You know how we Aussies have a reputation for living in the outback and having kangaroos as pets? Well, in the next part of our journey – Alice Springs, Uluru and Darwin – you’ll find out where that reputation came from.
Before I continue, just to clear a few things up, most of us don’t actually live in the outback and unless you live in a rural area or somewhere with a lot of open space, you’re not going to stumble across a random kangaroo just strolling down the street (but drop bears are totally real!)
However, when traveling to what is essentially the heart of Australia, you’ll stumble across dry, arid plains, a shit load of flies, Australia’s rich Indigenous heritage and of course, some of the most incredible natural formations this beautiful nation has to offer.
So, without further adieu, we’d like to welcome you to our first stop on our outback journey, Darwin!
Darwin is very different to most of the places I’ve seen in Australia, but in a good way! For a relatively small city, there’s a lot of military activity, with plenty of Aussie and American troops coming and going. There are a few museums, beautiful sunsets and there are generally only two seasons – wet and dry!
But, as beautiful as Darwin itself is, with beaches and wildlife sanctuaries and plenty of dreamy looking soldiers, the real magic is a little more remote than even Darwin is.
Kakadu National Park
Less than two hours from Darwin lies Kakadu National Park. This beauty is incredible, not just because it’s a national park, and they tend to be pretty damn good, but because it’s one of only four places in Australia to be included on the World Heritage List for both cultural and natural outstanding universal values.
What does that mean exactly?
Well, it means Kakadu’s incredible floodplains offer undeniable proof of the ecological effects of sea-level change in Northern Australia, but even though flooded plains aren’t ideal, it’s impossible not to be a little selfish by relishing in the incredible beauty of the water soaked surrounds. It also means that the park’s sweeping landscapes and wetlands are literally some of the best in the world – like you’ll actually struggle to find somewhere else as beautiful as Kakadu.
So, that’s the natural side of things, but what about the cultural?
When you’re in Australia’s main cities and tourist spots you’re never really exposed to much of the culture associated with Indigenous Australians, but once you head up to Darwin and beyond that changes very quickly.
Kakadu, in particular, is an important site to the local Indigenous people because of the sheer amount of Aboriginal art that illustrates man’s interaction with the environment over thousands of years. As well as spiritual aspects, the art that can be found within the park is a globally significant example of the hunter-gatherer way of life that most of us left behind a long time ago. When exploring these sites of antiquity, and seeing art and stories carved into rock up close, it’s impossible not to feel completely in awe by your surrounds.
Kakadu truly is amazing.
Heading a little further afield, around three hours to be exact, lies Katherine, yet another incredible example of Australia’s real beauty. Here, you’ll find eye-catching sites like Katherine Gorge, which has been carved into Katherine River’s ancient sandstone, and is undoubtedly the real highlight of a trip to Katherine. Above the gorge, you can find lush rainforest gullies that inhabit cracks in the walls, as well as broad valleys that cover both the high and low country.
If you can afford it, there’s nothing quite as spectacular as taking a helicopter ride across the region, but canoeing and walking tours are definitely the best option if you want to really get down and dirty with Australia’s incredible landscape.
Make sure you also take a pit stop at the natural hot springs, and keep your eyes open for some of Katherine’s beautiful waterfalls; so make sure you pack your bathers!
Moving on to what could easily be classed as the home of Australia’s largest fly population – Alice Springs – you’ll discover a lot of red dirt and fiery sunsets, with a night sky so clear the stars will look close enough to touch.
Much like in Darwin, Alice Springs isn’t somewhere you go to explore man-made attractions, as it’s an area that’s dedicated largely to natural formations and wildlife.
West MacDonnell National Park is just one of the places you can see Mother Nature at work in the region, while Anzac Hill will have you reflecting on the lives of diggers from the Great War, and Alice Springs Desert Park will teach you about the local area’s environment and wildlife.
However, the real feature of this tiny little town is when you head away from civilisation (if you can really call Alice Springs civilisation? If you’re a city slicker like me, you’ll catch my drift) and head out on the epic journey (over 300 kilometres) to the one and only Kings Canyon.
Want to feel like you’re on top of the world? Hike the 100 metres to the top of Kings Canyon and you’ll feel like a tiny spec in a pretty significant cultural and natural setting.
There are a few different walks you can do when immersing yourself in the beauty of Kings Canyon, but like a lot of the sites in this part of the country, it holds great significance to Indigenous Australians, so make sure you stick to the outlined walks. Digressing off route is pretty disrespectful, plus, you might get caught facing the wrath of some pissed off locals and tour guides who are 100 per cent invested in maintaining the sacred and natural beauty of Kings Canyon.
Trust me though, you’ll see more than enough on one of the specified walks and you’ll feel a hell of a lot better about yourself knowing that you did the respectful thing.
Ever wanted to ride a camel past Australia’s most famous rock at sunset? Well, while you’re out visiting Ayers Rock you can do just that!
You can also pitch a tent, camp under the stars and eat damper while fighting off hundreds of flies. In true Aussie fashion, grab your swag, boil some tea and tell stories around the campfire – luxury hotels and civilisation have no place here!
Sitting 450 kilometres out of Alice Springs (about a six-hour drive) is the 550 million-year-old rock you’ve heard so much about. Now, a rock might not seem all that exciting, but its sheer size and cultural significance to Indigenous Australians make it a site not to be missed, and a true Aussie icon. I mean come on, can you really say you’ve taken a trip down under without trekking to the Red Centre and laying your eyes on this pretty spectacular rock?
No, no you can not.
Sitting 863 metres above sea level, once upon a time you were able to climb Ayer’s Rock, but now you can only view it from a safe distance. This is because parts of the rock are softer than others and are quite susceptible to damage and also out of respect to Aboriginal Australians and the role Uluru plays in their Dreamtime heritage.
But, even though you can’t hike to the top, you’ll still have a great time, especially if you take that camel ride we mentioned earlier!
So, the Outback has been great, but once again, it’s time to move on. There’s a lot I’m sure you’ll miss, but thankfully, the flies aren’t quite so bad where we’re heading next! If you’re a surfer or love the tropics, it’s time to get excited! We’re heading over to Townsville and working our way down through tropical north Queensland until we hit my favourite place, the Gold Coast, followed by country New South Wales, and of course, Australia’s unofficial capital – Sydney!
Until next time…