As the sun slowly drops below the horizon, the harsh light of day transforms into a gentle hue, giving the entire landscape a much softer appearance.
Above the golden glow in the distance, the sky begins to darken and the first bright stars can be spotted. After a very long day that began well before dawn, we’re now on top of the aptly named Sunset Hill on Eldee Station in outback New South Wales, 56km north-west of Broken Hill.
The day’s dust is being washed away by an icy cold pale ale and we’re about to tuck in to some cheese and bickies as we reflect on the preceding hours’ activities and take in the expansive and spectacular ochre view of the Mundi Mundi Plains before us.
This is bloody brilliant! You simply cannot find a better place in the country to immerse yourself in the iconic Australian Outback.
Eldee is a working sheep and cattle property that covers more than 150km² of semi-arid grazing country encapsulating a part of the Barrier Ranges and the Mundi Mundi Plains.
There are more than 100km of four-wheel drive tracks on Eldee that cover every type of terrain from steep and rocky climbs to sandy riverbeds, dry mudflats, creek crossings, deep gullies, old coach and mail roads, stock routes and much more.
Fourth-generation Eldee Station leaseholders Naomi and Stephen Schmidt opened the property to visitors more than 17 years ago and have been developing the tourism offering here ever since.
Today, there are several off-road driving options available to Eldee visitors: you can self-drive, join a tagalong, or take a ride in Eldee Station’s “luxury” 4x4 wagon. “It’s a Prado.” Naomi laughs. “But it’s a new one.”
There are, of course, a few rules that must be adhered to when driving around the property: drivers must be licensed; vehicles must be road-registered and mechanically sound; and a UHF radio must be fitted to check in with the homestead at predetermined intervals.
Despite never having to venture more than an hour or two from the homestead, you can easily spend a few days exploring the various tracks around Eldee Station, so you should ensure you always have plenty of fuel, food and water on board. And, as with any 4x4 adventure, at Eldee Station you need to abide by the “tread lightly” philosophy: take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.
And when driving around the property, bear in mind that this is a working sheep and cattle station, so it’s important to leave gates as you find them, and give stock and wildlife a wide berth, especially if you spot them drinking from a dam, creek or other water source.
So, other than the spectacular views, what else can you expect to find when exploring Eldee’s tracks?
“There’s wildlife, lots of kangaroos, eagles nesting, emus – in fact, the abundance and variety of birdlife here is quite staggering – and there’s also the Mundi Mundi Ruins,” Naomi explains. “There’s the bird feeding out here, we’ve got pet goats, pet sheep, a big horse … and there are new mountain bike tracks as well.”
The Eldee Station leasehold area was originally part of the Mundi Mundi Pastoral Run that was settled by the Whittings family in the late 1850s, making them the first European settlers on the Barrier Ranges. The Whittings left in around 1885 due to drought, and there are still remnants of their original homestead on what is now Eldee Station.
Wandering around these and other ruins on the property gives a sense of the incredible isolation and hardships the settlers must have encountered, not to mention the extremely hard work that would have gone in to constructing these impressive stone buildings.
The Schmidts also have a long history in the area, with Stephen’s great grandfather William, and his wife, Polly, gaining the lease, back in 1935, that now covers Eldee Station.
For visitors interested in the history of the station, there’s plenty of information posted around Eldee’s restaurant, and both Naomi and Stephen are happy to share what they know about their family’s long association with this part of the Outback.
This area was obviously inhabited many thousands of years prior to European settlement, and there is plenty of evidence on the property.
“There are fire hearths from the Aboriginals, camp ovens, and there’s a megafauna site up the creek that’s at least 30,000 to 40,000 years old,” Naomi says. And thanks to regular visits from Monash University’s geology department, Naomi and Stephen also know a fair bit about the geological evolution of Eldee.
Accessing the various historical sites and different geological formations on Eldee Station requires driving over some quite challenging tracks; the steep, rocky climbs in particular are only suited to those with reasonable off-road driving experience. This is true low-range territory, and is terrain best suited to vehicles with decent ground clearance and good underbody protection. Yep, it’s a lot of fun!
At the end of a long day of off-road driving, Eldee Station offers visitors a number of accommodation options that cater to a wide range of visitors – from those who simply want to roll out their swags and cook their own meals to those who want something a little more luxurious, such as a comfy bed and access to a fully licensed restaurant.
