Australia: Underneath the Stars

I spent two months camping out in Australia a couple years ago. The continent was a muse. The mountains, the waves, the winds and the stars – these were the highlights. So simple, so universal, yet not to be found anywhere else. So stark were the clouds, and the perfume of the wilding flowers, the landscapes became impressionistic in the haziness of the heat, the colors of the flushing sun faintly rising to radiance. The kookaburras raucously laughed high above in the eucalyptus trees. I never felt the burden of time. It was an enveloping place of simplicity, beauty, chill and freedom. The best way to take it all in is on the road and in a tent.

Start the trip by immediately immersing yourself in the middle of nowhere. Fly to Darwin, a quaint city with coves and animal parks. This is the tropical part of the Outback, complete with exotic wildlife, ferny jungles, reefs and rainforests. Spend each day embarking on a full-day hike, exhausting and sweaty, to eventually reach hot springs hidden within giant boulders. The water you dip into will be an incredible relief. These natural spas, soothing to the body and eyes, are meant to have healing qualities.

And then drive for the arid Outback, the sunburnt lands. The red deserts are surreal and endless. The inlands are empty, remote, and and remind you of your smallness. Desert trekking in red sands is quite peculiar, and you encounter strange, other-worldly ancient vegetation, geology, wildflowers, and oases. I recommend King’s Canyon of the Watarrka National Park, for its splendors perhaps outdo Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Uluru, the largest monolith in the world, a sacred place for Aborigines, also exceeds any possible expectations. Explore the aboriginal cave drawings, bright sand dunes, and the waterfalls of canyons during the day, and at night set up your hammock to enjoy the clear starry sky.

Once you have had your fill of the Outback, continue along to the east coast, and stop in Cairns, the Whitsundays, Fraser Island, and Byron Bay. From Cairns you can take a boat to the Great Barrier Reef. You cannot miss the opportunity to snorkel and scuba dive in the huge ecosystem of coral. Take a helicopter ride to see the Reef from above, which is truly magnificent – it is so large, it is actually visible from outer space. The Whitsunday Islands are white sand beaches. They allow for a view of an endless horizon line surrounding you. There are great adrenalin-pumping activities available there too, so try something new like jet skiing.

Fraser Island is, again, unlike anywhere else. It is the largest sand island in the world which means you drive on sand, eat on sand, sleep on sand. Finally, Byron Bay. Australia is full of sublime beaches, but Byron is special. It is the quintessential, stereotypical Australian town – laid-back, bohemian – a hippie heaven. Do yoga, hike, enjoy the surf and lazy afternoons next to a campfire and acoustic musicians serenading you. It is safe enough to camp on the beach, so definitely continue to camp out.

You will reach Sydney on this route and then Melbourne further on. These cities are among my favorites. I don’t think you can camp in them, but do visit anyway! Sorry if you do actually take a trip to Australia, for the adjustment back to chaotic reality is a tough one. Well worth the peaceful memories though.


Images courtesy of Simone Cingano and Richard Rydge.