Drive Outback: The most epic Winton to Tambo 5-day roadie
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 Winton is the perfect place to start. In a short, 5 drive-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 Winton, ready for action.
Day 1: Winton to Longreach (180km)
Banjo Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda, his famous ballad about a swagman camped by a billabong, when staying near Winton in 1895.
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 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 2: 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 3: Longreach
Stay in Longreach and visit the Qantas Founders Museum, just before the 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, artifacts and displays that tell the airline’s story. Interactive exhibits make it fun for kids, too.
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. (aka Outback Pioneers) 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 have a bush camp and offer 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 in 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.
Day 4: Longreach to Barcaldine (107km)
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 Blackall to Tambo (209km)
Drive onto 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.
Have you been on an Outback road trip?
This post was originally published in 2016 and was updated on 8 March 2018.