Why Should the Big Road-Trippers Have All the Fun?

How to experience the fun of an outback road trip in just 3 days

Why should the grey nomads, gap-year’ers and young families doing the big lap of Australia have all the fun?

If you can’t take 3 months off to hit the road – Try taking 3 days –
You’d be amazed what you can experience by leaving the beach and the coast behind and heading off on an inland adventure…

Here’s how…

Day 1 of My Mini Outback Queensland Road Trip

City to Outback view from the air-plane window

View out of my air-plane window leaving the city and landing just 1.5 hours later in outback central Queensland’s Emerald 900 km NW of Brisbane

In an hour and a half from Brisbane you can be in central outback Queensland, transposed to this vast wonderful wilderness for (usually) under $250 return per person with either Qantas or Virgin.
Emerald is 900km (560miles) NW of Brisbane, 300 km (185miles) inland from the coast at Rockhampton.
And for precision, about the same from Barcaldine to the east where the Roma road that comes up from Brisbane intersects and would take you on out to Longreach and the Stockman’s Hall of Fame.

Hire cars are available in Emerald including 4WD that are allowed off-road, which is perfect if you want to do a bit of fossicking
It’s then time to hit the road where the big road trippers roam.

Road trip


Leaving Emerald on the Capricorn Highway (named as it follows the geographic Tropic of Capricorn) head west and after just 45km (28miles) turn left off the main drag to visit Anakie, where any final remnants of fast city life will fall off your shoulders as you step into historic Gemfields time.

Anakie Railway Station in the Gemfields, outback Queensland

Anakie Station where the Spirit of the Outback passes through twice a week

Sit a while on the platform bench of Anakie’s Railway Station and peer down the line where twice a week the Spirit of the Outback will come into view.

Then check out the huge Kurrajong tree that marks the end of the platform.
Stand at its base and look up –

High, high up in the Kurrajong’s canopy you can see initials carved into the trunk made by men waiting on this platform to leave the region for WW1, when this tree was but a sapling –
And about half way up are letters engraved by men leaving for WW2.
The passing of time sprouting before your eyes.

Kurrajong tree at Anakie railway station that has initials from men leaving for the world wars

Back in your vehicle, cross over the Capricorn Highway – Australia’s old Highway 66 – and head towards Sapphire and Rubyvale where ramshackle miners’ humpies are scattered across the 4500-hectare miners’ common, which was established in the 1890’s about 20 years after gems were first discovered in the region.
It allows for ‘non-permanent’ structures to be established on small pegged out mining leases along with the right to graze livestock at $1 per annum for a cow (incl a calf) or $2 per annum for a horse.

Miners shack in the gemfields, queensland

And rusty relics of vehicles from a past era.

Rusty vehicles in the gemfields queensland

After checking into Rubyvale Gem Gallery’s self contained apartments we headed up a nearby hill on the edge of town to admire the view across the plain to ancient volcanic plugs peppering the horizon line, behind which the sun was radiantly setting.

Kurrajong tree at sunset with rock wallabies overlooking My Leura in the gemfields, queensland

Watching the rock wallabies scampering over the hillside it was hard to believe we’d woken up in civilization that morning and but a few hours previously were breathing in the fumes of Brisbane’s city air.

Here’s my travel journal story map summarising Day 1 of my mini outback Queensland road trip.

Diagram of my day in the Gemfields in Central Outback Queensland

Story Map of Day 1 in Outback Queensland

Day 2 – Fossicking for Gems, Exploring Underground Mines & Kicking Back 

We awoke to a classic Queensland winter’s morning – about 20 degrees Celsius with the sun shining in a perfect crystal clear blue sky – with first up a wonderful breakfast at the Rubyvale Cafe, just at the front of our accommodation.
Fresh carrot, ginger and orange juice – Delicious :)
Breakfast in the outback

And then off we set on an outback fossicking adventure –

Read my post:

“What a Gem! The Fun of Fossicking”

where we met an RV’er who’d found a $10,000 yellow sapphire just days before!

Fosicking, mining and cutting gems in outback Queensland

I don’t need an excuse to head off the beaten track, away from urbanisation to enjoy nature –
But having said that I have to confess it was a bit of a thrill (and a lure to return) to actually find a little blue sparkler of my own under Michael’s guidance (from the Little House of Gems) who took us out and showed us exactly where to dig for wash and then process it.

Sieving for Gems in Outback Queensland

Having experienced how to fossick from the surface, we went on a short but informative underground tour at Miner’s Heritage, before visiting a small family operated plant, where we watched drums of wash they’d dug out from tunnels underground being hauled up… poured into hoppers… rolled around trummels… jiggled down pulsators… to finally reveal the spoils of the day in gravelly trays.

Techniques for extracting sapphires

Bringing the wash up from underground to pour it into the hopper, down the trummel and through the pulsator to extract the gems


All that country air gave me quite an appetite… so after a bite to eat…


A BLT for lunch at Pats Gems Queensland
…we returned to Rubyvale’s Gem Gallery to admire how wonderful the world is that nature can produce such pretty precious gems from volcanic eruptions that spurted fiery molten lava across the region millions of years previously.

