Join an elephant patrol in Indonesia

Wildlife lovers have plenty of reasons to head up to Gunung Leuser, but for many the big draw is the chance to see one of the world’s rarest animals, the orang-utan, whose existence is threatened by the continued felling of its habitat. There are only three places to stay, but you’re free to explore the jungle by boat, foot, or on the back of one of the seven elephants who are used to patrol the area and deter loggers. Whether you see an orang-utan or not, it’s a world few get to experience.

Meet a moose in Algonquin, Canada

Just four hours from Toronto, by direct train, and you’re in 7600 square kilometres of maple hills, forests, rocky ridges, spruce bogs, and thousands of lakes and streams. There are plenty of activities all year round, from dog-sledding exhibitions in the winter to canoe trips in the summer, and Algonquin is one of the best places in the world to hear a wolf howling, or see moose and beaver from the comfort of your canoe.

Come face to face with alligators, Florida

Considered one of the most important wetlands in the world, the Everglades is a vast sodden expanse at the southernmost tip of Florida. You’ll be convinced grasses in the water are snakes and you’ll probably jump the first time your foot hits a branch underwater, but the sensation will quickly become less noticeable as the magnificent wildlife monopolises your attention – plus there’s a great lunch of fresh seafood and locally grown salad to look forward to once you return to dry land.

Track bears in British Columbia

On a Great Bear Nature Tour on the northwest coast of British Columbia, you’ll have an excellent chance of witnessing the grizzly bear’s natural feeding frenzy. Tours are based at Great Bear Lodge, a small floating cabin in Smith Inlet and, from late August to October, bears are drawn to the salmon-spawning streams. There may be as many as thirty bears at any one time, and this is also the best time of year to see the beguilingly cute cubs.

Watch the zebra migration, Botswana

For millennia one of the largest wildlife migrations in Southern Africa was the return from the Botswana saltpans to the Boteti River, but because of drought the river has not run since 1991 and the last pool dried up in 1995. To combat this, a camp called Meno a Kwena has built pumps that fill three water holes in the river bed. Sleeping in tents at night and studying tracks in the morning, the elevated position of the camp affords a great view of the thousands of animals which come to the pool to drink.

Visit Tembe Elephant Park, South Africa

For centuries elephants roamed freely across Maputuland, the region that straddles the border of South Africa and Mozambique, but their numbers collapsed during the Mozambique civil war. Now, after twenty years, the Tembe Elephant park is thriving, and close encounters are not uncommon for visitors. The safari camp’s facilities are standard for South Africa, but what sets Tembe apart are the thrilling game drive in the experienced hands of local guides.

See the rare sitatunga deer, Zambia

The best time and place to spot a sitatunga, Africa’s elusive swamp-dwelling deer, is at dawn and up a tree – more specifically the Fibwe tree hide in Kasanka Park. As the morning mists clear across the papyrus swamps below the hide, visitors watch the sitatunga taking to the water early to avoid leopards and other predators. Yet the water also has dangers, and some visitors to the hide can spot the snouts of crocodiles floating log-like amid the reeds.

Save the chimpanzees, South Africa

You can drop in for an hour-long tour or stay for a week or more at the Jane Goodall Chimpanzee Eden, helping to monitor behaviour or record the sounds the chimpanzees make when communicating. Experts reckon our closest relative will be extinct within their natural habitats in as little as a decade, so spend some time here and help prevent this from happening.

Track wild dogs in the Limpopo, South Africa

The Endangered Wildlife Trust is a non-profit organization in the Limpopo region that has worked to ensure wild dogs’ survival for over three decades. One of their successes has been to show farmers that wild dog-tracking is a viable form of ecotourism that can protect the dogs while benefiting local communities. During the day guests are led by a trained conservationist on 4WD tours that allow them to observe the dogs roaming in their natural habitat and nights are spent in the thatched Little Muck Lodge.

Track red foxes in Vålådalen Nature Reserve, Sweden

From the Vålådalen mountain station at the foot of Ottfjället, two Swedish biologists run shoeing tours through the hilly, pristine forests of the Vålådalen nature reserve. Covering 6-10km a day and camping out at night, you’ll investigate tracks of red fox, moose, reindeer, otter, and mountain hare and learn about survival techniques in the wild.

