Townsville to Winton via the Discovery Drive
If you’re travelling from Townsville to Winton for Outback Festival, a road trip is a great way to make the most of it. Drive North West Queensland’s, Discovery Drive will take you on a journey packed to the brim with outback legends, ancient discoveries, and bucket-list adventures. This self-drive links the Overlander’s Way and Australia’s Dinosaur Trail with the fascinating Channel Country. Expect to witness vast everchanging landscapes; meet eccentric outback characters; see amazing prehistoric discoveries; and connect with Australia’s pioneering communities.
- Whites Mountain National Park
- Hughie the Muttaburrasaurus
- Porcupine Gorge National Park
- Lake Fred Tritton fishing
- Kronosaurus Korner
- Fossil Hunting Sites
- Artesian Bath House
- Cloncurry Unearthed gem collections
- Chinaman Creek Dam swim & bbq
- Lake Moondarra water sports
- Outback at Isa & Hard Times Mine
- Min Min Encounter & Stonehouse Museum
- Winton Outback Festival
- Australian Age of Dinosaurs
- Waltzing Matilda Centre
- Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail
Day 1: Townsville to Hughenden (4hrs / 383km)
Basking in the protective presence of Castle Hill, Townsville is a vibrant coastal city blending federation architecture and sophisticated restaurants, accommodation and shopping. Stroll along The Strand, Townsville’s thriving beach foreshore. Enjoy a casual barbeque or dine in one of the beachfront restaurants taking in spectacular views across to Magnetic Island. Point your car west along the Flinders Highway, on the Overlander’s Way touring route, towards Hughenden. You’ll have the opportunity to explore Charters Towers on your return journey, so keep driving west and make a stop in the small township of Pentland. The historical Railway Station, built during the gold discovery heydays, and the local Art Gallery are both worth a look. Further along the highway is the beautiful Burra Range Lookout with views over White Mountains National Park with its spectacular white sandstone bluffs, gorges, brilliant wildflowers and changing landscapes – ranging from lancewood forests to sand dunes. Pull over, stretch your legs and take in the view. Pass through the tiny settlements of Torrens Creek and Prairie, (the Prairie Hotel is a fantastic old pub filled with antiques and memorabilia from a bygone era), then it’s about 45km to Hughenden. Late afternoon, stock up on some tasty nibbles and drinks from one of Hughenden’s cafes or shops, then take a short 10km drive to Mount Walker. A popular attraction just outside of town, the Jump Up boasts six separate lookouts with spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding landscape. Perfect for capturing a magnificent outback. Cameras are a must!
Day 2: Hughenden to Richmond (1hr 16 mins / 116km)
This morning is yours to explore Hughenden township. Make your first stop the Flinders Discovery Centre, home of ‘Hughie’ the life-size replica of a 7-metre high Muttaburrasaurus, cast from the original bones of a 110 million-year-old dinosaur found in the Flinders Shire. While at the Centre, watch their interesting sound and light show telling the story of the formation of Porcupine Gorge some 500 million years ago. Stroll down to the historic Coolabah Tree, linked to two separate expeditions where teams, searching for the ill-fated Burke and Wills, stopped to rest. Both expeditions blazed the tree. A great way to gain an understanding of the Shire’s diverse bioregions is to follow the 1.5km Eco Walk on Flinders. Spot local outdoor art pieces along with flora and fauna interpretive panels along the walk. If you’re feeling peckish after your town touring, call into the F J Holden Cafe and try one of their famous F J Burgers. Give yourself time for some rest and relaxation when you arrive in Richmond. Find your perfect spot beside the popular Lake Fred Tritton with its sandy beaches, walking track and BBQ facilities. The kids will love the shaded playground facilities and waterpark plus the one-hole golf course is bound to tempt the keen golfer chasing that elusive hole in one! The lake is stocked with 18 species of fish so don’t forget your fishing rod.
Day 3: Richmond to Julia Creek (1hr 20mins / 145km)
You may be surprised to learn that Richmond was once the heart of a vast inland sea, filled with prehistoric marine life. You can see scores of marine fossils from 100 million years ago at the ‘must see’ Kronosaurus Korner or try finding your own fossil at one of Richmond’s free fossil hunting sites. If you are keen to learn more about the local history, then the Heritage Walk might be just the ticket. Spanning the full length of Goldring Street, the walk includes sites of the Cordial Factory, Newspaper Printers and Open Air Theatre. A recent addition to the walk is the Cambridge Downs Heritage Display Centre, a replica of the original 1860’s homestead – there’s a good story to tell here! Choose from a good selection of lunch options in town before hitting the road west to Julia Creek, home to the endangered Julia Creek Dunnart, a small carnivorous marsupial about the size of a large mouse. Make sure you arrive in time to see the feeding of cheeky resident dunnarts, Donald and Duncan at 3pm in the Julia Creek Information Centre ‘At the Creek‘. A new addition to the centre is ‘Beneath the Creek’ which explores the underground features that have shaped the regions past through an interactive floor, touch screens and big screen films which provide a detailed insight into life in the McKinlay Shire.
