The road from Brisbane to the Gulf of Carpentaria takes you through the heart of Queensland – to iconic rivers, mystical gorges, historic pubs, drought-affected farmland and sites of frontier wars. There are places to gaze at the stars, to watch raptors riding the thermal currents, to hear the stories of the bush and to see the remains of dinosaurs that once roamed this terrain. We hitched up our Patriot camper trailer for an unforgettable 5,500km outback journey. A big shout out to the great pals who joined us, the generous friends who shared their homes with us and to my partner in life’s travels. You are all legends!
Brisbane to Charleville – 744km
Staying: 2 nights Charleville Bush Caravan Park
Day 1 and it’s a big one. With an eight hour drive ahead, we get away at 6am. It feels good to be leaving the city especially with a lockdown looming! We make a quick stop at Dalby for a piece of home-made date loaf and a thermos of tea. We don’t stop again until we hit Roma, where we grab a wrap from Bakearoma (corner of McDowall and Arthur Sts) and sit by Roma’s biggest bottle tree to eat lunch. Refreshed from our break we find a good podcast and settle in for the last stretch to Charleville. It’s a pretty drive but the roadkill is staggering. A dead roo every hundred metres. We’re very relieved when we finally pull into the Charleville Bush Caravan Park (2km past Charleville) with plenty of daylight to get the camper trailer set up. We’ve done a few practice runs in the back yard, but can we remember everything? As it turns out, we can. We’re set up in an idyllic bush setting with enough time to have a wander around the property and then get settled for sundowners. Bliss! But the real magic happens when the sun sets and the stars come out. The night sky is out of the world!
Day 2 It’s a chilly start to the day – 8 degrees when the sun finally gets up at 7am. Very glad I have Ugg boots, a beanie and gloves! Breakfast with the local kangaroos is a treat, as is dinner in town at the Hotel Corones – a beautifully restored old pub, which had the longest bar in the Southern hemisphere when it was built in 1924. We follow that up with a private tour at the Charleville Cosmos Centre. So worth it! Viewing the stars through their 30 inch telescope opens a whole new world. My favourite – the globular cluster of Omega Centauri – what a sight.
Charleville to Tambo – 200km
Staying: 2 nights Macfarlane Station – Tambo
Day 3 and we are heading for Tambo, about 2 hours up the highway, for a day at the races. This is really special – a chance to put on our best gear, have a punt on the horses and be part of a vibrant local community. What a day! Thoroughly recommend getting along to any of the country race days. They are big social events in outback towns. The colours, the kids, the fashions on the field – all adding to the excitement of the race meet. No wins for us, but the day perfectly capped off with dinner under the stars at Macfarlane sheep station, where we’re staying with very generous friends for the next two nights.
Tambo to Longreach – 315km
Staying: 2 nights Longreach Tourist Park
Day 5 We have a three hour drive ahead today, so we take it easy, stopping at Blackall for a steak sanga at the Barcoo Hotel and a coffee at the Jolly Swagman Cafe. We are definitely in Banjo Patterson territory here. The area is also home to Australia’s workers’ movement. The Tree of Knowledge in nearby Barcaldine was a key meeting place during the Great Shearers’ Strike of 1891 and commemorates the birthplace of the Australian Labour Party.
From here, it’s an easy drive to Longreach. We’re staying two nights at the Longreach Tourist Park – a colossal home- away-from-home for grey nomads. I’m a little shocked by the size, but I do appreciate the ensuite bathrooms and the many brolgas. It’s also an easy walk from here to Longreach’s main attractions – the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Museum. The Drover’s Sunset Cruise on the Thomson River (Outback Aussie Tours) is another must while you’re here. It includes a cruise, camp-oven dinner under the stars plus entertainment. Transport to and from your accommodation is included. The town of Longreach is also worth exploring. Great shops, grand old buildings, plus a very chic little cafe in an old bank building – The Branch. The iconic Wellshot Hotel in Ilfracombe, about 20 minutes outside Longreach is also worth a visit. Love the food, the stories and the bar stools! A wall of headwear is a who’s who of visitors, and includes former Governor General Quentin Byrce’s straw hat.
