HUGHENDEN ... central QLD
It's not all about dinosaurs out here !!
It was explorers Landsborough and Walker who first set their eyes on vast open grasslands in the harsh basalt country north of Hughenden, while they were on a rescue mission for the ill-fated Burke and Wills team. It was when they return to civilisation that much interest was sparked from their journal log, they wrote, ‘ rolling grasslands that seemed to go on forever’.
Hughenden in north Queensland was then settled in 1863 by a Mr Earnest Henry who started a sheep empire in the area, on the banks of the Flinders River. But it was years later in 1876 that a hotel was built for passing trade on their way to the Cloncurry mining fields. In the following years, the town grew and it would become an important railhead for the outback.
Even settlement on the banks of the Flinders River was a feat in itself, where the vast river is dry for most of the year. Ironically it's Queensland's longest river which flows into the Gulf of Carpentaria and flows in the wetter months of the year.
For this, deep bores have been sunk into the Great Artesian Basin below for year-round water. The river starts east of Hughenden and flows for 1000 km before it empties out to Karumba in the Gulf it was named by Captain Stokes in 1841 in honour of Mathew Flinders.
These days Hughenden attracts tourists for many reasons within the town and the vast surrounding areas. History goes back for millions of years when this area was covered by a huge inland sea and where the prehistoric history dates to 100 million years ago.
Hughenden was on the edge of the sea and was home to many marine reptiles with the first fossil being found back in 1865. Today the town is part of the Dinosaur triangle which links Winton and Richmond with world-class fossil finds.
There’s a discovery centre that houses an amazing range of fossils ( currently over 3,000 ), where its star attraction ‘Hughie’, a life-size replica of a Muttaburrasaurus is on display. To truly understand the whole ancient inland sea, the animals that roamed the shore and just what happened all those years ago, it's best to visit all three centres.
Also in town, there are eco walks around the town's lake, the federation rotunda made from two 20-foot Comet windmills, the historic Coolabah Tree and peg that was blazed by explorers Walker and Landsborough, self-guided cemetery tour where headstones date back to 1886 and the lone Hebrew grave of Jeanette Tolano in the original cemetery, who passed away in 1883 while giving birth. Jeanette and her child’s grave remains on the old site, and they were never moved due to religious beliefs.
NORTH OF HUGHENDEN
After getting a town fix, one of the best areas to see and explore ancient landscapes is to head 70 km north of Hughenden up the KDR to Porcupine Gorge.
Created 500 million years ago, the weathered gorge and mountains need to be seen, in fact, it's possible to camp in the National Park and explore the gorge on foot. The Pyramid walking track ventures deep into the gorge where after millions of years of weathering, the soft sandstone has worn away leaving layers of sedimentary rock at the bottom. The hike to the bottom of the gorge is well and truly worth it to see the rock formations, the pure size of the gorge and to jump in the water holes before the hike back out.
Further north in BlackBrae National park, it's possible to drive to the base of weathered-down volcanoes and hike to the basalt rim to gaze inside and wonder why out here.
Nearby at the eerie Moonstone Hill, where bush camping is allowed and gems can be found, the vast savannah grasslands extend for miles in every direction.
SOUTH OF HUGHENDEN
To the south of town, Mount Walker, named by explorer William Landsborough seems like a towering sandstone tabletop mountain when compared to the surrounding flat landscape. There’s a series of six lookouts on the mountain, all giving a different perspective of the area, why it was named and what’s below. The views are worth the drive at least once on your visit.
Hughenden is unique in that after millions of years, huge basalt walls have been left behind from exploding volcanoes millions of years ago. The Basalt Byway 4wd track loops around the town between different landscapes that include rich nutritious valleys, over long and high basalt walls and across endless grass plains with silver-leafed Acacia trees shining in the sun.
The basalt walls are ancient lava falls that are typically formed from the first lava to be blown out of volcanos. The track crosses the Flinders River and on the higher plateaus, there are some pretty good views in all directions.
HEADING AWAY FROM HUGHENDEN
Getting away from town, I wanted to explore both the Kooroorinya nature reserve as well as Moorrinya National park to the southeast. The turn-off to both is at Prairie about 44km east of Hughenden.
Prairie was once a horse changeover for Cobb & Co coaches before the rail came through in 1887. Today the pub is packed with memorabilia inside and out from, ‘back in the day. It’s said that you can still feel and hear the ghost of the old ringer who sometimes prowls this pub at night that was a frequent customer in the early 1930s.
Heading south of Prairie down Muttaburra Road, Kooroorinya nature reserve is an expected surprise. This land package was donated to the locals from a nearby property that set up a bush-style type horse racing complex but with some pretty cool campsites.
Once a year the reserve comes alive with amateur picnic races each May but when the races aren’t on it's the perfect place to stop and wind down. Kooroorinya has a wide and spectacular waterfall in the wetter months ( ask the caretaker to show you some photos ), yet in the drier times, it still holds a vast amount of water in the deep secluded billabongs.
Leaving here it's only about an hour across to Moorrinya in the heart of the Desert Uplands, where this National Park protects 18 land types of trees in the lake Eyre Basin. Once a huge sheep station, known as Shirley Station it now has a historical listing. Camping by permit is allowed here, but it's remote and isolated so def be prepared.
The sheds that have been lightly restored ( for self-preservation) stand like the shearers and workers have just walked out. Sheep yards, stalls, sorting tables and the huge monkey press are still in good condition.
There's also the shearer's quarters, work rooms, dip and more to wander through. Inside the sheds and shearing runs, the old gear and tools are weathering well, probably due to a lack of moisture and isolation that hopefully will last a few more years.
So while Hughenden might seem like a quick stopover towards the gulf or outback, there's definitely more than what meets the eye in this outback town.
Hughenden is 1430 km northwest of Brisbane in the Flinders shire. With a population of 1200 people, it's a popular tourist destination as well as a true outback cattle town. Major highways connect Hughenden in all directions, there are bus, train and air services. Settled on the banks of the Flinders River back in 1863, the town has preserved its heritage well.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Hughenden is surrounded by National Parks, history and prehistoric attractions. Once covered by an inland sea, 100 million years ago, Hughenden is now part of the dinosaur triangle. Travellers can hike into ancient gorges, visit volcano remnants, explore the dinosaur trail plus camp in some pretty unique places. Around the shire, there’s heritage listed shearing stations, turn-of-the-century pubs, eco walks, and other self-guided tours.
Right in the centre of Hughenden, the Discovery centre which acts as the tourist info office and part of the dinosaur trail stopover has all the right advice and brochures for the shire. They can be found online at www.visithughenden.com.au.