The Australian outback is one of the world’s last true wildernesses. It is a huge, desert terrain that stretches out over most of the country. It’s one of the globe’s most extreme climates, with temperatures topping 50 degrees Celsius, little rainfall, barren landscapes and plenty of red dirt.
I find there to be something unexplainably magical about this huge desert in the middle of the country. Driving through the outback is a liberating feeling, with open space for hundreds of kilometres and often not another car for hours. The landscape can sometimes look other-worldly – I saw pictures in the South Australian Museum that I was sure were of the drive from Coober Pedy to Port Augusta, but were actually taken on Mars.
There’s also plenty of mountains, oasis style watering holes and dramatic gorges in the outback – the beautiful West McDonnell Ranges showcase some of the best of these. And then there’s all of the Australian outback towns.
There’s a distinct charm in Australian outback towns that you won’t find anywhere else. The fact that they’re usually the only place around for miles gives the town-dwellers a quirky sense of humour and a fairly approachable attitude (I did encounter some sexism in the outback, but the majority of people who I met were remarkably friendly) which is often reflected in the atmosphere of the town itself. Things to do in these outback towns range from exploring their surrounding nature, uncovering mines, visiting museums to find out why a town was built in this location, discovering local Aboriginal history and relishing in the unique way life is spent in the outback.
Are you ready to discover some of the best Australian outback towns? Read on to find out travel bloggers’ favourites!
One of Australia’s – and probably the world’s – most unique towns, Coober Pedy is nothing but intriguing. It is one of the hottest and driest places of the world (although when I visited it was 15 degrees and raining – the weather gods obviously wanted to make the Brits feel welcome…), but is also a town rich in opals.
People hungry for opal are keen to stay within the town to possibly find opal and win a fortune, but the harsh living conditions make this incredibly difficult. Resident Coober Pedians have a winning solution – to move underground.
Things to do in the town include learning about life underground by visiting underground homes and churches, learning about the South Australian desert and the creation of the Stuart Highway and in the towns underground museum, visiting the (above ground!) Kangaroo Sanctuary and Aboriginal art gallery, drinking in underground bars and visiting Australia’s only underground games room, and dining at the fifth best pizza restaurant in Australia! The things you find in the outback…
Around Coober Pedy, there are the beautiful Breakaways, the dog fence (which is the longest fence in the world) and the Moon Plain, which has been the otherworldly setting for numerous films.
Staying in Coober Pedy? Check out this deals finder for the best accomodation option for you!
Located at the westwards end of the Eyre Peninsula, Streaky Bay is very much in the middle of nowhere. The town is a well deserved stop-off for those driving from the east to the west, or vice versa. However, the town is worth sticking around for a day or two to see its unique attractions.
Streaky Bay is home to a very aesthetic waterfront and a surprisingly busy (for outback standards, that is!) town centre which includes the Streaky Bay Museum.
It’s worth exploring the surrounding area to check out beautiful spots such as the Westall Way Scenic Drive and the Point Labatt Conservation Park – where the Great Australian Bight begins and a permanent colony of sea lions are in residence – and make sure you don’t miss Murphy’s Haystacks, intriguing granite outcrops that look like they should be in a sci-fi film.
Thinking of travelling along the mighty Nullarbor? Check out this guide for all you need to know about driving across the Nullarbor, or find out where you can stop along the way with my Melbourne to Perth drive itinerary.
New South Wales
New South Wales’ answer to Coober Pedy is the enthralling Lightning Ridge. The town is a case study for just how creative people can get in the middle of nowhere, and parts of the outback town are so whacky it sometimes resembles an exploded antique store.
Visit the town to take part in one of the self-guided car door tours – where you drive around following different colour car doors and stopping at various tourist attractions – see quirky homes such as Amigos Castle, a building made by a local Italian guy who has embellished it with amusing signs, and soak in the town’s hot bore baths.
The entire town is dotted with quirky memorabilia, and some time can be spent just driving or walking around, taking in all that there is to see. Of course, there’s plenty of places to learn about black opals, which was the reason for the town’s establishment, with mine tours and opal shops aplenty.
Around ‘The Ridge’, there’s not a huge amount to see and do, but there’s a distinct charm to this area of the Northern New South Wales outback. Relish and enjoy the dusty roads, follow the green car door tour to a fantastic sunset spot and go wildlife spotting around the town. Lightning Ridge is an unlikely holiday destination, but there’s plenty within the town to keep you entertained for days!
