Sea Air Aviation on the Gold Coast are offering outback tours in the comfort of a 14-seater Cessna Caravan airplane.
Sea Air Aviation on the Gold Coast are offering outback tours in the comfort of a 14-seater Cessna Caravan airplane.

Straight to the heart of sunburnt country

From Ayers Rock to the Alice, there's always been a fascination with the outback, but the size of this sunburnt country stops many of us from ticking it off the bucketlist.

That's where Gold Coast tour operator Sea Air Aviation comes in.

They'll chauffeur you to Australia's heart in a 14-seater Cessna Caravan aeroplane, covering 3800km in a comfortable three days and two nights.

Breezing into remote locations with exhausted 4WD travellers watching in awe as we disembark from our luxury, air-conditioned ride feels like lifestyles of the rich and famous, but comes at a total cost of less than $3000 for a fully inclusive tour.

The pilots have travelled the route many times and are knowledgeable and entertaining. Rather than slipping on my headphones and getting lost in my music playlists, my journey is filled with snippets of stories and legends.

First stop on the adventure is Charleville, a mere 840km from the Gold Coast and home to one of the outback's Royal Flying Doctor Service bases.

We have the opportunity to meet staff who work for this amazing service, and explore the museum for more history and information. It's well worth the fuel stop.

After a short break, we return to the sky to watch the changing landscape as we enter Channel Country. This part of Outback Australia is named for its intertwining river system that snakes all the way from the top of Queensland to the drainage basin of Lake Eyre and South Australia. These areas are dry most of the time, so from the air you get a spectacular view of the river beds weaving their way through dunes and desert. The patterns are spectacular.

Birdsville is one of the best-known towns in Channel Country. Set alongside the Diamantina River, it is home to a massive bird population.

Birdsville may be well known but, to my surprise, it is a tiny town with a population of just 75 people.

It comprises a baker, a roadhouse and, most importantly, the Birdsville Pub. You quickly get the sense that local pubs are the lifeblood of these remote towns.

 

Sea Air Aviation on the Gold Coast are offering outback tours in the comfort of a 14-seater Cessna Caravan airplane.
Sea Air Aviation on the Gold Coast are offering outback tours in the comfort of a 14-seater Cessna Caravan airplane.

The airport is unmanned and deserted, giving you an appreciation of its remoteness.

There's not a horde of selfie-snapping tourists or a town ruined by overpopulation. This is the real outback.

You get the feel of life in a far-flung town where probably the biggest decision of the day as a tourist is whether to order the famous camel curry or the kangaroo pie from the bakery. Lunch is served by Alex, a local who also doubles as bus driver and tour operator for outback 4WD Tours.

Just 35km from downtown Birdsville is a sand dune known as Big Red.

The Simpson Desert is made up of hundreds of parallel dunes, best visible from the air, and Big Red marks its edge.

Towering 40 metres, it provides 4WD enthusiasts with a fun challenge, but it's worth taking a quiet moment to truly appreciate it.

With 360-degree views of desert, watching the sun go down over the deep red of the dunes against the rich blue sky is truly breathtaking. Plan a sunset beer or a wine to make the most of the experience.

From Birdsville, the tour travels south over the Simpson Desert to witness the parallel dunes, which converge into river mazes as the journey continues. Where there is water, the colours of rich green contrast with the reds and browns of the desert.

Across the South Australian border is Lake Eyre, the third-largest salt lake in the world. It is mostly dry, and the crystal patterns and brilliant whites of the salt make for more spectacular photography and viewing opportunities.

Just west of Lake Eyre, the tour lands in the unique town of William Creek. Another minuscule speck in the great wide outback, William Creek boasts a population of only 15.

This whole town is owned and run by the fondly dubbed Mayor of William Creek, Trevor Wright. Full of character, Trevor is keen to share his town with visitors and talks passionately about his backyard. Over a beer and a kangaroo wrap at his pub, we swap stories and share a laugh.

Although the town is just one small main street, its quirky collections also make it worth the stop.

The main bar in the pub is filled with business cards, caps, notes and memorabilia from travellers who have passed through, while oddities in a memorial park across the road include a rocket from a nearby space launch from times past.

Our next stop is Innamincka, the smallest of the towns on the trip with a population of 12. It lies on the banks of Cooper Creek, but what brings most tourists here is its historical significance.

 

Sea Air Aviation on the Gold Coast are offering outback tours in the comfort of a 14-seater Cessna Caravan airplane.
Sea Air Aviation on the Gold Coast are offering outback tours in the comfort of a 14-seater Cessna Caravan airplane.

Innamincka is the closet town to the famous Dig Tree, which ultimately marked the demise of outback explorers Bourke and Wills.

With limited phone service and no city luxuries, following in their footsteps offers a glimpse of the isolation the explorers must have felt.

The tour saves the best for last: a day at the Charlotte Plains working sheep and cattle station. Set on 28,327ha, this station has been in owner Robyn's family for more than 90 years.

Lunch is on the balcony of the homestead and includes the best pumpkin soup you will ever eat, made using the secret family recipe.

Then it's time for some fun courtesy of the station's artesian bore.

Robyn has cleverly placed some old bathtubs next to the bore and guests can fill them up with continually flowing hot water to bathe in the middle of the desert.

Originally home to more than 100,000 sheep and many staff, this station illustrates the current, well-publicised plight of our outback farmers.

Many of the animals are dying from lack of food and farmers are struggling to keep their farms afloat.

As we taxi down the dirt runway on the final journey home, I'm left with a sense of sadness. Three days in the outback suddenly doesn't seem long enough.

I embarked on this journey thinking it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, bucket list ticked, never to return. Yet, once you've experienced Outback Australia, it's like an addiction and your soul will always want more.

IF YOU GO

Sea Air Aviation's Outback Adventure departs from and returns to Gold Coast (Coolangatta) and Brisbane (Archerfield) airports. The cost is $2985 a person, including all accommodation, tours, entry fees, breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. The next available departure dates are October 5 and April 13. For more information call 07 5599 4509.


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