Most of Australia is gloriously empty. Perhaps that’s why I love it so much here.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those country people who generally despises or mistrusts the big city. I love a nice, overwhelming metropolis–plant me in midtown Manhattan and I’m a joyful man–but I equally love the existential rush of landing myself in the middle of nowhere.
“Middle of nowhere” sums up a lot of Australia, though I struggle with the vast range of Australian geographical terms: I know that the “city” has people, streetlights, and traffic and that the “country” is mostly farms with nearby neighbors that you could visit on a half tank of gas. But everything else is Outback, with a definition that’s as wide open as the sky and land that defines it.
That 90% of Australia is defined as something that is completely undefined is quite exciting for me. I keep asking each new Australian friend, “So, just where is the Outback?” and I’ve received a dozen different answers.
I’ve learned that “the bush,” typically requires sturdy hiking shoes or at least four-wheel drive, though the majority of Australians can get there from their house in less than an hour. Deep in the bush is the “back of beyond” which requires a fuel stop or two, a pair of strong roo bars and an Esky (a cooler for drinks). Also, getting to the back of beyond normally involves a good deal of sweat.
But way beyond the bush, and beyond the back of beyond, there’s one more place to reckon with, and that’s “Way Out Woop Woop.”
I’ve learned that W.O.W.W. is a terrifically faraway place. It takes great effort to travel there from anywhere else. There are no more roads–only ruts in the red sand or sun-baked airstrips. You will see blue-tongued lizards and goannas, perhaps a curious kangaroo or two, but no rivers or streams–only the sandy, meandering ghost of a dried creek bed.
Directions are vague for travelers heading to Way Out Woop Woop. First fly to Alice Springs, in the bright red heart of Australia, then drive about two hundred miles south. Take a right at the emu standing in the shade of a desert oak tree and then wander for another eight hundred miles or so. If you’re out of cell phone range and the AM radio is all static–if you haven’t seen another car in six hours, and your shirt has salt stains from your own dried sweat, well then, you’re almost there. Just keep going a little bit farther–over the next few hills–and you’ll find it.
At least, that’s how I got there. When I arrived, I took to the air–helicopters are like bicycles in the Outback: quick and efficient while affording an amazing lay of the land. It’s tremendous country out here–glorious and empty and beyond the framework of civilization. It’s beyond the city and bush, way beyond–even beyond the back of beyond–way, way out, there. Way Out Woop Woop.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Follow along with Andrew as he travels through Australia at @WheresAndrew on Twitter.
And visit www.nationalgeographic.com/wheresandrew
for daily photo clues, blog posts, and videos from his journey.