Experience the Outback

Jun 5th, 2005, 05:38 PM
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Experience the Outback

Our trip to Australia will be spent going from Melbourne to Sydney and on to Cairns, driving some sections. How far west would we need to go to experience the Outback? Thanks
jacylou is offline  
Jun 5th, 2005, 10:23 PM
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Frankly, jacylou, a long way. I can't tell you in kilomteres, as I don't think anyone has decided officially just where the "outback" starts.... but be assured, you won't see anything like that between Sydney and Melbourne unless you travel at least via Broken Hill, and that would add several days to your trip!

You could, however, compromise and see several interesting western-NSW towns by going, say, via Albury and Wagga Wagga. Check the map of Australia and see what you think!
Alan is offline  
Jun 5th, 2005, 11:53 PM
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The great thing about the Outback is that nobody actually knows where it starts - an inhabitant once said that it isn't a place, it's a state of mind. To some Australians it's a romantic frontierland, to others it's the sort of place that prompted a 17th century English visitor (William Dampier) to call the locals the "miserablest people on Earth".

Living two hours' drive from the coast and being a confirmed townie I sometimes feel uncomfortably close, but I believe that Tourism NSW thinks you have to get beyond Bourke, or maybe Walgett, before you're there.

That's a l-o-n-g way west of where you're likely to be, jacylou. It's the sort of country where you might pass a solitary sheep and have to drive an hour before you see another.

OK, I'm exaggerating, but depending on your schedule you might have to be content with seeing some more liveable country closer to the coast but still typical of Australian rural life. If you're driving Sydney-Brisbane you could consider the inland Newell Highway route.

I will say that in Far North Queensland the Outback seems much closer to the coast than further south.
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 01:29 AM
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Sorry, I didn't get Dampier's 1699 quote quite right - he said that the inhabitants of the Western Australian coast were "some of the miserablest people in the world".
Neil_Oz is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 10:32 AM
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Hi Jacylou,

I would recommend to do it from Cairns. You can be in the Outback within a 2-3 hour drive. As the others already mentioned, there is no start or finish line that indicates you are in the Outback, but I can imagine you are looking for the red and brown, endless landscape.
West of Cairns you find the Atherton Tablelands (green and fertile) and beyond them, the Outback. Undara Lava Tubes and Cobbold Gorge, Chillagoe, Mt. Mulligan are considered Outback in Far North Queensland.
You can see some of the things in one day, however keep in mind that driving distances can be huge in Australia. I would not recommend to drive into the Outback by yourself unless you are an experienced 4-WD enthusiast. The area is very remote, only little traffic and some places cell phones don't work.
I would recommend to either go on a tour or private charter. This way, you can relax and enjoy the spectacular scenery and let an experienced person do the driving. A lot of beautiful places out there are not marked on any maps and it helps to have someone who knows the area.
A great guide for the Outback out of Cairns/Port Douglas is Pete Baxendell with Daintree-Specialised-Tours. He offers trips to the different places out there.
If you want more info and links, you can visit

Hope this will help
myaustralia is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 02:48 PM
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I'm sure Neil will agree with me that, if we don't get rain soon, you will be able to experience the outback right here in my backyard in the Blue Mountains!

I agree that doing it from Cairns is probably the best way, if you're really determined. In Queensland the outback creeps much closer to the coast than it does in NSW or Victoria. The only thing mitigating against that is that, in Queensland, there is less to see as you drive, as the distances between towns or settlements is much greater than in the more populous states. I rather worry that you'll drive and drive and drive and finally get to see the outback, and then say, "But there's really nothing to see", and then you just turn around and drive and drive and drive all the way back again......

I really think a better idea would be simply to take the inland route from Melbourne to Sydney and see Albury, Wagga Wagga, Cootamundra, Young, Cowra, Forbes, Parkes, Orange and Bathurst, and then head into Sydney across the Blue Mountains. OK, so it's not the "real" outback, but it IS the real Australia, and the roads are straight and fast and easy, and the towns are interesting and, for the most part, unvisited by tourists.
Alan is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 06:26 PM
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jacylou - Alan is correct when he says that in northern Queensland the outback creeps closer to the coast, or is it that the coast creeps closer to the outback?