Longreach to Winton – 179km
1 night Tattersalls Hotel Caravan Park
Day 7 The big story if you’re heading for Winton is dinosaurs. And the best place to get in touch with your inner palaeontologist is at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs about 20 km south of Winton. The museum is 11km off the main road, up a steep, sealed road to what’s locally known as the Jump-up. It’s a spectacular setting for this impressive experience. Allow three hours for the full tour of the laboratory, where fossils are prepped (you can even volunteer here), the museum, which houses the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils, and the trackways. It’s hard to image that this dry landscape was once a coastal wetland teaming with dinosaurs.
We spend the night at the Tattersalls Hotel Caravan Park. The facilities here are pretty ordinary, but the food at Tattersalls Hotel is outstanding. Highly recommended!
Winton to Julia Creek – 273km
Staying: 1 night Julia Creek Caravan Park
Day 8 We start the day exploring Bladensburg National Park just outside Winton – 85,000 hectares of Mitchell Grass and Channel Country. The stark landscape is intersected by creeks and water holes, hidden in the rocks. Skull Hole, a verdant oasis tucked out of sight, is believed to be the site of an Aboriginal massacre in the late 1800s. Up to 200 people were reportedly killed after an attack on a bullock wagon.
From there we head north west towards Kynuna, stopping at the Combo Waterhole, on the Diamantina River – the inspiration for Banjo Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda. The turnoff from the Landsborough Highway is 16km east of Kynuna. A 2.6km walk from the entrance of the park will take you across flagstone overshots which were built by Chinese labourers to allow the Cobb & Co stagecoaches to pass through.
We spend the night at the well-maintained Julia Creek Caravan Park, which boasts six artesian bathtubs. I meet several very excited guests waiting for their chance to tuck into a glass of bubbles and a cheese platter and watch the sunset from their bath house, but there’s no time for us to join the afternoon bathers. We’re out for dinner tonight at the Top Pub (as the Julia Creek Hotel is known) to catch up with one of my cousins. JC might be known as the gateway to the Gulf but in our family it’s Godier country. My mother grew up here. My cousins work here and my grandmother and uncle are buried in the local cemetery. So glad I had the chance to visit again.
Julia Creek to Adels Grove – 473km
Staying: 3 nights Adels Grove (Lawn Hill)
Day 9 and we’re heading deep into the outback. We stop at the Burke and Wills Roadhouse for lunch and diesel, then it’s on to Gregory and the final stretch of unsealed road to Boodjamulla National Park. After 2000 kilometres of treeless downs, dry creek beds and dusty roads, the park is a surreal site. An oasis of palms, red sandstone cliffs and waterfalls, home to the Waanyi Aboriginal people. Even more beautiful than I expected!
Lawn Hill Gorge, Boodjamulla National Park
Camping at Adels Grove
There is a camping ground at the entrance to Boodjamulla National Park, but for me, Adels Grove about 10 km up the road is a winner. There is no power or running water in the grove camping area, but the setting more than makes up for that. The campsite on the banks of Lawn Hill Creek is a former botanical garden, providing a shady, picturesque spot to spend a few days. Many of our fellow campers have arrived with their own paddle boards and floatation devices to enjoy the creek. But if you haven’t thought to bring those, you can rent kayaks at Lawn Hill Gorge – a magical way to explore the waterway. For the best views, take the Upper Gorge walk, which winds its way between cliff-top vantage points and the creek. Allow a few hours to complete the walk and don’t forgot your togs so you can swim under the waterfalls. An absolute must. Small fires are permitted at Adels Grove, so you can cook your own snags after a day exploring the gorge, or head up to the licensed bistro for dinner. The barramundi we had was really good.
Adels Grove to Karumba via Burketown – 503km
Staying: 1 night End of the Road Motel
Day 10 This is our last day heading north – a 500 km drive from Adels Grove to Karumba. To avoid retracing our route back to Burke and Wills Roadhouse, we decide to go via Burketown. It’ll add an hour to our journey, because much of the road from Burketown to Normanton is unsealed, but it feels like a small price to pay to see a new stretch of Queensland. We’re rewarded, spotting countless wedge tail eagles and brolgas in flight. The other surprise – we’re tracked down by a pair of census officers at Leichhardt Falls, who are rather excited to add us to the Burke Shire statistics. When we finally make it to Karumba, we are too late to get into a caravan park. It’s a motel for us tonight. Oh, well. Needs must. The End of the World Motel commands a prime position on the water’s edge, and the waterfront bar and restaurant look great, but we are only here for one night so we pop next door to the iconic Sunset Hotel to watch the sun disappear into the Gulf of Carpentaria and celebrate the end of a very long drive. The herb-crusted barra is the best I’ve ever had. And the sunset? Totally worth the drive!
