Travel a few kilometres to the west of any coastal town or city and some would have it that you are in the Outback. It doesn't really come that easy, as the real Outback starts a hundred or so kilometres west of the Great Dividing Range. And, you'll also know when you're in the Outback. Fewer vehicles, friendlier people (although some will test you out with their dry sense of humour), colder beer, gidgea trees and Mitchell grass - and longer distances between drinks.... more
Probably, once you have arrived at the Matilda Highway, you're well and truly in the Outback and your Akubra doesn't look out of place, the RM's almost make you look like a wealthy station owner, and you're even talking slower, dropping the 'g's', and walking with a pronounced bushman's gait.
Welcome to the Matilda Highway, a fully sealed 1812 kilometre stretch of road from the New South Wales border, all the way to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
This is one road which most definitely leads to adventure, and a different one each day.
The highway can be completed in as little of 24 hours, but that's one heck of a drive and you'll be missing out on the 'real Outback'... that is, the people, the attractions and natural sites.
Four days is a comfortable drive, depending on how long you stay in each town.
Just be wary of certain sections which are unfenced. Also avoid travelling around sunset or at night, as kangaroos and cattle also occasionally like to share your side of the road- sometimes both sides...
Between Cloncurry and Karumba there are some narrow stretches which means you and a road train cannot possibly be on the same strip of bitumen, at the same time. Best advice is to slow down, keeping the right hand side wheels on the bitumen and thereby demonstrating courtesy (and some wisdom) to oncoming heavy traffic.
Check the byways along the route, where plenty of side-trips add much to the overall Outback experience.... less
Goodbye New South Wales. Hello Queensland.
With a population of just four, don't expect a tumultuous reception.
The once thriving New South Wales border town of Barringun, was so alive that there were two police stations. One on the southern side of the border and the other, with Queensland constabulary, just a stone's throw away.
Tattersalls Hotel is one of the few buildings which still stands. Fuel is available in the township, along with refreshments and meals at the hotel.
The next major settlement is Cunnamulla, 119 kilometres to the north.
Just south of Cunnamulla check out the dwarf-like red sand dunes, adorned with pines. If the travels are after good winter rainfalls, then have the camera at the ready for a landscape ablaze with wildflowers.
Cunnamulla, a country town full of outback traditions provides enough good reasons to expand the itinerary, and linger a while.
This is a general service town, with all the facilities that a traveller requires.
Visit the Cunnamulla railway station, which is one of only two totally covered platforms in Queensland.
Historical sites range from the Bicentennial Museum and Old Masonic Lodge, to the Robber's Tree - the latter which was a short term sanctuary for Joseph Wells, who bungled an attempt to rob the town branch of the Queensland National Bank.
Side trips are recommended, taking in Eulo (home of the World Famous Lizard Races), the Mud Springs and the opal fields of Yowah.
When all is done, back to the Matilda Highway again and this time head for Wyandra, 97 kilometres to the north.
The highway follows the route of the railway and it's the railway system which actually decided where towns would be created.
Wyandra was once a major water stop for steam engines which hauled wool and sheep to the marketplace.
There are some great examples of early architecture and many of these have helped create a self-guide heritage trail.
Charleville is a town which needs some serious attention- at least a couple of days.
This place has a history featuring early cameleers, Cobb & Co and Qantas.
It is the centre for the largest School of Distance Education and home base for the work of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
Experience the Cosmos Centre, a small observatory which introduces you to the world beyond.
Head north to Augathella or a byway to Quilpie and its opal fields.
Augathella is 84 kilometres northbound. The pub in this town is the central social hang-out, a good place to hear of the exploits of the family of Kenniffs, infamous bushrangers.
On a more cultural note, local artists and artisans show off their latest creations at Boadicea Arts and Crafts.
Tambo is 119 kilometres north of Augathella and is home to the famous Tambo Teddies, created during the years of low wool prices.
