Planning to go Down Under? A big part of Australia is the vast, remote, and sparsely populated Outback. Around the world, the Aussies are probably best known for two clique stereotypes - that of surfer dudes with extra tanned skin and that of the Aussies of the Outback (think Paul Hogan from Crocodile Dundee).

The Outback is deeply ingrained in the Australian heritage and has been for the last 50,000 or so years. Just as the Outback has had a deep impact on forming the history, folklore, and art of the native Australian Aborigines, so too has it impacted the development of the modern state and identity of Australia.


But What is the Outback?

There isn't a set definition of exactly what the Outback is, it is the vast empty and arid spaces of Australia away from the major population centers, but exactly where it starts and stops is something of a loose term.

The region extends over the greater part of Australia and includes the bulk of the states of South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and vast swaths of inland New South Wales and Queensland. Arguably it also includes a bit of the northwestern tip of Victoria - although many would not consider that true Outback.

  • Defined: Generally As the Vast Sparsely Inhabited and Arid Land Away From The Population Centers

There are many climatic zones in the Outback including semi-arid and temperate climates. While the Outback does include the "red centre" and true deserts, the bulk of it is not a true desert, but is covered in bush (in Australia all forest and scrubland are called "bush" - even the lush green rainforests of New Zealand are "bush").

Today the remoteness and harshness of the Outback has meant a number of Indigenous Australians have managed to retain their traditional way of life and continue to live much as they have done for many thousands of years. They are recognized as the Traditional Owners of large parts of the Outback and large parts are off limits to visitors without permission to enter.

Related: While You Can't Hike Australia's Uluru (AKA Ayers Rock), Here's Why It's Sacred And How To Tour It

Ayer's Rock / Urulu

By far the main attraction and one of the most iconic landmarks in the world is that of Uluru or Ayers Rock. It is located in the southern part of the Northern Territory and is over 200 miles from the closest town (Alice Springs). It is a large sandstone formation that's famous for its dazzling glows as the sun rises and sets.

It is one of the most remote attractions in the world, but also one that is well serviced with tours. If short on time, then really the only way to get there is by flying - it is a looooog way from any major city.

  • Sacred: Uluru is Sacred to the Aboriginal People of The Area - The Pitjantjatjara People
  • Listed: As A World Heritage Site

The area of Ayers Rock / Uluru is home to an abundance of springs, waterholes, rock caves, ancient paintings, and an other-worldly landscape.

Go For An Old Timey-Paddle On the Murray River

The Murray and Darling Rivers are not necessarily considered true outback, but they offer a great taste of what the Australian hinterland is like. Here one can feel the Australian equivalent of the American Wild West and hear stories like that of Ned Kelly that call to mind America's early westward expansion - but with an Australian twist.

Old river paddle steamers still operate for tourists in the towns Mildura and Echuca (houseboats are also available for rent). Echuca boasts the world's largest paddle steamer fleet and its oldest paddle steamer is the PS Adeliade built 1866.

Murray River Paddle Steamers:

  • One Hour Cruise $30-35
  • Two Hour Cruise $45

Echuca Paddle Steamers:

  • Cruise on the PS Adeliade $27 (adult) or $12 (child)
  • Family Package $70

Bella Casa House Boats Rental Cost:

  • Peak Summer Season: For 7 Nights - $5800
  • Winter Season: For 7 Nights - $3400

Related: The Best Time To Visit The Great Barrier Reef & Other Things to Know

4WDing And Caravaning (Grey Nomading) The Outback

If one would like to really explore the Outback in the Australian way, then one needs to get a 4WD (typically a Toyota Landcruiser) and fully deck it out for some serious off-roading and driving far away from civilization. This involves taking extra fuel, an air compressor, spare tires, tire repair kits, plenty of water, satellite communications, and the works (one is alone in the Outback).

Alternatively, hire a Caravan (house trailer) and slowly meander one's way through the Outback (but restricted to the main roads). It is so popular for Australians to retire early, buy a caravan and spend years exploring the Outback that they have a local name - the Grey Nomads.