|Trip Length: 2 days Total Distance: 678 km Road Conditions: All sealed roads|
Blaze a trail in the steps of Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt, more commonly known as Ludwig Leichhardt or L.L., and travel the Leichhardt Highway a 678 km highway, from the vibrant border town of Goondiwindi in Queensland's Western Downs to the heart of the Capricorn Coast, Yeppoon.
It's over 160 years since Leichhardt, armed with few provisions and plenty of determination crossed the Great Dividing Range, however his courageous journeys filled with excitement and discovery can be relived by today's traveller in modern day comforts along the well kept historic route.
The Prussian born scientist delivered back from his epic journey notebooks filled with graphic descriptions of everything he saw - Aboriginal cultures, botanical, geological, and topographic data, absolutely all was written down, even to what type of dogs were used by farmers, designs of yards and sheds - nothing was left unnoticed. No wonder so many attractions have taken his name and in Queensland where Leichhardt made so many valuable discoveries, his name appears the most. At each of his campsites, Leichhardt would blaze his initials L.L. and the year into a tree - check out the Leichhardt tree in the main street of Taroom - you won't see a better example.
The Leichhardt Highway stretches north through quaint country towns, over rivers brimming with freshwater fish, by tranquil lagoons, through mining towns where opulence was once flaunted in grand architecture left for us to admire today, into the Beef Capital of Australia, Rockhampton, to conclude on the beautiful Capricorn Coast at Yeppoon, where the outback meets the sea.
You could achieve the drive in a day but that would mean no time for stopping and you would miss the full splendour of what is to offer along the Leichhardt Highway.
Magnificent wildflowers blooming in forests, historical villages, understanding our Aboriginal culture, entering the once 'world's greatest gold mine' or just sitting at a bar and meeting the locals always appreciative you've dropped by. So why not 'blaze a trail' as Ludwig did and start your motor running for a fantastic journey northbound following the steps of one of Australia's most energetic and devoted explorers.
|Goondiwindi to The Gums||1 hr 20 mins||135 kms|
|The Gums to Miles||50 mins||80 kms|
|Miles to Taroom||1 hr 15 mins||124 kms|
|Taroom to Banana||1 hr 40 mins||153 kms|
|Banana to Rockhampton||1 hr 30 mins||145 kms|
|Rockhampton to Yeppoon||30 mins||41 kms|
Goondiwindi (Gun-da-wind-ee), the home of the legendry racehorse Gunsynd better known as 'The Goondiwindi Grey' and the start of our journey north on the Leichhardt Way.
The highway bypasses this vibrant rural town set on the banks of the picturesque Macintyre River, which forms the border between New South Wales and Queensland. However, if you travel just two kilometres into the town you can see the life size statue of Gunsynd erected next to the old border bridge in Apex Park. There's plenty of parking for caravans and from here you can visit the Customs House Museum, Visitor Information Centre and Gunya Crafts featuring the works of the local artists. Two wonderful picnic spots are the Natural Heritage and Water Park near the start of the highway and the tranquil Botanic Gardens within 5 km to the west featuring plants specific to this region of the Murray Darling Basin. Both have ample parking for caravans, picnic tables, toilets but no camping is allowed at either location.
Cotton is a major primary industry of this area and during picking season (usually from April-July) the local Cotton Gin conducts tours - a fantastic way to see this million dollar industry up close - information available from the Visitor Information Centre. When its time to hit the trail as Ludwig did, it's a comfortable 94 km north to Moonie, the oil capital of Australia.
Moonie, on the crossroads of the Leichhardt and Moonie Highways has long been a popular stop for truck drivers hauling produce from the northern regions of Queensland to southern markets. The roadhouse is well equipped with a restaurant, bar, accommodation and camping ground and make sure you take a minute to view the murals in and around the roadhouse. Across the highway is the Rural Transaction Centre with local arts and crafts and internet access.
Then it's only 45 km to The Gums.
Don't be mistaken by The Gums, which may appear at first a quite lonely farming locality. Within its surrounds are some marvellous and interesting attractions especially for lovers of nature and art.
