Drive to the birthplace of Waltzing Matilda along The Matilda Way
A trip to the Aussie Outback is an experience that will leave you with lifelong memories and a newfound appreciation of our remarkable land. Road tripping along the Matilda Way (named in honour of the iconic Aussie ballad of the same name) is an excellent way to experience rural Australia.
Stretching from the New South Wales border to Kurumba in Tropical North Queensland, this 1812-kilometre road is the highway to unforgettable scenic and historic landscapes.
So grab a couple of mates, a trusty vehicle and map, and follow our guide on how to drive to Matilda Way.
DAY 1: Cunnamulla to Charleville (200km / 2hr 30m)
Rev your engines at Cunnamulla, where bush legend Slim Dusty is the talk of the town.
This starting point lies in south Outback Queensland at the intersection of the Mitchell Highway and Balonne Highway. Get introduced to the small town and its local legends at the Cunnamulla Fella Centre, before heading off on your once-in-a-lifetime trip.
Further north, finish the day in Charleville – the largest town in south-west Queensland. Known as the home of astronomy and bilbies, you’ll enjoy an afternoon of discovery like no other.
Check in for the night at the Cobb & Co. Caravan Park, where you can choose between powered and unpowered sites or cabins. Whichever you pick will see you surrounded by beautiful bushland. Spend the afternoon at the National Parks Research Station, where you can get up close to Australia’s most famous endangered marsupial.
When night falls, head to the Charleville Cosmos Centre for the breathtaking Night Telescope Observatory Session. Looking through the lense of powerful telescopes, you’ll experience a star-studded show featuring the Milky Way, nebulae, planets and other galactic wonders.
DAY 2: Charleville to Blackall (300km / 3hr 30m)
Tambo is the oldest town in the west, best known for turning an abundance of wool into Australia’s signature bear. The women of the town pioneered this idea 25 years ago, after being stricken by a drought, and it still lives on today. If you head to Tambo Teddies, in Arthur Street, you can even create your very own fluffy friend ( an impressive 49,000 have previously been made!).
Further north, in Blackall, you’ll discover tales of shearing legends.
Shearer Jack Howe put this town on the map after setting a world record in 1892; he hand-sheared 321 sheep in seven hours and 40 minutes. This feat remained unbeaten until 58 years later, but even that was with machine shearers! You can learn all about Jack and the wool industry at the historic Blackall Woolscour, which happens to be the last remaining steam-operated wool-washing plant in Australia.
Come evening, enjoy a night of country hospitality at the Barcoo Hotel. Dig into a hearty meal at the pub on the ground floor before heading upstairs to the French-chic accomodation for a good night’s sleep. If you’re travelling with a caravan or camper, you can pull up behind the hotel for a small fee and use the amenities.
Have a morning dip in the artesian pool before you head off to your next destination; it’s naturally heated to 32 degrees and packed with natural minerals, so is perfect all year round.
DAY 3 & 4: Blackall to Longreach (215km / 2hr 30m)
Located at the junction of the Capricorn and Landsborough Highways, this town is the birthplace of Australia’s labour movement and the resting place of an impressive ghost gum that grew outside the railway station for 186 years. This famous tree, although poisoned, is preserved under an award-winning timber structure where it shines (literally) as an ode to its piece of Australian history.
While in Barcaldine, be sure to visit the Australian Workers Heritage Centre that celebrates ordinary working Australians through interactive displays, film, photos, artefacts and recreated work settings. After you’ve stepped back in time, take a seat at Ridgee Didge Cafe for a taste of the Outback’s first and only Indigenous coffee brand, Cooloomon Coffee. While you’re here, learn about the original inhabitants of the desert uplands country, the lnigai people.
Hop back in the car and continue to Longreach or, in other words, the heart of Outback Queensland. When you arrive, check into the town’s pioneer slab hut accommodation, Saltbush Retreat, to bunker into homely stables, huts or cabins.
There are so many unique experiences to embark on in Longreach, so you’ll want to dedicate two days to exploring this destination. This guide will help you tick off the major attractions, such as the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, where you can delve into the rich history of our country, the Cobb & Co. Stagecoach Experience, where you can gallop along an old mail route, and the Qantas Founders Museum, which commemorates the airline born in the region.
If you want to space out your adventures, follow this five-day itinerary.
DAY 5 & 6: Longreach to Winton (180km / 2hr)
If you’re wondering where this drive to Matilda Way got its name, a stopover in Winton will get you up to speed.
Banjo Patterson, who wrote Australia’s unofficial anthem, Waltzing Matilda, came up with the lyrics when staying near Winton in 1895. The Combo Waterhole, near Kynuna, is the exact billabong that inspired Banjo’s famous song, and can be spotted on your way to Cloncurry when you depart in two-days time; just follow the brown tourist signs.
While in Winton, learn about the town (and timeless song) at the Waltzing Matilda Centre, explore Queensland’s oldest opal fields, and visit the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils at Australian Age of Dinosaurs. If you want more prehistoric action, take a detour and tackle this trail.
If your trip lines up with the annual Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival, then you’re in for a real treat. Inspired by the Sundance Film Festival, enjoy an array of films on land that’s fast becoming a favourite filmmaker location.
If you miss Vision Splendid, don’t worry. The next best thing is watching a movie at the Royal Open Air Theatre, which has been screening flicks for over a century and is one of Australia’s few remaining open-air cinemas.
Let the Boulder Opal Motor Inn be your base for these two days.
Day 7: Winton to Cloncurry (350km / 4hr)
Get up, get dressed and hurry to Cloncurry.
Despite the Outback’s reputation for expansive flat spaces, Cloncurry actually consists of a picturesque expanse of hills with a river flowing by.
After you’ve traversed the ups and downs of the landscape, stop at the spooky Mary Kathleen Mine. Up until its closure in 1981, this uranium mine was the town’s driving force. Now it’s completely deserted; all that remains are concrete slabs and signs in the town square indicating where the post office, pool and grocery store once stood.
Rest up from today’s adventures at Discovery Parks Cloncurry, located on the outskirts of town. Whether you’ve got a caravan or are looking for a cabin, this property has all you need.
Day 8: Cloncurry to Karumba (445km / 6 hr)
Get ready for a milestone today, when you reach the last stop on your drive to Matilda Way.
On your drive to Karumba, home to the Gulf Savannah and sea, you’ll pass some local pubs and taverns that make for the perfect pitstop. First up is the Purple Pub, which, as the name suggests, is painted in a lilac hue; you won’t miss it against the rich red landscape. Enjoy a classic steak sandwich, beef burger or chicken parmigiana, washed down with a refreshing ale.
After 50 more minutes on the road, you’ll reach Karumba, where the Outback’s most northern pub lies. Pull up a chair at the Sunset Tavern for good food and stunning views of the sun setting over the tranquil waters.
End the day at the apartment-style accommodation End of the Road Motel, where the front yard is smack bang on the Normanton River. If you travelled with a caravan or camper, book a spot at the Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park for a site with a stellar view.
The journey home
Head back the way you came or, if you’re feeling adventurous, why not tackle this epic journey instead?
Keen for more Queensland road trip inspiration? Check out these other great Queensland drives.