The flies are buzzing, the sweat is dripping, air is fresh, skies are huge, it’s hot and the only sound to break the silence is the whistle of the wind. Welcome to the Hay Plains!
The What (and the Where)?
The Hay Plains? “Where the hell is Hay?*,” and what the hell are the Plains?
The Hay Plains is one of the flattest places on earth – second after the Sahara according to the locals (however Google tells me Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is actually the flattest). It is the vast area surrounding my hometown of Hay in New South Wales, Australia. Located halfway between Sydney and Adelaide, and about five hours (or less, depending how you drive) from Melbourne it is smack-bang in the middle of nowhere, yet also the centre of everywhere.
Due to the flat, bare, mostly treeless nature of the landscape the Plains are sometimes referred to as the most “boring bit of the road trip”. If the sun is peaking and it is a clear, scorching hot summer’s day I’d probably agree, but generally speaking I believe anyone who says this must not have spent enough time appreciating what’s there, and what’s not – the nothingness that it is known for.
Here’s a tip: Instead of looking out and down, put your eyes to the sky and look up and out. With undisturbed 360 degree views it is big sky country. The best time for you to see what the Plains have to offer is at sunrise, sunset, during storms or even at night – the stars, oh the stars. The skies out here can be truly breathtaking, so you better start dropping that jaw now in preparation.
* “Where the hell is Hay?” is an unofficial town slogan often seen on bumper stickers.
Hay is a pretty small town of around 2,500 people.
If you’re new to town, passing through or just visiting for a few days, we can tell. But, don’t worry, you’ll more than likely be greeted with country hospitality; a simple smile and questions regarding where you are from, how and why you ended up here. How can we tell if you aren’t from around this part of the world? Well if you were we would know your face, name, family history, vehicle, what year you finished school, what you were up to last night and more. Basically like any small place, everybody knows everybody.
It is a close knit town full of history and country charm, along with a very strong sense of community spirit. You’ll discover a lot of what are now considered “old time values.” People are kind, courteous, generous, helpful and chatty. They’ll hold the door for you, pack your groceries and even walk them to your car. Pop into a pub on any given night and you’ll be sure to find someone willing to have a chat about the area as well.
So what’s out there? Surprisingly for a lot of people Hay has quite a wide variety of things to see and do for its size, and location. The main street is beautifully tree-lined, filled with many small-businesses and has a range of heritage buildings.
For someone visiting the town the following are considered to be the main attractions:
- Five very different museums about the interesting history of Hay and it’s place in the world:
- Bishop’s Lodge – A beautiful, old architecturally design house and gardens built in 1888.
- Dunera Museum – Exhibitions about the 6,000 POWs and civilian internees kept in camps during World War II, held in old train carriages at the now disused Hay Railway Station Building.
- Gaol Museum – Buildings and exhibitions displaying the history of Hay. The buildings themselves have had multiple uses over the years including as a gaol, maternity hospital, lock hospital for the insane, an institute for girls and more.
- Shear Outback and the Australian Shearer’s Hall of Fame – A large and informative museum about the shearing industry and how shearing has shaped the area.
- War Memorial Museum – Located at the Hay War Memorial High School and built to remember those from the district who served in WWI, it is a thorough museum with war materials, honour rolls and exhibitions.
- Free Olympic size swimming pool which is open in the summertime.
- The Sunset Viewing Area is 16kms north of town and is a great, wide open space to sit back, relax and watch the end of the day slip away as darkness descends on the Plains.
- The Murrumbidgee River offers walking trails, cycling tracks, camping, fishing, birdwatching, boating, water skiing, kayaking etc. Sandy Point is considered the main beach in town and has many facilities including BBQs, boat ramps, seating, a swimming area and toilets.
- Enjoy the quiet life of camping with caravan parks and camp spots scattered throughout the river bends.
There are also a range of businesses out in this rural setting including many fuel stations, two supermarkets, four banks, a newsagency, newspaper, radio, bakery, cafes, pubs, restaurants, clubs, a clothing store, florist, electrical goods, agricultural products, and more.
