WYZA® reader Phil Hawkes shares his experience of exploring outback Queensland – from Quilpie to Eromanga.
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“There’s nothing to do in Quilpie!”
That’s what several friends who have been outback all the way to Birdsville and beyond, said when I told them my plans for a road trip from Brisbane. “It’s a boring highway getting to Quilpie and there’s nothing exciting happening except for the counter teas at the old Imperial Hotel,” they added.
That seemed to be the sum of their own experience, not too promising. Nevertheless we decided to give it a go and the result was anything but dull. If you throw nearby Eromanga and then Windorah into the mix, there’s so much to see and do in that area that we’d willingly go back again.
First, Quilpie, which locals describes as “Simply Unique”. That may be a stretch but this small town in the Channel Country has a definite friendly vibe and all the essential services for the traveller. There’s even a couple of coffee shops with good coffee, which is a pleasant surprise if you’ve been drinking only Nescafe in your caravan!
Quilpie is famous for its boulder opal mining industry and there’s a beautiful altar at St. Finbarr’s Church made from a collage of boulder opals. You can also go fossicking and maybe get lucky. It’s a fun thing to do and a good reason to stay around for a few days.
The altar at St Finbarrs is covered with stunning opals
The Heritage Hotel in the main street is being painstakingly restored by owner Troy Minnett who also runs the nearby caravan park. The hotel rooms are comfortable with aircon, flat TV and a decent shower, and there’s a convivial bar as well as a wide verandah overlooking the street. Troy can also book you on an Eromanga Tour to see the dinosaur fossils, or on one of two mail runs to see the “real outback”. Highly recommended.
Phil Hawkes hit the road to explore something different from the typical Queensland landscape
The Quilpie Visitor Information Centre, Gallery and Museum has daily town tours which take you to Baldy Top lookout and Lake Houdraman with its abundant bird life. Upcoming events include the Polocrosse Carnival 25-26 June; the Quilpie Fringe Festival 1-2 July; and the Quilpie Show and Rodeo on 10 September. Troy says that visitors often stop in Quilpie for a night or two and then stay for a week. There is plenty to do!
Next, Eromanga. It’s just 108 kms from Quilpie and has suddenly become famous because of an extraordinary find. . . dinosaur fossils from 95-98 million years ago. These include the bones of the biggest dinosaur yet discovered in Australia, a Titanosaur named Cooper after his final resting place in the Cooper Basin.
The Royal Hotel in Eromanga holds a rustic charm
To add to the prehistoric mystery, at nearby Eulo there have been discoveries of megasaurs, large creatures such as Kenny the Diprotodon. These are all displayed in a brand new building, the Eromanga Natural History Museum which is an absolute must if you’re out that way. Robyn Mackenzie, whose son made the first dinosaur discovery, is extremely knowledgeable and together with her passionate staff will enthral you with a guided tour.
In Eromanga there’s also the fascinating Natural History Centre and also the Royal Hotel for a counter lunch with the chance to meet colourful locals such as “Giggles” who is an opal miner and a great storyteller. Eromanga is a real outback gem.
'Giggles' is an opal miner and one of the friendly locals in Eromanga
Last stop on the mostly unsealed road to Birdsville is Windorah another friendly, meet-the-locals kind of place. The Western Star Hotel is the social hub of the district and you’re welcome to introduce yourself to locals such as station owners and workers, a teacher, the local cop, an Indigenous elder and various blow-ins over lunch or if you’re lucky, an evening BBQ with excellent food.
The Western Star has comfortable motel-style rooms and a camping area, and has won the “Best Outback Hotel” award for the last two years. Managers Marilyn and Ian Simpson exemplify true outback hospitality.
Maureen and Helen at the Visitor Information Centre can arrange for local tours around Cooper’s Creek and the red sandhills, or get Jeff to take you out yabbying.
And the Outback Store opposite the pub sells the best home-made relishes and preserves you’ll find anywhere. We tried Kim’s tomato relish and it’s almost worth a trip back to Windorah to get some more.
Windorah was named by the local Indigenous people and means Big Fish
Seeing this beautiful part of the country has given us a taste of the real outback and we’re already thinking about the next trip, and the characters we’ll meet – including Cooper and Kenny.
Top travel tip
Short of time? You can fly part of the way on Rex Aviation, for example Brisbane or Toowoomba to Charleville, then rent a car for the remaining journey. For an alternative idea is to drive the sealed road to Windorah, leave your car/caravan there and then fly on to Birdsville with Rex, thus avoiding rougher (and flood prone) surfaces.
(Featured image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
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About the writer
Phil Hawkes has always been an inveterate traveller. He boarded with a French family in New Caledonia on a scholarship, gained an Arts degree from Melbourne University and at the age of 24, jumped off to see the world. Two overland trips from Australia to Europe as a backpacker saw him travelling 3rd class rail all around India together with unrepeatable experiences in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey. . . not recommended today. His early career in advertising and later, airlines, hotels and tourism marketing took him to jobs in Sydney, Melbourne, London, New York and Asia, with 25 years based in Hong Kong. Phil is married with two children and now occupies himself with writing about travel and life experiences, including a stint in Cambodia with the monks teaching English as a volunteer. He also hosts a regular jazz programme on local radio station 94.1 FM Gold Coast.