Become a game ranger in South Africa

Few jobs have as romantic an image as being a game ranger. If you’ve got a few weeks or more to spare, then stay at a former farmhouse at Kwa Madwala Game Reserve, looking out over a small lake with resident hippos and crocodiles and see if you’ve got what it takes to be a ranger: tracking lions and hyenas on foot, tagging and releasing birds of prey, or counting antelope populations from a microlight.

Walk with the Chacma baboons, South Africa

Most of us would imagine that going for a stroll among baboons would be about as sane as going for a swim with a crocodile – yet the charity Baboon Matters propose just this. They believe that if people develop a better understanding of baboons then they will be less likely to consider them as pests, and so they take tourists up into the hills where they can observe around thirty individuals, who, far from aggressive, regard their visitors with curiosity or just carry on as if you weren’t there.

Join the Sami Reindeer Migration, Norway

The unique opportunity offered by Norwegian tour operator Turgleder is definitely not a made-for-tourism experience. The Sami use one or two snowmobiles to carry equipment but otherwise their technique for herding reindeer has not changed for centuries, so expect to eat and sleep like them in their lavvus (Sami tipis), cook over an open fire, and go ice-fishing for food.

Wake up with meerkats, South Africa

Meerkats are normally shy creatures, yet thanks to Grant McIlrath (know as “Meerkat Man”) there is a spot just outside Oudsthoorn where an insight into their world is possible. The meerkats are used to McIlrath and so if you drive out with him before dawn you’ll have the opportunity to see the meerkats bobbing up and down, sunning themselves and foraging for food – all before your stomach has rumbled for breakfast.

Track cheetahs on foot, Namibia

Based on the 223-square-kilometre Okonjima guest farm, Africat funds a programme to rescue cheetahs captured by farmers. They then care for them with a view to possible reintroduction to the wild. Guests stay in luxurious thatched chalets, and thanks to the radio collars used to monitor the shy and endangered big cats, the cheetahs are easy to find. In some places the guides will even take you to around ten metres to watch a pair of cheetahs devour a kill.

Meet mountain gorillas, Rwanda

Finding a mountain gorilla in the wild takes patience and skill as there are only about 680 left in the world, yet one of the best places to have a go is the Parc National des Volcans in the far northwest of Rwanda. This is home to half of the entire population of mountain gorillas and Rwanda Ecotours organise trips to see the gorillas, so all you need to do is decide between a one-day trek or a six-day hike.

Go dog-sledding in Svalbard, Norway

In Arctic conditions it’s difficult to get quickly from A to B without some form of assisted transport, yet the noise and air pollution caused by snowmobiles hardly does the fragile environment any favours. Dog-sledding, instead, is the answer – a green, viable alternative which allows you the chance to protect the Arctic wilderness while keeping an eye out for polar bears, seals, polar foxes and the northern lights.

See wildlife in Gabon

The jungles in Gabon not only have the highest diversity of tree and bird species anywhere in Africa but are also where wildlife of the equatorial rainforests tumbles out onto its Atlantic beaches: you’re just as likely to see hippos playing in the surf as you are elephants and buffalo roaming along the beach or humpback whales cavorting offshore.

Koala spotting, Brisbane

One of the best places to spot koalas is in the eucalyptus forest surrounding Brisbane. The only catch is that these animals are notoriously shy and very well camouflaged – so if you’re with a guide who knows their hangouts your odds of seeing one will be much improved. They’ll soon have you peering through binoculars, looking for freshly stripped branches and tell-tale claw marks, and with luck you’ll spot the culprit diligently chomping its way through the forest canopy or dozing way up above.

Watch wildlife in bed, Sri Lanka

The Heritance Kandalama lies surrounded by thickly forested hills and a shimmering lake, looking as if it is on the verge of being reclaimed by the forces of nature. So seamlessly does it blend into the rock face into which it is built that you can hardly see it from the other side of the lake. There’s plenty of wildlife to see and guests can take part in a nocturnal snake hike – although if you’d rather see snakes during the day you can check out the hotel’s own animal rehabilitation centre.

