Camel races, rodeos, lava tubes, dinosaurs: you could be forgiven for thinking these things had nothing at all in common, but if I added ‘Qantas’ to the equation could you guess where we were? Outback Queensland is nothing if not a land of surprises. Best of all, it’s waiting just on your doorstep and is perfect for a family road trip. So grab your swag and billy, we start in the outback town of Tara.
Festival of Culture and Camel Races, Tara
Just three-and-a-half hours’ drive from Brisbane airport, this colourful three-day festival is not to be missed. Held once every two years, the next event is on from 2-4 August. The festival celebrates the diverse culture of the Tara region, and will include martial arts displays, working sheepdogs, Bollywood performances, and a stellar line-up of local country music. But the main attraction is those camels. If Camel Racing isn’t on your bucket list, it really should be, and this is the place to see it. The kids will love the jockey’s bright outfits, the unexpected speed of the animals, and of course all that dust! Camping is free at the event, but get in early – there will be a crowd.
Cosmos Centre, Charleville
The next stop on our drive is Charleville. This outback town has a wealth of great activities, including the Unique Bilby Experience, where kids can get up close and personal with these endearing Aussie marsupials. The next place not to miss in Charleville is the Cosmos Centre and Observatory. Booking a night session will definitely prove an adventure for the kids. You need to arrive at least 15 minutes early because after this time, the observatory is locked and all the lights in the area are blacked out so as not to disturb the visitors’ astounding view of the night sky, revealed when the observatory roof rolls back. A closer look can be had through the powerful Meade telescopes. Kids can also hold meteorites and find out why Pluto is no longer a planet.
Qantas Founders Museum, Longreach
I bet you didn’t know that Qantas actually stands for ‘Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Service’. It was in Outback Queensland that the airline was founded, which is why the Qantas Founders Museum is housed in Longreach, our next road-trip stop. With a variety of retired airplanes on display including a replica of the 1930s de Havilland Giant Moth, the first aircraft fitted with a toilet, and the 1980s Boeing 747 Jumbo which was used as one of the Bali bombing rescue planes, it is no wonder that this museum has become almost iconic as a Queensland tourist attraction. Last November, the museum welcomed Charles, Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who no doubt enjoyed the 40-degree heat. This year, the museum has introduced five iKiosks, whose interactive displays will give visitors access to more information about the displays and help them get more out of their experience, and from 30 August this year, the museum will also be hosting an exhibition visiting from the National Archives of Australia: ‘Shell-Shocked: Australia after Armistice’ depicts the country’s struggle after WWI. However, perhaps the biggest drawcards are the flight simulators. These allow you to go under cover on strike missions or participate in fighter jet dogfights. For a mere $25 for half an hour, you can’t let this one fly by. Over and out.
The next stop is an easy two hours north of Longreach in Winton, a definite ‘must-do’ because there is nothing quite like real dinosaur tracks to grab the kids’ attention, and there is nowhere like Lark Quarry to find them. In the historical town of Winton, Lark Quarry Dinosaur Trackways has the only dinosaur stampede tracks on earth! The stampede was caused 95 million years ago by a hungry Theropod after his dinner – you certainly wouldn’t want to get under those feet. The town of Winton is a fascinating little place, and Lark Quarry isn’t its only dinosaur attraction. The town also boasts the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, which displays the largest collection of unique Australian dinosaur fossils, as well as the Corfield and Fitzmaurice building that houses a diorama of the stampede, bringing the awe-inspiring events to life.
Xstrata Rotary Rodeo, Mt Isa
Make sure you get to our next stop, Mt Isa, by 9 August, when the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest rodeo kicks into action. This event sees world-class action and, with a prize pool of $200,000, you know the cowboys are taking it seriously. You’ll see all kinds of events including ladies’ barrel racing, steer wrestling, roping, saddle bronc and bareback, and bull riding. There’s loads of other entertainment including music, rodeo quest queens, and Cowboy Corner where you can meet cowboys and their mascot, Chainsaw. The place to stay nearest the action is Sway City, set up in Buchanan Park. It’s suitable for caravans, tents, camper trailers or camping under the stars, and you’re sure to meet plenty of other travelers. Just make sure to book ahead. Yee ha!
If you’re game and you think the kids can stand it, you can drive to the last stop on our list, but it is a 12-hour trip. Another option is to fly from Mt Isa to Cairns with Skytrans and then drive the four-and –a-half hours back to Undara, because if you’ve got kids who love trains and lava, this is one you simply can’t miss out on. The Undara lava tubes are one of Queensland’s most awe-inspiring natural features, creating cavernous tunnels that visitors can walk down, underneath the grasslands above. The fertile lands also mean lots of wildlife, so keep an eye out for kangaroos and wallabies, and take a tour to watch thousands of bats fly out of Barker’s Cave against the stunning sunset. After a day of volcanoes and wildlife, settle into your very own Federation-era railway carriage, lovingly restored to become 25 rooms (including family rooms) that have won the award for Australia’s Most Unique Accommodation. If you prefer, there’s also the Swags Tent Village or, if you don’t mind the work, camping ground facilities are available. Wherever you stay, the kids will never forget the time they stood on lava!