A holiday in the outback is easier than you think. You don't have to be an experienced off-roader, or head to extremely remote areas, to "go bush". Nor do you need oodles of time or even a tent. A week or two is plenty to head out west for a 5 star experience in rural Australia.
Why go? Adventure, life on the land, history, living sustainably and learning about a different way of life. Best reason of all, because it is fun.
Try this route. We travelled it recently and the kids gave it a Double A rating. "Absolutely Awesome".
Brisbane via Charleville ("Gateway to the West") – Cunnamulla (station life) – Lightening Ridge (black opal mining) – Goondiwindi – Brisbane. Route map.
This is an easy 2,000 km round trip from Brisbane for explorers and adventurers of all ages. The road is all bitumen so a 4-wheel drive is not essential. Rather than stay in town, it is more fun to stay on stations. There is often a camp fire and other travellers and station owners are usually keen to swap stories. Even a tent is not necessary as many properties have shearers' accommodation or cottages for rent.
Stunning outback sunsets from the artesian tub spas
From Brisbane it takes about 6 hours by car to get "outback". To put this in perspective, this is about twice the time it takes to watch the blockbuster film Australia twice.
Charleville, 750km west of Brisbane: On the Warrego River, this town describes itself as the "gateway to the West". We spent a couple of leisurely days here and got our history fix from the self-guided walking and drive tours available from the Tourist Information centre. Evening highlights were the Bilby Experience, where you are guaranteed to see the nocturnal bilbies, and the Cosmos Centre. Being such a long way from city lights the clear viewing of the night sky, weather permitting, is a must. Bookings recommended.
Cunnamulla (200 km south of Charleville): A surprisingly pleasant and proud town, Cunnamulla is a real country cross roads on the Matilda highway. This north / south inland route runs through western New South Wales via outback Queensland to the Gulf Country.
The town sits on top of the Great Artesian Basin, one of the largest underground water basins in the world. The Artesian Time Tunnel explains this amazing occurrence. But best of all it means there are artesian bores – ie steaming hot spa baths – for use throughout the area. Some are for publical use but for my money the best ones to frolic in are the tin tubs on properties gazing at 360 degree views across the bush watching the sun set and the moon rise.
Station stays: We spent most of our time out west on properties. We camped, others slept out in their swags while for some the shearers' cottages are the go. This is the closest you get to living on the land without the responsibility of owning it. Lambs needed their tails docking, feral cats needed trapping and eggs needed collecting. There are plenty of other day jobs: mustering, shearing and catching yabbies for dinner. At night, under the twinkling stars with shadows spilling from the moon, spinning a yarn around the camp fire and toasting marshmallows sounds corny, is corny but really is a lot of fun. It is so beautiful and such a different world to the big smoke. Best sites to find station stays are Outback Beds and Queensland farm stays.
Lightening Ridge, 400km further south, is a mining town. Not coal but for black opals as this is one of the world's richest deposits. It is a dusty, quirky town in northern NSW just over the border from Queensland where people spend a lifetime digging their own holes underground hoping to find precious gems. There is a wild west feel to the place. On entering town there is a sign post which says it all: Welcome to Lightening Ridge. Population: who knows. Apparently on census nights, no one is ever in town to be counted.
And finally, Goondiwindi (350 km further east on the run home): Back in the late 1800s this border town's job was to control the illegal trade between Queensland and New South Wales. Set on the beautiful Macintyre River nowadays it is a thriving, peaceful town with good fishing, long walks and a beautifully restored massive pub (with comfy rooms), the Victoria Hotel.
So no more excuses. Just go. Throw the tent in the boot and explore your own backyard.