This suggested itinerary for a month in the Australian Outback takes in all the major sites, starting from Alice Springs in the “Red Centre”, up to Darwin at the top of the Northern Territory, and ending in Broome in Western Australia.
If you love the great outdoors, are partial to a road trip and a spot of warm weather, then the Outback’s a top place to spend a month or so.
“Load some TEDs in your esky, sling ‘em in the back of your yute, and head on up the Track.*”*Buy some Toohey Extra Dry beers, put them in an ice-cooler in the back of your truck, and drive up the Stuart Highway.
The Australian Outback itinerary
Alice Springs – Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) – Kings Canyon – The MacDonnell Ranges – Katherine (Nitmiluk National Park) – Kakadu National Park – Darwin – Kununurra – Purnululu National Park (The Bungle Bungles) – Broome – Top Tips for the Outback
Day 1 – Alice Springs
Alice Springs is served by an airport and places to rent a car / camper van for your month-long itinerary in the Outback. In itself it’s a good base for a couple of days. Sites includes the Old Telegraph Station and the Alice Springs Desert Park – home to a colourful array of birdlife and some interesting looking desert critters.
Day 3 – Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (Ayers Rock and the Olgas)
It’s about a 5-hour drive from Alice to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park; where you can base yourself at Yulara resort in everything from fancy hotels, upmarket glamping tents, or the regular campsite.
The mighty monolith of Uluru and the domes of Kata Tjuta are both sacred to the local Aboriginal people. The Cultural Centre – just before you arrive at “The Rock” of Uluru – provides a simplistic but worthwhile overview of the myths and culture of the sites’ traditional owners.
Local Aboriginal groups consider “The Rock” sacred and prefer the footsteps of visitors not to ascend the steep slope to the top. It’s not forbidden to climb it, but I preferred instead to walk round the rock.
A well-marked path takes you the 6 miles (9 km) around the base of the rock. The walk itself isn’t arduous; but it does afford you the opportunity to get up close and personal with the nuances and colours as the light catches it at different times of day.
Kata Tjuta is less than an hours’ drive from Uluru. Made up of 36 domes, Kata Tjuta has a more varied landscape than Uluru. It may not have the former’s iconic status but – for me – its Valley of the Winds Walk was more memorable.
Day 6 – Kings Canyon
Stunning, stunning, stunning. That’s the only word I can use to describe the Rim Walk at Kings Canyon, which lies another 4-5 hours drive from Uluru-Kata Tjuta. Good walking boots are needed, as is plenty of water. Just don’t get too close to the edge.
Day 8 – The West MacDonnell Ranges
Moving into week 2 of this Outback itinerary, it’s time to go backtracking to Alice (unless you have a 4WD and can cut across on the desert roads), for a couple of days exploring the Western MacDonnell Ranges. They’re well worth the effort. Allow an overnight at Glen Helen to allow time to fully explore. Standley Chasm, Serpentine Gorge and Ormiston Gorge are some of the rocky sites en-route.
Day 10 – The East MacDonnell Ranges
Back to Alice, and you can visit most of the East MacDonnells in a day. Trephina Gorge Nature Park for walking, and the remnants of Arltunga Historical Reserve, a former goldrush town and now ghost town, which you can poke around for an hour or two.
Days 11 & 12 – A long drive up “The Track” (aka the Stuart Highway)
The Stuart Highway runs from Adelaide in South Australia all the way up to Darwin at the top of the Northern Territory. It’s a bloody long way. Like a full day-and-a-half drive kinda long way.
For entertainment, practice your bush-wave en-route to the rarity that is a fellow motorist.
For a brief driving respite, stop en-route at the Devils Marbles (‘cos you may as well!), and overnight at the alien-themed campsite of Wycliffe Well Holiday Park. This place makes the most of local UFO sightings, and also has little green frogs jumping around the toilets, which make for entertainment of an entirely different kind!
Day 13 – Katherine
Katherine, around 200 miles (320 km) before you reach Darwin, is a good stop-off point for the hot but spectacular Nitmiluk National Park and Katherine Gorge. You can do walks here, but probably only short ones – I don’t think I’ve ever drunk so much water in my life; it was THAT hot.
Day 15 – Kakadu
From Katherine, it’s a relatively short hop (by Australian standards) to Kakadu National Park, and your half-time point of your month in the Australian Outback. Home of wetlands, some fine examples of Aboriginal art, and crocodiles. There are lodge and campsite accommodation options within the park; and plenty to explore over a couple of days, or longer with a 4WD.
Day 17 – Darwin
Darwin lives in a permanent heat-haze of 31 degrees Celsius, wet or dry depending on the time of year. Residents worship the god of air conditioning.
My highlights included Fannie Bay Gaol, the Museum and Art Gallery of the NT featuring some fine example of Aboriginal art; and the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre, south out of town. The latter features war stories told from both an Australian and Japanese perspective, which – having been taught only about Hitler at school in the UK – gave me a new insight as to the extend of Japan’s influence in the war years.
