Far West (New South Wales)
There are a number of towns and villages in the Far West:
Summers are blazing hot and dry, and if the sun doesn't get you, the flies will, so the best time to visit is between May and October. Winters can be surprisingly cold, though, and even a small amount of rain will close most unsealed back roads. Occasional flooding can close roads for days at a time.
Distances are huge. Even on main roads, towns and villages can be 200 km apart. On the back roads, you can drive all day and not see another vehicle. This is a great experience of itself, but it comes with the risk that a breakdown will strand you for some hours, at least, and it should come as no surprise that you won't be able to use your mobile (cellular) phone to call for help. It is always important to have filled up your car so that it has at least 350 km worth of petrol (gas) in it and you should always carry plenty of water.
The towns are also generally very small, and have limited facilities. If you're very lucky, there may be some live music at the local club, but generally, life in these remote areas tends to be very quiet. On the other hand, the scenery is exceedingly beautiful, and there's plenty of it.
If you head west along the Barrier Highway, the red dirt starts at around the mining town of Cobar, out past Nyngan. North, the Kidman Way takes you up to Bourke (of "back of Bourke" fame), in cotton-growing country near the Queensland border. West, the next town is Wilcannia, once a major port on the Darling River. Beyond Wilcannia is Broken Hill, population 21,000, a mining town with a long and colourful history.
South of Cobar is the vast, mostly empty middle of New South Wales. Crossed by the Kidman Way and the Cobb Highway, it's just scrub and a few tiny towns all the way to the south border of the state. In the middle of that is ancient Lake Mungo, site of the oldest known human cremation, and Menindee, a system of lakes in the desert, which only fill after months of rainfall in southern Queensland.
To the north-east and north-west of Cobar are the isolated opal fields of Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs, both places where people live "rough", and often underground (in White Cliffs). Tours of some underground places can be arranged.
Finally, in the far north-west of the State, there are the strange rock engravings at Mutawintji, and the isolated town of Tiboburra.
If you are going to fully explore the Far West, you'll need a car or camper to get in.
You can fly in to Broken Hill for a taste - at a price. Expect to pay around 3 times what you would pay for an inter-capital flight.
Great Southern Railways run the Indian Pacific from Sydney and Adelaide.
The public transport out here is still oriented towards taking passengers towards the capital cities, and to get between towns that aren't on the same capital city route can be a real challenge without your own transport. Even out at Broken Hill the only coach or train services you will see are either towards Adelaide or towards Sydney. There are a few trains that run into the far west, but they usually only stop at major towns, such as Broken Hill. Larger towns are serviced by infrequent buses, and smaller towns are not serviced by public transport at all.
All these factors can make getting around difficult without a car. There are also a lot of things to see and do that aren't in the town centres, so a car is almost essential to see them.
Can rental in the Far West always has distance limits before a surcharge applies, and one-way fees if you don't drop back at the starting point. Almost invariably it is at a higher cost than a capital city hire. Consider hiring from a capital city to avoid these costs.
It gets very hot in the summer, so air conditioning is essential if you're travelling at that time of year. Make sure the vehicle has good tyres, adequate fuel and has been properly serviced. There's plenty of traffic on the main roads, so you won't have major problems with a breakdown, but the back roads are a different matter, so always carry water for a day or two, and stay with the vehicle.
Country food in Australia is simple and generally consists of steaks, lamb chops and other basics. It can be difficult for a vegetarian to find a decent meal in many outback towns because many rural Australians just do not get this "urban affliction". It is always wise to pinpoint the supermarket and stock up on fruit, vegetables and other vegetarian staples. Be aware, however, that prices for fresh food are likely to be higher as the food has had to travel quite a way and fuel costs are factored into the food.
"Pub grub" is a fairly easy and quick meal for travellers. If it includes a smorgasbord, there should be enough to satisfy all dietary types. Chips, hamburgers and basic fried items are fairly staple pub grub but you will also find some pubs are more innovative and carry local cuisine.
Breakfast establishments are not as common as the diners found in North America but there is often a cafe or a "mixed business" (corner store) that will be open early and always keep an eye out for bakeries, where hard-working bakers will have been baking hours before you rise.
If you haven't a clue where to find a restaurant, always head for the main street. Most New South Wales country towns will have a congregation of eating places on the main strip.
Most outback towns have at least two places to get a drink: a pub and a club. Many towns have more than one pub. Some quite tiny towns have three or four, which speaks more to better times in the past than unusual alcohol consumption today.
Clubs are generally either lawn bowling clubs, or clubs for returned servicemen, none of which really matters these days, as anyone can use their facilities by signing in at the door. Clubs are often the main social centres of small towns; not only do they have sporting facilities, they also usually have a restaurant, poker machines and a bar.
In many cases, pubs also sell food (usually referred to as counter meals, because you eat them at the bar), and many also provide accommodation. Incidentally, pubs in Australia are often referred to as 'hotels'. This confusing practice dates from the nineteenth century, when it was decided that alcohol should only be served by places that also provided accommodation to travellers. That requirement was later removed, but the name persisted.
As a general rule, the locals drink beer and the usual soft drinks. Wine will also be available, but don't expect a wide selection. In very isolated areas, choices may be more limited than that. For example, the pub at White Cliffs only serves Victoria Bitter (generally known as 'VB').