Queensland is without doubt a fantastic state, and a popular one too – the Queensland coast has absolutely huge tourism numbers with great attractions like the Gold Coast and the Great Barrier Reef. Now the coast is great, don’t get me wrong, but if you visit QLD and only see the coast you are doing both yourself and the state a huge disservice because inland QLD has so much to offer with tons of great little gems. We don’t have the time or space to cover them all, but here’s a couple of our favourites to get you started.
Winton + The Dinosaur Trail
I’m always a little surprised how few people know about Australia’s rich prehistoric past – we’ve got a huge collection of dinosaur bones floating about the outback, many of which remain in the ground waiting to be dug up. And Queensland has tons of great places you can go see them, touch them, and find out more about our giant reptiles of the past.
Winton is perhaps the most well-known location for dinosaur hunters, and for good reason - it has two awesome dinosaur attractions. There’s the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum in Winton itself, and 110kms out of town in the fabulous and unique Lark Quarry. Now neither of these are likely to be quite what you are expecting – you won’t walk in and see a floor to ceiling T-Rex skeleton staring down at you. BUT the Australian Age of Dinosaurs is special because it’s a chance to encounter a working dinosaur lab, and learn not only about the dinosaurs themselves (many of which are unique to Australia) and their place in history, but also about the process of finding their bones and how those bones are excavated, studied and preserved.
And Lark Quarry is truly special as it’s here that you will find the world’s only evidence of a dinosaur stampede, perfectly preserved for 95 million years! There are prints from approximately 150 dinosaurs, across four different species, and it’s a truly special thing to witness. Be aware that both Lark Quarry and the Age of Dinosaurs are only accessible on a tour, so check tour times before making the trek out or you may be disappointed!
However, Winton isn’t the only place in Central Queensland known for dinosaurs. The ‘Dinosaur Trail’ encompasses museums in Winton, Richmond and Hughenden, all of which are worth visiting as they all have their own unique features. And if you do plan to visit them all, they have a value saver pass that will save you some $$’s rather than purchasing each entry individually.
Mary Kathleen + Corella Dam
Two excellent little free camps east of Mount Isa and within a short distance of each other are the Mary Kathleen ghost town & Corella Dam. Mary Kathleen was a former town that serviced the nearby open cut uranium mine. And while all the buildings were relocated when the mine ceased operations, the layout of the town, the slabs from the buildings, and lots of various pieces of bric-a-brac remain, making it a great place to explore. Plus the nearby Uranium mine is a fascinating visit with its lurid green water. Just don’t get too close or you might start to glow in the dark!
A little further east is Corella Dam – a beautiful free camp right on the water with tons of space so even though it’s very popular, you’re bound to find a little piece of paradise to yourself.
Seriously not to be missed is the beautiful Carnarvon Gorge. Located between Roma and Emerald, the camping areas by the gorge are easily accessible by 2wd, but if you want to check out the gorge itself you’ll need to get your hiking shoes on as the only way in is by foot. There are a number of walking tracks in the area, the most popular of which will take you right into the bottom of the gorge itself. Unfortunately, it is a fair hike and there’s only one way in and out. So however far you walk in, you’ll need to walk all the way back again to get out.
We walked as far at the Art Gallery, which has an excellent collection of Aboriginal rock art, and it was about 14kms return, fortunately on predominantly flat ground, although there are some stairs into the amphitheatre along the way. It was 45 degrees on the day we did the hike (crazy, I know) so we left at dawn and thankfully the bottom of the gorge was shaded all morning, but the walk back in the sun, with a three-year-old in the hiking carrier was a killer! Make sure you carry plenty of water and sunscreen with you, and if you go out of season like we did, let someone know you’re out there, just in case.
Lawn Hill Gorge
Well known on the Big Lap route is the stunning Lawn Hill Gorge and, believe me, it’s well worth the detour from the coast. Unlike Carnarvon Gorge, Lawn Hill is full of water, meaning the best way to explore it is by canoe. But don’t worry if you don’t have your own – you can hire them from both the National Park camping area, of the Caravan Park at Adel’s Grove. And if you’re there in the off-season like we were, you may just have the ranger offer to loan you his own one like we did!
It’s safe for swimming, and the water is absolutely beautiful so it’s the perfect way to cool down after you’ve tackled some of the hikes in the area or worn yourself out attempting to paddle a canoe for the first time in years.
The Natural Sciences Loop
Now we know that extreme temperatures, red dirt, millions of roos, and water that comes out of the tap boiling hot and smelling of rotten eggs isn’t for everyone. But we actually LOVE this part of the world. We’ve stopped to work at both Charleville and Cunnamulla over our time on the road, so we’ve explored the South Western Queensland area pretty well, and definitely enjoyed our time there.
The Natural Sciences Loop encompasses the towns of Charleville, Cunnamulla, Yowah, Eromanga, Quilpie and Thargomindah, all of which are little gems in their own rights. But Charleville is the biggest town in the area and has a lot going for it tourism wise – our favourites being the Bilby Discovery Centre and the Cosmos Centre.
The Bilby Discovery Centre offers a chance to get up close and personal with a real live Bilby, plus you can learn all about the predator-proof fence they’ve built to keep Bilbies and other native wildlife safe at the nearby Currawinya National Park (also definitely worth a visit, although the location of the actual Bilby area is not made public).
The Cosmos Centre is located at the tourist info office, and it’s fab. There’s a free display you can check out, but the real magic happens after dark where you can do an astronomy tour and make use of one of four huge telescopes to learn more about the night sky. Even our then three-year-old Ryan loved this one and still talks about the constellation ‘Ryans Belt’ 18 months on.
Other highlights of the Loop include Opal fossicking at Yowah and checking out yet another fascinating working dinosaur lab at Eromanga. Another favourite in this area is the fantastic Charlotte Plains Station, east of Cunnamulla, which has an open-air uncapped artesian bore with a bunch of old baths that you fill up with piping hot water, then sit back and while the day away, and the excellent free camp at Wyandra, between Charleville and Cunnamulla.
Actual Gems. Literally.
Outback Queensland is actually known for it’s gems, literally. Towns like Emerald and Sapphire got their names from the various precious gems that can be found in the area. They’re all super welcoming towns with plenty of precious rocks still to be found, so stopping off for a bit of fossicking is a must when you’re passing through.
Honestly, wherever you go in Outback Queensland you’ll find a few gems – of the precious rock, precious location, and precious people varieties. Outback towns are very welcoming, and they’re all special and unique. So get off the coast and hit the red dirt – you never know what little gems you’ll find.
Check out more adventures from Renee and Nathan on their blog