Unearth the World Heritage-listed Riversleigh
Here’s a bit of pub-trivia winning info for you: Riversleigh, in Outback Queensland, is one of the Top 10 places to find fossils in the entire world! Remains found in this World Heritage-listed park date back 15 to 25 million years.
It might not seem likely in its current hot, dry state, but this used to be a thick rainforest home to dozens of different animals. From Tasmanian tigers, to marsupial ‘lions’ and kangaroos and possums with creepy sharp teeth, you can see the predecessors of our current wildlife and fossils of animals that have no relatives existing today. These fossils are unique in that they’re in 3D, because of the soft, freshwater limestone in which they were preserved.
Riversleigh is located in the southern section of Outback Queensland. Unless you’re on an epic road trip, it’s easiest to fly into Mt Isa and hire a car for your foray into the world of fossils. Let this be your guide…
The best places to stay near Boodjamulla National park are camping spots such as Adels Grove Camping Ground. This is an eco-sensitive park on Lawn Creek Hill, set amongst a plantation of exotic trees planted by the French botanist, Albert de Lestang, over 80 years ago. The resort is an oasis for the dusty, tired traveller; a perfect place to refresh, relax and recover.
You can catch barramundi just metres from your tent site or lie back and watch the cool aqua water flows through the park. They’ve got a variety of accommodation options from straight campsites to pre-erected tents and rooms.
Or, stay at the Townview Motel in Mount Isa, a family-run business with an all-essential pool and air-conditioning. While you’re in town, head to the Underground Hospital and Museum, which was opened in 1929 by the Mount Isa Mines.
DISCOVER SITE ‘D’
Although the Riversleigh Fossil Fields span 10,000 hectares of land, only a small section is open to the public.
This area, Site D, is one of the first fossil deposits found and gives visitors an opportunity to see many fossilised mammals and reptiles first hand.
The Fossil Fields made it onto the World Heritage list due to their outstanding representation of the evolution of Australian mammals. The preservation of the fossils makes these deposits some of the richest and most extensive in the world.
We might pride ourselves on the uniqueness of our native animals (because can you get more awesome than a koala?!) but their ancestors are equally fascinating – think feather-tailed possums and marsupial moles.
BE INDIANA BONES ON THE FOSSIL TRAIL
Take the self-guided Riversleigh Fossil Trail to the top of the limestone outcrop of Site D and immerse yourself in the ancient landscape.
Put your high school science and geography knowledge to the test as you learn about the separation of Australia from the early supercontinent, Gondwanaland. Along the way, discover the limb bones and gizzard stones of towering flightless birds and the remains of the largest known freshwater crocodile (aka my worst nightmare).
Australia’s mammal evolution has been the most isolated and most distinctive in the world and Riversleigh provides a first-hand look at this history.
Guided tours are also available from commercial tour operators.
LEARN FROM THE EXPERTS
Fossils in the dirt are one thing to ooh and ahh over, but it’s also pretty exciting to see them resurrected.
The Riversleigh Fossil Centre at Mount Isa will bring you face-to-face with these prehistoric inhabitants of the outback.
This museum combines video displays, dioramas and scientific displays of fossils to bring the ancient world alive. The lab also offers guided tours to see the resident palaeontologist and staff in action.
DON’T BE A LAZY BONES AT BOODJAMULLA
Once you’ve had your fill of fossils, head to Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park to imagine what Riversleigh once looked like. Now an oasis in an otherwise dry land, this area was once thick with vegetation.
Paddle a canoe through the mirror-like waters of the gorge and see if you can find similarities between the fossils and the birds and turtles surrounding the creek.
With walking tracks of varying difficulties along the gorge and sandstone ridges, you’ll definitely work up a sweat. Try the Wild Dog Dreaming walk to see extensive rock art and stone engravings culturally important to the Waanyi Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the land.
CLIMB THE FOSS-HILL
Take the Indarri Falls walking track in Boodjamulla, which meanders through the dry sandstone landscape to a vantage point overlooking the falls on the rim of the gorge.
Return via a steep descent that’ll have you plunging into the cool, refreshing waterhole in no time.
Keep an eye out for purple-crowned fairy-wrens and crimson finches along the walk.
Need more inspiration? Check out our video on the Riversleigh Fossil Sites.
*Please note the temporary closure of all Queensland campgrounds in national parks, state forests and state-managed recreation and protected areas, in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.