20 (almost) free things to do in Outback Queensland
For a destination so big it takes up 65% of the Queensland map, Outback Queensland is surprisingly easy on the hip pocket.
In fact, Outback Queensland’s draw cards are all free – ever-changing terrain, national parks complete with hidden oases and colourful characters.
For proof that you can have a good time using only pocket change, tick off this list of free things to do in Outback Queensland.
1. Go camping
Find your perfect pitch in Outback Queensland, with council-run free camping sites across the region. What you save in accommodation, you can spend on one of these Outback experiences. For one of our favourites, point your bonnet to Mary Kathleen, the ghost town remains of a former uranium mine near Cloncurry. You can pitch your tent or park your caravan on one of the concrete slabs left by the town for a comfortable campsite.
2. Catch sunset atop Big Red
The first sand dune of the Simpson Desert, Big Red, is the ultimate sunset experience in Outback Queensland. It rises out of the otherwise flat environment for 40m, providing unparalleled elevation over Munga-Thirri National Park.
You’ll want to pack a camping chair, bottle of bubbles and cheeseboard to watch the sun slip beyond the horizon with the other fortunate few who make the journey this far west. If you can take your eye off the sun’s movements, don’t forget to look down at Big Red’s iconic sand, which turns a bright crimson over the course of magic hour. It’s a view worthy of its position on this Birdsville trifecta.
Cost: Just the drinks and snacks you take with you
3. Visit the largest cattle sales in the southern hemisphere
Discover why they call Outback Queensland cattle country with a visit to the largest cattle sales centre in the southern hemisphere, the Roma Saleyards. Twice weekly, you can play voyeur to a cattle auction that sees some 12,000 cattle go under the hammer each day. While this might be one of the best free things to do in Outback Queensland, the cattle themselves fetch a pretty penny too, with a good bullock going for $1,900 a head. Plan your trip, following this itinerary which leaves from Brisbane.
Cost: 100% free (unless of course you’re in the market for a cow)
4. Go fishing
You might be miles from the coastline, but Outback Queensland’s inland game is not to be sneezed at. Follow the trail of fishermen, and cast off into Charleville’s Warrego River, which is rich with yellow belly, Murray cod, silver and spangled perch. Start planning your ultimate fishing weekend with this 48 hour guide to the Charleville.
Cost: Just a bag of bait
5. Sample country cooking
Outback Queensland is Country Women’s Association (CWA) cooking-territory, so don’t be shy about sampling the sweets out west. For a sweet treat that’s endemic to the west, make tracks to Longreach’s Merino Bakery for a peach blossom. It’s somewhat of a hybrid between a cupcake and a lamington, pink in colour and best served piped with jam and cream. For something more traditional, try the Charleville Bakery’s vanilla slice made of jiggly, homemade custard, towering on top of a Sayo biscuit base.
Cost: Anywhere from $2.50-$6.50 depending on which bakery you buy from
6. Visit the Dig Tree
Turn back the pages of history of Australia’s most famous explorers, Burke and Wills, with a visit to The Dig Tree. This tree marks the spot on Cooper Creek where the boys left the rest of their troupe, before their walk (!!!) to the Gulf of Carpentaria. The story doesn’t end well for Burke and Wills who returned to The Dig Tree, only hours after the rest of their party assumed their death and left the base camp. You can tick off this slice of Australian history easily on a trip to Birdsville – following this itinerary.
Cost: $10 per vehicle to help conserve the landmark
7. Get a photo with the big ant
You’ve heard of the Big Banana, Big Apple and Big Prawn before, but have you heard of the Big Ant? And not just any ant, we should add – a meat-eating ant. Visit Augathella and learn more about this insect who can lift 100 times its own weight, getting a photo with the statue on the main street.
Cost: Just the fuel to get there
8. Explore a gorge called Porcupine
A visit to Outback Queensland’s own Grand Canyon, Porcupine Gorge won’t cost you a dime to explore (unless you camp overnight). The landscape is a cocktail of towering sandstone cliffs, dense vegetation and creeks that wind through the ancient forests. You’re more likely to run into a wallaroo or red kangaroo in these parts than other visitors, so there’s nothing between you and scenic views. For more parks where this came from, see why Outback Queensland is gorge-ous over here.
9. Have a beer in the pub Crocodile Dundee made famous
Outback Queensland has plenty of famous pubs but Walkabout Creek Hotel in McKinlay made it to Hollywood fame. This hotel was made famous 30 plus years ago for its role in Crocodile Dundee. Enjoy a beer and bite to eat at the very spot Mick Dundee did. Grab a ‘Dundee Burger’, visit the movie set (out the back) and walk away with a souvenir photo with THAT knife.
