Destinations Feature

Brisbane to Canberra Road Trip Part 2: Northbound

View from Siding Springs Observatory

The trip had started five days earlier leaving Brisbane, and now it was time to depart Canberra for the return journey. On the way south we travelled the coast road, following the Pacific Highway for the most part. However, for the trip north, we would follow the inland route following the Newell Highway for the most part.

The most direct route between Canberra and Brisbane inland is around 1,250 km or 14 hours. For our trip with the stops we made it was closer to 1,450 km and 17 hours of driving. To break up the journey and have time to see what we wanted to see we made two overnight stops in Dubbo and Narrabri.

Day 1 – Canberra to Dubbo (444 km)

I knew the day would see us driving quite a distance so was sure to be up early and get out for a walk and some coffee. Although after a late night and the need to get on the road this was shorter than I hoped.

By 10 am we were at the National Dinosaur Museum which I covered in my post about Canberra. The museum is in the suburb of Nicholls the almost the last suburb before leaving the Australian Capital Territory. So it was also the best place to refuel and grab some breakfast before starting on the long drive to Parkes.

CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope

Parkes is some 300km north of Canberra, and we completed the drive with just one stop. The stop was rather brief when we spotted some dust devils in a field and decided to try and photograph them. That did not work out, and soon we were back on the road.

Having got underway not long before midday, we arrived at the Parkes Radio Telescope around 3.30 pm. Just enough time to take a look through the visitor’s centre before they closed at 4.15pm.

Parkes - Radio Telescope
CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope and Visitors Centre

The dish is the second largest radio telescope in Australia and one of the largest single-dish telescopes in the Southern Hemisphere. The diameter of the dish is 64 metres and weighs in at 1,000 tonnes. Unfortunately for us on the day of our visit the dish was undergoing maintenance and was pointing straight up.

Parkes - Radio Telescope Closeup
CISRO Parkes Radio Telescope

The Parkes Radio Telescope has a couple of credits to it that many people may or may not know. In 1969 the dish was a prime receiving station for the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. Subsequently, a movie in 2000 relived the role the dish played in this mission. The movie was called “The Dish”.

Dubbo Walk

After leaving the Parkes Radio Telescope, we continued to Dubbo and got checked into the hotel. In the evening there was a little time for a walk before getting some dinner. I only got to see a small area on this walk, but knew I would be up and out again in the morning.

Old Dubbo Fire StationOld Dubbo Fire Station

Dubbo Macquarie River
Macquarie River at Sunset

Day 2 – Dubbo – Narrabri (328 km)

The second day was intentionally kept short with a couple of stops that we wanted to make. There were two astronomy related sites that were on the itinerary, one which got pushed to the morning of day 3. Plus I had discovered some sandstone caves at Nhalay Yarrul which looked interesting to visit and exploe.

Dubbo Morning Walk

I took the opportunity to head out and explore a little around Dubbo in the morning before my friends awoke. I started with a walk along the main street of Dubbo before heading down to the Macquarie River.

Dubbo Macquarie River view in the morningTrain Bridge over Macquarie River in the morning.

Soon I found my way to Victoria Park, a lovely big park with a pathway lined with Jacaranda trees. At the far end of the pathway is the Shrine of Remembrance.

Dubbo - Jacaranda in Victoria ParkDubbo Victoria Park

Another building not far away that caught my attention is the Dubbo Train Station. It is an older stone building which was opened in 1881 and serves the Main Western Line in New South Wales.

Dubbo Train StationDubbo Train Station

Once I rejoined with my friends, it was time to find something for breakfast. A suggestion from the clerk at the hotel was CSC Restaurant & Bar. I must say that it was a good choice and a great recommendation. They offer coffee from Orange Roasting Co. which was a great way to start the day.

Dubbo - CSC Restaurant & BarCoffee at CSC Restaurant & bar

Solar System Drive

One of the aspects that we were looking for on the journey from Dubbo today was the Solar system Drive. Through this drive, they have placed the Solar System along the highway routes approaching the Siding Spring Observatory. The Observatory is the centre of this 1:38,000,000 scale model of the Solar System.

Unfortunately, this was not one of the best-planned parts of the trip. A little research would have shown us that the drive starts at the visitor centre in Dubbo. But the first planet we discovered was Saturn.

The Solar System Drive - SaturnSaturn on the Solar system Drive

A little research as we continued soon confirmed we had taken the wrong route. But all was not lost as the research confirmed there are five different routes you can follow. With the planets we had missed so far to be found again on the route we would be taking north.

