Travel Tips

Travel tips from this month's Journeys column

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

To follow in the footprints of a trekking camel in the Australian outback, here's what you'll need to get started. Our author, Derek Grzelewski, chose the Outback Camel Company for its authentic trekking and its promise of an "off-the-beaten-track" experience. Other outfitters are also available, as is a selection of book recommendations.

Outback Camel Company (OCC); 1st floor 132 Wickham Street; P.O. Box 132; Fortitude Valley, Queensland 4006 Australia; Tel: 61-7-3854-1022; Fax: 61-7-3854-1079; e-mail

Depending on the exchange rate, OCC prices range from about $600 for an easy six-day trek to $2,000 for a challenging 27-day expedition. You'll need to be in reasonably good shape, as the average distance walked each day is five to eight miles. Treks vary in duration, amount of participation and route. These treks are for self-reliant travelers, as there are no backup support vehicles. You'll sleep in a "swag" under the stars, cook in camp-ovens and woks on open fires, and go the distance without showers or toilets.

Getting There:
OCC treks leave from Alice Springs, Adelaide and Brisbane.

When to Travel:
The best time for camel trekking is April to November.

Your passport must be valid for at least six months after you depart Australia. You will also need an Australian visa, or Electronic Travel Authority, and documentation of your return trip, e.g., your airline ticket. OCC requires that you purchase a travel insurance plan that includes emergency evacuation coverage. Vaccinations aren't required, but for peace of mind you might want to get a hepatitis A vaccination and update your tetanus. Visit U.S. Customs online for more information.

Welfare of the Animals:
Andrew Harper, owner of OCC, says "camels are such strong, independent creatures that they cannot be 'broken' like horses. If they don't want to work, they don't." He adds that there are so many camels in Australia that a noncooperative animal is easily replaced, and that crew members who mishandle the animals are not tolerated.

What Is a Swag?
Imagine that you have a standard, single-bed mattress. Wrap the mattress in canvas and put a zipper down one side and along the bottom. Put a pillow inside, followed by a blanket or two. Or perhaps you replace the blankets with a sleeping bag. You now have your swag. Modern swags are made of canvas and come in all different shapes and sizes. So the swag contains your sleeping bag, teddy bear, pajamas or whatever else you want to put in it. OCC provides trekkers with swags that come with built-in fly nets.

What to Pack:
There's limited storage space on the back of a camel. You'll pack a small kit bag, or day pack, which OCC provides, with your personal gear. Excess gear can be left at the in-town hotel before the trek. It's recommended that you bring twice as much film as you think you'll need, and a large tub of baby wipes. A broad-brimmed hat, sturdy trekking boots, sunscreen and insect repellent are essential. A warm jacket and a good quality sleeping bag (to slip inside your swag) are also recommended, as temperatures can drop to 20 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Average daytime temperatures are about 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

The crew brings along guidebooks on birds, animal tracks and droppings, mammals, trees, insects, reptiles and stars, so you might just pack one good novel.


Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus