Spending a fun filled week in Quilpie is easy. In the photo above, this Outback Queensland opal mining town is visible way off in the distance from landmark lookout ‘Baldy Top’ just out of town. But just because it (almost) disappears into the distance from any vantage point doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do there.
About 955 km (593 miles) east of Brisbane on the fully sealed Warrego Highway, Quilpie is what’s known as ‘getting away from it all’. There’s a variety of accommodation, including the Channel Country caravan park. We’ve stayed there every time we’ve visited Quilpie – and it’s not just because of the hot artesian spas. No, really!!
Day 1 – Introduction to Quilpie
Take some time to explore Quilpie the day you arrive. We walked from the caravan park into town, the best way to start to get a feel for the town. There are a number of places to check out in the town itself:
- excellent Visitor Information Centre, museum and art gallery;
- opal pulpit at St Finbar’s church;
- main street shops – especially for opals;
- end of the railway line;
- ‘Off Shears’ bakery (run by a world champ female shearer);
- other eateries – pub, club, cafes;
Of course after all that walking, there’s only one thing left to explore – the artesian spas at the caravan park. We got to know them very well while staying in Quilpie.
Day 2 – Take a Tour
Take the 400 km (248 mile) mail delivery run to around 10 remote station properties in the heart of ‘Kings in Grass Castles’ country. Because it’s an actual mail run, the journey is not really a tour but it certainly feels like one with an early start, and an all-day itinerary. On our trip, we stopped at ‘Alaric’ (Vietnam veterans retreat) and Canaway Downs station in the higher country. As we passed the Trinidad station boundary fence, our driver contacted the station homestead via radio so our morning tea scones would be fresh from the oven when we arrived at the homestead 15 minutes later!
After morning tea, we toured the amazing Trinidad garden, featured in a book about outback Queensland gardens, and viewed its nearby plane wreck. A few stations later, we returned to Quilpie via ‘Thyalungra’ (the actual ‘Kings in Grass Castles’ property). While it was sad to see the 10-stand shearing shed lying unused at the time, the property was restocked with sheep and is still operating.
For a real taste of the outback, this ‘real’ tour is a must, and can be booked from the caravan park.
And there’s nothing quite like a spa after a hard day on the road!
The Channel Country caravan park also offers another tour option – ‘Do Birdsville the Easy Way’. Leave your caravan in Quilpie, fly to Birdsville and tour the area. Stay overnight in Birdsville, then fly back to Quilpie.
Day 3 – Close to Quilpie
There is still more to see and do close by to Quilpie. Lake Houdraman, while on private property, has campsites, fishing and birdwatching. It’s not far out of town across the river. On the way back, follow the loop trail along the river bank for more birdwatching (we saw wild budgies, and heard the elusive western gerygone amongst other things) then check out the river on the other side of the road! Some beautiful spots, and more camp sites.
Do anything that you missed from Day 1 – the art gallery has a new exhibition each month, and there was also one at the pub while we were there.
In the evening, don’t miss a walk up ‘Baldy Top’ for great views across the plains, and an outback sunset. The condom we found up there gives a clue as to what at least two locals found to do there! This 360 degree panorama underlines the remoteness of the countryside with the Quilpie township almost into the scrub. There’s free camping out here as well amongst the flies, sandflies and mosquitoes.
But don’t take my word for it – check them out for yourself!!
Day 4 – Opal Mining Frenzy
Staying at the caravan park gives you free entry to the exotically named ‘Deuces Wild’ opal mining lease with the chance to find some ‘colour’ (local lingo for ‘opal’). It’s also an opportunity to bury yourself in the depths of the outback with NO phone coverage and NO way of contacting anyone if anything goes wrong, except by emergency radio – if you have one. Sounds inviting, huh?
Registering with the caravan park for a day at the mining lease is mandatory. The caravan park will organise a rescue party for which you’ll foot the bill if you’re not back by a set time. That’s a great incentive to remember to check in when you return.
Despite the daunting but thrilling thought of being totally incommunicado for a day, the drive past oil donkeys (just like being on the set of ‘Dallas’), scrub and wide open places to get to the lease is part of the day out. The moonscape that is the claim is fascinating, with piles of rock, mud, gravel and water lying about. There are also random people coming and going in the near and middle distance – just suppress those thoughts of Aussie horror movies!
Much of the ‘colour’ we found was from other miners’ discards around the parking area. That should give an insight into our quality standards. We left in good time to meet our return deadline and hit the spa again! Serious fossickers can get a license and head out to the Duck Creek and Sheep Station Creek fossicking areas, but for us, the rocks we had were quite heavy enough, especially considering their relative lack of value …
Day 5 – Eromanga
Who doesn’t want to be the furthest it’s possible to be from the sea in Australia? An easy drive west to Eromanga will give you that unique experience, as claimed by the locals. There’s also an excellent museum (get the keys from the pub), along with the pub, caravan park, cafe and ‘Opalopolis Park’, a great rest area decorated with local boulder opal right next to the outdoor museum.
The Eromanga area produces the largest volume of oil in the country, and Australia’s largest dinosaur bones have been found here. With the opal mining, this makes up an odd trio of regional attractions.
Day 6 – Another day in Quilpie
It can be restful to hang around Quilpie, fossicking in the public fossicking area, buying those souvenir opals (what? No ‘keepers’ or ‘cutters’ at Deuces Wild??) and revisiting the bakery.
You probably found, as we did, that anything other than a plain pie has been sold from the bakery by 12-ish, so the earlier you get there, the better!
The morning tea experience can also be worthwhile there, Pilchard managed to turn a massive Apple turnover with fresh cream into something closely resembling a plate of fresh roadkill while trying to eat it. The owner told us it was ‘good to see you’re getting your vitamin C’ (cream in case you missed it), and she was right.
Day 7 – Further Afield
A day trip to Toompine, Adavale and/or Cheepie, the other Quilpie shire towns, rounds out the week nicely. Which one to visit? Well … it depends if you’re interested in fishing, museums, Cobb & Co history, a pub lunch, or giant beer cans! We took the Toompine road and have never seen so many emus in one spot!!
Toompine itself makes an interesting day trip, especially if you get lucky as we did with a brilliant morning tea at the local pub.
There are also two national parks – Mariala and Idalia – in the area, where bush camping with a permit is available, along with outdoor activities like bushwalking and birdwatching.
Quilpie is a great place to experience the Queensland Outback. There are lots of things to do in Quilpie and the surrounding area, so make sure you leave enough time to discover it all!