If you're like many other fellow South Africans, you might be wondering what the outback in Australia is really like. There are a few stories about the outback doing the rounds which include things like 'there are no sealed roads', and ‘the need to take spare containers of fuel'.
The great news is that there are plenty of places to explore in the outback where there are sealed roads and enough fuel stops so that you won't have to worry. It's the perfect place to travel if you are planning on hiring a campervan or motorhome.
Recently my husband, Russell and I took our campervan out to explore the outback of Queensland for another adventure.
Leaving the bright lights of Brisbane behind, we headed west towards Roma, which incidentally has the largest saleyards in Australia. Tuesday and Thursdays are the days to see all the action, however there were still plenty of cattle and trucks coming and going on the other days as well.
This trip was all about exploring and staying in some truly beautiful locations. By that I don't mean five star accommodations, but our campervan with five star views! There are plenty of freedom camps throughout the outback – free or low cost camping. The great thing about these is that most allow campfires, which are perfect for cooking dinner and of course meeting fellow travellers around. We found all of these freedom camps to be perfectly safe.
After a particularly good evening around a campfire just outside of Roma we were greeted with the sign ‘welcome to the outback'. It officially starts 50 km west of Roma, and definitely a sealed road!
We started to see all the ‘icons' of the outback. Road trains, long straight roads, the odd farm house and most importantly beautiful scenery were all on offer. The savannah plains also provided plenty of sightings of wildlife like emus, eagles, kangaroos, wallabies and brolgas (a type of crane).
The first sighting of a road train can be quite daunting for the unprepared traveller. Road trains are an essential part of the outback, a way to move cargo across the long straight roads easily. Over the years we've learnt a few tips to assist when meeting a road train – these are included at the end of this article.
Our journey took us through Longreach, well known for the Stockman's Hall of Fame and Qantas Founders Museum on our way to Mt Isa. Longreach is definitely a worthwhile stop over.
While the entire drive through the outback is stunning, there was one particular stretch that had everything you could ever ask for. The stretch of road I am talking about is between Winton and Mt Isa, via Middleton and Boulia. The more popular journey is via McKinlay and the Walkabout Creek Hotel, however I found the Boulia route to be far more picturesque.
The road is sealed, so perfect if you are hiring a campervan or motorhome. It's a little quieter too, which means a much greater chance of seeing wildlife. We stopped so many times to take photographs on what seemed like every corner. Emus were at the edge of the road to give us a nod as we passed by. Eagles enjoyed their tucker on the road edges. Kangaroos posed for photographs before dashing off into the bush.
People often think of the outback as flat dry grass, but that's not really true. In this area, the dirt was a brilliant red colour and there were plenty of Spinifex grasses. However along this stretch of road we came across Mesa's, or ‘jump ups' as they are known. These are flat topped hills that rise out of the flat land. Around sunrise and sunset the colours of the landscape are really too beautiful for words.
A worthy stop along this route is the Middleton Hotel, which was once a staging post for the old Cobb and Co coaches. The publicans Les and Val will definitely make you feel welcome and share a yarn or two. They serve food and cold beers, which is perfect after a day of wildlife spotting. Across the road from the pub was a great place to freedom camp with your motorhome or campervan – it's known as the ‘Hilton Hotel'. A little joke by Les, but he welcomes anyone to stop for the night. We had an excellent night at the Middleton Hotel chatting with the locals. Apparently it is no big deal for a landowner to have a million odd acres – nearly fell of my stool when he said that!
Russell and I really enjoyed this outback trip and getting amongst the locals who are only too happy to share tales of their own adventures. Being able to have a camp fire nearly every evening while travelling through the outback also made for some tasty tucker. While the roasts were excellent, I enjoyed the pizza we made in the camp oven. Did I mention we made the base as well? Russell's favourite were the baked potatoes cooked in the hot coals with lashings of butter.
These days, there is really nothing stopping anyone from having their own adventure in the Australian outback. Hiring a campervan or motorhome is the perfect way to do it – easy to get the right vehicle for each trip. Enjoy either on your own, or join us on a guided campervan holiday to many locations in Australia.
Road Train Tips
A Road Train is a conventional prime mover truck pulling two, three or four trailers. Road trains share the road with travellers. Your first sighting of a road train, particularly if on a narrow road can be daunting; however these tips should make your trip a safer and more enjoyable experience.
Road trains can be up to 55 metres long – the length of 10 cars
If you cannot see the road trains side mirrors, then the driver cannot see you
Due to its weight, a road train accelerates and brakes slowly
If you plan to pass a road train ensure you have plenty of clear road to do so – at least 1km – expect the road train to remain on the bitumen while you are passing it
If a road train wants to overtake you, do not slow down prior to being overtaken. This means the road train has to slow down which makes it more difficult for it to pass you. Instead maintain your speed and only when the road train is passing you, slow down
Some outback roads in Australia are sealed the width of one lane, in the centre of the road. This is because there is not a lot of traffic, it is cheaper and ensures that when you meet a vehicle you still have one side of your vehicle on the sealed road. When a road train comes towards you on this type of road, the best course of action is to slow down, indicate and then stop off the road as far as you can safely do so. This will ensure the road train remains on the sealed road, and there will be no stones coming your way from the unsealed section of the road
Beware of soft road shoulders, wildlife and guideposts when pulling over to the road edge.
In wet conditions wherever possible try and keep two wheels on the sealed road to avoid getting bogged
Remember you are on holiday, and if you find yourself behind a road train, relax and enjoy the countryside until you find a safe place to overtake. Better yet, this could be a great opportunity to pull over and make a coffee – that's the beauty of travelling in a campervan!Belinda Mason is the owner of Gallivanting Oz. For more information on campervan/motorhome hire or escorted campervan tours in Australia contact www.gallivantingoz.com.au