Australia’s eye-popping interior has inspired echoing, double-barreled terms like “Woop Woop” (remote, undiscovered location) and the Never-Never, describing the deepest reaches of the Outback. An early use of “outback” appears in an 1869 book describing the area west of Wagga Wagga in New South Wales. In her 1908 book We of the Never Never, Australian writer Jeannie Gunn offers that “those who venture into this land and love it will never never want to leave it.”
That’s a common sentiment for visitors experiencing the Outback’s Martian-like Red Centre and its extra-dimensional reaches into the tropical Top End and South Australia. May to November is generally a good time to go, but check beforehand—so vast, the Outback has several changeable climate zones.
Gateway to the southern Outback, Adelaide is roughly three-and-a-half hours from the rugged Flinders Ranges mountains, where activities include opal hunting and sleeping underground in Coober Pedy, or flying over the enormous natural amphitheater of Wilpena Pound.
Adelaide is also a jump point for Broken Hill in New South Wales, the former mining and filming mecca (Mad Max, among others) currently being eyed for tourist redevelopment as the “Hollywood of the Outback.”
One of Lonely Planet’s top 10 cities to visit in 2012, laid-back Darwin is the Outback’s northern gateway. Both roughly two hours north by road, the luxurious new Wildman Wilderness Lodge (www.wildmanwildernesslodge.com.au), situated in the magical Mary River Wetlands, offers stylish eco-cabins and safari tents, while Bamurru Plains offers wild bush luxury on the edge of Kakadu National Park.
Just under 1,000 miles south of Darwin, Alice Springs, once a sleepy telegraph repeater station and now quintessential Outback town, is the gateway to Kata Tjuta National Park and Uluru, or Ayers Rock. Sacred to the Aboriginals, this jaw-dropping monolith is a defining symbol of Australia. With a dedicated group division, Alice Springs-based Territory Discoveries (www.territorydiscoveries.com) is one established tour resource.
Qantas and Virgin Australia are among the carriers flying daily into Darwin (the closest Australian capital to Asia), with connections to airports in Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. It takes three days, but The Ghan, running to and from Adelaide to Darwin via Alice Springs through the Outback, is one of the world’s great train journeys.