Route 39: Newell Highway (NSW, Australia)

There are no shortcuts to any places worth going

As far as famous roads go, Route 39 (Newell Highway) is not exactly Route 66 in the US. Australia doesn’t really have highways that “must do’s” asides perhaps The Great Ocean Road and the Nullabor Plain. So when we finally drove into Parkes NSW last night, it was with great interest I saw a brochure advertising the famed Route 39.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Route 39 is the most direct route to Queensland and our road trip to Noosa. Once past Melbourne, the highway crosses the Great Dividing Range and into Victoria’s food bowl – The Goulburn Valley. The drive from home to our first major break at Tocumwal, just over the border, was about 4 hours.

Tocumwal was the prefect place to break our drive. Located on the Murray River with good amenities in the town, including a bakery cafe with great prices and country service to match. Located across the road from the bakery was plenty of open space to give Little Explorers a run and playground to release some energy.

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Giant Murray Cod, Tocumwal NSW

Heading north from Tocumwal the Newell takes you through crop country with vast flat plains as far as the eye can see. Not far out of town, we were met with the start of a rain band that would stay with us for over 24 hours until we reached Narrabri. And rain it did! The Newell handles the wet weather fine, but oncoming road trains in the wet mean you must keep your wits about you and drive to the conditions.

By now we had been in the car for 7 hours and keeping Siena entertained was a must. Last year when we toured she was around 4 months and slept most of the way in both directions to Queensland. So, we knew this time we wouldn’t be so lucky but as Siena had travelled alot we were confident it wouldn’t been an issue. We purchased a car toy organiser that hangs behind the front passenger seat and filled it with some of her favorite toys and books. Giving into the tech age, we had bought a cheap tablet and downloaded a few episodes of Peppa Pig and the The Wiggles for those longer stretches. Coupled with some healthy snacks and water, Siena was a delight in the car and for most of time she spent looking outside the window – the whole point of a road trip!

The rain continued to persist and at times reduced visibility, but did not affect our drive. Driving through the plains and passing small country towns, such as West Wyalong, you start to realise the beauty of our country. These towns the life blood of their communities and where you can find people more than happy to help you.

After over 10 hours on the road, we pulled into rain soaked Parkes just as the light started to fade. Parkes, made famous during the 1969 moon landing and more recently the film, The Dish, is home to the Parkes Observatory and seemed like the perfect town for our first overnight stay. We chose to check out the Parkes Services Club for dinner, with the locals recommendation, and it didn’t disappoint. Great value meals, including for kids ($8.50 kids roast lamb & veg – you can’t go wrong!).

Pilliga National Park, NSW

We rose the next day with no fixed destination. The weather was forecasted for heavy rainfall as an East Coast Low had formed off the Queensland coast. Now being from  Melbourne, we didn’t exactly know what an East Coast Low was, however it turns out to have similar traits to a tropical cyclone. Parkes is a long way inland so we felt fairly confident there would be rain but no significant impact to our trip. As we pulled out of Parkes, the drizzle subsided and the skies cleared.

But, that didn’t last long!

The closer we got to Dubbo, the rain increased and getting a coffee meant us all getting out of the car into heavy rain. Coffee suddenly didn’t seem as appealing. The road become very wet and about 20km north of Dubbo, the creeks become very swollen and paddocks flooding onto the road. Realising the conditions were worsening, we made the decision to stop in Gilgandra until the rain stopped.

Finding a cafe, we were able to have the coffee we had missed out back in Dubbo.

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Waiting for the rain to ease in Gilgandra, NSW

When the rain finally reduced to a light drizzle, we headed back out on to the highway. The weather cleared and decided to continue all the way to the Queensland border town, Goondiwindi. The afternoon drive passed through some stunning scenery including the Pilliga National Park and the Warrumbungle National Park before opening up again to vast plains to the border. The Pilliga, with rich red soil and lush forest, is the largest west of the Great Diving Range.

We broke our drive again at Narrabri, a major town located near the Great Artesian Basin. From here the border is around 2 hours away and as the sun lowers in the sky its reflection dances on the plains.

After a much longer day in the car than we expected, we arrived in Goondiwindi QLD for the night. And after a long two days, all we really wanted was a hot shower and comfortable bed.

Goondiwindi is a quiet town with tree lined streets, and offers weary travellers and truckies alike, a place to pull over and relax. The town offers all major services, and seems a popular spot for overnight stops either if your heading for Brisbane or Melbourne and beyond!

Route 39 becomes the Gore Highway just north of Goondiwindi, and the road itself is very rough and whilst the speed limit is 110km, challenging with the road condition. It’s a tad over 90 minutes across to Toowoomba and then a further 90 minutes into the outskirts of Brisbane, where the highway improves.

Just south of the NSW/QLD border on Route 39

The landscape between Goondiwindi and Toowoomba is fascinating mixture of desert scrub and opening out to farming plains. On this stretch of our trip this time we saw wallabies, kangaroos, budgerigars and the occasional wild bore, that had unfortunately been hit overnight.

Route 39 officially ends when it becomes Route A2 (Warrego Highway) to Ipswich. Having driven the Newell a handful of times now, we really enjoy the drive. Diverse countryside, interesting small towns and a taste of the outback – without being so remote!

We promise you will love Route 39 – why not give it ago next time you want to take a trip to Queensland from the southern states.

Little Explorers Tip:

  • Ring in advance to ask for high chair for motels you are staying (great for quick breakfast in the morning before you leave)
  • Ensure you pack wet weather gear as weather changes quickly, and central NSW can be very cold during winter months even on clear blue sky days
  • There are plenty of fuel stations on the route, however, make sure you have more than 150km fuel between major towns
  • Purchase a road map, don’t rely on the GPS
  • Download the Live NSW Traffic app from the App Store or Google Play Store
  • Depending on your tastes, bottle water is good option further north on Route 39 as the water in Narrabri and Moree has deep mineral taste.

 What to know more:

Check out Route 39 – The Newell Highway


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