There's the Outback, and there's the Outback. There are the famous places that spring immediately to mind when you think of this immense and beautiful part of Australia: sites such as Uluru and Kakadu, Longreach and Katherine. And then there's everything in between, the serene and stunning locales that fly below the radar, that rate as "untouched" even in this already seldom visited part of the world.
These are the places that are still worth discovering, still worth exploring as you cast your travellers' eye over our wide brown land. Australia has so much to offer – and in particular, the vast Outback, which covers 90 per cent of the country, has so much to offer – that remains relatively unknown to the rest of the world. It's worth getting there before everyone else does.
CAPE YORK PENINSULA, QLD
Cape York is one of the most remote parts of Australia. As soon as you get past Port Douglas you begin to feel as if you've left civilisation far behind. Picture then, the very northern tip of the Cape, the fingernail of this long digit of land. This is as remote as you get, an area accessible only by 4WD or helicopter, a place with spectacular natural scenery, and fascinating Indigenous culture, particularly off the coast on Thursday Island. To explore the northern most tip of mainland Australia is to get to know a part of Australia very few people ever get to experience.
DON'T MISS: The best way to appreciate the full magnitude of this beautiful part of the world is with a scenic helicopter flight over the top, taking in sweeping views of Punsand Bay and the Torres Strait Islands, as well as plenty of the lush, forested interior.
STEVE IRWIN WILDLIFE RESERVE, QLD
One of the famed Crocodile Hunter's lasting legacies is the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve, a 135,000-hectare park in the northern part of Cape York Peninsula. The area is home to spring-fed wetlands that provide the habitat for all sorts of rare and endangered species of both flora and fauna, including the rare palm cockatoo. There are plenty of crocs up here too, as you'd expect, which are constantly being monitored and studied by a group of scientists, as well as the Irwin family themselves.
DON'T MISS: The Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve is usually off limits to the public; however, APT guests have exclusive access to this beautiful parkland. This isn't the mass-marketed Australia Zoo experience – lucky visitors in this pristine eco-reserve will learn about the park's research programs, including crocodile sonar detector tracking, from those who are actually engaged in the work.
UNDARA VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK, QLD
You don't think of Queensland as being volcanic. You don't picture lava tubes and craters and giant caves carved out by magma. However, that's what you'll find in Undara, a few hundred kilometres south-west of Cairns. This amazing national park features dormant volcanic craters, lava tubes – in fact, it has the world's longest lava flow from a single volcano, at almost 100km in length – waterfalls, caves and more, all formed some 190,000 years ago by volcanic activity. The largest crater, Kalkani, sometimes fills with water, and makes the perfect scenic spot to pause and relax during a day of exploring.
DON'T MISS: Though there's plenty to explore in this part of the world, the highlight is undoubtedly a tour inside the natural geological wonders of the Undara Lava Tubes. APT guests will also have the chance to spend the night in beautifully restored, turn-of-the-century railway carriages in the bush nearby.
BIRDSVILLE TRACK, SA & QLD
The Birdsville Track is one of Australia's classic road trips, and a bucket-list journey for travellers from around the world. This 518km traverse crosses three deserts on a rugged dirt road between the towns of Marree in South Australia and Birdsville in south-western Queensland. It's proper Outback in this area, desolate, dry and beautifully remote, but there's still plenty to see, including a couple of homesteads to call into, a few roadhouses, and vast tracts of desert landscape, ancient riverbeds and dried up floodplains. Every Australian should experience the Birdsville Track.
DON'T MISS: You'll definitely feel like you've earned a cold drink by the time you call into the legendary Birdsville Hotel. Built in 1884, and conveniently located at the end of the track, this is a gathering place for both local farmers and intrepid travellers, a place to swap tales and meet a few characters.
KARIJINI NATIONAL PARK, WA
It doesn't get much more remote than Karijini National Park, set as it is in the vast wilderness of the Pilbara region of Western Australia, seven hours west of Exmouth, 10 hours south of Broome. It's well worth the effort, however, to get to WA's second largest national park, to explore this beautiful, diverse reserve of rivers, gorges, and chasms up to 100 metres deep. Karijini is also the perfect spot for lovers of wildflowers – in the cooler months the park is blanketed in cassias, wattles, bluebells and mulla mullas.
DON'T MISS: APT guests get to spend a full day exploring Karijini, learning about the vast range of flora and fauna, witnessing the rugged red beauty of Dales Gorge, observing the parks' rich colours from Oxer and Junction Pool lookouts, and visiting the tumbling, 20-metre-high Fortescue Falls. There's also a two-night stay at the beautiful Karijini Eco Retreat.
If the Kimberley were in any other country it would be the top-ranked attraction; however, in a country such as Australia, where there's so much to take in, this stunning but remote region remains criminally underappreciated. The Kimberley is stunningly vast – three times the size of England – and has attractions that range from land to sea, from waterways to the air above: waterfalls, rock pools, ancient gorges, wide rivers, rugged coastlines, wildlife, lodges, campsites, rough 4WD tracks and more. You could spend a lifetime here and still not see everything that the Kimberley has to offer.
DON'T MISS: There are so many highlights to check off your list: spectacular Mitchell Falls, best viewed from a scenic helicopter flight; the famous orange and black striped domes of the 350-million-year-old Bungle Bungle Range, perfect for exploring on foot; the rugged Gibb River Road, a 4WD paradise; the famous Horizontal Falls, every budding photographer's dream; and a stay at APT's exclusive Kimberley lodges, perfectly located, and with a touch of luxury in the wilderness.
Greg Anderson, APT Outback Driver-Guide
Why do you enjoy taking guests on tour?
Sharing experiences, knowledge and places with a group of people is one of the greatest things in life. We get to watch people enjoy places they never thought they would get to.
What's your favourite Outback destination and why?
After all the beauty and challenges of travelling through Cape York, the walk to the tip of the Australian mainland is one of the most satisfying travel experiences anyone could have.
Favourite hobby when not working?
Travelling and camping in my 4WD.
This article is produced in association with APT.
Go off the beaten track and experience what outback Australia has to offer. Whether it's a scenic helicopter ride over Mitchell Falls or spending a night in a beautifully restored railway carriage…everything is taken care of on an unforgettable journey with APT. For more information visit www.aptouring.com.au/traveller, call 1300 290 669 or contact your local travel agent.