DAY 1 – CASSILIS TO MENINDEE LAKES
I focus my eyes on the green glow of the alarm clock, 4.03am. I swear I have looked at that clock every fifteen minutes since 2am. I give up! I swing out of bed and head off to awaken my travel partners, my parents Julie and Bob whom travelled down from their home on the Darling Downs, Qld, yesterday, and my 5 year old daughter Alexandra. Hot drinks laced with much caffeine are soon dispensed while I attempt to dress my unimpressed 5 years old. We say our farewells to my husband, Tom. He looks at me with an expression that can only be interpreted as "your completely crazy for undertaking at 6,500km road trip with a 5 year old with nothing more than a ute, a tent and an esky", and before long we are bundled into the ute and rattle over the front grid of "Yarralee" at 4.45am on a cool morning, Sunday 23 September.
By the time we reach the Golden Highway and swing West towards Dubbo a golden dawn is warming the skies. We continue to travel West, past Dubbo to Nyngan. Paddocks of wheat and vivid canola studded with large flocks of emus are all that is to be seen in any direction.
From Nyngan the country changes, the soil turns deep red, and gravelly, the timber gives way to low scrub and wattle, the emu's are replaced by goats, and we continue on. To pass the time we invent a game, "How many kilometres until the next bend in the road?" I win the first round with my guess of 86km, although it felt much more like Alli's guess of 1,036km. The road continues arrow straight, occasionally making a slight rise or dip and the low scrub is complimented by saltbush.
We reach Cobar at 10.30am and decide to break for morning tea. We stop beneath the impressive, rusted, iron Cobar sign, also the site of the town's first goldmine. We are all grateful for the chance to stretch our legs, and to use a toilet that isn't one of the foul smelling long drops that we had encountered earlier. We also take the chance to refuel, around 475km down and about 450km until we reach tonight's destination.
Back out in the red gravel, scrub and salt bush once more we head to Wilcannia. The monotony of this 260km stretch broken by plentiful wildlife, including our first Red Kangaroo of the trip, along with more goats, emus, snakes, eagles and frilled neck lizards. We cross the Darling River into Wilcannia by 1.30pm. I am impressed with the infrastructure, amazing sandstone buildings in immaculate condition. Unfortunately most seem to be boarded up and the town seems to be in decline. We continue on without stopping. From here I am sure we head south, the GPS throws a hissy fit, saying we can't go south and must go west to Broken Hill before heading south to Menindee. We ignore the GPS's plaintive protests and follow the western bank of the Darling River. More emus and roos. We catch glimpses of the river, lagoons and swamps and see some interesting old agricultural buildings as we drive along, stirring up a huge cloud of bulldust behind us.
The low scrub stops abruptly, first crops then grape vines appear, huge centre pivot irrigation systems pumping water onto otherwise arid paddocks. I spot a glimpse of water, the first of several lakes in the Menindee area. We head to the Tourist Information Centre, where an informative assistant advises us to camp along the shore of Lake Parmamaroo, down Main Weir Rd. We follow the directions and soon find ourselves a campsite 10 feet from the lakes edge on a soft sandy bank with lovely views across the lake. All the lakes in the Menindee area seem to fit a similar description, milky waters with long dead gums rising from the water as far as the eye can see. Within 30 minutes we have our camp made and can sit back with a cool drink and enjoy the spectacular sunset over the water. As the last of the vivid colours fade from the sky we chow down on one of mum's pre-made cryo-vacc'd meals, beef stew with toast cooked over the open fire. By 7.45pm we are all ready to hit the hay, exhausted after a long drive, and excited by the prospects of Kinchega and Mungo National Parks tomorrow. I drift to sleep thinking I should get up in a few hours to photograph the untainted night sky over the lake, but it never happens.
Extract from 'Headed South' Available from Amazon