The two main reasons I wanted to go to Australia were to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and to see the Australian outback. I did a lot of other incredible things there too, but I definitely checked the big two off my bucket list.
Bill Bryson’s descriptions of traveling through the outback by train and by car first planted the idea of it in my head, while I was reading In a Sunburned Country many years ago. I wanted to see and experience the incredible size and emptiness of the outback for myself.
It did not disappoint. I rode through about 2200 km of it. I slept underneath its night sky in a swag. I swatted at its flies. Its intense sun gave me hundreds of new freckles and lightened my hair. I watched its big sky burst into the most intense, beautiful colors during sunrise and sunset. I saw Uluru. I drank beer and played pool in a town with a population of six people. I went on a scenic flight over the painted hills and the world’s largest private station (it’s bigger than Belgium). I had a fantastic time.
To give you an idea of what it’s like for much of the way, here’s a view from one of the dirt roads we spent a lot of time driving down:
Uluru is the highlight of the outback. I liked it best at sunrise and sunset, and we saw some stunners.
When this is the view out of your bus window, it’s hard to complain about starting the day early:
One of the ‘largest’ towns in the outback is Coober Pedy, an opal mining town. Many people live in underground houses that keep them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. We stayed at a really cool underground hostel, toured an opal mine, and visited an underground Serbian Orthodox church. The town feels completely unique, like no place else I’ve ever been.
We also spent a lot of time in much smaller towns along the way, and ate & peed at most of the refueling stations, which can be hundreds of kilometers apart. It gets pretty weird out there, in a very awesome way. We saw camel, emu, kangaroos, tamed dingos, bottles of water for $7, shrines of Camel Cup trophies, etc.
The best way to get a full sense of the vastness (and beauty) of the outback is to take a scenic flight over it. We took a morning scenic flight over the Painted Hills from William Creek. William Creek is a town with a population of 6, and most of them are pilots. There are more planes than people. The flight was great fun – definitely the tiniest plane I’ve been in, and the views were stunning.
One way to spice up the long drives in the outback is to have a “switch day” – where the guys and girls switch clothes for the day. It’s definitely worse for the guys. :) That day we also went to Lake Eyre, a salt lake in the outback. It doesn’t actually have water in it most of the time, just mushy, salty mud. You can take amazing distorted perspective photos, which are even better when all the guys are dressed as girls. Most of us were also wearing flynets because there are still flies everywhere trying to get inside your face.
In case you’re wishing this post had even more photos than it already does, here are some final, random photos of Uluru and the outback.
If you want to really experience Australia, especially the outback, I highly recommend going on a gAdventures tour. Small (and awesome) groups, fantastic guides (thanks Brett and Jason!), and you’ll experience it in a way that’s hard to do on your own. And way more fun.