GEM HUNTING – FAMILY FOSSICKING FUN IN OUTBACK QUEENSLAND
Fossicking for gemstones is one of the most exciting activities for families to do in Outback Queensland. Not only will you experience iconic towns and amazing scenery along the way, you’ll have great fun looking for a gemstone souvenir to take home from your holidays.
Speaking for opals, Australia’s national gemstone, is a popular activity. There’s lots of places to look with Queensland accounting for 95% of worldwide opal production originating from rich mineral deposits scattered across the eastern edges of the Great Artesian Basin.
The ideal time for fossicking is April to September to avoid high temperatures and potential rainfall. In most areas you’ll need to buy a Fossicking Licence and be sure to check the rules about tools and digging along with maps to make sure you aren’t on someone else’s claim. Don’t forget to pack a first aid kit, hats, safety glasses, sunscreen, phones, water and food; avoid open mines and shafts and always supervise kids around fossicking sites.
Good luck and happy hunting!
Search for opals for free at the Quilpie Shire Council fossicking area, two kilometres west of Quilpie near the Quilpie Airport. Bring some hand tools, picks, shovels or sieves to dig for the famous Boulder opal, a gem unique to Queensland found in the mining belt stretching from Quilpie in the south west, to Winton to the north. While you’re there, check out St Finbarr’s Church with its amazing opal clustered altar, font and lectern.
From Quilpie head further west to Yowah to find “Yowah nuts”, opals celebrated for their particularly beautiful colours and patterns. After a day’s digging soak your weary limbs in an Artesian Bore Bath or try the therapeutic waters at the Yowah Artesian Spa.
The tiny settlement of Yaraka is perfect for rock collectors and visitors hoping to snag a precious opal. Take a fossicking tour to Castle Rock and visit some of the local historic sites, including the ruins of the Cobb and Co pub and Magee’s Shanty believed to be the place where Banjo Patterson wrote “A Bush Christening”. Watch the sunset and get your camera ready for the incredible views from Mount Slowcombe Lookout.
Located 124km from Winton, Opalton is one of Queensland’s largest opal fields, renowned for the quality of its gems. According to legend, the first opal was found in 1888 prompting a rush that saw 600 miners once working the highly productive field.
Today the local population is considerably smaller, but the Opalton Field is still a popular place for visitors to speck or noodle opal fragments or find a bigger gem. Campers can fossick and stay in the Opalton designated fossicking area for up to three months. Don’t forget to buy a camping permit and Fossicking Licence before you start digging!
The birthplace of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Qantas’ first flight destination, Cloncurry is also known for its minerals and gems. Drop into the Cloncurry Unearthed Visitor Information Centre and Museum to learn about the town’s history and take a look at their impressive gem and mineral collection. You can also buy a Fossicking Licence here and get advice on sites and regulations before you head out.
Fossick around Cloncurry for amethystine quartz, amethyst, alluvial gold, garnets and Maltese cross. Sites include Kuridala amethyst fields (70km from town), Quamby for Zig Zag Amethyst (52km), Amethyst castle, Selwyn District (140km) and Maronan Station at Fullarton River (60km) for garnets.
Hunt for feldspar, better known as moonstone, at Moonstone Hill Regional Park adjacent to Brackbraes National Park 170km from Hughenden. These local gems are valued for their rarity as they differ from more common moonstones. Colourless and transparent, with some milky white to yellowish and translucent to opaque tones, they can be found by shallow digging or specking the ground surface.
Go in search of peridot gemstones at Chudleigh Park Station 160km from Hughenden. Whichever route you take, drop into town to visit “Hughie”, the seven metre-tall Muttaburrasaurus, and the fossil collection at the Flinders Discovery Centre and accredited visitor information centre.
Muttaburra is most famous for its rich deposits of dinosaur bones and the discovery of the Muttaburrasaurus langdoni, a land living, plant eating dinosaur that roamed the earth 100 million years ago. The fossilised dinosaur skeleton was found by local grazier Doug Langdon and is celebrated with an impressive statue at the Muttaburrasaurus Interpretation Centre. It’s a great stop for the kids to enjoy and Muttaburra also has an abundance of agates too – you can fossick for them in areas surrounding the town.
Speaking of dinosaurs, take the kids on an Outback Queensland fossil hunt along the way!
Richmond has two designated fossicking areas 12km from town where you have a good chance of unearthing a fossilised fish, reptile, tooth or squid. You can buy a permit at the fabulous Kronosaurus Korner where the team will also help you to identify your find. If you want to learn from the experts try their two hour Digging@Dawn tour offered between April and October (weather permitting).