Rockhampton - Cloncurry via Capricorn and Landsborough
Highways (Hwys 66)
Total distance 1,333 km
All distances measured from Rockhampton
As the name of the highway suggests the first part of our journey follows the Tropic of Capricorn through some of the most productive beef country in Australia.
If you are interested in rocks and gemstones you may like to look for ëThunder Eggsí at Mount Hay. These ancient stones are relics from the days when this area was an active volcano and you can hire the equipment needed to ëprospectí for your own eggs. There is a small caravan park at the site and provision for cutting the stones in half to reveal their fascinating interiors.
Our route now takes us to the little towns of Duaringa (113km) and Wallaroo (124km) before reaching Dingo (148km). Although residents at one time tried to get the name of the town changed, these days a bronze statue of a wild dog stands as a reminder of the dingo that gave the town its name.
People with off road rigs might like to turn off just before Wallaroo to visit the Blackdown Tableland National Park - but the unsealed road in is not suitable for caravans or big rigs and becomes impassible after heavy rain.
Our first sizeable town is Blackwater (196km) which owes its existance to the extensive seams of coal found in the district. A number of mines supply coal for overseas markets and this is taken to the coast in huge trains over a kilometre long. The line is electrified these days but in earlier times huge diesel locomotives kept up their noisy progress all night long.
After passing through the little township of Comet we arrive at Emerald (270km) and here we cross the Gregory Highway (Hwy 55) that would take us south to Springsure or north to Clermont.
Emerald has plenty to interest visitors with many fine old buildings including the beatifully preserved railway station. There are caravan parks, retausants, hotels and lots of shops in the town and not far away at the Fairbairn Dam is Lake Maraboon with its own well appointed caravan park and picnic areas. The Nogoa River also provides water for irrigation for the many crops grown in the district. It is the unofficial capital of the central highlands and an important rail junction. The cotton gin offers interesting guided tours and you can also visit one of the coal mines for another interesting tour.
Fossickers will find plenty to keep them interested in this area as gemstones are mined at Emerald and moving westwards we come to the gemfields of Anakie and Rubyvale. There are plenty of outlets where stones can be bought if you donít fancy doing the painstaking work yourself.
The bible talks of trumpeters bringing down the walls of Jerico but it wasnít talking about the little Queensland town of Jerico that we reach after passing through Alpha (430km) - is only the Jordan Creek we cross and not the River Jordan!
At Barcaldine (571km) we meet the Mitchel Highway (Hwy 71) coming from Blackall and Charleville. This is the birthplace of what has become the ALP as the first ever shearers strike took place here in 1891 with meetings held under the ëTree of Knowledgeí that still stands near the railway station. Plentiful artesian water supplies the town and provides irrigation for the many crops grown in the surrounding district.
Passing through the little town of Ilfracombe we reach Longreach (678km) - home of the Stockmanís Hall of Fame and the early main base for Quantas. The Hall of Fame commemorates the lives and work of early pioneers in the outback and is well worth the time for a visit.
The highway changes its name but not its number here and we continue along the Landsborough Highway (Hwy 66) to Winton (857km). The first public performance of Banjo Pattersonís ëWaltzing Matildaí took place here although it was composed near Kynuna further north. Quantas was formed here in 1920 and the first board meetings were held in the town.
McKinley would probably have continued in virtual obscurity if the hotel hadnít been used for the first scenes in the film ëCrocodile Dundeeí. Now the pub is on the list of ëmust seesí for any tourist passing through the area.
We have been travelling through blacksoil country and this becomes treacherous after rain - stay on the sealed surface or risk getting stuck!
Itís just a short distance now until we reach our destination at Cloncurry (1,200km) and the junction with the Flinders Highway (Hwy 78).