#1: Outback odysseys – The Kimberley, Western Australia Ah, the Kimberley. So out of reach is this mythical land, in terms of both distance and financial means, that it may as well be Australia’s Shangri-la. To really appreciate the region’s many treasures – its boab tree-dotted coast of striking red rock, the wondrously impossible Horizontal Falls, the mystical human forms depicted in the rock art at Wary Bay, and such spectacular waterfalls as Kings Cascades – you need to get to it all quickly by boat. Cruises up this way tend to start north of $10,000, but there is hope for those of us who didn’t make it big on cryptocurrencies this year; you can always roll out a swag on the deck of Ahoy Buccaneers’ yacht, or book a cabin, for a more reasonable ticket to this far-flung corner of ours.
#2: Outback odysseys – Uluru, Northern Territory Last year was a big one for the Rock – the wishes, culture and law of the traditional owners, the Anangu people, were finally officially respected and from 26 October 2019, you’ll no longer be able to climb up this sacred place, an area of secret men’s business. It’s a decision that reinforces what a significant site Uluru is for its traditional owners, something that makes a journey to this most famous of outback destinations so rewarding. Uluru isn’t just a great photo opportunity, something to be conquered; it’s a journey to the core of Anangu existence and a part of Tjukurpa, the foundation time and place within which ancestral beings created the Universe, laws and cultural ways.
#3: Outback odysseys – Arnhem Land, Northern Territory Travelling to the far remote north-east of the NT is not easy; you could fly in but you’ll still have to sit in a 4WD for hours on sandy, ochre dirt roads making your way across rivers to isolated homeland communities, every one of which you’ll need permission to pass through. Heading here is not a holiday; you will sleep alongside its people, often under the stars, and eat traditional bush tucker that may push you beyond your culinary comfort zone, with staples like dugong and turtle eggs. It’s a journey through a wild and barely touched environment, of pristine white beaches and untamed, tropical bush, and the people that live there; you’ll find thriving communities of the Yolngu people, who have in many cases returned to their ancestral homelands from the cities. And what can be a more rewarding journey than that?
#4: Outback odysseys – Wilpena Pound, Ikara Flinders Ranges National Park, South Australia An enigmatic landform that looks like a massive impact crater, Wilpena Pound is often (annoyingly for those who live here) mistaken for being the crater from Wolf Creek. In fact its mountain-ringed bowl is a result of a sedimentary syncline, something for school teachers to get excited about. Indeed, the Geologist’s Drive here is geologist pornography; or would that be just… geography? Come for challenging sunrise walks up into this natural amphitheatre including a section of the famous Heysen Trail, named for the artist who obsessed over the colourful gums in the region. At the end of the day, retire to luxury accommodation including the eco-villas at Rawnsley Park Station or Wilpena Pound Resort for glamping. And you have to drop into the Prairie at Parachilna, just under two hours north, for the feral food platter and fine wines at a traditional outback pub that looks country from the outside but is surprisingly metropolitan within. See, Wilpena Pound is so much more than a crater – ahem, we mean syncline.
#5: Outback odysseys – Carnarvon Gorge, Queensland Walking through our country’s many wonderful and varied national parks, it can be easy to miss out on the similarly striking and unique animals for which these preserved spaces are sanctuary. Carnarvon National Park, 400 kilometres west of Gladstone, could be the most spectacular place in Australia to spot wildlife, its subtropical rainforest surrounded by dramatic sandstone bluffs and run through with Carnarvon Gorge, a staggering 600 metres deep at its mouth and one of Queensland’s most dramatic natural sites. To gain a rich understanding of the flora and fauna here, employ the likes of Australian Nature Guides. Head guide Simon Ling will accompany you deep into the gorge and can identify animals by their calls so you can home in on their location. “Carnarvon Gorge is one of Australia’s great ecological refuges. Exploring the tracks and trails beneath Carnarvon’s magnificent cliffs is like hiking back in time to an era when this part of Queensland was much wetter and cooler,” says Simon. “There are plants and animals here that appear out of place, considering the semi-arid landscapes outside the gorge.” His extensive knowledge of Carnarvon’s plants and wildlife, as well as its cultural history, means you won’t just bag a shot of a swamp wallaby, you’ll understand its crucial role in the ecology too. If you can, book yourself on a Night Safari Tour, where Simon will point out greater and yellow-bellied gliders with a flashlight as they soar from tree to tree.
