The Australian Outback is empty. It is almost incomprehensible how empty it is. You can drive for over 100 kilometers without encountering anything except for your occasional passing car or grazing animals. Hidden in this vast space are a variety of interesting geological formations that serve as homes and sacred sites for many of the Aboriginal people of the area. If you want to tour the Outback by car, get ready to drive a lot. Petrol (gas) isn’t cheap either, with the most expensive coming in at over $2.00AUD per liter (close to $8 a gallon in the US).
Flinders Ranges National Park
The Flinders Ranges are the largest mountains in South Australia, and they provide a unique and beautiful contrast to the barren Outback landscape around them. The panoramas around the park are incredible, and there are ample opportunities to get up close with to kangaroos, emus, and wallabies (lots of kangaroo roadkill too unfortunately). Wilpena Pound in the south of the park is where the majority of visitors head, but the northern half of the park is equally as impressive. At the northwestern edge of the Flinders Ranges is the iconic Prairie Hotel, and in the southern Arkaroola section, aboriginal cave paintings can be found. Not all of the roads are paved in the park, so I had a bit of an adventure crossing some large rocks and riverbeds.
Coober Pedy is an opal-mining town in the middle of the Outback, and it is weird. Everything about it is weird. For starters, the name. Coober Pedy.* Only in Australia can such a name exist.The landscape is alien, like something you would see in a space movie (the movie Pitch Black was filmed there). Large piles of dirt and sand line the horizon where the miners have dug holes. The residents are very nice, and there is an interesting mix of Aboriginals and former Europeans who came there for the mining prospects. Perhaps most strange are the homes and buildings that are built into the rocks. To avoid the heat, the residents cut their homes and other buildings into the rock. It is not uncommon to enter a building that is essentially a rock box with a doorway and windows cut into it. You can even stay in a rock hotel overnight.
*Fun Fact: Coober Pedy comes from kupa-piti which is the local Aboriginal term for “white man’s hole.” Thank you Wikipedia.
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
The Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park is the main visitor attraction in the Outback. Formally known as Ayers Rock and the Olgas, the Aboriginal names were reintroduced after the Australian government returned the lands back to the original tenets in the 1980s. There is still controversy over the use of the land, as the Aboriginal people consider the land sacred, and certain activities, such as climbing Uluru or photographing sacred areas of the rock, are still technically permitted but openly discouraged. Visiting in the summer was a bit of challenge due to the heat (41 C, 106 F) and more annoyingly the flies that swarm your face, climbing in your eyes, nose and ears. People walked around with nets over their heads, and although they looked a bit silly, I envied the hell out of their nets.
King’s Canyon National Park
Kings Canyon can be found between Alice Springs and Uluru. It is a large canyon with several walking tracks around the rim and on the valley floor along a creek bed. Parts of the canyon are sacred Aboriginal sites, and visitors are discouraged from leaving the trail to enter these sites.