Cost: Whatever you eat and drink
10. Stand in three time zones at once
A visit to Corner Country is your chance to put a foot in Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales, all at the same time. Set your GPS for Cameron Corner and save yourself the cost of a plane ticket to see the other two States. For a bit of fun, join Cameron Corner’s New Years Eve party which celebrates the countdown, three times – one for every time zone it experiences.
Cost: Only your fuel
11. See if the Min Min lights are real
If you haven’t heard of the Min Min lights, they’re a light phenomenon reported in the far-west corner of Queensland. According to Aboriginal folklore, anyone who chases the lights and catches them will never return to tell the tale. While the jury is still out on whether they’re real or not, if you visit Boulia you’ll want to keep your eyes on the horizon. If you don’t see them in the wild, swing by the Min Min Encounter for the fibre optic variety to hear their unusual history.
Cost: Free if you see them in the wild, $25 for the artificial encounter
12. Soak in an outdoor bathtub
If you find yourself in the north-west, check into Julia Creek Caravan Park’s cabins or camping/caravan accommodation, for access to the best bathroom in Outback Queensland. On site, you’ll find four bath houses, set inside water tanks, each with two claw foot bathtubs to soak away all your city stress. Your hosts know the score and will even supply wine and nibbles if you forget to BYO.
Cost: The bathtub experience for guests will set you back $15 per person, $25 per couple; or non-guests, $30 per person, $50 per couple.
13. For more bounce than a trampoline
Dip your tyre-toes into four deserts and feel the corrugations of The Birdsville Track. Join the hordes who tick the Birdsville Track off their driving bucket list as it connects Marree in South Australia to Birdsville in Queensland.
Cost: Access is free, but you will need to kit your 4WD with serious off-road equipment including desert flags
14. Relax in an artesian spa
You know what the perfect cure for muscle aches from long road trips in the car? A soak in one of Outback Queensland’s Great Artesian spas. You’ll find them dotted across the Outback with public baths in Mitchell, Blackall, and Bedourie to name a few.
Cost: Around $8 entry fee per person, dependent on which spa you visit
15. Discover an ancient wonderland, Carnarvon National Park
Explore a hidden oasis in Queensland’s Central Highlands, Carnarvon National Park. A visit here promises you’ll return with a camera roll full of pictures of towering sandstone cliffs, prehistoric cycads and more than 2,000 indigenous artworks. Book in that annual leave and make plans following our ultimate guide to Carnarvon National Park.
Cost: 23km of free walking tracks are yours to explore
16. Check out the world’s largest classroom
Visit the world’s largest classroom which spans 420,000 square kilometres at the School of Distance Education in Longreach. Join the tour for a first-hand encounter of how lessons take place for the 260 students who live on remote stations and can’t attend regular schools.
Cost: $12 per person, or if you’re in a group, the cost drops to $10
17. Have a cuppa at a bush camp
For an authentic Outback Experience, head 91km east of Charleville to a working outback bush camp, Gidgees Bush Camp. It’s open seasonally from April to September, and their barista made coffee at the onsite ‘Kill for a Cuppa’ café is where you can always find a few other travellers to swap travel tales. Alternatively, DIY in the bush kitchen which includes a barbeque, wood stove and fire rings to sit around, long into the evening.
Cost: Just what you buy at the cafe
18. Fossick for boulder opals
You’ve got to love a free thing to do in Outback Queensland that could leave you richer at the other end. Make tracks to Quilpie aka boulder opal fossicking country to try your hand at digging up something shiny and worth selling. Pack your picks, shovels and sieves as you explore Outback Queensland’s mining belt.
19. Discover the Sandstone Wonders
Visit the three gorges that put the sandstone in Sandstone Wonders – Isla Gorge National Park, Expedition National Park and Kroombit Tops. You’ll find them all in the Banana Shire, near the central Queensland town of Biloela. A day trip to each of these national parks makes the perfect add-on to a visit for the Lake Callide Family Fishing Classic which takes over the region in October.
Cost: Just your hiking books for all-terrain adventuring
20. Discover the heart of the outback on two wheels
BYO bike! One perk of Outback Queensland is that it’s defined by long, flat distances, so you can easily enjoy a few hours sightseeing by bike. If you’re in Longreach, cycling is the best way to take in all of the sites if you’re hire car-less and/or don’t want to fork out for a guided tour. To tick off all the major attractions, make sure you follow this guide.