Australia’s Gold Coast recently saw an influx of tourists, thanks to the Commonwealth Games, but there’s much more to explore by going inland.
The interior of the vast state of Queensland can be a daunting prospect. The distances between towns are huge and the accommodation and attractions can be hit and miss.
But on a recent trip to central Queensland, I found what awaits is stunning and far more memorable than just another trip to the beach.
Our group flew into Longreach and from there, explored the interior of central western Queensland over four days by road.
We meet Rob Chandler, the mayor of Barcaldine (or as everyone affectionately calls the town, Barcy), for lunch at the Commercial.
There’s a lunch gathering, with local women listening to a talk about Florence Nightingale. I enjoy a pub meal of fish and chips (even though we are 440km from the coast, at Rockhampton) and after lunch we go to the town’s main claim to fame: the Tree of Knowledge, birthplace of the Labor party and location for the first Australian shearers’ strike.
Unfortunately the tree had seen better days. In 2006, a local illegally poisoned it. Now it is more of a stump than a tree – although the town has made a wonderful monument to the tree in the form of a giant wood wind chime, which you can hear down the quiet Main Street as the wind blows through town.
From Barcaldine, our real outback adventure begins when we are picked up in a mud-flecked car by station owner Deon Stent-Smith and driven to his family’s sheep station, Shandonvale.
This part of Australia has been in a seven-year drought and it shows – the road (it’s a 90-minute drive to Deon’s property) is dusty and parched, although there are occasional green tufts from recent rain and mobs of kangaroos can be seen bouncing in the distance. Outside the air is warm and dry.
The conditions are harsh but the accommodation at Shandonvale certainly isn’t. While it is a working outback station, much care and attention to detail has been made to the hospitality side of the business: our rooms in the old shearer’s quarters manage to be both fancy and down-to-earth.
In each shearer’s “cell”, there is a unique bedhead made from wood from the property. The view from my window is miles and miles of farmland.
The accommodation would suit groups, couples or families. As well as comfortable bedrooms, there’s a fantastic kitchen, an old-fashioned bathtub and a hammock on the porch.
Deon and his wife Lane deliver us a breakfast basket of produce from their farm. There are fresh eggs, milk from the property’s cows and homemade bread.
All this for $170 a night. It’s a bargain – particularly when you consider that when you book Shandonvale you have the whole of the accommodation to you and your group.
For a bit extra you can take a helicopter tour of the property and beyond (we fly towards Lake Galilee) or be the passenger in some hair-raising heli-mustering. In the small, windowless chopper, we fly close to the ground, herding groups of camels and sheep.
So what else is there to do on a sheep station? Plenty.
In our two nights and three days at Shandonvale, we spend time with animals that Lane has rescued – including a very large and friendly baby camel. We ride around the 15,000 acres in buggies chasing kangaroos, have an after-dinner get together in front of a huge bonfire, and take a “spa” in the platform that Deon has rigged up. The hot tub uses warm natural mineral springs from the property and is a perfect place to watch the sun go down over the river. Deon has also created a gorgeous little bar/boatshed on the river and on our first night we had a lovely evening there and watched the sunset.
All food is provided at the station with Deon cooking amazing meals from produce grown at the property. The couple have a dream of being almost completely self-sufficient, and are well on the way.
It was with reluctance we leave Deon and Lane for Longreach. It has been a very fun, very busy couple of days on the property, yet the vast open spaces are curiously relaxing. When we get to Longreach, it seems like a busy city in comparison.
Accommodation at Shandonvale station starts from $170 per person.
There’s plenty to do in Longreach and tourism in the town is thriving.
We stay at the homestead stables at Kinnon and Co accommodation, which has been kitted out to great effect in Australian outback gear.
The very cool and comfortable rooms in the old stables feature corrugated iron and timber fittings, and there’s also an outdoor terrace bath. Kinnon and Co is few minutes walk from the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Qantas Founders Museum.
The outback vibe is completed when we hear the sounds nearby of a country music concert. It’s country and western star Lee Kernaghan doing a warm-up for his gig later that night in honour of the Queen’s baton relay, which was passing through outback Queensland before the Commonwealth Games.
But we have a date with the sunset. A local farmer called Daniel Walker - who runs tours of the area under the name Outback Dan - kindly lets us visit his family’s old homestead, which was built in 1927 and has hosted Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
Accommodation at Kinnon and Co in Longreach, Queensland, starts at $180 per stable per night. Prices for Outback Aussie tours vary. Admission to the Stockman’s Hall of Fame is $32 for adults and $15 for children, while admission to the Qantas Founders museum is $28 for adults and $18 for children.
Emirates Airline flies to Brisbane from where you can take a Quantas flight to Longreach.
The next day we leave Longreach for the town of Winton – around a two-hour drive. Winton is a great surprise. It’s quirky and very photogenic. It resembles a movie set – and the town itself has strong ties with movie making (it hosts film festivals and was used as a set for numerous Australian films including The Proposition and Ivan Sen’s Mystery Road).
We visit an old outdoor cinema and the fantastic Art Deco pub the North Gregory hotel, and from there it’s on to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum.
The museum was built after farmer David Elliot stumbled upon a leg bone from a Cretaceous sauropod while mustering sheep on his farm near Winton in 1999. Land was donated where the museum now sits, and a team of employees and volunteers continue to dig for and sort bones found on the property.
The museum houses the world’s largest collection of Australian fossils and is expanding its space and scope. It’s not just an important collection, but interactive and fun. You can talk to technicians as they’re cleaning dinosaur bones hundreds of millions of years old.
Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum, adult tickets from $55, child tickets from $30 and family tickets from from $115.
Guardian.co.uk (c) Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2018