A mere mention of the Australian Outback conjures up images of vast and hostile tracts of land that’s tough, rugged and very inhospitable. That legend has been built on real adventures and stories of great strife as man has aimed to conquer such a land. The indigenous Australian aborigines have done so over many thousand of years and there is a sense of mutual respect between that community and the land they live on.

When we were first charting out a likely course to traverse this mighty continent, the crew was selecting routes that stuck to the populated coastal areas of the east and south. But I was very clear in my head. If there indeed was an adventure to be had overland in Australia, it simply must include the Outback.

The Outback is essentially the vast and remote interior of Australia. The centre of the continent – often referred to as the ‘red centre’ – is made up of areas like the Simpson Desert, and includes scraggly and rocky terrain dotted with small shrubs and red earth.

One of the early explorers was Charles Napier Sturt who incidentally was born in India! Captain Sturt led some of the early expeditions west from Sydney and then a few expeditions north starting from Adelaide. That was in the 1830s and he then went on to become Surveyor General of South Australia. On his expedition in 1844 he took on a young protégé – John McDouall Stuart – and together they faced tough conditions as they discovered the Stony Desert and Simpson Desert areas – before turning back south towards Adelaide. A few years later, Stuart went on to achieve the unthinkable. On his sixth attempt Stuart completed a journey from the southern coast at Port Augusta to just east of what is present day Darwin. It took him more than 9 months and incredible hardship. That route that he charted is a tarmac road today – and is named after him in honour of his remarkable triumph.

I was very keen to drive the entire length of the Stuart highway – having convinced the team to head to the centre.

I was also convinced that no journey to Australia would be complete without Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock).

But we simply did not have the time to head all the way to Darwin and then take on an arduous and long journey to Perth – where we intended to end our Aussie sojourn. I did manage to convince them to hit Alice Springs though – the town that sits almost at the very centre of Australia. All of this also meant that we would get to touch all states and territories on mainland Australia (barring the Australian Capital Territory/Canberra) since Uluru and Alice Springs lie in the Northern Territory. That still meant driving 2450 kms up and down the Stuart Highway – covering almost half its distance. Add to that the over 260 kms off the Stuart Highway to get to Uluru (and the same distance back to Erldunda where you get back on the famed highway) and it was a substantial 3000 kms of Outback driving we got to do. And I wouldn’t swap it for anything! Of course it didn’t end there as after we got back down to Port Augusta we began our journey westwards on the other famous road – the Eyre Highway which cuts through the legendary Nullarbor. But let me save that story for another time!

If there indeed was an adventure to be had overland in Australia, it simply must include the Outback. - Siddharth Vinayak Patankar
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