What Darwin also does particularly well is sunsets. Sit on Mindil beach with a curry from the night market and watch the sun set. Heaven on earth.
Day 20 – Territory Wildlife Park and Litchfield National Park
Termite mounds in the former. Croc-free swimming holes in the latter. Surreal and blissful in one sweet day.
Day 21 – Keep River National Park
Heading back south towards Katherine and then West on the Victoria Highway, you reach Keep River National Park just before the border with Western Australia. Being the kind of girl who has an inherent dislike for being cooped up in a vehicle, it makes a fine spot for a top hike, amidst rocky outcrops overlooking desert landscapes.
Top tip: Before you cross over into Western Australia (WA), eat your fruit and veg. Your vehicle will undergo some kind of third-degree inspection here, to prevent any unknown pests being carried into WA. Start your carrot-eating frenzy in advance! WA is also 1.5 hours behind Northern Territory time.
Day 22 – Kununurra (WA)
Kununurra is a tiny town with the basic amenities you’ll need for a few days.
From here you can take day-trips to the Hoochery Distillery, Lake Argyle and the Argyle Homestead, and the Zebra Rock factory. Zebra rock is unique to these parts – it’s attractive stripe@y rock that can be bought finished as jewellery, ornaments, keyrings and all the usual gifts.
OR, you can buy a bag of (much cheaper) uncut rocks to do your own thing with. It’s quite soft, which means that sawing it and sanding it isn’t too tricky; and if you want a shiny finish then clear nail polish will do the trick. Sadly the softness of the rock does make it a bit prone to damage if you try and drill it – as I discovered the hard way when making a pendant.
Day 25 – Bungle Bungle National Park (the Bungle Bungles) – fly-in fly-out safari tour
@For me this was the highlight of my month in the Australian Outback – Purnululu (aka The Bungle Bungles) National Park. With a name like that, what’s not to love?
I only knew this place existed due to the power of television. Aussie soap Neighbours’ scriptwriters must’ve been well-in with the WA Tourist board in the late 80s/early 90s, ‘cos main character Helen raved about her “Bungles” holiday over the course of several episodes. Teenage me lapped it up.
You can do the Bungles under your own steam if you have a full-on 4WD and the ability to change tyres regularly.
OR, you can do a fly-in, fly-out safari.
Flying-in is in a small plane (up to 16-seater), and is followed up with private led walks through the Bungles’ beehive domes. The experience comes complete with glamping for one night and more walks the next day, then it’s back on the small plane to Kununurra.
Flights back tend to be on (even) smaller planes, as many people take a flight over the Bungles without landing, so demand for afternoon return flights is much lower. This means you could end up with your own private plane flight!!
Days 27-31 Broome
The morning after you’ve consoled the state of your bank account with a fine glass of Aussie red, it’s time to head West towards Broome.
For the sturdy of heart, or those with a 4WD, you can take the Gibb River Road (add on extra days for attractions on the way).
Otherwise, it’s a long, loooooooooong drive on the highway.
But it’s worth it.
Broome is beautiful.
Cable Beach – an expanse of sandy shallow beach with warm (yes, WARM water). Though I grew up by the North Sea, so anything south of Arctic is positively tropical.
Outdoor cinema with deckchairs. Broome Crocodile Park. Broome Bird Observatory. Mango wine. Camel rides at sunset. Bliss, pure bliss.
Top tips for a month in the Australian Outback
Slip, slop, slap
That’s the advice of the Australian Government – to slip on a shirt, slop on the high-factor sunscreen and slap on a hat. The ozone layer is thin in these parts, so don’t skip your slip-slop-slap!
Water, water, water
Even for a short walk you will need a stack of it. More than you think. I’ve never drunk so much water as when walking in Australia. Carry plenty in your vehicle too. You can buy supplies easily in all the supermarkets.
When to go
The “Top End” (north) of the country has a rainy season (November-March).
August and September were ideal for visiting the Outback. The flies weren’t out in full force, and the temperature around Alice Springs was still around 28-30 degrees C. In the Bungle Bungles at the end of September the mercury hit 44 degrees C. The locals described this as “just warming up.”
Yes, there are snakes and spiders. I saw both. But my main worry was crocodiles. There are two types – saltwater (salties) and freshwater (freshies). Salties don’t only live in salt water though! They are the bigger ones and more likely to kill you. Freshies can still do damage. Either way, heed any warning signs about crocs. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of one.
Try and avoid driving in the dark. Those pesky kangaroos will be cute the first time you see one, but less cute when they “boing” out in front of your van.
Self-catering can save costs (Australia is expensive) and is easily do-able in a camper van. Supermarket food is pricey, but far less pricey than eating out. You can also buy local meats, such as kangaroo – to cook yourself. For me, kangaroo tasted a bit like lamb, but not as tasty.
Unlike in other wine-producing countries such as France, Spain and Italy; local wine is also expensive. You buy it from a “bottle shop” (off-licence / liquor store) rather than from the supermarket.
To find out more about Australia and the Outback
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