A trip into Australia’s Outback is often seen as a big commitment, but these week-long Outback trips prove that it doesn’t have to be.
In actual fact, there are multiple Outback 4WD tracks close to major cities like Melbourne, Perth, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide - journeys which require less planning, transit, gear, supplies and time to accomplish than a month-long, cross-country Outback adventure.
1. Murray-Sunset National Park, VIC
Located in the heart of Victoria’s semi-arid Mallee country (and deceptively close to Melbourne) is Murray-Sunset National Park, a low-key remote wilderness that’s home to red dirt expanses, pockets of woodland and few facilities.
The park features multiple criss-crossing sandy tracks, with corrugations in some firmer areas and rolling dunes in others, which requires low range and high ground clearance. The Pink Lakes, which garner their colour from unique algae that resides in the water, are a highlight of Murray-Sunset and sit on their southern edge, while campgrounds are spread throughout the park with regularity.
2. Carnarvon National Park, QLD
Just over 700km northwest of Brisbane is Carnarvon National Park, an Outback Queensland oasis punctuated by sandstone ranges and deep gorges. Straddling the Great Dividing Range as it arcs through Central Queensland, the park is largely made up of rolling highlands that drop into dramatic gorges carved by time and the elements. The most impressive of these is Carnarvon Gorge itself, which is a 30km highlight reel of natural diversity and spectacular scenery that’s easily accessible to visitors, with multiple attractions hanging off of it: the Amphitheatre, Moss Garden, Baloon Cave and more.
The park has multiple highlights, and though they are close as the crow flies, they’re mostly separated by long and winding 4WD tracks that offer a guided tour to the region. This means that a deep dive into the park will require around a week, and the longest distance without fuel is 428km (Injune to Mitchell through the Mount Moffatt section). The major sections of the Carnarvon National Park include Carnarvon Gorge, Mount Moffatt and its elevated escarpments, Ka Ka Mundi’s raised plateaus and the more remote Salvator Rosa to the west – all of which are home to impressive vistas and visceral landscapes.
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3. Googs Track, SA
Often equated to a smaller version of the Simpson Desert, Googs Track is a direct route from Australia’s arid interior to its south coast. Constructed between 1973 and 1976 by John Denton, or Goog, and his son Dinger, the track crosses the many red sand dunes of the Yellabinna Regional Reserve as it stretches out towards Malbooma in the north.
Side trips along the way include Googs Lake – a great bush camp – and Lois Rocks, while a venture up Mount Finke and some of the higher sand dunes along the track yield some fantastic panoramic views and a greater perspective on the arid landscapes that surround you. Travellers should travel from south to north, and the 350km journey from Ceduna on the coast to Glendambo will take around three days.
4. The Darling River Run, NSW
A sojourn down the Darling River offers travellers a slice of Outback New South Wales with a strong pastoralist history attached. The full trip from Walgett (or Bourke for many) to Wentworth, which is where the Darling converges with the iconic Murray River, can take anywhere from a couple of days to well over a week, such is the volume of tantalising side trips available (most prominently White Cliffs, Kinchega and Mungo national parks).
The drive down the Darling is easy, the riverside camping is spectacular, and the stories of its past as a transportation route are tangible. Before railroads made it into the Outback in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the ability of paddle steamers to navigate the river opened up the region considerably, and breathed life into a place that is still thriving today. While the imprint of this history is faint today, the serene beauty of the Darling River links the two together, and its Outback charms have remained intact through the intervening years.
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The Flinders Ranges begin a mere 200km north of Adelaide, which makes a trip north from South Australia’s capital an enticing prospect to Outback travellers. While the larger Flinders Ranges region spills further afield into the Strzelecki Desert to the north and east, much of the region’s essence can be found within Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park in the south.
From The Outback Highway the adventure begins immediately, as the drive through Brachina Gorge and Bunyeroo Valley is one of the Flinders Ranges’ best tracks. The park is overflowing with awe-inspiring vistas of Wilpena Pound, the Heysen Range and the Elder Range, which are visible both from the track or the many iconic lookouts which dot the trails. There are multiple campgrounds within the park and in the surrounding wilderness areas - such as Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park and Arkaroola to the north – that give travellers complete flexibility when it comes to planning a quick trip into South Australia’s Outback.
6. The Holland Track
The Holland Track was created as a shortcut from Western Australia’s south coast to the goldfields of Coolgardie in the late 19th century, and today is a genuine introduction to the state’s seemingly endless Outback.
Near the beginning of the track at Hyden are some of the area’s most recognisable landforms: Wave Rock, Hippos Yawn and The Humps. The drive then offers up a series of rutted sections of track through swampy and low woodland areas that is susceptible to flooding, and winds along a single-lane track that transitions to an easy gravel drive. The entire trip is best done over three days, and in springtime the wildflowers are out in force. Perhaps most amazingly of all, the beginning of the Holland Track is only around four hours from Perth, making it an easily achievable week-long return trip for travellers in South West Western Australia.