Lightning Ridge is a long way from everywhere – it’s eight and a half hours’ drive from Sydney and eight hours to Brisbane; it is, however, a stop on the Great Inland Way.
Image via Flickr by Robert Montgomery
Just over the border from South Australia (it’s so close it actually runs on South Australian time), Broken Hill is a mining city in the New South Wales outback. The town is a well-deserved respite after hours of outback driving, and is a great place to refuel and restock with food and other essentials (there’s not only a Woolworths but a Coles here too!), but there’s plenty of things to do in Broken Hill to stay entertained for a day or two.
The Line of Lode Miner’s Memorial Lookout will give you a great feel for the town as you can look over it from the viewpoint, and there’s a small open air museum there too. The Broken Hill Living Desert Sanctuary and Sculptures boasts a unique display of native flora, and has a variety of manmade sculptures which look beautiful at sunset.
Check out the School of the Air to discover how children in these remote locations are educated, or witness the Royal Flying Doctor Service to learn how medical treatment is brought to those in the remote outback – which is truly fascinating.
The town as a fantastic community spirit, with weekly live music and events happening almost every month, including the famous Broken Heel Festival. You may be in the middle of nowhere in Broken Hill, but you’ll never be bored!
Broken Hill is located on the Barrier Highway, about 5 hours from Adelaide and 13 hours from Sydney – or, if you don’t have a car, you can take a NSW train from Sydney to Broken Hill – it’s a long journey, but a great outback adventure!
Spending a night or two in Broken Hill? Click through to this deals finder to find the very best accomodation options for your stay!
Image via Flickr by Amanda Slater
Silverton is a dusty outback town, just 45kms North-West of Broken Hill, NSW. Set against the captivating Mundi Mundi Plains,the town has been used as the backdrop for many classic Australian films; including Mad Max, Mission Impossible II and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. While in town, enjoy a beer in the quirky Silverton Pub and marvel at the photos and other paraphernalia from the films. When we visited, the Mad Max car was parked right outside, but now there’s even a Mad Max museum!
At the height of the silver mining boom in the 1800s, there were more than 3000 people living in Silverton. These times were short lived and there are now less that 50 people living in the town. Be sure to visit the former Silverton Gaol, now the town’s museum, which brings the fascinating history alive. You can even see a ‘coroner’s bath’, where bodies were preserved before the arrival of the Sydney coroner. Nearby is the Historic Daydream Mine where you can take an underground tour through parts of the old silver mines. At it’s peak this mine employed 200 people, some even as young as eight years old!
Written by Jenny from Travelynn Family
Located 112 km south east of Broken Hill in the NSW Outback – and 1006kms from Sydney – Menindee feels as far away from anywhere as you can possibly get. It is the oldest European settlement in western New South Wales and was the first town to be settled on the Darling River. There’s not too much going on here, although when we visited there was a local market in the grounds of the community hall and a busy gathering at the pub. But Menindee town is just a few kilometres out of the Kinchega National Park, and this is the main reason to visit this quintessential outback town; Kinchega is home to the Menindee Lakes.
Menindee Lakes, also known as the Blue Heart of the Outback, are a group of ephemeral freshwater lakes connected to the Darling River. And these lakes are huge! The four largest lakes hold more than three times the water of Sydney Harbour. They are a beacon for an incredible array of birdlife and, along with mesmerising sunsets, vast open spaces, and a rich aboriginal and pastoral history this place has a lot to offer anyone willing to venture a little off the beaten path and is a unique and accessible experience of the Australian Outback.
Once you’ve explored the lakes, head back onto town, stock up on supplies and enjoy a beer or two and some good pub food at the local Maidens Hotel, supposedly the 2nd longest running pub in the state. You’re sure to find someone there who will be all too willing to spin a yarn or two.
By Julie from NOMAD/ nester travel
After a 500 km drive through remote central Queensland, the country town of Emerald feels like a metropolis. Emerald, located on the Tropic of Capricorn, is the biggest inland town in the region. It is around 270 km west of Rockhampton, and has largely prospered because of coal, cotton and other crops such as sorghum and grain.
Emerald was founded in 1879 as a stop on the railway from Rockhampton, which eventually extended as far as Longreach and Winton. The most attractive building in the town is the ornate railway station, with a lovely wrought iron portico.
The other main sights in the town are a giant easel with a 25-metre replica of van Gogh’s Sunflowers, and the Emerald Botanic Gardens.
