The Barrier Highway connects NSW's central west with the Clare Valley in South Australia. The 1016 km road starts in Nyngan, where it branches off the Mitchell Hwy, and then travels through the remote Outback to the South Australian border. In SA the highway continues in a south western direction until it joins South Australia's Main North Road at Giles Corner.
Some people might tell you it is a dull and boring drive, but I disagree. I travelled the route up and down more than once, and often I discover new features. Know what to look for (find heaps of info on this page), take your time, and enjoy another great journey through the Australian Outback.
You think that doesn't look much like Outback, right? This photo was taken in October 2010. It had been a very wet period in south west Queensland and north west of New South Wales. I never saw so much water, wildflowers and a beautiful green scenery in this area. However, it might be different when you travel there.
The Barrier Highway runs 637 km through New South Wales, that's nearly 2/3 of the entire trip. This is also the section that appears to be lonelier than the 376km through South Australia. However, the few NSW towns have a lot in store for visitors, so plan at least one overnight stop.
The most important information is that the entire route is a sealed
highway in good condition. You don't need a 4 WD vehicle, just take your
However, you'll travel through a remote area which is sparsely populated. Plan a little ahead, know where you want to stop, where to get fuel and accommodation.
Don't drive in the dark to avoid hitting a kangaroo, emu, or whatever roams on the road at night.
Nyngan (population approx. 2100) is a country town on the banks of the Bogan River. It is here where your journey along the Barrier Hwy begins.
The historic railway station, it is home of an interesting museum with artefacts and pictures of the local area. The museum also displays photos of the devastating Nyngan flood of 1990, when the entire town was flooded and its people were evacuated.
Nyngan provides the usual facilities, hotel and motel accommodation, a caravan park, IGA and Foodworks supermarkets, and fuel stations.
There is not much to see as you travel along the Barrier Highway towards Cobar. This is an agricultural area, be aware that you could encounter sheep or cattle on the road.
Fuel is available at Hermidale, a tiny town 46 km east of Nyngan. As you travel further, there is the Florida Rest Area, 50 km before you arrive in Cobar.
Cobar (pop. ~ 4000), the mining town on the junction of the Barrier Highway and the Kidman Way has a rich cultural heritage. Discover 19th century architecture, I especially like the red brick buildings. Fort Bourke Hill Lookout is worth a visit, here you look deep into the open-cut mine. Get more information from the tourist info, located in the former administration building (circa 1910) of the Cobar Mine.
Facilities: Cobar offers all major facilities you'd expect in a town of its size, supermarkets, fuel & repair services, hotels and motels. Check out where to stay in Cobar.
The Barrier Highway continues as a long straight road outside of Cobar. But don't get sleepy, always expect hazards on the road, like this huge oversize truck. Stop your journey for a few minutes and refresh your senses frequently.
There are several rest stops along the way, Meadow Glen, Bulla Park, Baden Park and the Emmdale Roadhouse, the only place to get fuel.
Wilcannia (pop ~ 540) used to be the third-largest river port in the heydays of the riverboat trading area. Today the small town is the administration centre of the Central Darling Shire, and it struggles like many other country towns to survive.
There is a lot of controversial information about Wilcannia online, in guide books and advice from people. The general tenor is that it is dangerous to stop in Wilcannia at all. Problem is, when nobody stops to support the local businesses, the closed and barricaded shops will increase. However, there are also messages from people who actually spent time in town, and say that everyone is friendly, and they enjoyed the local history.
Although it is a bit depressing to see so many places closed, I didn't encounter any problems when I stayed overnight. The impressive sandstone buildings are really worth to explore. Take your time and read the signs in front of the buildings to learn about the history.
Facilities in Wilcannia: Service station to get fuel, some groceries, a cooked meal and take-away food and motel rooms. There is another motel, a caravan park operated by the council, and a park that offers camping and cabins along the riverside.
