Cunnamulla to Townsville Outback Drive
1,500 km (plus detours) – 4 days or moreThis road trip, known as the Matilda Highway, takes you from Cunnamulla near the New South Wales border through the unique landscapes of Australia’s outback before returning east to the coastal city of Townsville. To complete this road trip you can hire a camper van from Camperman in Brisbane, the Gold Coast or Sydney and drop it off in Townsville (or vice versa). There are a range of road trips you can add on to this one. But more about that at the end of the article.
If a truck approaches while travelling the outback roads, it is polite (and sensible) to pull over onto the side of the road and wait for it to pass. The trucker will thank you for it and you’ll protect your windscreen from flying rocks.
Day 1: Cunnamulla to Tambo
400 km | 4 hr
Cunnamulla is an outback town where the handshake is stronger and the smile lasts longer – according to the locals. Slim Dusty put the town on the map with his song Cunnumulla Fella. The town honored him by erecting a bronze Slim Dusty statue in their main street. They also celebrate country music and outback culture with a Cunnumulla Fella Festival each November. Start your exploration at the Cunummulla Fella Centre, grab some maps, check out the art gallery, take a walk on the Heritage Trail to learn about the towns opal mining, pastoral, and wool production history, and spot wildlife on the riverside walk.
Charleville has strong links with aviation history through Qantas and the pioneering Smith brothers. It is also the base for the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the School of Distance Education, which are both open to visitors. You can see the night sky like you’ve never seen it before at through the telescopes of the Cosmos Centre. Bilbies are charming nocturnal creatures. Take a night tour to encounter them on the Bilby Experience. You can take the Warego River Walk, visit a charming historic house, tour the Charleville Bureau of Meteorology, encounter the local rock wallabies, and much more.
Charleville Historic House. Photo: ABC
Tambo Library is housed in a charming yellow and white historic house which doubles as the Tourist Information Centre. Here you can pick up maps for the Heritage Walk and Coolibah Walk. Tambo is also home to the Grassland Art Gallery.
There are two caravan parks in Tambo, one has a saltwater swimming pool.
Day 2: Tambo to Longreach
315 km | 3 hr 15 min (plus detours)
Blackall on the Barcoo River, has the pretty Five Mile Water Hole which is good for fishing. While here you can learn the history of the region’s wool trade at Woolscour and visit the site of the original Black Stump. Anything west of here was considered, by Australians, to be ‘beyond the black stump’ also known as the ‘back of beyond’ or ‘out woop woop’. If you’ve worked up a sweat, chill out at Blackall’s outdoor Aquatic Centre. Stroll through town admiring the sculptures and the buggy display, make a wish at the wishing well, visit Idalia National Park, and see a fossilised stump that is believed to be somewhere between 1 million and 225 million years old!
Barcaldine is the site of the revolutionary 1891 Shearers’ Strike. There’s a folk museum, heritage centre and many historic buildings. Not far from here is Black’s Palace, an Aboriginal site with burial caves and impressive rock paintings.
Detour the 100 km round trip to Starlight’s Lookout for sweeping views across the outback and plains. Then head back down to Longreach.
A 522 km (8 hr 40 min) detour between Blackall and Longreach will take in three national parks.
- Idalia National Park protects dense molga woodlands, craggy escarpments, great views, and several macropod (kangaroo and wallaby) species.
- Welford National Park is a little further on, has campervan-friendly campsites, red sand dunes, spinifex, ghost gums and river red gums.
- Lochern National Park, 150 km South West of Longreach, also has campervan friendly campsites. After the rain the parched channels will have transformed into wetlands teeming with life.
Welford National Park. Photo: John Augusteyn
Longreach is an outback town brimming with things to see and do so you may wish to spend a whole day here. Visit the Qantas Founders Museum and tour their first passenger Boeing jet. Jump on a Cobb and Co stage coach for an award-winning and highly acclaimed tour of town then cruise the Thompson River aboard a paddle steamer. The lush Lily Lagoon gives your eyes some respite from the dry outback landscapes. The Stockman Hall of Fame, and the Powerhouse Museum will provide you with history and local culture. The Inginai Nature Reserve, named after the Traditional Owners, has some pretty walks so you can enjoy the local flora and fauna.
If you made it to Longreach, pull up at the free campground beside Thompson River for the night. It’s a little out of town heading north. You may wish to spend two nights at Longreach so that you can give the town a full day (or more). But no matter where you spend the night, spread a picnic rug so you can lie back and star gaze miles from the city lights.
Day 3 – Longreach to Hughendon
390 km | 4 hr
Winton is the town closest to Lark Quarry (110km, a two-hour drive) where hundreds of dinosaur footprints can be seen. You can fossick for opals, visit Arno’s Wall – a peculiar construction of rock, opal, and tractor parts - and take in the views of Cawnpare Lookout. Winton is also very near Bladensburg National Park, a place of raw beauty, red rocks, stunning views from flat-topped mesas, grassy plains and river flats.
The views from Bladensburg National Park. Photo: TravellingAustralia.info
Hughendon is part of Australia’s Dinosaur Trail. Its volcanic mountains and sweeping black-soil plains are rich in fossils and dinosaur areas. Start your visit at the Flinders Discovery Centre where you can meet “Hughie” the seven meter tall Muttahurrasaurus and view the fossil collection. If you follow the windmill blades through town they will lead you to the historical and cultural features of Hughendon. Enjoy a picnic at one of the four parks in town – all have toilets and picnic facilities.
For great views, drive to Mount Walker or visit the Porcupine National Park – Queensland’s little Grand Canyon. With its clear creek, vibrant sandstone cliffs, and dense vegetation it provides a striking contrast to the dry flat plains that surround it.
There’s a campervan-friendly campground at Pyramid Lookout. (Compost toilets, bring your own water, permits at the Flinders Discovery Centre).
Porcupine Gorge. Photo: Australias Dinosaur Trail
Day 4 - Hughendon to Townsville
385km | 4 hr
On your way through Prairie, stop for a cold drink or a cuppa at the haunted Prairie Hotel. The owners have created a unique atmosphere with their collection of stockman’s hats and other memorabilia.
White Mountains National Park has diverse landscapes of white sandstone bluffs and gorges, brilliant wildflowers, lancewood forests and sand dunes. Camping is available for campervans during the dry season, but during wet season (Nov – April) roads might be inaccessible.
Views from White Mountains National Park. Photo: Cairns Unlimited
Charters Towers enjoyed a rich and heady hey day during the gold rush. Victorian mansions with iron-lacework verandas and imposing public buildings still stand as a reminder. The handsome Stock Exchange Arcade building was built in 1887 and restored in 1972. Today it houses the National Trust office, a tourist office, a couple of galleries and shops, and a mining museum. The Zara Clark Museum, has an interesting collection on transport and lifestyle in the early Charter Towers. Explore gold mining at the Venus Battery and take a Texas Longhorn wagon tour of town.
Add on Road Trips
If you feel like the adventure has just begun, there are plenty of road trips that you can add on to this one. All those listed below have Camperman drop off points.From Brisbane