Sapphire Gems

Yes, they’re ALL sapphires… even the yellow ones!


As the day came to a close we returned to the Miner’s Common to watch the sun set over the mullock heaps.

Sunset on an outback queensland road trip

The last of the sun’s rays catching the dried ochre grasses and scrubby bushes turning them uncharacteristically into autumnal shades of orange, yellow and gold –
While as the air cooled, kangaroos ventured out to graze along the distant bush-line.
It was oh so peaceful.

But what outback road trip would be complete without a beer in the local Pub. So we popped over to the Royal in Rubyvale and enjoyed some liquid amber with the publican who recounted tales of times past, while their Nepalese chef prepared us a tasty meal.

Rubyvale Pub

Beer and a meal with the publican at the Royal in Rubyvale


Here’s my Story Map summarising Day 2 – Which was full of new experiences, fresh country air and the smells and sounds of a region a thousand kilometres from my buzzing city life.

Story Map diagram for my trip to the Gemfields in outback Queensland

Story Map illustrating Day 2 of My Mini Road Trip to Outback Queensland

Day 3 of My Mini Road Trip Adventure

Day 3 started with much hilarity!
Outback Queenslanders have a wry sense of humour, and we’d been noticing many funny Australian signs – Such as…

The Willy Wash

“The Willy Wash”

…as well as a place for
Getting Your Nuts Tightened…

You’ll have to click through to my post:

Signs of My Time in the GemFields

to see more if you feel like a giggle!

It was then time to start making our way back towards Emerald for the 2.30pm flight back to the city –

We went via Lake Maraboon and over Fairbairn Dam (my namesake hehe!)

Fairbairn Dam near Emerald Queensland

Lake Maraboon is huge – and with a circumference of 260km appears like an inland sea – Hard to imagine that Lake Argyle in the NE of WA has a circumference of 1,500km!

Such a gorgeous big body of water to play in so far from the coast – If we’d had a bit more time it looked super inviting for a dip, or hiring a boat for some fishing or water ski-ing.
Another time!

And as we left, we came upon a cattle drove that had come all the way from Winton – about 600km (375miles) to the west.

Outback Queensland road trip we came across this herd of cattle on a drove from Winton

What could be more quintessentially Queensland than quad bikes, cattle dogs and big shady cowgirl hats.

Here is my third story map extracted from my travel journal for this fun 3 day trip ~

Travel journal story map recording my 3rd day in the gemfields

Story Map of Day 3 of My Mini Outback Queensland Road Trip

So… Who would have thought?
That you could experience the real feel of an outback Queensland road trip in just 3 days and…
without having to drive all those miles and miles and miles to get there –

Next time you’re ready for a break – instead of doing the obvious and heading for the beach – think about taking a flight out bush and experience a world away from home for a few days –
When you get back to the city you’ll be glad you dared to be different.
You’ll have stepped into the shoes of the grey nomads, experienced adventures of a gap year’er and had some of the fun of those road-trippers doing the Big Lap!

Where the big roadtrippers roam

Why let the big road-trippers have all the fun?

When did you last dare to be different
and take a flight inland, instead of to the beach?

Or have I planted a seed?
A change, is what makes a holiday! 😉

Do share in the comments below!

Signs of My Time in the GemFields

Funny Australian Signs from Outback Queensland

There can’t be too many places you go on holiday, or for a break, where your destination appears so intent on ensuring you’re left wanting for nothing, as on my recent visit to the Gemfields in central Queensland’s outback.

The Willy Wash

The Willy Wash

First port of call – “The Willy Wash”, which comes decked out with south pacific umbrellas so you don’t get hot and bothered when shaking out the dust and putting your rocks through the willoughby.

Then on to the Big Spanner should you need a little readjustment to Get Your Nuts Tightened.

Get your nuts tightened at... The Big Spanner

Get your nuts tightened at The Big Spanner


All spruced up – It would be perfect to now head down to the Grave Hill Nudist Colony…


Funny Australian Sign Nudist Colony

Grave Hill Nudist Colony


But, slow down… not too fast there!


Funny Sign, slow down

Slow Down This is not a race track. Let our Grandkidz live


Wouldn’t want you following this Gemfield Hot Rod


Funny australian sign on an old wrecked car

Gemfields Hot Rod


And in case you had any thoughts of deviating along the way


Australian Funny Sign - You will be shot

If you dig on this claim you will be shot!!


But once you’re done digging


Funny australian sign - Done Digging

Dundiggin Rd


If you haven’t made your fortune, you could always try your hand at some other profession?


Dundiggin to Pole Dancing

Trying my hand at pole dancing ;)


But on the other hand…
You may now be able to afford to buy Buckingham Palace.
Which on face value, looking at it front on gives a first impression of it all being hunky dory…


Funny australian sign of Buckingham Palace in the Gemfields

Buckingham Palace


But with a secondary sideways glance
The Leaning Palace of Buckingham may be more apt?


