A sunset over the highway

Adelaide to Northern NSW Road Trip

This is an article about our experience as a family of four driving from Adelaide to Bellingen and back in July 2020. This trip was our third. It’s going to give you some insight into the realities of long distance road trips – anywhere in Australia.


One thing that used to catch us by surprise when we headed away for weeks at a time is the need to empty the fridge of perishables. Now we plan the shopping a week or so in advance so we don’t end up having to throw good food out.


We use vacuum seal bags to save space and only loose pack a change of clothes for the second day of driving. Think of all the things you need for the trip and work out ways to make them smaller.

It might seem like you have too much space when you leave but you’ll need every bit of it when you come home with the extra things you’ve bought. Car packing discipline can also get pretty loose toward the end of a trip. The closer you get to home the more things tend to just get thrown in wherever there is space.


To get to Northern NSW, there’s three ways into/out of South Australia and they all join up in Tamworth NSW.

The quickest is to travel via the Mallee Highway and enter Victoria near Pinnaroo. From there, you head to Piangil and cross the Murray River into NSW at Tooleybuc. It’s a short stretch to Balranald where you join the Sturt Highway and head for Hay. This way you’re likely to spend the night in West Wyalong or Parkes.

We sometimes travel via the Sturt Highway through the South Australian Riverland and Victorian Sunraysia region for a change of scenery. The Sturt Highway is a better grade of highway and there’s more to see along the way – until you leave Mildura and meet the previous route at Balranald. This route takes the longest and you’re likely to stay the night in West Wyalong.

The third route is the adventurous one. It takes the Barrier Highway between Tarlee in SA and Nyngan in NSW to cross the outback via Broken Hill. The distances are huge and there’s not much to see. The driving seems easy but such long monotonous stretches can be harder than you think. On this route, you’ll want to stay the night in Nyngan.

Don’t attempt the Barrier Highway route at night unless you really want to drive at 25 – 40 km/h across endless pitch-black desert highway while dodging monster road-trains. You’ll probably hit a kangaroo anyway – so don’t do it.

From Tamworth the road trip follows the New England Highway to Armidale before heading for the coast on the windy Waterfall Way. The Waterfall Way is a beautiful stretch of road but not so much when you’re tired. Make sure you’re ready for it. It doesn’t seem like it’s very far after all the straight road you’ve been driving but it’s harder to drive and requires far more concentration. The Pacific Motorway lies at the end of the Waterfall Way. From there, northern NSW is your oyster!


I can tell you how long it will take but the truth is that you need to leave super early each day you drive –  and be flexible. It will definitely take around 24 hours over two days of driving (with breaks) each way. Driving through the night is not recommended, particularly if you choose the Barrier Highway route.


Plan your fuel. Fill the fuel tank before you go. Petrol is not always cheaper in the city but it helps. It’s a long way between fuel pumps sometimes – up to 255 kilometres in one case. Be aware of the distances and stay ahead of the curve by filling up when you get to half a tank.


It’s good advice to take a break at least every two hours. Fortunately, there are plenty of rest stops and towns along the routes to pull off the road and take a break. Most highway service stations also have the space nearby to stop and rest for a while.


We don’t bother with a big esky or an expensive fridge anymore. Just a small soft esky with ice bricks is all. A few snacks, some milk and soft drinks is all we need to stay cool. We all carry our own re-usable water bottles and a cask of spring water to top them up. Proper planning and packing means there’s no need to waste space on keeping things cool. There are plenty of opportunities to buy hot and cold food and drink along the way. It is a holiday after all.

The dry food box is another thing – we pack as much snack food like chips, nuts, and sweets as we can. It stays more organised in one of those cheap plastic organiser tubs. Some things are much more expensive on the road, plus we stay in self-contained accommodation at our destination – where we need our own kitchen supplies.


Thank goodness for nearly universal mobile internet and tablet computers. Pack the headphones and chargers. Download as much as you can from your content services at home and you’re all set.

Take lots of breaks. There’s plenty of toilets. Promise them McDonalds if they behave. Easy.


A quick google search is usually good enough to find accommodation. From experience, I’d say spend over $150 if you can for a motel room. Most motels out this way are dated to say the least. It’s advisable for families to find cabins at caravan parks or resorts. Even the family motel rooms can be far too small. You’ve spent all day in the car with your family and of course you love them, but some space is nice.


There is so much to see by driving across Australia! This road trip is a bit off the beaten track but the changing countryside and all the small towns along the road give you a real sense of travel as you whisk through them.

Two side trips in easy reach of the route worth taking are to ‘The Dish’ in Parkes, and Wollomombi Falls on the Waterfall Way. ‘The Dish’ is a giant radio telescope that was once part of the Apollo missions while Wollomombi Falls is one of the highest waterfalls in Australia.

I stop to look at cool or unusual typography. You’ll spot other things – we’re all different.


Enjoy the comforts of home. Returning home is a part of any journey.

Do yourself a favour and make sense of all the photos and video  – before you forget and they no longer seem relevant.

Write something down. Share it here if you like!


View posts by Outdoorstype
Writer and all round nice guy.

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