Over the years, Naomi and Stephen have worked hard to continually develop the tourism offering at Eldee Station. “We started offering accommodation about 17 years ago,” Naomi explains. “At the time, we didn’t know a lot about tourism, but we diversified because wool prices were really bad, so were sheep prices, and our shearers’ quarters were just sitting here empty.
So we did the rooms up, and then we also discovered that there was a need for campsites as well, so we developed a grassed camping area with a camp kitchen, and we added more facilities in the amenities block.”
“This used to be a cafe,” Naomi says of Eldee’s big centrally located building, with its big windows and wrap-around verandah. “But I call it a restaurant now because I think that kind of thing fits in with the accommodation. Our deluxe rooms are better than three-and-a-half stars … we’re certainly not the primitive run-of-the-mill shearers’ quarters; we’ve got the queen beds, they’re air-conditioned, there’s an en suite…”
As for the food on offer, Naomi somewhat modestly explains: “I’ve done a course to learn how to make sourdough bread, and then I’ve had other training from another baker [on] how to do other breads and pastries, and slices and goodness knows what…”
The hosted nightly meals in the restaurant are simply fantastic – generous servings of homestead-style mains and succulent, rich deserts. “Stephen sits with guests while I’m in the kitchen, and people share stories and get to know each other, and connect with us…” Naomi says.
For those who want something more than the excellent 4WDing and fantastic food, Eldee Station offers plenty of other activities such as guided walks, photography, stargazing, scenic flights and more.
“We’ve got the heated spa, where people can relax at the end of the day, and there’s the plunge pool, which is very popular with the kids,” Naomi says. “We’re like a mini-destination.
We’ve got lots going on; we’re not just a B&B. We even had a wedding here recently; they were 4WDers who had been up here two years prior and they decided they wanted to come back and get married here.”
If you want a taste of real station life, at certain times of the year you can even participate in rounding up stock and helping out on the station. “We’ve got sheep and cattle, and at different times of the year there’s lamb marking and cattle marking, and shearing … so guests can join in at different times of the year doing different tasks such as helping to bring cattle and sheep in and things like that.
“We can even do shearing demonstrations for groups if they call early enough and make a booking; it’s got to be about six weeks ahead, as there is a shortage of shearers on the ground, so we need a bit of lead time.”
Testament to the hard work that Naomi and Stephen have put into the tourism offering at Eldee Station are the numerous awards they’ve won over the past few years, culminating in winning Gold at the New South Wales Tourism Awards last year in the Hosted Accommodation category.
The next time you’re out Broken Hill way, you really should add Eldee Station to your itinerary; it offers an Outback experience combined with spectacular scenery and genuine country hospitality that can’t be beaten. I can hardly wait to get back there – if not for the 4x4 tracks, then for the amazing sunsets viewed from high on the Barrier Ranges overlooking the Mundi Mundi Plains. Simply spectacular!
Eldee Station is 56km north-west of Broken Hill, NSW. From Broken Hill, drive the 25km to Silverton (a fantastic destination in its own right) then continue straight on the main road for another 16km to Umberumberka Reservoir. It’s then another 19.6km straight ahead on the gravel road to the Eldee Station signpost. Turn right and drive through the gum creek and you’ll see the facilities to your left.
Hosts: Naomi and Stephen Schmidt.
Phone: (08) 8091 2578
Eldee Station, NSW.
Powered and unpowered sites.
Three-and-a-half star suites, licensed restaurant, plunge pool, spa, toilets, showers.
Easy to difficult, depending on tracks driven.
MAPS AND GUIDES
Hema Outback NSW; Eldee Station map (available on-site).
RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS
Book ahead and always drop in at the homestead before driving on station tracks.
CONTACTS AND INFORMATION
Eldee Station: www.eldeestation.com;
Ph: (08) 8091 2578
For those interested in photography, Eldee Station offers more than stunning outback scenery and native flora and fauna. This is why renowned photographer Michael Ellem from Offroad Images regularly holds photography workshops here.
According to Michael, Eldee “offers a fantastic canvas for us to work with whilst still having the country-style hospitality which welcomes you in.”
If you attend one of these fully catered workshops, be prepared for some seriously long days behind the lens. “I plan to make the most of the good light and will be shooting well before dawn and well into the night,” Michael explains.
Aimed at beginner to intermediate photographers with their own DSLR cameras, the workshops use theory and practise to teach students about light painting, composition, the rule of thirds, aperture, capturing and creating a sense of motion, using light, shooting panoramics, shooting star trails, and much more.
For details or to book in to a course see: www.offroadimages.com.au