Emerald makes a great base for exploring the surrounding outback area, which is mostly well off the beaten track. Lake Maraboon is a stunning setting 20 km south, used mainly by locals for fishing and watersports. Around 40 km to the west, the Gemfields region around the villages of Rubyvale and Sapphire makes a great day out, and you can try some fossicking throughout the year.
Further afield, the Blackdown Tableland National Park is just over an hour to the east, and the entrance to the Carnarvon Gorge section of the Carnarvon National Park is just over two hours to the south.
David Angel from Delve Into Australia
Mount Isa is fondly known as the “oasis of the outback”. This remote city is situated in the North West Queensland, approximately 900km from Townsville. A lot of travellers know Mt Isa as a mining city and it does have a fantastic mining tour (Hard Times Mine which is a must do) but Mount Isa is much more than just a mining town.
To understand the size of the town and mine, then you need to visit the town’s lookout. If you have children then make sure you visit the Family Fun Park; a fantastic free water park and playground that the kids will love. Pack a picnic and spend the day out at Lake Moondarra. Enjoy the day cruising the lake and don’t miss the spectacular sunset.
Just outside of town is a shutdown uranium mine site of Mary Kathleen, which is a great place to visit and see the size of the mine and the turquoise water from the Uranium. If you still have time, you could become a history buff by visiting the Underground Hospital and the Riversleigh Fossil Centre – Mt Isa certainly does have a lot to offer for any traveller visiting the area.
Mount Isa is on the Barkly Highway between Darwin and Cairns.
By Justine from Our Family Get About
Photo via Flickr by Rob and Stephanie Levy
At just 136 kilometres from Townsville, which is a must-stop on any East Coast Itinerary, Charters Towers is a fantastic day trip from Townsville for people who want to experience a slice of the outback, or a must stop on an inland road trip.
Take a Charters Towers Walking Tour to uncover some of the town’s history, learn about its links to the gold rush and get spooky with one of its ghost tours. You also can catch a wonderful outback sunset on top of Towers Hill, and catch a film at one of the oldest drive-in theatres in Queensland.
Are you planning on camping in the outback? Shop for supplies here!
Mataranka is a tiny town in Australia’s Northern Territory that’s situated between Katherine and Daly Waters. The community is small and comprises of just four hundred people. That may seem like very few, but it’s an increase: in 2011, the popular was just under two hundred and fifty residents.
With only a few people living there, the community in Mataranka has just a few amenities: a police station, café, a restaurant, pub, and a general store. It’s not a lot, but it’s everything that you might need for a stopover. It was also big enough to inspire the novel “We of the Never Never,” which has become a classic within Australian literature.
Mataranka has two main attractions: Roper River and Mataranka Springs. Roper River is a popular swimming spot, although be warned: there have been sightings of an eight foot crocodile!
Much safer is Mataranka’s other attraction, Mataranka Springs. These hot springs are warm year-round, and are the perfect place to relax after a long day of driving. They’re popular with locals and tourists alike, so you may even get a chance to meet one or two Mataranka residents and find out what it’s really like living in this tiny Australian outback town.
By James from Worldwide Shopping Guide. Check out his favourite things to bring back from Australia here.
We recently visited Katherine as part of a camping trip around Australia. Katherine is a fairly easily accessible Australian outback town, located in the Northern Territory, around 320 kilometres south of Darwin. It can be done on a day trip from the city.
Our main reason for visiting Katherine was to see the Katherine Gorge in the Nitmiluk National Park and for me, this was by far the most beautiful landscape of our entire trip.
The Gorge is made up of 13 stunning gorges and there are a variety of ways to explore the gorge including cruise, kayak, bush walk and even fly over it. Due to time limitations we took a 2-hour cruise – part way through you jump out of the boat and get the opportunity to wander through one of the gigantic gorges which are carved from ancient sandstone. If you had more time I would recommend taking the time to kayak through the gorges. The area is just mesmerising.
Another must do whilst in Katherine is to swim in the nearby hot springs of Mataranka Hot Springs or Bitter Springs, which are about an hour’s drive away – or if you don’t fancy the drive, there are hot springs located within the town’s parameters. You can also visit the Katherine School of Air as well as have a swim in the natural swimming holes at Edith Falls.
By Melissa from Thrifty Family Travels. Check out her favourite things to do in Darwin here, the state capital which is often visited on the same trip as Katherine.
