Whether you are in Sydney on holiday or you live there it is always a good idea to hop in a car and discover the city’s surroundings during a long weekend road trip. The possibilities are almost endless as the road network is amazing and the variety of wildlife, flora and fauna is just jaw dropping. A long weekend road trip from Sydney shouldn’t cost the earth either as fuel is relatively cheap, food is abundant and hotels are generally low cost.
I spent nine days in Sydney and decided that for the last four days I would drive out of the city and go up north to the Mungo National Park. I visited Sydney in Australia during the International Fertilizer Association‘s annual conference and took a few days off after the event. This was my first trip down under and I wanted to make the most of it. I rented a car at the airport and headed out into the wilderness for four days.
Cost of the Road Trip in New South Wales
I rented a car from Ace Rental Cars, which is a local Australian car rental company. They have great deals and the staff are very friendly so I would recommend it for anyone planning a road trip in New South Wales. They offer a pick up service from the airport as their office is not on the actual airport premises.
- Hotel: no cost as I was sleeping in the car.
- Car Rental: AUD $103 plus $6.50/day for zero excess insurance
- Food: $15-20/day
- Extras: sleeping bag and towel for sleeping in the car
Flying to Sydney from London
I’ve flown quite a lot in my short life but nothing could prepare me for this. The flight took more than a day with a 4-hour layover in Singapore and I was absolutely exhausted when we arrived. Problem is, the conference started five hours after touchdown! So instead of sleeping I went for a nice long walk early in the morning and then headed to the conference. In the evenings I managed to go for long walks around the city and discover quite a lot of it. The conference was only three days long and I decided to drive to the countryside afterwards.
During my long-weekend road trip from Sydney I drove through these places :
Driving to Royal National Park
My first stop after Sydney was the Royal National Park. The beach was amazing and the sand and cliffs just breathtaking. As I was driving through the forest and let the window down, the fresh sea breeze entered the car and I instantly relaxed! I could feel right on my skin why everyone in Australia is so laid back and happy: the sun shines almost every day and the quality of life is exceptional.
The side road in the national park was very quiet and after a short drive I reach the sea where the sand was slightly coarse but still soft and fluffy. I had never walked in sand like this before. The sun was shining on full blast, so I parked up the car, threw the shoes in the boot and went for a long walk on the beach. As it was mid-afternoon during the week there were hardly any other people so it felt like the entire beach was completely mine. I laid down and sunbathed for a while listening to the waves crushing into the land and watch the birds fly around, enjoying this amazing scenery.
Wollongong and Sutton Forest
By the time I left Royal National Park it was getting dark so I put the pedal to the metal. As I was driving across the mountains I was getting more and more sleepy so I pulled over and had a short nap in a lay-by. In fact, I spent all three nights in the car! After about an hour’s sleep I drove on to Sutton Forest where I had a terrible dinner at a diner for $14.
I went to order at the counter and then I sat down to chill while I was waiting for my steak to arrive. There was no table service, instead the chef shouted out to the clients to come pick up their food. So when he shouted “steak ready” I came to pick it up and started chomping on it when an angry cashier came over to tell me off! I was like, “what have I done? I’ve paid for it and eating it now…” So she told me that it was another customers…! Obviously I didn’t notice the guy hiding behind the column, so he had to wait another 10 minutes for his food!
About an hour after Sutton Forest I had to stop again in a layover to sleep as I was exhausted. This place was a bit more spooky than the last place where I slept as it was next to the dual carriageway. I turned the engine off and pulled the window down to get some fresh air and to listen to the wildlife. I had never heard anything like those birds and insects before: it was like hearing an orchestra from outer space for me! Being a small town boy from Hungary where all you hear at night are owls and crickets it was magical for me to hear such a varied display of sounds.
Sleeping in the Car During a Road Trip
While it makes any road trip cheap, the problem with sleeping in the car is that it is uncomfortable and can be dangerous. Also, it gets very cold at night no matter where you are and the two combined makes for very poor sleep. This was the same for me in the middle of New South Wales in the car park of a dual carriageway. I kept turning and tossing and hardly slept. For the first night I did not have a sleeping bag either, so every hour or so I had to get up and turn the engine on to make some heat. You can imagine that I jumped up every time I heard a truck drive past or another car stop for a break thinking they will kidnap and rape me and that will be it!
I had another two road trips where I slept in the car to save money but after the third I decided that I would never do it again. It is just not worth the hassle and there are so many cheap motels to sleep in in every part of the world – plus it is much more comfortable and you will not be dozing off the next day during driving. So while it might sound fun, I would recommend you get yourself a cheap motel room and sleep properly before getting on the road nice and early the next day.
