ADVENTURE THIS WAY
THERE’S SO MUCH TO BE GAINED WHEN EXPLORING BY CAR. TIME TO STOP, GET OFF THE BEATEN TRACK AND ENJOY SMALL TOWNS FULL OF BIG PERSONALITIES.
The station wagon crests the hill on the narrow stretch of bitumen, emus dart across the road, and there, in a sea of mulga, lays the regal spread of Australia’s outback.
This is Queensland’s Adventure Way, running some 1500km west from Brisbane to the Dig Tree, lonely site of historic blunders where explorers Robert O’hara Burke and William John Wills perished in 1861.
Today it’s an easy, if longish, run from the east coast. Today there’s bitumen to within 12km of the coolibah tree where supplies were buried for the ill-fated Burke and Wills. Today there are settlements and services and supplies all along the way. Good coffee too.
All along there’s history and scenery and wildlife. Some may think distances daunting but here the journey is the holiday, say the wise women of far-flung Thargomindah.
Throw away phones, take it steady and discover a swag of gems on a heritage holiday down Adventure Way.
Toowoomba, about two hours from Brisbane, is the place to check all’s well with wagon and cargo before exploring the city’s new-age network of chic cafes and downtown’s art-worked alley walls.
The Garden City, at 700m one of the country’s highest, is famed for grand old Queenslander homes, colourful gardens and heritage buildings – including the rail station and Empire Theatre. It also hosts the Cobb and Co museum.
For heritage with an outback tinge, move on out to the Jondaryan Woolshed, 45km west, to explore the world’s largest and oldest shearing shed. Built in 1859, today this is home, at different times, to whip crackin’ shows, sheep shearing, droving, stage coach rides and damper cooked down by the creek.
On show all the time is a collection of old buildings and machinery plus a welcoming cafe with paddock-to-plate foods and bush tucker – plus a larder of native shrubs and trees out back. There’s room too for caravans and campers on the 60ha site.
From here it’s off to Dalby, a rural service town on the peaceful Myall Creek. Little wonder there’s a major collection of heritage machinery at the Pioneer Museum Park with this Darling Downs town surrounded by rich farming and grazing country.
Not far out is the magnificent, heritage-listed Jimbour House sitting on a rise overlooking the plains. The two-storey sandstone building, fringed by rose gardens, palm trees and trimmed hedges, was once headquarters for a vast pastoral holding.
Also out of town is the Lake Broadwater Conservation Park – the only natural lake on the Downs and much dependent on the vagaries of weather. Some 230 bird species have been recorded here around the camping sites.
Tonight it’s back to Dalby with its host of motel, hotel and camping accommodations. Recommended for budget travellers is the Dalby Tourist Park with room for vans, tents and on-site cabins; the Criterion Hotel next door offers some of the best steaks this side of the Black Stump.
Next day head to St George, about 305km further west on the Carnarvon Highway; maybe break the journey at the Moonie Crossroads Roadhouse for an eclectic slice of life in brigalow scrub country.
Once home to Barnaby Joyce, St George is more the cattle and cotton town, with the surprising supplement of a vineyard. The sandy 20ha of Riversands were first planted with grapes in 1984. Wines can be tasted at the cellar door; fortified wines the speciality with some stoppered up in replica boots of bush characters – there’s been a run on Barnaby’s.
The town is world-renowned for Steve Margaritis and his carved emu eggs while there’s also a river cruise for sunset spectaculars over the Balonne River.
For breakfast the Delicate Cafe on Henry Street is much recommended. And 50km
south is Nindigully on the Moonie River, boasting Queensland’s oldest pub, cold beers and foods – including the Road Train Burger, an enormous concoction of bread, meat and salad to feed four.
Back on the Adventure Way, next stop is Cunnamulla, about 800km out of Brisbane and home to the Cunnamulla Fella, a famous character in a Slim Dusty song and well-covered by the Screaming Jets.
This was a wealthy wool town through the 1950s and some of that vibrant history is recorded in the Fella’s Centre and can be appreciated in the Club Boutique Hotel’s well-restored heritage accommodation; the Club offers some of the most luxurious rooms and ensuites in the Outback.
If looking for a van site away from Cunnamulla’s hustle and bustle there’s the Warrego Riverside Caravan Park with herb gardens on 20 of 38 powered sites plus riverside camping spots.
Just west of Cunnamulla is the small village of Eulo with historic pub, art gallery, opals for sale and fine leather goods handcrafted at Paroo Patch. The Eulo Queen hotel was once owned, and then named after, Isabel Gray, a wild woman of the west in the late 1800s.
Today there’s a friendly bar, cabins out back plus camp sites. And on the edge of this charming settlement is the Artesian Mud Baths, the only place in Australia to relax and revive in one of nine baths filled with a milky solution of prehistoric mud and water. It won’t stain clothes – they can jump in the nuddy if they want, says owner Ian Pike.
Colourful cast iron baths sit in thatched walled enclosures, some with shower trees, and all around is a wonderful collection of rustic artefacts and artistic junk so it’s worth stopping just for a look; best to book ahead for baths.
On past Eulo, on past Lake Bindegolly National Park – a wildlife haven among the mulga – and into Thargomindah, 1000km from Brisbane.
Today this is the centre of Bullo Shire that spreads out to the South Australian border.
Town highlights include the hydro plant, a mud brick home once owned by cattle baron Sidney Kidman, the original Thargo hospital (perhaps still run by a ghostly matron?) and a stagecoach crossing.
About 100km south on the Dowling Track is Kilcowera Station, a working cattle property open to visitors from March to the end of October. Accommodation includes shearers’ quarters, van and camping sites; the 80,000ha is best explored by four-wheel drive to discover a range of outback scenery, flora and fauna.
Leaving Thargomindah and heading into the Channel Country the landscape widens again, over Grey Range and the horizon stretches into the never-never.
About 120km out, take a 20-kilometre diversion to the Noccundra pub, another outback gem of thick walls and cool bars, serving beer since 1882.
Back on the Adventure Way, past oilfields and gas centres and it’s a wild and striking land of gibbers and bulldust.
About 325km from Thargomindah, turn right down 12km of dirt to the Dig Tree. The tree was carved with DIG so that explorers Burke and Wills could find buried supplies left behind on their return from the north; it wasn’t enough and both perished in the area.
Today there are no facilities aside from toilets, just old coolibahs alongside Cooper Creek, offering shade over a large camping area. It’s a place of tragedy and peace and acknowledgement of white man’s history in a sometimes unforgiving landscape.
It’s a piece of Australian history on Queensland’s surprising Adventure Way where Cobb and Co once roamed.