There are many places to go, modes of travel to get there and tours of the Australian Outback, Peter Robinson reveals which one may just suit you.
Heck, you don’t even need to own a 4WD.
With a bit of planning, touring the outback in a family sedan is achievable, as is walking or cycling, though a return isn’t guaranteed with those last two. That said, there are supported walking and cycling tours in some outback places such as the spectacular MacDonnell Ranges west of Alice Springs (but doing the solo Big Lap in a pair of runners isn’t recommended).
Major airlines fly to cities and towns in, or on the edge of, the outback. If you’ve got dollars you can charter light aircraft and choppers to almost anywhere and arrange personalised tours on the ground, or simply hire a vehicle for short on-road trips.
There are plenty of tour companies running outback trips in coaches, specially-built 4WD buses for smaller groups, flying tours, or speeding top to bottom by rail on The Ghan, or left to right on the Indian Pacific.
Coach tours are fine for a comfortable hotel/motel overview of an outback region such as Alice Springs, the MacDonnell Ranges, King’s Canyon and Uluru, and AAT Kings is one of the larger companies specialising in this field.
Small-group camping tours by 4WD bus are another way to venture forth without using your own vehicle or finding your GPS bearings, and this is one way to tour the Gibb River Road, for instance, and get a taste of camping at the same time.
Flying tours, or aircruising, is a terrific way to cover vast distances in comfort; veteran adventurer and travel writer Bill Peach has specialised in this tour market for many years. Not cheap, but extremely comfortable and scenic.
Rail travel to the outback has great appeal to enthusiasts, but you’ve got to really love rail journeys. The reality is this: The Ghan travels between Adelaide and Darwin via Alice Springs; a long trip, but if you break the journey at Alice it’s not so tiresome.
You need to travel first class to get a bed, the food’s not too bad, the rails are not smooth, and the scenery whizzes by in a blur of scrub – bypassing the very things that make the outback worthwhile. On the other hand, you can put your car/4WD on the train too, saving a lot of driving in one direction (or both).
In many outback regions it’s unwise to travel alone, so consider a “tag-along” adventure, where a convoy of 4WD vehicles embarks on a journey to remote regions. This style of travel offers safety in numbers, new friends and camping out under the stars, and is usually led by someone who knows the region well. Someone’s sure to have a satellite phone and HF radio. Motoring bodies (RACV, NRMA etc) in most states offer these types of tour and although there are costs involved, the advantages outweigh the expense.