30 things to do in Outback Queensland
When it comes to things to do in Outback Queensland, two words should come to mind: freedom and solitude.
The region spans some 901,574km2, which means there’s a whole lot of room for activities.
Outback Queensland’s size creates diversity in the things for you to see and do. Where else can you go digging for dinosaurs one minute and inspect cutting-edge aerospace technology the next?
If you like your road trips long, your beers cold and characters warm, plan your itinerary with these 30 things to do in Outback Queensland.
1. Catch sunset at Big Red
Put red sand between your tyre treads and conquer Big Red, the first sand dune in the Simpson Desert. To find it, you’ll need to pin your GPS to the furthest corner of Queensland, Birdsville. Follow the line of cars out of town at sunset, for one of the best spots for sunset out west. On top of Big Red, you can watch the sun slip below the horizon from the same elevation as a 10-story building. It won’t take long to work out why it forms part of this Birdsville tourism trifecta.
2. Watch the largest rodeo in the southern hemisphere
The Mount Isa Rotary Rodeo doesn’t attract bull riders the world over on the promise of outback hospitality alone. The prize money at this outback event is serious business, with $230,000 in prizes (cash and buckles) up for grabs each year. Adrenaline pumps both in and out of the chutes, with a program that includes bull riding, saddle bronc and bareback, steer wrestling, roping, ladies barrel racing and breakaway roping. Oh, and a rodeo queen competition that’s just as hotly contended.
3. Meet a fish called Wanda
If you like your history ancient, we’re talking 100 million-year-old ancient, pay a visit to Kronosaurus Korner in Richmond. Here you’ll find the bones of extinct marine reptiles, fishes, ammonites and squids that have been perfectly fossilised from the days of Outback Queensland’s inland sea. What separates this dinosaur graveyard from the ones in Winton and Eromanga is that Richmond displays marine reptile fossils. It’s here you can meet Penny the plesiosaur and Australia’s largest fossilised fish, aptly named, Wanda.
4. Enter one of Queensland’s toughest tris
If you’ve got no Easter school holiday plans, you’ve now got one – joining the Julia Creek Dirt ‘n’ Dust Festival. The festival program includes Australia’s toughest sprint triathlon, the South32 Senior Triathlon, which is set against the harsh Outback elements. Don’t expect your usual triathlon – out here, ocean waves are replaced with bog snorkelling in the swim leg, a cycle-leg across barren highways and runners are faced with headwinds on the bitumen. If you like your tris tough, check out this guide to the event.
5. Set up camp at Lake Callide Retreat
Outback Queensland isn’t all red dirt. There’s an oasis in Biloela and it goes by the name Lake Callide Retreat (15 minutes from Biloela). Here you can spend your days on the water of Callide Dam where your daily agenda will look like this: fish, eat, relax, repeat. If you can, time your visit for October to share the dam with anglers from across the state trying to hook a winner at the Lake Callide Family Fishing Classic.
6. Go to Outback Queensland’s own Hollywood
When it comes to star power, Winton delivers more than just the cosmic kind. It’s been the set of movies Mystery Road, Goldstone, and more recently ABC series Total Control. To celebrate its status of Outback Queensland’s answer to Hollywood, Winton celebrates its arts culture each winter at the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival. Find out how to make the most of this nine day festival, following this guide.
7. Have a flutter on the track
Swap the green fields of Caulfield and Flemington for a track of a different kind, joining the 6000 other race-goers who make the trek to postcode 4482 for the Birdsville Races each year. You’ll need to see it to believe it – as the tiny town that usually has a population of 100 people swells to bursting the first weekend of September every year.
8. Discover big bones
Australia’s furthest town from the sea, Eromanga, has a rather large feather in its cap. It’s home to the bones of Australia’s largest dinosaur – a Titanosaur – which can be found at the Eromanga Natural History Museum. ‘Cooper’ is one of several fossil discoveries in this south-west pocket – pointing to Outback Queensland’s prehistoric past. Whether you want to tour the museum or join a dig, a photo with the 3D model of Cooper’s funny bone is an essential souvenir from this museum. P.S. – if you’re scratching your head on how to pronounce this town, we wrote this to help inform your travels.
