Known simply as ‘The Isa’ to locals, what this Outback destination lacks in title charm it makes up for in surface area, mineral bounty and country charisma. Big time.
At over 43,000km2 in size, Mount Isa is geographically the second biggest town Down Under.
It’s also the world’s biggest single producer of copper, zinc, silver and lead.
And, the accolades don’t stop there. Mount Isa is home to the biggest rodeo in the southern hemisphere, an action packed annual event that brings the town to life.
It’s safe to say that this Outback metropolis lends weight to the theory that bigger is better.
But in case you’re not convinced, we’ve put together this action-packed guide on how to spend 48 hours in The Isa.
Take to the skies and board a plane direct from Cairns, Townsville or Brisbane straight into Mount Isa. From there, grab a hire car and hit up your digs for the night.
If an outback road trip tickles your fancy, the 10 hour trek along the Overlander’s Way from Townsville is well worth your time. Retrace the path of the cattle drovers in the 1800’s who forged this trail as they crossed the Outback on their journey from the Northern Territory to Queensland’s coastal cattle sales.
Or, double the driving fun and motor your way from Brisbane to Mount Isa in 20 hours (or approximately three and a half Triple J Hottest 100 Countdowns).
A quick 10 minute drive down the Barkly Highway you’ll find Outback at Isa, your real-life tour guide to Isa’s ins and outs.
This one-stop-shop looks after the Mount Isa Visitor Information Centre, Hard Times Mine Underground Tour, Isa Experience and Outback Park, Mount Isa Regional Art Gallery, Riversleigh Fossil Centre, Mount Isa Fish Hatchery Project and the Outback Cafe.
Purchase a Hard Times Underground Mine Tour pass to go Down Under and experience the daily workings of an underground mine. It’s a rare opportunity to get to know mining life and we promise it’ll ‘rock’ your world.
The Red Earth Hotel is where outback hospitality meets art deco, for those looking to slumber in style. Whether it’s a family holiday, business trip, or just passing by that brings you to town, Red Earth’s spacious, spotless rooms are a short stroll away from the town’s retail precincts and local attractions.
The Rodeo Bar and Grill does dinner with an outback difference. It’s family friendly dining amidst rustic rodeo-inspired interiors that makes you feel as if you’ve just stepped into a John Wayne film. They take their steaks seriously, so you can’t go past the Grain Fed Black Angus Rib Fillet. If steak ain’t your thang, try pan fried gnocchi or wild caught barramundi for a hearty meal that promises to end your day in The Isa on a high note.
We know there’s plenty underneath Isa that’s pretty interesting, but don’t forget about what lays above ground too. The City Lookout on Hilary Street is a sunset watcher’s dream and a stargazer’s paradise – the stars do shine brighter in the Outback, after all.
Bambino Espresso is so good that one wasn’t enough for Mount Isa. You can now see double of this coffee cave with locations on both Miles Street and in Kmart Plaza. They keep it simple but scrumptious at Bambino, with Eggs Benny or the Brekky Burger to fuel your day ahead.
Step back in time at the Mount Isa Underground Hospital. This wartime civilian hospital, which was built in 1942 by off-duty miners, has been restored so that modern-day adventurers can explore the three parallel tunnels that once made up the medical facility. It’s not quite Grey’s Anatomy, but the original medical equipment on show in the adjoining Beth Anderson Museum is a timely reminder of the wonders of modern medicine.
No outback adventure is complete without a country pub meal, and the Overlander Hotel has you covered. It’s got big meals for small prices, with the Chicken Parmi’s, Crumbed Steaks and Seafood Baskets guaranteed to cure that lunchtime low.
Outback sunsets over Lake Moondarra are even more spectacular when they’re accompanied by an afternoon beverage and Ploughman’s Platter of nibbles. North West Tours provides a three hour Lake Moondarra experience.
Play David Attenborough for the afternoon and see if you can spy the collection of wild peacocks that call the area home. Get snap happy, because we promise they’ll look even better through a camera lens #instaworthy.
If you’re a budding fisherman, the Lake Moondarra Classic will test your seamen skills, so pop the date in your diary and book in a return trip. Click here to find out more about fishing the classic.
Spice up your Isa experience with a dinner at Red Earth’s Restaurant, where the curries bring heat to rival the outside temperatures. Tempt your tastebuds by indulging in an aromatic beef massaman or ginger stir fry with fresh onion, shallots, capsicum and mushrooms.
The people at Coffee Lab Isa know the science behind good barista-ing, and they’re practising it on the daily. Pair a cold brew (to cool you down) with a breakfast burrito where the ratio of eggs to bacon is on point, and you’ll be set for the trip outta town.
Drop in to the School of the Air on your way to catch the bird home and see how the country kids do ‘classroom’. Satellite internet allows children as far as 1000 kilometres away to keep up with their spelling lessons and times tables, and the school offers enrolments from kindy up to year 10.
Of course, if you’re not quite ready to say goodbye to Outback Queensland just yet, take the expedition to another level by visiting Lawn Hill Gorge in Boodjamulla National Park. This must-see destination is one reason why Mount Isa is known as the Oasis of the Outback.
Jump in the 4WD and take the nine hour journey north-west of the Isa to see country blanketed in red earth and wrapped up in emerald green waters. Kayak down the gorge beneath towering sandstone cliffs and stay the night in safari tents just footsteps from the water’s edge.