The Darling River is one of the outback's most famous rivers. It is also one of Australia
’s longest Rivers and over many centuries has been an important link to the people that line it's banks. Starting near Bourke in central NSW
and draining into the Murray in Victoria
the Darling River Run
snakes itself through black soil farming country. Driving along the Darling River Run
you'll take a journey through historic pioneering country so take the time to read up on its rich history, drop in on the locals, and take your time to enjoy this unqique area.
Todays travellers can follow the Darling in either direction on mainly dirt roads. Excellent bush camping opportunities can be found along the banks of the river and accommodation with facilities can be found within the tourist parks, national park huts, station bunkhouses, and historic motels and hotels. The drive is over 700kms, although you could add another 300kms for side-trips to Broken Hill and Mungo National Park
(recommended). These roads can be accessible by 2WD sedans in dry conditions, although 4WDs are recommended because rain can turn the road surface muddy within hours.
The sparkling lakes around Menindee are a welcome counterpoint to the dust and dry desert plains encountered during the long journey from Bourke via Louth, Tilpa and Wilcannia. The lakes and river-ways that form the Menindee Water Storage Scheme showcase nature at its best - with pelicans, spoonbills, and great crested grebes providing a delight for birdwatchers. The gorgeous sunsets over the waters are an event that should not be missed.
The dirt tracks south of Bourke continue to the first settlement, Louth some 99km away. At Louth, the track to Tilpa runs along the western bank of the Darling and another follows the eastern bank to Wilcannia. The later does not provide riverside camps quite as closely as on the western side. This is a great area to launch your "tinnie" (aluminium fishing dingy) and it's indeed possible to tow a caravan or camper trailer along these tracks. The river is full of yabbies so bring a yabby pot, some lamb neck or raw meat bait and enjoy!
The track continues along the river and then heads into the township of Wilcannia. Keep heading south along the river track (you'll see tracks on both sides of the river). About 30km before reaching Menindee you'll find some great camps in the red sand hills. South of Menindee in the Kinchega National Park are some perfect campsites, some even with beaches!
South of Kinchega National Park you can drive south to Wentworth via the tiny settlement of Pooncarrie. The dirt track from Kinchega follows the western bank of the Darling through cattle farming country along the Old Pooncarrie Road before crossing the bridge into town.
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The Darling River
and its tributaries offer abundant birdlife, marsupials, mammals, reptiles, and flora. In the surrounding wooded areas of the river, you will often spot
Emus, Koala bears, and Western Grey
The Darling River region was home to the first Australians and with more than 15 Aboriginal language groups, the indigenous culture in the area goes back over 45,000 years. The area abounds in Aboriginal culture from the fish traps at Brewarrina, the many historical and sacred sites, through to the world's oldest ritual burial ground at Lake Mungo. Lake Mungo was the site where the remains of what became known as Mungo Man – the oldest human found in Australia
and Mungo Lady, the oldest person in the world to be ritually cremated.
George Evans was reportedly the first European to explore the upper reaches of the Macquarie River in 1813 from the Blue Mountains
. Authorities believed that there was a great inland sea where all the rivers flowed into, and in 1818, George Evans and the Surveyor General of the time - John Oxley had teamed up and made great progress into the interior but fell short due to the impenetrable Macquarie Marshes. A majority of the upper eastern tributaries to the south of the Darling River were charted over the next 15 years.
The task of proving this theory was given to Charles Sturt who set off in 1828 on the first of his many quests to find this inland sea. Charles was fully equipped - complete with boat, and soon learned that the land was one of extremes with floods and droughts. The river at Bourke was almost empty except for some salty water bubbling from its bed. Sturt realised that this was in fact part of a major river system and named the river after NSW Governor Ralph Darling. During a second expedition along the Murrumbidgee River to track its route to the Murray River, Sturt came across a clan of about 600 Aborigines standing on a sand bar. After any potential hositilities had calmed, Sturt noticed the sandbank the tribe was standing on, was the point at which the river from the north had joined the Murray River. Sturt was in fact at the confluence of the Murray and Darling Rivers.
Now that it was known, from Charles Sturt’s explorations, that there was indeed a large river in the north and a large river that joined the Murray in the south, the government needed to know if in fact these two rivers were the same. In March 1835, Major Thomas Mitchell, the Surveyor General of the day, set off on his voyage to continue what Sturt had started and reached the junction of the Darling and Bogan rivers in April. In the region that is now Bourke, he created a stockade (named Fort Bourke) to protect provisions from local Aborigines. He made a number of explorations along the Darling River (by boat and land) and on his third expedition, opened up new areas around Menindee. Mitchell also explored and opened up the extremely fertile areas south of Mildura and along the Loddon River in far western Victoria
. The remainder of the Darling River was charted by Sturt in 1844.