You have to keep your head down. Despite the spray-laden wind, it’s tempting to lift it above the rim of the boat and look ahead, so you can see the foam-capped waves racing past as the Zodiac inflatable roars upstream. Soon, in the distance, a towering peak of rock rises up. As you get closer you see shattering precipices and giant towers dusted with snow.

This is Torres del Paine, the citadel of Chile’s epic south and one of the wildest national parks in the world. When the inboard of the Zodiac inflatable is finally switched off, all you can hear is the fury of the wind. The waves die down and the water reflects the massif in a pool as perfect as you could imagine, fringed by gnarled trees and blasted by bitter winds. Close by is a huge glacier, an offshoot of one of the largest ice fields in the world.

Then you set off walking, shifting the weight of your pack to get comfortable. There are other hikers around you, too – this isn’t deserted wilderness by any means – but the largeness of the landscape can more than accommodate everyone. High up to the east, and overlooking the scrub and blasted forest, are the unnaturally sculpted Paine Towers themselves, and in front of you, dark-capped, are weird sculptures of the peaks of the Cuernos del Paine. If you’re lucky you’ll stumble across some guanacos, wild relations of the llama, or even a shy ñandú, the South American ostrich. But perhaps the best experience to be had here is simply to inhale the air, which is so crisp and thin that breathing is like drinking iced water.

Guided treks run to Torres del Paine from Puerto Natales, or you can travel to the park by bus or Zodiac.

 

For hundreds more ultimate travel experiences, get Rough Guides’ Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth

If a guidebook tells you that something is “impossible to describe”, it usually means the writer can’t be bothered to describe it – with one exception. After pondering the views of the Grand Canyon for the first time, the most spectacular natural wonder on Earth, most visitors are stunned into silence. Committed travellers hike down to the canyon floor on foot or by mule, spending a night at Phantom Ranch, or hover above in a helicopter to get a better feeling for its dimensions. But it is still hard to grasp. The problem isn’t lack of words. It’s just that the canyon is so vast and so deep, that the vista stretches so far across your line of vision, up, down and across, giving the impression of hundreds of miles of space, that it’s a bit like looking at one of those puzzles in reverse – the more you stare, the more it becomes harder to work out what it is or where you are. Distance becomes meaningless, depth blurs, and your sense of time and space withers away.

The facts are similarly mind-boggling: the Grand Canyon is around 277 miles long and one mile deep. The South Rim, where most of the tourists go, averages 7000 feet, while the North Rim is over 8000 feet high – its alpine landscape only adding to the sense of the surreal. On the canyon floor flows the Colorado River, its waters carving out the gorge over five to six million years and exposing rocks that are up to two billion years old through vividly coloured strata. It’s this incredible chromatic element that stays with you almost as much as the canyon’s size, with the various layers of reds, ochres and yellows seemingly painted over the strangely shaped tower formations and broken cliffs. Think of it this way: the Grand Canyon is like a mountain range upside down. The country around the top is basically flat and all the rugged, craggy elements are below you. The abruptness of the drop is bizarre and, for some, unnerving. But the Grand Canyon is like that: it picks you up and takes you out of your comfort zone, dropping you back just that little bit changed.

The South Rim is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the North Rim from mid-May to mid-October. See www.nps.gov/grca for more information.

 

For hundreds more ultimate travel experiences, get Rough Guides’ Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth

They appear as shimmering arcs and waves of light, often blue or green in colour, which seem to sweep their way across the dark skies. During the darkest months of the year, the northern lights, or aurora borealis, are visible in the night sky all across northern Sweden. Until you see the light displays yourself, it’s hard to describe the spectacle in mere words – try to imagine, though, someone waving a fantastically coloured curtain through the air and you’ve pretty much got the idea.

What makes the northern lights so elusive is that it’s impossible to predict when they’re going to make an appearance. The displays are caused by solar wind, or streams of particles charged by the sun, hitting the Earth’s atmosphere. Different elements produce different colours, blue for nitrogen, for example, and yellow-green for oxygen.

