On an Outback road to somewhere

australian outback road sign

When a Perth-based friend recently decided to move back to Australia’s East Coast, the opportunity for an adventure was too good for Sophie Suelzle to pass up. Sophie and her boyfriend packed their bags, borrowed a tent and booked a one-way ticket to partake in what would be the most epic road trip of their young(ish) lives…

“It is a strange thing to have explored numerous places overseas, yet never the country you call home. Shamefully, until the beginning of this year, I could honestly say I had barely ventured out of Victorian borders, except for a solitary school camping trip.

Arriving in Perth at 6.30am with bleary eyes and the ‘too much coffee’ jitters, we squashed into our friend’s already bursting Volkswagen Hatchback – not quite a vintage classic, but hey – and prepared to make tracks. Our destination was the Nullarbor Plain. Derived from the Latin ‘nullus’ and ‘arbor’, meaning ‘no tree’, the plain occupies an area of about 200,000 square kilometers and stretches all the way from western to southern Australia. Crossing the Nullarbor is considered a quintessential Outback experience, and so with a mixtape loaded with Creedence Clearwater Revival and a fully stocked esky in the boot, we hit the road.

None of us knew what to expect, but as the days passed and the earth changed from brown to red, our excitement became tangible. It’s as if the sky opens up before you; the landscape becomes a blur of terracotta sand, interspersed with ghost gums, cacti and, oddly enough, palm trees. Troops of kangaroos and wallabies, startled by our approach, would hop gracefully into the distance, their camouflage coats melting into the landscape; huge wedge-tailed eagles rode the currents, floating high in search of pray; and camels glared stubbornly from the side of the road. Maybe it was the cabin fever settling in, but in the Nullarbor the horizon honestly seems infinite.

If there is one thing of which you can be sure of, it’s that there are a plethora of interesting characters in the Outback. Stopping at roadhouses dotted along the way, we got to know many of the friendly locals, debated the standard measurement of a schooner (the mighty beer glass) and sung our fair share of karaoke (apologies to Bonnie Tyler and anyone unfortunate enough to hear my rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart). Interestingly, most of the travellers we spoke to were retirees or young tourists from overseas. It was rare to meet anyone under the age of 50, or any backpackers who called Australia home.

Although daylight hours have their charms, nothing quite compares to gazing up at the night sky at 3am in a completely remote part of the desert – with the possible exception being winning a meat tray at the Coober Pedy Pub trivia night. The still, perfect silence of the surrounding landscape is as overwhelming as it is isolating. The crisp temperature wasn’t the only thing making us shiver. It was an incredibly clear night, and without any light pollution to interfere, it felt like the desert sky was ours alone to enjoy.

Sitting on the roof of the car, we watched satellites blink softly past, clearly visible to the naked eye, and every few minutes a shooting star would illuminate the night. What I first mistook for a cloud was later identified as a galaxy. Standing in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by darkness, with the cold clear light of billions of dazzling stars twinkling above, I have never felt quite so small, or so fortunate.

So if you have the chance to explore this great wide land, jump at it! You will be amazed and delighted at the countless wonders waiting to be discovered in outback Australia!”

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* photo by Gill Cross – Intrepid Photography Competition

About the author

Sue Elliot - Like many of us, Sue contracted a serious travel bug at an early age. She's visited over 90 countries in search of a cure, but her wanderlust just seems to get worse. Thankfully at Intrepid Travel she's amongst people who understand the affliction and since 1998 Sue has enjoyed being our blog and newsletter editor. Here you'll find helpful travel advice and inspiring tales from Sue and other Intrepid travellers.

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