Forget glamping; this year it’s all about Outback station stays
When it comes to getaway trends, Outback Queensland has been doing wide open spaces, off-grid living, and disconnected RnR since well before #slowtravel was a thing. Out here, ‘glamping’ means blankets of stars, cute farm animals, and historic homesteads and cottages in which to rest your head.
Need a little nudge to head west? Consider this year the very best time to escape and retreat to one of these 15 special Outback station stays.
Noonbah Station, via Longreach
Fiery sunsets, dazzling stars, and breathtaking peace is how owners Angus and Karen Emmott describe the 52,000-hectare beef cattle station that’s been in their family for four generations; now a popular Outback station stay.
Join Angus for a half-day natural history tour amongst the red sands and white ghost gums, with all funds raised go to caring for orphaned or injured wildlife.
Guests can camp at a secluded waterhole, or, sleep peacefully at the Old Schoolhouse, a renovated corrugated iron cottage where Angus and his siblings were schooled by air.
Tip: Stop here on the way to Winton’s Outback Festival (24-28 September 2019), just ask Angus and Karen about the secret back road to get to there faster.
Bonus Downs Farmstay, Maranoa
Get a true taste of station life and hear first-hand about farming practices straight from the owners of Bonus Downs Farmstay, Lyle and Madonna Connolly. You’ll find Bonus Downs approximately one hour 45 minutes’ drive from Roma, 46km south west of Mitchell.
After days spent bushwalking, birdwatching, canoeing, or lazing by the pool, there’s nothing better than a sundowner spit roast dinner on the banks of the river. There’s also the chance to join in station work – cracking a whip, mustering, checking bore pumps, and heading to the cattle sales in Roma.
A tour of the quintessential grand homestead, built in 1911, is a must-do before hitting a swag, the shearer’s shed or the Jackaroo’s cottage for the night.
Tip: Just ‘down the road’ (120km) is the Cobb & Co Festival in Surat in August (150km).
Shandonvale Station, via Barcaldine
Dust off your stereotypes (and your city clothes), this century-old station gets the gong as the fun capital of the farm scene thanks to the chance to go heli-mustering, catch a fresh water yabbie, and a little bit of old-fashioned butchering.
Relax in the mineral rich waters of the treetop artesian bath, have a shoot at the gun range or herd sheep in a buggy, or just build a campfire and enjoy a cold beer.
The four bedrooms in the 100-year old Shearer’s Quarters offer queen beds, 1000-thread count sheets, a fully-functioning kitchen and a classic claw-foot bath. Fly to Longreach and take the farm limo (aka the ute) to the property.
Ps. As this family blogger says, it’s also one of the best Aussie experiences you can give your kids.
Moble Homestead, Quilpie
Join proud wool producers, the Rutledge family, at their home in Quilpie and get a true-blue outback experience.
Moble Homestead, which has been passed down through five generations, has been renovated to include two huts, a homestead garden room, and a Governess’ quarters-come-cottage that literally floats above the waterhole. Sit around the campfire with the family as you get to know the locals of the outback.
Tip: Spend a day at the Quilpie Diggers Races (May and September) before going on station.
Gilberton Outback Retreat
A pimped tin shed on a property that’s almost the size of Laos is what you’ll find at Gilberton Outback Retreat, an 88,000 square kilometre station that is home to 1200 head of cattle and one incredible guest cabin.
This station was started in 1869 and has been passed down through seven generations. Guests can relax, get involved in station life, fossick for gold (hello good fortune!) or explore indigenous rock art located around the property. Gilberton Outback Retreat is four hours’ drive south west of Cairns.
Wallaroo Outback Retreat, near Carnarvon
It’s a huge 71,000 acre cattle farm but that’s where the farm experience stops. At Wallaroo Outback Retreat guests trade shearer’s sheds for eight tepee tents (with real crisp linen and comfy beds) six bathrooms, two rustic fire pits and an incredible timber lodge built from wood milled straight from the land.
The retreat is the brainchild of farmers Pauline and Justin MacDonnell, a couple who grew up in the region and fell in love with cattle country dotted with cycad-filled gorges and Aboriginal rock art. The retreat can only be booked by one group at a time.
Read what it’s like to stay with the family here in this post.
Trade the horse for Shank’s Pony and follow station owner Shelley Hawkins as she leads a five-day, 66km trek across the north western pocket of Outback Queensland – on foot – and mostly on her Herbertvale Station.
Small group tours with Trek West depart from Mount Isa and continue on the limestone gorges of the Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park. Hikers enjoy guided trekking, sunset refreshments, chef-prepared meals and an already-pitched tent and sleeping mat.
