For me, sleep deprivation’s often been a major problem – and no, not because I stayed up too many nights engrossed in porn. So how grateful I truly, really am to all those run-of-the-mill city tours and outings I’ve taken that were so boring they made me catch more shut-eye than a narcoleptic on valium. Yes, Paris by night, the Amsterdam canals or a walk-around in Venice have a charm for sure, but if you’re searching for something a bit quirky or different, you’d get more of an adrenalin rush watching a slug munch through a five-hectare square lettuce field. Fortunately, in this part of the antipodes, there are numerous far-out and wacky excursions that would even get the blood in a cadaver pumping. Here, I pick out 10 of the most unusual and interesting tours in Australia.


The details: $50 
Tell me more: Looking like something a Hobbit would inhabit, the Undara Lava Flows are dramatically illuminated cavernous hollows that one might imagine run all the way down to the bowels of the earth. Located in Queensland in the eponymous national park, this landform is what’s left of the longest flow of magma from a single volcanic crater. And if you wish to witness one of the most bizarre pieces of predation since my 125 kilo cousin, Tiny, found a live mouse in his Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket and ate it and everything else up anyway, visit this area between December and March. Why? Every evening, as roughly 250,000 microbats swarm out of the cave – you’re in the Barking Grotto system – they are snatched from mid-air by brown tree snakes (night tigers). But don’t let that, or my relative’s sick eating habits, put you off enjoying your next meal or exploring the other marvels in what is an amazingly beautiful region.


The details: $1094
Tell me more: Most postmen’s greatest fear during a delivery is getting their nads bitten off by some hyperactive Chihuahua. However, when the distance you have to drop letters off extends over 400km, perhaps the biggest anxiety is isolation. It’s fortunate, then, that this train journey offers you a chance to cosy up to the mailman and keep him company, on a 5-day Outback Mail Run. Starting off your 120-hour experience in Brisbane, you board the Westlander (a sleeper locomotive) and head into the ever-shifting shapes, sounds and colours that define this colossal sun-drenched yonder. Roughly halfway into the traverse, at Quilpie, your courier carries his packages to ten remote cattle and sheep stations. Meanwhile, you can just sit back and appreciate a plethora of atmospheric landmarks: Alaric homestead; the Eromanga township (famed for oil wells, opal mines and recent dinosaur discoveries); and the muddy brown effervescent waters and sprouts of vegetation that amount to Kyabra Creek.

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The details: $300
Tell me more: It was blacker than black, rugged and appeared to move slightly, so I actually thought it may leap up and bite me. Yes, one of my floaters after I’ve had a supersize donar kebab isn’t very pleasant. Nonetheless, the only thing below the surface of the water on this cruise is the hull of an airboat. Uniquely, it glides along the edge of the flood plains – the only type of craft that can do this in such a few inches of liquid – reaching speeds of up 80kph. Stretched out before this flat-bottomed vessel, driven forward by an aircraft-type propeller, are tall grasses and water lilies as wide as volleyballs. Thus, it’s easy to believe you’re in Florida’s Everglades. Nevertheless, this ride occurs in Northern Territory’s Carmor Plains Wildlife Reserve – a sixty-thousand acreage which is an oasis of flora and fauna. Indeed, lazing crocodiles; egrets, herons and various other birds preening, and buffalos strutting about as if they were pop divas, are just some of the extraordinary creatures on view.


The details: $69
Tell me more: No, stupid, I said to myself, it’s not you for dinner; it’s just that you eat a barbecue meal after the animals you have come to find give you the once over, because they want you for dinner. Yes, there’s not a more unsavoury brute alive than the crocodile, except for the European Union politicians continually shoving austerity measures up our jacksies. What makes this short expedition along the Katherine River even more exhilarating is it’s in the evening, so the stars and moon cast a pretty luminescence across the rippling water. But, these ancient reptiles – they first appeared more than 55 million years ago – don’t give a fig about picturesque vistas; they are on the prowl for supper. So, maybe, don’t get too close when your guide goes slightly bonkers and attempts to call one to your vicinity for a photo opportunity. Wow, all those teeth, what a smile.


The details: $110
Tell me more: Do you remember when you were in kindergarten and the teacher asked you to paint a picture, but most of the coloured goo finished up over everybody’s hair and clothes? Well, on this trip I finished covered in so much brown stuff, anyone might reckon I’d had a wrestling match with a chocolate fondue. And you can get ‘Down ‘n’ Dirty’ too, in Coober Pedy, a town known as ‘the opal capital of the world’ due to the vast quantity of the gem unearthed there. After learning about a mineral that is a form of silica and how it was quarried in earlier times, you’ll be taken to the Quest Mine and given a hard hat, torch and handpick. No, not because ‘they want you’ as a new recruit for the 1970s pop combo Village People, but to fossick and noodle (dig) for your own precious stones.

