A local’s Guide to Mount Isa
Located 1,830km north-west of Brisbane and 900km west of Townsville (along the Overlander’s Way), you may know Mount Isa as a mining city but those in the know prefer to call it the “Rodeo Capital of Australia”.
In 2018, the biggest rodeo in the Southern Hemisphere – the Mount Isa Mines Rotary Rodeo – celebrates its Diamond Jubilee 60th Anniversary.
I love Mount Isa for so many reasons, but my top three have to be the community, the spectacular views and, of course, the rodeo! This town definitely pulls at my heartstrings with the way the community members come together to support anyone and anything. I definitely learnt that as the 2017 Isa Rodeo Charity Queen.
Mount Isa is the town I took my first steps in, the town that allowed me to turn strangers into lifetime friends, and it’s where I met and married my husband, so without further ado let me give you a local guide to “the Isa”.
Being part of the Gulf Country, I reckon you can get the best steak in Australia here! The Isa Hotel is famous for its steaks, served with either a potato in its jacket or chips with fresh salad. There are plenty of other options if you’re not a meat lover, including wood-fired pizzas.
We have some fantastic cafes in Mount Isa, too. My favourite is Bambino Espresso. They offer great service, delicious salads and cooked meals, milkshakes and great coffee.
I also love having breakfast at The Xtra Mile Café. They make as much of their food as possible on the premises and serve Toby Estate coffee. The food is healthy and fresh, you can get a fabulous Acai bowl, as well as avocado and feta on toast or bubble and squeak for breakfast.
If you’re looking for something a little more upmarket, head to the Verona Restaurant at the Ibis Styles Mount Isa Hotel.
And the best spot for delicious, authentic Thai is the Red Earth Thai Restaurant. It’s part of The Red Earth boutique hotel next to The Isa Hotel. It also has a great adjoining cocktail lounge where I can never pass up a Mojito or Cosmo.
For the best coffee, it has to be Caffeine Nook. They offer all kinds of milk and even have Fair Trade coffee beans. It’s a lovely spot tucked away in Pharmacy First providing positive vibes, scrumptious cookies and wonderful service.
If it’s beer you’re after, you can’t go past The Isa Hotel. During rodeo week, Fred Brophy’s Outback Boxing Troupe sets up its boxing tent behind the hotel. The ladies toilet is marked “cowgirls” and the men’s “cowboys”. It always has a great atmosphere. The staff come from all over the world to have the experience of working in a big outback hotel, which also has a top restaurant.
The Buffs Club, Irish Club and Overlander are other good options.
The Red Earth Boutique Hotel is small and intimate but right next door to The Isa Hotel, which buzzes during rodeo week. The Ibis Styles Mount Isa Verona Hotel is another lovely place to stay.
For great motel accommodation, try the Burke and Wills Mount Isa. It’s located close to the centre of town. Every night around 8pm you will hear a boom and feel the ground rumble. It’s not an earthquake, just the explosives setting off at Mount Isa Mines.
During rodeo time, a special place to stay is the Swag City, set up at Rodeo HQ, Buchanan Park. It caters for caravanners and campers with powered and unpowered sites, amenities and you’re a short stroll to the rodeo!
But my favourite secret camping spot is Cemwalton Park. You need to be careful around the wet season but Cemwalton is a wonderful spot to relax with the comfort of a toilet (if you lucky enough to get a spot near it) or to head out with a canoe and a stereo.
Another top spot is Carrandotta (must call for approval). This is where I have my first memory of roasting a marshmallow under the night sky with my family, and coincidentally the first ever Mount Isa rodeo stock was from this property.
If you want to stay out of town, I would recommend the Moondarra Caravan Park, which is close to our beautiful Lake Moondarra.
If you’re coming for rodeo week, my tip is book early as places get really booked up! Check out this long weekend guide to Mount Isa.
I always take new visitors to Outback at Isa, where they can get dressed in overalls and take the Hard Times mining tour. It’s the only way to experience underground mining unless you actually work for Mount Isa Mines! There’s a crib room where you eat Cornish pasty, and you can have a go drilling with authentic mining machinery.
Another fun thing to do is to head up to our lookout. At the top, you can see a sign with the distances from Mount Isa to all the other wonderful cities around the world.
Just under 20km north from Mount Isa’s CBD is a huge artificial lake on the Leichhardt River, Lake Moondarra. It’s a fantastic place for a BBQ, boating, water skiing, swimming, water sports, fishing, kayaking and picnicking.
If I have visitors who can stay a bit longer, I would take them to Adels Grove, adjacent to Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park with gorgeous spring-fed waterways. If you don’t feel like swimming, you can take a leisurely cruise through the gorge or hire a canoe and explore the gorge yourself.
Adels Grove is situated about 293km north-east of Mount Isa past Riversleigh Station. It’s through O’Shannassy and Gregory Rivers and past Riversleigh Fossil Fields. It’s a partly-sealed road but a 4WD is recommended as there are three concrete causeways over rivers that can be slippery.
The Three Steps is three large rock formations that sit in ridges cascading towards the ground. After heavy rain fall it’s a popular place to see the flow down the rock and take in the surrounding picturesque scenery.
Accessible by 4WD, drive along Moondarra Road, turn down the bitumen road on the right after the first cattle grid towards the quarry and you’ll see a sign about 1-2 km down on the right-hand side for Three Steps (It’s called Three Sisters on the sign).
You should also check out:
- Farmstay at the West Leichhardt Station
- The Shack – where local musicians go and play – very community orientated
- Rowena Murphy-Paine Art Gallery on Duchess Road
- Arts on Alma – located on Alma Street
- Lake Julius
- Family Fun Park or Pool
- Or simply grab a map and head for a drive. Any view is a spectacular one. Check out this guide for what to get up to in the wild west of Mount Isa.
- You can walk Rodeo Drive and see road-plated tiles along the pathway
- Make sure you pre-book for the Mount Isa Mines Rotary Rodeo for 2018 as it’s going to rope you in for four days of rodeo instead of three!