The magic of the Outback lies in the stars, the sunrises and sunsets, the people and the ability to disconnect from the internet and reconnect with the Earth.
Our New Zealand skiing holiday was cancelled this year, but we still wanted to do something out of the norm, give our son an experience and make some special memories together. This is how our Outback trip to Winton was born!
We set out from Toowoomba excited for the adventures (though slightly dreading the massive drive) ahead, with Mitchell our first stop. We made a rest stop or two along the way and arrived in Mitchell in the afternoon. We checked into our cabin at the Major Mitchell Caravan Park and quickly changed into our togs – eager to visit the Great Artesian Spa. Here we discovered two pools; one filled with soothing warm water and the other with invigorating cold water straight from the Artesian Basin. Being July in Australia, the weather was chilly, so we emerged ourselves in the hot pool first, enjoying its warm qualities and soaking up its minerals. Other guests had told us the cold pool was super refreshing, so we took their advice and plunged into the cold water pool – Wim Hof style. The cold water therapy was soul food and we enjoyed hopping from the hot pool to the cold pool. By the time we had finished we were all feeling very relaxed and looking forward to sitting around the fire at the caravan park, toasting marshmallows, enjoying a glass of wine and watching the blue skies fade into outback orange and pink.
We set on a morning road trip to Barcaldine or “Barky” as it’s affectionately known – a town with a rich history and home to the Tree of Knowledge. We had a quick stop at the Augathella Meat Ant Park and my son took advantage of its skate park. Deep into sheep and wool country, we checked out the teddies in Tambo and made it beyond The Black Stump in Blackall to arrive at our destination desperately needing to stretch our legs! We strolled down the main street to see the coveted Tree of Knowledge we had heard so much about. There used to be an actual tree there; however, it was poisoned in 2006 and a timber monument now stands in its place. This beautiful town has a rich and engaging history and offers some wonderful surprises for the keen wanderer including the Radio Theatre and Masonic Lodge buildings. We devoured the best chips with our steak at the Shakespeare Pub along with a smooth Shiraz and enjoyed our lazy walk back to Barcaldine Country Motor Inn, ready for bed and eager to see what adventures awaited the new day.
A perfect start to the new day – a walk around Lagoon Creek on the edge of town. We observed and admired the kangaroos and birds that congregated around the rich and abundant river ecosystem. During our walk we found the Barcaldine Disc Golf Course and wished we had a Frisbee to play. How quirky! I just love the creativity that is born from living in the bush and the natural ease of the outback in contrast to the fancy attractions of the city. Ridgee Didge Café has an eclectic vibe and we thoroughly enjoyed a delicious breakfast as well as pick uping some aboriginal gifts to support local artisan community. Then we saddled up for our journey to Longreach.
We were relieved for the short drive to Longreach in comparison to the previous days’ more tedious driving stints. Driving into Longreach I got a shock at the big 747 parked at the QANTAS museum. Used to seeing fleets of large planes at domestic and international airports, I couldn’t believe its sheer size! Being Sunday, not much was open in Longreach except the bakery and the boys rated the meat pies a solid 7! We checked into our accommodation at the Jolly Jumbuck Hotel (basic accommodation but it did us nicely for the night) and found the Stockman’s Hall of Fame was not far down the road. Both my husband and I grew up in the bush and my parents were graziers so seeing the old stockman apparel for me was just like entering my Dad’s shed on our property as a little girl. In contrast, my son has largely had a city-based childhood. It was truly a blessing to be able to see the bush through his eyes. The movie presentation explaining the region’s rich history and contribution to the Australian economy was engaging and informative. We watched the sun set that night and it was spectacular to see it cast its watermelon skies.
First up was our visit to the newly unveiled QANTAS museum and it was an interesting experienced not to be missed. Amazing and inspiring to learn how two men with a vision can start something so successful on a global stage from such humble beginnings. It’s a must-see!
At last… Winton bound – headed for the home of the dinosaurs! Arriving in Winton, our first stop was the opal shop where my husband purchased a stunning opal necklace for me for my special number birthday. We checked into the Boulder Opal Hotel (very clean accommodation in a good location) and made our way to the Age of Dinosaurs Museum. This was so much fun! We learned about the fossicking process and how dinosaur bones were discovered here. We saw the actual bones of the dinosaurs native to this region and went on a little safari tour to an awesome gorge on the jump-up. The colours of the landscape were breathtaking and I took so many photos from this wonderful vantage point. We did not get time to visit the stunning Waltzing Matilda Centre, built as a tribute to the song written in the area in 1895. However, we did walk past it at night and there was a paint and pour occurring which was yet another indication of the rich culture and creativity alive in the bush. The main street of Winton has a fantastic vibe and its shops and pubs are a tribute to the outback style. We enjoyed our meal (although way too big) at the HHH pub with its laid-back country feel and fantastic memorabilia adorning the walls.