Day 4: Julia Creek to Cloncurry (1hr 20mins / 135km)
The only connection that the Julia Creek Opera House has with its more famous Sydney cousin is that they share the same birthday – the quirky Outback humour at play here! While you’re unlikely to see performances of Carmen, Madam Butterfly or The Barber of Seville, you will find historical pictures, collected over the last 100 years, telling the stories of Julia Creek’s pioneers and heroes. Take a stroll along the nature trail at the back of the Julia Creek Caravan Park to see local birdlife and the tranquillity of this natural space. Back on the road again, it’s just over an hour along the Flinders Highway to Cloncurry. Stretch your legs in the shaded parklands of Mary Kathleen Park and visit Cloncurry Unearthed Visitor Information Centre where you’ll find one of Australia’s most comprehensive gem and mineral collections. Burke and Wills passed through this region in 1861 and the town name has its origins from Burke’s cousin, Lady Elizabeth Cloncurry. Burke also left behind his water bottle, which is on display at Cloncurry Unearthed.
Day 5: Cloncurry to Mount Isa (1hr 50mins /116km)
Cloncurry was the site selected by Rev John Flynn when he established the Royal Flying Doctor Service. Make sure you call into John Flynn Place which honours an Australian visionary and those who joined his campaign for better living conditions in remote Australia. On your way out of Cloncurry this morning, take a short drive (3km) to Chinaman Creek Dam, a great spot to see local birdlife and perfect for fishing too. Just off the Barkly Highway on your way to Mount Isa is Clem Walton Park and Corella Dam also popular for fishing and birdwatching. You’re nearing the ‘big smoke’ of the outback now, so keep your eyes on the horizon for the distinctive chimney stacks rising out of the ochre-coloured Selwyn Ranges as you head towards Mount Isa. Dubbed ‘the oasis of the outback’ Mount Isa is a vibrant city with plenty of good accommodation, restaurants and a huge selection of shops. Mining is a big part of the Isa community, but the locals love their fishing, watersports and outdoor lifestyle. Just 16km out of town is Lake Moondarra, built for Mount Isa Mines in 1958 – at the time, it was considered the largest water scheme in Australia financed by private enterprise. Locals and visitors make good use of free barbeques, picnic areas, walking paths and water sports facilities. For stunning views over the lake, head to Lake Moondarra Lookout and walk the full length of the dam wall. There is a surreal beauty to Mount Isa, seen from the City Lookout when the smelter stacks are silhouetted against a fiery outback sunset and twinkling mine lights. Bring along your wine and cheese and you’ve got the perfect pre-dinner event!
Day 6: Mount Isa
Make sure you visit Outback at Isa, the hero attraction in town. This multi-complex facility includes the Isa Experience museum and the interactive Hard Times Mine where you can join a guided underground mine tour, fully kitted out in overalls and cap lamps; you can even try your hand at the air leg drill. Also in the facility is the Riversleigh Fossil Centre home to some early mammal megafauna fossils dating back an impressive 30 million years ago! The historic Underground Hospital was built in WWII when it was believed that Mount Isa was under potential threat of bombing given the strategic resource appeal of the Mount Isa Copper Mine. Thankfully, the bombing didn’t eventuate, but a walk through this fully restored underground hospital is fascinating. Also, the onsite Beth Anderson Museum displays some rather interesting old medical equipment and memorabilia.
Day 7: Mount Isa to Boulia (3hrs 10mins / 303km)
Leaving Mount Isa today, you’ll pass through scenic jump up country, flat Mitchell grass grazing land and spinifex plains towards the braided Channel Country, one of the most distinctive landscapes in Australia. The highway through to Boulia is single lane bitumen, suitable for normal 2WD vehicles, but remember to give way to larger vehicles. Make a stop in Dajarra, a remote, laid-back town, once the largest cattle trucking depot in the world. The town also has a rich Aboriginal heritage and is home to Aboriginal tribes from around the Diamantina River, the Gulf and the Northern Territory. Drive around one and a half hours further to Boulia, the heart of the Channel Country and among the finest beef producing country in Australia.