The best place to view these mystical performances is north of the Arctic Circle, where temperatures are well below freezing and the sky is often at its clearest – two conditions that are believed to produce some of the most spectacular sightings.

For the quintessential northern lights experience, pack a couple of open sandwiches topped with smoked reindeer meat and a thermos of hot coffee to keep out the chill, then take a snow-scooter tour deep into the forests of Lapland – Kiruna, Sweden’s northernmost city, is the best base. Park up beside a frozen lake and train your eyes on the sky. Try this between mid-December and mid-January, when there’s 24-hour darkness north of the Arctic Circle, and the chances are you won’t have to wait too long for your celestial fix.

In Kiruna, stay at the comfortable Vinterpalatset (www.vinterpalatset.se).

 

For hundreds more ultimate travel experiences, get Rough Guides’ Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth

Perched on the edge of Booderee National Park’s spectacular cliffs, the ruins of Cape St George Lighthouse offer an excellent vantage point for spotting whales and dolphins in the waters below. Rough Guides writer Sara Chare went in search of nature’s elusive giants.

Standing on the viewing platform at the Cape St George Lighthouse in Booderee National Park, I hugged my cheap and newly-bought binoculars to my chest and turned towards the rich-blue sea.

The park is situated on the New South Wales coast, less than three hours south of Sydney, and is jointly run by Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community and the Australian National Parks Authority. Covering an area known as the “bay of plenty”, it is home to the only Aboriginal-owned Botanic Gardens in Australia, over eight hundred hectares of marine park and dazzling white-sand beaches.

Between September and November, the park’s rugged cliffs are one of the best places on the southern coastline to see migrating whales; magnificent Humpback and Southern Right whales pass by with by their young, on their return journey from breeding grounds off the Queensland coast.

I had arrived towards the end of the recommended whale-watching window – between 11am and early afternoon – in the hope that there would at least be some dolphins kicking about. The day was warm and windy, the dark blue ocean flecked with the white of breaking waves. Sea birds wheeled overhead, and grasses rustled above the sound of the sea.

Next to me a man was intently surveying the ocean, a zoom-lens camera dangling from his neck. “There have been twenty whales in the last two to three hours, and a couple of common dolphins”, he informed me. I strained my eyes looking hopefully into the distance, but all I could make out was one solitary, white sailing boat amid the foamy seas.

Disheartened, I turned my attention to the lighthouse. It was built here in 1860 to aid navigation, as a result of the number of shipwrecks near Cape St George in the nineteenth century. This turned out to be a poor spot to site a beacon; the light was not visible to ships approaching from the north and only barely visible to those coming from the south. Yet despite the lighthouse’s failure to prevent wrecks, it wasn’t until nearly forty years later that a replacement was established in a better position.

Today, the skeletons of the lighthouse buildings themselves are fairly intact, the large, thick sandstone blocks bearing up well against the elements. Of the tower, very little remains except for the base; only a mound of weathered rubble faces the sea, interspersed with bright green grass fringed by the odd tree.

My tour of the site complete, I took one last, long look over the waves. I tried not to be too disappointed. After all, I should have arrived earlier.

As dusk softly drew in, I made to leave. Glancing out to the sea for the last time, I searched for something resembling a breaching whale, but only saw a family on the beach below and a group of cyclists stopping to catch their breath.

Suddenly, as I turned, I saw something out of the corner of my eye, a spot of grey, a curved back and then a fin. There they were: three bottlenose dolphins fairly near the shore, taking advantage of the food brought in by the tide. I stood, smiling as I watched them make their way gracefully through the water, surfacing less and less frequently until they finally struck out for the open sea.

Now, I was ready to leave.

Various local companies provide dolphin and whale-watching boat trips in the area. If you want to explore more of the country, buy the Rough Guide to Australia. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.  

