Ghosts, gold and grandeur: 10 things to do in Charters Towers
Riddle me this? Where do you find clear blue skies, red dirt and five full bars of Optus reception? Charters Towers, that’s where!
Yep, this is the accessible outback – and not just because it’s just 140 clicks south west of Townsville, but because the town that put the gold in golddigger is downright easy to visit. (The gold fields here turned up over 200 tonnes of the Midas stuff between 1871 and 1917.)
All roads lead to Charters Towers, or at least, the Overlanders and Great Inland Way cut right through it, so if you’re in the hood, consider this your express guide to discovering what lies beyond gold in Charters Towers.
1. Get the lay of the land with a walking tour
If reading a town’s history in a guidebook is a bit passé for you, get your dose of gold, ghosts and grandeur with Charters Towers Historical Walking Tours.
If you lend an hour to tour guide Erica Finlay, you’re promised to come away an expert in the history of Charters Towers.
Gold-trick pony, this town is not. You’ll hear all about the town’s profiteers, World War Two involvement and agriculture industry as you stroll a few city blocks.
If the words Stan Pollard and Flying Fox mean nothing to you now, they soon will, as you make your way up Mosman and Gill streets with stops at the pretty Stock Exchange Building, Royal Private Hotel and Court House and hear about this local legend.
2. Catch sunset atop Towers Hill
Any town or city worth their title has a famous hill. Hollywood has the Hills, Townsville has Castle Hill and fittingly, Charters Towers has Towers Hill. You won’t find a big backlit Charters Towers sign at the top, but you will find one that says ‘The World’, paying homage to a time when the town was the second biggest city in Queensland, and multicultural to boot.
Standing, 420 metres above sea level, this rocky pinnacle is the very best way to get a lay of the Charters Towers land and catch a sorbet sunset each evening.
During the day you’ll need more than binoculars to see all of Charters though – the Regional Council looks after a geographical area bigger than Tasmania, which explains why the horizon seems to stretch on forever.
After dark, the action fires up, with a daily screening and interpretation of a film titled Ghosts After Dark, which covers off the basics of Charters’ gold boom. It’s a fitting location to hear about the gold rush; Towers Hill was the very spot a young Aboriginal boy named Jupiter (who the famous casino is named after) first discovered a chunk of alluvial gold back in 1872.
Fast forward many, many years and gold fossickers still arrive in droves, armed with metal detectors, in search of those golden nuggets. For those playing at home, you can legally fossick at Young’s Block.
3. Knock back a Whitbreads
Whitbreads has been serving fizzy drinks for the past 120 years and it’s the drink de jour for residents here.
Their recipes for Splash Cola and Sarsaparilla are secret, just like the Colonel’s, and they’ve stayed almost exactly the same since the company was established in 1896. You can pick up a bottle of Whitbreads at most local stores for a couple of gold coins.
4. See how gold was extracted
It’s the closest you’ll get to seeing how gold was extracted out of Charters Towers, back when the town was ‘the vault’ of Queensland.
The tour starts with a 3D video featuring a few #accidentalhipsters who ruled the gold roost in a time when driving a horse-drawn buggy would turn heads the same way a Ferrari does today.
You’ll move through five gold stamping machines, which were used to pummel one teaspoon of gold out of every tonne of ore back in the day. Although the machinery isn’t operational, the sound effects allow your imagination to bring the stamp batteries back to life.
5. Meet some horny cows
They build things bigger and better in the west and Texas Longhorn Wagon Tours & Safari at Leahton Park is no exception. This farm is home to the largest herd of purebred Texas Longhorns in Australia – J.R. (a steer with the longest horns in the world), and Michael Bethel, a man with an impressive moustache that could probably win its own awards too.
The Bethel’s 110,000-acre cattle station sits 10 kilometres outside of Charters Towers and visitors can pop in for a ye olde western wagon ride around the farm to view their herd of speciality cows.
When he’s not tending to the farm, Michael designs and crafts saddles that are shipped all over the world. They’re also the saddle of choice amongst Aussie stockmen and Texan cowboys, and after a tour of the saddlery, you’ll see why.
6. Swap gruesome and gory ghost tales
There’s an obvious link between a town’s torrid history and how gruesome its ghost tour is.
Join the Charters Towers Ghost Tour on Gill Street, for a ghostly walk through the old city centre, after dark.
