The town of Cobar, in New South Wales, stands at a crossroads of two major highways. But its significance dates back thousands of years thanks to the extraordinary collection of Aboriginal art in the surrounding area. Settled as a copper mining town in the 19th century, Cobar's economy today is still heavily reliant on mining, but the town is also growing in popularity as a tourist destination, thanks to the native art and to the natural beauty of the region. Cobar is located around 700km from the Sydney CBD so best make a trip out of it if coming to visit.
The rich history of Cobar is crying out to be explored and there's no better place to start than the Great Cobar Heritage and Visitor Information Centre. Considered the best rural museum in New South Wales, the museum is very much a hands-on experience for visitors, allowing them to smell and touch some of the products once made locally and to explore the town's development from quiet farming area to thriving mining town. A large exhibition area reveals the story of the Aboriginal peoples while open-air displays include a steam engine and early mining equipment.
The wealthy mine owners and merchants who once ruled Cobar built themselves some rather elegant homes and many of these have been retained, giving the town a very sophisticated feel quite removed from its isolation. Local tour maps will guide travellers around town so they can spot the most significant historic buildings, including the Courthouse, opened in 1887, and the Great Western Hotel on the main street - the pub here has the longest balcony in New South Wales, a timber veranda with cast-iron balustrades that is 100m long.
At its height Cobar had a population of over 10,000 people, through these boom times the town had its own newspaper publications. These included the Cobar Herald which was in circulation from 1879 till 1914 before morphing eventually into the Cobar Age. Unfortunately cut backs and consolidation resulted in the Cobar Age being shut down in 2012.
Some of the finest examples of Aboriginal rock art can be found around Cobar, in particular at Mount Grenfell. Here there are more than 1300 images of human and animal figures, dating back thousands of years. Abstract linear designs, made with fingertips or brushes, and hand stencils using ochre are an extraordinary sight. Go on the 5km Ngiyambaa Walkabout to enjoy this amazing art found on rock overhangs.
Water in the Outback is certainly hard to find but the reservoir at Devil's Rock is a veritable oasis with excellent swimming and water sports available. Devil's Rock was an important site for the Ngemba people who performed ceremonial rites here.
A genuine step back in time comes at Mount Drysdale, once a thriving township and now no more than a ghost town, deserted when the gold mines ran out. Many buildings remain along with the equipment that once dredged the precious metal from the ground and it's an eerie but interesting place to visit. There are some historic Aboriginal sites here too to explore, including rock wells, but do get permission first.
Just outside of Cobar is Fort Bourke Hill with terrific views over the town from the lookout at its summit. On the way down, stop to explore Towser's Huts, stone miners' cottages that date back to the late 19th century and reveal the hard existence suffered by the miners and their families.
Mining has been of immense importance to Cobar, reflected in the Cobar Miners' Heritage Park, which commemorates those miners who lost their lives underground. And if you're visiting in October, don't miss the Festival of the Miner's Ghost with its host of family-friendly attractions.
The Commonwealth Meteorological Station in Cobar is an unusual but exciting visitor attraction. The station is one of the most up-to-date in Australia and its forecasts are made daily following live weather observations from a daily weather balloon.