Have you considered a trip to an outback town?
They are one of our favourite places to visit in Australia. For starters, they are completely unique. Long, dusty roads. Enormous skies. Still air. Everyone greeting you in the street, even though you are complete stranger.
Nowhere else will you find such quintessential Australian personalities and ways of life that have been adapted to deal with the often harsh environment. A school that teaches its kids by telephone. Ambulances that are planes. Camel races instead of Spring Carnival.
But they also have some of the things we are so proud of here in our cities; trendy cafes with good coffee, world class art galleries, amazing dining experiences, and of course, the kind of pub you can no longer find in the city, but we all really miss.
What’s more, each and every one will teach you something. Got kids? Even better because these towns are history, geography and social studies classes all wrapped up in a holiday.
So in an effort to #getbacktotheoutback we would love to tell you about our five favourite outback towns that you should really visit. Whether you can make it there as part of a longer road trip, or just a shorter visit, these towns are really worth it.
Heard of it but not quite sure exactly where it is? Understandable. But here is what you need to know. Kununurra is the eastern gateway to the incredible Kimberley region in North West Australia (think of Broome as the western gateway). Kununurra is inland, on the way from the Kimberley to the Northern Territory and has about 7,000 permanent residents. You can get there by air from Perth, Broome and Darwin, or road on the Great Northern Highway from Broome or Darwin.
Most people will visit Kununurra along their journey in the Kimberley and will use it as a jumping off point for the Gibb River Road and Bungle Bungles which are relatively close by. Kununurra is worth a few days of your time at least though, if not longer when using it as a base to see all the incredible things around it.
So what is there to see and do in this far, far away town? Aside from some great cafes (we like Wild Mango café for the coffee), restaurants (the Pumphouse is our pick) and a huge range of accommodation from the fantastic Holiday Park to 4 star resorts, here are some of our favourite things to do around Kununurra.
Lake Argyle: This is not just any old lake. This is a man-made freshwater reserve 19 times the size of Sydney Harbour. It is part of the Ord River Irrigation scheme together with Lake Kununurra (Ord River) and is home to around 30,000 freshwater crocodiles, 26 species of native fish and a third of Australia’s bird species.
The activities available on and around the water are pretty special. From cruises, to canoe and paddleboard tours, bush culture safaris, helicopter tours and more. Our picks? The multi-day canoe trips and a sunset cruise.
A cruise up the Ord River is also a must-do – from Kununurra to the Ord Top Dam at Lake Argyle, this is a journey where you can expect to spot crocodiles and all kinds of birds whilst relaxing and breathing in the beautifully fresh air.
El Questro Wilderness Park: Around 100km from Kununurra (a stones throw in these parts) lies one of Australia’s greatest treasures in our books. El Questro is a million acre property boasting a multitude of incredible natural experiences. The property is so large that they haven’t even explored all of it yet, and there is no doubt more treasures are yet to be discovered.
Take your pick of accommodation options here – from BYO camping, to glam safari tents, and the famously luxurious homestead. Wherever you stay though, make you sure you get out and explore – the friendly team working there are more than happy to help you make your mind up what to do.
From a hike to Emma Gorge, to a soak in the natural Zebedee hot springs, horse trail rides, heli fishing, boat cruises and 4WD tours. Our advice is to stay a few days and do as much as you can. They are experiences that will live long in your memory.
Bungle Bungle aerial tour. Purnululu National Park is about a four-hour drive from Kununurra and we loved camping in the park and exploring by foot. But we also highly recommend seeing the famed beehive domes of the Bungles from the air on a helicopter tour – nothing simply compares. And you can do this easily straight from Kununurra itself.
The flight will take you over the Ord River and Lake Argyle on the way (2 birds – 1 stone) and when you get to the Bungles you won’t be able to close your mouth – these 350 million year old sandstone domes seem to go on forever and the culture and history behind them will stay with you always.
Also, don’t forget about Rio Tinto’s Argyle Diamond Mine – open to visitors year round, a guided tour gives a rare insight into large scale diamond mining and the mine’s relationship with it’s traditional owners. Also pop the Ord Valley Muster event onto your to-do list if you are travelling in May – this huge annual event is one of the biggest outback festivals of it’s kind and has won numerous awards.
