An Outback Drive along “The Great Inland Way”

The Journey

While it is possible to fly from Cairns to Sydney in 3-hours but I am fortunate to take on one of Australia’s top coastal and inland drive – The Great Inland Way. This road trip has been arguably the most captivating way for me to see the stunning outback between Queensland and New South Wales states before reaching my destination – Sydney. Despite the barrenness and heat, I am fascinated by Australia’s interior. My Great Inland Way adventure road trip has one of the most stunning drives I’ve ever taken in years and gave me a wonderful experience into exploring one of the most incredible national parks and spectacular wilderness of Carnarvon Gorge, which was just one of the scenic stops along the way.

It may sound a little crazy but I have this obession of taking on open highways and remote dirt-tracks and seeing and doing things that I don’t normally have time to do it. Taking on this Great Inland Way (covering almost 2000 kilometres) gave me a great opportunity to discover, appreciate and enjoy these magical places. Not only the remote outback areas but beautiful and prisitine gorges, national parks, farmlands and shanty outback towns. This journey was truly a gem waiting for happy road travellers to adventure into and it has ended up being one of the highlights of my road trips.

My road trip started in Cairns and took in much of Coral Sea and extended almost 1670 kilometres of Outback Queensland before reaching Queensland and New South Wales border at Mungindi. The New South Wales leg of the Great Inland Way took in much of northern and central New South Wales.

Cairns to Townsville (485Km)

Highlight: Castle Hill

After leaving Cairns, Australia’s premier gateway to Great Barrier Reef, I began my Great Inland Way along the coastal route from Cairns to Townsville. This 4-hour drive offers hundreds of kilometres of wild Australian beaches (crocodiles & stingers), backed by expansive waterways, canefields and swathes of littoral forest. With inviting seaside towns and cafes interspersed along the way, it is a route that is made for leisurely road trips.

Arriving in Townsville, where I pulled up at The Grand Chancellor Hotel located right in the heart of Townsville CBD and checked into the hotel just after midday. Having most of the afternoon free, I decided take a self-drive tour in and around the city for the rest of the afternoon. Just before dark, I took a drive up to the top of Castle-Hill to marvel at the 360′ degrees view in the heart of the city to view the sunset. Just beneath the protective presence of Castle Hill is the city’s Central Business District (CBD) area, combined with modern fine dinning area and The Strand, waterfront lined with cafes and restaurants. Just a short 30-minutes ferry ride away from Townsville’s mainland is the city’s famous Magnetic Island where many locals and visitors commute each day. To end the evening, I dropped in at the Thai restaurant tasting the dishes on the restaurant’s tasting menu, located in the centre of the Flinders Mall.

Townsville to Clermont (508km)

Highlight: Hoods Lagoon & Copperfield Chimney

Leaving behind the coastal cities and towns, I headed inland for the dusty and dry country towns and its surrounding environments. First inland stop was the township of Charters Towers, just 90 minutes drive south-west of Townsville. Charters Towers, offers a diverse range of wonderul attractions and is one of the most beautiful inland towns in Queensland. With a short self-guided tour of the buildings around town is a must. It is rich in history and heritage. With its unrivalled architecture and unique history reflects the richness of a bygone era. Soon, I was back on the main highway, continuing through Belyando Crossing Roadhouse, a tiny place situated almost in the middle of nowhere to Clermont. This is where the highway crosses the Belyando River. Driving for hours on the outback, I soon forgot that traffic lights exist but took every opportunity to fill up with fuel and regular breaks along the way. Driving along this arid outback Queensland inland route without seeing anything, except flat land, kangaroos, cows and the open road. I’ve seen more road kill than I have in a long time but soon I didn’t even notice the carcasses on the road anymore. Even my mobile phone stopped working and I simply turned it off and forget I own one but passing through towns reminded of my mobile phone. I finally reached the coal mines near Clermont, the only sign of habitation on the entire of my journey, apart from the cattle stations. I pulled outside the motel before dark, just before the Clermont township where I spent the night there with a nice dinner at the local motel before retiring. I soon realised that life is slower and I had to force myself to slow down at times.

The following day, I had a quick tour of the town which gave me a feel of the frontier atmosphere that are still can be found in the area without having to look for too long. The township of Clermont is diverse and has a devastating history. It is a rich agricultural community but have a history of gold fossickers where many come to find and seek fortune. Hoods Lagoon is a parkland and a great place to stop and relax or get the metal detector out and start looking for gold nugget. Clermont, has a colourful past, rich in drama and laced with tragedy where travellers had to stay longer to feel, see and learn about this historical town. Hidden amongst the new prosperity are the remnants of earlier times, from the days of gold rush and copper mines, timber-getters and shearers, stockmen and squatters. Today, mining development brough many of the customer comforts of the town and more lively but the attitude of the local people are still one of the rugged individualism.

