There’s something special about Outback Australia. Whether it’s the vast spaces, the distance between towns, the people (cause they all still seem to have plenty of time for a chat) or just the landscape – whatever it is EVERY family needs to get some of it into their psyche. The good news is there’s a little town that lies only an hour and a half drive from Queensland’s coastline that should be on every family’s itinerary if they visit the Far North……
Charters Towers, ‘Australia’s most authentic country town’ (as the locals like to call it), is just close enough to a major city (Townsville) to make driving into ‘Outback Queensland’ feasible for any family.
I know that living in Cairns, Queensland my kids have not been used to travelling the distances I did when I was a child (it was nothing for my family to jump in a car and travel 3-hours just to enjoy a ‘day-out’). The good news is that the drive to Charters Towers is an easy ‘day trip’ from Townsville, taking all of 1½ hours in a car.
The other bonus is that the landscape is still fairly interesting – the drive ‘outback’ from Townsville to Charters Towers is scattered with ranges, hills, rocky outcrops, road trains and the impressive Burdekin River. All of this makes it easier to turn the technology off and get them to look out the window for a change.
I know a lot of outback towns in Queensland have a swag of stories and history attached to them BUT in Charters Towers you can ‘physically’ see the town’s pioneering roots. The main street has a bunch of historic buildings that epitomise the gold mining era (when the population reached its peak) and you almost expect a horse and cart to make its way past you on the streets.
There’s plenty of museums, walking tours and even a self-driving tour to choose from BUT if kids are involved you won’t want to miss out on the Miners Cottage where you can ‘pan’ for your own gold.
Owner Allan is a real character and somehow manages to help kids find enough gold via their panning efforts so that they can earn ‘miners rights’ plus a small sample of ‘nuggets’ to take home.
My kids also enjoyed the Zara Clark Museum thanks to a few of the interactive displays that the volunteers demonstrated to us. Skippy was a personal favourite for my daughter Charlie and the sling shot money transporter had Josh wanting to know how he could devise one in our own house (from TV room to kitchen for food of course 😉 ).
Dads (particularly the engineering type), will love the Venus Gold Battery that has a guided talk (and holograms) attached to the tour that takes you from the miners ‘dirt’ loads right through to the making of gold bullions and finally to the tailings. There’s even talk of getting a few parts of the Battery up and working again.
Imagine walking the streets at night, entering historic buildings and listening to stories about ghosts from a bygone era. Unfortunately not all of our family felt comfortable about joining in on a ‘real-life’ ghost tour so we had to give this one a miss. Click HERE if it interests you > Ghosts of Gold.
Alternatively, every night at dusk Towers Hill (Charters Towers lookout) holds its very own ‘Ghosts after Dark’ in their open air theatre, so whilst the kids are enjoying the view of the ‘city’ lights you can soak up the stories of the past.
The kids decided on the less scary night-time option so we headed to the Tors Drive-in to relive some of my own memories of growing up in a country town.
Although we didn’t have a ‘ute’ to throw the kids, mattresses and blankets into, our camp chairs and sleeping bags seem to do the job and the kids loved the feel of this ‘outdoor’ cinema.
There’s only a few drive-ins left in Australia so its definitely worth it if you’re staying a few nights in Charters Towers.
In the case of Leahton Park, this cattle station’s ‘twist’ is in the beastie’s horns.
They run the very popular Texas Longhorn Wagon tours and the the main attraction is that you really don’t get to see this breed of cattle wandering the Aussie landscape (and in one case a Guinness World Record winner).
The wagon tours allow you to cruise the property in a horse drawn cart, experience a damper tea and check out those record breaking horns on the infamous longhorn herd. We opted for the shorter tour (Longhorn Safari) which allowed us to hop out and photograph and in some cases, pet the animals.
On our tour we got to see lots of cows that just didn’t seem to belong in the Aussie Outback – American Bison, African Watusi, Texas Longhorns, Scottish Highland Cattle, and Asian Water Buffalo to name a few.
You could tell the herd was well loved, tour guide and owner Mick seemed to know each animal by name, along with their traits and stories.
We also got a sample of good ol’ outback hospitality in the form of some home cooked slices and bush tea plus a glimpse of the workmanship that has made Leighton Park not only famous for its cattle but famous for its saddlery and leathermanship.
There’s plenty of accommodation to choose from in Charters Towers and its particularly suited to the nomads that travel north during the Australian winter period.
We stayed at the Charters Towers Tourist Park which was under new management and although small and cosy and orientated towards an older crowd, they had a fantastic fire-pit for evening activities, a bush poet on the night and a huge oval nearby if the kids need to run around and ‘kick a ball’.
Food wise we were lucky enough to stumble across a top little bakery in town that was serving the yummiest home-made pies and sausage rolls. My ‘Ned Kelly’ was to die for – meat, bacon and an egg and I would have happily ordered a crate of them for our journey onwards.
If you’ve got some extra time on your hands consider visiting the country Barbers shop on the main street. No appointments are necessary and if your game you can see if they’ll do a ‘cut-throat’ shave for you whilst you ‘relax’ in their old-style barber chairs.
Good Things to Know:
Have you done the drive from Townsville to Charters Towers? Any other favourites that you would recommend to families or travellers to the region?