The long drought is devastating areas of western Queensland so, while travelling through the region, we decided to write a series of stories highlighting the reasons why this region is worth putting on your itinerary.
Caravanners can bring much-needed cash into struggling towns by spending money at the local stores, service stations and van parks – something worth considering when deciding on your next route. This trip took us from Blackall to Ilfracombe via Isisford, where there are plenty of attractions that make these towns worthy of a visit.
We started in Blackall, around 1000km north-west of Brisbane. The town has two small supermarkets and most services you would expect in a country town of this size, including tyres, two service stations, mechanical repairs, doctors, a hospital and a chemist. I had a quality leather belt made in town by the Scobie Saddler for a very reasonable price and it was good to be able to support a local business.
On arriving in Blackall, you should call in to the visitor information centre in Ram Park. This is an attraction on its own, so allow some time to wander around. Our next port of call was to the historic woolscour, which is the only fully-operational steam-powered wool washing plant in the country. Wool scouring started there in 1908, so it gives an interesting insight into the history of the sheep industry. There are tours every day and, while you are there, check out the open artesian bore, where water pours into a pool next to which some friendly sheep graze.
While you are checking things out, also visit the Jack Howe historic display. Jack was a legendary shearer, best-known for having shorn 321 sheep with hand shears in one day.
Another favourite of ours is the Blackall Aquatic Centre. There is a large hot artesian spa, set at 36°C when we called, as well as a 50m Olympic-size pool, set at 29°C. Ahhh...
We spent quite some time resting and relaxing in the spa before dinner.
All town water is supplied direct from the artesian basin. Usually it comes from the tap warm and it has the typical sulphur smell, but the smell dissipates on standing and it is quite drinkable.
The Blackall Caravan Park has concrete pads and most sites have some shade. Every day from May until September, they serve camp oven dinners, usually with some form of entertainment. These are good value and very popular. The van park has free wi-fi and barbecues. We had good reception on our own Telstra 4G mobile phone, wi-fi and TV.
Blackall has many other attractions and really warrants a story on its own, but this journey took us onwards to Isisford.
The 124km drive to Isisford is now double-lane bitumen, and we made an early start, leaving at 7.30am. We saw many kangaroos on the road (both dead and alive) and two dead pigs, so take care. We also saw two large rams, bustards, wedge-tailed eagles, brown falcons, black kites, emus and flocks of birds including the beautiful red-winged parrots.
Isisford was settled in the mid-1800s and has two pubs, the Outer Barcoo Interpretive Centre, a small general store, a gift shop and several historic buildings, including the (now closed) butcher and baker. It has two scenic free camping areas and a few powered sites behind the pub.
We chose a good spot beside the weir on the Barcoo River within walking distance to town. The council has built toilets and a dump point and supplies treated town water, all for $3 per vehicle, per night. The other camping area is at the scenic Oma Waterhole, which has showers and toilets, but this is 16km out of town on a dirt road. Camp fees here are $3 as well. You do not need a 4WD to access these areas, but the campsites are on black soil and, if it rains, you may get stuck, so keep an eye on the weather.
We had a quiet night at the weir and I caught several large yabbies in my pot but no fish, although it’s a good spot for yellow belly in a normal season. To prepare the yabbies, we first put them in the fridge where they go to sleep. We then cooked them in well-salted water with a pinch of sugar. Smaller ones take 7-8 minutes and large ones 10-12 minutes. A good sign they are cooked is when their back rises above the level of the water.
That night, we had a barbecue beside our van, watching our fire die down as the millions of stars came out. We slept very well.
The next day, we drove the 89km into Ilfracombe. This is mostly single lane bitumen with some overtaking areas, but it is quite suitable for any car and caravan combo. On this whole trip, we only found one offroad rest area with a shelter and it was on this stretch. Once again, be aware of roos, though there were not as many along here as we expected, as the severe drought means there is nothing to feed on along the roadside.
The town consists of the Ilfracombe Caravan Park, the Wellshot Centre and historic Wellshot Pub, a small general store that also sells fuel and great coffee, and several tourist attractions. We were checked into the caravan park by the very friendly owner Cathy Hitson. We have stayed in the park twice previously when we did a write up on the area, and found it a good place to base ourselves when we did a feature on Longreach, which is a only a 20-minute drive from Ilfracombe.
Most nights, Cathy and Jesse provide entertainment in the ‘happy hour shed’ and this is well-known on the caravanners’ grapevine. The shed seats about 40 people and is a great place to gather. In winter a fire is lit and, in the past, we have attended a wonderful camp oven dinner cooked by Jesse. This season, meals will be provided three nights a week, including spit roasts done in the impressive stainless steel spit roaster that arrived while we were at the park.
The sites have concrete pads, power, good water and sullage, and most have shade. There are two amenities blocks, one being ensuite-type, and a dump point. We had good reception on four TV channels and excellent Telstra wi-fi. We found the Ilfracombe Caravan Park quiet, friendly and a great place to spend a few days.
Ilfracombe has several attractions of interest to caravanners, and most are within walking distance of the van park. Check out the Great Machinery Mile, located on the highway from opposite the van park. This is a line-up of old farm machinery and equipment from times long gone, including old trucks and tractors. Also in this area are the museum and the Jackson Collections, which include old bottles and rifles.
We spent an afternoon walking around the interesting array of exhibits. Also close to the van park is the hot mineral spa and pool, which is a great spot to relax after your walk.
The Wellshot Centre is open most days and tells the story of the Wellshot Station which, in its day, was one of the world’s largest sheep and wool producers. It’s also worth visiting Hilton’s corner to see the display of 30,000 bottles and many other historic items. This is a display the whole family will enjoy.
About 20km south of the town is the Twelve Mile, where you will find thousands of natural flagstones that have been placed together to form a leak-proof reservoir.
Cathy Hitson runs a tour through one of the other local attractions, Langenbaker House, built in the 1880s and in its original condition, so ask at the van park. This tour is well-worth doing, as everything has been left exactly as it was, and Cathy tells the whole family history. The house is just a street away from the van park.
The Wellshot Hotel was also built in the 1880s and is located in the main street. Originally it was built in Aramac, but 10 years later it was dismantled and rebuilt on its present site. The old pub is under new ownership and has a new lease on life.
We urge our readers to add some of these drought-stricken western towns to their touring itinerary. The money we spend on fuel, souvenirs and supplies could just help some of the small businesses to survive until the rains come.
- An interesting trip with plenty of wildlife and outback history
- Fishing for yellow belly and yabbies in the weir and river
- Blackall to Isisford to Ilfracombe is part of a triangle from Blackall to Longreach, and is a good alternate route.
- Blackall to Isisford is 124km, Isisford to Ilfracombe is 89km and Ilfracombe is 27km east of Longreach.
- Swim in the hot artesian spa and pool
- Fish for yellow belly and yabbies
- View historic relics and buildings
- Take part in the entertainment and cookouts at the van parks and pubs
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #541 September 2015.