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The Australian Outback
Australia is famous for many things: the Sydney Opera House, the Golf Coast and Ayers Rock spring to mind. The North-East side of the country is a bit more off the beaten track, less famous and it attracts fewer tourists. However, the region is definitely worthwhile to visit as it has great natural sites.
Allow at least two weeks for this trip, preferably more if you would like to include a multi-day diving course.
From the Netherlands, my home country, it will take you at least a day to fly to Australia (Brisbane) from there you will either have to board an internal flight to Cairns, take a train (24 hours) or travel by car. From Darwin, several international airlines fly to Europe and Asia.
You probably will need a visa to enter the country. Click here to apply for Australia visa before departure online.
Queensland & Northern Territory
Below you will find some highlights and tips to make the most of your road trip to the North-East of Australia. In one sentence: pick up your car in Cairns, explore the Great Barrier Reef, take the Gulf Track, visit the Kakadu National Park, admire the spectacular night sky and end your trip in the Katherine Gorge. Drop your car in Darwin.
Start with leaving your car parked for a couple of days.
1. Great Barrier Reef
If there is one thing you should see in Queensland than it is the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site. Yes, even on a road trip, you should allow at least a couple of days of days to explore the beaches and of course the corals. In fact, it is the best place to get your Open-Water PADI-qualification as the water is crystal clear up to 30 metres of depth and pleasantly warm. Even better stretch the fun out on a multi-night liveaboard trip to get your advanced certificate.
If you are not so keen on diving, go snorkelling, paragliding or take a boat trip to explore the area because the Reef is home to countless plants and animals, many of them as yet unknown to science. Sealife is (still) abundant, however, all of this is at grave risk.
Over the last thirty years, it has lost 50% of its coral. Global warming has caused horrific coral bleaching. Even with the widespread damage due to environmental pollution, it is still one of the world’s seven natural wonders.
In fact, it is the biggest living structure on our planet.
2. The Gulf Track
The Gulf of Carpentaria track lays between Roper Bar in the Northern Territory and Karumba in Queensland. This track will lead you through the true Australian outback. Be prepared for a lot, i.e.1300 kilometres of bush, kangaroos and dirt roads. En route, you will have plenty of opportunities to swim in pools, gorges and billabongs. Furthermore, to fully immerse yourself in nature, catch your own dinner in one of these waters.
Make sure not to miss the Leichhardt Falls, these are located 77km from Burketown. Behind the main falls are another series of falls and rapids. Best not to swim here, as saltwater crocodiles inhabit these waters.
3. Night sky Australia
Whilst driving in the outback you will see the truly astonishing night sky. At night, far away from the city’s light pollution, the sky lights up, you will see a pale white glow, the milky way and it will be easy to spot the different constellations. Just lay on your back, relax and reach for the stars.
Or, even better, bring your full-frame camera, your tripod and a fish-eye lens to capture this spectacle for when you are back home, remembering those magical nights. Try using the following settings for the best results: 25 seconds exposure, f/2.8 and ISO 1600. Note that this will only work when there is no moon.
Kakadu National Park
4. Kakadu National Park
Arnhem land is sparsely populated. The region is named after Arnhem, a city in the Netherlands, as a Dutch captain sailed into the Gulf of Carpentaria and named it after his ship “the Arnhem”. The region has been declared an Aboriginal Reserve in 1931. Arnhem Land is one of the largest Aboriginal Reserves in Australia and is perhaps best known for its isolated location, its arts and traditions.
Arnhem Land is located in the north-eastern corner of the Northern Territory, which also covers Kakadu National Park.
The Kakadu National Park is one of the highlights of the Northern Territory. It combines nature and culture with waterfalls, freshwater crocodiles, rock art, birdlife, fishing opportunities, outdoor activities like kayaking and hiking. Join a ranger-guided walking tour to learn about the fascinating history and nature or go on a croc spotting cruise.
5. Road tips
Many ways lead to Rome, or in our case from Cairns to Darwin. Either bring a tent, find accommodation on the road, rent a campervan or if you intend to stay for several months in Australia buy a used campervan or motorhome. In my opinion, the latter being the most convenient one. Thus you will always have a place to sleep and prepare a meal in the Australian outback, as towns tend to be far and in between. As most likely you will be driving large distances, keep in mind that there are some peculiarities about driving in Australia:
4WD is better
In the outback, you will encounter many unsealed roads, which can be attempted by two-wheel drive vehicles in the dry season. However, it will be near impossible and dangerous when heavy rains during the rainy season create flooded crossings. If you can afford it, buy a 4WD.
A road train is a truck which pulls three or more trailers. In other words, these are huge and heavy. These are typically used in rural and remote areas in Australia and tend to pop up at the moment you least expect them. Take extreme care when taking over as they won´t be able to manoeuvre easily.
Take into account the weather when travelling, especially in the Northern Territory. The Top End, including Darwin, Katherine, Kakadu and Arnhem Land, has a wet and a dry season. The wet season starts in November and lasts till April. Road conditions can be precarious due to monsoonal rains and storms. Humidity can reach over 80%. On the positive side at this time of the year waterfalls tumble and the landscape turns a lush green.
When in the outback stock up on everything when you can, but especially on fuel and water. Nothing worse than being stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere with temperatures in the high thirties and no petrol in your car or water. Especially when you realise that it can be dozens or even hundreds of kilometres to the next possible opportunity to stock up.
Australia’s wildlife is beautiful, abundant and sometimes downright dangerous.
Kangaroos, whilst cuddly, can be another danger in rural Australia on the road. They appear suddenly in front of your car, out of nowhere and there are millions of them. Bear in mind that a large mal can grow up to two metres and weigh a whopping 90 kg. Imagine what a collision with such an animal can do to your car, let alone to the kangaroo.
When stopping at creeks, mangrove swamps, deltas, lagoons and lower stretches of rivers bear in mind that a saltwater crocodile might lurk in the water. They are fast, huge (up to 7 metres in length), super aggressive and thus dangerous to humans.
Pictures sourced by Pixabay.