When you’re travelling through places where populations are low, bodies are weary and cold drinks are a welcome relief, a good pub is a sacred place. Here’s our list of the best pubs you can find in the middle of nowhere to wet your whistle and spin a yarn.
The Lion’s Den Hotel
Like the bumps of the Old Telegraph Track, the sands of Punsand Bay and the clear waters of Fruitbat Falls, the Lion’s Den Hotel is a well-worn stopover on most any trip to Cape York. Established in 1875, this landmark of timber and iron is packed to the rafters with character and all kinds of memorabilia that reads like a patchwork of memories. Whether you stop in for a beer on the way to Cooktown and beyond or stay the night at the hotel’s campground, the Lion’s Den always manages to leave a mark on those who visit.
The Prairie Hotel
With the Flinders Ranges in the background and The Outback Highway on its doorstep, the Prairie Hotel is so typically Australian it’s almost unfair. Situated in Parachilna (a place with a single-figure population), the Prairie Hotel first filled a glass in 1876 and has barely stopped since. Aside from its lonesome position in the middle of Outback South Australia, the hotel is famous for its highbrow take on Outback cuisine. This includes kangaroo pastrami, camel mettwurst and emu pâté on their grazing board, while their Feral Mixed Grill includes kangaroo fillet, emu mignon and camel sausage – with a native pepper leaf jus, no less. It’s fair to say that the menu alone makes the journey worth your while.
It might not be a true Outback pub, but the Dargo Hotel’s regional significance and iconic status helps it squeeze onto the list. Sitting a cooee away from some of Victoria’s most famous (or infamous) 4WD tracks, the darling of the Dargo High Plains is a figurative gateway to High Country Victoria. The hotel has been in operation since the end of the 19th century, meaning it has as much history in it as many of the huts that visitors to the area clamour to get a glimpse of. The only difference? You can get warm company and cold beer at the Dargo Hotel.
Queensland’s oldest hotel, the Nindigully Pub, sits on the banks of the Moonie River in amongst the beginnings of the Sunshine State’s red dirt country. Amazingly, the pub has been maintained in its original condition that dates back to 1864, which adds to the nostalgic vibe that radiates from every post and pillar. These days, the Nindigully is famous for its gargantuan Road Train burgers – which feed a family or two at a canter – as well as its epic beer garden, free riverside campsites and bottomless hospitality.
Blue Heeler Hotel
Any place that lays claim to the first rendition of Waltzing Matilda has some serious Outback credentials, and the Blue Heeler Hotel says exactly that. While there’s some dispute about where it was first performed, there’s little doubt that Banjo Paterson got his inspiration from an amazing occurrence in 1894 where a show of forgiveness and a shared drink would end a shearers’ strike and plant the seed for a classic Australian ditty. The pub itself is bursting with history regardless, with scrawled names and dates covering walls that have stood witness for well over a century. A walk through the Blue Heeler is a peek back through the years, which ensures it remains a memorable stopover for anyone passing through Kynuna.
In the middle of nowhere but always buzzing with activity, the Innamincka is an oasis of civilisation in amongst the desert country of Outback South Australia. Coincidentally, it’s close by to another oasis in Coongie Lakes: a wetland in the middle of red dune country that draws wildlife in much the same way as the Innamincka Hotel magnetises dusty travellers. If you pull up to the bar at the Innamincka, you’re assured of two things: ice cold drinks and the chance to swap a yarn with other wanderers that are filled to the brim with stories from the road less travelled.
The Birdsville Hotel
The Birdsville Hotel is almost synonymous with the Simpson Desert, which means it holds a special place in the hearts of travellers who’ve crossed it. It’s either your last stop before you roll across the Simmo, or its your first taste of civilisation after negotiating the world’s largest parallel dune desert (1136 dunes, to be exact); either way, it’s a truly memorable place. On the inside, the hotel’s iconic sandstone walls are covered with memorabilia from bygone days and travellers of the past, which gives you a sense that the Birdsville Hotel isn’t just a gateway to the desert, but a window into the past as well.
Daly Waters Pub
Between Borroloola and Mataranka (along the epic Savannah Way) sits the tiny town of Daly Waters, and therein lies the Daly Waters Pub. While it’s known for its collection of bras left by female travellers since the 80s, the pub is, in actual fact, covered from floor to ceiling by bits and pieces left by passers-by. In some ways, it’s a rite of passage for off-road tourers to leave a part of themselves in the Daly Waters Pub – to leave a mark of their own journey (while resting tired muscles and wetting whistles) before heading for the horizon in search of new ones.