by Polly Bainbridge
Graphic by Deanna Klima-Rajchel
Twenty years ago, the average American considered an Australian to be a dust-covered farmer speaking with an accent as thick as his hat is wide, covered in a thin layer of red sand.
Fast forward to 2016, and this image has been superseded by images of the fashionable Sydney-siders who know how to work hard during the week, party hard on the weekends and recover with smashed avocado brunches, delectable coffee and a day browning on the beaches or riding the waves.
Yet in the Northern territory there still remains a hint of the Crocodile Dundee portrayal. The outback, with its red sands, massive rock formations, scraggly trees, and occasional oasis-esque vegetation is a part of Aussie culture that many fail to experience.
Darwin is the port of the Australian north and features an industrial build on one side before it branches down to a boardwalk and beach. Driving south from Darwin you soon reach Litchfield National Park where you can swim in fresh spring waterfalls—just make sure to watch out for the freshwater crocs. Drive east from here and you will enter the massive Kakadu National Park, which stretches over a massive 7,646 square miles.
Driving through the National Park gives you the opportunity to see spectacular sunsets, small forest fires, large swathes of river and numerous waterfalls and small ponds. If you visit the Arnhem lands, which border Kakadu to the east, you get a glimpse into the historical aboriginal art and lifestyle.
Flying down to the small city of Alice Springs, you come closer to the red sands and rock formations portrayed in the movie Mad Max. Despite its large population of tour guides and aboriginals, Alice Springs isn’t a party town, but rather a rest stop for travelers and backpackers to raise some more funds. Driving south of Alice you’ll be greeted with spectacular views of empty red land with scraggly trees and bushes popping up every now and again.
The highlights of the Outback near Alice are Ayers Rock, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. These rock formations all tower over 1000 feet above the flat ground as if out of nowhere, but were created by the shifting of the plates of the earth. As a result, the formations are all made of layers of rock stacked on top of each other and then forced up at an angle.
Despite the incredible landscapes, a reason many travel to Australia is to see the marsupials that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. The outback is the place to see kangaroos, wallabies, and wallaroos hopping along the road or around the areas you hike. Another animal highlight is the dingos, which may investigate are there and steal a shoe or two while you lie in your swag (a canvas sleeping bag) watching the incredibly clear night sky around the campfire.
What makes the Outback such a hidden gem of Australia is not just this incredible landscape and collection of wildlife, but also the lack of connection with the outside world and the opportunity to discover a hidden gem.