Australia is a big country, there's no other way of describing it. And, despite having a population of over 20 million people, reality is that most of the population live in areas close to the sea. The result? A vast area in the centre of Australia where people are scarce and nature rules supreme - the Outback. There's no official boundary to tell you where the Outback begins, no signposts, but when you're there, you'll know it. Everything is on a grand scale. You can never forget the vibrancy of this red land, dramatic rock formations, shady rock pools, aboriginal culture and legends, and the unique flora and fauna.
In some ways, the outback is a myth. So often it's regarded as the "real" Australia, even though most Australians don't live there and far too many have never even been there. And yet it still is uniquely and undoubtedly a real part of Australia. The Outback is to a great extent a desert, and a large part of the Australian continent shares the dry, dusty landscape. You could easily think that most of Australia is a dead place, with so much desert, but the reality is startlingly opposite. The outback teems with color, diversity and life.
Technically, the outback is only the most remote, arid interior of Australia. However anywhere beyond the suburban streets and main urban areas is loosely referred to as the outback. Generally, areas closer to people are referred to as 'the bush', with 'the outback' being a great deal more remote. Considering the outback doesn't officially exist, it's amazing how much regions use it in their tourist advertising!
If you're planning to visit the Australian outback, then the main areas to visit are the Northern Territory and Central Australia. These are the two main destinations, although if you have time and want to explore further, you can also take in the Pilbara and The Kimberley in Western Australia; Coober Pedy, Oodnadatta, the Simpson Desert and the Birdsville Track in South Australia; Mount Isa, Boulia, Birdsville and Longreach (birthplace of Qantas) in Queensland.
Unless you're going to be staying for a while, it's probably easiest to book in for a package tour. The distances involved in exploring the outback are vast, so it's a lot more relaxing to let someone else do the driving for you. If you do plan to drive yourself around, then you need to be prepared. Make sure you have an appropriate vehicle, preferably a four wheel drive, and have a planned route. Leave details of your travel plans with someone responsible. If you're heading into remote areas, take plenty of supplies and equipment, the minimum being food, water and fuel. It may also be sensible to take some basic spare parts as well.
If possible, travel with others in a convoy. That way, if someone gets into trouble, there are others who can go for help. The advantage of traveling in your own vehicle is that you can spend more time enjoying the scenery. There's plenty of it - at a minimum, you should aim to visit Ayers Rock (Uluru), The Olgas (Kata Tjuta), Kings Canyon (Watarrka) and Alice Springs.
Traveling to the outback is an amazing experience, one that you will never forget. It's your choice whether to take a package tour or drive yourself around, but with a little planning you can take home amazing memories of one of the most stunning landscapes in the world.