#6: Outback odysseys – King’s Canyon, Northern Territory “We’ve landed on a strange, mysterious world,” Captain Kirk might have said if he’d beamed down onto the precipice of this canyon. Possessing a striking, grand beauty of sweeping orange sandstone cliffs 100 metres high, Kings Canyon, six hours south-west of Alice Springs and home to the Luritja people for some 20,000 years, demands to be explored. Walking along its rim you feel like you could be the first to set foot on some alien world, the buttresses of rock affording views of an oasis of natural pools fed by Kings Creek below. Once you’ve done the Rim Walk, head down for the spectacular Base Walk. And if you want to see the impressive scale of this deep wound in the desert, take a helicopter tour over it with Kings Canyon Resort.
#7: Outback odysseys – Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, Northern Territory Whether it’s an endless sea of red sand, or the minimalist aesthetic of a desert dotted with hardy shrubs and delicate wildflowers, the outback often comes across as homogenous expanses, spectacular as they are nonetheless. It’s when nature suddenly decides to get creative across these canvases like a frenzied Jackson Pollock that things start to get really interesting. Take Nitmiluk Gorge in its namesake national park, just 30 kilometres from the township of Katherine. In fact, 13 gorges here suddenly sink down into the wilderness of bush, a process that has taken the Katherine River thousands of years, witnessed over the course of many generations by the Jawoyn people. Allow them to show you their home with tours of raging waterfalls, ancient rock-art sites and cruises along the river by kayak or boat through their company Nitmiluk Tours. It also means you can enjoy it all with a stay at the gorgeous Cicada Lodge too.
#8: Outback odysseys – The Nullabor, South Australia It’s a plain; a whole lot of nothing (Nullarbor means ‘no trees’ in Latin after all), the presence of absence as it were. Or is it? Drive along one of the longest sections of straight road in the world (about 146 kilometres of bitumen without a turn), and you should spot the country’s biggest (feral) land mammal, the camel; desert flowers stretching off for infinity that bloom into colourful life with the seasons; and magnificent sunsets setting it all off with low desert light come evening. A drive here is time enough for endless contemplation, but don’t simply set your cruise control and fall asleep at the wheel. Take one of the tracks that stab off the Eyre Highway to see what the Nullarbor and its namesake national park are all about: staggering views of the Great Australian Bight, where the desert scrub comes to an abrupt end at vertical sea cliffs, the Southern Ocean beyond. From May to October, you’ll spot southern right whales gathering off the coast to calve. It seems the presence of absence can be something very beautiful indeed.
#9: Outback odysseys – Longreach and Winton, Queensland Perhaps overlooked for the bucket-list greats of the outback, a visit to the dusty frontier town of Longreach pays rich dividends. While you could spend weeks travelling around the Kimberley, there’s so much to do around Longreach in the space of a weekend. Learn about the origins of our national airline at the Qantas Founders Museum and don’t miss the ode to cowboy life at the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame. Just under two hours’ drive north, see the largest collection of Aussie dino fossils in the world at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, before exploring classic outback town Winton and its new, improved Matilda Centre (reopened on 20 April), the world’s first museum dedicated to a song.
#10: Outback odysseys – William Creek, South Australia The town is little more than a tin shed watering hole, but among the colourful local characters at the William Creek Hotel you’ll meet intrepid travellers who have tackled great outback journeys to get here; perhaps you’ll be inspired to embark on an adventure yourself. Perched on the fringes of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park (make sure you take a scenic flight over the lake), William Creek feels like it’s a crossroads for the entire outback. Will you head west to the quirky mining opal town of Coober Pedy? North on the epic Oodnadatta Track all the way to the Red Centre or even on to Darwin? Or east to Marree and then north on the Birdsville Track to catch the iconic races just over the border in Queensland? 4WD recommended! Perhaps, years later, you’ll be back to regale others with your experiences at the William Creek Hotel.