New South Wales
Fort Grey & Lake Pinaroo: NSW's most remote campground
October 21, 2018 • Kevin Smith
7 min read
The Fort Grey camping area in Sturt National Park is accessible for all 4wds and soft-roaders and is not a hard place to get to, but you definitely need to be 100% prepared to come out here as it's located in the most remote corner of New South Wales.
We love the Fort Grey camping area. Not sure what it is about it, maybe the isolation, the surrounds, the birds or just the presence. The campgrounds are huge, around 30 acres of good, flat, sandy ground where you can pitch a tent or set up a camper trailer. There are several shelters scattered around the grounds, some clean enviro-friendly toilets, surprisingly free gas bbq’s and water is available if the tank has some in it – good for washing up but that’s about it.
NPWS have also provided skip bins for rubbish which keep the animals at bay. For this reason, the park is always clean and enjoyable to stay at. Unfortunately, fires are not permitted due to NPWS regulations as the timber is used as a refuge for the local animals and insects.
Out here in the most remote part of New South Wales, you need to be well prepared with food, water, fuel, camping gear and a reliable 4wd, please don’t take anything for granted. Fort Grey is regarded as the most remote campground in NSW.
Generally, the ideal time to come out is in the winter-spring months, for several reasons. There is more traffic which makes for safer travelling, the days are cooler with crisp nights and if by chance there has been any rain the area comes alive with the colours of the desert.
Fort Grey is located 30km east of Cameron Corner and it’s another option for remote camping when exploring the Corner Country of NSW. The red sand dunes and roads cut a striking pose in this area making for spectacular scenery and photography. The sunsets and sunrises can leave many people in awe out here with their beauty and colours.
Every time we come here there is an array of birds; from crows, willy wagtails, blue wrens, magpies, to waterbirds that live just over the hill in the nearby lake. Often we see a few roos around the camp minding their own business and often see evidence of where pigs have been digging looking for food.
The first time we camped here several years ago we couldn’t believe what lay behind the campground, as there are no visible signs or views across the area to let you know what is here. Wells Walk is a walking trail that leads you from the eastern end of the camp over one of the dunes where several small display boards highlight what was here some 100 years ago.
Standing on top of the dune is the first indication that there was something here as just a short distance away from abandoned windmill creaks in the wind. As you follow the well-worn walking trail it leads you around the edge of a lake and past stone ruins, there are several breaks off trails that offer other short walks to different parts of the lake and back to camp which is all worth exploring. Large Coolabah trees stand within the water and around the edges and they provide homes for the abundant birdlife that frequent this area.
This is a great place to spend an hour or two just walking around the lake, and up through the ruins, then to the top of the dune discovering and exploring the pieces of machinery that are lying scattered through the grass and bushes. We often wander to the top of the dune at sunset and sunrise to watch the sun come or go – excellent for photos.
It’s hard to imagine an oversized wetland area tucked up in the northwest corner of NSW, yet it holds significant value for many birds and endangered animals. Several threatened species have been recorded within the area including snakes, ducks and bats. Lake Pinaroo and the surrounding wetlands cover an estimated 2000 acres.when in drought can take up to six years to dry out due to not having an overflow.
Listed as a Ramsar site in 1996, it is one of 12 located in NSW. These significant wetland sites are listed worldwide to protect the biodiversity of the wetlands, water birds and animals that are found within. Lake Pinaroo is very important to the arid area of the northwest as it holds water longer than any other wetland within the region, allowing birdlife to survive for longer periods. It also allows migrating birds to ‘stop over’ on their way past. An estimated 61 species of birds have been recorded as well as bats, rare snakes endangered plants.
Explorer Charles Sturt set up base camp and a stockade beside the lake in 1844 for his exploration of the Simpson desert looking for an inland sea, these can still be found as well as the remains of the old Fort Grey homestead and windmill. The original homestead was closer to the water's edge but in 1974 when the lake was in flood, strong winds produced high waves and destroyed the homestead. It was moved to where it lies today but was destroyed again by waves.
During his time here the lake was dry and on his journey, he carved several letters, his name and the date of 1845 into a Coolabah tree. The letters S and an arrow were an indication of Sturt's travel. It’s only when the lake is in a drought that this tree can be accessed by a 3km walk across the lake bed. The tree died finally died in the 1956 flood and in 1990 NPWS have put up steel posts supporting several tree limbs to stop them from falling and potentially losing this significant part of Australia's history. It’s only when you stand under this tree and see the watermark way above your head that you realise just how much water this lake can hold.
If you do decide to explore the Lake Pinaroo walking trail when the lake is dry, there are signposted areas highlighting Aboriginal Cooking Heaths and at the centre of the lake, there are remains of The Well. This bore was sunk for the Fort Grey homestead when the area was in severe drought. All that remains now are rusty shells of boilers, tanks and plates. It was once a wood-fired boiler that was able to pump water to the surface for the inhabitants and their stock in the area using a walking beam for the lift of the water.
We’ve been lucky enough to have trekked across the lake when it was empty to see these historical items. Pretty amazing to see what has been left behind but then, on the other hand, it’s humbling to try to understand just how tough it must have been back in the day. If you get the chance to walk to Sturt’s tree - make time. It’s well worth it.