The Australian Outback is the stuff of legend. While similar to the American Southwest, with long dusty roads, cowboys, and remote homesteads, the Australian Outback can still seem just as wild as it was 100 years ago. Around 85% of Australia’s population is located in the coastal areas, leaving the huge interior of the country nearly empty. But this is far from a barren land and if you are visiting Australia, it is almost mandatory you do a bit of your own exploring of the Outback.
What is the Outback?
If you look at a map of Australia, nearly everything you see is part of the Outback. As said above, only the east and western coastal regions of Australia have been heavily settled and the huge center area, over 2.5 million square miles, is what is known as the Outback. In this region population numbers don’t even top a million. Small towns and cattle ranches are scattered about but driving between them can take hours, if not days.
People are in short supply here and the wildlife of the Outback easily outnumber them. You can find everything snakes and desert scorpions to kangaroos and dingoes. It’s not all desert though. In the north, the Outback includes huge sections of tropical forests, filled with even more wildlife.
“The Capital of the Outback”
For most foreign tourists visiting Australia, exploring the Outback is part of a trip to Alice Springs. Nicknamed the “Capital of the Outback,” Alice Springs is a small city located pretty close to the center of Australia. Today it is the gateway to the Outback for many and a great place to get a taste of the region if you only have a few days.
The highlight of Alice Springs is the famous Ayers Rock, also known as Uluru. The huge sandstone rock formation stands out against the otherwise barren Outback landscape, making it not only a beautiful sight but also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Australia.
Besides seeing Ayers Rock, visitors to Alice Springs can get even more out of their Outback adventure by joining an organized trek (the Larapinta Trail is the most popular), visiting the Kangaroo Sanctuary for a chance to interact with this Australian icon, or stop by the Mbantua Cultural Museum to learn a bit about the native people of the region.
Beyond Alice Springs
The Outback doesn’t start or end with Alice Springs though and for visitors with a bit more time and a taste for adventure, the Outback has plenty more to offer. There are a number of main roads running through the region making it easy to explore independently with just a normal rental car. Off the main roads, visitors should be more careful, taking extra supplies, and making sure they know where they are going. Remember, this region is remote and breaking down here might mean being stranded for much longer than you’d think. As an alternative, Australia also has a number of really fascinating train routes that run through the Outback, stopping at small railroad outposts and towns along the way.
Some favorite Outback highlights include the opal mining community of Coober Pedy where the whole community, homes and even the church, were built underground to help residents escape the soaring summer temperatures. Kakadu National Park, located on the northern coast of Australia is also a popular Outback spot. Home to tropical jungles, crocodiles, and wallabies, the park is also famous for it’s rich Aboriginal cultural sites including over 5,000 recorded cave paintings and wall carvings, spanning thousands of years.