A side trip recommended for four wheel drive enthusiasts is out to Salvator Rosa National Park. If time is short, settle for a stroll along the banks of the Barcoo, and do the Coolibah Walk.
After a refreshing drink you're ready to face the next 101 kilometres on to Blackall.
101 kilometres north of Tambo, and you arrive at the 'home of the original black stump'. Heed not what other State's may claim, as the locals from early identities such as Jackie Howe, through to latter day residents, steadfastly stick to the belief that the Thistle Street located stump is the genuine article.
If you don't know Jackie Howe, read on. It was in 1892 that Jackie (a gun shearer) set a world record by shearing 321 sheep in seven hours and 40 minutes. He held that record for 58 years and even then it was done with machine shears.
You will again greet the Barcoo River, which flows close to the town. Keep count of how many times you cross the Barcoo, as local legend has it that after the tenth crossing, you're here to stay!
The Historic Blackall Woolscour was brought back to life by locals to become a major tourist attraction. Whilst it's open throughout the year, 'steam-up' is usually restricted to those months from May to September.
Blackall was to have the first artesian bore in the central west, only to be beaten to the punch by Barcaldine, just 109 kilometres further along the Matilda Highway.
Barcaldine is the town which makes for a great 'pub crawl', although obviously not if you're driving.
There are some six pubs, all on the same side of the street and each has a tremendous link with 19th century architecture.
The town has a few other surprises. The big one being the memorial to Australian workers. It's the Australian Worker's Heritage Centre. Set on five acres, this centre should keep you interested for a good couple of hours - or longer.
The journey continues just 80 kilometres up the highway, at Ilfracombe.
If you're travelling between late August through early September, and if there has been a good rainfall, the floral landscapes are spectacular.
In Ilfracombe, old tractors, disused farm equipment and things rural have been neatly laid out to rest, forming a virtual open-air street museum.
Wander around the town and check out the Wellshot Hotel which has a Back To The Bush live show during the tourist season; the corrugated-iron Langenbaker Cottage; and the Post Office, the latter claiming to have Australia's first motorised mail service.
Longreach, is just 15 minutes along the Matilda Highway. Or alternatively consider including a side trip to Isisford on the way.
The town of Longreach really came into prominence in 1988 when the Queen opened the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame. It is world famous and warrants much more than just a casual glance. It is a total package of the Outback rolled into one brilliant display.
Adding life to this western Queensland town are a number of other first-class attractions, namely the Qantas Founders Museum (with its own decommissioned Boeing 747 Jet as its centrepiece), the School of Distance Education (one of the largest classrooms in the world), the Longreach Pastoral College (do a guided tour), the Longreach Power House Museum (with a potpourri of parochialism) and the Longreach Arts and Cultural Centre (in the old Ambulance Station, where locals display their arts and crafts).
What's all this fuss about Qantas in an outback town? Put simply, this is where the international airline grew up. Conceived in Cloncurry, born in Winton and grew up in Longreach.
There are regular cruises on the Thomson River and tour operators offer a range of touring experiences,- some to 'dinky-di' working cattle and sheep properties.
Then, you're ready to take on another stretch of the Matilda Highway, 179 kilometres to Winton.
It's virtually impossible to arrive in Winton and not be humming, or singing 'Once a Jolly Swagman et al', as after all, it is our national song and it was here at the original North Gregory Hotel where Banjo Paterson first publicly performed Waltzing Matilda.
Not only is Banjo's song the best known piece of Australiana on the world stage but it also gave rise to the world's only centre dedicated to a song. The Waltzing Matilda Centre gives plenty of reasons to puff up the chest with a degree of pride.
In town, and in holiday season, the town's local open-air picture theatre (The Royal) screens latest releases.
This is the town where Qantas was born. The first general meeting of the airline was held at the Winton Club.
As with the rest of the Matilda Highway, the trip onto Cloncurry is sealed but in parts, unfenced. The landscape is undulating and open Downs country.
