The Outback is the vast, remote, arid interior of Australia. The term "the outback" is generally used to refer to locations that are comparatively more remote than those areas named "the bush" which, colloquially, can refer to any lands outside the main urban areas, although here it is considered to be away from the coastal regions as well.
Visitors to the outback often drive their own or rented vehicles, or take organised tours. Travel through remote areas on main roads is easily done and requires no planning. However travel through very remote areas, on isolated tracks, requires planning and a suitable, reliable vehicle (usually a four-wheel drive). On very remote routes considerable supplies and equipment may be required, this can include prearranged caches. It is not advisable to travel into these especially remote areas with a single vehicle, unless fully equipped with good communication technology (e.g. a satellite phone, EPIRB etc.). Many visitors prefer to travel in these areas in a convoy. Deaths from tourists and locals becoming stranded on outback trips occasionally occur, sometimes because insufficient water and food supplies were taken, or because people have walked away from their vehicle in search of help. Travellers through very remote areas should always inform a reliable person of their route and expected destination arrival time, and remember that a vehicle is much easier to locate in an aerial search, than a person, so in the event of a breakdown, they must not leave their vehicle.
Early European exploration of inland Australia was sporadic. More focus was on the more accessible and fertile coastal areas. The first party to successfully cross the Blue Mountains just outside Sydney was led by Gregory Blaxland in 1813, 25 years after the colony was established. People starting with John Oxley in 1817, 1818 and 1821, followed by Charles Sturt in 1829–1830 attempted to follow the westward-flowing rivers to find an "inland sea", but these were found to all flow into the Murray River and Darling River which turn south. Over the period 1858 to 1861, John McDouall Stuart led six expeditions north from Adelaide into the outback, culminating in successfully reaching the north coast of Australia and returning, without the loss of any of the party's members' lives. This contrasts with the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition in 1860–61 which was much better funded, but resulted in the deaths of three of the members of the transcontinental party. The Overland Telegraph line was constructed in the 1870s along the route identified by Stuart. Exploration of the outback continued in the 1950s when Len Beadell explored, surveyed and built many roads in support of the nuclear weapons tests at Emu Field and Maralinga and rocket testing on the Woomera Prohibited Area. Mineral exploration continues as new mineral deposits are identified and developed.
Some of the main populations centers include:
The Explorer Highway is just one of many great road trips in Australia. The route follows the trail of legendary explorer John McDouall Stuart, the first European to cross Australia from south to north. Although the original route is not exactly the same anymore, parts of it still are. The route starts in Adelaide, or actually in Port Augusta, north of the city. From there you cross the deserts of South Australia and the Northern Territory before ending in tropical Darwin. Along the way are many points of interest, including Coober Pedy, Alice Springs and Katherine. But don't forget to take bypasses to Uluru (Ayers Rock) for example, or to Kakadu National Park up in the north of the country. To enjoy this trip, take at least 3 to 4 weeks. In the last few years, it has also become possible to travel all the way from Adelaide to Darwin by train.
Gulf Country, or also called Gulf Savannah, is an increasingly popular area in the northwest of Queensland. It refers to the area from Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory to the westcoast of Cape York in Queensland. Most visitors cross this area on their way from the Northern Territory to the eastcoast of Queensland, either via the sealed routes through Mount Isa and Tennant Creek, or by taking the official Savannah Way highway, which goes directly west from Normanton along mostly unsealed roads and basically connects Cairns in the northeast with Broome in the northwest of the country. Karumba along the Gulf of Carpentaria, and the inland towns of Mount Isa and Normanton are some of the main attractions in the region, as are the wide open spaces and big skies.
Kakadu National Park is a vast park the size of Israel in the Northern Territory, Australia, east of Darwin. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Kakadu supports a huge variety of flora and fauna, many species of which are rare or endemic. Historically, Kakadu was the home of Aboriginal people, and much of the current National Park is Aboriginal land. The area is also rich in Aboriginal rock art, with over 5,000 sites found.
