When explorer Captain Charles Sturt and his crew made their way through this often-hostile environment in 1845 while searching for an inland sea, I doubt he thought a national park would be named after him. These days, instead of dragging an 8m whaleboat to Fort Grey, you can safely tow a camper trailer or offroad caravan with ease.
Having enjoyed the large dinner servings and a couple of icy cold beverages at the Family Hotel the night before, the thought of breakfast was difficult. The fuel tanks were topped up and tyre pressures reduced before I turned onto the dirt on Cameron Corner Road. The corrugations weren’t as bad as usual, possibly thanks to a recent grading after the rain, which would also explain the greenery that covered the usually dry and dusty landscape.
Hopefully, the recent rains help in breaking the drought that has sadly affected the region over the past few years. The lack of cattle on the properties and native fauna bounding away as you drive past shows how dry it has been out here. Pulling into Fort Grey campground, where Sturt had built a stockade, I was surprised to see a good covering of water in Lake Pinaroo, as it was something I’d never witnessed before. In this arid zone, where there is water, the birdlife soon arrives, including threatened species such as freckled and blue-billed ducks as well as brolgas and pelicans, of which we saw many.
Evidence of the stockade no longer exists, but this is still an excellent campsite with facilities that will impress including picnic tables, free gas BBQs and clean drop toilets. The water prevented me from tackling the walking trail out to Sturt’s tree, a blazed coolabah, so I continued on my way, jumping onto Middle Road. Cameron Corner and the Corner Store are only a hop, skip and a jump away from Fort Grey, and this is where the three states of NSW, SA and QLD meet. One of my top outback stopovers, the store offers free camping, excellent home-cooked meals and icy cold beverages.
There are several numbered posts along Middle Road, but I’ve yet to find the notes to go with them. I’m guessing they were part of a park drive that is no longer maintained, mostly due to a lack of resources thanks to budget cuts.
You’ll pass by a couple of disused bores and stockyards, reminders of when pastoralists used this land to run cattle and sheep. Middle Road turns to orange sand as you enter dune country, with mulga and spinifex dominating while saltbush covers the plains. Wildflowers were abundant, thanks to the rain, unfortunately, I didn’t spot any Sturt’s desert pea, a favourite of mine.
At the junction with Toona Gate Road were once the ruins of Binerah Downs, now there’s nothing to be seen. You can drive to the dog fence at Toona Gate, this is an alternate route to Cameron Corner. Turning right, follow this road until you reach the windmill at Binerah Well, before taking a left, back onto Middle Road.
Tracking north-east toward the Queensland border, you’ll cross several old waterways, some of which were still dotted with puddles. A lone central bearded dragon was sunning itself on the track but was a little camera shy and disappeared into the bush when I got too close. The track will soon turn south and lead you to the old Olive Downs homestead, still standing tall, including the tennis court.
As you pass the redundant shearers quarters, Middle Road joins the Jump Up Loop Road and you enter jump-up country. The Olive Downs campground is another great spot to pull up with facilities matching Fort Grey, but it is the lookout a little further on that is the jewel in this park’s crown. The views from atop the escarpment are jaw-dropping and you’ll be whipping out your smartphone in no time to capture a panoramic shot of the landscape.
Once you’ve soaked up this special place, continue along the loop road down onto the plains. Take care at some of the creek crossings, especially after rain as there can be some bone-crunching washouts; Connie Creek and Twelve Mile Creek especially. You may come across some rogue cattle at Mount King Tank, trespassers from a neighbouring station. There’s a bird hide at South Myers Tank; a flotilla of small green budgerigars was swooping in for a quick drink while totally ignoring me.
Once you reach the Silver City Highway, you’ll find the beginning of the Gorge Loop Road directly in front of you. This leads to the Mount Wood campground, my intended destination for the night. The track predominantly follows Twelve Mile Creek before looping south to cross Kings Creek and back north again. You might spot the ruins of Horton Park Outstation on your left, you can drive down and check it out, but the building has been fenced off for safety reasons.
A little further on, a track on your right leads a short distance to Mount Wood, at 198m it’s one of the highest points within the park and a walking trail leads to the trig point at its peak. Another point of interest is the Gorge lookout where Twelve Mile Creek has gouged its way through the rock over thousands of years. You may even spot euro kangaroos sheltering under the overhangs or in the shade of the gidgee trees.
The campground is located opposite the Mount Wood Homestead, built in 1886 as the headquarters of a 500,000-acre sheep station. You can book to stay at the homestead or the shearers quarters if you’re after a little extravagance. This is a great campsite with a little water still in the billabong, free gas BBQ and stove, drop toilets and a small water tank with non-potable water. What I loved was the solar-powered LED light that made it easy to see when cooking dinner.
Nearby are the historic remains of the Mt. Wood wool scour as well as equipment used in the days when this was a pastoral run, including ‘The Whim’ and the ‘The Walking Beam’, ancient tools of torture or water drawing machines, they must be seen to work that one out. The old shearing shed is just across the dry creek bed accessed via a suspension bridge, the original bridge lies in the creek all twisted and smashed up by raging waters of years gone by.
Having now seen this magnificent outback national park after the rain has passed through, giving it a good soaking, I can certainly continue to rank Sturt National Park as one of my top remote destinations. The camping is special, the landscape is diverse, and the self-guided drives provide a fantastic overview of this special place. And when the conditions allow, you’ll have no problems towing and enjoying the comforts of your camper or off-road caravan.
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WHERE: Sturt National Park lies 330km north of Broken Hill, or 430km west of Bourke in the north-west corner of NSW.
CAMPING: There are four great campsites in Sturt National Park. Dead Horse Gully (1km north of Tibooburra, Mt Wood (27km east of Tibooburra), Olive Downs on the Jump Up Loop Track and Fort Grey on the way out to Cameron Corner. Each site has Gas BBQ’s, non-potable water (not always) and drop toilets. Camping permits and day entry fees must be paid online before arriving ($12 per site and $8 per vehicle per day). Wood fires are not permitted within the park. You can also stay at the Mount Wood Homestead or Shearers Quarters.
Tibooburra has the Granites Caravan Park, Motel and both Pubs have rooms available.
SUPPLIES & FACILITIES: Supplies and fuel are available at Bourke, Wanaaring, and Tibooburra.
TRIP STANDARD: The Hema 4x4 Explorer app rates the tracks Easy, and in the dry they are. If rain hits the tracks are closed quickly. Middle Road is 4WD Only. Carry an air compressor as dropping your tyre pressures will help the tracks, ease the ride and reduce the chances of punctures.
Cameron Corner: engineering.tackles.pigpen
Fort Grey Campground: transactions.coached.gangs
Olive Downs Campground: picky.cakewalk.hothouse
Mount Wood Campground: dome.torrents.cone