Roundabout in outback Australia at rush hour

Be sure you don’t get caught up in the rush hour at the Rubyvale roundabout.

Before you head up to enjoy the sunset atop of Policeman’s Knob.

Viewing the sunset from Policemans Knob near Rubyvale

View from Policeman’s Knob


And the final sign that I was here in the Central Highlands of Queensland was the 25 meter high easel sporting a reproduction of Van Gough’s Sunflowers in the township of Emerald (900km NW of Brisbane, 300km inland from the coast at Rockhampton)


Big Easel Project Emerald Van Gough Sunflowers

Emerald’s Big Easel (for scale, do you see me at the bottom of the left leg?)


The Emerald Easel is part of the Big Easel Project
A project initiated by Cameron Cross, which he hopes will eventually see seven such constructions across the world each portraying one of Van Gough’s seven Sunflower paintings.
The first was made by the artist in Altona, Canada in October 1998.
Emerald’s was the second to be constructed in 1999.
The third was completed in 2001 in Goodland, Kansas, USA.


Map of Gemfields

Map of the Gemfields in Queensland’s Central Highlands where you can dig the tropics


And if this has tickled your fancy – Here’s a link to find out more about how you too can…

Dig the Tropics

What funny Australian signs have you seen on your travels?

Or for that matter, across the world?

Do tell in the comments below 😀

What a Gem! The Fun of Fossicking

“All the buckets had been taken except for one” John recounted.

“‘Lucky Last’
I called it” and his eyes crinkled up and his cheeks reddened as he chuckled to himself.

Having paid the princely sum of $8 for a bucket of wash, (many places here in the gemfields of central outback Queensland sell pre-dug wash to the visitors) he’d been shown the technique of fossicking with a sieve and then dunking in a willoughby, which jiggles the heavy stones to the bottom and when he turned his sieve over – there, among the gravel was…

“A 16.5 carat yellow sapphire!”

“It’s worth over $10,000!”

And he roared with laughter 😉

Finding a yellow sapphire in the queensland gemfields

John showing me his wonderful yellow sapphire find

Gem Fossicking Find

What a story –

Made all the more amazing by the fact this wasn’t some distant hand-me-down story of hearsay.
I was standing in Anakie Caravan Park, in the Gemfields of central Queensland, not only hearing it from the horse’s mouth, but I was seeing the proof of the pudding with my very own eyes right on the site where he’d bought his fabled bucket of wash just a few days prior, and where he was currently camping on his RV trip in outback Australia.

Yellow sapphire found fossicking in queensland

John and his yellow 16.5 carat sapphire gem

Gem Fossicking in Central Outback Queensland

Enthused by his luck, and with a glint of gem-fever in my eyes, I had to give it a go!

Not having a clue what buckets of wash were, where to find them or what to do with them I teamed up with the Little House of Gems in Rubyvale and headed bush with Michael to show me and our group the ropes.

Fossicking for sapphires in the gemfields of Queensland

Michael from the Little House of Gems demonstrating how fossicking is done

He made it look as clear as clear as he explained how the story started at Mt Hoy – a big volcano that erupted millions of years ago (there are over 70 volcanic plugs not 50km apart in this region) and it was from these extensive lava flows of basalt that formed the nucleolus for the sapphires and zircons that are now to be found in a layer of wash below the earth’s surface, but above the granite.

Diagram showing the process for fossicking for gems

Summary of my day in the Gemfields where I Fossicked for sapphires, visited an underground mine at Miners Heritage, watched a commercial plant in operation and finally saw a jeweller cut some gems.

With picks, and buckets and sieves we set to work extracting (as technically as our beginners eye would allow) the whitish talc like wash from (as instructed) below the surface dirt, but above the redder looking pug clay.

Picking out the wash in search of sapphires

We then sieved it to remove the dust, jiggled it in the willoughby – a very simple but nifty device that bounces the remaining wash up and down in water allowing the heavier rocks to wiggle their way to the bottom so when we swung and flipped our sieves out upside-down on the table – technically – our ‘finds’ would be near the top… or maybe around the edges where as the sieve is removed they could potentially roll down the sides… or maybe just in case you hadn’t quite jiggled it sufficiently and it was lurking just below the surface and you fear you may have missed it entirely, you pick and sift your way through the entire heap
And if you’re lucky…

You find a little treasure :)

Sieving for Gems in Outback Queensland

My little find in outback Queensland

Not quite as impressive as John’s yellow sapphire –
But it was my very own little gem find from my day out in the sapphire fields of Central Queensland –
I’ve been told it’s big enough to cut a single stud earring from it, so it looks as though I’ll have to go back to find another, so I can make a pair 😉

Have you ever tried gem fossicking?
How was your luck… and if good, do you care to tell us exactly where?

Please share in the comments below 😀