Head into the Australian outback for unforgettable experiences you won't find anywhere else.
By Lee Atkinson
A journey into the Australian outback is a trip you'll never forget. A staircase to the moon, rock art that comes alive with the help of an Aboriginal ranger, luxury accommodation buried deep underground, a 1366 kilometre (849 mile) long golf course and made-by-nature swimming pools in the middle of the desert are just some of the unbelievable experiences that you'll find only in outback Australia.
Sleep underground in Coober Pedy
In the outback opal mining town of Coober Pedy most people live underground, partly because it's a great way to beat the heat – it’s very hot out here in summer – but mostly because the locals are pretty handy when it comes to digging, and who knows, you might just find opals while renovating. The Desert Cave Hotel is dug into the sandstone hillside in the main street of town and a good night's sleep is pretty much guaranteed: rooms are very quiet and pitch black when you turn off the light.
Kayak through a billion-year-old gorge
There are lots of way you can explore Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, a chain of 13 spectacular gorges that wind between towering rock cliffs in Nitmiluk National Park near the Top End town of Katherine. You can fly through it in a helicopter, take a sunrise or sunset cruise to see the red rock walls morph into a million shades of mauve, or follow one of the many walking trails. But if you really want to see the extraordinary gorge up close the best way is by kayak. Paddle to spots the tour boats can't reach and even camp out overnight if you like. Hire your kayaks at the visitors centre.
See an ancient art gallery come alive
The World Heritage-listed rock art galleries of Kakadu are some of the best in the world. More than 20,000 years old, they are a record of what may be the oldest living culture on Earth. The galleries are marvellous to look at, but when you see them with an Aboriginal park ranger who can tell you the stories and meanings behind them, they really come to life. Many art site tours are free.
Sounds of Silence dinner at Uluru
Watching Uluru change colour as the sun sets is one of outback Australia's most magical moments. Doing it in five-star style from the top of a desert dune while enjoying sparkling wine and canapés before dining under the stars is unforgettable. The three-course buffet features native bush ingredients such as crocodile, kangaroo, barramundi and quandong (a native peach). Add a didgeridoo performance and a guided tour of the night sky and you have all the ingredients for an unbelievable outback experience.
Drive across the longest, straightest road
Feel the wide open space of Australia's vast outback beneath your wheels on one of the world's greatest adventure drives, across the vast Nullarbor Plain between Adelaide and Perth. You'll see plenty of wildlife, including wild camels, kangaroos and emus, meet many fascinating characters – everyone out here has a story to tell – and even see some space junk that fell to earth. Go whale watching on a cliff top lookout, explore wild caves and play the world’s longest golf course – it's an unbelievable 1365 kilometres (849 miles) long, with a hole at each town or roadhouse along the way.
Climb Broome's staircase to the moon
Three nights a month, between March and October, the coastal town of Broome, in Western Australia's remote Kimberley, celebrates one of outback Australia's most unbelievable sights: the staircase to the moon. A natural phenomenon caused by a rising full moon reflecting off the tidal flats of Roebuck Bay, it really does look like a stairway to heaven. Markets are held on the first two nights, with lots of entertainment and food stalls – it’s the ultimate full moon party!
Ride a horse through the Kimberley
Horse treks on Home Valley Station, a working cattle farm in the Kimberley that starred in the 2008 Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman movie Australia, follow an old 1800s stock route and are led by real life stockmen and women. After your ride you can take a helicopter or 4WD tour, go fishing for barramundi, walk through a gorge, swim beneath a waterfall or just relax at the Dusty Bar & Grill before retiring to your luxury villa, eco-tent or guesthouse room.
Find a desert waterhole
The last place you might expect to find a natural swimming pool is in the middle of the desert. But the West MacDonnell Ranges, between Alice Springs and Uluru, hide several that are perfect for cooling off on a hot day. Hire a bike in Alice Springs and follow the cycle path to Simpsons Gap, or drive the Red Centre Way to Standley Chasm, Ellery Creek, and Serpentine, Ormiston and Glen Helen gorges. AAT Kings offer tours from Alice Springs.
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