Exploring Outback Queensland

Back in September, we spent three weeks touring around Outback Queensland – from Birdsville up to Julia Creek, and nearly everywhere in between. Since then, time has got away from us a little, so we’re playing catch-up with our blog posts on here.

Back at Birdsville

After staying with Julie near Mitchell, Queensland, we continued to head west. We revisited one of our favourite camps from our last trip west – when we went across the Simpson Desert – on the banks of the Cooper Creek at Windorah.

Camping on the Cooper at Windorah
Camping on the Cooper at Windorah

The Windorah to Birdsville leg always catches us a bit by surprise – we feel it should be an easy few hours of driving, but it’s not. At roughly 380km – and a mix of sealed and stony dirt road – it takes longer than you first expect!

We spent the night at Birdsville camped at the Town Common. We were fortunate to head through the area after the floods earlier in the year. Seeing Birdsville draped in green was a sight to behold.

iPhone panorama of the Diamantina River
iPhone panorama of the Diamantina River at Birdsville

With the Birdsville Races having been held only a week or so before, we were surprised to have the Town Common camping area practically to ourselves. Also, the Diamantina Shire Council deserve a big thumbs up for the plentiful access to water here – there’s taps everywhere around the camp area!

The obligatory Birdsville Pub photo
The obligatory Birdsville Pub photo

Heading north

From Birdsville, we headed north towards Boulia. Once again, we were shocked to have the place to ourselves so soon after the camel races! We camped at a free bush camp right on the Georgina River – self-contained campers only, as there’s no facilities at all at this one. It may have been a little dry and dusty, but the sunset made the red dirt glow.

That iconic Outback Queensland sunset glow
That iconic Outback Queensland sunset glow

If you’re seeing a theme in out choice of camping locations thus far, you wouldn’t be wrong. There’s something special about camping on the banks of these inland creeks and rivers – the dry country surrounding the life-giving waterways.

Two border crossings in one day

As this trip had quite a relaxed itinerary, we could please ourselves where we went – we could simply take look at the map and head wherever we fancied. The overwhelmingly positive reviews on WikiCamps made the decision to check out Urandangie easy. We were a little tired of driving on the blacktop, and a sneaky double border crossing into the Northern Territory and back seemed like a fun idea.

We followed the Donohue Highway west from Boulia, crossing the border for our first time that day.

QLD/NT Border on the Donohue Highway
QLD/NT Border on the Donohue Highway

To make our way towards Urandangie, we headed north along a dusty road that hugged the state border.

Plenty of bulldust on this back road!
Plenty of bulldust on this back road

The country was flat, shrubby and interesting – so far from the day to day grind of our lives in the city!

A little while later we crossed the border again – back into outback Queensland. If there was any question just how remote we were, the carcass near the old-style Northern Territory sign was all the evidence you’d need to convince someone.

Our second border crossing for the day
Our second border crossing for the day

A quirky little community

We continued following our nose along the dry and dusty backroads towards Urangangie. As we did, we noticed painted car bonnets lining the roadside here and there, each with a slogan or joke emblazoned upon them. They each injected a little humour into what could otherwise have been a monotonous few hours of driving.

There’s not much to the small indigenous community of Urandangie – a pub, a park across the road, and some houses. That’s it. The publican, Pam, had a few orphan kangaroo joeys hopping around, and a couple Shetland ponies helped us set up camp for the night. The drinks were cold (even if they don’t have beer on tap), and chatting on the verandah while enjoying a cuddle with the joeys was a memorable way to spend an evening.

The Urandangie pub
The Urandangie pub

Mount Isa and surrounds

We spent a day in Mount Isa poking around the shops and re-stocking our supplies. Set against the backdrop of what is obviously mining infrastructure, the town has an interesting vibe.

While in the area, we stopped in at a must-see attraction – the decommissioned Mary Kathleen uranium mine. The water really is as blue as all the photos you see. No photoshop required here!

The old Mary Kathleen uranium mine
The old Mary Kathleen uranium mine

We spent the next night camped at the Corella Dam. It was a popular spot, with more people around than every other campsite we’d stayed at this trip. We still had no trouble finding a spot away from everyone else, tucked up in the trees.

Our campsite at Corella Dam
Our campsite at Corella Dam

Instagram-worthy artesian baths

If you’re on Instagram and follow Australian travel accounts like we do, there’s no doubt you would have seen the hot artesian baths in Julia Creek featured more than once! There’s no question the water tank style bath houses make for an interesting photo. And, soaking in a hot bath while the sun sets really is as relaxing as it sounds.

The hot artesian baths at Julia Creek
The hot artesian baths at Julia Creek

Our night in Julia Creek was also our only paid accomodation for this whole trip. As the artesian baths are located at the caravan park in town, we thought it best to stay there, too. It’s worth noting that while the caravan park is pet friendly, no pets are allowed in the bath houses.

