[box]I’ve just returned from a four-day glamping trip with Adels Grove which got me out and about in the Boodjamulla National Park and Riversleigh area of Outback Queensland. Here’s Part I of my story on the trip, stay tuned for Part II. [/box]
Flying over the vast savannahs, I feasted on amazing views of orange earth and green spinifex cacti that ran for miles and miles. The terrain twisted and curved around gentle hills and long dirt roads, and cattle herds ran in all directions on the dusty plains. This was my first glimpse of Outback Queensland.
It wasn’t easy getting to Mount Isa (actually involved five flights), but this view from the air already made it well worth the effort. Even before I stepped foot in Outback Queensland, I already knew I loved it.
Outback Queensland: Beyond the Tourist Trail
Outback Queensland takes up roughly half of Queensland, sprawling across the areas west of the Great Diving Range. The Outback is often described as the vast, remote and empty inland Australia — but I can’t disagree more. It may be vast and remote, but it’s far from empty. It has a rich history, shaped first by the Aboriginals who arrived some 40 to 50,000 years ago, weaving their stories, dreamtime, across the landscapes, leaving behind a legacy of cave paintings and heritage. The explorers came next who opened up cattle stations inland which still underpins the Queensland economy. Today, it’s a treasure trove for travelers with its hidden gorges, ancient Aboriginal rock art, waterholes and wildlife-rich wetlands.
In north west Queensland lies Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, a two million acre reserve studded with rose red sandstone ranges, deep gorges and a limestone plateau with significant fossil fields. This part of Outback Queensland resembles the Red Center — after all, it is just 50km from the Northern Territory border — but you won’t see any crowds here. It’s hot, dry and harsh, studded with gorgeous unearthly landscapes and criss-crossed with excellent hiking trails and waterways. Yet, it seems to be a secret even among Australians. It’s thousands of kilometers from the coastline that Queensland is so well known for, but as I found out last week, this is a part of Australia that is just as stunning as many of the country’s renown attractions.
Day 1: Driving from Mount Isa to Adels Grove, and everything in between
My four-day glamping trip with Adels Grove started in Mount Isa, an unattractive mining town and the main gateway to the Lawn Hill and Riversleigh area. Rod, the fun and wise owner of Adels Grove, was my guide for the journey and I couldn’t be more honored. He has more than 20 years of experience guiding and is a fully certified Savannah guide. Savannah Guides is a network of professional tour guides and tour operators based in the tropical savannahs of northern Australia and their guides withhold the highest of standards. Guides have to go through months of training and at least two schools (they organize two learning schools per year) to qualify.
From Mount Isa, we had almost 330km to cover to get to Adels Grove, but thankfully Rod had planned a few stops to show me some interesting sights along the way. Leaving the town and mines behind, we were instantly surrounded by vast fields of red sand mounts, green spinifex and small termite mounds. Rod pointed out the vegetation that were typically found in this open savannah habitat – snappy gum tree (a type of eucalyptus), holly grevilleas, acacias and silverleaf box that was used by the Aboriginals to make their didgeridoos.
War Remnants and Fossil Sites
Our first stop was a World War II site, where remnants of the old Barkly Highway are still visible. The rugged track was built during the WWII period by Italian soldiers and was used for over 50 years before the completion of the new Barkly Highway in 1996. Rod said that it used to take him twice the time to get to Mount Isa on the old road but these days it hardly takes more than four hours to cover the distance. The highway now forms part of the national highway system and joins up with the Stuarts Highway in the Northern Territory.
Soon enough we veered off the road into a dirt track and arrived at a big acacia tree, where a plaque had been erected. This was apparently the site of an old boarding school dating back to 1898. Rod explained, “Back then, there were no cars or motorways. Horse carriages and wagons used to pass through this area as people made their way to the coast in search for work. Enroute they left their children in the boarding school for months before picking them up again on their way back home.” We could still see the remains of the school gate, made from acacia tree trunks that had stayed strong despite centuries of wear and tear. It was just incredible to find the remains of a school that was more than a century old here in the middle of nowhere.
Continuing our drive, we passed through several creeks like the O’Shannassy River and Gregory River before coming to a stop at the Riversleigh (Miyumba) Fossils Site, a World Heritage site that covers approximately 10,000 hectares in Boodjamulla National Park. The Riversleigh fossils are among the richest and most extensive in the world, revealing mammalian evolution since the Gondwana period. Almost 25 million years ago, this was home to an inland sea and because the freshwater pools were so rich in lime that they petrified the fossils instead of compressing them, and thus most of the animal remains retain their three-dimensional structure and can be clearly seen today encased within the limestone rocks.
Rod led me through Site D, the only site opened to public access. There are plenty of individual locations in the area where fossils have been found, but all of them are under private property. On this site alone, paleontologists have dug up remains of more than 200 different species of animals most of which are early relatives of many familiar present-day animals, including possums, wallabies, koalas and Australia’s oldest venomous snakes. Less familiar animals lived here as well such as gremlin-like possums, marsupial lions, flesh-eating kangaroos and thunder birds. These creatures left no living relatives, although many of these lineages continued to evolve until they became extinct during the last 100,000 years.
Sunset in the Outback
By the time we arrived at Adels Grove, it was the perfect time to join the sunset tour up to Harry Hill. With a group of other travelers, we drove up to a nearby lookout point for a panorama of the surrounding Constance Range. While we snapped photos of the beautiful golden lit skies and outback landscape, our guide Les had set up a table full of nibbles and drinks. He shared with us some general information of the Lawn Hill area and Adels Grove, before letting us mingle and chat with one another. It was plenty of fun getting to know my fellow campers – a Australian family of three including a jovial and sweet 83-year-old lady, an outgoing Brisbane couple who were traveling around the country on their caravan and a Singaporean-Nigerian doctor couple exploring their new backyard.
The sun was slowly making its way below the horizon and the color of the landscapes changed quickly from sandy brown to orange and eventually bright red. By 6.30pm, Constance Range was shrouded in a shade of vermilion red, glowing like a tungsten light bulb against a clear cloudless sky. Everyone went silent, watching the phenomenon in awe. As the magical moment passed us, we clinked glasses in celebration of the moment. Platters of cheese, crackers and olives and endless glasses of wine were served; everyone was in high spirits by the end of the evening.
That night, we gathered on Adels Grove outdoor dining deck to enjoy a hearty meal of beef steak and roast potatoes drenched in thick mushroom gravy. The group of us spent the evening chatting and laughing as we swapped stories and learned all about this new part of the world. Under the starry skies, I went to bed in my spacious and comfortable tent (with a double bed inside) and dozed off to the hypnotic sound of the river flowing just a few meters away from me – dreaming about what would await me the next day.