8 nights under the stars: how to do Big Sky Country
Imagine a huge night sky lit by billions of stars, set to the peaceful soundtrack of cicadas, without another human being in sight (except your travel companions of course). That’s just an average night on the road when you’re driving through the vast, dramatic landscapes of Queensland’s Big Sky Country.
Take your pick from a collection of seven unforgettable drives crisscrossing the quirky country towns and national parks of south-east Queensland and Outback Queensland. Not sure where to begin? Start with the Valley of the Lakes route: a 2070km national park stargazing loop from Brisbane to St George (and back again).
Pack up your car, caravan or trailer and get ready for some of the most scenic road-tripping in Australia.
Days 1 & 2: Swap bustling Brisbane for the Bunya Mountains
Stop off in Toowoomba for a long lunch at The Finch and tuck into a loaded burger or gourmet baguette. There’s still time to grab your coffee fix (beans by local roasters Fonzie Abbott) before you gear up for the next stretch of your drive.
You’ll know you’ve arrived in the Bunya Mountains National Park when the winding, rainforest-fringed landscape breaks out into three grassy campsites. Pick a spot to pitch your tent (or if camping’s not your style, look out for the charming A-frame cottages of The Bunyas).
As the sun sets and the moon rises, stretch your legs with a stroll over to Shackleton’s, Australia’s highest whiskey bar. Perched inside Bunya Mountains Tavern, the bar stocks 116 different whiskies, sourced from over the world.
Snuggle up by the fire with a wee dram, or take your glass outside and sip under the stars: a glance up at the brightly twinkling heavens will confirm you’ve officially arrived in Big Sky Country.
DAY 3: Get a taste of country hospitality in the Western Downs
On route, discover Queensland’s legendary country hospitality in Chinchilla, the melon capital of Australia. If you can, time your trip to coincide with the town’s biennial Melon Festival which takes over the town every second February. Watch contenders compete in the Melon Arena games or get involved yourself and take on the locals at melon skiiing, pip-spitting and more.
Further west in, explore the town’s pioneer era buildings at the Miles Historical Village Museum, before wrapping up your day with a classic country pub feast. Then, pull up for a night of stargazing at Dogwood Crossing, the creekside rest area on the western outskirts of town.
DAY 4: Hike through ancient wilderness in Carnarvon Gorge National Park
Wake up and get back on the road for the 142km drive to Roma. Visit on a Tuesday or Thursday to experience the biggest cattle sales in the Southern Hemisphere – over 300,000 cows go under the hammer here each year.
On arrival, set up camp at Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge (there are also caravanning and cabin lodgings available if you prefer your creature comforts.) Then, make the most of daylight hours by exploring the national park on foot.
Discover the outback oasis of Carnarvon Gorge, home to ancient rock art galleries and hanging gardens of ferns and moss. Follow the tracks along Carnarvon Creek to uncover Aboriginal art sites, ancient caves and hidden swimming holes. Finally, as night falls, find a seat by the campfire as the stars turn up for their evening show.
DAY 5: Go wildlife spotting on the Balonne River
Stretch your legs and fill up on a big breakfast, because today you head south on the five hour, 440km journey to St George – a country town perched on the banks of the Balonne River.
Drop a line in and find out why St George is known as Australia’s inland fishing capital of Queensland, or take a tranquil sunset cruise on the Balonne River. Nature fans, don’t forget your binoculars: more than 230 species of bird call this region home.
Don’t leave without visiting the cellar door of Queensland’s most western winery, Riversands Vineyards. Listen to the stories behind each wine and the colourful characters they’re named after – from the town’s original wine grower Dr Earnest Seidel to a famous WW2 fighter pilot.
Rest your head at Pelican Rest Tourist Park – open to campers, caravanners, and those who prefer a solid roof over their heads.
DAYS 6 & 7: Discover the flavours and scenery of the Granite Belt
Pull on your hiking boots and spend a day or two exploring the park’s 17km of walking tracks (there are options to suit all fitness levels). Trek through untamed wilderness and stunning blankets of wildflowers to reach the park’s famous rock formations.
Fancy a break from walking? Spend an afternoon sampling fresh-picked produce and locally-sourced treats as you check the region’s paddock-to-plate food and wine scene.
Stay close to the action with a two-night stay in the national park at Bald Rock Camping Area, where the majority of the walking tracks start. (If you’re heading out in winter, pack a few layers as temperatures can get as low as 2℃.)
Alternatively book a chalet at the Girraween Environmental Lodge where you can contemplate the beauty of Big Sky Country from your private outdoor spa.
DAY 8: Take the scenic route home through apple country
You may be homeward-bound, but you won’t have to look hard for excuses to take your time. Opt for the scenic route through the Southern Downs and explore the charming streets of Stanthorpe, Thulimbah and Ballandean. Pick up handcrafted chocolates, sip locally-brewed cider and treat yourself to a slice of apple pie made from scratch, served with generous dollops of fresh cream.
Still have time to spare? Take a detour along the Cunningham Highway to return to Brisbane via the panoramic vistas and fragrant eucalypt forests of Main Range National Park.
For more ways to explore Big Sky Country, try these wilderness camping options on for size.