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Best Destinations in the Australian Outback

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Quintessentially Aussie, this land of scorched red desert, secret canyon trails and awe-inspiring skies is easily accessible despite its remoteness that spans 6.5 million square kilometres.

Exploring the outback is one of the top things to do for any traveller who heads out on a visit to Australia. Start from Adelaide and drive north on the Explorer Highway, or fly into Darwin and go south through ancient, tropical landscape. Whichever route you take, you will see some of Australia’s most incredible natural wonders on your Aussie outback adventure.

1. Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park, Yulara

The Uluru rock is an iconic landscape of the Australian outback
The Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park is one of the most popular outback destinations.

One of the most iconic and sacred sites in Australia, this geological marvel located inside the Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park in Yulara is a must-see on any outback tour. Be sure to go at sunrise or sunset, catching the changing colours in all their glory as the light hits the 600 million-year-old monolith.

  • Attractions:
    • Ride a camel, touring off-road across the desert at sunset
    • Hike around the base on a 10.6 km loop walk for a chance to see native wildlife and picturesque water-holes
    • Visit the Anangu Cultural Centre. See unique Aboriginal art and listen to ancient stories, supporting the local way of life
    • Star-gaze — this region has some of the clearest skies on the planet. Find accommodation around the national park or a dining experience under the starry sky to enjoy the most of the outback’s skies
    • Join a guided walk through Kantju Gorge with a local Aboriginal bushranger
    • Trek to the Kata Tjuta (“the Olgas”) rock formations and hike across the Valley of the Winds
  • Best time to visit: Go during the cooler months between May and October, when the desert sun is less harsh and daytime walking is much safer. A winter visit also means you’ll see more vibrant colours in the ancient landscape, as well as a greater chance of seeing native wildlife and waterfalls in the canyons.

2. Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon is a great destination to experience the Australian outback
Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park is midway between Alice Springs and Uluru Kata-Tjuta National Park.

The stunning scenery of Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park is an unforgettable addition to your journey through Australia’s Northern Territory. Midway between Uluru and Alice Springs, the canyon can be reached overland by the Stuart or Lasseter Highways. The immense sandstone gorge, lush palm forests and 20,000 years of Luritja Aboriginal history make this a unique and captivating region.

  • Attractions:
    • Fly in a helicopter for a bird’s-eye view of the landscape at sunrise
    • Enjoy fine dining under starry skies at the Kings Canyon Resort
    • Go on a waterfall trail with a local Aboriginal guide
    • Watch the sun come up during a canyon rim walk
    • Go glamping at Kings Creek Station
  • Best time to visit: Between May and October is the best time to visit this region. It is drier and cooler, with a greater chance of seeing waterfalls and native bush wildlife.

3. Alice Springs

Alice Springs is the gateway to most of Australia's outbacks
The famous Larapinta Trail passes by Glen Helen Gorge shown in the picture.
The Rainbow Valley Conservation Area is an important archaeological site
The scenic landscapes of Rainbow Valley Conversation Area are best viewed during sunrise or sunset. It is situated 75 km south of Alice Springs.

While it won’t win any awards for beauty, this city has so much going on beneath its peaceful surface. As the main base from which to join outback tours in the red center of Australia, Alice Springs should feature in your itinerary.

  • Attractions:
    • Book online for a visit to the Kangaroo Sanctuary and get to meet some rescued ‘roos up-close.
    • Hike the Larapinta Trail with a local guide for a cultural, spiritual and educational experience in some of Australia’s most spell-binding landscape
    • Discover the rich pioneering history of the area with a visit to the Telegraph Station
    • There are numerous museums to visit in this city. You can find exhibitions about the flying doctors, fabulous fossils, ancient Aboriginal artifacts and modern methods of transportation.
  • Best time to visit: The cooler months between May and October are best, having ideal temperatures to walk around comfortably and safely in the desert. Take warmer clothes for the chilly nights.

4. Coober Pedy

This Aussie outback town is famous for being mostly built underground
An opal mining town in the Aussie outback, coober Pedy is famous for mostly being built underground.

This historic mining town on the Stuart Highway south of Alice Springs is remarkable for being mostly built underground. A welcome break on a desert tour through Australia’s scorching heart, the town offers some interesting things to see and do.

  • Attractions:
    • Visit the Umoona Mine and Museum, see the world’s largest opal displays and opal fossils, as well as Aboriginal art and culture
    • Take a tour out of town to the Breakaways Conservation Park for photogenic scenery that was featured in the movie Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome
    • Sleep underground in a 4-star subterranean hotel
    • Visit the township’s underground church, art gallery and “dugout” homes on a guided walking tour
  • Best time to visit: The winter months between May and October are best, as the days are not as hot in the desert. Take something warm for the evenings as the desert nights can be fiercely cold.

5. The Nullarbor Plain

Australian outback nullarbor
The Nullarbor Plain is home to the longest straight road of Australia spanning 146 kilometers.

Taking its name from the Latin for ‘no trees’, the Nullarbor Plain is a dramatic treeless landscape of semi-arid scrub stretching between the Great Australian Bight and Great Victoria Desert. Large enough to be visible from space, crossing the Nullarbor is as quintessentially Australian as any outback journey.