9. Cuddle up to a Tambo Teddy
Buy from the bush with a Tambo Teddy. These little bundles of 100% wool are hand-made and come with their own personality and first name, borrowed from the local sheep stations in the area. Today over 44,000 teddies are in their fur-ever homes, including in the palace of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Plan your things to do in Outback Queensland, following this five day itinerary from Winton.
10. Stand in modern Australian history
Stand in the very spot where the Australian Labor Party first formed after the Shearing Strike of 1891 – The Tree of Knowledge, Barcaldine. Although the original tree was poisoned, it’s since been replaced with a memorial replacement of architectural significance that’s well worth the Barcaldine detour. Stop in the Outback’s own Garden City (all the streets here are named after plants), by following this itinerary along the Matilda Way.
11. Watch a race of a different kind
If you’ve been there, done that watching a horse race, swap thoroughbreds for camels at the Boulia Camel Races. This event is dubbed the ‘Melbourne Cup of Camel Racing’, and you can catch the action the week after Birdsville Big Red Bash. What makes camel racing more interesting than horse racing is the fact the camel’s mood determines the race outcome. Take ‘Marley’, the favourite from the 2017 races, who decided to hold the race up with poor behaviour. For more weird and wacky events like this, mark your calendar with these other events.
12. Discover somewhere gorgeous
Get back to nature with Queensland’s answer to the Grand Canyon – Cobbold Gorge. This natural landform wears the crown of Queensland’s youngest gorge at 1700 million years young. The best way to soak up the scenery is to join Cobbold Gorge Tours for a boat tour through the gorge or walk across Australia’s first glass bridge across the chasm of the gorge. Since there’s limited phone reception in these parts, you’ll want to read this guide before you go.
13. Go to a World Heritage-listed wonderland
For some of the best Indigenous rock art in Outback Queensland, explore the rock walls at Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park. It’s World Heritage-listed for good reason – to preserve its striking red sandstone walls that contrast to the green waters that wind through it. The best jumping off point for this national park is Mount Isa, following this guide.
14. Celebrate Australian airline history
The history of Australian aviation is filled with pages about Outback Queensland. Celebrate the national airline’s early days at Qantas Founders Museum in Longreach. Their collection includes the Consolidated PBY Catalina Flying Boat, the Super Constellation, Douglas DC3, Boeing 707 and Boeing 747. Don’t expect a static museum. Tours include the opportunity to walk on the wing of a plane and stand inside an engine – a must for any aero-addict. Start planning your Longreach itinerary, with this guide to the ‘heart of the Outback’.
15. Follow the footsteps of dinosaurs
Few people can say they’ve followed the footsteps of dinosaurs, let alone visited the world’s only recorded dinosaur stampede. Visitors to Lark Quarry Conservation Park can see more than 3,300 fossilised dinosaur footprints, making it a must stop for anyone following this dinosaur trail.
16. Rock out in the desert
What do you do when you’ve got no neighbours for hundreds of kilometres? Bring Aussie rock royalty to the bush, turn up the volume and invite 9000 of your closest friends, at least, that’s the reality for the Birdsville Big Red Bash. This bucket list worthy live event set to the backdrop of Big Red, draws thousands of music lovers who head west for three days of great tunes. Tickets sell out each year like hotcakes, so you’ll want to register early for updates and start planning your 2096km trip early with this itinerary.
17. Wander Porcupine Gorge
Landscapes don’t come more vibrant than the one you’ll find at Porcupine Gorge National Park. It’s home to a canyon that’s been carved out of sandstone and a pyramid that provides a natural challenge for hikers. If you’re up to it, complete the pyramid walk or have a go at the Gorge Challenge (check out other Outback Queensland gorges here).
18. Discover things to do in Outback Queensland with a host
You haven’t truly done the outback if you haven’t come across Smithy, the host with the most of Outback Aussie Tours. Join Outback Aussie Tours for packaged tours that take you to all corners of the outback, from Longreach, Winton, Birdsville, Corner Country and beyond. See what outback hospitality is all about with Outback Aussie Tours’ guided itineraries which all connect with rail and air transfers, taking all of the organisation stress out of your trip west.
