Drive to the birthplace of Waltzing Matilda along The Matilda Way
It goes without saying, Matilda is Australia’s sweetheart. She’s the muse for Banjo Paterson’s famous song, Waltzing Matilda.
The name of our most famous kangaroo, the mascot from the 1982 Commonwealth Games.
And the moniker for one the best drives in Queensland – which goes from Cunnamulla to Karumba, ticking off the best of Outback Queensland along the way. She’s damned pretty to boot too – seriously, this is what you’re in for.
If you’ve got eight days, a car and 1700km worth of Outback energy, why not waltz with Matilda all the way along the Matilda Way?
Day 1: Cunnamulla to Charleville (200km / 2hr 30m)
It all starts in a town famous for a ‘fella’, Cunnamulla.
You’ll find this town in Outback Queensland’s deep south, at the intersection of the Mitchell Highway and Balonne Highway.
Even with a population of 1200, one person stands out from the crowd and not just because he’s made entirely out of bronze.
Get to know him with a speed-date through the Cunnamulla Fella Centre.
Further north, finish the day in Charleville, the home of astronomy, bilbies and Cobb & Co. to name a few of its most famous assets.
For a million-star experience, check out the Charleville Cosmos Centre by night. Through the lens of powerful Meade telescopes, you’ll see the night sky like you’ve never seen it before.
Check-in for the night at Cobb & Co. Caravan Park, a leafy caravan park that’s a short walk to all the action, where you’ve got the choice of powered and unpowered sites, or cabins if you’d prefer to enjoy the creature comforts tonight.
Day 2: Charleville to Blackall (300km / 3hr 30m)
Tambo is the oldest town in the central west, who when faced with a drought, turned an abundance of wool into Australia’s signature bear. It was the ladies of the town who pioneered the idea, and 25 years on, it’s still ladies who keep the store alive – some 40,000 teddy bears later.
Further north, you’ll find more than just wool, but tales of shearing legends.
In Blackall, the legend of the shearer Jackie Howe lives on. Howe set a world record in 1892 shearing 321 sheep in seven hours and 40 minutes with blade shears. More than just an urban legend, he’s a household name. His signature navy blue singlet is known in these parts as a “Jackie Howe”.
The best place to learn about this speedy shearer is with a guided tour of the Blackall Woolscour, the very last steam scour in the country.
Tonight, eat where you sleep at the Barcoo Hotel, which was recently refurbed after a fire tore through the hotel. Upstairs, the accommodation has a French-chic feel with rooms opening onto the wrap-around verandah. If you’re travelling with a caravan or camper, you can pull up behind the hotel for a small fee and use the amenities.
You’ll be a stone’s throw from the artesian pool, naturally heated to 32 degrees and packed with natural minerals. It’s the perfect way to relieve road trip tension.
Day 3 & 4 Blackall to Longreach (215km / 2hr 30m)
This town is home to more than just the Tree of Knowledge, where the Australian Labor Party formed in 1891 beneath its once shady branches.
You’ll also find the Australian Workers Heritage Centre celebrating the lives and heritage of ordinary working people, a Masonic lodge with some of the fanciest paintwork this side of the Great Dividing Range and the Outback’s first and only indigenous coffee brand, Cooloomon Coffee.
After a town bus ride to get to know Barcaldine’s hidden secrets, swap streets named after plants to ones named after birds, heading west to Longreach.
Allocate at least two days to exploring the heart of Outback Queensland, and follow this guide to tick off the major attractions that will leave you with the equivalent of a doctorate in Australia’s pioneering history.
To experience accommodation like you’ve never seen before in the Outback, check into Kinnon & Co.’s pioneer slab hut accommodation.
Ps. If you want to slow down the itinerary – make this drive five days with this itinerary.
Day 5 & 6: Longreach to Winton (180km / 2hr)
If you were wondering why this road trip is called the Matilda Way, a stopover in Winton will resolve any unanswered questions.
Banjo Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda, his famous ballad about a swagman camped by a billabong, when staying near Winton in 1895. Tomorrow, on your way to Cloncurry, follow the brown tourist signs to the Combo Waterhole near Kynuna to see the very billabong that inspired Banjo’s famous song.
The song was first performed in Winton’s North Gregory Hotel – and you can just picture it as you sit barside for a bevvy – a must-do for any first-timer in Winton.
During your two-night visit, discover the real story behind the song at the Qantilda Museum, shop for opals and visit the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. You’ll see the skeletons of three dinosaurs found in the area and watch paleontologists at work. You can even join in with a prep-a-dino package if you’re a mad-keen dinosaur fan. (For more dinosaur action, take a detour and tackle this trail.)
But it’s not just dinosaur bones and poetry here, either. Winton is known as the Hollywood of the Outback and it’s fast becoming the set of choice for up-and-coming filmmakers. Thanks to Winton’s Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival, this reputation is being firmly cemented.
Even if you miss Vision Splendid, you can still catch a movie al-fresco at the Royal Open Air Theatre, which has been screening movies since 1918.
For convenience, check into the Boulder Opal Motor Inn. Its on-site restaurant gives you very little reason to leave – perfect after a big day exploring.
Day 7: Winton to Cloncurry (350km / 4hr)
Swap dinosaur country for a slice of modern history, Cloncurry.
This stretch of pavement will overturn what you know about Outback Queensland countryside being dead-pan flat. Cloncurry is actually set upon a series of hills and you’ll have to wind your way through them to get here.
A stop in at the Mary Kathleen Mine will reveal Cloncurry’s spookier side. The former uranium mine, located on the outskirts of Cloncurry, is now completely deserted. Concrete slabs are the only lonely reminder of what used to stand here.
To rest your wearing travelling legs, check-in at Discovery Parks Cloncurry on the outskirts of town. Whether you’ve got your own amenities or looking for a cabin, this property, which sprawls the equivalent of two city blocks, has you covered.
Their miner’s breakfast is indeed fit for miners, as FIFOs for Cloncurry’s copper mines base themselves in this park.
Day 8: Cloncurry to Karumba (455km / 6hr)
We’ve saved the best till last as you power through the last clicks north to Karumba, swapping the Outback for the Gulf Savannah and sea.
From Cloncurry, the first major town you’ll see is Normanton. Time for a pitstop at the Purple Pub!
This Ribena-hued pub is hard to miss against the red landscape. Their $10 lunch specials lure in locals, with the likes of steak sandwiches, beef burgers and parmis on the menu.
From Normanton, it’s 50 minutes onto Karumba, where you can watch the sun slip into the Gulf of Carpentaria. It’s all the more sweet with barramundi and chips at the Outback’s most northern pub, the Sunset Tavern.
It would be remiss not to crack a Great Northern in this part of the country. This is as north as it gets in Outback Queensland and watching the sunset over the water (a rare treat in Qld) is a fitting finale to an epic road trip.
For apartment-style accommodation, check into the aptly named End of the Road Motel, whose front yard is the Normanton River, which feeds out to sea. Caravanners and campers wishing to DIY, should book a spot at the Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park for a
room site with a view.
How to get home from here?
Sure you could go home the way you came, or why not tackle this epic journey instead?
Looking for more Great Queensland Drives? You’ll find 12 more in this free ebook.