From the eerie emptiness and sunburnt plains of the Red Centre to the spectacular gorges and creviced coastline of the Kimberley, the Australian Outback has captivated local and overseas travellers for centuries.
Deeply ingrained in Australian history and folklore, the mere mention of Outback Australia conjures images of rugged mountain ranges, ancient rock art, desert tracks, cattle stations, and red kangaroos. Inspired to explore the remote wilderness of ‘real’ Australia, it’s little wonder that many intrepid travellers are adding an Australian outback adventure to their holiday itinerary.
Although you can certainly explore Outback Australia on your own (by car, motorbike or bicycle if you’re really daring), unsealed roads and remote areas many hundreds of kilometres from assistance make this a risky undertaking for the unprepared.
For those who don’t have the required survival skills, or would prefer to explore the Outback in comfort and safety, a guided tour can be an exciting and rewarding way of discovering Australia’s most remote and inaccessible regions.
Once you have chosen your outback destination, whether you choose to explore the Kimberley or the Flinders Ranges, you’ll find there are hundreds of Australian Outback tours available to suit all tastes and budgets. While planning your outback holiday can be exciting, it can also be overwhelming trying to decide which outback tour is right for you. Choosing the wrong tour can affect your entire outback experience, leaving you feeling uncomfortable, rushed or overlooked, and like your money’s just been washed down the drain.
To help you choose the right tour company, we’ve put together a list of tips and things to consider when booking a guided outback tour:
Choose a small group 4WD tour
While large coach tours can be a great way to meet new people, you are constantly herded around in a big group with little flexibility in the schedule and no room for spontaneity. Not only are you crammed onto a full bus with a group of 30 – 40 people who you don’t know, but you spend less time immersing yourself in the Australian Outback, and more time getting on and off the bus, and checking into hotels that offer the tour organiser the lowest price. Travelling on a big bus in the outback also severely limits what you can see and do – some areas of the Australian Outback are simply inaccessible except by 4WD.
Small group guided tours of the Australian Outback allow for a richer, more personalised experience, and less hassle than large coach tours.
Small group 4WD tours, on the other hand, mean you spend less time waiting and more time exploring less-visited places in the Australian Outback. These tours give you the benefit of visiting remote areas that are only accessible by air or 4WD, and allow you to travel in comfort and safety along unsealed outback roads. Travelling in groups of two or four allows for greater flexibility in your itinerary, as well as valuable one-on-one time with your guide to ask questions and take advantage of their wealth of local knowledge. With fewer people, your guide can provide a more personalised, richer, and unique experience, with a greater range of food and accommodation choices.
Camping vs Luxury Outback Tours
Everyone’s needs and comfort zones are different. Some travellers find adventure and excitement camping under the stars while others prefer a more luxurious experience of the Australian Outback. Consider whether you would prefer to spend your nights in some of Australia’s finest bush lodges or in a tent – both options offer unique and wonderful experiences if you choose the right tour group.
Outback camping tours cost less than accommodated tours and offer a unique way to ‘get back to nature’ and truly immerse yourself in the Australian wilderness. This option is perfect if you love the outdoors and want to get up close and personal with the wild beauty of the Australian Outback.
An accommodated outback tour is a better option for those who prefer to explore Australia’s dramatic outback landscapes during the day while sleeping comfortably indoors at night. The best luxury outback tours will offer a range of tailored accommodation options to suit your tastes and budgets, including wilderness camps, bush lodges, hotels and resorts.
Choose an outback tour based on value, not price
While price is often the first thing people compare when looking at different tour companies, you should consider the value each tour offers, not just the price. Does the tour include meals? Does it include all accommodation? Does it include extra activities, such as boat cruises or helicopter flights?
Some tour companies will offer the bare basics for an outback trip – the cheapest accommodation, no meals, optional activities which cost you extra. While you might save a little money by choosing the cheapest tour, you won’t be getting a bespoke and personal outback experience.
For a truly incredible outback adventure, look for a tour company that offers competitively-priced, all-inclusive tours with tailored accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets. Study the itinerary and ask the operator questions about what is included. If the tour package includes additional activities, an accredited and experienced guide (see more on this below), safe transport, meals and accommodation, and all park and entrance fees in the total cost, you’re onto a winner!
Look for outback tours with an accredited and experienced guide
Choosing an outback tour that is led by an experienced, professional guide with local knowledge is just as important as selecting a tour with the right size group, itinerary and accommodation options.
A great tour guide will manage your time well (while remaining flexible) and provide structure to your tour. They will have in depth knowledge and understanding of the outback, sharing personal anecdotes, historical accounts and interesting facts about Australia’s incredible sights as you travel through some of the most remote and wild regions in the world. A great guide is willing to tailor the itinerary to suit your interests, and will go out of their way to make sure your outback experience is as comfortable, safe and exciting as possible.
When choosing an outback tour, contact the company to ask about their guides’ experience and accreditation. Without exception, they should be trained in remote first aid, and have bush survival training and advanced 4WD training (if you choose a small group 4WD tour).
Watch out for hidden costs
When choosing an outback tour company, be careful when comparing different itineraries and prices. If you come across a company whose tour package’s “start” from a certain price, you’re almost guaranteed there will be additional costs either at checkout or on the tour itself. This ‘drip feeding’ of travellers with information about charges can mean you end up paying a higher price than advertised or spending more than you realise.
Keep in mind that the cheapest tour during the research or booking stage may not necessarily be the cheapest in the long run!
To avoid hidden costs, make sure you look at the value each tour offers, rather than just the price. Is the company being upfront about their costs and what’s included in their itinerary? Are you getting good value for money? Do you have to bring your own food and drinks? What is the tour company’s cancellation policy? Do they pay for park and entrance fees, or will you be stuck with the costs?
Getting off the beaten track and travelling to some of Australia’s greatest wilderness and outback regions with a group tour is an exciting adventure. While choosing the right group tour for your outback trip may be overwhelming at first, knowing your preferences and doing a little bit of research can mean the difference between an average outback experience and a truly extraordinary one.