The Australian Outback

sand dune in the australian outbackBesides the populated areas in Australia, it is the Australian Outback that speaks most to the imagination when thinking of the Australian continent. Massive areas of desert, where very little is growing, and life can be very harsh. Yet, this is an area very suitable for adventure travel, since travelling through the deserts is an adventure in itself.

When asked, most people can only mention Ayers Rock as an attraction in the Australian Outback. But the outback has much more to offer. In fact, it consists of many different areas, each with its own characteristics.

Rita Amend has travelled to Australia several times since 1990, and can be considered to be an expert on the Outback. Especially for Adventure Travel Tales and Tips, she wrote an article about adventure travel in the Outback, describing the different regions.

The Australian Outback - An Adventurer's Playground

by Rita Amend

The Australian Outback is vast and sparsely populated. Red sand dunes, semi deserts covered with spinifex and wildflowers, and tropical rainforests are waiting for you. Driving anywhere out there is an adventure in itself. I really love the Outback, and I know you'll love it, too.

The Outback covers several climate zones. The tropical north lies within the monsoon belt, temperatures are much the same around the year. Summer is hot and wet, whereas winter is hot and dry. The centre of Australia has a typical desert climate, hot days and cool nights. Especially in winter the nights can be bloody cold. Further down south you'll find distinctive seasons.

The Australian Outback offers adventurous trips for everyone. There are extremely remote and challenging tracks for experienced travellers, and short trips of two or three days that need little preparation. Travelling from Darwin to Adelaide through the famous red centre, a detour to Uluru included, doesn't even require a 4WD, it is all on sealed roads. But hey, it is a long drive of about 3500 km.

Whatever your choice, it will be an unforgettable adventure in one of the most beautiful places on earth. I can tell you from my own experience. Be prepared, and it'll be the trip of a lifetime. Let me introduce you to some of the highlights waiting for you in the different zones.

The Tropical North

The most famous part of the Tropical North is without a doubt Kakadu National Park. It is a natural wonder. It is on the World Heritage List for both its natural and cultural heritage. Highlights include stunning landscapes, Aboriginal rock art, great wildlife. Kakadu NP covers an area of 20,000 kmĀ². The entry fee entitles you to stay in the park for two weeks - there is so much to explore.

A lesser known attraction in the north is The Gulf Track - the 1000 km track from Roper Bar in the Northern Territory to Normanton in Queensland crosses remote country. Travel around the southern regions of the Gulf of Carpentaria, through forests, and endless bushes. River crossings, loneliness, lack of facilities, and the crocodiles that lurk in the rivers make the Gulf Track a great adventure.

The North West

Australia's vast north west is covered by The Kimberley and Pilbara regions. Waterfalls, gorges, spectacular coastlines, rugged mountain ranges, the Great Sandy Desert - it is a land of grandeur and contrast, and it is huge.

In these regions, the Gibb River Road in the north is an easier track while the Canning Stock Route is considered the hardest and longest 4WD track in Australia, perhaps in the world. This 1700 km track crosses Western Australia's arid heart, and several deserts. Don't think this is boring, the variety of desert landforms and vegetation is amazing.

The Central Deserts

This is what most people refer to as the Australian Outback: deserts, and more deserts far from the sea. But there are attractions here as well:

Ayers Rock (Uluru), The Olgas (Kata Tjuta) & Kings Canyon. These are by far the best known and most visited attractions in central Australia. But even with hundreds of thousand visitors every year you can make your visit an intimate experience (most of the time) if you go on your own.

Uluru Uluru is the number one highlight, and it is an awe-inspiring place. Walk around the rock, or parts of it, and let its magic capture you.

Climbing the rock: though this might appear as a challenge, I ask you please don't do it. Respect the wish of the traditional owners who ask visitors NOT to climb onto their most sacred place.

The Oodnadatta Track is probably the most historic Outback track in Australia. It is one of the easier tracks that can be done by everyone, a good start to gain Outback travelling experience. The Oodnadatta Track follows several mound springs that supplied water for both the Aborigines and the early explorers, though the spring's water contains much salt. The Overland Telegraph Line and the Great Northern Railway Line (Old Ghan) were set up along this route in the 19th century. There are still many relics of the now abandoned railway to be seen along the track. It is my favourite Outback track.

There's a worthwhile detour from Oodnadatta to the Painted Desert, an aera of stunning beauty and a photographer's delight. Don't miss that.

The Simpson Desert is one of the world's most significant examples of dunal desert. It is located within the driest part of Australia. The Simpson has a remarkable system of parallel red sand dunes, which can be up to 40m high and some stretch for 300 to 500 kilometres. The desert covers about 170,000 square kilometres. You are really in for an adventure here.

Bedourie sand dunesThere are no facilities between Mt. Dare homestead / Oodnadatta at the western end of the Simpson desert and Birdsville. There are three major routes that involve total distances between 500 and 760 km. For first time travellers it is highly recommended to travel from west to east as the dunes are not so steep from this side. It goes without saying that you have to be well-prepared for this trip.

The Birdsville Track is another famous and well-known track in the eastern Outback. Like the Oodnadatta Track it starts in Marree if you come from the south. The Birdsville Track was set up as a stock route in the 1860s, it was a really rough and dangerous track then. Today it is a well maintained gravel road that is easy to travel in dry conditions. It is a bit stony and dusty, and it is usually hot out there, so take plenty of water.

There are certainly many more beautiful regions to discover in the Australian Outback. Go for it.


Rita Amend has travelled to Australia several times since 1990. Her trips covered approximately 30,000 km of bumpy Outback roads and lonely highways in Australia's southern and eastern parts. Her love for the Australian Outback finally led into creating Rita's Outback Guide.


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