Our plan to head to Quilpie, in the far south-west of Queensland, was put on hold due to an unseasonal rain event. So we spent an extra night at Windorah before setting off, only a day behind schedule.
Quilpie is the service centre for the shire, which covers 67,482sq km. It’s 246km south-east of Windorah and, generally, the roads around the western river flats are black soil while the countryside is red – it’s quite a contrast.
The Quilpie area was opened up by the pioneering Durack (of Kings in Grass Castles fame), Costello and Tully families who introduced cattle to the area in the 1870s. The area supplies most of the world’s boulder opal, which has a backing of ironstone making it very durable and beautiful. There are several opal shops around town.
Our first stop was at the visitor centre which includes a museum with some wonderful old photographs and a gallery. Check out the interesting park next door while you’re there. After obtaining the information we needed, we booked into the Channel Country Tourist Park. When we arrived, the van park roads were still muddy from the rain, as were the roads into some of the attractions in the area, such as Lake Houdraman and Baldy Top Lookout.
Most sites at the park have slabs and the managers try to keep the sites well-grassed. Many have hedges for privacy and shady trees. Power, water and sullage are behind your site, as is a dump point into town sewerage – the first time we have seen dump points for each site. The amenities block had been upgraded since our last visit, and this is now very pleasant to use.
The Channel Country Tourist Park has three thermal artesian spas, usually set at 36-38°. We loved a relaxing soak in the outdoor spa before heading to bed. During the tourist season, a campfire is lit each evening and you can cook a camp oven dinner here or use the camp kitchen close by. We had good reception on our Telstra 4G broadband as well as good TV reception, but the signal is vertical so we had to adjust our antenna.
The park takes bookings for a full day trip with the outback mailman that are very popular and you need to book ahead. During the tourist season, you can also hire kayaks to paddle up the Bulloo River.
While you’re in Quilpie, visit the airport to find out about pilot Amy Johnson’s connection with the town, and check out the Powerhouse Museum. There’s a free town bus tour that runs bi-weekly. We also visited the iconic St Finbarr’s Church, where you will see the magnificent boulder opal lectern, font and alter. There are also stained glass windows donated by Bill and Mary Durack, who is the author of Kings in Grass Castles.
From Quilpie, it’s about 106km west to Eromanga, which is famous for being the furthest town in Australia from the sea. Most of the road is single lane bitumen with several overtaking lanes, and we saw very little traffic and only two cattle trucks. On the way, you see hectares of dead gidyea trees on the left, which we were told were killed by a locust plague. Closer to Eromanga, we saw our first oil well.
The small caravan park is at the rear of the motel, which sells meals in a cafe. There are about eight powered sites, arranged around two power boxes, with a couple of trees giving good shade. The water quality was surprisingly good and the amenities were what we expected for an outback area.
There is a lot of history to the old Royal Hotel, built in 1885, and you can read this on the bar wall.
A local in the pub told us about some old, unmarked Aboriginal wells about 6km south of town, which we went to take a look at. We thought these were better preserved than the ones near Jundah.
There are still many boulder opal mines in the area and when you visit Opalopolis Park next to the museum you will find a mural that shows the roads, Cobb and Co routes, opal mines, native wells and oil wells in the area. The park also contains a mining memorial inlaid with opal, and barbecues and picnic tables.
The Eromanga Living History Centre museum is a must see. As well as many objects of interest and historic photos, there is an excellent short video made by locals describing the history of Eromanga. The key is kept at the pub.
In 2004, a dinosaur bone fossil was found near Eromanga. Further excavation uncovered more fossils of what is the largest known dinosaur to have lived in Australia, named ‘Cooper’, after the area where it was discovered. It was estimated to be around 26m-long and lived around 98 million years ago. Eromanga is a very rich dinosaur fossil area, and there are many sites listed for excavation. You can see the fossils on a property near Eromanga where palaeontologists are working on their finds.
The next stage of our journey, also on mostly single lane roads, took us around 180km to Noccundra. About half-way along, after traversing flat, parched country with little vegetation, the country begins to change and becomes undulating, with stunted mulga and saltbush. We saw a large number of wedge-tailed eagles, and at one stage we saw two wedge-tails, several crows and a feral cat, all eating from the same large dead ‘roo. There were also brolgas, emus, galahs and falcons.
We decided to have dinner in the dining room of the pub, where we could absorb the atmosphere of days long ago when the Cobb and Co coaches stopped there. Built in 1882, a feature of this hotel is the low doorways which we were told were built that way to stop stockman riding their horses in. The Noccundra Hotel claims to be the second oldest hotel in Queensland to have been continuously licensed since being built, and you can admire the large sandstone blocks used in construction, brought up by camel train from New South Wales.
This is a special spot for us and it contains a lot of history, a great iconic pub, and a wonderful peaceful camping area that is accessible to a standard car and caravan. Just take care when passing other vehicles, although we saw very little traffic on this whole trip.
- A pleasant outback trip, all on sealed roads
- Opal fossicking
- Fishing for yellow belly and yabbies
- Historic pubs
Quilpie is 950km west of Brisbane. From Quilpie, it’s 106km west to Eromanga and, from there, it’s a further 180km south to Noccundra.
- Stop for a meal at one of the historic pubs and learn about the history of the area from the locals.
- Do some opal fossicking at the public fossicking area in Quilpie.
- Explore the riverside walks, fish in the river and spot some of the many native animals, birds and flora.
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #542 October 2015.