“I don't want to fly straight into Isa 'cause we'll miss out on half the adventure”, Luke, my partner, says while flicking through the Outback Queensland Travellers Guide. Within minutes he has booked two airfares to Townsville and a hire car.
We've decided not to go down the traditional tourist route and follow the convoy, but rather to plan our outback adventure around a few country events. Why you ask? Well, why not? Aside from a good rodeo, I do fancy a bloke in Wrangler jeans.
After picking up our hire car we find ourselves cranking the country tunes and heading due westbound for Mount Isa. Bring on the Curry Merry Muster Festival and Mount Isa Mines Rotary Rodeo!
Locals wouldn't bat an eyelid doing the 10-hour drive in a day, or taking six days on the road from Townsville. Though we prefer to sip the picturesque 904 kilometre journey – and take two weeks.
A short 90-minute drive along the Flinders Highway brings us to Charters Towers. The city was built on the thriving gold rush in the late 1800s and recognised as Queensland's second largest city.
Today, the town is riddled with relics of the past and the Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail and the Historic Ambulance Centre and Folk Museum are must-dos. We comfortably set up camp at the Charters Towers Tourist Park and enjoy the serenity as the day rolls by.
It was well worth the detour to Burra Range Lookout in White Mountain National Park and travelling the graded dirt road into Porcupine Gorge. Both Lookouts are spectacular and perfect for the tea and scones picked up at a local bakery.
Three hours on the road has us rolling into Hughenden, home to 'Hughie', the seven-metre Muttaburrasaurus and an impressive fossil collection at the Flinders Discovery Centre. We also discovered a jump-up just outside town ideal for cheese, wine and sunset gazing. Discovering spots off the tourist map is more than half the adventure.
I practically had my swimwear on as soon as I spotted Richmond's 1.2-kilometre community dam lining the entrance into town. Lake Fred Tritton offers a raft of water sports and more importantly, a cool dip when temperatures hit the high forties. Richmond is also home to the award-winning Kronosauras Korner, the only museum in Australia dedicated to displaying marine reptiles.
Just up the road (which equates to 1.5 hours' drive. See, I'm already talking like a local) brings another pleasant surprise, not to mention loads of yarns around the cutest resisdent dunnart, Digby, at the Creek Visitor Centre.
The town of Julia Creek oozes athleticism and is home to the annual Dirt n Dust Triathlon attracting competitors from all over the world. We missed the action by four months but Luke assures our new friend Liz that we'll be back next year with bikes in tow.
Our trip doesn't involve swimming, cycling or running but rather a triathlon of cold ales at the corner pub.
The annual hoe-down – The Curry Merry Muster Festival – is on. Tickets to most of the community events can be purchased at the gates and $18 gets you entry to all the rodeo action with both bull and bronc riding and a sea of RM's and Wranglers to watch. Apparently, this is Australia's largest single payout professional rodeo, hence the hundreds of spectators that have congregated for the dusty weekend.
Known for massive smelters and billowing smoke, who would have thought you could see pristine blue water contrasting with earthen red banks right in the middle a mining region? Lake Moondarra, 15 kilometres out of town is home to the mythical Barramundi, the number one target of every angler at the lake's annual fishing classic. It has Luke weak at the knees begging for a rod and reel.
The Mount Isa Mines Rotary Rodeo attracts some 26,000 people, an impressive figure, given the population of the entire region is just shy of 22,000. If that's not enough, each year spectators eat their way through 16,000 buckets of hot chips and 13,000 burgers over one single weekend. Clearly, they're not in training for the Julia Creek triathlon.
The Rodeo opens with all the pageantry and colour of the outback. Local kids dress up as floats parade the main street, heralding the first day of action; steer wrestling, lassoing, and gorgeous Rodeo Queens from the USA.
Our trip has come to an end, but our affection for Queensland's country has just started. With the dates for next year's Outback events circled in the calendar, we leave with the immortal Schwarzenneggar salute, “we'll be back”.
Event dates in 2018:
Julia Creek Dirt n Dust Festival, 13-15 April
Richmond Fossil Festival, 4-6 May
Curry Merry Muster Festival, 3-6 August
60th Mount Isa Mines Rotary Rodeo, 9-12 August
Lake Moondarra Fishing Classic, dates TBC
Word Count: 882
Author: Tourism and Events Queensland
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