The Solar System Drive - PlutoPluto on the Solar System Drive

If you are looking to do this drive, it is worth reading up and planning your day accordingly. You can find information about the five different routes on the Solar system Drive Website

Siding Springs Observatory

Siding Springs Observatory is approximately 28 km west of the town of Coonabarabran near to the Warrumbungle National Park. The drive takes you from around 500 m elevation in Coonabarabran to over 1,100m elevation at the observatory.

Siding Springs ObservatorySiding Spring Observatory Dome

The Siding Spring Observatory is home to the Anglo Australian Telescope, a 3.9-metre optical telescope. There is a visitors centre, and you can access a viewing room to see the telescope first hand (behind a glass window anyway).

Siding Springs Observatory - Anglo Australian TelescopeAnglo Australian Telescope

There is also a rather good view from the area around the observatory as well. Looking to the south and east, you have an almost unobstructed view in spots.

View from Siding Springs ObservatoryView from Siding Springs Observatory

Nhalay Yarrul (This Rock) Sandstone Caves

It was only by chance that I spotted some information about these sandstone caves when looking at the route we would be travelling. Located about 20 minutes north of Coonabarabran, you can drive about 1km from the highway to the start of a 1.7km trail.

The walk is reasonably flat, but I would still recommend a reasonable walking ability to tackle it. Plus don’t forget to carry some water as it can get hot on the trail. There is a two-way piece of track which splits to a loop after around 500m, with a toilet block at this point.

Sandstone Caves - PathwayThe Path to the Sandstone Caves

The area has been used by native people for many generations, as a place for making tools and taking shelter. In a couple of the caves there are some signs of tool making and also other markings.

Sandstone Caves - Signs of tool makingSigns of tool making

One of the most challenging aspects for me was capturing photos that show the extent of the caves. The walls just kind of blend into each other and while the cave below looks shallow it is around four metres deep. Many other caves seemed deeper and more protected that would provide excellent shelter in bad weather.

Sandstone Caves - CaveSmall Cave at Nhalay Yarrul

Walking around the area some of the cliffs look to reach up to 20 meters or more in height. While some of the cliffs were sheer drops, others showed extensive erosion from both wind and water. The other challenge in capturing images was the time of day, with the sun showing up directly above the cliffs in most cases.

Sandstone Caves - Cliff faceEroded cliff at Nhalay Yarrul


Our arrival in Narrabri was later than expected and as a result, had to leave a visit to the Paul Wild Observatory for the morning. With the little daylight we had left, we took a drive around the town and a short walk while waiting for dinner.

Day 3 – Narrabri to Brisbane (666 km)

The last day of this road trip and it was the longest driving day as well. But that is not such a bad thing when you can see home at the end of it. To add to the long drive was a somewhat limited set of sights to see, but we did make a couple of stops to break up the trip. I started the morning with a walk and then it was onto our first stop at the Paul Wild Observatory.

Narrabri Morning Walk

With so much driving ahead of me today I wanted to get some walking in early. There was not much to see around Narrabri, but I did find a couple of spots to get a photo.

Narrabri - Post OfficeNarrabri Post Office build in 1888

Narrabri - Faulkners FactoryFaulkners Factory – A cordial factory up until 1980

Narrabri - Morning photo of Narrabri CreekNarrabri Creek in the morning

Paul Wild Observatory

The Paul Wild Observatory is home to the Australia Telescope Compact Array. The array consists of six 22metre dishes, five of which are onsite at the Paul Wild Observatory on a 4km long wide-gauge rail line running east-west. With the sixth dish located 3km further west of this location.

Due to the current configuration of the array, it was not possible to capture all five dishes in the one image.

Narrabri - Paul Wild Observatory 1 Radio TelescopesAustralia Telescope Compact Array Radio Dish

Narrabri - Paul Wild Observatory 4 Radio TelescopesAustralia Telescope Compact Array four Radio Dishes, the last two are hard to distinguish between.

The Final Drive

Once we finished at the Paul Wild Observatory, we set our sights on home. The drive got broken up into five segments with the first stop at the last sign for the Solar System Drive, Pluto (photo above).

The next stop we would make was a brief stop in Moree. Here we grabbed a quick coffee, and I took a chance to stretch my legs. But we were soon on the road again with our sights on the Queensland Border. We made a stop in Goondiwindi for fuel and some water, before a final stop in Warwick for coffee and to sretch the legs.

The trip over the past eight days has been a lot of fun getting to see a huge part of Australia that I had never visited before. There have of course been both good and bad aspects of the trip, but they are for another day.

In the near future, I will be looking to share a little about the positive and negative sides of this road trip. A couple of topics I think I will discuss come down to the distance travelled and time frame of the trip, along with travelling with other people. But at this point, I hope that you have enjoyed this small series looking back at the journey. You can read the rest of the journey here Part 1: Southbound | Canberra

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