Travel Destinations

The Australian Outback: As Close To Another Planet That You Can Get

The continent, island and country of Australia is a very strange place, as those three terms don’t usually go together. While you can certainly find plenty of fun and familiar tourist attractions along the coasts (from small resort towns to cosmopolitan cities to exciting amusement parks), you don’t have to travel that far into the nation’s interior before things start getting weird. The forests and towns give way to a massive expanse of land that gets very little water and even fewer visitors. 

This area is called The Outback, and while it covers several different states, it is unifying in the sense that it offers a completely different travel experience than anywhere else on earth. While the aboriginal tribespeople have long called it home (and there are many unique cultural landmarks where you can learn much about their community), its barren natural beauty is chiefly what makes it so unforgettable. Renting a car and driving across this area is certainly something you need to do because it will quickly remind you that life is indeed short.

Highways and Homesteads

While there is an incredible railway journey available that goes from the southern coastal city of Adelaide to the northern coastal city of Darwin and cuts right through the centre of the Outback, the best way to truly experience this area is with a car (and the rail journey is quite expensive, meaning you probably have to get a side gig waiting tables or becoming a trans sugar baby to afford a ticket).

Starting in Adelaide from the south of Brisbane from the east makes the most sense, and after only a few hours of driving will both civilization and familiar forests give away to middling vegetation of an almost desert. 

Preparation is a must, because other than the handful of towns – sometimes separated by hundreds of miles (and kilometres) – there aren’t really any service centres for you to fuel up and buy snacks.

Instead, there are homesteads, which are just what they sound like. Homes with maybe a gas pump or shed that might sell some (overpriced) supplies. Some of these are marked on official maps, and some are not. Sometimes the gas pumps are full, sometimes they are not. This sort of uncertainty might strike fear in most travellers, but for a small group of adventurers, it is part of the challenge.

Another thing to consider is that these aren’t perfectly paved four-lane highways with full on-off ramps. Two-lane paved roads quickly give way to gravel ones, and sometimes these are laden with pot-holes and sand traps. Having a spare tire with your car (ideally a 4X4 SUV) is a must because you might not even see the size of the hole you’re going over until it’s too late.

However for these small towns and homesteads, supplies must be delivered, and to save time and money, Australian transport companies have road trains, which are horsepower-heavy trucks that carry up to four trailers behind it. These monsters can kick up quite a lot of dust and debris, so pulling over long before they pass you by and giving them plenty of space is essential. 

You don’t have to stray far off these highways to really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. In fact, sometimes it doesn’t even seem like you’re pulling over since there might not be another car on the road for hours. Making sure you have plenty of water and food is important, because you can be sure there won’t be any phone service (meaning you can’t get check your email or visit that squirt gay site, let alone emergency services).

Uluru/Ayers Rock

Close to the very centre of the country is the incredible natural wonder, Uluru (which is its aboriginal name, and Ayers Rock is what the arriving British colonists called it). It is a massive stone structure that just sits there, looking big. While it may sound underwhelming, seeing it rise out of the ground when there is nothing else around it for miles is absolutely impressive, and many visit just to see the sunset behind it so you can see it change colour from a soft brown to a spectacular red.

Alice Springs

While only having a population of 26,000 people, that’s enough to make this town a sprawling metropolis in the middle of The Outback. It is the main stop on the rail line between Adelaide and Darwin, and while it was first put on the map because of gold being discovered nearby, it has mainly existed as a tourist hub for several decades.

This means that in addition to taking advantage of the natural wonders nearby in the form of hiking trips and camel tours, there is also plenty of oddball Group Fun like hot air balloon rides and visiting animal parks.

While the aforementioned Uluru is still 350 kilometres (210 miles) away from the town, it is the typical starting point for bus and 4WD tours for those who want to visit that landmark.

Boulia

To go absolutely otherworldly, you have to visit Boulia. Even by Outback standards, it’s quite out of the way, 800 kilometres (500 miles) northeast of Alice Springs (as we said, The Outback is big). It is at the crossroads of a handful of Outback highways, but not many people stick around long since the population of the town is only 300.

There is a main street that feels a bit like a Wild West movie town, and that’s almost it. Almost, because there is also the spooky phenomenon known as the Min Min Lights. While played up for years by locals as proof of alien visitors, it has been researched by many historians. It is a bit unfortunate that there is a scientific explanation (atmospheric refraction, involving cold air trapped below warm air) for why it happens.