Bourke, 800 km north-west of Sydney, has a long tradition with white man history dating back to the early 1800s, although the traditional owners of this land ( the Ngemba and Paakandji people ) have called this place home for hundreds of years.
Charles Sturt was the first white man to pass through the area in 1828, but it wasn't until explorer and surveyor Thomas Mitchell who began the first settlement on the banks of the Darling River.
The river was used as a transport system for various types of freight and soon began to boom when the river was up. Today, Bourke is a picturesque town where you can visit galleries, and exhibition centres or even cruise the Darling River on a traditional steamboat.
60 km south of Bourke, Gundabooka National Park covers 64,000 hectares and is a hidden gem that is worth spending a few days exploring or even a simple day trip from Bourke. There are two ways of getting to Gundabooka, either off Kidman Way ( Bourke to Cobar Road ) or along the Bourke to Louth Road which runs close to the Darling River.
As soon as you enter the park, it felt like the real outback with red outback roads and stunning white gums towering over the mulga bush. Just inside the park, a turnoff information bay provides all relevant information on what to see and do, where to camp, dangers and map information.
My designated camp for several nights was Dry Tank Campground, located 20 km deep within Gundabooka. It’s not the only camp within the park as Yanda campground is located across the other side beside the Darling River, but I wanted to be in the heart of Gundabooka.
Dry Tank has had a makeover since I was here last and I was pleasantly surprised with the layout. Parking for day-trippers and those wanting to start here for the walking trails, private areas for camper trailers and tents hidden in the mulga, plus a large open area for group camping with picnic tables, bbq under a new shelter. Bookings now must be made online before you get to the park because phone service is very patchy.
Dry Tank is the start of the 5km trail, Little Mountain Walking Track, that meanders through thick Mulga and outback Grevillea plants to a viewing platform for uninterrupted views across the plain towards Mount Gundabooka.
The mountain rises 500 metres above sea level and has been formed from millions of years of constant weathering from winds and rain. For those keen, you can also walk the trail that leads you to the base of the mountain, but you need to be well-prepared and experienced for this hike.
Around the scrub, I was lucky enough to see large mounds that are home to the Mulga Ant. These large black ants are Omnivores that eat any dead matter and generally appear through the night.
To the east, there’s the Mulgowan or Yappa Aboriginal rock art hike into Mulareenya gully where there’s an array of artwork on the undercliff, with signs diving into its origin and meanings. This artwork near Mulareenya Creek is related to the Barwon River, Brewarrina Fish traps and the Byrock Rock Holes. This site is now on the register of the National Estate making it very significant for cultural and historical purposes.
Fires are permitted in the park but you need to bring your own timber and watch for restrictions. It’s a great place sitting beside the fire in Gundabooka as the Mulga scrub goes quiet at night and has a relaxed feel to it. The stars are as bright as some city lights and it makes for a great ambience.
My next mission was to head up the road to the Bennett’s Gorge area. A 10 km drive heading west from camp soon saw me turning left into Corella Tank Road. With a 2 km drive in towards the looming base of Mount Gundabooka and the views towards the plateau is nothing short of spectacular.
NPWS class Bennett’s as just a picnic area with plenty of shade, toilets, and amazing views plus there’s a little phone reception. From the car park, it's the start of the Valley of the Eagles walk, an easy 1 km stroll to the base of the mountain viewing area where you can sit and take in the amazing views of Mount Gundabooka.
Detailed information boards explain the history of the area, point out gorges and highlights on the mountain and explain how the resident Eagles use the warm air currents to glide around looking for prey. The walk takes around 30 minutes but I spent 2 hours here just admiring the views of the surrounding landscape.
The park was broken up into 3 separate outback stations just after WW1 and this was evident by the amount of fence lines I started to see and crossing gridlines. Up along the Yanda Track Road, there’s an out-station that’s pretty much as it was left 50 years ago with the home, wrecks around the scrub and the shed up the back with a few relics in.
Towards the western end of the park, Louth Road cuts straight through separating Yanda Campground from the main Gundabooka area. It's different to the main camp where camping is allowed close to the Darling River. Room for trailers, tents and offroad vans, also toilets and shelters. A short stroll to the river, there are stunning views of old river gums looking over the slow-moving Darling River and good spots to fish or throw a yabbie trap in.
For those not wanting to camp within the park, there are homestay options nearby where you can stay in outback luxury and still be able to explore the park. The park is pretty isolated so you’ll need to be self-sufficient with food, water and fuel. Keep in mind that winter temperatures can get below freezing and the summers get stifling hot.
NPWS are going to great lengths in the preservation of Gundabooka National Park to protect this precious area with pest control, and weed management to allow us to explore this precious park. While there is no true off-roading within the park it is a great place to visit and explore just a little of the outback and realising that you don’t truly need to head hundreds of kilometres past Bourke for a true outback experience.
Gundabooka NP is 60km south of Bourke & 800km NW of Sydney in NSW’s outback region. Once made up of several stations it's now a protected National Park with heritage listing.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Gundabooka is a naturalist delight with walking trails, birdwatching and experiencing isolated camping. Walking trails range from an easy 1km stroll through to overnight hikes to Mount Gundabooka. Stunning Aboriginal art can be viewed where visitors can read and understand the story of the rock art.
Most information can be found online through the NSW NP website, or by calling into the Bourke information office in Bourke on Kidman Way, north Bourke.