Just off the highway is the Gums Nature Reserve - a great free bush camping site with a seasonal lagoon attracting a huge array of birds, nine-hole bush golf course and plenty of kangaroos. Nearby is the old cemetery and charming historic church. Check out Tara - 30 km to the east. It has all facilities and a few extra such as the superb Woolshed Bakery with the reputation for making the best pies on the Western Downs, world acclaimed wool artist Barbara Geisel's gallery next door and across the road the Commercial Hotel with original paintings by Australia's greatest living bush painter and ex resident, Hugh Sawrey 32 km to the west of The Gums is Meandarra on Brigalow Creek - renowned as a great place to fish, catch yabbies and camp.
Myall Park Botanic Gardens, 62 km north-west through Glenmorgan is a worthy diversion of the Leichhardt Highway. The gardens, recognised worldwide, highlight plants from the arid and semi arid zones of Australia including rare and endangered species.
Gorgeous Caliguel Lagoon, 40 km further north from The Gums is a popular water hole for locals and visitors alike. Camping is free, the facilities good including disabled toilet and during late summer purple water lilies put on a spectacular show as they bloom across the lagoon.
From here, Condamine - the home of the Condamine Bell - is a mere 7 km away. Local man, S.W. Jones, made the bells out of sheet metal and they became quite an asset for the stockmen who used the bells to locate working bullocks out grazing. At Bell Park, you can inspect a two-metre replica of the bell and read about its history.
Then hit the road for Miles - a comfortable 33 km along the Leichhardt Highway.
Welcome to Miles - the wildflower centre of the Western Downs and home to one of the best historical collections in Australia.
The historical collection is actually a whole village lovingly recreated in the centre of town. Wander along the streets of the village and be taken back in time by the original shops, tools and artefacts on display. There is also a marvellous lapidary display, remarkable shell collection and a war museum declared to be one of the best in the country.
If good winter and spring rains fall, the surrounding bush bursts into an array of colour as wildflowers turn on an exhibition that has everyone grabbing for their cameras. Well sign posted self-drive tours guide you through the forests around Miles.
Dogwood Crossing was the original name given to Miles by Leichhardt on his journey north. That name has been revived in the opening of Dogwood Crossing @ Miles, a wonderful building housing an art gallery, interactive display telling the stories of locals from the Murilla Shire and IT centre. There's plenty more to do in Miles like visiting Chinaman's Lagoon home to a very rare summer flowering water lily and the locals here are only to willing to help out so you enjoy your stay in their community.
When you can finally get back on the road, Wandoan is the next port of call 49 km on and the halfway mark to Taroom. The 'Wandoan Windmill' signals the entrance to town. Call in and follow the local Heritage Trail to 23 points of interest including the award winning Juandah historical site and Waterloo Plains Environmental Park with lake, picnic area, and friendly water birds.
Then blaze a trail 58 km north to Taroom.
There is no doubt Ludwig Leichhardt spent time in Taroom - he left his legendry mark - 'L.L. 1844' on a large Coolibah that still stands in the main street. Situated on the charming Dawson River, Taroom has evolved into a major service centre since land was first taken up a mere year after Leichhardt's expedition.
There are some exciting drives that can be done from Taroom. Along the banks of Palm Tree Creek, 15 km north of Taroom, see the Livistona Palms. These remanent palms are unique to this part of the Upper Dawson catchment. This is a day use only area though you can camp across the creek at an area called 'Chain Lagoons'.
Try not to miss Isla Gorge National Park, 55 km north. Gorges and sandstone outcrops, aboriginal art sites, unique species of wildflowers and lookouts with breathtaking views all come together to make Isla Gorge a rewarding experience.
Camp under a shady tree at Lake Murphy Conservation Park 31 km north-west of Taroom just as Leichhardt did in 1844. The seasonal lake was a favourite camping site for the explorer but for today's camper there are the modern conveniences of picnic areas, shelter shed, and toilets. The lake attracts a large number of water birds, gliders and possums can often be spotted at night.
Further on from Lake Murphy is Expedition National Park. From the narrow creek bed of Robinson Creek cliffs rise 100 m upwards dwarfing all around them. Access is by four-wheel drive only.
The next stop as we follow the path of Ludwig Leichhardt is Banana - one of the oldest towns of the area.
