North-West NSW's Great Artesian Drive

Artesian Bore Baths Lightning Ridge
Artesian Bore Baths Lightning Ridge

Trip Summary 
Duration: 4 days
Distance: 583km

        Activities
Nature – Sightseeing – Art & culture – Food & drink
  View the itinerary        

Highlights
Healing waters at MoreeOpal fever at Lightning Ridge – Stunning
views at Bingara


These communities have been impacted by bushfire, flooding and lockdown restrictions. Please check the status of roads and places you plan to visit before setting off.

A journey across north-west NSW has the potential to heal the mind, body and soul of road-trippers fresh from the stresses of COVID-19 lockdowns.

Some of the life-giving waters of Australia’s Great Artesian Basin have been waiting for over a million years to be brought to the surface to nourish crops, quench the thirsts of both humans and animals, and soothe the bodies of weary travellers in rejuvenating thermal pools.

The basin covers around a fifth of the continent, extending through almost of quarter of NSW and supporting vibrant towns and hard-working farmers, especially in times of drought.

Tracing some of its course will unlock unique experiences and support communities that have longed to welcome visitors back to their cafés, historic pubs, museums, galleries, lookouts, and countless other attractions.

 

Day 1: Armidale to Bingara

1hr 47m | 151km

Stop 1: Back to nature

Though technically not situated within the Great Artesian Basin region, the first leg of the road trip is filled with other natural wonders.

Past rolling hills and paddocks, Thunderbolts Way is the perfect touring road. Seeing plenty of water in dams and feed for stock makes a fantastic change from previous times.

Heeding the turn-off sign to Mount Yarrowyck Nature Reserve on an impulse is rewarded with a relaxing pit stop. Along with tables, barbecues and a toilet, there’s a pleasant 3km return walk to an Aboriginal rock art site featuring red ochre paintings with bird track motifs, though sturdy shoes are recommended as the trail can be uneven and inclined in places.

Stop 2: Bundarra

This small town’s name comes from the Kamilaroi word for the grey kangaroo and it’s host to the Long Evity Country Kitchen. Owner Christine Crago opened the café three years ago, which has serene garden surrounds that grow much of the produce it uses.

She says around 120 people moved to the town from metro regions in the last 12 months, but the stop-start impact of COVID restrictions on her business has been heartbreaking. “When the traffic is going and everyone is unlocked, we get really busy. There’s a lot of people that love staying here, they camp up near the river and this is a really popular area,” she says.

The Commercial Hotel Bundarra is also hard to miss on the town’s main street. Built in 1861, the grand pub is said to have been visited by the infamous bushranger, Captain Thunderbolt, and has a beer garden and reasonable lodgings – hopefully for those guests not hiding out from the law.

Stop 3: Dam good time
Taking a detour to Copeton Dam between Bundarra and Bingara will let you experience a waterway with almost three times the capacity of Sydney Harbour. It’s a favourite destination among the locals of both towns for swimming, fishing and boating. 
Lake Copeton
Image supplied by Destination NSW
Stop 4: Bingara
Before you roll into Bingara, you can get a bird’s eye perspective of the township at H.F. Batterham Memorial Lookout by following the turn-off sign 2km to the south. Named after a local historian who died in 1972, it’s a steep and narrow climb to the top, so you can forget about towing a caravan or camper up there. Locals’ tip: walk up the hill on a rough path towards the telco towers until you see a sign pointing you towards another lookout area about 250 metres further, which takes in the stunning views to the south.

Once you have the lay of land, you’re ready to explore all of Bingara’s highlights. The first thing you’ll likely notice is how well the locals keep their houses and gardens maintained, obviously taking a lot of pride in their busy little town. Orange trees line Finch Street, planted as a living memorial to the town’s fallen soldiers in WWI and WWII. The trees are entrusted to the local schoolchildren who harvest the fruit once a year and, as the town’s designated ‘orange police’, they can be quick to politely reprimand any visitors who unknowingly attempt to pick them.

After the 1852 discovery of gold and later diamonds in the area, Bingara’s history is littered with prospecting tales. The Three Creeks Goldmine is working mine 23km from town where visitors can learn to pan for gold and keep what they find. 

Day 2: Bingara to Moree

1hr 11min | 101 km

Stop 1: Healing waters

One interpretation of Moree’s name is the Aboriginal word for ‘long spring’, so it’s no surprise that many visitors come to the town to take a dip in the Artesian Aquatic Centre.

