How to do an Outback road trip without a 4WD

Granted, there’s a vast amount of outback out there, but some of the best bits of it are only a few days’ drives from the southern and east coast capitals, and are easy to get to in just about any SUV.

Take Corner Country, where three states – New South Wales, Queensland, and South Australia – meet beside the legendary dog fence in the Strzelecki Desert. It’s a beautiful wilderness of flat claypans and parallel waves of red sand dunes carpeted in white and yellow paper daises and grey saltbush rolling towards the horizon under the biggest, bluest sky you’ll ever see, decorated with flocks of emerald budgerigars, big red kangaroos, and emus that flounce across the landscape like dancing feather dusters on legs. It’s the outback at its most glorious, especially if you’re camped behind one of those dunes, watching the sky catch fire at sunset and then explode with a million stars after dark.

Corner Country starts at Tibooburra, which is as quintessential an outback town as it gets, with its quirky pub – the Family Hotel – a roadhouse/supermarket, café, post office, and clothing store, scarlet Sturt’s desert peas on the nature strip and around 100 or so pretty-weathered locals.

The Corner Country Store in Tibooburra
The Corner Country Store in Tibooburra. Picture: Destination NSW

Tibooburra is 332km north of Broken Hill, and getting there used to be a long, dusty, dry weather-only drive up the Silver City Highway, past ghost towns and jumps ups – flat-topped ridges and hills – across dry creek beds and skirts the edge of gibber-strewn plains.

The highway was finally sealed in the middle of the pandemic and is now a ribbon of bitumen all the way. It takes around three and half hours, but you should also stop to explore the abandoned old stone buildings at Milparinka, built in the 1880s during a short-lived gold rush.

At Tibooburra, you turn left onto a well-made dirt road for the 150km trip to Cameron Corner Store via Sturt National Park. Camp at Fort Grey and take the short walk to Lake Pinaroo, which is full now and alive with birds.

A round trip from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, or Adelaide to Cameron Corner will take you around a week. Getting out there in the outback has never been easier. Getting the dust out of your clothes, that’s another story.

Emus at Sturt National Park, Tibooburra
Emus at Sturt National Park, Tibooburra. Picture: Destination NSW

Feeling adventurous? If so, you can keep going, west of Cameron Corner, even further into the outback. And, yes, you can do it in the same SUV you use to take the kids to school and do the shopping.

A few tips first, though. Don’t do the trip in summer, for obvious reasons. Have your SUV serviced and make sure the tires, including the spare, are in good condition. Invest in your motoring association’s premium roadside-assist product before you leave. Be kind to your machine and stick to about 80km/h, or less if it gets a bit rough. If it goes pear-shaped, pull over and wait. Don’t worry. You probably won’t have reception, but these tracks are well used by outback standards and you will have only a short wait before a fellow traveler arrives.

Petrol and diesel are available at Tibooburra and Innamincka. The Cameron Corner Store also has fuel, but can occasionally run out.

It’s an easy day’s drive, and about 270km, from Cameron Corner to Innamincka in South Australia. The first part, when you cross the border into SA, is a rollercoaster ride up and over the dunes of the Strzelecki Desert on a well-made dirt track. Then you hit the Strzelecki Track and swing north towards Innamincka. It, too, is usually in good nick and an easy drive, because it’s the access road for the Moomba gas and oilfields. Just give any big supply road trains a very wide berth.

Wildflowers near Innamincka, South Australia
Wildflowers near Innamincka, South Australia. Picture: SATC

You can camp with everyone else beside Cooper Creek at Innamincka, but if you prefer a bit of outback solitude, and you don’t have a caravan, take the short, signposted drive east of town to Cullyamurra Waterhole, one of the largest waterholes in the country, where you’ll find private, individual campsites strung out along several kilometers of its banks. The sign says 4WD only, but you can get there easily in an SUV, with just a few potholes and bumps to negotiate.

On the way to Cullyamurra is the original grave of Robert O’Hara Burke, the hapless explorer who perished, along with his mate William Wills, at Cooper Creek in 1861. Half an hour’s drive further east, across the border in Queensland, is the Dig Tree, where both men missed their last chance of salvation by just a few hours.

Whatever SUV you’re driving, your chances of making it home will be much better than theirs.

This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of australiaexploring.com

About the author

Ozzie

Hi! I’m Ozzie!

Before joining Australia Exploring, I was a writer at Tripadvisor.

I'm looking for the best posts for you about travel adventures in Australia and around the world. This website has the purpose to inspire you to travel… travel more and better. I hope it can help you explore the world a little bit better.

I graduated from the University of Sydney. I live in California with my wife and two children.

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