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 [email protected]
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.
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.
Tipping is not customary in Australia, but the crew will appreciate knowing how much you enjoyed the trip. You might offer money, T-shirts or chocolate, or even send them a small collection of photographs from your trip.
Feeding the Animals:
Camels are partial to orange peels and candy. Their chief source of protein is the scrub and vegetation along the way. The crew won't mind if you feed the camels scraps from your plate, but they don't recommend your bringing along bags of treats.
Oudoo, Ibna, Hoosh and Steady are the anglicized Arabic commands that you say to a camel if you want it to stop, get up and go, lie down, or go easy. There are plenty of Australian outfitters offering camel rides on the beach or from hotel to restaurant. So if you've got the notion, here are a selection of Australian outfitters. Keep in mind that camel outfitters usually operate during the cooler months of the year, April through November.
Outback Camel Company (leaving from Alice Springs, Adelaide and Brisbane) P.O. Box 132, Fortitude Valley, Queensland 4006; Tel: 61-7-3854-1022
Silverton, New South Wales
Silverton Camel Farm Contact: Harold Cannard; Tel: 61-8-8088-5316; e-mail: [email protected]
Mansfield, Victoria High Country Camel Treks Rifle Butts Road, P.O. Box 642, Mansfield, Victoria 3722; Tel: 61-3-5775-1591; Fax: 61-3-5775-1591
Coober Pedy, South Australia
Coward Springs Campground P.O. Box 20, Coober Pedy 5723, South Australia; Tel: 61-8-8675-8336 (from April to October), 61-8-8559-6144 (from November to March); e-mail: [email protected]
Explore the Outback P.M.B. 118 William Creek, via Port Augusta, 5710 South Australia; Tel: 61-8-8672-3968; Fax: 61-8-8672-3990; e-mail: [email protected]
Waikerie, South Australia
The Bush Safari Company P.M.B. 53 Waikerie, South Australia, 5343; Tel: 61-8-8543-2280; Fax: 61-8-8543-2290; e-mail: [email protected]
Alice Springs, Northern Territory
Alice Springs Camel Outback Safaris N.T. P.M.B. 74, Stuarts Well, Northern Territory; Tel: 61-8-8956-0925; Fax: 61-8-8956-0909; e-mail: [email protected]
Frontier Camel Tours Pty. Ltd. Alice Springs location: Ross River Highway, P.O. Box 2836, Alice Springs, Northern Territory 0871; Tel: 61-8-8953-0444; Fax: 61-8-8955-5015; e-mail: [email protected]; e-mail for Ayers Rock location: [email protected]
Broome, Western Australia
Kimberley Camel Safaris & Bushwalks P.O. Box 2509, Broome, 6725 Western Australia; e-mail: [email protected]
Perth, Western Australia
Cameleer Park Camel Farm c/o The Stables Yanchep, on Yanchep Beach Road off Wannaroo Road, Yanchep; Tel: 61-5-0056-1160; Fax: 61-8-9561-2090; e-mail: [email protected]
Calamunnda Camel Farm P.O. Box 552, Kalamunda, Western Australia, 6076; Tel/Fax: 61-8-9293-1156