Chasing dinosaurs… and old trucks

A deciding factor behind our outback Queensland trip was to visit Winton, and learn more about the district’s connection to the dinosaur era. We’d seen the town featured on TV segments about the discovery of dinosaur bones, and the boom in tourism that had resulted. We were keen to see what it was all about for ourselves.

Dinosaurs in Winton
Dinosaurs in Winton

Winton was a lovely little town. Thanks to WikiCamps, we learned of a dog-sitter in town who could care for Mister Dog while we visited the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum. The museum does have kennel facilities available, however these were simply several large cages that were exposed to the sun for much of the day… not quite what our boy is accustomed to! The dinosaur museum was interesting, and we easily needed half a day to appreciate all there was to see.

Working on some dinosaur fossils
Working on some dinosaur fossils

Surprisingly, the dinosaurs didn’t end up being our highlight in Winton… Instead, that was Winton’s Diamantina Heritage Truck and Machinery Museum! We both have a fascination with old vehicles of pretty much all kinds, so the trucks were right up our alley. The best part? They were incredibly dog friendly! Mister Dog was allowed to join us as we looked around and admired all the old trucks.

Some of the old trucks
Some of the old relics

Winton isn’t the only town in the area with dinosaur-related attractions. Muttaburra – the geographical centre of Queensland – has a few dinosaurs of their own.

Our little mutt got to visit the dinosaurs at Muttaburra
Our little mutt got to visit the dinosaurs at Muttaburra
The three of us visited the geographical centre of Queensland
The three of us visited the geographical centre of Queensland

We enjoyed a fantastic meal at the Tattersalls hotel, before camping the night at the Long Waterhole, not far out of Winton.

Sunset at the Long Waterhole camp
Sunset at the Long Waterhole camp

Lots to do in Longreach

Longreach was a highlight for us. Since Trinity was a child, she’s wanted to visit the Stockmans Hall of Fame and the QANTAS Museum. Neither attraction disappointed.

Longreach itself was a friendly and welcoming town. We enjoyed pottering around the shops, enjoyed a meal at one of the local cafes, and even took advantage of a day’s dog sitting with the local vet clinic while we visited the museums. Trinity claimed she could easily live there, but James wasn’t quite so sure.

We spent the night at another fantastic donation camp just outside of town, the Apex Riverside Park. Brolgas roamed between the campsites in the evening, and the sunset over the river was glorious.

Sunset over the Thomson River
Sunset over the Thomson River

The Gemfields

From Longreach, we headed east to The Gemfields. We found a lovely place to camp via WikiCamps – a homestay camp on private property south of Emerald called “Higher Ground”. The property was a lovely private haven. We had an area near the river to ourselves to set up camp and explore on foot.

The Nogoa River near our campsite
The Nogoa River near our campsite

We spent some time fossicking in Sapphire, but had more luck finding bargains in the local op shop!

Heading slowly home

After realising we weren’t about to strike it rich fossicking for sapphires in Sapphire, we decided it was time to start making our way back home.

We meandered our way back, looking for smaller attractions along the way to make the trip a bit more interesting. We found a painted water tower and lovely mural in the small town of Moura, Queensland.

Water tower art at Moura
Water tower art at Moura

Another quirky spot we stumbled across on our journey home was the Boolboonda Tunnel – a decommissioned railway tunnel that holds the claim to fame of being the longest man-made unsupported tunnel in Queensland at 192m. The tunnel is about half an hour’s drive west of Gin Gin.

The Boolboonda tunnel
The Boolboonda tunnel

Our last stop on the road was a quick visit with Trinity’s mother in Hervey Bay. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ride on the wheel that was visiting town, and enjoyed a fabulous pastel sunset over the bay that evening.

The Wheel that visited Hervey Bay
The spectacular sunset from the Wheel

While 2020 has been a challenging year, we’ve been grateful for the memories we’ve made on our travels. Reflecting on trips like this one has really made us appreciate just how good life is when it’s “normal”. Driving hundreds – or thousands – of kilometres, visiting indigenous communities, and crossing state borders were all things we took for granted before. But not now.

We are fortunate that we live in Queensland. Our COVID-19 case numbers have been low for a while now, and we’re back to living a life that vaguely resembles normal. We can work, eat out, travel (with some limitations – definitely not internationally!), and spend time with those we love. Other states aren’t doing so well.

We’re even thinking about our next holiday. While we’ve been trying to get away on weekends as often as possible since restrictions were lifted, it’s nice to have a block of a few weeks were we can leave the worries of work behind, hit the open road, and just experience what lies before us. We’re not sure what that might look like this year – or if it’ll even happen – but we have to have hope. Holding onto hope that once again we’ll be able to freely travel – both here and abroad – is what keeps us moving forward in this time.

We hope you are all staying safe and healthy, wherever you might be checking in from. Drop us a comment and say hello. What does your “normal” look like right now? What are you looking forward to most, for when things return to how they once were?

We're a married couple from Brisbane with a passion for travel - in our own backyard and abroad. Follow our blog to hear more about our travels, car modifications, camping advice and more.

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