8 Reasons Why You Should Visit the South Australian Outback

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I hear you, it’s a long way from anywhere, takes an effort to get to, and there’s not a whole lot there. Here are the reasons why you should still take the time to visit the South Australian Outback.

The Outback is the most amazing place. It’s not just a place, it’s an attitude, a lifestyle, a whole other Australian culture. Can you really say you’ve been to Australia if you haven’t seen the Outback?

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Feature image photo credit: Meg Law, traveltalesblog, Birdsville Track, Flinders Ranges & Outback

What is the Outback?

Red sand dunes contrasted against a blue sky with three people on the sand dune in the distance
Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, Sand Dunes, Flinders Ranges & Outback

I grew up on the edge of the Outback, and even now have family that still live there and visit often myself, but even I have to think about exactly what and where it is.

Interestingly, the “Outback” is more of an idea than a specific place.

To me, it’s all about the red dirt and saltbush, the lack of civilisation, the slower attitude of the people who do live there, the Akubra hats and Landcruisers with cattle dogs, the harshness, the heat, and the flies!

Google tells me that “the Outback is the colloquial name for the vast, unpopulated and mainly arid areas that comprise Australia’s interior and remote coasts”.

Wikipedia goes on to say “The term “outback” derives from the adverbial phrase referring to the back yard of a house, and came to be used in the late 1800s to describe the vast sparsely settled regions of Australia behind the cities and towns”.

There’s no line on a map that says where the Outback starts and finishes.

I’ve heard a few different ideas over the years, and the one that is often used, at least with respect to South Australia, is that the Outback is those areas that do not have a traditional “Local Council”.

So that means most of the state, roughly north of Blinman in the Flinders Ranges, north of the Eyre Highway on Eyre Peninsula and everything west of Ceduna is the Outback.

Why You Should Visit the South Australian Outback

South Australia’s Outback is a vast and wild landscape, stretching from the red desert sands of the Simpson Desert to the rugged coastline of the Great Australian Bight.

Despite its remote location, this region is a must-visit for any adventurous traveller. Here are some of the top reasons to visit the South Australian Outback.

Breathtaking Natural Wonders

View from a plane across the white expanse of a salt lake
Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, Lake Frome, Flinders Ranges & Outback

The Outback is home to some of the most stunning natural wonders in Australia, if not the world.

We know some of the most obvious ones, like Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, the largest lake in Australia and also the country’s lowest point, around 15m below sea level.

Most of the time the lake is a shining white expanse of salt as far as the eye can see, but every few years enough water flows down through Queensland to bring the lake to life.

A scenic flight when there is water in Lake Eyre is unforgettable.

There are colourful land formations such as the Kanku-Breakaways just north of Coober Pedy and the Painted Hills on Anna Creek Station.

And nearby, the opposite – the complete nothingness of Moon Plain, 1500km² of gibber plains. Or the Bunda Cliffs, where flat land drops abruptly 100m straight down into the Southern Ocean.

In fact, much of the appeal of the Outback is the big skies and distant horizons. It’s more about what isn’t there than what is. There is often so much flatness it feels like you can see forever.

At night the stars go on and on, and the Milky Way seems to sit right above your head.

Indigenous Culture

Landscape photo showing ochre cliffs
Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, Ochre Cliffs , Flinders Ranges & Outback

The Outback is rich in Indigenous culture, with many opportunities to learn about and experience the traditional ways of life of the area’s Aboriginal peoples.

From visiting rock art sites to participating in guided tours led by Indigenous guides, there are many ways to immerse yourself in the cultural heritage of this ancient land.

The most accessible Aboriginal experiences can be had around the northern Flinders Ranges area. Visit Iga Warta and do one of their tours to learn about the Adnyamathanha culture or hike to Arkaroo Rock to see rock art.

Visit Josephine’s Gallery in Coober Pedy to see Aboriginal Art and items such as didgeridoos.

South Australia’s newest national park, Nilpena Ediacara National Park, has opened just north of Parachilna.

While it is best known for its fossils, it also contains some significant Aboriginal sites and tours will include many of the cultural references of the land.

Australian Wildlife

Person standing near a tree looking towards a colourful hill in the distance
Photo credit: Mark Bondarenko, Kanku-Breakaways Conservation Park, Flinders Ranges & Outback

While Australia is sometimes depicted with kangaroos jumping down our city streets, in reality, if you stay in our cities you are only likely to see kangaroos in wildlife parks or zoos.

Make your way into the South Australian Outback though and you will be seeing them all over the place.

Along with kangaroos, you will more than likely see emus, wombats, dingoes, echidna, lizards (shingleback, blue-tongue and thorny devil), birds (wedge-tailed eagle, cockatoos, galahs), wallabies (yellow-footed rock wallaby) and if you are very lucky, maybe a quoll or a bandicoot.

It’s an Adventure

Two planes standing on their tails form a sculpture called plane henge. The sky is purple with a sunset
Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, Plane Henge, Flinders Ranges & Outback

I don’t mean you are going to find skydiving, bungee jumping and jet boats at every turn, you won’t. Heading out into the South Australian outback is in itself an adventure.

You will be going places that even most locals don’t go and the isolation alone can get the adrenalin pumping if you are not used to it.

If you’re in a 4WD and planning to get right off the beaten track there are some incredible adventures to be had.

