48 hours in Emerald and the Gemfields for treasure seekers
The pioneering spirit is alive and well in the Sapphire Gemfields around Emerald. Treasure seekers have been coming here since the seventies, searching for precious stones. It’s a magnet for free spirits and adventure seekers who want to experience the real Australian outback and aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty.
It’s hot, dusty work fossicking for sapphires, you have been warned! But it could be worth it. After all, you’ll hit pay dirt if you find a big old sapphire in your sieve.
Stranger things have happened in the gemfields around Emerald and all the locals have a story or two to tell about sapphires they’ve unearthed.
This two-day itinerary is for those who like to get off the beaten track. It’s for people who believe that if they scratch the earth’s surface a 25 carat sapphire could be lying there, waiting just for them.
9AM: Fossicking tour – the treasure hunt starts here
There’s no time to be wasted so head to Fascination Gems in Rubyvale to learn how to fossick. Signs offering fossicking tours and gem-cutting dot the roadsides, but digging for sapphires isn’t just a tourist attraction.
It’s a way of life here and although sapphires were first discovered here a century ago, there are still plenty to be found.
The Fascination Gems self-drive tour includes a fossicking licence, tips from an experienced miner, all the tools and driving directions.
Once at your designated fossicking area you can start digging up earth, sieving off dust and washing stones in a bucket of water so any heavy sapphires sink to the bottom. Then it’s time for the moment of truth as you turn out your sieve and inspect the contents.
You never know what you’ll find, from a tiny sapphire chip to a rock that could be worth tens of thousands of dollars.
Lunch: Picnic under the trees
The Sapphire Gemfields isn’t a gourmet getaway, so take a picnic or get a packed lunch from the Rubyvale Café, then find a shady tree to sit under and tuck in. You’ll be hungry after all that hard work.
Afternoon: Go underground with a mine tour
Escape the heat and go gem crazy with a Mine Tour at Miners Heritage. If you can’t take the heat, this is a great option because no matter how hot it is outside, it’s always cool underground.
Miners Heritage is Australia’s largest underground walk-in sapphire mine tour so you can experience what it’s like to be a miner. The short tour is fun for all the family and the sapphires sparkling in the walls will get you fired up for more fossicking later.
There’s an underground museum where you can read about some of the sapphires that have been found over the years, and after the tour, you can buy a bucket of ‘wash’ (the leftover dirt from commercial mines) and fossick for your own gem.
While we were visiting the area a grey nomad picked an eight-carat yellow sapphire out of an $8 bag of wash. You never know what you’ll find!
Dinner: Join the locals at Rubyvale’s only pub
Rubyvale’s a one-horse town and the New Royal Hotel is the only option for your evening meal. Even though there’s really no choice, it’s a choice outback pub, brimming with character and history. Join the locals at the bar and hear them spin a yarn or two, or play darts or pool while you wait for your meal to arrive.
The New Royal Hotel has cabins if you need a place to stay, although we stayed across the road at the Rubyvale Gem Gallery which has self-contained rooms and a two-bedroom cottage that’s perfect for families. Either way, you won’t have to worry about drinking and driving as your bed will only be a few metres from the bar.
By night: Go stargazing
Book ahead to visit the Gems by Day, Jewels by Night Observatory at the Rubyvale Motel and Holiday Units, where you’ll be introduced to the wonders of the night sky above the Sapphire Gemfields.
A powerful telescope will help you pick out clusters of colourful stars and planets, including Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s many moons. Even if you didn’t find a sapphire while fossicking, the night skies are a gem everyone can enjoy.
Breakfast: Head to the Rubyvale Cafe and visit the Gem Gallery
Have a big brekkie at the Rubyvale Café and browse the adjacent Gem Gallery where Peter Brown, pioneering miner turned gem cutter and jeweller, will show you his collection of rainbow sapphires.
If you’re like me and get seduced by all the bling you can buy a readymade piece or choose a loose sapphire and commission a special piece of jewellery.
Morning: Last chance to go fossicking
Get a packed lunch from the Rubyvale Café because it’s time for another fossicking adventure.
Now you’re up to speed with fossicking you can buy a permit, hire the tools and go fossicking on any of the five designated fossicking areas around Rubyvale. Fascination Gems will help you out again and tell you where you could strike it rich.
Afternoon: Go fishing, walking or birding
Visit Lake Maraboon, Queensland’s second largest lake, and the Fairbairn Dam before you leave. You can camp out at Lake Maraboon Holiday Village or hire a cabin. They also hire kayaks and boats if you want to get out on the water or go fishing.
The lake is home to eight different species of fish, but it’s the Red Claw shellfish everyone loves most. The birdlife is prolific so, if fishing’s not your thing, just enjoy the bird spotting or chill out on the grassy banks.
If you have time before you leave Emerald, the Botanic Gardens are worth a visit and you can’t miss the giant Van Gogh’s Sunflowers replica in the town centre.
Are you interested in visiting the Sapphire Gemfields?
This post was originally published in 2016 and was updated on 7 March 2018.