Day 8: Boulia
Aside from its thriving beef industry, Boulia is known for a mysterious hovering light – the Min Min Light. First spotted above the Min Min Hotel ruins in 1918, there have been countless sightings over the last 100 years. According to folklore, these lights sometimes follow or approach people, then rapidly disappear. The Min Min Encounter attraction incorporates a mix of theatrics, animatronics and high tech wizardry to present a series of local sighting stories – it’s great fun. Also in town is the Stonehouse Museum, one of the first houses built in Western Queensland, and home to an impressive Marine Reptile Fossil exhibit, one of the best in Australia. Just a short drive out of town is the Barracks Waterhole, site of the Police Barracks (1874-1884). The waterhole is a lovely tranquil spot for a picnic, fishing or bird watching.
Day 9-14: Boulia to Winton (4hrs 15mins / 366km)
The drive between Boulia and Winton will take you through some truly spectacular country and be sure to make a stop at Cawnpore Lookout with its expansive 360-degree views over the Lilleyvale Hills. Make a stop in Middleton, population two, to share a yarn and refreshment at one of the most isolated pubs in Queensland, the Middleton Hotel. Middleton was built during the Cobb & Co era and was a changing station for tired horses on the route between Winton and Boulia. Early afternoon, arrive in Winton where you will be based for the next 5 days for Outback Festival!
Day 10 – 14: Winton – Outback Festival
Make sure you check out the full day-by-day program of events over Outback Festival. This is the perfect event to bring the family out for the 2019 Year of the Outback. There’s plenty of hands-on activities for the kids plus non-stop entertainment. Be sure to take advantage of your stay in this historic town, the birthplace of our unofficial National Anthem, Waltzing Matilda, with a visit to the Waltzing Matilda Centre. Take a stroll along Winton’s wide main street and call into the town’s first general store, Corfield and Fitzmaurice, opened in 1878. See the quirky Arnos Wall, play a tune on the Musical Fence and discover fully restored heritage trucks at the Truck & Machinery Museum. Visit the impressive Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, located on top of a large mesa named The Jump-Up just 24 km out of town. Join a morning tour of the laboratory, collection room and the new Dinosaur Canyon. If you have the time, then we’d really recommend a day trip to Dinosaur Stampede at Lark Quarry with our friends at Red Dirt Tours. View our Tent City and Campsite packages.
Day 15: Winton to Charters Towers (4hrs 45mins / 463km)
Depart Winton and follow the Kennedy Development Road north on your homeward stretch. About an hour into the drive, make a stop at Corfield, a small town with a pub, camping ground and a post office. Corfield was founded when the now ceased railway line from Winton to Hughenden was built in the late 1800s, linking Winton with Townsville. The town population of 10 swells to more than 1000 once a year (around September) when the popular Corfield Races are held (yes, it’s a pun on the better known Caulfield Races!). The popular horse race is an annual event when punters from near and far come to experience the REAL Corfield races! Continue your drive back through to the township Prairie in the Flinders Shire. In the 1870s Prairie was a main horse change centre for Cobb & Co Coaches. Call into the Prairie Hotel for lunch and take a look at their impressive collection of stockman’s hats and other historical memorabilia. You might also learn the story of their resident ghost, said to be a wandering ringer from the 1930s. From Prairie is just another 200km before your reach Charters Towers. Back in 1871, a young Aboriginal stopped to take a drink from a sandy river bed when he noticed something sparkling from the shallows. Gold! The first goldfield known as Charters Towers was established the following year and the rest is history. Many a hopeful prospector referred to the town as “The World’ given its promise of untapped riches and opportunity. By the end of World War I, many of the prospectors had moved on to the next boom, but a number of the heritage buildings remained, giving rise to another type of boom. Filmmakers loved the authenticity of the old buildings and Charters Towers became the backdrop for several movies including “The Irishman” (1978).
Day 16: Charters Towers to Townsville (1 hr 30 mins / 145 km)
Call in to the Charters Towers Visitor Information Centre and pick up some information on the Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail. Hear stories from the ghosts of gold rush days at historic venues included in the trail – Stock Exchange Arcade, Towers Hill Lookout and The Venus Gold Battery. Around 10km from town, Leahton Park is a massive 1100-acre property, home to the legendary Texas Longhorns! Take a horse-drawn wagon ride, enjoy a camp oven billy tea and damper and visit the saddle shop. When the mood strikes you, head back east along the Flinders Highway to Townsville. With its cosmopolitan coastal lifestyle, Townsville is the perfect base to explore the wonders of the reef, including nearby Magnetic Island. Consider spending a few days here at the end of your drive.