Breakfast in Wagga Wagga
When I finally decided that I had enough of turning the engine on and off for heat, I drove for another two hours until I became super sleepy again. By then I was off the dual carriageway in the middle of nowhere, so I ended up sleeping in the car outside someone’s farm. When I woke up I drove all the way to Wagga Wagga, which was another half an hour away. Wagga Wagga is a pleasant place but definitely not a tourist trap.
Wagga Wagga is basically and agricultural town about two or three hours drive away from Sydney. It looks like a nice town and there are many historic buildings left over from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I had breakfast here and then had a short walk around and drove on towards Balranald.
Balranald, the Entrance to Mungo National Park
Balranald is where the wetlands meet real Australian Outback. The surrounding areas are absolutely gorgeous with the wide open spaces and the red and orange hue over almost everything. Most people work in farming or produce cotton here, so you will see a lot of tour operators offering farm tours and so on. I had lunch here in a bakery, walked around the city center area (took about 10 minutes) and then headed out to Mungo National Park on the local dirt roads after filling up my tank.
While I was here I also bought a sleeping bag and towel in one of the local dollar stores as I did not want to shiver through another night again. I was also quite keen on cleaning myself a bit and brushing my teeth, hence the towel.
Spending the Night in Mungo National Park
Mungo National Park is the sacred land of the local aboriginal tribe. It was quite stunning to see the dried out lake and the mounds of clay and sand in the sunset! The drive here took about one and a half hours on good quality dirt roads. The local government and farmers maintain these roads and there are strict rules as to how you can use them. For example, it is forbidden to drive on them while it is raining as it can ruin the road’s foundations. If they catch you doing it you can be find big bucks!
Once I arrived at the park I dropped the car off at the entrance and went for a long walk in this sacred sight. According to the National Park Service, “Aboriginal people have walked here since the Dreamtime. Scientists have discovered artefacts of this ancient culture dating back over 50,000 years across the expanses of the last ice age. This makes Mungo one of the oldest places outside of Africa to have been occupied by modern humans since ancient times.”
It was an absolutely amazing place and I spent the night sleeping in the desert! The milion stars above were totally amazing! While I was driving around between the various locations of the park the sun started to set over the horizon. I will never forget how the kangaroos and ostriches ran along the road as I drove slowly, soaking in the sun and scenery.
Visiting Carcoar in New South Wales
I woke up early in the morning and drove all day to arrive in Lithgow for my last night in Australia. The drive back to Lithgow took me through Griffiths, West Wyalong and Bathhurst, small towns left over from the last century when sheep herding and cotton production helped this region become wealthy. Those times are long gone now and my impression was that many of these places rely on weekend tourism from Sydney and Canberra. The smaller family farms have been taken over by large firms cultivating thousands of acres of land, much of surrounded by tall fences and lines of eucalyptus trees.
My favourite small towns in Australia was Carcoar, a leftover remnant from an age gone by. Carcoar is in the New South Wales Central Tablelands, about 260 kilometers West of Sydney. If you are driving from Bathurst, Orange or Cowra, it is about 40 minutes from each of these places.
The Europeans first settled in Carcoar in 1821. It was here where the region’s wealthiest land owner, Thomas Icely of Coombing Park lived. Carcoar is the third oldest settlement West of the Blue Mountains National Park so it is well worth a visit to soak in that real Australian small-town sentiment from the 19th century.
Lithgow & The Blue Mountains National Park
I spent a good couple of hours walking around Carcoar and then had lunch at the local burger joint. After Carcoar I drove through Bathhurst where I was lucky to be able to drive on the sports car circuit. This circuit is normally for high speed races by professionals but when there is no race on the race course forms part of the city’s road network. Check out my driving in the video below.
After Bathhurst I put the pedal to the metal as it was getting late. I arrived in Lithgow after sunset. I decided to get some Australian local specialities from the supermarket for dinner and then put myself away in someone’s driveway on the outskirts of town.
By this point I was so tired that I slept through the night without waking up very much at all. In fact, in the morning I woke up to the birds singing so loudly that I could not go back to sleep so I headed to the Blue Mountain National Park instead.
The Blue Mountain National Park looks very similar to Big Bend National Park, except the entire area has dense eucalyptus and other kinds of forests plus dozens of waterfalls. I spent a good few hours walking around the park and because I arrived super early I was pretty much all on my own. The fog still covered the drive to the entrance of the park so it was very mystical as I was rolling through the forest towards one of the easily accessible waterfalls. You can see the park on the youtube video below – I had an amazing time there. After the park I had to put the pedal to the metal as I still had to get to the airport and I knew that driving through the rush hour would add an extra hour to my journey. So, after a breakfast at a local cafe I headed out towards Richmond and then Sydney Airport, ending my long weekend road trip from Sydney in style.