Outback road trip: Longreach-Tambo-Blackall in 5 days
You might look at an Outback Queensland map and wonder where on earth to start, but there are parts you can travel and get virtually the whole box and dice in just a few days.
An ideal place to do this is in the central west, and Longreach is the perfect place to start. In a short, five-day road trip from here, you can see some of the outback’s most famous icons, get onto a bit of gravel, stay in great pubs and meet bucket-loads of characters.
Up for the adventure? Here’s how to do it. This itinerary assumes you’re waking up on your first morning in Longreach, ready for action.
Day 1: Longreach
The Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame is an absolute icon so don’t miss it. Opened by the Queen in April 1988, many see it as THE heritage attraction in the west.
Themed galleries tell you all you need to know about the explorers, pioneers, pastoralists, stockmen and Aborigines who built this country. And if you call this wide brown land home, it’s where you’ll learn something about what it means to be Australian. Touring the hall should take you about three hours unless you’re a navel-gazer.
Too early for souvenirs? Don’t believe it. Tour operator Kinnon & Co.’s impressive Station Store and HQ in Eagle Street offers retail therapy in spades. If you can still afford lunch, try the RSL.
If the Outback Stockman’s Show (with dinner) is on – evening shows Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays – have a chat with grazier Daniel Webster at the gate to get a handle on real life in the bush.
Overnight at Albert Park Motor Inn. It’s well-kept and virtually next door to the Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders’ Museum. Don’t be surprised to see emus and roos grazing on the lawns.
Day 2: Longreach to Yaraka (215km)
You won’t have to do a lot of driving today, so you’ll have time to get into the outback state of mind by taking a morning walk along the Botanic Walkway, which shadows the southern side of the highway into town.
Word to the wise: Don’t use the drinking fountains in hot weather unless you want burned lips! The return trip is about 4km.
Head east out of town to Ilfracombe (27km) for an early lunch at the historic Wellshot Hotel, right on the highway. Publicans Ross and Jac Given have done up the hotel’s old shearers quarters into eight very comfortable rooms. They love talking about the pub’s history – it was moved to the spot by bullock wagon from Barcaldine in the late 19th century.
Driver alert: Unsealed roads coming up. Just after Ilfracombe, turn right and head for Isisford. From there, take the road south for Emmet (47km, 20 of it unsealed) and don’t expect signs of civilisation when you get there. Turn right for Yaraka.
Yaraka, population 22 at last count, is on the Outer Barcoo, which Banjo Paterson considered a near Godless place. But it’s got a pub – the Yaraka Hotel – so it’s not all bad. In fact, the pub IS the town, really, and its bar, run by publicans Chris and Gerry Gimblett, is an oasis and social focus. You’ll get a genuine outback welcome here, and you’ll find the outback start to take hold of you.
Ask about the sunset from nearby Mt Slocombe and the Gimblett’s will go into raptures and tell you how to see it. The views are superb and ancient, perhaps the best in the west.
Dinner and overnight Yaraka Hotel.
Day 3: Yaraka to Tambo (279km)
Drive back to Emmet and on to Blackall, a town steeped in shearing and wool industry history. Explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell passed through in 1846 and the town was formed in the 1860s. It has an artesian spa and is where you’ll find the original Black Stump.
Stop at the Ram Park Visitor Information Centre and ask for Stu Benson, a genuine character who will take you back in time and beguile you with his stories. If he offers to drive you around town, don’t refuse.
Try to get a couple of hours in at the Blackall Woolscour for a great heritage fix. Built in 1908, it’s Australia’s only remaining steam-driven wool washing plant, and its local historical association has done a great job in maintaining it. Look out for volunteer and Outback artist Bob ‘Willo’ Wilson, another lovely bush character.
Tambo, 100km down the road, was also founded on sheep and is said to be the oldest town (founded 1863) in western Queensland. It was first known as Carrangarra but was renamed Tambo in 1868.
Teddy bears are the go here for tourists. Souvenir-hunting tip for grandparents: young children love these stuffed bears. Three local women began making them in 1992 to help the town during drought and a crash in wool prices. The quality-made bears were an instant hit. Twenty-four years and about 40,000 bears later, Tambo Teddies is still going, now run by three other local women.
Make sure you roll into town before 5pm on weekdays if you want to visit the teddy bear outlet. If you have time, ask about the heritage building trail and grab a coffee at Fanny Mae’s Café next door while you’re at it.
If you’re planning to stay in Tambo, the Royal Carrangarra Hotel is a traditional pub, which has a name for serving good meals. There are more accommodation options in Blackall, but if you’re heading back there, watch for roos, which are thick and suicidal from dusk. The Prince of Wales Hotel in Blackall is friendly and has a smart dining room.
Day 4: Tambo (207km) or Blackall (106km) to Barcaldine
How not to make enemies in the west: Get the name right. It’s pronounced Bar-call-dun, with the accent on the ‘call’. Say it any other way and you’ll be called a yabby, or worse.
Barcaldine, or ‘Barky’ to use safer syllables, has beautiful artesian water, which explains why it’s so green. It also has the Australian Workers Heritage Centre, a museum which celebrates, well, working history, in an extensive, park-like complex of buildings housing numerous displays and exhibitions.
Barcaldine’s ill-fated Tree of Knowledge was poisoned by unknown vandals in 2006, so its corpse was resurrected and set in an impressive memorial. It’s seen as the birthplace of the Australian Labor Party because the town was the hot spot of the 1891 Australian shearers’ strike. It’s worth seeing for the design of the memorial alone.
Barcaldine is also known for goats and goat races, and the bloke to talk to about them is Tom Lockie, of Artesian Country Tours. A passionate bushie who likes a yarn, he runs day trips and longer tours in the region. Be prepared for a wonderful earful if you can catch him – he loves the region’s connection with infamous rustler Harry Redford and bushman Nat Buchanan.
Overnight Barcaldine; elsewhere if you got the name wrong. The Shakespeare Hotel on the main drag is comfortable, but there are a lot of accommodation options.
Day 5: Barcaldine to Longreach (107km)
No need for an early start. Stop at Ilfracombe again on the way back, have a look at the unmissable ‘Great Machinery Mile’ if you’re into old machinery, and check into the Wellshot Hotel for your last night.
Carry on to Longreach and visit the Qantas Founders Museum, just before town on the right. You won’t miss it… there’s a Qantas 747 parked there. This is an award-winning attraction with an array of exhibits, artefacts and displays that tell the airline’s story. Interactive exhibits make it fun for kids.
If you’re into aircraft and technical stuff, you can get a guided tour of the 747 and an old Qantas 707 as part of the museum admission, but it will cost you more. The 747 wing walk involves an extra outlay.
Lunch and two or three hours at the museum will prepare you for a sunset cruise and dinner on the Thomson River. Take your pick:
- Local tour operator Kinnon & Co. is into unashamed Australiana at its riverside bush camp, including lovely stew, damper, billy tea stirred, not swung, and without gum leaves (blame Workplace Health and Safety), bush poetry and more. Take an Esky for your alcohol needs.
- Another operator, the long-established Outback Aussie Tours, also has a bush camp and offers a cruise, dinner and show, focused on a more sophisticated, table-service menu and live music. They’re licensed, too!
Whichever of these you choose, you’ll get to cruise the Thomson, which is quite something for the middle of the outback. Back to everyday reality, you must watch for roos on the way towards Ilfracombe. Believe it, they’re waiting for you.