Family road trip: Unearthing dinosaur bones in Outback Queensland
If the kids think dinosaurs and humans lived at the same time, blame The Good Dinosaur. Alternatively, bundle them into the car and head to Outback Queensland.
Queensland’s arid inland region is home to one of the most significant fossil deposits in the world (talk about dirt!). The laundry will pile up as kids can’t resist touching it, jumping in it and feeling it.
The Australian Dinosaur Trail links the towns of Winton, Richmond and Hughenden – 1335km west of Brisbane or 600km from Townsville. Either stick to the trail or be spontaneous – anywhere you go out here with kids is an adventure.
On the trail, they can dust off 98-million-year-old dinosaur bones and even dig them up. Wait! Has this place been dreamt up by kids? And just when you think it can’t get any better…
Opalton, 120km from Winton, is a hidden treasure for families in more ways than one. Not only does finding an opal put a smile on a parent’s face, but digging for gemstones among the rocks will keep children busy for hours.
Pack your bags, grab the kids and go on the ultimate adventure dino digging in Outback Queensland.
PS. If you fly, the closest airports are Longreach (Qantaslink, Rex) and Winton (Rex). My starting point was Longreach.
Day 1: Longreach
Ah, Longreach. We wouldn’t blame you if you got stuck here since there’s so much to see and do.
The Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame in the words of a six-year-old is “amazing” and the Qantas Founders Museum has several experiences designed for kids, including a tour onto the wing of a 747 jumbo jet (12 years and over).
Children – and parents – will find it a giggle-inducing experience to take a bone-rattling ride in a replica Cobb & Co. stagecoach.
For a unique sleepover, check into Kinnon & Co. Outback Accommodation, where rooms have been inspired by the homestead stables where the boys once slept along with the horses.
Day 2: Longreach to Winton (180km)
Rise and shine around 7am and you’ll be in Winton in time for morning tea.
Make your first stop the Winton Visitor Information Centre on the main drag, Elderslie Street. Grab a map and a ‘What’s On’ brochure and read it in the park with coffee and freshly baked goodies from Balamara Bakery.
Arno’s Park (a block from the main street) is handy if the kids want to run around. The park features Arno’s Wall – a 70-metre-long wall containing almost every household item you could imagine.
Make some noise at the nearby Musical Fence where a wire fence can be played as a musical instrument. The drum kit, compiled of trashcan lids and rusted oil containers, will delight the kids.
Now, back to the dinosaurs. The terrific Australian Age of Dinosaurs (AAOD) is about a 30-minute drive from town along the Landsborough Highway.
One of the main attractions stands at the entrance: Banjo, Australia’s most complete theropod, who greets – or growls – at visitors as they enter the attractive rust-red building.
Allow about three hours here, with the ultimate dinosaur pass including a guided tour of the fossil preparation laboratory, museum (collection room) and Dinosaur Canyon, a new exhibit that opened earlier this year. This latest experience recreates life as it would have appeared millions of years ago through a series of outdoor exhibits featuring life-sized dinosaurs.
Kids aged 12 years and older can become amateur fossil technicians by joining a three-day prep-a-dino program. Check it out on the AAOD website.
From here, return to Winton and grab a drink at the atmospheric Tattersalls Hotel. There’s a handy toy room out back to occupy the kids.
Winton has three caravan parks and offers a free camp area a few minutes’ drive south of town towards Jundah. The Boulder Opal Motor Inn has an outdoor pool and the art-deco North Gregory Hotel has delicious meals.
Day 3: Winton to Lark Quarry Conservation Park (220km round trip)
After breakfast, pack a lunch box and head to Lark Quarry Conservation Park in time for one of the guided tours, which depart at 10am, noon and 2pm. Take cash (not cards) or you can pay at the Winton Visitor Information Centre before you leave Winton.
A shed-like structure covers the stampede footprints – the only group of footprints of running dinosaurs. Inside the view is awe-inspiring.
Keep the brochure so the kids can relay their holiday back at school. As the brochure says, “Most of the footprints were made when a carnosaur trapped groups of coelurosaurs and ornithopods on the muddy edge of a lake.”
Either camp here or return to Winton.
Day 4: Winton to Opalton (125km from Winton)
Another early start! Get going around 7am and you’ll arrive in time for morning tea (BYO) at Opalton, where budding geologists can fossick for opals. There are no shops or petrol stations so make sure you’re fully stocked prior to leaving Winton.
So, what are the kids looking for? Fragments of boulder opal – a unique type of opal that is attached to a host rock (ironstone). Pick them up on the surface or search through the spoil dumps of old workings.
Besides the fun of “noodling”, a visit to Opalton gives the kids the opportunity to experience the remoteness and harsh conditions endured by opal miners in the 1890s.
Camp at Opalton Bush Park or return to Winton for the night.
Day 5: Winton to Hughenden (215km)
Say bye to Winton and take the tarred 215km Dinosaur Trail to Hughenden via Corfield and Stamford.
Start with a visit to the Flinders Discovery Centre, where there’s an excellent kids’ play area with puzzles, books and dinosaur activities. Hughie, cast from the bones of a Muttaburrasaurus, is the star attraction.
Allow about one to two hours here and don’t miss the video on the formation of Porcupine Gorge, which is fantastic to watch if you’re heading out to the national park later on.
In the centre of Hughenden, meet Mutt the dinosaur and stop by the playground. Check into the Hughenden Allen Terry Caravan Park, which has a swimming pool and skate park next door.
Day 6: Hughenden to Richmond (112km)
Richmond can’t be missed as it’s the place where kids of any age can dig for dinosaurs.
Aim to rise early again and arrive at 9am to visit Kronosaurus Korner, one of Australia’s most child-friendly marine fossil museums, where you’ll find heaps of things for kids to see and touch (it also doubles as the Visitor Information Centre).
After two hours exploring the museum’s extensive fossil collection, grab some food at the centre’s café and head to one of the fossil hunting sites located 12km from town. By turning a few stones over you might discover a fossil fish, shark tooth, squid or even a giant marine reptile. Any finds can be taken back to the museum to be identified.
One of the easiest ways to experience fossil digging in the area is to take a guided dawn or dusk tour with the museum’s palaeontologist, who will teach little adventurers how to find, excavate and identify their own 100-million-year-old fossils.
Top off a great day by cooling down at the water park on Goldring Street. Amid the green lawns of Lions Park (also on the main street) is a strange monument made of limestone rocks stacked on top of each other. It looks like a kid’s plasticine creation made up of ‘moon rocks’ which have fossilised remnants of fish and shells inside. Also on display in the park is an old ‘flood boat’, used to convey stores across the river when it flooded.
Richmond has a range of accommodation from motels to the Lakeview Caravan Park, where you can take a 1.2km walk or run around its namesake, Lake Fred Tritton.
Now, it’s time to either say goodbye to the dinosaurs or complete the triangle by returning to Winton on the Landsborough Highway via the small villages of McKinlay and Kynuna (just don’t forget your bag of rocks for show and tell!).