Some 80 kilometres north of Winton you will pass through Ayrshire Hills, an ancient weathered formation which looks very much like the mesas from a spaghetti western.
Kynuna is backed by isolated mesas to the west of the town.
Cloncurry is one of the most interesting outback towns and definitely deserves extended time for exploration.
Mining has played a key role in the development and growth of the town. A bloke called Ernest Henry is responsible for its very existence. In 1867 he discovered copper and through until this day, copper mining remains a major player in the growth of Cloncurry.
By the way, tours of the Ernest Henry mine are available.
Also a visit to John Flynn Place is a must for a history lesson on the early days of Royal Flying Doctors.
Whilst the Matilda Highway does not actually go through Mount Isa, it would be senseless being so close and not include a visit to the nation's inland city.
Heading from Cloncurry to Normanton drivers need to 'have their wits' about them. Whilst the road is sealed, it does have some narrow sections.
When approaching road trains or heavy vehicles, it's advisable to slow down and move off the bitumen, whilst leaving the right hand wheels on the road surface to retain traction and avoid bogging.
The vista changes from ghost gums midst Rocky country and you'll also come across 'mini skyscrapers' built by termites.
This is a good stretch of road, extending the 71 kilometres to Karumba, a town right on the Gulf of Carpentaria. Although it seems to take the longest of any previous part of the highway. That's all to do with the excitement of reaching the 'end of the road' and the Gulf of Carpentaria.
There's a choice of accommodation, from motels to camping grounds. Its very location also makes it an obvious place to go for a 'feed' of seafood including that for which it is most noted, prawns.
Visit one of the bars at night and you're sure to run into somebody from the prawn trawling fleet. These are not the times or the places that one gets cheeky or over smart, remembering that there are some who have just come on shore after lengthy periods at sea- looking for a bit of dust-up.
Around Karumba it's relatively flat country, but it's the birdlife which excites. Most times, Saurus cranes (similar to a brolga) are in abundance.
Congratulations for making the full length of the Matilda Highway.
|Start from:||Mitchell Highway, Barringun QLD 4490, Australia|
|End at:||112 Emma Street, Cunnamulla QLD 4490, Australia|
|Duration:||1 hour 11 mins|
|Start from:||112 Emma Street, Cunnamulla QLD 4490, Australia|
|End at:||Mitchell Highway, Charleville QLD 4470, Australia|
|Duration:||2 hours 7 mins|
|Start from:||Mitchell Highway, Charleville QLD 4470, Australia|
|End at:||90 Landsborough Highway, Blackall QLD 4472, Australia|
|Duration:||3 hours 10 mins|
|Start from:||90 Landsborough Highway, Blackall QLD 4472, Australia|
|End at:||199 Landsborough Highway, Barcaldine QLD 4725, Australia|
|Duration:||1 hour 6 mins|
|Start from:||199 Landsborough Highway, Barcaldine QLD 4725, Australia|
|End at:||Eagle Street North, Longreach QLD 4730, Australia|
|Duration:||1 hour 6 mins|
|Start from:||Eagle Street North, Longreach QLD 4730, Australia|
|End at:||Landsborough Highway, Opalton QLD 4735, Australia|
|Duration:||1 hour 55 mins|
|Start from:||Landsborough Highway, Opalton QLD 4735, Australia|
|End at:||National Highway A2, Cloncurry QLD 4824, Australia|
|Duration:||3 hours 40 mins|
|Start from:||National Highway A2, Cloncurry QLD 4824, Australia|
|End at:||104 Burke Developmental Road, Normanton QLD 4890, Australia|
|Duration:||6 hours 31 mins|
|Start from:||104 Burke Developmental Road, Normanton QLD 4890, Australia|
|End at:||Karumba Developmental Road, Karumba QLD 4891, Australia|
|Duration:||1 hour 14 mins|