Charlotte Plains Farm Stay
Fifty-four kilometres from Cunnamulla is a sheep station so large that it once pushed 60,000 animals through its huge shearing shed every year.
While the number of sheep has decreased since then, the farm is still a true working property (take the three-hour tour and find out more) loved for its mineral rich baths. Stay in self-catering shearers quarters, the shearing shed (open air) or powered sites for campers and caravans.
Tip: On Friday August 30, 2019 cowboys, bull riders, shearers and stockmen will descend on the Cunnamulla for the Cunnamulla Fella Festival.
Halfway between Thargomindah and Hungerford is Kilcowera Station, a 49,000-hectare working cattle station with a pretty Shearer’s Quarters campground with BBQ’s, fireplaces stocked with wood, picnic tables and a basic camp kitchen set amongst green lawns and shady trees.
Take the 60km self-drive tour around the station past lagoons, creeks, waterholes then stay in the comfortable Shearers’ Quarters. Campers have a choice of three separate campgrounds, one on the edge of Cardenyabba Lagoon.
Tip: Join the cowboys, bull riders, shearers and stockmen at the Cunnamulla Fella Festival.
The first owners of Myella Farm Stay hit the jackpot, literally, when they purchased their farm as part of a 1935 land lottery. Today their descendants’ main job is to fatten cattle into prime beef exports, by buying males at two years old and feeding them quality grass.
Their other job is sharing their home with guests from all around the world, setting up informal 4WD farm tours and teaching visitors about wildlife, bush tucker, conservation, and farming practices. A two-day package includes bus transfers from Rockhampton (125km north east of Myella), all meals, two horse rides and farm tours.
Tip: Check out Rockhampton River Festival (12 -14 July 2019).
Need a station stay a bit closer to the coast?
Spicers Hidden Vale, near Ipswich
Situated on a 12,000-acre farm in South East Queensland just an hour’s drive from Brisbane, Spicers Hidden Vale is centred around a 1920s grand old homestead with Homage Restaurant, a dining experience that proudly shows off the best in local produce.
All 31 rooms and suites have private or shared verandas and breathtaking views of the picturesque Lockyer Valley and are a great base for 4WD tours, horse-riding, bushwalking, cycling, archery, swimming, tennis, croquet and a spa.
Mount Mulligan Lodge, Tropical North Queensland
Around 170kms west of Cairns in the shadow of Mount Mulligan (incidentally, 10 times larger than Uluru) lies Mount Mulligan Station, a 28,000-hectare outback cattle property.
Revamped by the hospitality kings behind Daintree Eco Lodge and Orpheus Island Lodge, the station’s eight villas come with majestic views and a personal ATV to explore the land. If the 1500 head of cattle don’t ignite an affection for the outback, then tours to the Tyrconnel gold mine and the abandoned Mt Mulligan township will.
Tip: Take a 35-minute scenic helicopter flight from the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (12-14 July 2019) to the cattle station.
Mount Louis Station, Bloomfield, Tropical North Queensland
Time your holiday to join Mount Louis Station’s stockmen as they muster some 1500 head of Brahmin cattle over a 3000-acre lush landscape or meet the owners and learn secret spots for crabbing, fishing and bird watching.
Located in pretty Bloomfield just north of the world’s oldest (Daintree) Rainforest near Cooktown, this outback station has quick access to stunning waterfalls, a rich Indigenous community and remote and secluded sections of the Great Barrier Reef. A self-contained holiday house accommodates between two and eight guests.
Merluna Station, Cape York
At 1.5 times the size of Hong Kong and a (human) population that maxes out at around 100 guests, vast is the one word to describe Cameron and Michelle MacLean’s 416,000-acre cattle station on Cape York Peninsula.
Accommodation is set in cool, shady surrounds and ranges from camping grounds and single donga rooms to a spacious family unit. And apart from regular farm activities, brave souls raring to step into the RMs of a real farmer can sign up for multi-day bowhunting safaris to help cull wild boars and feral cats.
Tip: Drive your pride and joy round mountainous roads on the Targa Great Barrier Reef Tour (30 August 2019) and rub shoulders with legends
Henderson Park Farm Retreat, Capricorn
When Ben Barrett landed at Rockhampton Wharf in 1865 following what was likely a torturously long boat trip from England, little did he know that more than 150 years later the dairy farm he first established would become a commercial beef cattle property owned by his descendants.
Today, Henderson Park is one of the most popular farm stays in the state, with accommodation for up to 33 people and educational property tours for city slickers.