Clermont to Emerald (109km)

Highlight: Sapphire Gem Fields

After learning about the Clermont’s turbulent history, I departed for Emerald after lunch but without leaving the town with a visit to the memorial that marks the height of the 1916 floodwaters on the corner of Capricorn and Drummond Street. With just a distance of  115 kilometres, the drive from Clermont to Emerald was an easy short drive. I arrived early in Emerald just before fighting the locals on their daily commute where I was to spent my night there. I spent most of the day, exploring this country town.

The following day, I had a quick observation of the town. Emerald is definitely a thriving rural town. It is the largest country town and is the sunflower territory. For proof, I had a look at the world’s largest painting on an easel and its Van Goughs sunflowers standing 23 metres high. I learnt that Emerald is the heart of the Central Highlands and internationally renowned to be the gateway to one of the largest sapphire fields in the southern hemisphere. Without properly equiped, I didn’t get to experience the thrill of searching for opals or try fossicking. This major country town has a number of industries in agriculture and mining. There is an extensive coal mining in the area which is a major source of revenue for the town’s economy. It is also very big in the agricultural industry – that is cotton and grain growing.

Emerald to Roma (430km)

Highlight: Carnarvon Gorge (Injune)

Highlight: Salesyard (Roma)

Leaving Emerald early the following day, I left for Injune – the gateway to Carnarvon National Park. Injune is a small country town, but is a great base to explore the natural wonders of the area. With interesting history, I took a detour off the main highway before the township of Injune adventuring into Carnarvon National Park. This is where I spent more time exploring Carnavon Gorge. This is a place that every travellers should see. This National Park is renown as one of Australia’s most spectacular wilderness areas and has important Aboriginal cultural sites and is broken up into numerous sections. The Carnarvon Gorge is just one of these. Other areas, like the Mt Moffat section and the Kenniff Cave are just some of the natural wonders to explore. This Gorge truly has the stunning landscapes and is the secret Jewel of Australia. To appreciate the beauty and diversity of this park, spent at least a week to immerse yourself in the beauty of this area.

From Carnarvon Gorge, I was back on the main highway to Roma. Roma is an attractive town and it lies at the heart of a rich sheep and cattle grazing area and not only boasts the largest cattle market in Australia but the southern hemispheres largest sale yards. Roma derserves an overnight stop to take in all it has to offer, which I did. The following day, I had a self-drive tour of the town and I was totally amazed what I have seen in this country town. Starting at the Big Rig, which combines the Tourist Information Centre, displays on oil and gas, historical buildings and gardens for picnics. For an up and close rural experience, I called into the Roma Saleyards – the largest store cattle selling facility in Australia. Luckily, I was in town on Tuesday to witness the sites and sounds of live cattle auctioning from the purpose built catwalks. I tried one of the steak sandwich from the canteen before I headed for St George.

Roma to St George (196km)

Highlight: Sandytown River Cruise

With less than 3-hours drive from Roma to St George, I arrived just before the peak hour as locals heading home for the day. St George, like many other typical Queensland rural towns is filled with so much history and was worth more than just an overnight stop. The town itself is located on a river – The Balonne River and is the heart of St George. I didn’t realised that this town is known as the fishing capital of inland Queensland because of its location on the vast flatlands in the Darling Downs stretching out beyond the Great Dividing Range. However, this town is primarily a service centre for the surrounding wheat, sheep and cotton farmers, apart from fruits and vegetables and beef. With wide streets lined with trees and heritage buildings dating back to the 1880s add to the town’s country feeling. From the moment I arrived to the time I left, this town relaxes the senses in all the right ways. I know why, I didn’t want to leave this town in hurry.

While in town, I visited Steve Margaritis and I was amazed at this talent for carving emu eggs. Later, I indulge myself at Riversands Winery and Cage, the most western winery in Queensland. I took a town tour and explored the murals, St George Heritage Centre and picnic on the grassed river banks near the centre of town. My favourite tour was packing some drinks and nibbles and enjoying the Sandytown River Cruise. As we idle down the river and enjoying the views as well as watching the abundant of birdlife including pelicans, cockatoos and eagles enjoying its natural environment.