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The details: $600
Tell me more: It seems the guys organising this baby don’t know that the world’s been in a recession for the last four years. They expect you to buy a FLIPPING HAMBURGER for A$600. I can just imagine how long I could have spent in a Thai massage parlour – of course, between you and me, just for a back rub – with such an amount of money. Yet, these dudes have got other ideas: hook up with them for a saunter around Birdsville. It’s a tiny outback town steeped in history, situated on the banks of the Diamantina River between the Simpson Desert and the ginormous rocks of the Sturt Stony Desert. Whilst there, admiring vast open spaces and thirty-metre high sand dunes like Big Red are just a fraction of the excitement. But surely, the real thrill is going to the zany local pub and actually receiving your mega-expensive beef whopper. However, the jokes on you; although you purchase the burger, all the other expenses of this outing – bus transfers and flights, etc – are free.



The details: $49
Tell me more: Next Halloween might still be a long way away, but if you wish to discover something really creepy this supernatural tour is unmissable. Why? Due to you being shown and told about the dark underbelly of the Australian capital, Canberra, by your eccentric guide, Tim the Yowie Man. If you want ghost tales, you’ve got them. He even waxes lyrical with humorous anecdotes and blood-curdling strange facts that feel even scarier at the bits of this experience which happen underground. Spookily, you’re driven to your destinations by a black 1967 Cadillac hearse named Elvira – for thirty years, it was owned by a funeral parlour in Santa Rosa, California, transporting over 10,000 individuals to their final resting place. Let’s hope you don’t get such a fright on this junket that you end up that way too!



The details: It was free with the proviso that you could look but not touch
Tell me more: As an art lover, it’s not often I’d step into a museum with the possibility of anything being able to distract me from the main exhibits. It’s obvious, then, that I was not in Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art last April, when visitors were allowed to wander around stark bollock naked. Really, it sounds as if the curator of the gallery had a few too many, then lost a bet with a naturist. Yet, the producer of the various conceptual and participatory works on display, Stuart Ringholt (he was also in the buff) actually showed about the observers. The idea was that they’d feel closer to the depictions of nudes if they too were unclothed, with a major theme being ‘fear and embarrassment’. Unfortunately, this spectacle only ran for three nights. Now that it’s over, I wonder if the number of flashers in the local parks has gone back up.

Photo: Christo Crocker


Where: CAIRNS, QUEENSLAND           
The details: $140
Tell me more: Is it an astronaut? Is it some kind of dotty underwater fancy dress party? Or, has some stupid pillock just got their cranium trapped inside a goldfish bowl? Any of the above could be believed, but the individual in question is actually wearing a Seawalker helmet as he ambles across the ocean floor of the Great Barrier Reef. Yes, those who have never been diving before need not worry, as this specialised headgear lets you breathe through your nose and mouth just as if you were above water – for high-maintenance divas like me, it even allows us to keep our hair and face dry. And what a sight to behold, setting off from Cairns you get to see the world’s largest coral reef system – it’s over 2,600 kilometres in length – and it’s ‘fabutastic’ array of fish, mammals, birds and reptiles.


Where: TASMANIA    
The details: $560
Tell me more: Are you aware of Elmer J. Fudd, the Warner Brother’s Looney Tune cartoon character, who was always getting his knickers in a twist because he wasn’t cunning enough to shoot dead Bugs Bunny? Thank God there’s no boom boom of a gun on this ramble, as it’s merely to track down one of Oz’s most loveable critters, the quoll. As you do, it’s absolutely awesome to encounter mesmerising swathes of diverse and unique landscape such as the foothills of Ben Lomond or Roses Tier. On this eight-hour jaunt, there’s even time to stop off, unwind, then send your taste buds into a frenzy with a traditional bush tucker meal – Tasmanian cheese platter, three native spice trout, venison mountain burgers, and wallaby tenderloins. Notwithstanding, the undeniable star of this adventure is the aforementioned carnivorous marsupial. So, nestle up to the campfire with a glass of wine and observe, as they spring into action – wombats, platypus and possum are also on the roam all over this expanse of countryside.

Images: Xav Judd, Chris Crocker, TNT Images, Sunlover

For more, check out Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2013.