#The 1500-kilometre trail from South East Queensland to Birdsville is stacked full of experiences.
You might be travelling into the vastness of the Outback but don’t think for a moment that it will be an empty journey.
Take time out to explore historical villages and be inspired by natural science museums. Discover isolated waterholes and naturally heated artisan spas, and encounter rare, endangered marsupials. Or simply surf one of Australia’s most iconic sand dunes and maybe enjoy a sunset beer or two afterwards.
Here’s what to check out.
#((1)) Explore the Miles Historical Village Museum
What started as a single repatriated town hall in 1971 has half a century later grown into a celebrated Queensland attraction, Miles Historical Village Museum boasting 28 buildings – nine original, 10 replicas and nine purpose-built. Carefully arranged as a pioneer streetscape, the museum helps visitors gain an insight into the workings of an early Queensland rural town.
The museum is split into a bunch of different collections, such as the Streetscape collection, with its coach house, post office, chemist and hospital; the War Museum collection, which has an in-depth display of graphic panels, audio, and visual mini-stories of the war experiences of people from the region; and the Shell House collection, which boasts spectacular shells, and coral and marine items from Australia, the Pacific and other parts of the world.
Elsewhere, there’s a lapidary display, an 1890s slab-hut homestead, a beautiful vintage steam train, and the Great Artesian Basin Interpretive Centre. Consider this an essential early stop as you travel west.
141 Murilla Street, Miles
(07) 4627 1492
#((2)) Relax in the Great Artesian Spa
Unpack your swimmers and ease the driving strain with a dip in these twin pools of revitalising artesian water, piped from kilometres beneath the ground.
It may look like any other neatly designed public baths, but one of the Great Artesian Spa’s pools is naturally heated to between 38 and 40 degrees celsius – making it perfect for easing tired muscles (or warming up on a winter’s day) – with the second pool for you to cool off in afterwards. The spa has been designed for easy access, with a hydro chair for those with restricted mobility.
The Mitchell Visitor Information Centre is on-site with free wi-fi, as is a fine little cafe serving Merlo coffee, making this a neat spot to break up the drive between Jimbour or Roma and Charleville.
2 Cambridge Street, Mitchell
(07) 4624 6923
#((3)) Get Up Close and Personal With a Bilby at the Charleville Bilby Experience
It might resemble a frazzled Easter bunny, but unlike Australian rabbit populations the bilby remains very much on the endangered species list. Once found across 70 per cent of the continent, today this nocturnal marsupial is confined to just 15 per cent of regional Australia.
Thankfully, Charleville is one of those places, and you can get up close to one of these adorable creatures at the recently reopened Charleville Bilby Experience. Over the course of an hour, you’ll learn about the plight of the bilby and the Save the Bilby Fund’s successful breed-and-release program, and also get a tour of the facility – including a session with the bilbies themselves in their nocturnal house.
If you’re more of a history buff, then Charleville is also home to the Royal Flying Doctors’ Service’s Visitor Centre. With an introductory film and displays of equipment both past and present, it’s a brilliant primer on this famously essential Outback service.
King Street, Charleville
(07) 4654 3681
#((4)) Enjoy a sundown picnic and drinks atop Baldy Top Lookout
Ask Quilpie locals where to head at sunset and they’ll point southwest in the direction of Baldy Top Lookout.
This ancient formation of bright red rock may not look like much as you approach it on the Toompine Road – a nuggety plateau poking out of the mulga-populated tundra – but a 10-minute scramble will get you to one of the most elevated points in southwest Queensland with breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape.
Pack a blanket and a picnic to make the most of the sunset as the sky turns dramatic shades of orange and pink, or rise early (if you’re that way inclined) and check it out during a crisp winter Outback sunrise, before exploring the many crevices and caves dotted about the formation.
Quilpie-Thargomindah Road, Quilpie
#((5)) Explore Hell Hole Gorge National Park
After the endless scrub and sand of the Outback, Hell Hole Gorge National Park can feel like an undiscovered desert paradise, its rugged cliff-lines and waterholes with their red gums, coolabah and gidgee trees a marked contrast to the harshness of the surrounding landscape.
The park is gathered around Powell, Spencers and Gorge Creeks, and the swimming holes of Hell Hole Gorge and Spencer’s Gorge. The entrenched waterways and rock pools feature steep escarpments, some as high as 45 metres, which after the rains transform into lovely cascades and waterfalls.
Of the two swimming holes, locals tend to prefer Spencer’s Gorge, but both are good spots to cool off if the day gets hot enough – just be careful of underwater hazards.
Bring your hiking shoes for a bit of bushwalking – if you’re lucky, you’ll spot a yellow-footed rock wallaby – and you can camp the night if you like. Fair warning, though: a four-wheel drive is strongly recommended for travelling to the park.
#((6)) Meet Cooper – Australia’s Largest Dinosaur – at the Eromanga Natural History Museum
Outback Queensland once formed part of a vast inland sea, and in the millennia since a stretch of the country from Mount Isa in the north to Eromanga in the south has become a rich source of dinosaur fossils.
Eromanga, between Quilpie and Birdsville, is home to Australia’s largest dinosaur. Based on the skeletal remains unearthed so far, “Cooper” (named after Cooper Creek and the Cooper Basin, where it was discovered) is a candidate for a new genus and species of dinosaur that was likely one of the largest creatures to have ever roamed the earth, measuring in at an enormous 30 metres long and 6.5 metres tall at the hip.
You can get in touch with Cooper (and his similarly massive “brother”, George) at the Eromanga Natural History Museum. The museum runs an hour-long tour that explains Cooper and George and different fossil-hunting techniques, along with the Cretaceous history of the surrounding landscape.
There’s also a hands-on fossil preparation experience, which commences three times a day straight after after the tour. It lets families and children under the age of 18 get familiar with the nitty gritty of discovering and preserving fossils.
1 Dinosaur Drive, Eromanga
(07) 4656 3084
#((7)) Surf Down Big Red… and Maybe Cool Off Afterwards
Standing 40 metres tall, Big Red is one of approximately 1,140 parallel sand dunes that stretch north to south across the Outback, and act as the Simpson Desert’s enormous Queensland bookend.
Thirty-five kilometres west of Birdsville, Big Red is a natural attraction for four-wheel drive enthusiasts and it’s well worth packing a bottle of champagne for a sundown knockoff. But for the more adventurous, bring along a boogie board – or even just a handy piece of cupboard – and surf or sled down this enormous natural wonder. At the very least, it’s good for tuckering out kids (and older kids at heart).
Afterwards, if it’s a warmer winter day, cool off in Birdsville Billabong back on the edge of town, a winsome waterway popular with locals.
Images courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland, Western Downs Regional Council, Quilpie Shire Council and Ruby Newport.