Nine Outback adventures for your Australian bucket list
No trip to Australia is complete without a trip into the Outback, and the Northern Territory especially has iconic Outback in spades.
Depending on how adventurous you are, take a hot air balloon ride over the Red Centre from Alice Springs, pay your respects to sacred Uluru and Kata Tjuta, or canoe through the gorges of the Katherine River. Petrolheads will love off-roading along the dusty Binns Track, and if you prefer nature in the raw, a heli-fishing trip or airboat safari gets you right into Australia's natural heart. If you want to tick loads off your adventure travel wish list, a two-week visit to Australia's Outback is just the ticket.
1. Go bushwalking
The only limit on bushwalking in the Northern Territory is your personal stamina and fitness. Choose a single day walk along the Larapinta Trail – one of Australia's greatest walks – or tackle its full 223km length over 12 to 20 days from Alice Springs to Mount Sonder. Other great bushwalking areas include the majestic, eroded red sandstone landscapes of King's Canyon, the waterfalls and rock art of Koolpin Gorge in the Kakadu National Park, and the arduous five-day Jatbula Trail in Nitmiluk National Park.
2. See Uluru and Kata Tjuta from the back of a camel
Uluru and Kata Tjuta are spectacular natural and cultural wonders however you view them. Make your bucket list trip to view Uluru even more memorable by gently loping through the sand dunes on the back of a friendly camel. Your knowledgeable guides point out the National Park's incredible landscape, flora and fauna as you rhythmically plod along. Camel tours are available throughout the day - our favourite is at sunrise, as the cool of the night burns off and the desert bursts into life.
3. Experience Indigenous Australian culture
Indigenous Australian culture is strong and evident in The Northern Territory, where it's celebrated all over. Get an insight into the sacred sites and heritage of the Pudakul and Anangu people on one of their cultural tours. You'll learn all about The Dreamtime, bush tucker (try a witchetty grub if you're brave enough), outdoor cooking techniques; traditional medicine, music (including clapsticks and the didgeridoo) and crafts such as dilly bag making and basketry. You'll also have a chance to chat in-depth about the personal experiences of Indigenous Australians.
4.Canoe the Katherine River
The Katherine River has flowed through the glorious, haunting landscape of the Nitmiluk National Park for millennia, carving out 13 stunning sandstone gorges. You can explore them on foot, by boat or even helicopter, but if you're adventurous and up for a challenge, you can canoe through them. Don't expect a relaxing paddle, though – the heat can be fierce and you'll need to carry your canoe up over the rapids and rocky bars separating the gorges. The memorable natural features more than make up for the effort.
5. Drive a 4x4 along the Binns Track
If you have more 4x4 driving experience than simply negotiating potholes along Home Counties lanes, the massive 2,191km Binns Track is the place to do some serious off-roading. It starts in South Australia, takes in Alice Springs and finishes near the Top End. You'll be following scrubby Outback dirt tracks that include rocks, water crossings, powdery bull dust and occasionally bitumen. The track passes through bush camps, townships, desert, open plains, national parks and mountain ranges – the whole Outback experience from behind the wheel.
6. Cycle the Outback
If you love the challenge of mountain biking, and want to push your capabilities to the limit, Outback cycling is a unique experience. Alice Springs, with its formidable desert environment and numerous waymarked trails, is fast gaining a reputation as one of Australia's top mountain biking spots. Bike hire from the Trail Station Café comes with helmets, lock and trail guides. If undulation isn't your thing, follow the scenic Simpsons Gap Bike Path – it's flat, sealed, and takes in 17km of wide open natural space in the picturesque foothills of the West MacDonnell ranges.
7. Drift over the Red Centre in a hot air balloon
Nothing says 'bucket list' more than a hot air balloon trip over spectacular landscape. Drifting effortlessly above, the red centre of Australia is even redder at sunrise - and silent, apart from a gentle desert breeze. Float over the majestic West MacDonnell ranges as the rising sun illuminates the gum trees and desert oaks, and keep your eyes peeled for wildlife – kangaroos and wallabies with the occasional wild camel or brumby browsing among the spinifex.
8. Take a floatplane tour... and more
Have you got any of these on your bucket list: a floatplane flight (with landing on a lagoon); a helicopter trip; an airboat tour of wetlands and monsoonal rainforest - ending with a fast lap; and a lagoon cruise? Tick them all off in one go with one of the ultimate tours based in Darwin. You can also book a whole range of scenic and safari helicopter tours – even heli-fishing, which gives you access to the Top End's remotest and least accessible fishing spots.
9. Have a beer and a bite in the Outback ... by helicopter
You haven't experienced the real Australia if you've not had a fridge-cold tinnie or stubbie at an authentic Outback pub. For those who haven't stumbled into one along the Binns Track or while touring the Red Centre, Airborne Solutions run their Heli Pub tour from Darwin, flying you off to five different pubs and watering holes in the Outback for refreshing cold beers. Get a feel for the remoteness of the bush outposts and chat to the colourful local characters - perhaps taking their Outback tales with just a little pinch of salt.