Travel

The Most Iconic Pubs in Outback Australia

Because even in the desert you can still find a cold beer closeby.

We’ve all had the dream of travelling around Australia in a van, hopping from place to place through the outback and sleeping under the stars. Along the way, you’re definitely going to need to stay hydrated, and there’s no better place to do that than at some of Australia’s most iconic outback pubs.

There’s a bit of romance to it all. Stopping by these outback pubs you’ll be sharing the same space with Australian icons such as Banjo Patterson, and plenty more that have traipsed around the country. So, hit the road, these are the best pubs—and most iconic—in outback Australia.

The sunset shines through the verandah at the Birdsville Hotel.
Photo: Birdsville Hotel (Tourism and Events Queensland)

Birdsville Hotel

Queensland
It’s hard to start a list like this without first going to the Birdsville Hotel, an outback pub that most people would know about. Birdsville, in Queensland, is near the South Australian border and is home to the famous Birdsville Races that see thousands of people descend on the remote town every September.

You can get to the Birdsville Hotel by light plane, or by car. The drive is 17.5 hours from Brisbane, or 22 hours from Adelaide. The hotel has accommodation options, dining rooms, and of course a front bar that serves up plenty of cold beer for weary travellers.

Photo: William Creek Hotel

William Creek Hotel

South Australia
Found on the iconic Oodnadatta Track near Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park, the William Creek Hotel is a magnificent outback pub that has plenty of accommodation, and room for camping. The outback pub is in the northeastern part of South Australia and is about a two-hour drive from Coober Pedy and just over nine hours from Adelaide. You could do the drive between the William Creek Hotel, and the Birdsville Hotel in about 11.5 hours.

You can take scenic flights over Lake Eyre from the hotel—it’s not unusual to see a plethora of light planes parked outside the pub—as well as explore the nearby opal towns. The William Creek Hotel has a dining room and bar.

Silverton Hotel in New South wales with an abandoned car parked in front.
Photo: Silverton Hotel (Visit NSW)

Silverton Hotel

New South Wales
You’ve actually been to the Silverton Hotel, well, at least at the movies. The Silverton Hotel has featured in movies such as Mad Max 2, Wake In Fright, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and Mission: Impossible 2.

Silverton is a small, mostly abandoned, mining town that is about a 20-minute drive from the outback mining mecca, Broken Hill. The town today has a permanent population of approximately 50 people. The Silverton Hotel is open daily and has a dining room and accommodation.

External view of the Daly Waters Pub.
Photo: Daly Waters Pub (NT News)

Daly Waters Pub

Northern Territory
The Daly Waters Pub has been pouring beers for almost 100 years. The outback pub can be found in the northern part of the Northern Territory, although it’s still a six-hour drive from Darwin. The pub’s ceiling is adorned with hundreds of bras, a tradition stemming from a bet between a coach driver and his passengers in the 80s, and now visitors leave their mark in all sorts of ways.

The Daly Waters Pub has a great selection of food and is one of a very few venues that provide beer on tap along the Sturt Highway.

Photo: Blue Heeler Hotel (Tourism and Events Queensland)

Blue Heeler Hotel

Queensland
Find the Blue Heeler Hotel in north-western Queensland on the road between Brisbane and Darwin. The Blue Heeler Hotel in Kynuna was built in 1889, and is famous for being the venue where Banjo Patterson first recited the iconic Australian poem, ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

The pub has a caravan park area with powered sites, bathrooms, and hot showers—perfect after a day on the road.

Photo: Nindigully Pub (Tourism and Events Queensland)

Nindigully Pub

Queensland
A little more accessible than some of the other pubs mentioned on this list, the Nindigully Pub can be found in Queensland near the New South Wales border and is a five and a half-hour drive from Brisbane. ‘The Gully’ is Queensland’s oldest hotel, and is situated on the banks of the Moonie River.

The Nindigully Pub is home to the ‘Road Train’ burger, an enormous burger with the lot that takes a minimum of four hungry travellers to finish. Book in advance if you plan on devouring this beast of a burger.

Photo: Grand Hotel Kookynie (Julia D’Orazio)

Grand Hotel Kookynie

Western Australia
The Grand Hotel Kookynie serves a town of 13 permanent residents and plenty of road trippers through Western Australia’s goldfields. The pub is about a two-hour drive north from the gold mining centre of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. The town may be small, but the Grand Hotel Kookynie has everything you would expect from an outback pub, with cold beer, great food, and rooms available.

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Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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