The Oodnadatta Track was once considered difficult to traverse but is almost a highway now (in relative terms) – a gravel highway prone to be closed at the slightest rain though.

This is a perfect place to start on an Outback road trip if you are a beginner.

To really get off the beaten track now, you can instead drive Goog’s Track, the Strzelecki Track or even venture into the Simpson Desert.

Do your research though and make sure you are properly prepared for these drives – don’t let your adventure turn into a disaster.

The Stargazing is Unbelievable

A night time photo of the stars and Milky Way above the red hills of a distant Wilpena Pound
Photo credit: Matthew Storer, Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges & Outback

The South Australian Outback is one of those places where the stars go on forever. On a clear crisp night, you can look up and see billions of stars across the huge dome of the night sky.

It’s a stark reminder of just how small and insignificant we are in the universe.

While you might be distracted by the Milky Way blazing across the sky, don’t forget to look out for our most beloved stars, the Southern Cross.

Outback Towns

A girl shading her eyes while looking toward a white "Coober Pedy" town sign in the South Australian outback
Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, Coober Pedy, Flinders Ranges & Outback

Outback towns are a completely different world, and there are some great ones to explore in the South Australian Outback. Some of them stretch the definition of a town though, with only a handful of residents.

You will be welcomed with open arms and great hospitality, and probably leave after hearing a good tale or two.

Some of the towns you should visit include:

  • Coober Pedy – not many places can beat this opal mining town for quirkiness. This is an opportunity to sleep underground, play golf on a course without a single blade of grass and spend a day doing a mail run tour.
  • Blinman – a local told me once that this was where the Outback started. This town and the surrounding area have a population of around 40 people and is best known for its mining history. Today you can tour the mine, then come back into town for a meal. The pub makes some of the best meat pies in South Australia and you can get a traditional Cornish pasty at The Miners Crib Cafe Bakery.
  • William Creek – this is another “blink and you’ll miss it” town. There is really only one reason to come to this isolated town on the Oodnadatta Track, and that’s because it’s the hub for WrightsAir and their scenic flights over the South Australian Outback. The town has a pub, the WrightsAir office, a campground (with some cabin accommodation) and a couple of houses for the pilots and pub staff (often the same people!). The busy season sees a population of around 20 people here.
  • Oodnadatta – when you pass through here on the Oodnadatta Track you will likely stop anyway because it is the only settlement for hundreds of kilometres in any direction, but the Pink Roadhouse has really made itself a drawcard in the last few years. Apart from the distinctive colour, this is a hub for anything you might need, from a meal to advice on the road conditions ahead.
  • Woomera – this town exists because of the nearby RAAF base. It is an interesting stop if you would like to learn a little about the history of the missiles and rockets that were developed and tested at Woomera. There are a number of museums and displays to visit while you are here.

See the Outback Movie Sets

Small plane with three people standing next to it outside of the William Creek Hotel in Outback South Australia.
Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, William Creek Hotel, Flinders Ranges & Outback

Outback South Australia has been the location of many big movies filmed over the years. Mad Max and Pitch Black were both filmed near Coober Pedy, using the desolate landscape to its full advantage.

The area around Parachilna and the new Nilpena Ediacara National Park has been the set for films such as Rabbit Proof Fence, Beautiful Kate and Tracks. In 2021 Zac Efron filmed the Stan exclusive Gold here too.

The horror movie Wolf Creek had some of its scenes filmed in the northern part of the Flinders Ranges, and areas around the Outback too.

A new movie coming out soon that was recently shot in areas of the mid-north and the Outback is Royal Hotel, starring Hugo Weaving, Jessica Henwick and Julia Garner.

Enjoy the Solitude and Serenity

A road sign in the South Australian Outback showing distances to two towns with a white Landcruiser driving on the dirt road in the background
Photo credit: South Australian Tourism Commission, Oodnadatta Track, Flinders Ranges & Outback

You really can “get away from it all” out here in the South Australia Outback. It’s not too hard to find a place where you won’t see another person for days.

And there won’t be any pesky text messages or Facebook notifications – phone coverage is almost non-existent (you might find it in the towns).

If you don’t want to go to extremes, I recommend staying at one of the stations in the Outback, which often have remote camping spots available, but they are also not too far away if you need some assistance.

There really is nothing better than a night or two sitting around a campfire in a bush camp with no one else around.

10-Day South Australia Outback Adventure

If you would prefer to join a tour for your South Australian Outback Adventure then I recommend this small group tour that gives a great overview of everything the Outback has to offer.

Go from Adelaide, up to Coober Pedy, across to William Creek on the Oodnadatta Track. Continue on to Maree and down through the Flinders Ranges before a quick stop in the Clare Valley as you return to Adelaide.

Click through and read the whole itinerary to see how much is included in this fantastic tour.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning that Outback trip now.

It’s a long drive to the Outback, so why not break it up with some stops? Here are some ideas
Driving from Adelaide to Flinders Ranges
10 Things to Do while Staying at Wilpena Pound
Eating Flinders Feral Food at the Prairie Hotel, Parachilna

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About the author

Josie Kelsh is South Australian, born and bred, living here for her whole life. Travelling all over the world has shown her exactly how amazing South Australia is to live and travel in and she uses her passion to show it to you the way a local sees it.