The city isn’t the only place to pack your itinerary full of excitement. Australia’s outback has so much to see and do, you’ll want to stay a few extra days.
If your image of the outback is limited to vast stretches of flat land and red dirt, you’re missing the best of this unique destination. The outback is a region that is as diverse as it is vast, with stunning rock formations, refreshing waterholes, unforgettable events and a strong Aboriginal culture. It’s a place to see impressive natural wonders while immersing yourself in the world’s oldest living culture. You can certainly come to relax and disconnect, but you can also fill your itinerary with exciting and memorable experiences that will stay with you forever.
View Aboriginal rock art
About a three-hour drive from Darwin, Kakadu National Park is world-renowned for its Aboriginal rock art. In fact, Kakadu is a dual-listed UNESCO World Heritage site for both its natural beauty and its cultural significance. Visit Ubirr, one of the park’s most famous rock art galleries, to marvel at an ancient painting of a Tasmanian tiger, which became extinct on the mainland about 3,000 years ago. You’ll also see early records of European visitors, including men smoking pipes. Delve even deeper into Aboriginal culture with Arnhemlander Cultural and Heritage Tours. On this full-day 4WD tour, you'll meet Aboriginal artists, watch women weave pandanus baskets, witness stunning billabongs and wildlife and explore rock art sites.
Step into another world in The Pinnacles Desert
The stunning limestone formations known as the Pinnacles are near Cervantes on the Turquoise Coast, 250 kilometres (155 miles) north of Perth. Cervantes is the gateway to Nambung National Park, which contains the Pinnacles Loop – a four kilometre (2.5 mile) road that can be driven or walked in about an hour. The Pinnacles Desert contains thousands of striking limestone pillars set against shifting golden sands. Visit at dawn or dusk to see the shadows cast by the unusual formations. You might also see wild emus stalking among the spires. The park, with its otherworldly landscape, can be visited all year round, but there's a bonus in spring, when the wildflowers and wattles are in bloom.
Take a day trip to Litchfield National Park
Just over an hour from Darwin you’ll find the local’s favourite day trip. With its plunging waterfalls, refreshing water holes, thrilling four-wheel drive tracks and abundant wildlife, Litchfield National Park is a must-visit. Take a cooling dip at Wangi Falls, home to pristine beauty and a huge plunge pool. The pool is about 1.5 metres deep and is one of the top swimming spots within the park (be sure to check that it’s open for swimming). Don’t forget to bring your camera; Wangi Falls is a stunning backdrop as the two waterfalls crash down over red rock. If you’d rather stay dry, walk the one-hour return track that takes you from the base to the top of the falls, offering an exhilarating view.
Explore the 600 million year-old Flinders Ranges
In the outback of South Australia, you’ll find a rugged landscape that dates back hundreds of millions of years. The Flinders Ranges are rich in Aboriginal history, wildlife and sweeping views, offering a fascinating peek into the past. This region’s star is Wilpena Pound, an incredible rock formation created from the remains of massive mountains. From a scenic flight, Wilpena Pound looks like an unearthly crater, but venture into the eroded mountains through an ancient gorge to find a new - and captivating - perspective. Stay nearby at luxury resorts like Wilpena Pound Resort and the historic homestead of Arkaba. Here, you’ll be immersed in nature, free to watch the sunset over rugged rock formations, taste unique bush foods at an outback pub and gaze up at sparkling stars.
Lose yourself in a Field of Light
Even after the sun goes down there’s plenty to see and do around Uluru. The award-winning exhibition Field of Light will be on show until 2020, meaning there’s still ample time to plan your trip. The outdoor installation, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara, sees more than 50,000 solar-powered stems light up at sunset and glow throughout the night. In keeping with the desert’s vast scale, the brightly coloured light stems cover an area the size of four football fields. Explore it on your own, or join a tour to see the sunset over the twinkling lights while you sip champagne and nibble canapes.
Immerse yourself in the world’s oldest living culture
Australia’s Aboriginal culture is one of the oldest on the planet. As such, it is a culture rich in history and the best way to experience it is at one of the many festivals held around the country each year. You’ll be a welcome guest at these community events where ancient stories and traditions are passed down to the next generation. Head to the Garma festival in Arnhem Land where Aboriginal elders meet with politicians, business leaders and policy makers alongside a packed itinerary of music, arts and cultural events. Tjungu is a four day festival held at Ayers Rock Resort where you can taste traditional bush foods, enjoy a short film festival and dance to traditional and contemporary Aboriginal bands. Over three days on the long weekend in June, Barunga Festival has dancing, live music (traditional and modern), art shows, cultural workshops, a circus, and lots of sport.
See Uluru from a different perspective
A visit to the Red Centre wouldn’t be complete without experiencing this iconic Australian landmark. But there’s more than one way to see it. While many people choose to walk the 10 kilometres (6 miles) around the base of Uluru, there are countless other ways you can take it all in. Perhaps one of the most memorable is a scenic helicopter flight which will allow you to truly appreciate the full scale of Uluru and Kata Tjuta. If you’re more comfortable on the ground you can hop on a segway to cruise around the base, ride a camel at sunset or even take a motorcycle ride through the desert for a fun and exciting way to experience this sacred spot.
Go waterhole hopping in the Kimberley
The Kimberley region – spread over Australia's entire north-western corner – is one of the world's last wilderness frontiers. From wildlife to majestic canyons and freshwater swimming holes, the Kimberley is home to a number of breathtaking sights to see on your journey. Despite the area's remoteness, it's also a place of great food, luxury accommodation, friendly locals and one of the most romantic beach towns on Earth. The Kimberley also contains thousands of tropical forest-topped islands, towering ochre cliffs, flat waterfalls and rock art galleries that scientists believe may be the oldest in the world. While it may be vast, there is plenty to see and do as you discover a true outback frontier.
Watch a camel race in the desert
Australia may be known for its quirky festivals, but the Uluru Camel Cup takes home top prize. Each year, over a raucous weekend of camel racing, parties and good humour, this colourful outback festival sees local camels race to determine the champion camel. Some camels are born athletes. Others aren’t even interested in running. But all of them receive rewarding pats when they reach the end of the track – and at the end of the day, one lucky camel trots away as winner of the annual Uluru Camel Cup. Combine the racing fun with fashion, kids games, music and entertainment, the Camel Cup is a hilarious event that brings the outback to life.