Banana - this unusual title for a town came from a yellow bullock owned by Moses Wafer in the 1850s. Scrubbers (wild unbranded cattle) were difficult to round up so bullocks were used to assist the stockmen. 'Banana' became so famous for his ability to entice scrubbers that when he died in a gully it was named Banana Gully, as was the station, the town, and then the Shire.
Underneath the fertile soils in this Shire lie the rich coal fields of the Bowen Basin. At Biloela, to the east visit the giant 'SILO', an interactive learning centre focusing on the agricultural industry and Callide Coalfield with one of the largest walking draglines in the world. Take a tour of the power station, from Callide Lookout witness the working open cut mine, or visit Callide Dam to catch a barramundi (license required), or picnic.
Moving up through Rannes, Wowan, with it's Old Butter Factory now a museum jammed full of memorabilia, then into Dululu, and Mount Morgan only another 31 km up the track.
The discovery of gold in Mount Morgan was considered the most important find in the world. Mining of gold, silver and copper transformed the town into a bustling community and by the time the gold mine closed in 1989 over eight million ounces of gold had been extracted! The mine is deemed the largest open-cut gold mine in the Southern Hemisphere so join a mine tour and view the largest man made caves in Australia - don't forget to look at the dinosaur foot prints on the cave roof!
Walk across the famous swinging bridge, visit the museum dedicated to the mining history, and the Mt. Morgan Historical Railway complex with fully restored Hunslette Steam Locomotive - hop on board the steam train, a fettlers trolley or railmotor. View the old buildings around town, evidence of Mt. Morgan's opulence back in it's hey day.
Set on the crest of the scenic Dee Ranges, Mount Morgan may be small, but with a friendly proud community, you may just find a day isn't quite long enough.
Roll on over the Tropic of Capricorn to Rockhampton, 40 clicks north-east.
Standing testament to Rockhampton's title as the Beef Capital of Australia on the entrance to this beautiful grand old city is one of six bull statues representing the main breeds of the region. Yes, this is beef city, with plenty of big hats, big belt buckles, riding boots, and bucking bulls.
Here in Rocky, as the locals call it, you can get up close and personal with the beef industry. Gracemere Saleyards handle the largest volume of livestock in Australia and is the largest stud-selling venue in the Southern Hemisphere. Join the crowd and be amazed at the auctioneers antics then afterwards visit one of the abattoirs for a tour of what really happens to get the meat onto your plate.
However, it's not all bulldust and bellowing cattle. Rockhampton has a wonderful mix of heritage buildings, magnificent gardens, one of the finest regional art galleries in Queensland, natural treasures and aboriginal heritage all bundled in a region that experiences one of the best temperature ranges with low humidity and only two seasons - wet and dry.
Visit the 130 year old Rockhampton Botanic Gardens - recently heritage listed with a superb collection of tropical plants and also home to the Rockhampton Zoo. Call into the Kershaw Gardens representing a natural bush environment or take the time to indulge your senses in the Scented Gardens.
Experience the historical aspects of Rocky in the many fine public and private buildings including the Post Office, Customs House and stroll along Quay Street to admire the iron lacework and sandstone structures. The Rockhampton Heritage Village and Archer Park Railway Station Museum are both popular attractions. At the Dreamtime Cultural Centre set on ancient tribal land, you'll have an educational experience learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture or venture into the depths of the spectacular limestone Capricorn Caves or try fossicking for Thunder Eggs.
From Mt Archer lookout cast your eyes over the city that brings together the outback and the coast - sunset from here can be wonderful.Alternatively, relax by the Fitzroy River that meanders through the city - maybe throw in a line - it is not just a fisherman's tale that barramundi are caught within the city limits.
If it's a bit more of the country feel you need, Lee Kernaghan's Great Western Hotel in the city usually has a live bull ride every Wednesday night.
Yeppoon 38 km from Rockhampton and a major town along the Capricorn Coast, is the end of the Leichhardt Way.
As we bid Ludwig a fond farewell and pause to reflect on the 678 km behind us we now understand why the Leichhardt Way is becoming one of Queensland's most popular touring routes.
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