Road trip planner: Conquer the Capricorn Way in 4 days

If you enjoy the occasional trip down memory lane, how about a journey from modern-day beach towns into the Outback to discover the real land before time? Say hello to your road trip planner to the Capricorn Way.

Starting in Rockhampton then weaving nearly 600kms from Capricorn to Barcaldine in the state’s west, the Capricorn Way passes gem fields, geological landmarks and ancient Indigenous sites.

And among the lesser-known historical towns, you’ll stop in along the way, this itinerary will help you discover not only the world’s largest Van Gogh ‘Sunflower’ painting but 250-million-year-old trees, old silent movie theatres, and the original (rural) street artists.

Before you go, get some more tips from this handy eBook.

Capricorn Way map | Road trip planner: Capricorn Way

Day 1: Rockhampton to Duaringa (110km / 1hr 15m)

Rockhampton | Road trip planner: Capricorn Way

It was known as Australia’s beef capital and you can discover Rockhampton’s rich heritage on foot. Start at the wharves – “Rocky” was the main port for the rich Mount Morgan goldfields in the 1880s and ’90s – and take a leisurely walk along Quay Street with its 26 Heritage-listed grand old buildings (the Queensland National Bank building at No. 186 is particularly impressive).

Drive to the summit of Mount Archer, on Rockhampton’s northeastern outskirts, for a panoramic view of the town. Or head almost 30km north to the Capricorn Caves, where you can tour the ancient limestone formations or explore the tunnels and shafts on a self-guided or guided tour.

This road trip planner takes you west from Rocky, but you might want to make a quick detour east to the Capricorn Coast (named after the Tropic of Capricorn, which it straddles) – a 95km stretch of coastline between Emu Park and Yeppoon, blessed with 13 white-sand beaches.

Head back to Rocky to rejoin the Capricorn Way and then travel on to Duaringa. Botany enthusiasts will want to head to Mackenzie Park to spot the rare endemic ‘Budgeroo’ trees. Look closely and imagine their bark being fashioned into rope, baskets and building materials by the early local Indigenous community.

Tonight, check out the Duaringa Hotel, which dates back to the 1880s. Did someone say free hot showers and camping?

Day 2: Duaringa to Emerald (160km / 1hr 45m)

Emerald/Sapphire | Road trip planner: Capricorn Way

Today you’re heading into coal country as your journey meanders west through Blackwater to Emerald, the hub of the Central Highlands and the gateway to the Sapphire Gemfields, one of the richest sapphire fields in the Southern Hemisphere.

You don’t need to take a long-haul flight to London to spy Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ in the National Gallery. Strangely, Emerald is home to the world’s biggest (at 25m high) replica. But once you discover this region was once flush with fields of the golden flowers, it will start to make more sense. If you’re driven to tick off all the ‘big things‘ in Queensland, this is a great one to start the collection with.

Fossil hunters will appreciate the fragment of a fossilised tree at Emerald Town Hall – estimated to be a mere 250 million years old. For other historic finery, visit the Emerald Railway Station, built at the turn of the 20th Century and listed by the National Trust.

Take a break with a picnic and throw a line in at Lake Maraboon, a short drive south of Emerald. It’s stocked with barramundi but is best known for its red claw crayfish, which can be snagged from the shore. Try them at local restaurant Le Porte Rosse.  

Day 3: Emerald to Alpha (170km / 1hr 45m)

Sapphire | Road trip planner: Capricorn Way

Take a short detour off the Capricorn Way to fossick for gems at the large sapphire fields surrounding the towns of Sapphire and Anakie.

Go on a guided tour of an underground mine or grab a map and take a self-drive fossicking tour. Buy a bucket of sapphire “wash”  and learn how to recognise these gems in the rough. If you’re keen to stick around and try your luck in the gem fields, this itinerary will help.

Jewels in hand (or not), head west towards Alpha, known as the Town of Murals, climbing the Drummond Range en route. The cool kids may have their urban street-art but local artists have been telling tales with paint and brush since the early ’90s here.

The Alpha Hotel is another good place to enjoy an Outback meal.

Day 4: Alpha to Barcaldine (141km / 1hr 30m)

Barcaldine | Road trip planner: Capricorn Way

On your way out of town you’ll drive past the Fossilised Forest of Alpha sculpture before continuing west to Barcaldine, or “Barcy”  as it’s fondly known, on the crossroads of the Matilda and Capricorn Highways.

The Tree of Knowledge, a ghost gum in the centre of town, is believed to have lived for more than 150 years. Today, it forms part of an impressive sculpture and a reminder of the unsuccessful 1891 Queensland shearers’ strike that fed into the formation of the Australian Labor Party.

After you’ve ticked off the tree, head to the Australian Workers Heritage Centre, the only dedicated tribute to Australian working men and women in the country. The old world Radio Theatre – set within a WWII hangar-esque shed replete with canvas chairs – is also worth a visit.

Four days not enough? Keep on driving across Queensland with 12 more road trip itineraries in this free ebook:

Have you completed the Capricorn Way? Tell us about your experience in the comments below