We’ve all heard of the Birdsville Races, right? In the middle of nowhere, in central-west Queensland, thousands of people turn up for a two-day horseracing event every year. It is so remote that most people fly in by small plane.
And this tiny town with a usual population of just 120 knows how to host a party. We know – we attended the annual Bronco Branding championships one year and the festival was one of the best Australian events we have ever experienced.
Recently, the Birdsville Bakery sold for $1.2 million. Let’s ponder that. A bakery in Outback Queensland, that supports a town of just 120 people, sold for $1.2 million.
There must be something we don’t know about right?
Right. This town has so much going for it. From the iconic pub where you will arrive as a stranger but leave as a friend, to exploring the red sand dunes of the nearby Simpson Desert, there is something special in the air here. After our first night at the pub, we were invited to explore the area by air thanks to one of the friendly locals. The sight of the enormous cattle stations beneath us was breathtaking.
We think you have to visit, if only to see the incredible bakery!
Another town in Outback Queensland, this small town packs a punch when it comes to Australian culture. In Queensland’s interior, 1153km from Brisbane, this quaint town with a population of around 1000 people, is a must-do thanks to bush poetry, dinosaurs and aviation.
A.B ‘Banjo’ Paterson wrote Australia’s most famous poem, Waltzing Matilda, in this neck of the woods. The billabong that is rumoured to be the inspiration for the piece is out of town, you can visit and sing until your heart is content. Then drop into the North Gregory Hotel in town, where the poem was first performed. And in addition, the Waltzing Matilda Centre, opened in 1998, is the only centre in the world dedicated to a poem.
Today in town bush poetry is still very popular, and you can find some of the local poets at pub recitals and town events such as the Outback Festival which happens in September.
Winton is also home to some of the most revered fossils in the world; footprints of the largest known dinosaur stampede belonging to two different herds. They have been preserved at Lark Quarry Dinosaur Trackways where you can visit and see them for yourself.
And the red kangaroo that we all take for granted on our travels was also born out here. The formation of Qantas and its first registered office, was in these parts with the inaugural board meeting held at the Winton Club in 1921. The Qantas Founders Museum in nearby Longreach is an award-winning museum and a genuine testament to Australian culture and history.
Finally, the outback isn’t the outback without a bit of quirkiness, and you can find it at Arnos Wall. Local man Arnos Grotjahn has been constructing an eccentric yet marvellous wall from concrete, rock and almost every household item you can think of such as sewing machines and bicycles, and today it stretches around 70 metres.
Want to travel somewhere completely unique without leaving our shores? Coober Pedy is your answer. When the world’s biggest opal was found here in 1915, the region quickly attracted settlement and due to its unforgiving climate in the desert, the returned World War 1 soldiers who came here to mine built their homes under the ground.
It became a unique underground city that still thrives today, its mining industry supplying roughly 80% of the worlds opals. Spend the night in an underground hotel, explore the underground opal museum and attend an underground church service.
But not everything is below ground. Above is a grassless golf course which is the only one to have reciprocal with Scotland’s St Andrews. And out of town is the Breakaways, a beautiful and unique geological formation that was once covered by an inland sea.
Where do we start? Alice Springs is a town that genuinely surprised us. Many people simply want to get to all the icons in this region such as Uluru, but a few days in Alice is definitely worth your time.
The town has developed a very cool café culture and you won’t be hard pressed to find a top notch latte – bet that comes as a surprise. Also, the Aboriginal Art being created and sold here is second-to-none.
This is the kind of art you won’t find anywhere else in the world and is one of the pieces of Australia you could hope to have in your home. Browse the galleries in town and even run into some of the artists themselves creating their magic – it will be very hard to leave without buying something.
Around the town are attractions such as the Alice Springs Desert Park and the School of the Air, you can head to the skies in a hot air balloon at sunrise, and jump on a camel for a ride through the desert during the day.
The West MacDonnell Ranges are just out of town where you can head to explore some of our most incredible gorges, watering holes and walking trails. And of course, if you like your ‘tucker’ there are numerous fantastic restaurants in town that will cater to the most discerning foodies.
Do you have a favourite outback town or are you planning to visit one? Tell us in the comments!