There’s no shortage of stories – from ghosts who haunt their places of work (why, ghosts, why?), a double murder in the Royal Private Hotel, to a bloodstained table that marks the spot of a cold-blooded shooting inside The World Theatre.
On a scale of Casper to scary, this tour won’t keep you up at night, but don’t underestimate how eerily quiet and spooky the streets of Charters Towers can be after dark.
7. Go to a real auction. No bull.
If you want to see a whole lot of heifers, it’s worth checking out the Dalrymple Cattle Saleyards each Wednesday for a dose of cowboys and cattle.
The saleyards aren’t exactly on the tourist track, but I reckon it’s one of the best ways to see the agriculture industry in action, all under one roof.
Beef = big business in these parts and recently a record-breaking bull was bought for a whopping $145,000. With beasts worth as much as luxury cars, you can imagine the flurry and excitement of the crowd as they go under the hammer.
There’s 142 sale pens – with capacity to store approx 12,000 head of cattle – so if you don’t like the smell of cows, steer (pun, boom-tish!) clear of this one!
8. Catch the latest flick at the Drive-In
I challenge anyone to have more fun with $10 than Tors Drive-In. It’s one of the oldest drive-in theatres in Queensland (and only one of four still in operation that we know of!).
Your ticket covers two screenings, so you can catch both films running at the drive-in on the same night.
In the snack bar, try as you might, you’ll still walk away with change from a $10 note – in fact, $9 will buy you a hamburger and a choc top.
Movie, dinner and dessert for less than a red back ($20 note), where do I sign up?
9. Raven on in Ravenswood
You won’t be alone in thinking Ravenswood sounds more like a city in Game of Thrones, but you’ll find this quaint little town just 90km north-east of Charters Towers.
It’s a town of roughly 350 people, rattling around infrastructure built to suit a population 25 times bigger. These days, the town consists of a general store/post office, a primary school and two pubs, so don’t blink in the main street because you could very well miss it.
I like to think of the town a bit like a jar of pickles – completely ageless. Its buildings have been blessed with the elixir of youth, but a lot of that is thanks to the town’s heritage listing and the fact the city centre is spotless.
Architectural buffs can expect lovely lattice work, two-storey buildings with balconies, and stained-glass windows alongside buildings stuck in a time warp like the Historic Miners Home.
10. Catch the Goldfield Ashes (only the biggest cricket comp in Australia)
The Boxing Day Test match might be famous in Aussie households, but there’s a rival cricket competition a brewin’ in Charters Towers, as teams go bat-to-bat for the elusive Goldfield Ashes.
Each Australia Day long weekend approximately 250 cricket teams pull up stumps for the largest amateur cricket competition in the southern hemisphere. Lawns are mowed, pitches are carved and private properties turn over their paddocks for this heralded cricket cup.
Where to stay?
Here is our guide of where to stay or you can browse all of the accommodation options here.
For somewhere new:
Want something a bit upmarket? Check into the freshest digs in town, Kernow. There’s 15 stylishly appointed self-contained apartments, which have a European flavour to their design.
Choose from a range of one and two bedroom apartments – each with easy pool access to escape humid summer days.
For somewhere old (and potentially haunted!):
Kick it old-school in the Royal Private Hotel – this grand old lady dates back to 1888. The honeymoon suite is my pick, decked out with all the bells and whistles of a bygone era – I’m talking four poster bed, lots of lace and plush linen.
Ghost enthusiasts should note the Royal is a pit-stop on the ghost tour, and while this writer didn’t feel a presence or see any orbs, according to hotel staff the counter bell rings for service even though no one is there.
For the caravanners out there:
Ask any nomad with a Jayco and they’ll be able to tell you their favourite spots to drop the jockey wheel in Charters Towers.
Bivouac Junction, where you have the choice of eight basic cabins, powered or unpowered caravan and camping sites from $13 a night. The park is that big, you could easily have trouble finding your neighbours in low season.
BIG 4 Aussie Outback Oasis Cabins & Van Village, for its accessibility to the town centre and attractions like the Venus Gold Battery and Miner’s Cottage (where you can see an array of antiquities from through the ages). Choose between cabins, caravan and camping sites next time you want to stay close to all that Charters Towers’ action.
Have you been to Charters Towers? What’s your favourite thing to do?
This post was originally published in 2016 and was updated on 9 March 2018.