I'm bouncing along a dusty road in a four-wheel-drive Australia Post truck with Outback postman Peter Rowe. The mail bags in the back are bulging with letters and parcels addressed to residents of the remote South Australian stations and towns we are soon to visit. Twice a week the mail is delivered, with Rowe and his son Derek taking turns to drive the 644km round trip, and more often than not their truck is filled with adventurous tourists eager to experience a day in the Outback. The trip starts at Coober Pedy, a multicultural community of opal mining families. Rowe arrived in town more than 30 years ago to dig for opals, and his mail-run commentary is peppered with tales of the good old days. As we depart he points out rocky ridges that conceal sprawling subterranean mansions. 'Some of these underground homes are really posh. They have swimming pools, gyms, solid gold fittings in the bathrooms and there's one with an en suite bathroom attached to every bedroom,' he says. Just out of town the countryside is scorched and desolate. We stop at a section of the 5,300km dingo fence, the longest fence in the world. Twice the length of the Great Wall of China, it was built to keep dingos out of sheep-farming country. Farther along the dirt road we leave a cloud of dust in our wake as the truck's wheels spin through the Moon Plains. Rowe informs his passengers that the rocky landscape is abundant with 120 million-year-old marine fossils, remnants from a time when this brown, barren zone was at the bottom of a freezing southern ocean. This stark landscape has captured the imagination of apocalyptic filmmakers and consequently the plains have featured in movies such as Red Planet and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Adding to the out-of-this-world ambience are movie props, such as a huge spaceship that sits parked in front of the Opal Cave underground complex, left behind by the makers of science-fiction film Pitch Black. Every few kilometres we come across flood warning signs that look completely out of place along the dry and dusty road. However, these incongruous signs are not to be ignored - rain falling 20km away can turn dry creek beds into raging torrents, rapidly flooding large areas. Although regular rainfall is uncommon, when it does rain the desert's wild flowers flourish. Every few years the desiccated earth transforms into a brilliant kaleidoscope of blooming flora. It may also come as a surprise that desert communities have a seemingly endless supply of water, thanks to the Great Artesian Basin, a natural underground reservoir that holds 132,000 times more water than Sydney Harbour. Our first mail stop is at Mount Barry Station, where the lean cattle are some of the healthiest animals in Australia. They walk 10km a day nibbling on highly nutritious saltbush while searching for water. In comparison, cattle on the east coast of Australia require up to four times the amount of feed to receive the same amount of nutrition. At another station we're met by a young woman who has a surprise for Rowe: a Bundaberg rum bottle filled with her mother's homemade tomato sauce. When we get to the entrance of the third station, we slide a large parcel under a cattle grid so we can avoid the 25km of dirt road leading to the homestead. As the day progresses the desert reveals russet landscapes highlighted by narrow carpets of green and creeks with eccentric names such as Giddi Giddina. Eagles swoop to seize marsupials scurrying along the dirt, long-legged emus run across the desert and sulphur-crested cockatoos soar above us. After stopping at several stations the bulk of the mail is unloaded at the Oodnadatta Post Office and the Pink Roadhouse, a legendary stop in a town with a population of fewer than 200 people. But even in a small town in the middle of the desert, interesting characters, such as the Pink Roadhouse's proprietor, Lynnie Plate, are likely to turn up. Thirty-three years ago, Plate and her husband, overtaken by a sense of adventure and accompanied by a few camels, horses and donkeys, spent several weeks walking the 650km from Alice Springs to Oodnadatta, where they have lived ever since. But fame in the Outback comes at a price. 'You know, I went to Melbourne for a holiday recently. It was so nice to sit in a cafe without being recognised,' says Plate with a sigh. We move on to William Creek, zipping by a blur of yellow Darling lilies. At Algebuckina Creek we stop to look at the decommissioned iron bridge once crossed by the Old Ghan railway, the new incarnation of which links Adelaide in the south with Darwin in the north. Ruins of railway huts, sidings and telegraph stations from the Old Ghan are sprinkled across the desert. At Edwards Creek you can see the remains of the ticket office, waiting room and stationmaster's house. When the Ghan was updated and re-routed, many settlements, such as William Creek, became ghost towns. Now a contender for Australia's smallest town, William Creek sits within the world's largest working cattle property, the 3.4 million hectare Anna Creek Station. At last count, the hamlet had a population of 10, a ramshackle pub, a few weatherboard houses, a dusty nine-hole golf course and the Dingo Cafe. The walls and ceilings of the William Creek Hotel - the only watering hole for 160km - are plastered with business cards, bank notes, old caps, bras and T-shirts left behind by travellers as tokens. Before I leave, I pin my own business card to a wall, wondering if it will be there should I return. Outside the hotel my eyes are drawn to a flaming sunset, a ball of blazing crimson that glows like a giant opal against the clear sky. I feel moved by the raw beauty of the Outback and honoured to have met the fascinating characters who call this parched countryside home. And there is no better person to make the introductions than the Outback postie. Getting there: Qantas ( www.qantas.com.au ) flies from Hong Kong to Adelaide via Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Regional Express ( www.regionalexpress.com.au ) operates flights between Adelaide and Coober Pedy. Desert Diversity Tours (tel: 61 8 8672 5226; www.desertdiversity.com ) operates Mail Run tours on Mondays and Thursdays for A$165 (HK$1,058).