Updated: Mar 30
Outback Queensland can be as harsh or as easy as you want it to be, but it's always surprising to be able to blend these occasionally. We wanted to head out to Winton in far western QLD to check out part of the Dinosaur trail that has become well known right around the world as the Dinosaur capital of Australia.
There are 4 parts to the trail, two are located in Winton which is 1150 km west of Brisbane and the other two are further north at Richmond and Hughenden. The Australian age of
Dinosaur museum, 25 km southeast of town has the largest display in the world of Aussie dinosaur bones plus you can check out the lab where they clean the bones for display.
The other Winton spot is Lark Quarry about 110 km southwest where you can see dinosaur footprints impregnated in mud from a stampede that occurred millions of years ago.
Winton has some fascinating history within the shire and unofficially it seems to be the gateway too far western Queensland and beyond. If you're like us and wanted to check out what’s in the town there are a couple of caravan parks in the town's limits so you can explore the town on foot.
Within walking distance there's a chance to check out a couple of cool old pubs which date back to 1895, Arno’s wall which is a huge man-made wall with quirky stuff cemented in it including the kitchen sink, then there’s the Waltzing Matilda museum, opal stores and more.
Being interested in opal we found that there are working opal fields and a ‘town’ 125 km south of Winton that is steeped in history and of course, you can still find a little colour if you search in the right places, but first we need to get there.
Being so remote you’ll need to stock up at Winton to be self-sufficient and be comfortable in remote conditions as there is no phone service, very limited fuel ( carry enough for a good 400 km ), no shops and for the majority of this loop any kind of help.
It's only 10 km out of Winton where the tar ends and the wide dirt roads begin for the trip down to Opalton. Being outback QLD the countryside is fairly flat with the occasional jump or rise where you’ll have views for the next stint in your relentless journey south over millions of corrugations.
The scrub is low Mulga trees with scatterings of Silver leafed Ironbark across the plains with Mitchell grass covering the ground. Back in 1888 ( that’s 131 years ago ) the first opal was found in the area by George Cragg and a few years later the first mine was sunk.
It was at this time the largest piece was ever found and being recorded as nearly 3 metres long and like a section of pipe. By 1900 600 plus people were living down here and it was known for the quality and quantity of the precious rock. Today the town has dwindled to a
handful of tough men and women who are still searching for ‘that’ payload.
Opalton is also known for boulder opal which forms in the shape of an egg, where over time minerals pass-through this shape forming opal colour inside. Opalton isn’t much these days from what you can see from the road, a few shanty shacks and old relics here and there but that’s the way locals like it, to be hidden away and not to be found.
Camping at the Opalton bush camp for a measly ( $3 pn ) is pretty cool where you can set up camp, use the bush kitchen and if you light up the old donkey heater there are hot showers.
We found that if there are a few campers around everybody kicks in to help collect wood and take turns in lighting up the boiler. Normally around these areas scratching around on other people's property is a no goer, but most mornings a local will come down to the bush camping area, get a group together for a free tour around the area, then you’ll be shown around old abandoned mines and how they worked, history on the area, old camps and taken to places where you can scratch around for opal - all for free !!.
You’ll get to see where the current miners are only allowed to use hand tools ( no large scale
machinery ), unique buildings and where the original town used to be over 100 years ago.
Today the ‘old town’ is just a few relics-signs suggest where things used to be like the general store, school, butcher shop and miner houses. To get here today it takes a good two hours by 4wd but just imagine getting there 130 years ago, it must off been one hell of an adventure walking into what would seem the middle of nowhere.
It’s a bloody harsh environment around Opalton where months go by with no rainfall, plus combine this with summer temps getting towards the 50' mark you’ll see why the landscape is so baron year round.
Once a week all the locals ( about 25 wish ) gather at the bush camp for the weekly mail run and a get together for the morning. Most of the miner's camps are scattered over a hundred square kilometre radius. It’s a close-knit community where even though they might not catch up for over a week, they all seem to know what’s going on around the place.
The Queensland Dept of Mines set aside a few acres behind the camping area where anyone can noodle ( look for rocks ) or fossick. The best way is to take a spray bottle of water and stay the rocks to see if they produce any colour, and bingo - you've found opal.
After spending a few days here in town and wanting to check out the Age of Dinosaur discovery centre, we headed further south towards Opalton Creek which is the only area around where heavy-duty machinery can be used.
Huge bulldozers carving away at hills and taking the tops off mountains looking for bucket loads of colour, but this comes with a high operating cost too. The road south is a prettier
one than the road coming into Opalton where there are wide creek crossings with huge white gums lining the creek sucking up the water from years of rain, and what seems like millions of termite mounds both white and red cover the remaining flat grounds.
An hour south of Opalton along Opalton Road is Mayneside station, where you can head into the area to check out the heritage-listed ruins. It’s here also where you need to head north up towards Winton, something like a big V road trip back up Jundah Road.
In the blink of an eye the surroundings change to dry and dusty open areas that have little or no vegetation where over the years livestock have run and decimated the whole area.
If you run a good quality GPS keep an eye out for where you pass over the Tropic of Capricorn along the way, there are no signs on the road but it's a bit of a quirky spot to stop for a quick snap.
For the next hour, Jundah Road is flat and seems like another never-ending desolated dirt road where the only colour around is red gibber rock under hardened Mulga trees. Animal life out here is sporadic depending on the seasons, we didn’t see any roo’s and only a few crows along the way probably due to the severe drought that has been in this area for a couple of years.
Not long and you’ll start coming into a few larger jump up sections where moisture gathers and the landscape changes to taller trees and what seems like tall grasses, but this Mitchell grass is high in nutrition for livestock.
Lark Quarry Dinosaur Trackway is located on this higher ground and is only a few miles off the main road. This is one place that needs to be on the bucket list as it's the only place in Australia where a Dinosaur stampede has been discovered.
It’s a commercialised place where you can have a feed, coffee and buy those cheap overseas souvenirs but seeing this place and what has been discovered is a must do. Once inside there’s a short video on how scientists think the stampede happened and then you are taken inside a specially built shed where you can view the footprints in the dried mud.
Volunteers run the show out here and are a wealth of info on this area and anything to do with the stampede. If you're lucky enough to visit all four of the dinosaur trail setups it's another piece of the puzzle when you watch the videos linking Australia's prehistoric past when these mega monsters walked the earth back in the Gondwana times.
Heading out of Lark Quarry up to Winton is still another 2 hours of rough undulating outback roads where you’ll need to find your comfortable speed. The whole trip is camper trailer doable but you’ll need to be prepared for a good 400 km of outback roads that rarely see any maintenance.
If you’ve got a little time up your sleeve for outback QLD, this is a great way to spend a week discovering prehistoric dinosaur history and the amazing mining life that once was.