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Queensland's Outback is a vast and exhilarating place filled with real-life Crocodile Dundee types. Everyone lives in very isolated townships, so locals are used to relying on each other.
Heading west from Townsville along the Flinders Highway (aka Overlanders Highway), stop at once-prosperous gold-mining town Charters Towers —a beautiful city with 60 or so historically significant buildings. Farther west is Hughenden, showcasing significant ancient fossils found in the region. Continue via Cloncurry to Mount Isa, a surprisingly multicultural city of around 23,000 people, where you'll find the sprawling Xstrata Mount Isa Mines; Australia's deepest mine (at 6,234 feet), it's one of the world's largest producers of copper, zinc, silver, and lead. The drive takes about six days, one-way.
When traveling any of these routes by car, take practical precautions. Use a four-wheel-drive vehicle—many roads in the region are unpaved and become slippery after it rains. Always carry spare water, a first-aid kit, a good local map, and sufficient fuel to get to the next town (which may mean carrying spare gas cans). If you're traveling into remote areas, advise local police or other responsible persons of your travel plans and report back to them when you return. If you have an on-road emergency, call 000 from the nearest public phone (or 112 from mobile phones) to reach an ambulance or the police.
Overlanders Highway Top Stops
Flinders Discovery Centre. In Hughenden, don't miss meeting "Hughie," a Muttaburrasaurus skeleton on display at Flinders Discovery Centre, alongside natural history, gem and fossil exhibits, a multimedia sheep-shearing installation and a shop with tour brochures, maps, and souvenirs. This is a great place for kids, young and old. 37 Gray St., Hughenden, QLD, 4821. 07/4741–1021. www.hughenden.com. A$3.50. Daily 9–5 (Feb–Nov), 10–4 (Dec–Jan).
If you're a fan of the movie Crocodile Dundee, head south from Cloncurry via Route 66 to McKinlay. This hamlet's claim to fame is
Walkabout Creek Hotel. If you're a fan of the movie Crocodile Dundee, head south from Cloncurry via Route 66 to McKinlay. This hamlet's claim to fame is Walkabout Creek Hotel, which featured in the movie. Middleton St. at Kirby St., McKinlay, QLD, 4823. 07/4746-8424.
Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park. Mount Isa is a good jumping-off point for exploring the spring-fed rivers and gorges of Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, where you can canoe amid freshwater crocodiles and camp in the wilderness for A$5.15 per person, per night (BYO tents, gear, and water). 13–7468 permits. www.derm.qld.gov.au.
Mount Isa. The southern hemisphere's biggest rodeo takes place in Mount Isa each year in late July or August. 07/4743–2706. www.isarodeo.com.au.
Outback at Isa. In addition to the rodeo at Mount Isa, another must-see in the region is Outback at Isa, an interpretative center housing fossil exhibits from the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Riversleigh Fossil Fields some 300 km (186 mi) away. Here you can take the miner-guided Hard Times Mine underground tour experience, where you'll dress in a hard hat, orange coveralls, and headlamp, and tour a "mock-up" mine 49½ feet below the surface. 19 Marion St., Mount Isa, QLD, 4825. 1300/659660 or 07/4749–1555. www.outbackatisa.com.au. Mine and all museums A$55, mine only A$45. Daily 8:30–5.
The Overlander's Highway stretch of the Flinders Highway is a great drive for experiencing a small slice of the Australian Outback, but how did it come to be, exactly? The name gives it away; "overlander" is a term used to refer to someone who helps move cattle from one place to another, and this route used to be used for that purpose. The word has found its way into general usage to describe other distance-traversing feats; a small sampling includes Overland magazine which focuses on 4WD vehicles, the town of Overlander in Western Australia, the Overland train that runs between Adelaide and Melbourne, and of course this great drive.
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