The Kimberley is a vast area consisting of rugged ranges, canyons, waterfalls and pristine coastline. Kimberley, one of the 9 regions in Western Australia, is one the most rugged areas of Australia and a popular region for travellers. Most travellers come here for its surreal beauty, its wideness, big skies and beautiful gorges, pools and some of the most rewarding 4wd tracks in the country, including the popular Gibb River Road. Towns of interest include Broome, Derby and Kununurra. It also home to the Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles]], a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Ghan is one of the best trips across the Red Centre of Australia. The passenger train operates along the Adelaide to Darwin railway and is almost 3,000 kilometres long. It takes around 48 hours to complete this fantastic trip, but you can also break your journey in several other places, including Alice Springs which is about halfway. You can visit places like Uluru and Kings Canyon National Park from here. Another option is to break your trip in Katherine and visit the Katherine Gorge. The original construction already began during the late 19th century, but it wasn't until 2004 when the final leg to Darwin was completed and people could travel across the heart of Australia by train. The train usually travels twice a week and is also more expensive than travelling by car, bus or even plane. Still, the service and charm are unbeatable!
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Uluru (or Ayers Rock) is a large sandstone rock in the center of Australia and the country's most recognisable natural feature. Uluru is part of the larger Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Kata Tjuta is native for the Olga's, another remarkable feature in this park. The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Most of the Outback is desert or semi-desert. Summer days can be intolerably hot but nights are cold, especially during winter. The far north, including Kakadu, is lush and tropical because of the drenching rains and humidity of their summer - so it's best to visit these places in the Dry season from May to September, when the skies are a clear dazzling blue and the air is warm.
The main airport would be in Alice Springs, although there are several smaller options as well.
Several trains like the famous Ghan and the Indian Pacific connect cities like Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin with smaller towns along the way.
Although you won't need a 4wd vehicle if you stay on the main roads that cross the Outback, if you would like to explore some more remote areas, you will need a sturdy vehicle for sure.
Greyhound Australia offers regular connections to more remote towns.
Air transport is relied on for mail delivery in some areas, owing to sparse settlement and wet-season road closures. Most outback mines have an airstrip and many have a fly-in fly-out workforce. Most outback sheep stations and cattle stations have an airstrip and quite a few have their own light plane. Medical and ambulance services are provided by the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The School of the Air is a radio-based school using the RFDS radios.
You can use a few of the main train routes to connect between regional centers.
The outback is criss-crossed by historic tracks. Most of the major highways have an excellent bitumen surface and other major roads are usually well-maintained dirt roads. Tracks in very sandy or exceedingly rocky areas may require high-clearance four wheel drives and spare fuel, tires, food and water before attempting to travel them, however most outback roads are easily traversed in ordinary vehicles, provided care is taken. Drivers unused to dirt roads should be especially cautious – it is recommended that drivers reduce their speed, drive with extra care, and avoid driving at night because animals can stray on to roads. Travelling in remote areas in northern Australia is not advisable during the wet season (November to April), as heavy tropical downpours can quickly make dirt roads impassable. In the remotest parts of Australia fuel sellers are located hundreds of kilometres apart, so spare fuel must be carried or refuelling spots calculated carefully in order not to run out of fuel in between towns. In addition, multiple trailer trucks (known as Road Trains) traverse these roads and extreme care must be taken when around these vehicles, due to their weight, length (often three full trailers long) and amount of dust thrown up by 46+ tyres.
The Stuart Highway runs from north to south through the centre of the continent, roughly paralleled by the Adelaide–Darwin railway. There is a proposal to develop some of the roads running from the SW to the NE to create an all-weather road named the Outback Highway, crossing the continent diagonally from Laverton, Western Australia (north of Kalgoorlie, through the Northern Territory to Winton, in Queensland.
Buses connect regional centers on a regular basis.
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