Our primary reason for planing this trip was to attend the Cri du Chat Support Group conference in the Adelaide Hills. It was originally scheduled for 2021 but postponed and rescheduled in response to the COVID pandemic. Because, when we registered in late 2021, there was still some doubt about whether travel would be possible we decided to drive rather than fly. That way we could abandon travel closer to the date without accumulating more flight credits; we have more than enough of those already.
Driving Toowoomba to Adelaide was an opportunity to explore western New South Wales, an area we have rarely flown over and have not previously visited. Coming back via the coast offered a chance to visit Majella’s brother in Tura Beach and Nick in Sydney.
When I was planning our route and booking accommodation weeks ago I looked at what we might be able to see on the way. I was interested to see some of the Darling River and thought we should go via Bourke and then across through Broken Hill to South Australia. Going west to St George and then south past Dirranbandi would let us see Lightning Ridge on the way. That made Walgett a manageable first night stop.
For the past week I’ve been watching flood warnings and road conditions via various apps and websites. Trying to find up to date information was a challenge with some reports a day or two old. The best information from the RACQ website yesterday showed the road west cut at Cecil Plains and possibly at other places. That put St George and Dirranbandi out of the picture but Walgett could be reached via Goondiwindi.
Not knowing how conditions might change we decided to leave early this morning and were in the car at 6:00 am. We filled up with fuel and tried a couple of bakeries without success (the one that was open had only white so Majella passed) before heading out Anzac Avenue and along the Gore Highway. There were signs of recent flooding along the road which had been cut at times. The Condamine River had subsided where we crossed it near Millmerran but was still flowing strongly and just off the road. That was the closest we came to any problem with flood water though there were many places where water was not far from the road.
We found a bakery at Millmerran and bought bread rolls to eat with our egg and salad for lunch. Majella got the last two whole meal rolls; there was no multigrain. About an hour further on we stopped at a rest area and changed drivers.
At Goondiwindi we paused for a few minutes while I checked if any change in road conditions might persuade us to change our route. There was no clear route west so we continued south across the Macintyre, which was flowing but not in flood, and then on to Moree.
At Moree we stopped in a rest area for coffee and cake we had brought with us. We had been on the road for a little over 4 hours so it was 11:00 am in NSW and time for a break. Majella did a brief driving tour of the town centre (we had stopped and walked around town on a previous trip with Virginia and Angela) and proclaimed Moree a ‘pretty town’ before heading west on the Gwydir Highway.
We reached Collarenebri a little more than an hour later. Majella was much less impressed with what appeared to be mostly closed shopfronts and little sign of activity. We ate our lunch of bread rolls with egg and salad in a rest area by the Barwon River. It was running strongly and we learned later that it could be expected to rise to flood level over the next several days.
Because we had made good time to that point we decided that we would visit Lightning Ridge despite that requiring some 60 km or so of backtracking from where the Gwydir meets the Leichhardt north of Walgett. The alternative road from Collarenebri to Lightning Ridge was unsealed and not recommended by any of the places I consulted.
Along the road north to Lightning Ridge we spotted a few emus either side of the road. Just short of our destination we saw a large sculpture of an emu made from a car body and other scrap. It was interesting enough to stop for a photo on the way back south.
Majella proclaimed Ligntning Ridge much more interesting than Collarenebri. We drove down the main street where there were several stores selling opals and a variety of other goods. The sign to a walk in mine tour open seven days got our attention and we went to check it out. It was closed but the nearby cactus garden was open – at least we could walk in and there was a sign asking visitors to put their $10 admission under the door. We complied and spent some time walking among the wide variety of cactus plants. Some were up to 100 years old (transplanted) and many were large. As we were leaving the owner arrived and we had a few words with him. He has been juggling other work including mining while waiting for the tourist season to begin in a couple of weeks.
Back in town we drove around the streets and spent some time looking in one of the stores selling opals. They had a wide range with prices to match, from $10 to $10000, but Majella is not much into jewellery so we moved on. Before leaving town we drove 2 km out to see the artesian baths. Majella likes a hot spa but decided to pass on this occasion; at 32ºC it was hot enough outside.
We arrived in Walgett around 4:30 pm, close to my original estimate via St George despite the change of route. Checkin at the motel was simple but I was surprised to receive 2 keys – one for the room and one for the front gate in the tall fence which is locked at 9:30 pm. We made a note to be back from dinner well before that in case the town was more lively than it looked.
Having deposited our baggage in our room and rested for a few minutes, we set off to explore Walgett. The name is from a Kamilaroi word meaning the junction of two rivers, the Barwon, which we had seen in Collarenebri, and the Namoi, which flows via Narrabri. We drove around town looking to see where we might eat later. There were a couple of take away places but no pub. A quick check at the RSL found it was closed on Tuesday but the sports club at the north end of town was open for dinner.
We parked in a street near the sports club and Namoi River and went for a short walk along the top of the levee that runs along the river. There was water in the Namoi but little or no flow. That may change as the floods come downstream after the recent rains.
We were in the club with time for a drink before ordering dinner once they were ready at 6:00 pm. Majella had salmon with potatoes and salad. I had a ‘half rump’ (250 g rather than the full 600 g) with chips and salad. Our meals were tasty enough and filling. Once we had eaten we headed back to our motel to avoid the lockout.