One of our favourite towns in Australia might surprise some people. Lying halfway between Adelaide and Darwin – but over 1,500km from both – Alice Springs is the heart of the Red Centre. It’s often visited as a stop on various road trip routes, but we reckon it deserves a trip all of its own.
The setting and nearby countryside is what makes Alice really stand out. The town itself is surrounded by the gorgeous MacDonnell Ranges, which are painted red during the incredible sunrises and sunsets. The famous Larapinta trail starts just four kilometres from the town centre and there are dozens of incredible walking and cycling tracks which are easily accessible. You won’t have to look very far to find some of Australia’s native icons, Alice is a haven for kangaroos, wallabies and wallaroos (which aren’t in fact a cross breed but their own unique species).
If you’re more of a culture buff you’ll enjoy getting a taste of Indigenous history, stories are told through artwork carved into the walls at nearby Emily and Jesse Gap. The town has a thriving art scene and is one of the best places in the country to buy Indigenous art work.
In the city centre, there’s plenty of cafes (Page 27 does a fantastic breakfast!), restaurants offering all sorts of cuisines and bars, some which play live music. Attractions within Alice Springs include the Alice Springs Desert Park, the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, looking out over the town at Untyeyetwelye (Anzac Hill) and learning about the realities of outback life at the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the School of the Air.
If you’re into wildlife, don’t miss the Kangaroo Sanctuary, a unique opportunity to spend time with (and if you’re lucky even feed) some gorgeous rescue kangaroos. A highlight of our four year stay in Australia.
By Cat from Walk My World – check out her favourite things to do in Alice Springs here
It’s the capital of the outback, so there’s lots of accomodation options in Alice Springs. But they can be expensive – check out this deals finder for the best accomodation for you and book today to secure your price!
Yulara is the fifth biggest town in the Northern Territory – with a permanent population of just over 800 people. Despite its tiny size, it pulls in over 300,000 visitors every year to visit probably the outback’s most loved attraction – the almighty Uluru.
Your $25 entry fee to the Uluru Kata Tutja National Park will cover all attractions within Uluru (please don’t climb it, by the way), but from the township, helicopter tours and astronomy walks can be arranged. The town is empty during the daytime, but its remoteness gives it an intriguing desert town atmosphere.
To reach Yulara, head south from Alice Springs and take the Lasseter Highway which leads to the town. It’s a popular route (in outback terms), but it’s very unadvisable to drive at night. If you’re feeling adventurous, another way of reaching Yulara is via The Outback Way, a mainly dirt road that extends from Laverton in Western Australia to Winton in Queensland – which is high on my bucket list!
Do you want to travel down the red centre? Check out my Darwin to Adelaide drive itinerary for inspiration!
Kalbarri is a town in Western Australia, about 550km, or six hours drive, north of Perth. It’s situated on the coast at the mouth of the Murchison River, and there’s a lot to offer visitors within the town.
The Kalbarri Ocean Drive is a breathtaking stretch of coastline with dramatic vistas that could rival Victoria’s Great Ocean Road. There are also some spectacular beaches to discover by foot, and a fantastic day can be spent walking around these.
Exploring the Murchison River is also often at the top of visitors to-do lists. This can be done with a boat tour, although more adventurous visitors might want to take a canoe tour.
No mention of Kalbarri would be complete without mention of Kalbarri National park, a gorgeous wilderness area known for its dramatic cliffs and wildflower diversity. This is definitely not to be missed when visiting.
Back to the town itself: don’t miss some of the many excellent dining opportunities, a few bars and outback style pubs, and fantastic guesthouse facilities.
By Laurence from Finding the Universe. Check out his best Kalbarri Coastline Photos here!
Located on the Shark Bay peninsula of Western Australia, Denham and its surrounding areas are incredible spots where the outback meets the sea. The red desert spans as far as the eye can see, until you turn around and catch a glimpse of the spectacular blue Indian Ocean.
Denham itself is a quaint little town with a range of amenities, making it the perfect place to base yourself while exploring the Shark Bay area. Despite its name, there are safe swimming beaches around the town, a tranquil jetty, and numerous cafes, bars and restaurants.
Attractions around Denham include spotting a fantastic view from Eagle Bluff, four wheel driving in the Francis Peron National Park, driving to Australia’s most westerly point, sunbathing on a beach made of shells (aptly named ‘Shell Beach’) and visiting the Hamelin Pool stromatolites, which are one of the oldest living things on earth. There are also Indigenous tours, scenic helicopter flights and heritage experiences leaving from the town.
