The Australian Outback takes up much of Australia, though most live along or near the coastlines of the continent, leaving it rather sparsely populated. While there may not be many people here, there’s lots to see and do. This dry and remote region is home to a wide variety of impressive natural features, plants and animals, so how is it best explored? Consider putting these top things to do on your itinerary for an especially unforgettable getaway.
**Update: This article was originally written before the devastating fires in Australia. For more information and how you can help, go here.
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You can’t visit The Outback without visiting Uluru, an iconic symbol that’s been depicted on countless postcards and travel brochures for decades, considered one of the top places to visit in Australia. Lying in the heart of red rock country in the remote Uluru-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, the striking red monolith looms over the landscape at 1,141 feet, forming its centerpiece. It also bears multiple inscriptions made by ancestral indigenous peoples. In addition to this “rock,” the park also showcases fiery-hued dome-shaped rocks known as Kata Tjuta. Just before sunset, visitors gather to watch the Kata Tjuta as they’re transformed in the changing light.
Spot Wildlife in Alice Springs Desert Park
Alice Springs Desert Park is considered by many to be the best wildlife park in the Outback, showcasing lots of Central Australia’s plants and animals through three different desert habitats. You’ll be able to check out the dingoes, emus and kangaroos, who just might try to untie your shoelaces if you stand in one place for too long. There are also free-flying bird demonstrations, with birds of prey that swoop down from the sky. Don’t miss the Nocturnal House where you can discover some of the rare creatures that you aren’t likely to see in the wild, like the spinifex-hopping mouse, the southern marsupial mole and the bilby.
Take a Helicopter Flight Over Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a biodiverse wonderland, home to about a fifth of all the nation’s animals, including some 10,000 crocodiles, including both salties and freshwater crocs. Other wildlife highlights include kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos, quolls and dugongs, along with exotic bird species like the hooded parrot and lorikeets. The landscape also hosts impressive thundering waterfalls and ancient Aboriginal rock art. Arguably the best way to see this vast land is by air, with a helicopter tour allowing one to truly appreciate its immense size while enjoying a bird’s eye view over it all. If you’re celebrating something special, make sure to add this to your bucket list.
Ride the Ghan
This luxury train expedition takes passengers through endless views of some of Australia’s most breathtaking wilderness areas in one of the most comfortable ways imaginable. It’s your chance to witness some of Australia’s most remote towns and the striking beauty of the Outback, while making unforgettable stops at places like Alice Springs, Uluru Rock, and so much more. It begins in Darwin, and over four days and three nights it travels through the red heart of Australia and on to Adelaide, including several off-train excursions like a cruise on the Katherine River.
Catch a Sunset from the Back of a Camel
While you probably don’t picture camels when you envision Australia, the country is actually home to the largest camel herd in the world. There are more than 750,000 of the animals living here, after being imported during the 19th-century to help with the challenging work required in the Outback. They were perfectly situated to the environment and today, there are thousands that roam wild. Visitors can enjoy camel rides in places like Broome in the Kimberley region, watching a sunset while riding on the back of a camel across seemingly endless white sands edged by a turquoise sea.
Explore Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy was bizarrely built underground, constructed out of old abandoned mines in the middle of nowhere in the Australian desert, some 500 miles away from the coastal capital of Adelaide. Residents make their home underground to remain protected from the searing heat of the sun – it’s far too hot here to live like traditional dwellers above ground with temperatures reaching as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit. All of the homes, restaurants, churches and other structures are built underground and into the sides of the surrounding mountains. You can stay overnight in an underground hotel, visit a working opal mine, museums and underground churches.
Hike to the Rim of Kings Canyon With an Aboriginal Elder Gudie
Kings Canyon rises nearly 900 feet above sea level in the heart of the red rock country, forged over hundreds of millions of years through the layers of sandstone and hard shale, which produced soaring domes and plateaus that spill down to an oasis with natural rock pools and all sorts of native flora. Embarking on a hike to the rim is one of the best ways to explore it, with guided walks available, led by Aboriginal elders who regale trekkers with the fascinating information about the area and its history.
Marvel at Lake Eyre
Lake Eyre is the largest salt lake in the country, and also its lowest point below sea level. Usually it’s dry, mile after mile of white salt, but several times during any given century, it floods after heavy rainfall and becomes the largest lake in Australia. If you’re lucky enough to be here when it happens, you don’t want to miss it, though it’s worth a visit to see when it’s dry as well.
Take a road trip to Broken Hill
Broken Hill has been awarded one of Australia’s rare National Heritage listings and is known as one of the country’s most famous mining towns. While it’s miles from anywhere, it offers a magnificent range of diverse landscapes to discover, from lush wetlands and lakes to incredible flat-topped mesas and shimmering desert plains. Explore the Living Desert Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, a short drive from town, where sculptures sit on top of hills in the desert reserve. For a panoramic view of the city, visit the Line of Lode Miners Memorial, an impressive architectural structure commemorating over 800 miners who lost their lives on the job.