Despite its natural beauty and vast array of historical sites, Jordan welcomes only a fraction of the visitors to the Middle East. When many think of Jordan, they picture camels and deserts – which admittedly make up 85 percent of its land mass – but this is also a country of mountains, beaches, castles and churches, with a welcoming population and a rich culture. These are our top things to do in Jordan:


Music: Ya Mo by Dozan (with thanks to worldmusic.net).

If you’re after a spectacular panorama of the Australian Outback, there’s an alternative to scaling Uluru. Not only does Kings Canyon offer those same spellbinding vistas, but a climb here respects the wishes of the local indigenous population. Rough Guides writer Ben Lerwill strapped on his hiking boots to conquer the canyon rim. 

The morning is still cold and dark when we walk out to the vehicle. It’s central Australia’s way of telling us we shouldn’t be outside yet. But Nigel’s pick-up splutters to life and the headlight beams reveal that the outback bushland is still there, spinifex grass being tousled by the pre-dawn wind. He begins driving, and within ten minutes we’ve parked up at the foot of Kings Canyon.

The canyon rim is just a shape a few hundred feet above us, a black mass in the dim light. But I’ve been here before, more than a decade ago, and I know about the views that are up there. “The first bit of the walk’s the hardest,” says Nigel, as around us and above us the sky starts to show signs of paling. “We should start climbing.”

Kings Canyon doesn’t draw the hype and attention that it might do. Relatively few international visitors arrive in Australia with the express intention of visiting it, but it has the knack of making a marked impression on those that do. Certainly the explorer Ernest Giles, the first white man to clap eyes on the feature, was taken aback when he passed this way in 1872 and saw a mountain range looming out of the surrounding flatness. He christened the focal point of this remarkable landmark after Fieldon King, the chief sponsor of his expedition, and today what the canyon lacks in terms of a rightful apostrophe it gains through an appropriately regal title.

Naturally, even Ernest Giles was late to the party. The canyon, and the range it forms part of, now fall within the protected Watarrka National Park. It covers an area that has been of cultural importance to local Aboriginal groups for tens of thousands of years – Kings Canyon shares this importance with a potent natural attraction just three-and-a-half hours to its southwest: Uluru. For walkers, that’s broadly where similarities between the two end: climb Uluru and you’re contravening a request to keep your hiking boots to yourself, climb Kings Canyon and the journey is more about connecting than conquering.

There are five hundred rocky, uneven steps up to the shelf of the canyon. By the time Nigel and I reach the summit plateau, 270 metres up, morning has emerged in a fuzzy half-light. Within fifteen minutes, the day’s first sunlight spills over the horizon, casting the cliffs in a lambent orange and revealing the scale of the canyon itself. Sheer walls of sandstone look down onto a green creek bed far below. This early in the day, the whole cavernous scene is soundtracked only by birdsong.

The rim walk is a 6km undertaking; although some refer to the initial climb as Heartbreak Hill, it’s really not that bad. And while the whole experience is largely about the grandstand panoramas, it’s the close-at-hand details along the route that underline the majesty of Kings Canyon’s hushed, age-old presence. The ancient marine fossils embedded into the sandstone. The hulking, beehive-like domes standing as improbable remnants of rock erosion. The shaded cliff-top chasm known as the “Garden of Eden”, full of streams and lush cycads.

It’s a walk that in many ways can last as long as you’d like it to. If you linger at the more stupefying lookouts, stopping to consider the feet that have walked these red buttresses and crags in times gone by, it can take a pleasant three to four hours.

When Nigel and I finish – and to complete the rim walk you have to make a reluctant descent from the plateau and return to the real world – the full heat of the day is pounding down on the outback.

Unseen across the plains somewhere, Uluru is being hit by the same sun. A day later I’m there. There’s nowhere, and nothing, like Uluru. When you’re close enough to see it, it’s like a drug – it keeps drawing you in. Before sunset, at the base of one of its faces, I watch a park ranger shutting a barrier, closing off the walking track to the top. Someone berates him, saying that a few climbers are still up there. He shrugs. “If they can walk up that,” he gestures, “then they can get over the barrier.”

