All the best things to do in Charters Towers
Red dirt, blue skies, and only 134 clicks inland from Townsville, this is the accessible Outback. Founded in 1871 after the discovery of a gold nugget, Charters Towers was established as a place for prospectors to find their fortune in the gold fields. Over the next 36 years, they turned up over 200 tonnes of gold.
Today, although the rush has run its course, Charters Towers remains as a town of the true Australian Outback.
All roads lead to Charters Towers, or at least, the Overlanders and Great Inland Way cut right through it, so if ever you find yourself riding along those routes, consider staying a while at Charters. For your convenience, this is an express guide to discovering the real Outback in Charters Towers.
1. Get the lay of the land with a walking tour
If reading a town’s history in a guidebook is a bit passé for you, get your dose of gold, ghosts and grandeur with Charters Towers Historical Walking Tours.
These tours are led by expert guide Erica Finlay, who, for just an hour of your time, will regale you with tales about the town’s profiteers, World War II involvement, and booming agricultural industry. It’s not just all just about the gold rush.
If the name “Stan Pollard” means nothing to you, you’ll soon find out as you make your way up Mosman and Gill Streets and hear all about how this local legend made his fortune and what his ghost is up to now.
2. Catch sunset atop Towers Hill
You won’t find a big backlit Charters Towers sign at the top of Towers Hill, but you will find one that says “The World”. This nickname was earned back when the town was the second biggest city in Queensland. Locals used to say that you could find everything you desired here with no reason to travel anywhere else.
With its summit 420 metres above sea level, this rocky pinnacle is the very best way to get a lay of the land and catch a sorbet sunset every evening.
During the day you’ll need more than binoculars to see all of Charters though – the Regional Council looks after a geographical area bigger than Tasmania, which explains why the horizon seems to stretch on forever.
After dark, the action fires up, with a daily screening of Ghosts After Dark, a film that covers the basics of Charters’ gold boom. It’s a fitting location to hear about the gold rush as Towers Hill was the very spot a young Aboriginal boy named Jupiter (who the famous casino is named after) first discovered a chunk of alluvial gold back in 1871 and founded the town.
Fast forward many, many years and gold fossickers still arrive in droves, armed with metal detectors, in search of those golden nuggets. For anyone running a fever, you can legally fossick at Young’s Block.
3. Knock back a Whitbreads
Appropriate for all ages, Whitbreads cordials are the perfect, refreshing beverage to take the edge off the outback heat, and stir up some nostalgia.
A vital part of Charters Towers’ history, Whitbreads has been serving fizzy drinks to locals since 1896. To this day. All 25 flavours are manufactured, bottled and distributed from an independently-run factory in Charters.
Their Splash Cola and Sarsaparilla flavours are made using a top secret formula, and have stayed almost exactly the same since the company was first established. You can pick up a bottle of Whitbreads at most local stores for a couple of bucks.
4. See how gold was extracted
Charters Towers isn’t just about gold, but gold is still a big part of the town’s history. Back in the fossicking days, it was known as ‘the vault’ of Queensland, and there’s nowhere better to appreciate this rich history than at the Venus Gold Battery.
It’s the closest you’ll get to seeing exactly how gold was extracted out of Charters Towers. The tour will foster a real appreciation for the effort that went into the operation (the long-retired gold stamping machines uses to pummel one teaspoon of gold out of every tonne of ore back in the day) and speaks to the mentality of prospectors at the time who would have done anything for a lump of gold.
5. Meet some longhorns
They build things bigger in the west, and Texas Longhorn Tours at Leahton Park is no exception.
Run by Michael Bethel, the 110,000-acre cattle station sits 10 kilometres outside of Charters Towers. Asian Water Buffalo, Scottish Highlanders, American Bison, African Watusi and Indian Gyr cattle all roam over the station, and you can see them all on one of Leahton Park’s outback safaris.
This farm is also home to the largest herd of purebred Texas Longhorns in Australia. Pride among them, a steer called J.R. who cracked the 2013 record for having the longest horns in the world.