If you're driving Townsville-Cairns, a novel way of approaching Cairns and taking in some outback is to take a left turn at Townsville. Its about an hour and a half to Charters Towers, a lovely old gold town with many historic colonial buildings still standing and well maintained. Head north for about 4 and a half hours to Undara Lava tubes - this is what is known as "accessible outback" if you're coming from Cairns or Townsville. These are thought to be the largest lava tubes in the world, you can overnight in permanent tent or renovated old railway carriages. Head back to the coast through Ravenshoe, an old timber town then through the Atherton Tableland to Cairns - about 4 hours from Undara with no stops. But you would be wise to spend at least a night in the Tableland area, its not outback, but has some of the best scenery in the country.
pat_woolford is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 07:51 PM
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I agree with the previous posts, without defining "outback" the experience of the five hour drive from Cairns to Cooktown must rate as being fairly close. I think the outback comes closest to the coast at Cooktown and places like Laura are well worth visiting with some excellent tours of rock paintings and sites run by local indigenous people. The flight from Cairns to Cooktown is also an experience in itself and you can easily hire a 4WD vehicle if you prefer, the country around Cooktown is very different to anything else you will see near the coast, you can almost feel the expanse and isolation, it is fantastic.
ionaoz is offline  
Jun 6th, 2005, 08:22 PM
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If you live in the eastern suburbs of Sydney - the outback starts about Homebush!
margo_oz is offline  
Jun 7th, 2005, 05:21 AM
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I'm spending a few days on the Atherton Tablelands and then driving out to Undara for another night to get a little taste of the outback. We're doing a lava tube tour of course, but I'm more excited for the bonfire at night and then seeing the stars. I also plan on doing some short walks in the area.
I think I heard that Survivor Outback was filmed in that area too.
pb_and_j is offline  
Jun 9th, 2005, 11:24 PM
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Jacylou you write 'driving some sections'.
My suggestion is drive from Melb to Syd then fly to an outback town, Alice Springs is very popular and is about as far outback as you can get, then fly from there to Cairns.

As others have stated, driving into the outback may be quite disappointing as it takes forever to get there and there really isn't much to see once you're there.

At least if you go to Alice Springs you will get to see some speccy rocks (not much rock in the outback either, pretty much flat and nothing.. and I've driven to Broken Hill many times from different directions and there REALLY isn't much to see on the way)
BlueGum is offline  
Jun 10th, 2005, 12:04 AM
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You're dead right, BlueGum.

I went by train from Sydney to Broken Hill a couple of years back, and I was quite looking forward to the trip from the window. Going across the Blue Mountains was nice, but after that I started to long for something -- ANYTHING -- to relieve the boredom. Finally I found it -- a crossword puzzle.
Alan is offline  
Jun 10th, 2005, 03:56 AM
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I do think you have to go beyond Broken Hill to appreciate some amazing outback scenery. But you do need time, have driven Sydney-Wilcannia-White Rock (this place is an opal mining moonscape) - Tibooburra, NSW, (Pro Hart originals in bar of pub) then Innaminka SA, camping under magnificent river red gums on Coopers Creek not far from Burke & Wills "dig" tree and into the Strezlecki desert where you're lucky to even see the sides of the road through red bulldust and huge red sandhills, is far from boring. Then Qld via Birdsville, Mt Isa and the absolutely stunning Lawn Hill National Park, then Normanton near the Gulf of Carpentaria- best seafood in the country by far and the cheapest. On to Cairns through Gulf Savannah country and back to Sydney on the boring old Bruce/Pacific Hwys. Was lucky enough to have done this trip (it took nearly 4 weeks) after rain in the outback, the waterholes were full, the birdlife was incredible. And the colours of a Gulf Savannah sunset and outback sky at night, with the stars just jumping out at you were unforgettable.
pat_woolford is offline  
Jun 10th, 2005, 05:06 AM
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Great stuff Pat...i think you mean white cliffs not white rock.
johhj_au is offline  
Jun 10th, 2005, 05:27 AM
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John, you are absolutely right, White Rock is a suburb of Cairns! You go a bit troppo after a while here in the north.
pat_woolford is offline  
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