“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 spontaneously booked two airfares to Townsville and an Apollo campervan that would be our home for two weeks.
We've decided not to go down the traditional tourist route and follow a GPS around the countryside, but rather plan our outback adventure around a few country events that happen to align. Why you ask? Well why not. I do fancy a good rodeo and a cowboy in RM Williams boots and Wrangler jeans.
After picking up our motor home fit for a king and queen we find ourselves cranking the country tunes and headed due west - bound for Mount Isa. Bring on the Curry Merry Muster Festival and Xstrata Mount Isa Rodeo!
Locals wouldn't bat an eye lid at the 10-hour drive from point A to B, however in order to savour the picturesque 904-kilometre journey we take our time – two full weeks in fact.
A short 90 minutes drive along the Flinders Highway brings us to Charters Towers. The city was once built on the thriving gold rush in the late 1800s and is now recognised as Queensland's second largest city.
The town is riddled with things to see and do, such as the Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail, the Historic Ambulance Centre and the Folk Museum.
We comfortably set up camp at the Charters Towers Tourist Park for a mere $28 a night and enjoy the serenity as the days roll into one another.
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 1.2kilometre 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 Dunart display at the local Visitor Information 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.
This trip doesn't involve swimming, cycling or running but rather a triathlon of cold ales at the corner pub. We pull up stumps at the local Caravan Park just off the main drag – and far away from the clatter of road trains through the night.
After dragging ourselves from our new favourite place we head for Cloncurry and the annual hoe-down – The Curry Merry Muster Festival. Tickets to most of the community events can be purchased at the gates and $18 gets us 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.
More 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.
We park our van at AAOK Moondarra Caravan Park on Lake Moondarra Road for the next few nights. Luckily, I'd pre- booked as the town is pumping and accommodation is scarce.
The Xstrata Mount Isa Rodeo attracts some 26,000 people through its gates, an impressive figure, given the population of the entire region is just 23,000.
Event Manager Tricia tells us that spectators will eat their way through 16,000 buckets of hot chips and 13,000 burgers over the 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.
So, what are the dates for next year? We're guaranteed to be back.
Note 2012 Event dates as follows:
*Julia Creek Dirt n Dust Festival, 20-22 April
*Richmond Fossil Festival, 4-7 May
*Curry Merry Festival, 3-5 August
*53rd Xstrata Mount Isa Rodeo, 10-12 August
*Lake Moondarra Fishing Classic, 26 Oct
Name: Nikki Dudley
Word Count: 904
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