There’s some Australian outback towns that are a complete shock when you reach them. Tom Price, at its impressive size, is one of them. The town is the highest in Western Australia and most people use it as a springboard to the bucket-list worthy Karijini National Park, but there’s a few fantastic attractions within the town itself.
Check out the Aboriginal cultural tours of the town and its surrounding areas, attend a Tom Price mining tour and drive or hike to the top of Jardrunmunhna (which is a rough four wheel drive track and a difficult hike!), which will give you breathtaking views of the Pilbara region.
Tom Price has a thriving centre, with bars, restaurants and cafes – perfect if you’re seeking somewhere for a tasty meal pre or post- Karijini. There are also lots of guesthouses and accomodation options available within the township.
Marble Bar is a small, remote Outback town in the far north of Western Australia which is famous for one thing, for being hot. Really hot. Marble Bar has had some of the most consistently hot temperatures in an already outrageously hot country, holding the record for the most days recorded at 37.8 Degrees Celsius or above.
It’s dry, dusty and a long way from anywhere, being over 1500 kilometres from Perth, and 2500 kilometres from Darwin.
But it’s not just red dust and rocks, Marble Bar is one of the quirkiest Outback towns in Western Australia. Stop in at the Ironclad Hotel, once a dangerous country pub, but now a friendly establishment full of outback memorabilia and serving much needed cold refreshments, before heading to the huge and colourful Jasper Deposits that surround Marble Bar and gave the town its name when it was once thought to be marble.
It’s hot in Marble Bar, but it’s a unique town to visit. Reach the outback town by travelling just over 200 kilometres inland from Port Hedland.
By Richard from Travel Tramp
Situated in Australia’s northwestern corner, the coastal town of Broome in the Kimberley region is a remote part of the Australian Outback that is hard to get to and even harder to leave!
With red dust banks that creep right to the edge of white sand beaches which, in turn are lapped by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, Broome is one of the most breathtakingly photographic spots in the whole country – and that’s from someone who has driven the long way round most of it!
With a rich pearl fishing heritage, you can visit several pearl farms around Broome to learn more about the development of this fascinating industry, as well as see the famous Horizontal Falls – a phenomena created by the huge tidal force here – situated not far away.
Then of course there’s the beaches to enjoy, the epic 4wd opportunities, the hidden camping spots, the local markets, the historic picture house and those killer sunsets for which the town is famed.
The best place to soak up the sunset is Cable Beach, where crowds gather everything night to toast the end to another spectacular day in paradise.
By Steph from Big World Small Pockets. Check out her favourite free things to do in Broome here.
Pssst… I spent a month living and working remotely in Broome. Check out my Broome travel guide here.
Kununurra is every traveller’s favourite stop over between Broome and Darwin. It’s right at the end of the Gibb River Road, an almighty odyssey that should be the top of any Australia traveller’s bucket list; it’s without a doubt the best thing I did in Australia.
If you’re spending some time in Kununurra, there’s plenty of fun things to enjoy. For starters, you can hike up to Kelly’s Knob, where you’ll be graced with spectacular views of the outback surroundings. The Grotto is a small canyon close to the town, which boasts spectacular red colours typical of the Kimberley region and has a waterfall and swimming hole, and Artlandish Aboriginal Art Gallery showcases some of the region’s best Aboriginal art. And if you fancy driving out to Wyndham, an hour’s journey away, drive up to the Five Rivers Lookout for breathtaking vistas of the Cockburn Ranges and Kimberley Region.
If you haven’t already drove down the Gibb River Road, I’d highly recommend checking out some of the bits closest to Kununurra while you’re in the area. To get to most of the road, you’ll need a four wheel drive vehicle, but you might be able to reach Emma Gorge with a two wheel drive. If you can organise a four wheel drive to reach El Questro, I’d highly recommend it – it’s a fantastic place.
Read more about the Gibb River Road here.
Thinking of road tripping the West Coast? Check out my Perth to Broome drive itinerary and Broome to Darwin road trip itinerary.
The spirit and natural beauty of these Australian outback towns continue to enthral and inspire me, no matter where I am in the world. I’d highly recommend visiting one, some, or all of these on any Australian trip to get to know the country on a different dimension, to see how people and animals survive in some of the harshest climates in the world, and to really engage in the uniqueness of the outback way of life. It’s an experience that, I can assure you, you’ll never forget.
What’s your favourite Australian outback town? Let me know in the comments or over on Facebook!