Inland Australia: a stunning beauty

THERE'S something about driving inland that is good for the soul.

While we are all attracted to the stunning coastal beauty along so many of our great highways, turning towards the centre brings a feeling of adventure and discovery that the shoreline just doesn't offer.

Gold, coal, rugged natural beauty and a colourful history are all waiting to be discovered on the drive inland from Mackay to Rockhampton, a comfortable 920km that makes a perfect three or four day getaway into some of Queensland's most remarkable countryside.

Follow history

You'll be following in the footsteps of explorer Leichhardt's party as you head west along the Peak Downs Highway from Mackay, after driving over the Eton Range, stopping at Nebo.

This picturesque rural town is a mixture of coal mining and rural charm.

Check out the local museum's impressive collection, grab a spot of lunch on the wide verandas of historic Nebo Pub and check out the town's interesting riverfront murals.

Head deeper into coal-mining territory to Moranbah and take in a tour of the nearby Peak Downs coal mine.

Tours are available the last Wednesday of each month and bookings are essential.

Beyond Moranbah a series of dramatic volcanic plugs known as Peak Range come into view, marking a stunning entrance on your way to the gold rush town of Clermont. Clermont's colourful past is proudly on display, from the piano stuck in a tree as a result of the town's worst flood (and the second-worst in the country's history in terms of loss of life) to its place in the history books as the first inland settlement north of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Gold fossicking kits are available at the Clermont Caravan Park which include all you need to know about striking it rich.

A fossicking license in required and can be obtained from the Department of Natural Resources.

Experience a working coal mine at Blair Athol. Free guided tours leave from Clermont and take you through the workings of the mine on Tuesdays and Fridays at 9am.

Stick your gold nuggets in the boot, then buckle up and hit the Gregory Highway for Capella, with the conical sentinels of the Peak Range as the backdrop.

Make sure you check out the Pioneer Village which includes the Peak Downs Homestead built in 1869, Gordon Downs Store and Woolshed, and vintage farming equipment.

From here, it's onto Emerald where you can spend some time visiting places like Rubyvale, Sapphire and Blackwater.

Fossicking fun

If you notice a theme in the town names you would be right! Try your hand at gem fossicking, take in an underground mine or watch the gem cutters at work.

Emerald is like nowhere on earth - it's at once eerie, friendly and fabulous fun.

Stay the night in town before waking to an outback sunrise and an early start to take in some of the sights and sounds.

Heading south out of town, you can stretch your legs and have a picnic at Lake Maraboon, formed by the Fairburn Dam.

Next stop is Springsure, one of the prettiest towns in the Central Highlands with the famous Virgin Rock (named for its resemblance to the Virgin Mary) part of the mountain-range backdrop.

A further 71km south lies Rolleston - gateway to the incredible Carnarvon National Park and the junction of the Dawson Highway and Great Inland Way.

Nature's jewel

Time permitting, it is highly recommended you spend a few days exploring Carnarvon, one of inland Queensland's jewels and renowned for its dramatic gorges and Aboriginal rock art.

Back on the road, spend the night at Moura before heading east towards Biloela and passing through Banana - the town named after the bullock.

Several farmstays offer great accommodation in the local area, including Kroombit Park, which also offers guided tours into Kroombit Tops National Park.

Biloela is home to the beautifully preserved 1870s slab hut of Greycliffe Station.

The site is now a museum where kids can visit farm animals ranging from donkeys to ostriches.

You can also take in a guided tour of the Callide Coal Mine and Power Station and there is a museum at Callide B Power Station and lookout with views over the complex, dam, town and countryside.

City start

This trip can be started from either Rockhampton or Mackay, with both cities having their own unique flavour.

Stroll along Quay Street on the banks of the Fitzroy River in Rockhampton with one of the highest densities of heritage-listed buildings in Australia.

Explore Mackay town centre and you will find beautiful, confectionary-like art-deco buildings galore.

For more information, go to: or call 1300 130 001

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