What is Australia’s best outback pub? » KathSwinbourne

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Nov 01 2016

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What is Australia’s best outback pub?

Birdsville-trackWhenever you go away, there are things that you just have to do. Experiences you’ve heard about or sites you are really looking forward to seeing.

Sometimes they meet your expectations, sometimes they don’t.

And sometimes things that you weren’t expecting surprise you.

What were those things on this trip? The best and worst (or at least not best) experiences?

First, a disclaimer: I didn’t have a bad experience anywhere. None. There was nothing that I wouldn’t do again. Some things didn’t quite live up to the hype, but that doesn’t mean they were bad. Please keep that in mind with the “didn’t quite live up to the hype” experiences.

Best outback pub

Parachilna PubThis one surprised me. I’d never even heard of the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna, then it was introduced to me as “the home of the feral mixed grill”. Not the best way to attract a vegetarian! But then I was also told about the amazing sunsets, and of course I had to go. I could always have a bowl of chips for dinner!

The Prairie Hotel is at Parachilna, on the western edge of the Flinders Ranges, with the mountains behind, and big, wide open spaces in front. I went with my sister for sunset and dinner.

Champagne on the GhanThe tables outside the pub are perfectly positioned to catch what really is an amazing sunset over the old Ghan tracks and wide open spaces.  When watching the sunset, don’t forget to turn around and watch the blaze of colour across the purple of the Flinders Ranges behind. It is a beautiful sight!

Even before we sat down I was pleasantly surprised. The pub has the best wine list, including sparkling wine, I have seen at an outback pub, and at a reasonable price. We ordered a bottle of Wicks sauvignon blanc and sat down.

While we were sitting outside the owner/manager of the pub came outside with a dinner menu. There was one vegetarian item that looked interesting, but that wasn’t good enough for him. He went inside to speak with the chef and came out again with a choice for me, and not just risotto or pasta!

I liked it so much I went back after my detour to Adelaide and camped in the pub’s grounds for a couple of days. The pub staff and management are friendly and helpful, as was everybody who visited the pub. I met some lovely people, and had some great conversations over a drink or two.

birdsville-hotelDidn’t quite live up to the hype

I feel bad even saying it, but I was disappointed in the Birdsville Pub. In all the photos I’ve seen the pub appears to be in the middle of nowhere, but it’s not. The (rarely used I admit) airport is across the road, and the town is all around, with buildings right next door and across the road. When I walked into the bar in the middle of the day after walking around town all morning, groups of people were sitting in almost complete silence, everyone keeping to themselves. It was a struggle to even start a conversation, almost impossible to keep one going. That said, my last night in Birdsville was a great night at the pub, although I didn’t eat there as there was absolutely nothing for vegetarians.

Best camping spot/accommodation

sunrise-mungerannie_02Mungerannie, in the middle of the Birdsville Track.

I pulled up to a pub, a petrol pump, lots of dust and a few dozen bikers camped along the tree line. I found a space just big enough for my swag nestled in the trees. Once set up I went for a walk and that was it. There was a hot pool, fed from the Great Artesian Basin (remember primary school social studies lessons?) in amongst the trees, with the most amazing wetland right next to it. I sat in the pool with a glass of wine, letting the hot water wash away any stresses (hahahaha, stresses, as if) and chatted to the various bikers who came along. They were on the Off Centre Rally – a biennial bike ride that raises money for charity, and of course gives them an excuse to go riding in the outback with their mates. There were around 200 of them due in the next day so while I’m sure they were all lovely blokes, I thought it was probably a good idea for me to move on after one night.

First though, I went for an early morning walk around the wetland, with steam rising from the warmth of the water and birds everywhere. The Munerannie wetlands is a man made wetland that’s an important refuge and habitat for birds. That alone is worth the trip.

Outback-sunset-cobalt-skyDidn’t quite live up to the hype

This one was my fault completely – apart from there being too much cloud for a beautiful sunset but nobody can control that one.

While in the Sturt National Park I got a phone call from my heavily pregnant daughter that she’d been having problems and spent a night in hospital (all is well, and she’s now had the baby). Of course, all I wanted to do was get home. I drove as far as I thought safe, and stopped for the night at the White Cliffs underground motel.

I’ve stayed there once before and loved it. In the middle of summer the pool was refreshing, there was an amazing sunset, and I had the best sleep I’ve ever had.

But this time I think I was too stressed to relax and enjoy it.

Sunset was disappointing, but I had a lovely time sitting outside with a glass of wine, chatting with lots of people staying there. When I sat down on my own I immediately had invitations to sit with others. Everyone was lovely, there was a full moon (but a lot of cloud), and the weather was perfect.

But after sleeping in my swag under the stars for weeks I think the complete darkness of the rooms was too much for me. Add in the worry about my daughter and I just couldn’t sleep. I got up at 4am and started driving again.

 

Next instalment – tourist experiences and outback roads

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