St George to Moree (241km)

Highlight: Moree Spa Bath

From St George, I took a detour, off the Great Inland Way route and onto Route 46 to Moree, 241 kilometres south, passing through the tiny country outback town of Mungindi. This tiny town is uniquely situated on both sides of Queensland and New South Wales border. It is quite unique as it is the only border town in the Southern Hemisphere with the same name in two states, just divided by the tiny Barwon River. This quaint village epitomises both outback Queensland and New South Wales.

The drive from St George to Moree was nothing more than miles and miles of operational farmlands from cotton, wheat, wool to dairy farming. Moree is rich with black soil plains and I quickly learnt why the area is an ideal for farming cotton, wheat, beef cattle, olive groves, vineyards and pecans. It is not only a farming country town but it is also one of the largest farm machinery distribution centres in the country.

Finally, arriving in Moree just before the peak period as locals, farm-workers, truckies and caravaners commute. I headed straight to the Artesian spa for the rest of the day. Moree Artesian Aquatic Centre – The town is famous for its Artesian Spa, which attracts thousands of visitors who flock the spa centre each year to enjoy the soothing thermal springs. I couldn’t leave Moree without having a bath at the spa. It was an idyllic place for relaxation, rejuvenation and a great place to discover the therapeutic benefits of the mineral-rich waters after long hours of driving. The following day, I had a quick self-drive tour, especially along the main streets which are lined with beautiful heritage buildings before continuining, 500 kilometre journey to Newcastle.

Moree to Newcastle (502km)

Highlight: Newcastle Memorial Walk & Coastline

Spent only a day in Moree, but I felt like I have been living there for years. With 502 kilometres of long distance drive ahead of me before reaching Newcastle city, I planned to stopover in few New South Wales country towns along the way for rest and recreational breaks. Traveling on this open-space road, I drove through beautiful countryside towns of Narrabri, Gunnedah, Quirindi, Musswellbrook, Maitland and Newcastle, Australia’s seventh largest city and second most populated area in the Australian state of New South Wales.

This stretch of the road journey seems endless and all I saw was miles and miles of vast areas of farmlands. The slopes and plains featured many types of productions from agriculture, coals (mining), cotton, beef cattle, lamb, pork, olive oils, sundried tomatoes, wine and tea. The scenery kept changing from one country town to the other depending on the towns primary production. From semi-dried lands to rich winery farmlands of Hunter Valley Region, the wine capital of New South Wales.

Many hours of driving along miles of straight roads, around curves, uphills and passing through many country towns, I finally arrived in Newcastle before dark. I checked-in at a hotel, walking distance from Newcastles popular beach front. The following day, after having a relaxed breakfast on the waterfront restaurant, it was time to explore this beautiful city. The city of Newcastle is a destination that every visitor’s dream. This sunny-natured Newcastle city is anchored in indigenous and convict history and is filled with entertainment and attraction for everyone. From surfing beaches, hand-cut sea pools, a coastal fort to contemporary bars skirt the city’s harbour. The museums and artisanal restaurants lie at its heart. No wonder, I love this city and I have certainly ticked it off my bucket-list.

Newcastle to Sydney (168km)

Highlight: Opera House & Harbour Bridge

From Newcastle, it only takes 3-hours drive to reach Sydney but it took me more than 3 hours of driving as I explore some of the stunning places of north Sydneys, central coast along the way. Finally, taking a big breath when I arrive in Sydney. I have reached one of the Australia’s major and busiest city and is the gateway to two of the world’s iconic architectural structures – The Sydney Harbour Bridge and The Opera House and the famous Bondi beach which lies in the heart of it. Not only the scenery has changed from laid-back lifestyle living to hustle and bustle of city life but it was hectic with people and traffic. The lines of buildings was endless and I was speechless. This was the end of my epic road journey and what a place to finish the might Great Inland Way road trip and it couldn’t get any better. I am in the city where I had so much about on television, magazines, social media and travel magazines.

After many days of driving along vast open spaces, apprarent emptiness and passing through each cities, towns, gorges and national parks with their architectures, food and cultural significances tells a story. Though, Australia’s outback is hot, harsh and tough beyond measure but each places with its surrounding sceneries along the highway were worth stopping to have breathtaking views. Taking this route for the first time, I was wondering how to best spend my time in every town I visited but most outback places visited left me with different unique experiences. I was fascinated by what it takes to live in such inhospitable conditions but from visiting each town and cities I drove through were very different with unique layers of rich history, culture and lifestyle. One day, when I get my chance, I probably live there and it will be a different story to tell.



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