1. Sleeping in swags under the Milky Way
What is a swag? I’m glad you asked! A swag is a canvas bag with a bed roll built in for added comfort. The idea is to slide your sleeping bag inside the swag and then climb in – no tents here! When it’s time to pack up in the morning, roll it all up together and you’re good to go. Made for simplicity and a tiny bit of added comfort, the swags are the classic outback sleeping style and a new experience for me.
We spent 3 of our 5 nights sleeping outside and, while I’ll never fully understand the appeal of sleeping on the ground, the unbelievable view of The Milky Way made it all worthwhile. In my opinion, if you’re going to sleep outside without a tent, you’d better have something great to look at. And, after this trip, I can’t imagine a better view.
2. Meeting a Thorny Devil
The Australian outback is filled with unusual characters including camels, emus, kangaroos, a variety of reptiles, and thousands upon thousands of flies. I was excited to see most of these iconic animals while traveling through but the one that I was most hoping to find was the Thorny Devil. I’m not much of a reptile fan, but there’s something about these little guys that really intrigues me.
As we cruised along Stuart Highway (the only road that cuts through Central Australia connecting Adelaide to Darwin), we came across a Thorny Devil mid-road, basking in the sun. Thankfully our tour guide was equally excited and pulled the bus over so we could get a closer view. How cool are these guys?! Outback bucket list check!
3. A glowing red Uluru at sunset
People pay hundreds of dollars to travel to the national park in hopes of the perfect sunset over Uluru. Our group made two attempts before catching the glowing red rock. On the second night, the cloud coverage seemed equally as hopeless as the night before but just as the sun reached the horizon, the clouds broke away enough for the light to hit the rock and give us the show we’d be waiting for.
The glow typically only lasts a few moments and creates somewhat of a frenzy of photography as everyone tries to snap as many photos as possible, but this night was special. Uluru lit up and went dark again three separate times – a very unique experience – making it even more memorable. It is amazing how many shades the rock can take on and how different it can look even from one side to the other. The moods of Uluru, as many call it. Thankfully, Uluru shined bright on that second night. Another unforgettable experience.
4. Sunrise over Uluru and Kata Tjuta
We are up at 4:30am for pancakes and a 45-minute drive out to Kata Tjuta. Our goal is to be the first to arrive at the sunrise viewing platform; this is easily achieved. Uluru is in the distance with the sun rising to its right. It is peaceful, dark, and nearly silent as we all watched in admiration of the sky’s beautifully changing colors. The stars fade away as the sun nears the horizon, creating brighter and bolder colors over Uluru. Watching the sun awake over Uluru is a beautiful sight, one that I likely wouldn’t have done on my own.
As we turn to leave, we catch a stunning array of pastels over Kata Tjuta. Having forgotten all about these domed rocks, I regret not showing them more attention during the sunrise. However, I’m still able to admire the beauty of it all before heading to the hiking tracks that wait inside.
5. Spending a night in Coober Pedy
Coober Pedy is a small town in the outback, 850km north of Adelaide on the Stuart Highway. Founded in 1915, it is known as the Opal Capital of the World as well as the hottest place in Australia. With temperatures reaching 50C (120F) in the summer months, 75% of the town’s population live underground. There is literally nothing but desert for miles around this town and is our stop for the night as we make our way down to Adelaide.
We have an opal mine tour which includes an opportunity to view a model home and an actual mine. It’s difficult to imagine a life underground with only a small window or two at the front of your home. We stay in an underground bunkhouse ourselves which is carved into the hill with a long, dark cave leading to several sets of bunk beds. I choose one closest to the door so I can still glimpse the outdoors through the single window at the front. The town is an unusual sight with a unique lifestyle for its citizens. It’s worth the stop, if only to experience this oddity for yourself.
It’s been a memorable trip through the outback with an excellent guide. I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the Red Center during my travels, but I’m glad I did. It was a privilege to experience the outback and learn more about this tremendous country of Australia.