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Outback Wilderness Travel

By Travel Oh TravelThursday, November 7, 2013 | 12:48 PM

After several wilderness landscape photography trips to outback South Australia, Laurie McArthur writes of the preparation necessary to venture alone into an environment that will kill you, just for being there, if you don't look out. Traveling on an ATV, Laurie has traveled hundreds of kilometers around the Arid Region, west of Lake Torrens, in South Australia, camping and photographing the harsh wilderness landscape as he goes.

Ownership of the Land

About 70% of South Australia is pastoral lease. If you look at a regular road map of outback South Australia, the roads marked are public roads and you are free to travel these outback roads through the arid wilderness country as you would any other country road. Exceptions are national parks and Aboriginal land. However, they are another two stories. However, the extra roads and tracks marked on a topographic map of outback South Australia are station owned and maintained. Whether there is a gate or not, you must have permission from the station manager to travel on these outback roads and tracks.

Moreover, if you approach the outback station manager with appropriate courtesy, he will more than likely give you invaluable local knowledge. You see, there are outback tracks marked on the best topographic maps that do not exist, and visa versa. There are outback tracks that are so washed out as to be impassable. Some lines on the topographic map, marked as outback station tracks, will be found to be just an old, tumbled down fence line that you might be able to follow on a horse. Still other outback tracks might cross a dry salt lake for say, 10 kilometers, with the mud being firm enough to hold a vehicle only after a dry spell of many years.

Permission to Travel on Pastoral Leases

Contact Map land and purchase a large map of South Australia showing all the pastoral leases and their names. Then identify which pastoral leases you wish to travel on. Contact Outback SA, Level 6, 101 Grenfell St., ADELAIDE SA 5000 or telephone 1 800 678 477 for a list of Pastoral Leases. Contact the relevant pastoral lessee by telephone or letter, well in advance of your proposed trip. They may refuse permission for a range of good reasons including stock management and road conditions. You should make allowance for some of these folk not being highly oriented toward office work. However, generally speaking, once you develop a rapport with them, they will be supportive. It is important to keep in mind that the roll of the pastoralists on the outback land is to run stock. They are not there as an extension of the tourist industry and cannot be expected to bail you out should you get into difficulties on their station.


The South Australian outback is vast and unforgiving, so be well prepared to navigate your way reliably through the Arid Region. Maps you must have a paper road map and a paper topographic map of the outback area you will be traveling. Never rely entirely on a GPS, no matter how sophisticated a model it is. Compass An inexpensive pocket compass will do to orientate the topographic map or the road map.

GPS With a hand held or vehicle mounted GPS you will know where you are on the map to an accuracy of about five meters. An entry level GPS used in conjunction with a paper map will be quite adequate to find your way around the South Australian outback. Models that are more sophisticated display a moving map on the screen.

Bush Sense Be aware of where the sun and the moon rise and set at the particular time of year and how far to the north the sun will be at noon. Both the sun and the moon move toward the north in winter. Take note of the prevailing winds and the direction of the parallel sand dunes. Study the Maps Well before the trip, become familiar with the South Australian outback country you will be traveling. Know the features such as hills, wells and dams, homesteads, lakes, creek beds and main roads as well as tracks. Google Earth is a great resource for getting to know the outback in advance.

Communication There is no reason for ill prepared outback travelers who become stranded, to die of dehydration, in these modern days of satellite communication. All South Australian outback travelers should have a satellite phone. Would you like to read about Laurie's South Australian outback trip of August 2006? In his website, ATV Camping Trip, Laurie tells many stories, illustrated with his digital images, about his travels on Bosworth and Andamooka stations, west of Lake Torrens.

Many of the photos are Laurie's artistic landscapes and there is a section of ATV Camping Trip displaying the images and poetry from his one-man art exhibition of Arid Region harsh, wilderness landscape photography. Included also in the ATV Camping Trip website, are some great stories about the renowned explorer, John McDouall Stuart, who traveled this outback region of South Australia in 1858.
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