Inland Odyssey: Sydney to Melbourne
When Sydneysiders get tired of the city, they often dream of "going bush." If they could, they'd head west into the setting sun and out into the Outback. Not many local city slickers ever get to realize their dream, but you can do it for them on this 7-day inland odyssey from Sydney to Melbourne.
Day 1: The Blue Mountains
Armed with your road map, leave Sydney via Parramatta Road, by the M4 motorway and the Great Western Highway. Two hours should see you safely in the cool of the Blue Mountains. Drive into the little town of Katoomba, where you could stop for a quick coffee break or early lunch at the historic Paragon Café before taking a short spin to see the incredible views across to the Three Sisters rock formation from Echo Point. From here, follow the signs to Scenic World, where you can take the world's steepest railway into an enchanting world of tree ferns -- it will take just a couple of minutes to get down. Take the cable car up and continue on your journey.
Keep following the Great Western Highway as it heads west for 39km (24 miles), through Blackheath, Mount Victoria, and Hartley, and then downhill toward the old mining town of Lithgow. The most famous attraction around here is the Zig Zag Railway, a former coal route that crosses the valleys on impressive viaducts and winds around the eucalyptus-covered hills. A steam train runs the 18km (11-mile) back-and-forth route on Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays, and school holidays, and a diesel train does the route on other days. It takes 1 1/2 hours. Call tel. 02/6355 2955, or visit www.zigzagrailway.com.au for details.
The highway leads from here down onto the plains and into Bathurst, approximately 200km (124 miles) west of Sydney, and 5km (3 miles) west of Lithgow. Bathurst, which was proclaimed a city in 1815, is the oldest inland settlement in Australia. Its 19th-century architecture is beautifully preserved, and it makes for pleasant wandering. Stay here for the night.
Day 2: Canowindra to Dubbo
It's a 56km (34-mile) drive along the Mitchell Highway from Bathurst to Orange. Highly recommended is a 58km (36-mile) sidetrack down through a landscape of spare trees and orange soil to Canowindra, to visit the Age of Fishes Museum (www.ageoffishes.org.au). A chance discovery in 1955 near here revealed an extensive fossil bed dating back 360 million years and containing over 3,500 fish, some with armored shells, lungs, and huge jaws like crocodiles. The fish are well displayed, many still in their muddy-looking rock shelves.
Make your way back to the Mitchell Highway for the 150km (93-mile) trek northwest to Dubbo, which has that beginning-of-the-Outback feel, with plenty of Akubra hats around. South of town is the Western Plains Zoo, set in over 300 hectares (741 acres) of bushland and home to more than 1,000 animals, which roam large outdoor enclosures. The zoo has paths for walking, cycling, and vehicles, and is worth visiting if you have the time.
Day 3: Mount Grenfell & Wilcannia
From Dubbo, continue along the highway to Nyngan, a small township on the edge of the true Outback, where you can while away a short time in the local museum or spot birds among the rivergums at Rotary Park.
From here, the Barrier Highway scoots across dusty arid red plains for 597km (370 miles) to Broken Hill. The best place to stop for the night is Cobar, 133km (83 miles) from Nyngan. There's an excellent rural museum here, and some fascinating local pubs and historic buildings.
You'll find some of the best Aboriginal art in NSW at Mount Grenfell, 40km (25 miles) farther along the Barrier Highway from Cobar -- a signpost directs you off the main road, and it's another 32km (19 miles) to three rock overhangs where 1,300 richly colored stencils and drawings cover the surfaces.
It's a 265km (164-mile) drive from here to Wilcannia, across a landscape scuttling with giant lizards and emus. (The 'roos usually come out at dusk.) Wilcannia can seem a bit threatening because of the Aborigines who tend to cluster around in the streets, but they love to talk, so don't worry too much.
From Wilcannia, you can veer north along a bitumen road for 97km (60 miles) to the opal-mining town of White Cliffs, where most people live underground.
Day 4: The White Cliffs
It's worth spending most of the day discovering the sights of White Cliffs before making your way back to the highway and completing the 197km (122-mile) journey to Broken Hill.
Day 5: Opal Mining in Broken Hill
Rest up in Broken Hill for the day, and make sure you take a tour of the town with a local tour company; you won't regret it. Sights to see include the School of the Air and the Royal Flying Doctor Service base, as well as popping out to Silverton.
Days 6 & 7: Down to Mildura & the Murray Valley
A long, 295km (183-mile) drive takes you south along the Silver City Highway to Mildura, where you can stop for lunch. It's another 544km (337 miles) from here to Melbourne, but there are good highways much of the way. A good stopover for the night is Echuca, 210km (130 miles) north of Melbourne, reached by the Murray Valley Highway, where you can spend the morning on a paddle steamer on the Murray River.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.