Apart from a few rest stops, Little Topar Roadhouse is the only place to offer fuel, drinks and food. This is a typical Outback pub in the middle of nowhere, it is really worth to take a rest here.
The scenery changes slightly on the section from Wilcannia to Broken Hill.
Red sand, low bushes, and finally, the ranges that gave this Outback highway its name, the Barrier Ranges appear on the horizon.
Broken Hill (pop ~ 18,500) is an inland mining city far, far away from any major city. Sydney is roughly 1200km to the east and Adelaide 500 km to the south west. No wonder, Broken Hill's clocks tick Adelaide/South Australian time.
It is absolutely worth to stay a couple of days here, and absorb the great Outback atmosphere once you leave the city.
Recommended day trips include a tour south to Menindee and the Kinchega National Park.
Don't miss Silverton and the Mundi Mundi plains, absorb the fantastic Outback light on an afternoon trip to the north-west from Broken Hill.
50 km past Broken Hill you reach the border to South Australia in the little town Cockburn.
The South Australian section of the Barrier Highway is my favourite part, I can't really explain why. Wide open spaces, sandy creek beds, a barren landscape covered with salt- and bluebush - this is easily accessed and interesting Outback.
The Sydney to Perth railway line runs very close to the highway, if you are lucky, you'll see a freight train, or even the famous Indian Pacific.
The route is dotted with tiny towns, usually not more than approximately 50 to 60 km apart. There are pubs, museums and historic railway sidings to discover, it is really worth to stop for a while.
In the early 1990s the South Australian Government intended to close down the small settlements along the highway, which led to an uproar by the communities.
Since then, the townships have fought hard to stay on the map. However, not every locality and business will survive, I am afraid. So, it is really good when travellers stop in these places and do some business with them, even if it just to buy an ice cream.
Oodla Wirra - a few houses, a water tank from the railway, and the Half-Way-Hotel is what you find in this small town. If you are driving towards Adelaide, and you carry some fruits or veggies, you better stop opposite the hotel for a meal. Otherwise, be prepared that you have to throw fresh fruit and greeneries into the quarantine bins at the fruit fly inspection area.
The scenery changes as you have left the arid zones of the Outback. The road continues through South Australia's agricultural region. In a draught, you won't notice the changes so much, however, in good years, and especially in spring, you'll see fresh green and canola fields everywhere.
Terowie is a stunning old town a little off the road. Take your time to walk around this little gem. It might look like an abandoned ghost town, but it is not.
Whyte Yarcowie, Hallett and Mount Bryan are tiny localities that served the former Peterborough railway line. They provide some basic services, but don't rely that fuel available is in every town.
Several roads and highways branch off to the west of the Barrier Highway, to reach the southern Flinders Ranges and to South Australia's mid-north.
Since 1995 I've stopped in Burra whenever I came close to this beautiful old mining town. There is so much to see (old mine, goal, railway station, etc.), that there will be a separate Burra entry on this site very soon. Stay overnight in old mining cottages and smell the history.
North of Burra on the Barrier Highway, there is the well-known Midnight Oil cottage. This is probably Australia's most famous homestead ruin. Photographed by Ken Duncan, the cottage appeared on the cover of Midnight Oil's album Diesel and Dust in the 1980s.
Detour from Burra: Take the Farrell Flat Road to Clare and the lovely Clare Valley. Then you've definitely left the Outback to discover one of the best wine-growing regions in South Australia.
Travelling south from Burra, there are only two towns, Saddleworth and Riverton, before the Barrier Highway ends at Giles Corner.
The Saddleworth Cafe offers tasty food while Riverton has some historic houses, and a huge railway station. The railway station is now privately owned, but you can rent and sleep in an old carriage.
I hope you are going to enjoy your trip along the Barrier Highway, or parts of it. The journey lets you discover some fine Outback destinations, all on a sealed road. Nevertheless, this is remote country. Plan well ahead, and take frequent rests to avoid fatigue. Below you will find links to other articles to help you plan your drive. Have fun and safe travels.