The hot artesian pool is at the site where the first bore in Moree was drilled in 1895 to tap the highly pressurised and mineral-rich waters of the Great Artesian Basin. Unfortunately, the centre is currently closed, but is looking to open up bigger and better in the future after the completion of upgrades.

Stop 2: Inspiring art

The only public art gallery in the region is housed in a beautiful 1911 Edwardian-style building and has been in operation for 30 years, but in 2018 was rebranded as the Bank Art Museum Moree.

The gallery’s acting director, Kate Tuart, says the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the March 2021 floods, have greatly impacted Moree, yet the region is bouncing back.

“Thankfully we have a good harvest coming. It’s going to be a boomer crop and people will be happy, so that is perfect timing because otherwise, if it was still dry, people would be pretty down.”

As for the art gallery, visitors can expect to see some exciting works. “Despite being far away from the major centres, we do get those big touring exhibitions. We’ve got the Dobell Drawing Prize next year, ARTEXPRESS next year, as well as some really incredible local exhibitions, such as a retrospective on the late Marg Adams who was one of the great Kamilaroi artists of our community,” she says.

Bank Art Museum Moree
Image supplied by Destination NSW

Day 3: Moree to Walgett

3hr 10min | 256km

Stop 1: Wee Waa

Following the Newell Highway south for 53km takes you through the small village of Bellata. It’s then a choice between continuing on the highway down to Narrabri or turning off on the more adventurous route through farmland and over well-graded dirt roads, before joining back up with the Kamilaroi Highway and onto Wee Waa.

Known as the ‘cotton capital’ of Australia, another of Wee Waa’s claims to fame happened in April 2013 when it, of all places, hosted a global album launch party for French electronic music duo Daft Punk. Four-thousand tickets were sold, which tripled the town’s population. 

Palmer’s Market Café on Rose Street has you sorted for lunch in Wee Waa. There, Tenneille Palmer suggests you should get in early for the sushi as it tends to get snapped up quickly every day. She also has a ‘secret spot’ recommendation for visitors to the area: “Yarrie Lake is absolutely beautiful. If you’re coming out here and you want to have a look at some birds and go for a nice walk, Yarrie Lake is my favourite.”

Palmer's Market Wee Waa
Stop 2: Bath time!
Pilliga, Burren Junction and Walgett all have public baths with waters from the Great Artesian Basin for travellers to relax in. Pilliga Artesian Bore Baths were constructed in 1902 and have a water temperature of 37 degrees Celsius and lighting for bathing at night. There’s no charge for its use but there is a fee to stay at the surrounding campground. A friendly couple there travelled all the way from The Entrance and reckon the waters heal all ailments.

Burren Junction Bore Baths and Campground is 40km away, but it’s closed until March 2022. The Walgett Artesian Bore Baths are a further 93km away, situated at the edge of town, and are open from April to October. You’ll also likely see the new Jimmy Little Memorial Mural on the Walgett Water Tower if you travel further into the ‘CBD’. Its paint has only been dry a year and it pays tribute to the famed Indigenous musician’s contribution to reconciliation and Indigenous health and education programs.

Day 4: Walgett to Lightning Ridge

51 min | 75 km

Stop 1: Opal fever

According to myth, Lightning Ridge’s name originated in the 1870s when the bodies of a farmer, his dog and 200 sheep were discovered, apparently victims of a lightning strike, though it wasn’t officially adopted until 1963.

The town is famous for its opal mining and the Lost Treasure Opal Mine Adventure, previously called the ‘Walk in Mine’, is the most accessible for underground tours.

Walk In Mine Lightning Ridge
Image supplied by Destination NSW
Stop 2: Colourfulsights

Some of Lightning Ridge’s buildings are unusual, to say the least, such as the Bottle House and Mining Museum made from clay and bottles.

The town attracts its fair share of residents with a creative flair, including renowned Australian artist John Murray whose works can be seen at the John Murray Art Gallery. He also built the giant emu made from old VW Beetle car parts, affectionately named ‘Stanley’, who attempts to lure in grey nomads from the Castlereagh Highway 10km away. 

Stop 3: Soak somemore

Dusty desert air drying out your skin? It calls for another soothing dip in warm artesian waters.

The Lightning Ridge Bore Baths are open all hours except for 10am to 12 noon Monday to Friday. It’s free to visit and makes for the perfect blissful evening to end your road trip.

Artesian Bore Baths Lightning Ridge
Image supplied by Destination NSW

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