A large board next to us is headed “PLEASE DON’T CLIMB”. I ask the ranger how many people go up Uluru these days. “It’s still more than 25 percent of total visitors,” he tells me. I’m surprised, and must look it. “Yeah,” he continues. “But it’s a certain type of person, you know? What gets me is that if you really want to walk on something, you’ve got Kata Tjuta 25 minutes away and Kings Canyon not far off. Beautiful, both of them. Why on Earth would you feel the need to climb Uluru too?”

Photographs courtesy of Kings Canyon Resort (www.kingscanyonresort.com.au). The resort has accommodation ranging from camping to deluxe spa rooms. 

Britz (www.britz.com.au) offers campervan hire from 11 locations across Australia with a choice of 9 vehicle types, ranging from 2- to 6-berths and including 3 types of 4WD. Prices start from A$54/day for a 2-berth based on a 7-day hire. Book 120 days in advance for a 5% discount.

You can explore more of the Australian Outback with the Rough Guide to AustraliaBook hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

First, be glad that it rains so much in Scotland. Without the rain the rivers here wouldn’t run – the Livet, the Fiddich, the Spey. Without the rain the glens wouldn’t be green and the barley wouldn’t grow tall and plump.

Be glad it’s damp here in Scotland. Peat needs a few centuries sitting in a bog to come out right. Then a breeze, and a wee bit of sun, to dry it. You burn it, with that delicious reek – the aroma – to dry the malted barley. Earth, wind and fire.

And be glad it’s cold here too. Whisky was being made in these hills for centuries before refrigeration. Cool water to condense the spirit. After all, if you’re going to leave liquid sitting around in wooden barrels for ten or more years, you don’t want it too warm. The evaporation – “the angels’ share” – is bad enough. Still, it makes the idea of “taking the air” in Speyside rather more appealing.

And if it weren’t cold and wet and damp, you wouldn’t appreciate being beside that roaring fire and feeling the taste for something to warm the cockles. Here’s a heavy glass for that dram, that measure. How much? More than a splash, not quite a full pour. Look at the colour of it: old gold. Taste it with your nose first; a whisky expert is called a “noser” rather than a “taster”. Single malts have all sorts of smells and subtleties and flavours: grass, biscuits, vanilla, some sweet dried fruit, a bit of peat smoke. Drinking it is just the final act.

Aye, with a wee splash of water. The spirit overpowers your tastebuds otherwise. A drop, to soften it, unlock the flavours. Not sacrilege – the secret. Water. Is it still raining? Let me pour you another.

Speyside’s Malt Whisky Trail (www.maltwhiskytrail.com) points you in the direction of seven working distilleries offering guided tours.

 

For hundreds more ultimate travel experiences, get Rough Guides’ Make The Most Of Your Time On Earth

This competition is now closed. Check back later to find out the winner.

Camping in the UK can be a gruelling affair, what with the high chance of rain and often low temperatures – not to mention the rocket science-like fiasco of constructing your nylon home for the night. So, we’ve teamed up with Forest Holidays to offer you a night off (actually, four nights off) to enjoy the freedoms of the forest without the effort.

From bike rides and pony trekking in Yorkshire to zip wires and walking trails in Cornwall, there’s so much to see and do in the UK’s beautiful countryside. If you want to win a four-night stay in a luxury forest cabin – complete with hot tub and panoramic forest view – at any one of the eight spectacular Forest Holidays sites in England and Scotland, follow the instructions below.

How to enter

For your chance to win, all you have to do is log in or sign up to the Rough Guides Community and write your answer to the question, “What is your worst camping disaster?”, posted here, in no more than 80 words.

The prize is for a four-night mid-week stay (Monday to Friday) for up to four people at any Forest Holidays location in the UK. The prize does not include travel costs, meals, spending money or any incidental expenses and it must be taken by 31 October 2014, excluding all school holidays and bank holidays (see Terms & Conditions for specific dates). All dates and locations are subject to availability. The winner will be chosen at random and will be notified by email by 31 December 2013. See a full list of Terms & Conditions here.