Heading south – Karumba to Greenvale – 503km
1 night Greenvale Caravan Park
Day 11 It’s a bit crazy to be heading south after just one night in the gulf but we’re on a tight schedule from here. A quick wander around Karumba Point (the tourist bit), a drive through Karumba (the commercial fishing hub) and a stop in Normanton for diesel and we’re on the Savannah Way, heading for the east coast. At lunchtime, the Club Hotel, in Croydon, proves impossible to drive past. The pub is a classic Queensland watering hole – murals on the awnings, the walls plastered with fishing photos and indigenous weapons and great pub food. Ten out of ten for the steak burger! We spend the night at Greenvale Caravan Park because we’ve run out of options by the time it gets dark. It’s a pleasant enough spot and we wake up to the snorts of horses in the neighbouring paddock as well as a chorus of galahs who appear to be taunting the caged turkeys. Lucky we’re early risers!
Greenvale to the Burdekin – 367km
Day 12 It’s a relatively short drive from Greenvale to the Burdekin, where we are visiting friends on a cane farm, so we take the scenic route via Ravenswood. The town – 89km east of Charters Towers, is heritage-listed. Once a thriving gold mining community, it is now largely a tourist attraction. The two remaining pubs and other original buildings make Ravenswood an interesting detour off the main road to Townsville. Definitely worth a visit!
Burdekin to Kimberley Station via Burdekin Falls Dam – 400km
Day 14 After two days of Burdekin hospitality (luxurious beds, fresh seafood and Natasha’s dreamy creme caramel), we’re on the road again. This time heading to visit friends on a cattle station north of Morenbah, taking another scenic route – via the Burdekin Falls Dam Road. I’m a little sceptical. After so much driving, I’m happy to take the convention bitumen road, but the back route turns out to be quite a spectacle, especially if you have a drone on hand to see exactly where you are. That’s us, on the road below the dam. I feel like I’m in a James Bond movie!
For the next three days we’re staying at Kimberley Station. This is the real deal. The home of fifth generation beef producers who are passionate about their cattle. We are lucky enough to get involved in the mustering, which means I get to wear my cowboy boots, a proper ‘fat’ hat and ride a horse, something I haven’t done since I was about 14! It’s an unforgettable weekend.
There’s beef on the menu three times a day at Kimberley Station, and after trying every type of cut, I can report that it’s all next level. If you’re a meat-lover, do yourself a favour and get hold of their beef. You can have it delivered to your door in the Brisbane area, through Bespoke Beef and elsewhere through Signature Beef. Highly recommended!
The long road home – 1031km
Day 17 After three amazing days at Kimberley, it’s time to head home. And we’ve got a long day ahead. The longest drive so far, and not something we planned, or one I would recommend. The day disappears in a blur of highway service stations, cattle road trains and country towns – Dysart, Middlemount, Dingo, Biloela, Monto, Gayndah and Gympie. Then its masks, traffic and the Bruce highway. Twelve hours after setting off from Kimberley we pull into our driveway in Brisbane. Travel is life-changing but it’s also good to be home!
Notes: We towed a Patriot Camper Trailer, which I thoroughly recommend. The trailer was easy to set up and pack up. It was also simple to lock up and leave when we were going out to a local pub for dinner. It handled the unsealed roads without any trouble and being super compact, was exceptionally easy to tow.
The mobile coverage is very patchy in outback Queensland, and it’s pretty much non existent unless you are with Telstra. Suggest a Testra dongle if you use a different service and download your podcasts, audio books etc before you leave home!
We took very little food with us, preferring to eat at local pubs and cafes, and stocking up where we needed to at the local butchers and independent stores.