There's so much more to the Outback than just red dirt. So much of Australia is encompassed by this single term, this single idea - such a huge diversity of landscapes and wildlife, such an amazing range of landscapes, Indigenous cultures and history that you could spend a lifetime exploring this vast area and never grow bored.
Many of Australia's best Outback destinations lie well off the beaten track, in areas that are as rugged and remote as they are amazing. And all provide life-enriching experiences that are well worth the effort to discover.
THE KIMBERLEY, WA
There's something both romantic and exciting about tackling perhaps Australia's most spectacular region of Outback scenery in a 4WD, getting up close and personal with this gorgeous landscape. The Gibb River Road, an Outback highway stretching from Broome to Kununurra, is a classic 4WD journey for any overland enthusiast, and it's also the perfect introduction to the region, passing through many of the natural sights that make the Kimberley famous: the red-rock gorges, the deep rivers and pools and the majestic mountain ranges. There's plenty more to discover once you get off that road, too, including the World Heritage-listed Purnululu National Park, the famous black and orange striped domes of the Bungle Bungle Range, stunning Cathedral Gorge, and tranquil waterhole at Bell Gorge.
DON'T MISS With APT, enjoy a breathtaking helicopter flight over Mitchell Falls, taking in the full majesty of this multi-tiered cascade from the air.
THE KIMBERLEY COAST, WA
The Australian Outback doesn't end where the ocean begins. In fact some of the country's most memorable Outback experiences are only accessible via the waters of the Kimberley, along Western Australia's rugged, spectacular northern coastline, and upon the rivers that flow through the region itself. There's so much to discover in this area, so much that can only be reached by Small Ship: see the spectacular Montgomery Reef, which appears to emerge from the ocean as the tide recedes; discover Indigenous rock art that dates back some 20,000 years on Jar Island; gaze at the soaring red cliffs in Prince Frederick Harbour; and of course, see the incredible Horizontal Falls near Talbot Bay.
DON'T MISS At 80 metres high, King George Falls is the tallest single-drop waterfall in Western Australia, and you'll have the chance to get up close to this spectacular sandstone cliff on board your Zodiac excursion vessel.
CAPE YORK, QLD
Surely one of Australia's most underappreciated areas of Outback wilderness sits at the very top of Northern Queensland: Cape York. This long finger of land is home to treasures both natural and man-made, to spectacular landscapes and unforgettable encounters with cultures that can seem so foreign, and yet are such an integral part of the fabric of Australia. On the Cape York peninsula you'll visit Quinkan Country, said to be one of the top 10 Indigenous rock art sites in the world, a gem that is one of Queensland's best-kept secrets. Cape York is also the home of the Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park, a wonderland of native Australian wildlife, where wallabies roam the woodlands, freshwater crocodiles fix beady eyes on passersby, and native birds rest among the eucalypts. Walk from Frangipani Beach to the Australian mainland's most northerly point and take a photo at the iconic signpost. Above Cape York you'll also find the Torres Strait Islands, once a base for pearling luggers, these days home to an Indigenous group with a unique culture.
DON'T MISS APT guests have the chance to explore the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, a stunning conservation area that is normally off-limits to the general public.
Far into the South Australian desert, in an area marked only by red dirt and low shrubbery, lies one of Australia's hidden secrets: Maralinga, the site where seven British nuclear weapons tests occurred during the 1950s. This area was off-limits to tourists until recently, and a tour of the facilities that still stand here provides a fascinating insight into what happened away from the prying eyes of the public so long ago. Maralinga has now been signed over to its traditional owners, the Maralinga Tjarutja people, and a tour with a local guide here is as much a journey into the area's long Indigenous history as it is a recollection of that short but infamous era of nuclear weapons testing.
DON'T MISS The arrival into Maralinga for APT passengers is a spectacular one, as you enjoy a scenic flight from the town of Ceduna, over Fowlers Bay, past the iconic Nullarbor Roadhouse, before touching down in Maralinga. During the winter months (early June to early October), look out for Southern Right Whales at Head of Bight.
CARNARVON NATIONAL PARK, QLD
Deep in the semi-arid heart of Central Queensland lies a hidden gem, Carnarvon National Park, a spectacular area of sandstone cliffs and old-growth forest. The gorge and creek here are a window into Queensland's distant past, with many plant and animal species that are relics from a time when Australia was a cooler, wetter place. The gorge at Carnarvon provides shade for a microclimate that's perfect for spectacular fan palms, as well as cycads, ferns and flowering shrubs to thrive. There are also more than 173 species of birds to spot. Carnarvon boasts plenty of Indigenous history too, with several well preserved rock art sites protected by the overhanging gorge, as well as ochre stencils and rock engravings from tens of thousands of years ago.
DON'T MISS On the way into Carnarvon, stop off at the famed "Tree of Knowledge", where the political movement that would spawn the Australian Labor Party was born.
MUNGO NATIONAL PARK, NSW
If ever there was an example of the Outback having more to give than just open space, Mungo National Park is it. This isn't just another landscape, but another planet - 120,000 hectares of starkly beautiful lunar scenery, an ancient site of petrified lakebeds and sand dunes that have been massaged and moulded by the elements for millennia. This World Heritage-listed area is interesting not just for its natural history, but for its human connections. Mungo National Park has great significance to the Ngiyaampaa, Mutthi Mutthi and Southern Paakantyi people, which you will learn about through the stories and knowledge of an expert guide.
DON'T MISS The remains of "Mungo Man", the oldest human skeleton discovered in Australia - thought to be up to 68,000 years old - and "Mungo Woman", the oldest ritually cremated remains ever found, were both uncovered in Mungo National Park, and the visitor centre has excellent exhibits dedicated to these remarkable finds.
Known to guests as Kempy, Sir John or The Godfather, John Kemp, started guiding when he was a spring chicken, revealing the delights of New Zealand's Milford Track. Kempy has now been guiding for more than 13 years.
Now in his ninth season of showing off the highlights of north-west Australia's vast Kimberley region, he says what he loves most is meeting so many interesting people. Over the years, he's come to know the Kimberley's colourful characters, all of whom have fascinating stories to tell.
This article was produced in association with APT.
Discover Australia's unique Outback - from its incredible landscapes to its vast history, everything is taken care of on an unforgettable journey with APT. For more information visit kimberleywilderness.com.au/traveller, call 1300 290 669 or contact your local travel agent.