Discovery Drive

Duration: 12 Days / 11 Nights

Start either Townsville or Mount Isa.

The 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.

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Highlights

Day 1 - Townsville to Hughenden

Take a break at the Burra Range Lookout with views over White Mountains National Park. View spectacular white sandstone bluffs, gorges, brilliant wildflowers and changing landscapes – ranging from lancewood forests to sand dunes.  

Day 2: Townsville to 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!

Day 3: Richmond to Julia Creek

Julia Creek is home to the endangered Julia Creek Dunnart, a small carnivorous marsupial. See cheeky resident dunnarts Donald and Duncan during their live feeding at Julia Creek Visitor Information Centre 'At the Creek.'

Day 4: Julia Creek to Cloncurry

Take a side trip between Julia Creek and Cloncurry. Visit some true blue Aussie pubs including the Walkabout Creek Hotel of Crocodile Dundee Fame and the Blue Heeler Hotel. Call in for a snack, lunch or refreshment.

Day 5: Cloncurry to Mount Isa

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.

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.

Day 7: Mount Isa to Boulia

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.

Day 8: Boulia

Visit the heritage listed Stonehouse, noted for its unique design which keeps out the harsh summer heat ....without air-conditioning! It's also one of the first homes built in Western Queensland.

Day 9: Boulia to Winton

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.  

Day 10: Winton

Winton is acknowledged as the Dinosaur Capital of Australia. The twin attractions of Australian Age of Dinosaurs and the Dinosaur Stampede at Lark Quarry draw tens of thousands of visitors to Winton annually.

Dinosaur Stampede at Lark Quarry

While in Winton, take a side trip through majestic mesa country to see the only recorded dinosaur stampede on the planet. There's over 3000 dinosaur footprints frozen in time from over 90 million years ago.

Day 11: Winton to Charters Towers

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.

Day 12: Charters Towers to Townsville

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.

Day One

Townsville to Hughenden (approx 383km / 4hrs) 

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 Two

Hughenden to Richmond (approx 116km / 1hr 16 mins)

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 Three

Richmond to Julia Creek (approx 145km / 1hr 20mins)

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 Four

Julia Creek to Cloncurry   (approx 135km / 1hr 20mins)

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 tranquility 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 Five

Cloncurry to Mount Isa (approx 116km / 1hr 50mins)

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 the free barbeques, picnic areas, walking paths and water sport 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 Six

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, 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 Seven

Mount Isa to Boulia (approx 303km / 3hrs 10mins)

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, heart of the Channel Country and among the finest beef producing country in Australia. 

Day Eight

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 Nine

Boulia to Winton (approx 366km / 4hrs 15mins)

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, a small outback town that punches well above its weight. It is the birthplace of Qantas and our unofficial national anthem, Waltzing Matilda. Winton is also home to the boulder matrix, a rare form of opal and more recently its world-class dinosaur attractions.

Day Ten

Winton

Stroll along Winton’s wide main street and call in to the town’s first general store, Corfield and Fitzmaurice, opened in 1878. There’s a good selection of homemade crafts as well as a mini museum featuring a Dinosaur Diorama.  Visit the Waltzing Matilda Centre, the only museum dedicated to a song (due to be reopened in April 2018). Also on the main street is the Opal Walk with its fascinating opal displays and stories of pioneering miners. 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. 

Side Trip: Dinosaur Stampede National Monument

Dinosaur Stampede is situated 110km south-west of Winton in the Lark Quarry Conservation Park. Follow the Winton-Jundah Road past Bladensburg National Park entrance to Dinosaur Stampede and Lark Quarry Conservation park. Discover the story behind the world's only recorded evidence of a dinosaur stampede with a visit to the award-winning complex. A guided tour is essential to view the Trackways, with daily tours operating between 9 April to 8 October 2017, 8.30am to 5pm. Tour Times: 9.30am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm., offering a comprehensive coverage of the history of the Trackways, from creation to discovery and display.

Day Eleven

Winton to Charters Towers (approx 463km / 4hrs 45mins)

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 1870's Prairie was a main horse change centre for Cobb & Co Coaches.  Call in to 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 Twelve

Charters Towers to Townsville (approx 145 km / 1 hr 30 mins)

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. 

Featured Event

The Mount Isa Mines Rotary Rodeo is where the romance of the Australian Outback meets the grit of a mining town, east meets west and man meets beast. Non-stop rodeo action – bull riding, saddle bronc, bareback bronc, rope & tie, steer wresting, team roping, barrel racing, breakaway roping. Held annually in August.

Featured Event

The Cloncurry Stockman’s Challenge is regarded as one of the greatest horse events in Australia. Dubbed the Curry Challenge, this elite event, draws competitors from all states in a fierce and thrilling competition.  Held annually in July.

Meet Hughie

It’s not often you get to meet a 7 metre Muttaburrasaurus.  Hughie is a life size skeletal replica, cast from the original bones of a 110 million year old dinosaur found in the Flinders Shire.  He looks scary, but believe it or not he was a vegetarian.  Find out more at the Flinders Discovery Centre.

Dig for fossils

By turning a few stones over you may uncover a fossil fish, squid, shark tooth, bivalve or giant marine reptile. Who knows, your discoveries may change how palaeontologists interpret Australia’s ancient past. The Richmond Fossil Hunting Sites are located 12 kilometres North of Richmond.  Find out more at the Kronosaurus Korner Visitor Information Centre.

Visit the Flying Doctor

See why this service is so critical to people living in remote areas. Cloncurry is where it all began.  Founded by Rev John Flynn, a minister with the Presbyterian Church whose vision was to provide a ‘mantle of safety’ for people living in remote areas.  Find out more at John Flynn Place Museum.

Head underground at Isa

Don your overalls and cap lamps then join your miner tour guide for an experience like no other.  Descend into the mine in the Alimak Cage, tour the tunnels, try your hand at the air-leg drill and feel the earth rumble with the firing of the blast face.  Find our more at the Outback At Isa Centre.

Find the Min Min Light

The sight of this eerie light has reduced grown men to tears.  Described as intensely bright floating balls that appear without warning. Aboriginal people suspected them of being spirits while local legend decreed if the light ever caught up with you, you would surely perish. Find out more at the Min Min Encounter in Boulia.