The Outback is the most mystical part in Australia and a real daydream. The feeling of emptiness truly overwhelms you, the stars are maybe the most beautiful you will ever see and the people can be as strange as they are hospitable.
It is a very dangerous place as well and one or two mistakes can simply kill you: wildlife, lack of water and/or food, car break down, infected wounds or broken legs, and so on.
If you are traveling through aboriginal land, you will need permits. Permits will also give you permission to camp within 30 meters of a main road.
There are various websites for this, the main ones are:
- Northern Territory: clc.org.au / http://www.clc.org.au/frequently-asked-questions/cat/permits
- Western Australia: dia.wa.gov.au / http://dia.wa.gov.au/en/Land/Entry-Permits/
If you are just traveling through aboriginal lands, a "Transit Permit" will be fine, and the best for most cases. If you wish to enter aboriginal communities (they are off the main roads), you will need an "Entry Permit".
Permits are usually free, and issued instantly or within a week.
Travelling with your own (rented or not) car
By car, you can of course go in some more remote places than only hitchhiking. Inform yourself a lot before leaving. Some advices taken from this website.
"Driving through Australia’s remote and rugged areas requires thorough preparation. Before embarking on a 4WD or outback journey, ensure you have a roadworthy vehicle fitted with GPS and two spare tyres. You’ll also need good maps, extra food, water and fuel and an emergency plan. Plan your route carefully and notify a third party of your expected arrival. Check road conditions before beginning your journey, stay with your vehicle if it breaks down and avoid travelling in extreme heat conditions. If driving a conventional vehicle through remote areas, drive slowly on unsealed, dusty or narrow roads and always check road conditions before turning off major roads. Mobile phones have limited coverage in remote areas, so check your phone provider for coverage."
This website can give you some ideas of Outback possibilities.
Hitchwiki will give you a pretty good overview for some Outback-hitching.
You can always start taking the heat of the real Outback while sticking to the secondary/tertiary roads and have some pretty awesome times already!
How to survive in the Outback?
When you are really stuck for water
- Conservation mode
If really stuck in the middle of nowhere, and yes it does happen! Remember to go into casual energy conservation mode, wander down the road till you find a nice shady spot not too far from the road's edge and chill out, get up when you can hear a car approaching from either direction, and stand beside the road, looking clean, presentable, forlorn and lost... a "help" sign helps, but even without, many people will slow down - look very innocent/unarmed/helpless/etc., remember the primary aim at this point is to get out of wherever you are, which direction simply does not matter, just get to the nearest town. You can live for a month without food, but you will die without water in a few days. Never ever decide to take a shortcut across a paddock or field, stick with the road. If bitten by a snake or even if you trip over and sprain an ankle in the middle of a field, there is no guarantee that you will be found by anybody before you have dried out and desiccated like a dead-dingo's-donger!
- Finding water
Yes, "Bear Grylls"-wannabe, you can drink your own piss to stay alive - no it's not pleasant, not very effective and is not really recommended. If you are stuck on one of Australia's mad dirt "highways" like the Tanami or the Gunbarrel, a Solar Still is your best bet. As an old Aboriginal friend once said to a nomad, when looking for water in the outback, simply head down hill and when you get to the lowest point dig a hole... this works really well if there are any large hills or rock outcrops around, but if you are not Aboriginal, it can be a tad harder when the whole landscape appears flat and you are bloody thirsty.... Australia has water legislation that makes it mandatory to share water if you have it, makes it legal to enter private property to access any permanent river or water source. (So long as you obey the usual rules of land - if you use a gate, leave it open/closed as you found it, don't mess with livestock/equipment/etc.)
When you are really stuck for food
- Roadkills delights
The best introduction you'll ever have to roadkill delights is a fresh kangaroo tail. Make sure the tail is still flexible and the smell is only of dirty fur, not the smell of old meat. Kangaroos are hit by trucks every day, so this is not as uncommon as it sounds. Hack off the tail as close the rump as possible, do this by cutting all the way around the tail, through the fur, then levering and breaking the tail between two vertebrae, not as hard or messy as it sounds. It is recommended dragging the 'roo off behind some bushes before you start this process, as mad hitchhikers wielding knives under the full moon does not improves much for travelers' reputation. To cook the tail, first build a large fire over some clean ground, preferably riverside sand, though well above the water table, when the fire is at full blaze, singe all the fur off the tail, scraping it clean with the back of a knife or a sharp rock, repeat this a few times as it takes a while to sear off all the fur, being careful not to over cook or burst the skin as this is the wrapping material for cooking. Let your fire burn down till it has strong hot coals and the ground below has started to really heat up (30-40mins depending how much of a fire you made) scrape the fire off to one side and dig a hole in the sand where the fire was. Using a stick, bury the tail about 15-20cm below the surface (check, but this area should already be nice and hot by now) and return the fire to above. Re-stoke the fire and cook for a further 40mins till the fire dies down. Letting the fire die down slowly will allow the tail to really cook through nicely. Scrap the fire out of the way and dig up the tail. You will know when it is done, if the fat is sizzling and the skin is starting to split in places, if still not done, roll over and cook for a further 20-30 mins. The amount of fat and gristle in the tail ensures that this is one of the few parts of the 'roo that it's hard to actually over cook.
Snake is also a great introduction to roadkill, choose a fresh wet-smelling snake, chop off the head and squashed bits, cut open along the belly and de-gut, sew the stomach back together with thin twigs and cook as per instructions for 'roo tail above. Be sure that the snake is completely dead before approaching - there's a reason Australians have the expression "Like a cut snake". The head of snakes can also display reflexes after being severed from the body - enough that you could still be bitten and have problems.
Nothing beats the total delight of fresh billy tea boiled in a discarded coke can, fresh damper and road kill under a full moon beside the road...
- Personal experiences
I have been helped out when stuck in a small town, by the Country Women's Association ("The C.W.A.")- best scones of my life, nothing beats hunger to increase the flavour of jam and cream. I've eaten my share of roadside fruits from passing orchards, and cooked my share of roadkill, the smell quickly gives away the freshness or lack thereof.
When you are really stuck for a ride
Have a look at the Hitchwiki article!
All in all, you will probably never need the above tips, but being stuck in the middle of nowhere and learning to chill and enjoy, can be the true Zen of Traveling.