Load up the 4WD and practice your best Russell Coight impersonation for this boots-and-all adventure.
It’s Queensland’s big sky country, where the rusty, dusty red Outback meets brilliant blue hues and explodes into bushfire orange sunsets. This is the land of fossicking and exploring deep gorges, of break-or-bust rodeos, crisp campfire nights and tall tales of remote and rugged experiences. Out here, you’ll find dinosaurs, dirt and dust, and even a mine site or two.
Queensland’s North West, framed by Mount Isa to the west and Hughenden to the east, and punctuated by Cloncurry, Julia Creek, Richmond and Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park to the north, will unleash your inner cowboy or cowgirl and lasso your heart.
One of Queensland’s richest regions when it comes to natural resources, the North West is built on a vibrant mining history, and dating back even further, a time when dinosaurs roamed the planet.
Take a jaunty journey underground at Outback at Isa and discover Mount Isa’s rich history. A trek north of Mount Isa to the World Heritage-listed Riversleigh Fossil Site will reward you with limestone-preserved fossils dating back 25 million years. Head east to Richmond’s Kronosaurus Korner and witness ancient marine fossils, while further east along Australia’s Dinosaur Trail at Hughenden, visit the Flinders Discovery Centre for more evidence of this vast prehistoric inland sea.
Pristine waters, low pollution, well-stocked waterways and ideal breeding conditions mean the barramundi are always biting up here. But in the tradition of a good Aussie adventure, you’ll still have to work for your feed of fish. Luckily, there’s plenty of watering holes in which to test your mettle. Richmond’s Lake Fred Tritton is an oasis along the Overlander’s Way and fully stocked with Barra as well as 17 other species of fish. Further east, toss in a line at Mount Isa’s Lake Moondarra, or load up your four-wheel-drive and head north to Adels Grove. Just west of Cloncurry, Chinaman Creek Dam is stocked with the Outback’s answer to lobster – the Redclaw crayfish.
Legends are born at outback races and rodeos and the North West is renowned for producing some of Australia’s best. Strap on your chaps and be part of the adventure, cheering from the stands, enjoying a punt, or having a coldie and a chin-wag behind the scenes to the characters about who these stories are told. The Mount Isa Rodeo is the largest and richest rodeo in the Southern Hemisphere and is packed with adrenalin and action from bull rides, to barrel racing to steer riding. In 2018, the Mount Isa Rodeo celebrated 60 years, firmly entrenching it in Outback lore. For a more intimate outback race meet, head to the Julia Creek Turf Club for the Artesian Express Race Day, part of the Dirt n Dust Festival.
They call it Australia’s Little Grand Canyon and a hike around Porcupine Gorge National Park, north of Hughenden, will reward you with spectacular views of this deep chasm in the landscape. Discover coloured sandstone cliffs, vine forests and watering holes here. Head to the camping area for the start of the 2.4km return Pyramid Track walk which trails down into the gorge. To glean a sense of the diverse bioregions to which the Flinders Shire is home, take the Eco Walk on Flinders at Hughenden which boasts more than 1.5km of tracks highlighting local flora and artworks as well as important events in this region. Further east, at Torrens Creek, the White Mountains National Park is peppered with white sandstone bluffs and gorges as well as diverse wildflowers which blossom from May to August.
It may be called the Julia Creek Dirt n Dust Festival, but there’s even a spot of snorkelling tossed in for good measure. We’re talking about one of Australia’s toughest competitions which tests the strength and stamina of competitors to the core. Celebrating its 25th year in 2019, this event has everything from your classic triathlon, staged among some of the roughest Outback conditions, to bull riding and bog snorkelling – where competitors plunge into a mud-filled trench, and wade their way to the murky finish. For something a little more sedate, head to Richmond’s Lake Fred Tritton which is an ideal spot for canoeing, water skiing, sailing and swimming. North west of Mount Isa, at Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, it’s hard to beat kayaking or canoeing over water lilies with the sunburnt orange cliffs towering over you.
Pump up the tyres and hit the open road for some of our adventurous Outback tracks. We’ve got them in droves up here. Head to Hughenden and drive along the Basalt Byway punctuated by volcanic basalt countryside and lookouts boasting gidgee and eucalyptus country. Grab your four-wheel drive and follow the Eromanga Sea Byway along the edge of the former inland sea, or take the Flinders River Byway where its sandy crossing ends with a coldie at the Prairie Pub, an outback classic. For a touch of history, head to Cloncurry’s Ballara Mining Heritage Trail. This four-wheel drive track winds through the three historic mining towns of Bulonga, Ballara and Highville, all former booming copper destinations.
Forget five-star accommodation, out here our star-rating is in the millions. Nothing beats sleeping under the Southern Cross on a clear night, in a secluded spot, where the only sound is the crackle of a campfire. Arguably one of the prettiest places to unroll your swag and boil a billy is at Fountain Springs, 60km east of Mount Isa off the Overlander’s Way. Home to a permanent deep waterhole and tonnes of wildlife, even better, it’s free. Over near Cloncurry, Mary Kathleen may be a ghost town, but this former uranium mining town is a popular spot for caravanners with its sealed roads and concrete slabs. Epitomising bush camping at its best, the Clem Walton Park near Cloncurry is so close to the Corella Dam, you can catch your Redclaw dinner from the comfort of your van.
Searching for some shade and style? Adels Grove, near Lawn Hill Gorge, boasts campsites, donga accommodation and onsite tents on this pretty property with its sparkling water holes, which are ideal for swimming at the end of a dusty drive. Or do as the hardcore Mount Isa Rodeo goers do, and head to Swag City during the event and sleep under the stars.
On this North West adventure, you’ve earned your stars, and now have your stripes too, as an outback jackaroo or jillaroo.
Getting here: Mount Isa is a 20-hour drive north west of Brisbane. If you’re short on time, both Qantas and Virgin Australia fly into the North-West.
Plan your holiday: outbackqueensland.com.au/outbackregions/north-west