Route: Our Outback to Whitsundays route took us from Winton in Outback Queensland, to Emerald via Longreach, then north to the Whitsunday town of Bowen.
Queensland conjures up images of endless coastline, sparkling waters, the Great Barrier Reef, lush rainforest and plenty of sunshine.
But it’s a huge state, and you have simply GOT to check out what lies inland. Because Outback Queensland is absolutely worthy of your time, and even better if you can couple it with a trip to the beach.
The outback has always attracted us… we just love the stretches of land where you can see nothing but the horizon, as well as the outback pubs, colourful characters and all the stories there are to learn.
We began our outback to the coast road trip in the town of Winton in Central Queensland – around 900km from the QLD coastline. For such a small town (population of 875) it is big on reasons to visit – including the Dinosaur Trackways at Lark Quarry where you will discover fossilised footprints of the only known dinosaur stampede in the world.
You can also immerse yourself in one of Australia’s most famous anthems – for Waltzing Matilda was penned here by Banjo Paterson in 1895. You can have a drink at the North Gregory Hotel in town, said to be the first place the iconic bush poem was performed, and even visit the Waltzing Matilda Centre, the first museum in the world dedicated to a song! We went a step further and also travelled out to Combo Waterhole out of town, a billabong said to be part of Banjo’s inspiration, and it was impossible not to burst into song once on its banks.
Winton is still a hub for bush poetry and you can come across modern bush poets performing in local establishments as well as events such as the annual Outback Writers Festival and Outback Festival.
Tear yourself away from this quaint outback town packed with history, and head south-east along the Landsborough Highway for around 2 hours until you hit Longreach. Another small town with lots to offer, Longreach is famous as one of the founding centres for our national airline Qantas and a drive along the main street will take you to a 747 proudly stationed by the side of the road outside the Qantas Founders Museum.
Longreach also celebrates its outback history and heritage with the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre, a fascinating museum dedicated to the lives and stories of stockmen, explorers and aborigines on the land, a must for any Australian or overseas visitor.
When you drive further between Longreach and Emerald on the Landsborough Hwy, you will pass through the small outback town of Barcaldine where the famous 200+ year old Tree of Knowledge, positioned in front of the towns railway station, is known as the birthplace of the Australian Labour Party and location for the first Australian shearers strike.
Barcaldine (or ‘Barky’ to the locals) is known as the ‘Garden City’ of Outback Queensland and you will note all the wide tree-lined streets named after trees, as well as the Bougainvillea Heritage Trail.
We even managed to be in town in the lead-up to one of the towns most anticipated annual events – the annual goat races in the Tree of Knowledge Festival. Yes, this is a ‘thing’ and the locals were all too happy to give us a run on their goats during a training session!
Our adventure in Outback Queensland ended near Emerald, in the little town of Rubyvale, famous for its gem mining. We joined Peter Brown from Rubyvale Gem Gallery in his backyard – literally the gem fields – where he has made his living unearthing beautiful stones that he sells in his gallery.
Underground we learned what the life of a gem miner is really like, and the work involved in digging for the most precious stones. We ended up conceding it is much easier perusing his gallery for them than finding them ourselves.
It was time to hit the coast and enjoy the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean and the Whitsunday Coast. Our adventure would finish in Bowen – a town on the Whitsunday Coast famous for its relaxed atmosphere yet spectacular location.
Quieter than its southern neighbour, Airlie Beach, Bowen welcomes visitors with the ‘BIG MANGO’ situated on the Bruce Highway at the Visitors Centre as you arrive in town. It is an absolute must to stop here and have a photo taken with the gigantic piece of fruit, and of course try the delectable Bowen Mango Sorbet available at the shop there.
In town, we relaxed at the BIG4 Bowen Coral Coast Beachfront Holiday Park where you can literally take a few steps from your beachfront cabin to the water and throw in a fishing line.
We were welcomed by the park and all of its loyal holidaymakers at their regular happy hour drinks where we met and shared stories with guests who had been coming to this part of the world (and this park) for many years. A home away from home, with all of the benefits of the Whitsundays, was the sentiment that was shared among all and we couldn’t help but feel like we had struck a little piece of Queensland gold.
Clint and Charli tried their luck catching dinner straight off the boardwalk that fronted the park, but when luck wasn’t on their side, we meandered into town to visit the Bowen Fishermans Seafood Co. where not only do they sell the fresh fish that is brought in by their trawler directly to the wharf behind them, they also have their own café called Birds Bar where you can indulge in fish and chips or a local prawn platter right by the sea.
On the Sunday we were there, we couldn’t stay away from the weekly markets held next door to the Holiday Park at Hansen Park. We met the local mascot, a roving mango, and many of the passionate local producers who are making the most of the fact that Bowen is known as Australia’s ‘Salad Bowl’, growing a huge variety of fruit and vegetables including of course, the Bowen or ‘Kensington Pride’ Mango.
From mango jam to mango leather, they know how to make the local fruit into a variety of gourmet goodies and it was a delight to wander around trying everything and picking up some souvenirs.
Bowen is North Queensland’s oldest town and as you wander about the main streets, you can relive its history via the 27 painted murals that adorn various buildings. Then prepare to feel a little deja vous as you try to picture where you have seen the Bowen Jetty and Pub before… until you realise parts of the film ‘Australia’ with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman was shot here.
Finally, one of the best ways to spend your time here is on one of the eight beaches and Horseshoe Bay is our pick. A small bay framed by rocks at either end, it is extremely child-friendly and perfect for soaking up some Queesland sunshine.
Have you explored the Queensland Outback or coast by road trip? Tell us about it in the comments!