Far from the glitz and glamour of the coast and major urban areas, the vast red desert of the Australian Outback, speckled with incomparable wildlife and the legends of an ancient people, calls millions from every corner of the world to get to know the real Australia.
Uluru – or Ayers Rock in colonial parlance – gets top billing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and international symbol of the Outback, but the Northern Territory is jam packed with desert landmarks and opportunities for would-be bush dwellers. Within the very same national park lies The Olgas (Kata Tjuta by their Aboriginal name), a group of 36 domed rocks forming the mythological home of the great snake king Wanambi. Watch both of these sacred sites change color with the sunset or enjoy a hike. Just be sure to stick to the path around the base – summiting Uluru is considered disrespectful to its religious status.
Those after a hardcore walkabout can follow the Larapinta Trail through the mountainous MacDonnell Ranges, chock full of ancient rock paintings, rare wildlife, and spectacular viewpoints. For a more leisurely tour, grab a birds-eye-view from the basket of a hot air balloon. Getting an aerial perspective of the unique geography of one the world’s most extreme climes is truly an otherworldly experience.
Branching out from the Alice Springs area, there are a dozen national parks and many more outlets for nature and conservation in Australia’s Northern Territory. Litchfield National Park’s landscape runs the gamut from magnetic termite mounds to breathtaking waterfalls – we’ll let you decide which is more incredible – while Kakadu National Park boasts crocodile-filled rivers and legendary Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr. The options for nature lovers stretch even further at Nitmiluk National Park, where you’ll find numerous hiking trails and a swimmer-friendly gorge, perfect for cooling off in the epic Outback heat
Kakadu National Park is also home to the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre where visitors can explore the history and culture of numerous indigenous Australian tribes, and also pick up authentic, locally made artwork. Listen to traditional music or try making your own with a handcrafted didgeridoo. Or, opt for a more visual souvenir and pick up an authentic bark painting.
Can’t pick just one park to visit? Get a taste of the full Outback on the Ghan, a train spanning Australia’s whole midsection from southern Adelaide to coastal Darwin in the north. One of the world’s greatest railroad journeys, the Ghan can take you through the heart of the Outback in as little as four days with stops in Adelaide, Coober Pedy, Alice Springs, Katherine, and Darwin.
Those used to associating the word “Outback” with “Steakhouse” are in for quite the surprise when it comes to traditional bush tucker. Australia is famed for its unique flora and fauna, including kangaroo and emu, and yes, they are all edible. A number of restaurants throughout the region specialize in preparing native ingredients. Wattleseed damper anyone?