In saying that, there are no fast food chains, no really large franchises, no malls or shopping centres, and not even a Bunnings – and those guys are everywhere!
Because why not? Waiting for three or more cars is considered a traffic jam, and there are no traffic lights for over 100kms. Oh the serenity!
Yes it is a long way but why not try somewhere new, try something new. Come out and enjoy the countryside, disconnect from the rest of the world, wind down, relax and rewind in a quieter lifestyle.
Tack on a visit whilst passing through, make a weekend of it, or more if needed. Come and enjoy the countryside, get a glimpse of country life and work out why Hay should not be called such a boring bit of the road trip. If you want a local guide to give you some history I’m sure you will be able to find one.
There is also a wide variety of native wildlife around including kangaroos, emus, eagles, hawks, foxes, rabbits, occasionally echidnas, snakes and spiders – but no crocodiles. Keep an eye out and see what you can see.
Hay’s location and semi-arid conditions mean that summer time here is hot, very hot. It is a dry heat and temperatures can and do go above the late 30s/40s fairly often. In winter this gets reversed with cold nights and cool days, often feeling cold enough to snow it has never been known to, but jack frosts and fog can be common.
Spring or autumn are beautiful times to visit when the weather is a bit easier to handle. When the plains are lush and green they are a bit more appealing than the hot, dried off yellow grass in summer. The warmth of summer does mean you can make the most of the local cooling off options though – be it at the river, the pool or indoor in one of the four pubs.
DRIVE: Having a car is the easiest way to get to and around Hay. Also as the distances are great between towns and the smaller localities between don’t always have fuel – make sure to travel on a full tank. There are almost zero trees, so unless you are near the river, a (dry) creek bed or a farm house make sure you have some form of shade in case your car breaks down.
BUS: There is a bus service that passes through town on its way from Adelaide to Sydney. The timings aren’t the most practical but that is due to the main clientele at either end. You can check out timetables on the NSW Trainlink website.
FLY: Well, yes there is an airport but only small aircraft use it and no commercial passenger flights arrive. If flying is your choice though, it means arriving at Griffith or Wagga, which are both 1.5hrs and 2.5hrs away respectively.
TRAIN: Unfortunately even though we have a stunning, old railway station the tracks have been cut and it is no longer in use. The bus service runs through town because of some old law requiring transport to locations with such railway stations.
HITCH: I take no responsibility for your safety in regards to hitch-hiking, but this could be an option as there are always people going up and down the roads so maybe this could be an option for you. On some days and certain highways you will have more vehicles then others, including large trucks, so be careful. I have seen a few hitchhikers on the roads before but haven’t had to do it myself.
WALK/BIKE: I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this unless you are very well prepared. I have seen people cycle through town but for charity and with a lot of knowledge about what they are doing. Prickles galore mean flat tyres are likely, plus the heat and wind can be killers when cycling even though it is easy on the flat. Walking would take a long time.
Distance is often referred to in time as opposed to kilometres, so if you want certain things you better be prepared to search elsewhere. Driving times as follows:
- The sea – 4.5 hours
- Filthy fast food chains – 1 hour drive min.
- Delicious Italian food / the second biggest town – 1.5hrs
- Nearest city – 2/2.5hrs min.
- Victorian border – 2 hours
- Melbourne – 4.5hrs
- Sydney – 8 hrs
- The famous Australian poet Banjo Patterson wrote a poem called “Hay, Hell and Booligal”.
- There is a mini cooper stuck on a pole at the entrance way to a property – see if you can find it. It marks the location for the Hay Mini Nationals held every June Long Weekend.
- You may have heard of the Deni Ute Muster in October. It is an hour away from Hay and was once offered to the town as an event but got turned down. At least it now makes explaining Hay’s location easier – one hour north of the muster.
- Shannon Noll filmed his film clip to the song “Drive” in Hay and on the Plains back in the early 2000s, have a squizz and see what it’s like.
- It’s flat, very flat, and sometimes chickens still cross the road…