  • Attractions:
    • Take to the road and explore the world’s largest single expanse of limestone
    • Check out the remains of the telegraph system
    • Jump aboard the Trans-Australian Railway from Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie, crossing the Nullarbor in style
    • Drive along Australia’s longest straight section of tarred road on the Eyre Highway
    • Play golf at Cook, a small town with just 40 permanent inhabitants
  • Best time to visit: The Nullarbor’s semi-arid to desert climate means the area can hit 50°C at the height of the summer, which lasts from December to February. Winter nights (June to August) can be equally shocking, with temperatures falling below zero, making May to October the best time to visit overall.

6. Flinders Ranges

australian outback flinders ranges
View the Wilpena Pound amphitheater from a scenic flight.
Australian outback, driving in the flinders ranges
Flinders Ranges is situated 500 km north of Adelaide and can be reached in a 4X4.

Situated roughly 500 km north of Adelaide, the Flinders Ranges offers some spectacular hiking opportunities, incredible all-terrain driving, and wonderful sights. The 600-million year old landscapes are rich in aboriginal history, and are an important habitat for many of the country’s most endearing species too.

  • Attractions:
    • Spend the night beneath the stars in a luxury campsite
    • Sample kangaroo and emu in a traditional outback pub
    • Take in the stunning sickle-shaped Wilpena Pound amphitheatre of mountains on a scenic light aircraft flight
    • Enjoy a self-drive tour along the Aboriginal Dreaming Trail to discover more about the region’s original inhabitants
    • Ride the Coffee Pot steam train of the Pichi Pichi Railway on the last remaining section of the historic narrow-gauge Ghan line
  • Best time to visit: Although the busiest time of year in the Flinders Ranges, the months of June to August offer the best overall climate, with reasonable temperatures and very little rain. March to May, and September to November are also good times to visit, although temperatures can get chilly at times.

7. Kimberley region and Broome

Australian outback Kimberley
Visit Cable Beach and join a camel train while watching the stunning sunset.

The Kimberley region and Broome is the northernmost region in Western Australia. With a tropical Indian Ocean coastline and impressive array of natural landscapes, from river gorges of red rock to soft sand beaches, it is also one of Australia’s least visited areas, making it ripe for adventure.

  • Attractions:
    • Join a camel train for a sunset like no other on Cable Beach, Broome
    • Go all-terrain on the 600 km Gibb River Road
    • Enjoy the romantic beaches of the Dampier Peninsula and Cape Leveque
    • Tumble through the Horizontal Falls of Talbot Bay on a float plane and speedboat excursion
    • Experience the world famous ‘Staircase to the Moon’ phenomenon on Roebuck Bay
    • Explore the gin-clear waters of Willie Creek as part of a guided pearl farm tour
  • Best time to visit: The best weather in the Kimberley can be had between April and October, when the air is warm and skies clear. The time between mid-June and mid-August is best avoided as this is peak season.

8. Darwin

The capital of Australia's Northern Territory, Darwin is a laid-back city
The outback capital, Darwin provides the best of both worlds, a cosmopolitan city life and the red outback of Australia.

The capital of Australia’s Northern Territory offers countless activities to emerge in thanks to its sublime coastal scenery, a laid-back vibe and trendy artisan markets. It’s also the gateway to the Kakadu National Park, a magnificent landscape of crocodile-infested rivers, exotic birdlife and ancient Aboriginal culture, including 20,000-year old rock paintings and Litchfield National Park, consisting of beautiful waterfalls where visitors can cool down in the outback's harsh weather. 

  • Attractions:
    • Take a sunset cruise in Darwin Harbour, enjoying a fine meal with a few sundowner drinks on the deck
    • Go snorkeling in the clear waters of Berry Springs Nature Park
    • Sample world cuisine at the weekly Mindil Beach Sunset Market
    • Join a qualified guide on a search for saltwater crocodiles
    • See fascinating Aboriginal rock art sites in Kakadu National Park with a local guide
  • Best time to visit: Darwin has a pleasant, balmy climate from April to October, with wonderful sunny, dry days. The rainy season starts in November, and the wettest, stormiest months are between January and March. Aussie wet season weather is notoriously unpredictable, with a risk of floods and cyclones.

What to take with you on an Australian Outback Trip

Wherever you go in Australia’s red centre, it is vital to be prepared and appropriately equipped. Essentials for your trip are:

  • Fresh drinking water; stay hydrated in the unforgiving heat of one of the world’s largest deserts with at least 2 bottles of water
  • Strong, durable walking boots or shoes
  • Protection from the sun: lip protection, high SPF sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat are a must-pack
  • Appropriate clothing; Australia is beneath a hole in the earth’s protective ozone layer, so cover up when you can
  • Warm clothing; although the outback can reach temperatures up to 45 degrees, it drops significantly low during the night 
  • Insect repellent, particularly around areas of still water
  • A mobile phone with good battery life

Australian Outback tours take you through some of the most dramatic, remote and awe-inspiring scenery on the planet. For a chance to encounter local culture, unique wildlife and incredible landscape take a tour in Australia and let a professional guide show you some of the best sights this country has to offer.

Editor’s note: This travel article was originally published on 18 June 2018, but has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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