I hate New Year’s Eve. Like, haaaaate. Detest! Hell! The worst! If I could track this vehement dislike of the celebratory day back to its origin, it’s probably linked to this horrific time my best friend invited, then DE-invited me to an NYE party while I was also in the middle of a soul-destroying situationship.

This supremely terrible New Year’s Eve left me with some genuinely deep anxiety around the annual date. From then on, I wanted to be anywhere but in Sydney, my hometown. Didn’t care where, just AWAY. I’d organise group trips with friends, force my immediate relatives into beach escapes, whatever it took.

This year, my boyfriend and I were thinking the beach. But it turns out that the cost of living inflations extend to Airbnbs and motels, apparently. Places were so damn expensive, I’d have to have taken out a personal loan just to do a week up the coast. So we scoured the map and decided on our second favourite kind of local holiday — a road trip.

I’m obsessed with road trips. If you’ve read my travel stuff before, you’re probably familiar with that time I did the Oodnadatta trip, or my adventures around the country solo. Thankfully, I’ve ended up with a partner who also loves a good road trip (okay, sometimes possibly just tolerates my love of road trips).

It was a damn set cheaper to drive into the outback over NYE, probably because the temperatures are literally through the roof (think 40C upwards) and most people think Aussie outback = no swimming (they’re wrong, more on that in a sec). But it’s also likely off everyone’s lists because, well, what is there to bloody do on New Year’s Eve in the outback? There are no 24-hour raves. No thumping house parties with someone’s annoying housemate thinking they’re a DJ. No fireworks to wait for.

Exactly. That’s what made us keen — none of the usual NYE bullshit. Here’s your guide on celebrating NYE in the outback.

1. Pick Somewhere Remote But With A Bit Going On

new years eve
Early in the night, a few wines in at the RSL lol

We settled on Longreach as our NYE destination — seemed far (LONG-reach), was big enough to have stuff going on (around 3,500 as a population) and was close to red dirt, the best part of hitting the outback.

This is important. Yes, you can strike gold in a teeny outback town with a rollickingly good pub — Muckadilla for example has a killer pub that did a big NYE celebration — but it’s a risk. The more remote and small the town, the more likely you’re one of five people celebrating which could dampen your night if you wanna dance and make some mates. Some remote pubs are even closed for the season because summer is outback Qld’s off-season.

Still, there are plenty of places open and thriving, and the slower pace thanks to fewer tourists was refreshing, tbh. It’s just a safer bet to go for a bigger town on NYE.

Longreach was big enough to have two venues throwing NYE parties, which were right across the road from one another. The classic RSL and The Birdcage, a local watering hole with a band on for the night.

We flitted between the two but ended up at The Birdcage for most of it because their band was throwing out classics like “Simply The Best” and “April Sun In Cuba”, plus old Shirl (IDK if her name was Shirl but she had the energy of a Shirl) the town matriarch was there and watching her jive around was the definition of joy.

Everyone was hugging her and wishing her HNY, she really ran that town.

2. Take The Right Vehicle

outback queensland
Bertie (our car) got it DONE. Look at all the bug carnage on the front!

Given Longreach is, well, 18 HOURS from Sydney, we figured our tiny 2004-era hatchback wasn’t going to cut it, given she can barely make it up a small hill at this point.

Thankfully, Ford Australia loaned us a Puma — its light SUV that’s won a bunch of awards over the last couple of years. Was it the perfect choice? For this trip, yes — it was surprisingly roomy in the boot for all our crap (more on that later), had all the mod cons like adaptive cruise control, Apple CarPlay and emergency brake assist so we were super comfy but also had the extra safety benefits.

Most of all, though, it was SO efficient on fuel. We were shocked — I reckon we spent around $600 on fuel for the entire road trip, which covered a huge swathe of the outback and then some. For a zippy car in the middle of fuel prices that are off the chain, that’s pretty good.

If you’re headed anywhere with unsealed roads though, TAKE A FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE. Even if they’re technically 2WD-friendly, one hint of rain and you’ll be facing tracks with potholes and damage. We couldn’t get to Birdsville on another leg of our trip because of this.

Also, fill up on fuel even if you’re only at halfway once you’re in remote Qld. Petrol stops can be rare and if you break down, you’re likely to have no reception. Check out these guidelines before you go so you’re prepped.

3. Go In With Zero Expectations

outback queensland
Slightly sozzled, XXXX sign in the background… it can only be an outback pub.

You will not be having a rager. Or maybe you will. You won’t end up dancing until 3am. Or maybe you will. It’s impossible to know with outback NYE adventures because unless you live in town, you just can’t predict what the vibe will be like.

For example, one year I went to Broken Hill for New Year’s Eve and had a wild night because, apparently, Broken Hill has a huge transient nursing population due to a training hospital out there, so heaps of young people were out and about on NYE.

In Longreach, the vibe was EVERYONE. Like, ringers from nearby cattle stations, locals who live in town, Matriarch Shirl… the gang was all there. A lot of kids too, so the vibes were a bit more wholesome but still picked up toward midnight.

We didn’t make any friends because it seemed like everyone in town knew everyone else and, well, didn’t really need new mates. But that was fine — we danced and drank and went home around 1am.

In short, our night was a fun party but not a rager. At first, it seemed like it might be a quiet one. However the cookie ended up crumbling, we didn’t have any expectations so we weren’t spending the night anxiously chasing the big moments, you know?

4. Make It A Journey, Not A Destination

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On the red hills of Windorah, a few days after NYE.

Putting all your eggs in the “Outback NYE” basket is probably as bad an idea as putting all your eggs in the NYE house party basket — huge chances are it doesn’t go the way you wanted it to. But, if you make your outback New Year’s Eve into a longer road trip covering some quirky spots and bucket list experiences, it won’t matter if the actual night is a bust or not what you expected (that is, if you put expectations on it like I told you not toooooo).

For us, Longreach was in the middle of a wider outback Queensland road trip. We headed across to Windorah, with the intention of reaching Birdsville. When that fell through, we hit up Quilpie and Cunnamulla instead, enjoying the remote pubs, getting into XXXX beer (DO NOT @ ME, IT’S DELICIOUS AND REFRESHING) and lounging around in outback baths (these are EVERYWHERE and soooo relaxo after a long drive).

We had a great NYE, but even if we had been in bed by 9pm, it wouldn’t have meant our trip was wasted. This, actually, is the overall key to New Year’s Eve if you hate it like I do — go on a HOLIDAY that NYE is a small part of.

Taking the pressure off means you end up having more fun than you expect and even if you don’t, the disappointment is minimal at most because you have so many other, way more fun things on the horizon.

Melissa Mason is a freelance writer, you can find her on Insta and TikTok.

Image: Melissa Mason