A family jaunt around Queensland's sapphire fields transforms a regular road trip into a treasure hunt that the children will talk about for years.
There's nothing that excites children more than the prospect of unearthing hidden jewels and the small towns of Rubyvale and Sapphire, just four hours west of Rockhampton, are the best places to start your quest.
As you travel the Capricorn Way, captivate your kids' imaginations with the tale of Smiley Nelson. In 1979 young Smiley was walking home from school in Rubyvale, when he kicked a mound of dirt behind the post office that had been left over from a miner's diggings. His toe freed a rock that turned out to be the world's biggest ever yellow sapphire, weighing 2019 carats. Smiley gave the stone to his dad who sold it to a local dealer, who passed it on to a New York jeweller. The cut gem was resold for more than a million dollars.
With the childrens' imaginations fired up, suggest they get the camera ready to capture shots of camels, horses and cattle wandering about the towns' main streets. The region incorporates an 11,000‐acre Miners Common, the last in Queensland. The Common was set up so that miners could run up to 10 head of livestock for their own provisions and they still roam freely around town.
Setting up a home base for your treasure hunt is easy with plenty of accommodation options in both Rubyvale and Sapphire. There are a range of camping grounds, caravan parks and motels, and most have well appointed, self-contained, air conditioned cabins and swimming pools.
The most successful miners start their quest armed with knowledge, so begin your adventure at the Miner's Heritage Walk‐In Mine in Rubyvale. The mine was a commercial operation before opening to the public in 1984. The guided 45‐minute underground tour will show you how to identify “wash”, the concentrated layers of gravel found locally in ancient stream beds, and give you a complete history of sapphire mining in the area.
Back on solid ground; get the feel for finding sapphires in the fossicking park, where the wash is already collected and ready to sieve.
Try a hand mining experience at one of the region's many gazetted fossicking areas. You can hire the mining gear and purchase the requisite fossickers licence at most of the local businesses and tourism outlets. Call in to see Peter Brown at the Rubyvale Gem Gallery for advice on where to go, and while you're there, check out his superb sapphire jewellery designed and hand crafted on site. In August, there is even more to see and do.
Thousands flock to the area to experience the annual GemFest – Festival of Gems, held in the small town of Anakie. The festival attracts about 5000 people each year and features 150 traders and provides exhibitions, entertainment, workshops, stalls and demonstrations.
Whether your children strike it lucky or travel home empty handed, they will have a wealth of memories to share with family and mates for years.
By air ‐ There are multiple daily flights to Rockhampton from Brisbane, and direct flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Townsville. QantasLink, Virgin Blue and Qantas fly to Rockhampton.
By road – The gemfields are 941 km north west of Brisbane, or 331 km west of Rockhampton.
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Author: Jo Brosnan
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