The day we had been most excited about had arrived. We were going to see Lark Quarry and the only evidence in the world of a “Dinosaur Stampede”. It did not disappoint. It was awe-inspiring, thought provoking and absolutely worth the 1600km drive across the Queensland Outback to see it. Set on driving the back way, we then embarked on a very long, red, and rocky dirt road to see the town of Jundah where my Grandmother was born. A very cute tin shack met us on arrival and made a fantastic photo opportunity. Swapping drivers and dusting off the red dirt, we continued to Windorah where I had an inkling that something truly special awaited us.
We checked in at the Western Star Hotel, warmly greeted by the publican and his kids. Not 5 minutes later my son was playing with them at their family home next door. Talk about people in the bush being friendly! I had worried it would not be family appropriate staying “in a pub” but it was so filled with outback charm and hospitality that it was my favourite accommodation during the trip. Our room was warm, the linens soft and our beds homely comfortable. Aside from that – we just had to walk down the hall and steps and we were in the backyard of the pub!
Before dinner, I was desperate to watch the sunset again but not just from within the borders of this wonderful little town. My family must love me because they agreed to hop in the car yet again – this time for a short drive out to the red sand hills on the outskirts. We climbed to the top of the most stunning sand dunes – a red unlike any I’d ever seen – so stunning and a striking contrast to the vivid blue sky. It was take-your-breath-away magnificent. We watched the sunset over the vast horizon and again the sky performed its magic sharing vivid hues of pink, purple, and orange. It was a truly magical moment connecting with our great land – a spiritual moment and one I will always hold in my heart. Back at the Western Star, we tucked into our lamb chops by the big beer garden fire – enjoying being together under the stars in such a laid-back atmosphere, savouring the simple but wonderful things in life.
Another sunrise photography session, admiring the early morning galahs bathing in the warm glow of the new day, we set off for Charleville. We had a delicious lunch at the Charleville Bakery and I’ve got to say, I rate it the best bakery in the bush! We checked into The Rocks Motel, which was very modern – almost swanky. We had a wander around town and found another awesome skate park complete with new little friends for our son. On dusk, we made our way out the Charleville Cosmos Centre and were utterly gobsmacked at the technology of this amazing centre filled with incredible interactive information on all things space. We were called through to the Observatory, waiting with anticipation to see the night sky up close and personal. We had the opportunity to look through powerful 14-inch telescopes and discover clusters, planets and nebulae. We learnt about the Milky Way and black holes, saw Jupiter’s storm and all of its moons, followed shooting stars and got a good close look at the satellites orbiting the crystal-clear sky. The Cosmos Centre is a wonder. We feel so lucky to have visited it and my two budding astronomers (husband and son) are desperately keen to visit again.
We left the celestial wonders behind us and sadly Charleville was to be our last “touristy” stop of our trip. We made our way east along the Warrego Highway through to Roma next. I have family in Roma and it was special celebrating my niece’s birthday with them. Roma was clearly the busiest town we had visited in our travels and with the best coffee too (thanks – Tasting Co). Having lived in Roma in the past and with my husband growing up there, we had previously experienced all of the wonders of this dynamic township. Roma’s culture has so much to offer its visitors – a great pub scene, several cafes and restaurants. The Big Rig Centre is an absolute must – celebrating the town’s pride as the first place in Australia where natural gas was discovered. It’s a very hands-on attraction, giving kids the opportunity to pop on a hard hat, pick up a field testing unit and search for oil and gas deposits.
Homeward bound with a gifted Peewee 50 motor bike in toe. Our son felt that Roma was the best part of the trip. Back to Toowoomba via Chinchilla for Subway and a swap of the drivers – tales our wonderful adventures spilling from happy hearts, eager to share them with my family in Toowoomba. What a trip we had and one we will never forget!
There is another part of this story I didn’t tell. And that’s the one about the slow death of the towns in the bush. So many shops, pubs and cafes are closed, buildings and houses are falling down and people aren’t there. Coronavirus has certainly taken its toll on these little towns, along with drought and devastation. They need the tourism! If you are considering a trip with your family, I implore you to go out west and see the real Queensland – you won’t regret it and it’s like nowhere else you’ve ever been.
We’d planned our trip to coincide with school holidays, which are generally quite busy in the outback. COVID-19 restrictions limiting the amount of people who could enter a venue were still in place, so booking ahead was essential. Many people we met along our travels had not booked and driven hundreds of kilometres only to get to their sight-seeing destinations and be refused entry.