Tours & Trips

10 Experiences to Have While Touring the Australian Outback

Photo of Elen Turner
Elen Turner

Elen Turner is a travel writer and editor based in Kathmandu, Nepal. She has a PhD from the Australian National University, which examined feminist...

Outback Experiences Hero - Man Sitting in Australian Outback

If you've been spending time in the cities of eastern Australia, such as Sydney or Melbourne, traveling in the Outback will make you wonder whether this is even the same country. The Outback is vast and sparsely inhabited, but hardy animals, plant-life, and even human cultures have survived here for many thousands of years, and offer amazing sights and activities for travelers.

But, the terrain of the Outback can make traveling there quite a challenge. The distances between places are enormous, even if you stick to one smaller, more manageable part of the Outback, such as the Northern Territory. Taking a guided tour of the Outback is an ideal way to cover a lot of ground while staying safe. Here are a few incredible things you can see and do on a tour of the Australian Outback.

1. Admire the Ancient Aboriginal Rock Art Sites in Arnhem Land

Aboriginal Rock Art

The Northern Territory Outback is littered with incredible ancient Aboriginal rock art, some as old as 50,000 years old. One of the most magical places to see and learn about this is in Arnhem Land.

You need a permit to travel to Arnhem Land, as it's one of Australia's last remaining wilderness areas, so joining a tour from Darwin or Jabiru (Kakadu National Park) is ideal. Injalak Hill at Gunbalanya is particularly accessible, and you'll learn so much about Indigenous culture by having a local Yolngu guide show you around the rock art galleries on the hill.

2. Camp Out Under the Stars in a Dark-Sky Area

Much of the Outback is very thinly populated (the Northern Territory, for example, only has a population of around 240,000, more than half of which is in the city of Darwin). So, wherever you go, there's a high chance of seeing all the stars in the night sky because there's so little light pollution. Ideal conditions for stargazing with the naked eye or some equipment, and camping out under the stars in a swag.

(What's a 'swag?' Think of it as a waterproof canvas bedroll you sleep on with the stars overhead – nothing between you and the night sky!)

3. Learn About Desert Flora & Fauna at Alice Springs Desert Park

Ormiston Gorge Alice Springs

Alice Springs is one of the few sizable towns in the Northern Territory Outback (population 25,000), and somewhere that most travelers in the Outback pass through at some point.

Don't miss the Alice Springs Desert Park, which showcases the life that thrives in this harsh landscape. It focuses on teaching visitors how Aboriginal people survive in the desert, and how plants and animals have adapted to desert conditions.

4. Ride 'The Ghan' Train Miles Across the Desert

The Ghan is a train that travels the 1,851 miles from Adelaide (South Australia) to Darwin (Northern Territory) through the Outback, stopping en route in Alice Springs. It takes 54 hours to make the journey, so passengers sleep on it for two nights. It's a relaxing and scenic way to travel the north-south width of Australia and will save you a long and challenging drive.

And the name? It references the Afghan camel traders who traversed the Outback in the 19th century.

5. Spot Saltwater Crocodiles at Kakadu National Park

Crocodiles at Kakadu National Park

...But don't go anywhere near them!

Australia is infamous for its man (and woman and child)-eating creatures, and there's hardly an animal more terrifying than a saltwater crocodile.

These predators can easily be seen in the Kakadu National Park, as there's an estimated 10,000 of them there! Stay safe on an organized boat trip at Cahill's Crossing, Yellow Water, or the East Alligator River. If you join a tour that includes swimming, follow your guide's instructions to the letter.

6. Kayak the Katherine Gorge

Katherine Gorge

A kayaking trip is one of the best ways of seeing and experiencing the Katherine Gorge, in the Northern Territory's Nitmiluk National Park. You can go beyond where the regular tour boats can, into smaller waterways, and you won't get hot the way you would hiking. The cliffs of the gorge are a spectacular sight, and you'll also see wildlife like long-necked turtles and monitor lizards.

7. Swim in Waterfalls & Plunge Pools at the National Parks

Swimming in the plunge pool at Gunlom Falls in Kakadu

The coastline of much of the Northern Territory is out of bounds for swimming, due to the threats of deadly jellyfish and/or saltwater crocs. But there are a perhaps surprising number of wonderful places to cool off inland in the Outback.

The Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks are two of the best, with towering waterfalls with icy plunge pools such as Jim Jim Falls and Florence Falls.

Wherever you go, be sure to get local advice or listen to your guide -- some rivers that are apparently very far from salt water can actually harbor crocs, who can swim upriver during floods. Never risk swimming somewhere without having it confirmed that there's no croc risk.

8. Watch the Sunrise or Sunset at Uluru & Kata Tjuta

Uluru (also called Ayer's Rock) is one of the Outback's most iconic attractions, and it's a bit like seeing the Eiffel Tower or Taj Mahal -- sure, you've seen it in photos hundreds of times before, but it's still surprising when you get there yourself.

Nearby Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) are less famous but just as incredible -- domed rock formations the same color as Uluru. Both places are at their most beautiful at sunrise or sunset, so time your visit well.

9. Hike Through King's Canyon

Kings Canyon Rim Walk

King's Canyon, within the Northern Territory's Watarrka National Park, is a fantastic place to go on a day hike. The popular Rim Walk is a circuit that should take 3-4 hours and offers soaring sandstone walls and domes, and sweeping views of the Outback.

Avoid the heat of the day, especially if you're traveling in summer, as temperatures can get seriously hot.

10. Come Home to a Full Savings Account

Bitter Springs

Want to have these experiences without breaking the bank? You're in luck! Go Overseas has teamed up with Tourism Northern Territory to give one lucky winner a 10-day trip to the Outback plus a free round-trip flight. That means you can have one (or all) of these unforgettable travel experiences with a guided tour -- and come home to a bank account that won't make you sad. (Heck, you could even turn around and spend that money to book a tour elsewhere in Australia while you're there!)

You need to enter by June 28th, 2019, so don't delay. Head over to the contest page and put yourself in for the chance to win an unforgettable 10-day tour to the Australian Outback!