Camels are intrinsically entwined in the history of the Australian outback and make great travelling companions – for a short time anyway.
Many were brought to Australia between 1840 and 1907 with their Afghan handlers to provide transport for goods and equipment during the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line and the early gold rush era.
They were also used in expeditions and helped to open Australia’s inland.
The railway line from Port Augusta to Alice Springs soon became known as the Ghan Line and today, The Ghan train that runs from Adelaide to Darwin was so named as a tribute to those early pioneers and their camels.
The cameleers often gathered on the outskirts of outback towns forming “ghan” towns with their camels at the ready to take on jobs such as transporting supplies to isolated stations, bush towns and telegraph stations. At the turn of the century camels were used all over the inland of Australia but the introduction of motor transport in the 1920s saw the demise of camel expeditions and transport.
However, many camels survived in the outback and today there are between 500,000 and one million camels roaming freely.
The good news is you can still hop aboard a camel in the outback and they can even take you to dinner or breakfast where you can experience glorious sunrises and sunsets.
For many, camel rides are a highlight of any visit to central Australia and provide an ideal way to experience the red dunes and iconic landmarks such as Uluru.
Central Australia is now home to the world’s last remaining herds of wild camels that form the basis of a growing camel industry that also includes recreational and touring options.
Visitors to Alice Springs can get up close and personal with camels at Pyndan Camel Tracks.
The rides head to White Gums Station through the Ilparpa Valley in the MacDonnell Ranges.
The family-run camel farm offers memorable, relaxing and informative camel riding experiences at noon, 2:30pm and sunset. Pick up from Alice Springs accommodation is included in the price or you can self-drive only 20 minutes from central Alice Springs.
It is one of the best ways to enjoy the magic of Uluru.
Short rides are available at Uluru Camel Tours and if you are really pushed for time there is a 45-minute camel express ride through the nearby desert landscape - it provides enough time to bond with your camel and take in the sights.
But the hour-long rambles over big red sand dunes to catch the spectacular sunrises and sunsets are special.
The sunrise camel ride leaves one hour before sunrise so you can witness the incredible sight riding over the rich red sand dunes in the cool, clear morning air. As the sun rises over Uluru and Kata Tjuta you will see the desert come to life. Friendly and knowledgeable cameleers point out the flora and fauna along the trail.
After your ride, a light breakfast including the famous freshly baked beer bread damper with Australian jams, tea and coffee is served.
The sunset tour finishes at twilight with Australian beer, wine, champagne and outback bush foods.
Voyages at Uluru offers a wide range of accommodation from budget to luxury and great dining including bush tucker fare.
Guests can also ride a camel to see the stunning Field of Light, a fabulous light installation by Britain’s Bruce Munro. It is aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara language and is Munro’s largest work to date, with more than 50,000 slender stems crowned with radiant frosted-glass spheres over an area the size of seven football fields. Pathways draw viewers into the installation, which comes to life under a sky brilliant with stars.
A short coral camel ride is also available at Camels Australia, located 90 km south of Alice Springs at Stuarts Well set in natural bushland right at the foot of the magnificent James Ranges.
While visiting the farm you can take a short ride around the enclosure and half hour and one hour treks are offered. As well as camels there are llamas, kangaroos, emus and Zari the dingo.
For the really adventurous and super fit you may consider joining the Australian Desert Expeditions as a volunteer, walking with camels through the desert. It is a not-for-profit, Registered Environmental Organisation that partners with leading universities, state and national government land management authorities, national conservation organisations and private research institutions to conduct scientific and ecological survey expeditions into remote regions of the Central deserts.
Volunteers assist ecologists with their important fieldwork, which may include collecting and documenting botanical specimens, assisting with marsupial trapping surveys or anthropological, archaeological and palaeontological documentation and recovery, all while travelling in the grand tradition of the early explorers and pioneering Afghan cameleers.