Every outback town has a tale to tell, and Menindee in New South Wales marries a rich history with the haunting beauty of the Menindee Lakes. Caravanning nomad Shez Tedford checks in with a list of amazing things to see and do in the region.
Menindee is a small outback town in the far west of NSW, approximately one hundred kilometres southeast of Broken Hill.
The town has a significant historical past. It was the first to be established on the Darling River, and the Burke and Wills expedition of 1860 camped here on their ill-fated transcontinental trek from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The surrounding landscape of red earth is harsh and unforgiving; salt bush grows, but dry creek beds are dotted with dead or dying trees. It’s hard to imagine anything being able to survive in this environment.
Menindee is a popular stop for travellers doing the iconic Darling River Run. This 950-kilometre journey through outback NSW has been on our bucket list for a long time and Menindee was always going to be a place to take a break — particularly as we wanted to visit the historic Kinchega Woolshed. So much is said about Australia’s farming heritage and much can be learnt from visiting these beautiful buildings of yesteryear.
Places like Menindee are special to us. We love the remoteness, the history, and the vast and changing landscapes. Dust, dirt, ruts and corrugations are just part of the outback experience, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Menindee.
Kinchega National Park lies south of Menindee and surrounds a number of the Menindee Lakes. It’s an easy drive from town along a formed track that follows the Darling River. You’ll be amazed at the gnarled and twisted centuries-old river red gums that grace the riverbanks.
The river and national park are home to many species of birds, including graceful pelicans, hawks, majestic wedge-tail eagles, and cockatoos. Emus are also common throughout the park.
The gravel road is suitable for all vehicles and although the park is always open, it’s advisable to check the road conditions with the Menindee police or the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service in Broken Hill before entering.
2. Step back in time at the Kinchega Woolshed
The Kinchega Woolshed by Emu Lake was built in 1875 of local river red gum and corrugated iron. In its heyday, the shed had 26 shearing stands. Imagine the shearers with backs bent, working tirelessly to make their daily tallies.
The holding pens, massive wool sorting tables, wool presses, shearing stands and pieces of machinery are intact. Visitors can stroll through the shed and imagine the smells, sounds, and hustle and bustle of this grand old structure, where six million sheep were shorn over the course of almost a century. There are numerous outbuildings and other pieces of the past to take in.
3. Learn about life at the Old Kinchega Homestead
The ruins of the Old Kinchega Homestead are also located within the national park. The homestead was built in the 1870s near a natural billabong for access to water, and importantly to make the most of any cool breezes coming off the billabong’s surface. There were no air-conditioners in those days!
A boardwalk with interpretive signage enables visitors to walk around the edge of the homestead and imagine what it must have been like to live on this remote station. There’s a cemetery near the ruins that serves as a permanent reminder of the crew who lost their lives on the paddle steamer Providence in 1872.
4. Pay your respects to the Providence
A boat wreck might be the last thing you’d expect to find in the outback, but wrecks can actually be found at various points along the Darling River. Stop at the site where the paddle steamer Providence was destroyed when her boiler exploded, killing six people. All that remains are sections of the boiler. An information board relates the fate of the vessel and her crew.
5. Camp by the river
There are designated camping areas beside the Darling River throughout the national park. If you have the time and means, spending a night or two by the river is a must-do. Enjoy bird-watching, watch the vibrant sunsets and sunrises, and just sit back, relax, and enjoy the peace and solitude of this beautiful place. There’s also a camping area near the Kinchega Woolshed.
These camping areas are accessible for those with caravans, camper trailers, and tents/swags; however, campers do need to be completely self-sufficient. There are no facilities in this section of the national park. Contact NSW Parks to purchase a park pass and prebook a camping site.
6. Look out over the lakes
The Menindee Lakes is a name many people will be familiar with, but may not know much about. The lakes are a series of natural seasonal wetlands, that were modified in the middle of the 20th century to hold water for Broken Hill and various other small towns in the region. There’s a lookout situated 12 kilometres out of Menindee that gives a fantastic view of the system. It needs to be seen to fully appreciate just how enormous it is.
The large spillway and channel which connect the lakes can be viewed from this point as well.
7. See a sunset at Pamamaroo
Approximately 20 kilometres from Menindee lies spectacular Lake Pamamaroo — one of the largest of the Menindee Lakes. The lake is full again and like the river, it is home to a huge variety of bird life. You’ll see falcons, ducks, spoonbills, bustards and plovers to name a few. It’s a twitcher’s paradise!
Head north from town along Menindee Road towards Broken Hill, then turn right onto Main Weir Road for an amazing free lakeside camping ground with shady trees. The road is gravel and rutted in places, however it is suitable for caravans and camper trailers. The sunsets are breathtaking and you may wake to see the lake enveloped in fog, which gives it an eerie appearance.
8. Follow in the footsteps of Burke and Wills
Approximately a kilometre further down the road are three more free camping sites. The Burke and Wills Campsite has a plaque marking the spot where the expedition camped after leaving Menindee.
As you head out of town towards Lake Pamamaroo, you’ll pass another significant link with the explorers. It’s the grave of Dost Mahomet, who came out from India to look after the camels on the expedition. Apparently, he was the only cameleer to travel with Burke and Wills as far as the Cooper Creek supply camp, where he waited for the party to return. Tragically, the camp was abandoned shortly before Burke and Wills made it back from the Gulf and ultimately perished. Mahomet spent the rest of his life in Menindee.
9. Cruise the Darling and lakes
To learn more about the river and lakes, book a cruise on board the River Lady. It’s a unique experience, and you’ll get a completely different perspective of the landscape. The cruise is a fabulous option for both bird and history lovers.
10. Enjoy some tall ones and cold ones
After navigating your way across this parched region, you’ll want to stop in at Maidens Hotel in Menindee for a beer and a yarn with locals. They do have some stories to tell. The beer is cold and the food is delicious. The original hotel was constructed in 1853, but was gutted by fire in 1999 and rebuilt. Burke and Wills visited the hotel on their expedition.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Menindee? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Shez Tedford’s love of photography began twenty years ago when she discovered her first high country hut in the Victorian Alps. She has since camped out in all weather conditions to find and photograph huts, and has written a book showcasing these pioneering structures. Shez and her husband now travel fulltime and love exploring remote parts of regional Australia. She is just as happy in the arid and dusty outback as she is high up in the huts.