Top 10 Australian outback towns to visit

By Andrew Leeson June 30, 2014
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Easy to overlook but endlessly rewarding to explore, here are 10 Australian outback destinations that are must-sees on any trip.

BIG CITIES AND iconic landscapes often draw the biggest tourist crowds, but if you’re prepared to get off the beaten track you can find some of Australia’s greatest gems.

Here are 10 outback towns that should be fighting for prime position on your bucket list.

Birdsville, Qld

Made famous for its annual races and classic outback pub, Birdsville sits amongst some of southern Queensland’s most starkly beautiful wilderness. Positioned at one end of the Birdsville Track, which runs 517km to Maree in South Australia, the town enjoys both the ruggedness of the Simpson Desert and the picturesque beauty of the Diamantina River.

Although the Birdsville horse races are the highlight of the town’s calendar, which sees the population swell from a couple of hundred people, to more than 5000 in September, the town remains a must-see at any time of the year.  Its proximity to the sand dunes of the Simpson Desert, scenic flights to Lake Eyre and heritage buildings make it a great starting point for exploring outback Australia.

Broken Hill, NSW

Broken Hill is another outback mining town that has expanded into a thriving community since its establishment in 1885. With more than 30 galleries, Broken Hill boasts a strong artistic community with the Pro Hart Gallery and Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery housing some of the country’s most iconic artworks.

Outside the town’s rich cultural attractions is the Flora and Fauna Sanctuary, spanning 180 hectares and allowing for a rare glimpse at a completely unspoilt native landscape. A half-kilometre trail through the sanctuary contains both past and contemporary Aboriginal artworks amid mesmerising countryside.

Longreach, Qld

As the home of the stockman and the founding location of Qantas airlines, Longreach is a must for anyone interested in recent Australian history. Located in the northern part of the idyllic Lake Eyre basin, Longreach promises a crash course in Australian culture as both the birthplace of Qantas and the home of the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame. The oldest-running pastoral college is also found here and flights can be chartered to tour the basin area.

Kalgoorlie, WA

A diverse range of attractions make Kalgoorlie-Boulder one of the most appealing and unique outback towns to visit in Australia. The otherworldly contrast between the ivory white of its salt lakes and the red ochres of the surrounding landscape alone set it apart. Add to this Antony Gormley’s skeletal sculptures, which inhabit Lake Ballard, and it makes for a sight that can’t be missed.

Still a thriving mining area, the twin towns of Kalgoorlie-Boulder have a huge open-cut mine that blasts regularly and can be viewed by the public daily. It also works as a great access point to the many ghost towns littered throughout WA, which are fascinating relics of Australia’s pioneering past.

Coober Pedy, SA

Synonymous with opals, ‘dugouts’ and otherworldly terrain, Coober Pedy is one of the most iconic and distinctive outback towns in Australia. With its famous subterranean accommodation and desolate surrounds, it holds a special place as an outback destination.

Whether teeing off for some night golf on the barren local course, exploring the Breakaways Reserve 32km north of Coober Pedy, or keeping cool in the underground housing, you can experience some unforgettable and unique Australian scenes.

Alice Springs, NT

For most people Alice Springs may be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of outback towns, and for good reason. Its relative proximity to Uluru and thriving indigenous art community make it a mecca for the adventure tourist. Amidst crimson red gorges and bordering the McDonnell Ranges, Alice Springs promises some of the most memorable walks in the country and the some of the best desert vistas in the world.

Coonabarabran, NSW

Coonabarabran, the closest town to the Warrumbungle ranges offers both idyllic landscapes and prime star-gazing opportunities. The Warrumbungle National Park contains some of the best walks in NSW and the nearby Pilliga has close to 500,000 hectares of native forest to enjoy.

The town itself offers a wide variety of accommodation and easily allows day trips to other smaller towns in the region.  It also houses one of the largest observatories in Australia with Siding Spring Observatory promising some of the best astronomical views in the country.

Mt Isa, Qld

Mt Isa might conjure up images of smoke stacks and mining but surrounding this town is a countryside filled with scenic 4WD tracks, man-made lakes and a heritage-listed national park.

The town also offers the chance to travel nearly 70km underground for a tour of a mine shaft. 250km north of the city is the Riversleigh fossil site which contains some of the richest fossils in the world dating back 10 to 25 million years.

About 150km further north from Riversleigh is Lawn Hill National Park, which boasts astounding gorges and sandstone ranges that can be toured individually or as part of the many tours leaving the town itself.

Melrose, SA

Nestled amongst the Flinders Ranges is the area’s oldest town of Melrose, originally a mining town which has since become a base for tourists visiting the Mount Remarkable National Park. Amongst the slew of historical buildings a clear vision of Australia’s past emerges and offers a step back into its rich history.

The opportunity to explore many tracks and ranges of the Mount Remarkable National Park alone makes the town one for the bucket list, with an overabundance of walks that Melrose a beautiful gateway for the keen adventurer.

Kununurra, WA

A popular town for exploring the Kimberley region, Kununurra offers ample tours allowing you to decide how to experience the region. The lakes, waterfalls and springs throughout the area let you escape the heat while still enjoying the iconic landscape. 

The Bungle Bungles at Purnululu National Park are within driving distance and offer some of the most recognisable landscapes in Australia with late afternoons making for spectacular views.