The outback is big, of that you can be sure. But it’s also diverse, challenging and overwhelming if you don’t have a little direction. With so much to see and do across this vast nation, we’ve narrowed it down to the best of the best in the outback. Here’s our top 10 spots to truly appreciate and experience the extraordinary phenomena that is Australia’s outback.
Located literally in the heart of Queensland, Longreach is slap bang in the middle of the Sunshine State on the junctions of several old stock routes. Named after the “long reach” of the Thomson River and gazetted in 1886, this historic town is the stuff of legends. Surrounded by some of Australia’s best cattle and sheep country, harsh times led locals to branch out into tourism, and it’s this new identity that draws travellers to Longreach today. The Stockman’s Hall of Fame, Qantas Founders Museum and station experiences like those on offer at Camden Park give visitors an insight into life on the land, the heritage of Queensland and the characters who are the backbone of the outback.
For some it may have been Priscilla who put Broken Hill on the map, but the true origins of the Silver City are entrenched in the discovery of silver and lead in the 1880’s. Broken Hill holds the title of Australia’s longest running mining town, with the isolated post peaking in the 1950’s and still functioning today. Visually stunning in so many ways, the town is set on the doorstep of red, rocky sprawling desert, is dotted with historic buildings like the iconic Palace Hotel, and is home to more than 30 galleries showcasing works inspired by the NSW outback. Broken Hill is also just a stone’s throw from Silverton and the intriguing setting for films such as Mad Max. Well worth a visit, Australia’s first heritage listed city should definitely be on you outback to-do list!
Located in the north of South Australia some 850km up the Stuart Highway from Adelaide, is the remarkable town of Coober Pedy. The opal capital of the world is hidden away under the ground of the intriguing lunar landscape of the gibber plain. It’s not just the mines of the world’s largest producer of opals that are underground though. As a means of escaping the intense heat of one of Australia’s hottest climates, houses, cafes, churches and hotels are also all built underground. It’s a unique experience not to be missed! You’ll see life in a completely different way when you descend to the cooler reaches of the outback desert in Coober Pedy.
Covering hundreds of thousands of square kilometres, the Kimberley is one of the world’s last wilderness frontiers. This precious region is home to outback stations, canyons, gorges, swimming holes, wildlife and the impressive Bungle Bungles. This collection of beehive-like domes clustered together in the Purnululu National Park is best seen from the air. For another perspective, consider cruising the Kimberley coast where expeditions showcase the wild, rugged coastline and prolific wildlife which includes birds, dolphins, saltwater crocs and whales. This is outback nature at its best, and it just doesn’t get much more beautiful!
UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park almost speaks for itself. It’s rugged escarpments, lush wetlands, cascading waterfalls and Aboriginal rock art whisper a calling to anyone who wants to see something truly uniquely Australian. Just a few hours from Darwin and the world changes to one abundant with birds, crocodiles, fish and other wildlife. There’s unspoilt vistas, breathtaking sunsets and equally stunning sunrises. Take in a visit to the Warradjan Cultural Centre and experience a cruise the Yellow Water Billabong. But be sure to discover the extensive collection of Aboriginal rock art dating up to 20,000 years old. Kakadu really does hold adventure at its heart, be sure you pack your spirit for the exotic when you head for this amazing outback region in the Top End.
Whether in flood or not, the beauty of Lake Eyre is without question. Visitors can expect to see vastness, and won’t be disappointed. From South Australia’s largest copper and gold mines Cairn Hill and Peculiar Knob, to the famous Dingo Proof Fence. There’s the Anna Creek Painted Hills, an area only accessible and visible by air, and Anna Creek Station, the largest cattle station in the world. Belt Bay is the lowest point below sea level in Australia, and the beautiful, green delta of the Neales River is a stark contrast to the rich red earth that is the cattle country of The Peake Station. You’ll be amazed at the variety on offer in the outback region of Lake Eyre.
In no other way can you experience the vastness of the Australian outback as you can when you cross the wide open space that is the Nullarbor Plain. This is a truly epic outback experience straddling two states and covering a distance of 1256km between the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia and the goldfields of Western Australia. Although the Nullarbor takes its name from the Latin for ‘no trees’, be prepared for mulga scrub, bluebush, the chance of wildflowers after the rain, and a collection of wildlife including kangaroos, camels and emus. Crossing the Nullarbor by car requires meticulous preparation and extra stocks, travelling by train is one of the world’s greatest rail experiences.
It doesn’t get much bigger than Uluru, the true ‘red centre’ of the Northern Territory, right at the heart of Australia, this is as outback as you can get. Walk around the base of this impressive monolith, watch the sunrise from behind it, then go for some altitude and marvel at this magnificent rock from a scenic flight above it. You can ride camels at Uluru, see the mind-boggling Field of Light and then sit beneath a star studded sky and listen to dreamtime stories at the Sounds of Silence dinner. Surely there’s no other singular image that captures the outback quite as well as Uluru, connecting past and present, a symbol of the heart of Australia.
South Australia’s outback landscape is surprising and inspiring at just about every turn. And the 500-odd million year old region of the Flinders Ranges is the pinnacle of drama and beauty within the state. The highlight for many is the spectacular ancient geological formation that is Wilpena Pound. Formed by the shifting of Teutonic plates, The Pound and surrounds is best appreciated from above. For a more earth-side experience of this outback region, a drive along the Oodnadatta Track must be considered a quintessential outback experience. At 620km, this epic unsealed road follows a traditional Aboriginal trading route and the original old Ghan Railway. There’s historic sites along the way to compliment the vast scenery on offer, South Australia really does pack a punch when it comes to stunning outback vistas.
Rolling west from Birdsville, the Simpson Desert is the largest parallel sand dune on earth. More than 1,100 sandy red ‘waves’ varying in height from 3m to 30m and extending for up to 200km, roll across the Corner Country and beyond to create an epic outback vista like none other. The life-giving waters of the Great Artesian Basin rise in natural springs throughout the Simpson to sustain the unique flora and fauna of the region. And after seasonal flooding visitors can expect to see a host of birdlife, reptiles, wildflowers as well as the constant, yet ever changing, dry red sandy plains. Generally reserved for those with 4WD experience, Fun over Fifty has recently introduced a new way to explore this ultimate outback adventure. You can read more about that here.