When he’s not tending to the farm, Michael runs the Bethel Saddlery, designing and crafting premium saddles that are then shipped all over the world. They’re the saddle of choice amongst Aussie stockmen and Texan cowboys, and after a tour of the saddlery, you’ll see why.
6. Swap Ghost Stories
Naturally, this being the Outback, there’s a decent number of local ghost stories whispering around Charters Towers. You can hear some of the lore from locals at the pub, or join the Charters Towers Ghost Tour on Gill Street for a ghostly walk through the old city centre after dark.
From ghosts who haunt their places of work, to a double murder in the Royal Private Hotel, to a bloodstained table that marks the spot of a cold-blooded shooting inside The World Theatre, there’s no shortage of stories.
7. Go to a real auction
If you want to see a whole lot of heifers, it’s worth checking out the Dalrymple Cattle Saleyards each Wednesday for a dose of cowboys and cattle.
The saleyards are definitely off the tourist track, so a day under the auction roof will provide one of the best and most authentic glimpses into the agriculture industry.
Beef is big business in these parts, with beasts going for as much as luxury cars sometimes. The flurry and excitement of the crowd as they go under the hammer is palpable.
8. Catch the latest flick at the drive-in
One of the oldest drive-in theatres in Queensland (and only one of four still in operation that we know of), Tors Drive-In is a remnant of a long gone era. They’ve been rolling films since 1966, and these days they’re still offering a vintage experience at vintage prices.
Every night features a double bill, covered under the cost of your ticket, so you can catch both films on the same night, so it’s perfect for date night or some lowkey entertainment for the family.
Fuel up at the snack bar and you’ll walk away with change from a $10 note. They have everything you need to round out an outback movie experience including popcorn, choc tops, and yes, even Whitbreads.
Roll up early for a prime park and then sit back and enjoy a feature beneath the stars.
9. Road trip to Ravenswood
Not technically in Charters Towers, but still pretty close and worth a visit, Ravenswood is a quaint little town just 90km north-east of Charters.
It’s a town of roughly 350 people, rattling around infrastructure built to suit a population 25 times bigger. These days, the town consists of a general store/post office, a primary school and two pubs, so don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
What’s remarkable about Ravenswood is that while most other towns begin to dilapidate, Ravenswood seems untouched by the passage of time. The city centre is spotless, and the beautiful architecture have earned the entire town of Ravenswood a lofty heritage-listing.
Architectural buffs can expect lovely lattice work, two-storey buildings with balconies, and stained-glass windows alongside buildings stuck in a time warp like the Historic Miners Home.
10. Catch the goldfield ashes
The Boxing Day Test match might be famous in Aussie households, but there’s a rival cricket competition in Charters Towers, as teams go bat-to-bat for the Goldfield Ashes.
Established in 1948 and going strong ever since, this is the largest amateur cricket competition in the southern hemisphere. Held over the Australia Day long weekend, approximately 250 cricket teams flock from miles around to bat for the title of champion. Lawns are mowed, pitches are carved and private properties turn over their paddocks for this heralded cricket cup. If you’re lucky enough to have your visit coincide with this momentous event, consider picking up a bat yourself.
Where to stay?
For somewhere fresh and new, Kernow offers 15 stylishly appointed and self-contained apartments with one or two bedrooms. All offer easy pool access to escape the outback heat.
If a road trip has brought you to Charters, park at Bivouac Junction. Here, you have the choice of eight basic cabins, powered or unpowered caravan and camping sites from $13 a night. The park is so big you could easily have trouble finding your neighbours in low season.
Alternatively, BIG 4 Aussie Outback Oasis Cabins & Van Village has accessibility to the town centre and attractions like the Venus Gold Battery and Miner’s Cottage. Choose between cabins, caravan and camping sites and stay close to all the action.
If you want to keep closer to the coast, check out Townsville’s accommodation options nearby.