamboat is a great eye-opener, but we were interested in more.
About 50km south of Bourke, Gundabooka National Park (NP) covers 64,000ha and is a hidden gem that’s worth spending a few days exploring or to simply enjoy on a day trip from Bourke. There are two ways of getting to Gundabooka; either off Kidman Way (Bourke to Cobar Road) or along the Bourke to Louth Road, which runs beside the Darling River.
We headed down the Kidman Way to the park’s well signposted entry.
As soon as you cross into the park, it feels like the real outback, with the typical red roads and stunning white gums towering over the mulga bush. Just inside the park, an information bay spells out the dangers, what there is to see and do, where to camp, and how to get around. It suggests you drop your tyre pressures to withstand the long stretches of sand and a few rocky sections.
Our designated camp for several nights was Dry Tank campground, located 20km deep within Gundabooka. Yanda campground is located across the other side beside the Darling River, but we wanted to be in the heart of Gundabooka. It wasn’t long before we found the turn-off into Dry Tank and were pleasantly surprised with the layout. There is parking for daytrippers, private areas for camper trailers and tents hidden in the mulga, and a large open area for group camping with several picnic tables with a nearby toilet.
Apart from Dry Tank campground being a great place to settle, it’s also the start of several walking trails. The most popular one is Little Mountain Walking Track. This 5km track meanders through thick mulga and outback grevilleas that, if you’re lucky, may have a little colour on them. We were pleased to find large mounds that are to home mulga ants, large black omnivores that eat dead matter. Life is tough out here.
Wandering along the trail we noticed a rise in the surrounding landscape which gave us glimpses of Mount Gundabooka in the distance. At the end of the designated walk, there is a great viewing platform allowing uninterrupted views across the plain towards the mountain and, surprisingly, we could get phone reception. Mount Gundabooka rises 500m above sea level and has been formed from millions of years of constant weathering from the winds and rain. For those keen, an informal trail leads you to the base of the mountain, but you need to be well prepared and experienced for this hike.
We were hoping to explore the Mulgowan or ‘Yappa’ Aboriginal rock art site via a walking trail starting near the turn-off to Dry Tank. Unfortunately, on the days that we were there, the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) was conducting pest control so the walk was closed.
Fires are permitted within the park so you need to bring your own timber. It’s a great feeling to sit beside the fire in Gundabooka as the mulga scrub seems to go quiet and the air has a relaxed feel to it. The stars are as bright as some city lights and it makes for a great ambience.
Our next mission was to head up the road to the Bennetts Gorge area. A 10km drive heading west from camp soon saw us turning left into Corella Tank Road. With a 2km drive in towards the looming base of Mount Gundabooka, the views towards the plateau are nothing short of spectacular. The picnic area provides plenty of shade, toilets, amazing views and a little phone reception; it’s a near-perfect spot. The Valley of the Eagles walk starts from the car park. This is an easy 1km stroll to the base of the mountain where you can sit and take in the amazing views of Mount Gundabooka. Detailed information boards explain the history of the area, point out gorges and highlights on the mountain and explain how the resident eagles use the warm air currents to glide around looking for prey. The walk takes around 30 minutes but we spent two hours just admiring the views of the surrounding landscape.
Back out on the road heading towards the western fringe of the park, we encountered the typical red sandy roads which had a few corrugations but were in great shape. The park was broken up into three separate outback stations just after WWI and this was evident by the amount of fence lines we started to see and crossing several grids.
Towards the western end of the park, we found that the Louth Road cut straight through, separating Yanda campground. This is a newly formed area where camping is allowed beside the Darling River. There is plenty of room for trailers and tents, toilets and shelters are provided. A short stroll to the river gave us stunning views of old river gums looking over the slow moving Darling River. It’s hard to believe this was once a highway for paddle boats that moved freight along here.
THE FINAL WORD
For those not wanting to camp within the park, there are several homestay options nearby where you can stay in outback luxury and still be able to explore the park. There is little phone reception within the park and it is regarded as a remote area as there is minimal traffic out here. You do need to be totally self-sufficient with food, water and fuel. Keep in mind that winter temperatures can get below freezing and the summers get stifling hot.
NSW NPWS goes to great lengths to manage pests and weeds so that we can enjoy and explore this precious park. While there is no true offroading within the park, it is a great place to visit and explore just a little of the outback and realising that you don’t need to head hundreds of kilometres past Bourke for a true outback experience.
Gundabooka NP is 50km south of Bourke along the Kidman Way or 40km along the Wilcannia-Bourke Road.
Camper trailer camping is available at Dry Tank campground and Yanda campground on the Darling River. No bookings are taken. This is a remote area so you need to be well prepared as there is very limited phone signal and traffic.
Gundabooka NP features walking trails, remote camping, rock art, birdwatching and several different landforms.
Visit NSW National Parks and Wildlife for updated information. www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/Gundabooka-National-Park or phone the NSW NPWS Bourke office on (02) 6830 0200.