Special offer for Rough Guides readers: Save 10% on cabins at Forest Holidays for holidays in 2014. Simply quote ROUGH13 when booking at www.forestholidays.co.uk (0845 130 8223). Offer expires 31 December 2013. Forest Holidays’ timber and glass cabins come in a variety of sizes suitable for families, couples and groups of friends (from one to four bedrooms).

A remote mining town in Outback New South Wales, Broken Hill nestles up against the South Australian border, 1150km by road from Sydney. Visitors that make the effort to get here will discover a thriving art scene, eerie mine tours and some of Australia’s best desert vistas. Rough Guides writer Sara Chare explains why this town is top for Outback adventures.

There’s little doubt that Broken Hill is synonymous with mining – it’s been riding the minerals roller-coaster since 1888 when the area’s rich deposits of silver, lead and zinc first drew plucky prospectors to an unforgiving expanse of desert. Today the industry is still part of the town’s DNA: instead of enquiring how you slept over breakfast, here you may find your host asking “Did you feel the blast yesterday?”; a sign in the launderette reads “Mine clothes NOT to be washed in these machines” and streets are named after ore and minerals like iodide, cobalt and oxide.

Yet look beyond the giant slag heap in the centre of town and you’ll find a surprisingly attractive place: wide streets fringed by corrugated-iron buildings, Art Deco shops and heritage pubs with ornate iron balconies; trees and welcome patches of green providing a welcome contrast to the orange, arid surroundings. Dig a little deeper and you’ll discover art galleries, a theatre and a cinematic heritage to rival most Australian cities. Not bad for a Outback outpost of 20,000 souls. So where to begin? Here are five essential “Back O’Bourke” experiences:

Break bread at Broken Earth

Affectionately known as the Line of Lode, Broken Hill’s slag heap has found a new lease of life as the home of the classy Broken Earth Restaurant, which offers sunset cocktails and panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. There’s also a thought-provoking mining memorial here: a rusted-steel sculpture listing the names of the deceased and their cause of death – including cave-ins and falls – in chronological order.

Discover the Brushmen of the Bush

Inspired by the relative isolation and the desert landscapes that surround the town, artists have flocked to Broken Hill from elsewhere in Australia. Perhaps the best known gallery is that of Pro Hart, a miner who was born in Broken Hill and whose paintings of union leaders, miners and everyday life in the Outback made him justly famous. Visitors who pop in to The Silver City Art Centre & Mint, meanwhile, can try to imagine themselves stepping into The Big Picture, an impressive hundred-metre-long painting of local desert scenes.

Just north of town there’s more to please the eye at the Living Desert. This 24-square-kilometre site is split into two parts: the Flora & Fauna Sanctuary contains an Aboriginal quartz quarry, but the highlight is the striking Broken Hill Sculpture Park, perched on a hill above. The result of a sculpture symposium in 1993, each of the twelve sandstone carvings is by a different artist. The best time to visit is at sunset, when the rocks glow a warm red and there’s nothing for miles around to spoil the view.

Place your bets

Broken Hill always been a legendary drinking hole – it once had more than seventy hotels – and gambling has long been part of this culture. Come Friday night, boys from the bush flock to the Palace Hotel to play the traditional game of Two-up. Once an illegal back-lane gambling operation, the game sees two coins tossed under the watchful eye of the ringkeeper and bets laid on whether they fall heads or tails.

Go down under

Silverton, 25km away, makes an interesting side trip from Broken Hill. A variety of films and adverts have been shot in the area; the friendly local pub, The Silverton Hotel, displays entertaining photographs of cast and crew while movie-buffs can head to the Mad Max 2 museum. Nearby, the Day Dream Mine’s walk-in tours offer an unrivalled chance to experience life underground. Kitted out with a hardhat, head torch and heavy battery pack, visitors are taken down three levels of the mine and shown the seam of silver that the owner still works in his spare time.

Strike out(back)

If you want to venture further afield, Broken Hill is an excellent base for day trips to see the Aboriginal rock art in Mutawintji National Park, the Menindee Lakes’ varied birdlife or the opal town of White Cliffs, where many locals live underground because of the extreme heat.

You can explore more of the Australian Outback with the Rough Guide to Australia. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month