Draw your attention to this new wave of outback icons that you’ll want to add to your bucket list.
You’ve heard of the big ticket outback destinations but there are a variety of places that have managed to fly under the radar of most Aussie’s bucket lists. It’s time to put the spotlight firmly on these incredible outback places.
1. Karijini National Park, WA
An oasis deep in the Pilbara, some 1400 kilometres from Perth, Karijini’s ancient landscape was carved out over billions of years. Covering more than half a million hectares, this natural wonderland comprises layered ochre-coloured rocks and sheer gorges, interspersed by fern-fringed, emerald-hued waterholes and cascading waterfalls. Hike to the summit of Punurrunha (Mt Bruce) for views of mulga flats or go gorge-hopping to see sunken gardens and deep, cold pools. During the winter months, wildflowers add bursts of colour to the rugged landscape.
Drive to the red, dusty road in Karijini National Park. (Image: Tourism Australia)
2. Purnululu National Park, WA
At the end of the remote Gibb River Road (and then another five hours’ drive), this UNESCO-listed park is worth the detour for the enigmatic Bungle Bungle Ranges, a maze of 250-million-year-old orange-and-black-striped sandstone domes that rise 300 metres out of grassy plains. The supporting acts are just as wondrous, however, including Cathedral Gorge, a natural amphitheatre with euphonious acoustics, and Echidna Chasm, a narrow and steep gorge that you can walk through. It’s best seen at noon when light floods in and illuminates the rocks red and orange.
Marvel at the enigmatic Bungle Bungle Ranges. (Image: Tourism Australia)
3. Northeast Arnhem Land, NT
At the tip of the Northern Territory, Northeast Arnhem Land is a vast and isolated region located on Yolu Country. The region has entered the national psyche, thanks to the annual Garma Festival that is attended by movers and shakers such as current and former PMs. But just off the coast, tropical Bremer Island flies under the radar. Home to a small Indigenous community, the island is fringed by empty white-sand beaches where sea turtles nest. Visit on a day tour via fast boat from Nhulunbuy or stay overnight at eco-resort Banubanu Beach Retreat. When in Nhulunbuy, art collectors should make the pilgrimage to Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre for the opportunity to purchase Yolu art.
Garma Festival celebrates Yolngu life and culture in Northeast Arnhem Land. (Image: Tourism Australia)
4. Mary River, NT
Twitchers and fishermen are in on this secret. One of eight rivers in the Top End with seemingly endless floodplains, the Mary River comprises billabongs, woodlands, paperbark and monsoon forests and is teeming with wildlife, such as brolgas, egrets, sea eagles, monstrous saltwater crocs and wild buffalo. Visitors can explore this lush wetland system by scenic cruise, take a fishing charter in search of barramundi, or amp up the adventure on an airboat.
Hop on an airboat adventure in Mary River National Park. (Image: Tourism Australia)
5. Wilpena Pound/Ikara, SA
Known as Ikara to the local Adnyamathanha people, Wilpena Pound covers eight times the area of Uluru yet is still relatively unknown to many Aussies.
The stratified rim of Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheatre of mountains. (Image: Julie Fletcher)
This massive crater is a remnant valley floor from an ancient mountain range that eroded away over millennia; a lush carpet of native flora is cradled within its jagged peaks. Tie up your laces and hit one of the trails from Wilpena Pound Resort, such as a leisurely walk along Wilpena Creek into the Pound or a challenging hike to St Mary’s Peak.
Relax around a fire at Wilpena Pound Resort, SA. (Image: Julie Fletcher)
6. Arkaroola, SA
In the northern Flinders Ranges, 600 kilometres from Adelaide, Arkaroola was established as a private wildlife sanctuary in 1968. The 60,000-hectare property has extreme topographical diversity and rich geological significance. The jagged granite peaks, deep gorges and open woodlands cradle a plethora of native wildlife, notably the elusive yellow-footed rock wallaby.
Arkaroola is an International Dark Sky Reserve. (Image: Tourism Australia)
Experiences here include a four-wheel-drive Ridgetop Tour along steep mountainous terrain, where you can camp under the stars. Speaking of which, Arkaroola is one of four International Dark Sky Reserves in the country and has three astronomical observatories where you can learn more about the cosmos.
7. Mungo National Park, NSW
Outback NSW or the surface of the moon? Squint your eyes and it’s hard to tell at Mungo. This surreal landscape, some 10 hours from Sydney and six hours from Melbourne, has been a place of mind-blowing archaeological discovery, including the oldest collection of fossilised footprints in the world, fossils of megafauna such as the giant short-faced kangaroo, and the remains of Mungo Lady and Mungo Man, which at 40,000 to 42,000 years old are the planet’s oldest ritual burials.
Lake Mungo’s lunar-like landscape. (Image: Tourism Australia/Time Out Australia)
Now a dry bed, Lake Mungo is fringed by the ethereal Walls of China, a 30-kilometre-long sand and clay lunette that is particularly spectacular to view at sunrise or sunset.
Mungo National Park is home to some of the world’s oldest fossils. (Image: Tourism Australia/Time Out Australia)
8. Lightning Ridge, NSW
Sure, Lightning Ridge is no secret. Its claim to fame is the elusive black opal, which has been mined here since the 1800s. But there’s more than these precious rainbow-hued gemstones under the surface (quite literally).
Lightning Ridge is an opal mecca, where the rare black opal is mined. (Image: Tourism Australia)
Lightning Ridge sits on the Great Artesian Basin, which contains mineral-rich waters that are naturally heated at a toasty 41.5 degrees year-round. Soak in the therapeutic waters at the local bore bath, an idyllic experience under a star-filled outback sky.
The town is full of rustic character. (Image: Tourism Australia)
9. Winton, Qld
Waltzing Matilda was written and first performed by Banjo Paterson in this outback Queensland town. Now Australia’s unofficial anthem, the poem is celebrated at the Waltzing Matilda Centre alongside other Australiana: the origins of Qantas, opal mining, the 1891 Shearers’ Strike, Australia’s war history and local Indigenous culture.
Fossils and footprints can be seen at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum. (Image: Tourism Australia)
Winton is also the only place in the world that has evidence of a dinosaur stampede, with more than 3000 footprints discovered. See them and other fossils at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum.
Winton is famous for its dinosaur discoveries. (Image: Tourism Australia)
10. Boodjamulla National Park, Qld
Like a mirage on the epic Savannah Way, this national park is abound in lush vegetation and emerald waters, spectacular gorge country, rugged sandstone ranges and World Heritage fossil sites. The Traditional Owners are the Waanyi people who know this country as Boodjamulla – Rainbow Serpent Country.
The park is accessed via the Savannah Way. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Paddle along creeks framed by sheer red sandstone cliffs, hike to see ancient rock carvings and visit the Riversleigh Fossil Site, which David Attenborough described as ‘extraordinary’.
Boodjamulla National Park possesses spectacular gorges. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)