Indigenous culture, enriching wildlife experiences, challenging hikes and awe-inspiring landscapes make for an epic outback holiday every city family should enjoy at least once. Here’s how to make it a seamless – and fun – trip.
When you think of the outback, the Northern Territory often springs to mind; it’s the quintessential red-soil, scorching-sun, desert-adventure destination.
How to get to the Red Centre
There are two options for easily reaching the Red Centre from a city – flying into Uluru or Alice Springs. If you only have a few days, hop on a plane to Ayers Rock Airport and tour around Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).
If you have a week or more, fly into Alice (from most capitals) and hire a car to see the highlights, before driving five hours’ south-west to Uluru, from where you can depart.
The standout properties for families visiting the Red Centre are Desert Gardens Hotel and the slightly more budget-friendly Outback Pioneer Hotel & Lodge, both within the multi-layered complex that is Ayres Rock Resort. In Alice, you’ll want to take the tribe to Crowne Plaza Alice Springs Lasseters, where there are a handful of eateries and a pool.
If you pick the former, you’ll be privy to plenty of free activities, such as bush-tucker talks, and have easy access to all there is to do around Uluru. If you’re road-tripping around, there’s also a campground at Ayres Rock Resort, and you won’t want to miss Kings Canyon Resort, in Watarrka National Park, if you have time to delve deeper.
The Desert Gardens hotel makes a case for outback luxury.
From hiking around Uluru to getting up close to desert reptiles and soaring above the scorched earth in a hot-air balloon, the highlights reel of the Red Centre is long. The top must-dos for families, however, are joining a ranger-guided walk around Uluru (and into the Olgas, if time allows), going for a sunset plod atop a camel, and being mesmerised by the Field of Light art installation that illuminates the landscape when night falls.
Okay, it’s too hard to stick to three, so we’re adding in catching a birds-of-prey show at Alice Springs Desert Park.
Kings Canyon, Watarrka National Park.
Large swathes of Queensland make up the outback, from the starry skies of Charleville to the mines of Mt Isa and the giant rust-red dunes around Birdsville.
How to get to Outback Queensland
The main outback hubs you can fly to are Mt Isa, Longreach, Charleville, Richmond and Birdsville, and all have plenty of attractions for families. If flying isn’t an option, consider a stress-free Queensland Rail Travel journey from a seaside city.
Where to stay in Outback Queensland
There are a tonne of accommodation choices in Outback Queensland purely based on the size of the region. If you’re a camper, you’re spoilt, but for those who prefer bricks and mortar, the Birdsville Hotel (part of the iconic Birdsville Pub) has comfortable, basic motel-style rooms; The Rocks Motel is a simple but modern option in Charleville; while Mitchell Grass Retreat in Longreach has stylish glamping tents with plenty of space for families.
You haven’t truly “done” QLD until you’ve visited the iconic Birdsville Hotel.
What to do in Outback Queensland
At the very top of our list is Queensland’s dinosaur trail, a 735 kilometre loop that takes in Richmond, Winton and Hughenden, and features fascinating dinosaur fossils and exhibits.
Other fun experiences include dressing up in miner’s overalls and a head lamp and venturing deep underground for a Mount Isa Hard Times Mine Tour, walking onto the wing of a 747 plane (12 years +) at QANTAS Founders Museum in Longreach, and climbing to the top of Big Red, the tallest sand dune in the Simpson Desert.
From Outback Queensland to the world.
From Lightning Ridge to Broken Hill and the farming heartland of Hay, the NSW Outback offers families authentic, quirky, old-fashioned holiday fun.
How to get to the NSW Outback
It’s a little harder to reach the NSW Outback quickly from the city, with many destinations making for great road trips, instead of being on airline networks. However, REX flies to Broken Hill, and there are numerous other regional hubs (via REX or otherwise) that are within easy reach (with the help of a hire car or tour) of outback centres such as Bourke.
Where to stay in the NSW Outback
Broken Hill is the obvious choice to head to if you’re after a quick escape from the city – and it’s a great destination for all ages. Broken Hill’s The Palace Hotel, made famous by Priscilla Queen of the Desert, is oozing outback character with colourful murals and a wide range of rooms. If you’re road-tripping, call past Bourke and stay at Trilby Station, with cottages and campsites on the Darling River.
Trilby Station is a roughly 130,000-hectare property near the village of Louth in Outback NSW.
What to see in the NSW Outback
The list is never-ending but here are our picks: Bells Milk Bar and Museum for a spider (fizzy drink and ice-cream) in Broken Hill; Silverton Outback Camels for a camel ride; and the Australian Opal Centre in Lightning Ridge to learn about the rainbow gems as well as dinosaur fossils.
Bells is a highlight of Outback NSW.
What to see in the WA and SA Outback
The outback spreads into Western Australia and South Australia, too, and although the towns and hubs are a little harder to reach, they shouldn’t be discounted. Easy jaunts for city families include Karijini National Park via Tom Price for a few days’ hiking into canyons and gorges, and 15-metre-high Wave Rock in WA. In South Australia, road-trip to Rawnsley Park Station for a taste of farm life.
Dive into the Karijini wilderness.