19. Check out the star power
Put your phone away – the only lights that need your attention in Charleville are the ones in the sky. Outback Queensland turns its small population (and limited light pollution) into a star attraction at the Cosmos Centre in Charleville. Join for daily tours which include daytime sun viewing or nightly stargazing, using state-of-the-art Meade telescopes to spot stars, planets and moons far, far away. Start planning your Charleville trip, with this 48 hour guide.
20. Brush up on Australian history
If your knowledge of pioneering history is sketchy at best, pay a visit to the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, which pays tribute to life on the land. The nightly Outback Stockman’s Show incorporates trick horses, dogs and sheep – a must watch for anyone on their first time to the outback.
21. Dig for dinos
Australia’s dinosaur HQ can be found in Winton, at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. Their new (2017) Dinosaur Canyon transports you 100-million years ago to the landscape these prehistoric creatures walked among. Finish your visit with a trip to the ‘most productive Fossil Preparation Laboratory in the Southern Hemisphere’ to see volunteers dusting off bones using intricate tools. Discover Australian Age of Dinosaurs following the dinosaur trail.
22. Lay in the lap of luxury
Just because it’s the Outback, there’s no need to rough it when it comes to your overnight accommodation. Check into outback luxury at Gilberton Outback Retreat nestled on the edge of Gilberton Nature Refuge. You’ll be the only guests on this 88,000-acre station at any one time, so there’s no risk of running into anyone you know. Whether you choose to fill your day by joining your hosts for farm activities, fossicking for gold or resting in your luxurious cabin, there’s no phone reception to interrupt your deep relaxation.
23. Meet the man behind the legend
Hear all about the legendary Jackie Howe in Blackall, whose 1892 record for blade shearing still stands today: 230 sheep in 7 hours and 40 minutes, all by hand. This legend (of who the singlet is named after) went on to gain another record with electric shears, a title not broken for 58 years. You’ll find a statue of Jackie in the centre of Blackall town and a museum with a gallery and historic display. Did we mention this iconic road trip runs right through Blackall to see it?
24. Take a train ride to remember
Long drive distances not for you? Don’t dismiss these things to do in Outback Queensland just yet. Let Queensland Rail do the driving and do the locomotion across the great western plains in the luxury of a private sleeper on board the Spirit of the Outback train. See why it’s worthy of a place in this list of the seven best rail trips over here.
25. Visit one of the top 10 places to find fossils in the world
If you’ve made the journey to Lawn Hill, it pays to dive deep within the national park, to find the Riversleigh World Heritage Site. This fossil field is so impressive, David Attenborough himself labelled it one of the top four most important deposits in the world. Make a beeline for Site D among the 10,000 hectares of parks to see fossilised mammals and reptiles.
26. Turn back railway history
Quilpie Shire Railway Museum gives new meaning to the words “the end of the line”, as the end of Queensland’s western railway line. Although now just used for cattle, a quick chat to residents, reveal tales of the “The Flying Flea”, a two-carriage train that was allegedly the fastest passenger train in all of Queensland. If you’re thinking of a family road trip, we have the perfect guide.
27. Secrets and stars
There’s more to Outback Queensland than meets the eye. Join Charleville Stars & Secrets Museum Tour to see what else is hiding. This tour combines the local Charleville story tellers and Cosmos Observatory Guides, and across two days, you’ll dig deep into Charleville’s roots. From World War II top secrets to aerospace modern history, you’ll uncover Outback Queensland’s past, present and future.
28. Stand in three States at once
Save yourself the airfare to visit South Australia and New South Wales and simply stand in Queensland’s Cameron Corner. This is the corner of the map where all three states collide and a photo with its plaque forms part of a fortunate few visitors travel memories. For something fun, visit on New Years’ Eve to celebrate with three different time zones.
29. Visit a ghost town
Ghost towns do exist outside of western movies, and Betoota is just one of them. As you roll into town, the sign reads ‘Welcome to Betoota, Population 0’. Of course, that all changes in the last weekend in August when it plays host to the Betoota Races, part of the Simpson Desert racing carnival.
30. Enjoy a beer in the pub that Mick Dundee made famous
There’s plenty of famous pubs in Outback Queensland, but none so famous as the Walkabout Creek Hotel in McKinlay. This hotel was made famous 30 years ago for its role in Crocodile Dundee. While you won’t see Paul Hogan sauntering around the pub now, it’s as good a place as any for lunch and a beer.