Wide-open spaces, friendly country faces and art in unexpected places await on a road trip through country and outback New South Wales’s biggest open-air art gallery. From ancient rock art to spray-painted utes, there’s a whole lot of human creativity to be found, while Mother Nature has created her own masterpieces for you to find and puts on an incredible light show in Australia’s first Dark Sky Park.
Start your adventure in the central west town of Forbes, where fine art on four wheels can be found at Mcfeeters Motor Museum. More than 60 veteran, vintage, classic and street rod cars, dating back to 1905, can be admired in this family-run showcase.
Pop into Platypus Gallery to see pieces by local artists or join a workshop to create your own, then take a stroll around town on the Sculpture Down the Lachlan trail to see works by significant Australian artists.
The trail has been described as a permanent bush take on Sculptures by the Sea and, after downloading a map at somewheredownthelachlan.com, you’ll be able to find them all. There are currently nine artworks in Forbes’ town centre, and another seven to be found on a one-hour drive to Condobolin along the Lachlan Valley Way. On 17 September 2022 you’ll also be able to enjoy Grazing Down the Lachlan, Forbes’ riverside food festival with great art, food and wine under the river gums.
In Condobolin the open-air art trail continues, with a twist. Originally inspired by the Cadillac Ranch on Route 66 in Texas, Utes in the Paddock has seen artists transform old Holden utes into unusual works of art. The result has not only delighted visitors and drawn people to town, it also won the 2020 Best Sculpture Park or Trail at the Australian Street Art Awards.
From Condobolin, drive 45 minutes to Trundle where you can enjoy a meal on the longest wooden verandah in NSW while looking out at the widest street in the state. The Trundle Hotel’s verandah stretches 87.6 metres, while the street below is a super-wide 60 metres, making it not only easy for parking but a great space for ABBA fans to dance in the streets at the annual ABBA Festival in May.
A further 80 minutes up the road, you’ll pass through another town with a great festival ahead. Narromine is planning its first Dolly Parton Festival for 9-10 April 2022 (we’ll now pause so Dolly fans can save that date). The town is also home to Australia’s oldest regional aero club and plane-lovers can visit the Narromine Aviation Museum and see the Wright Model A Flyer, the world’s first flying replica of the 1907 Wright Brothers plane. After your history lesson, head to the Soul Food Depot & Gallery for a spot of lunch with local art in a converted citrus-packing warehouse.
From Narromine, it’s an hour’s drive north to Gilgandra where you can find gifts for friends back home and treats for yourself from the GIL Collective, a co-op of local artists and makers at the Visitor Information Centre. Then it’s a scenic one-hour drive up the road to Coonabarabran where you’ll definitely want to spend a night or more.
The gateway to Warrumbungle National Park, Australia’s first Dark Sky Park, Coonabarabran is a must for stargazers. Book ahead to secure a spot on a tour with Donna the Astronomer (donnatheastronomer.com.au). The first Australian woman to discover a comet, Donna Burton leads visitors on a tour of the night sky with the chance to look through telescopes at the Milroy Observatory and see just how spectacular our planets and stars really are.
Mother Nature continues to weave her magic at the Sandstone Caves in Pilliga Nature Reserve, a half-hour’s drive outside Coonabarabran. Formed over tens of thousands of years, the caves slowly reveal themselves, becoming more spectacular as you make your way around the walking track. A culturally significant site for the Gamilaraay people, the caves hold boulders with grinding grooves as well as rock art and engravings. During school holidays you can join a guided tour with an Aboriginal Discovery Ranger while on other days you can take a self-guided tour and sit in silence in some of the caves as you look out at the view below.
You’ll want to make your way to Coonamble next, but say no thanks to your GPS’s suggestion for the shortest route and make your way back through Coonabarabran then out through Warrumbungle National Park.
Along the way you can visit Emu Logic Farm where adorable emu chicks can be found from July until October, while in Gulargambone you can try to spot all 40 of the corrugated-iron galahs around town. Refuel at the award-winning Two Eight Two Eight, where community volunteers have transformed the old Majestic Theatre into a warm and welcoming cafe.
Continue half an hour north to Coonamble, home to Australia’s biggest rodeo and campdraft every June. Here they also lay claim to being our Nickname Capital and share tales of local characters on billboards around town.
Before leaving town, pay a visit to the Coonamble Water Tower to see the pink and grey galahs painted by John Murray above Aboriginal dreamtime artwork by local artist Sooty Welsh, then travel 70 minutes to Walgett. Here you’ll find more water tower art and can look up at a mural of local Aboriginal country music legend Jimmy Little before visiting his grave in the town cemetery.
Be sure to pack your swimmers for a soak in the free Walgett Artesian Bore Baths. Believed to be about two million years old, the water stays a constant 40 degrees year-round and the mineral baths have long been used to soothe aching muscles and joints.
From Walgett, travel along the Darling River Run to Brewarrina where you can visit the Aboriginal Cultural Museum on the banks of the Barwon River and look out over the fish traps. Join a tour along the riverbank and hear stories of how the complex network of river stones were created more than 40,000 years ago from their traditional custodians, the Ngemba people.
After taking time to absorb the wonder of these ancient rock weirs and pools, enjoy a bite to eat at the Thulii Ngemba Coffee Cafe. This Aboriginal-owned and -operated business puts a delicious native twist on classic dishes, including sandwiches starring steak marinated in strawberry gum, wattle seed or bush tomato.
Head west to our final road trip destination, Bourke. From here you can visit Gundabooka National Park where the Mulgowan (Yappa) Aboriginal Art Site walking track will lead you to an enormous rock overhang with Aboriginal rock paintings of animals, dancers and hunting tools.
Keep an eye out for hooded robins and pink cockatoos before heading back to town where you can learn more about the area’s native animals and Aboriginal history at the Back O’ Bourke Information and Exhibition Centre. The Bourke Aboriginal Art Gallery in the main street of town makes the perfect final stop on your open-air art gallery adventure through country and outback NSW.
Explore more: visitnsw.com
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Drive: Forbes is about a five-hour drive from Sydney or Wollongong and just over three hours from Canberra. From Newcastle, Coonabarabran is under 4.5 hours’ drive.
Stay: Just outside Forbes, Girragirra Retreat (girragirra.com) is a luxury, eco-friendly home that sleeps four. Kigwigil Country Escape (kigwigilcountryescape.com.au) is a self-contained farmstay 45 kilometres from Walgett with an outdoor bath and firepit that sleeps six. Emu Hive (emuhive.com.au), near Coonabarabran, is a stylish three-bedroom lodge on a working emu farm.