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Conny Jan 12th, 2005 11:50 AM

Easy & Interesting Outback Family Experience?
As part of our six week stay in Australia this fall, we are thinking a family outback experience would be great. Our itinerary is something like 1. Tasmania for two weeks, 2. Sydney & Blue mountains for 2 week 3. GBR & rainforest for about 1 week and 4. outback jaunt for a week. Since we will be on the east coast, we're looking for something relatively accessible

Conny Jan 12th, 2005 11:54 AM

Oops, sorry I hit the post button by mistake. Looking for something fairly accessible i.e. within a 4 hour drive from Sydney, Whitsunday area (maybe) or Cairns. Perhaps a train ride would be neat as well.

Yes, we are on a budget and are a family of 4. I know this post is vague - sorry about that, but I would love any ideas you may have.

My one daughter loves the fossiking idea but I'm not sure that we would hang out in a fossiking field for a week (actually I know that we would not).

Thanks for any ideas. We really think that visiting the outback would be the icing on the cake for this section of our trip.


Judy_in_Calgary Jan 12th, 2005 12:57 PM

Hello Conny,

Here is a website about Queensland's Outback:

My great regret is that I went to the Cairns / Port Douglas area without going into Queensland's Outback. Since I've come to Fodors, I've learned about the Undara Lava Tubes and several other places one can find if one is willing to go some way into the interior. The Undara Lava Tubes are about 300 km (190 miles) and about a 4 hour drive from Cairns.

Even the town of Kuranda, on the edge of the Atherton Tableland, which is only 30 km (20 miles) from Cairns, can give one some idea of the contrast between the lush rainforests and sugar cane fields on the coastal plain and the drier interior.

One can get to Kuranda by road, Skyrail (cable car) or conventional train. It's quite nice to go up by Skyrail and back by conventional train.

I suppose Kuranda could be done in half a day if one rushed it, but we did it as a leisurely, full-day trip, and enjoyed it. There are two stations at which one has to switch cable cars, and there are interpretive centres and park wardens to explain the rainforest ecosystem. Very interesting. Many people here criticise the little town of Kuranda for being touristy. Yes, it is touristy. You can go for a ride in an open horse carriage, you can buy souvenirs at the many shops and market stalls, etc., etc. But there is more to Kuranda than that, like the butterfly sanctuary, for example. Just looking at the unusual curtain fig trees was a treat for me.

Other than the Kuranda Scenic Railway Train between Cairns and Kuranda, I'm not aware of a railway line that connects Cairns with the interior of Queensland.

Most things about the timing of the Australian portion of your trip look good to me. I do think 2 weeks is too long to spend on Sydney and the Blue Mountains. (By the way, avoid disappointment, and don't think of them as mountains. They are a most charming area to hike, but they are more like hills than mountains.)

Anyway, I think one of the weeks that you're currently thinking of spending on Sydney might best be allocated elsewhere. I'm not quite sure where to suggest. Perhaps the Gold Coast (roughly the area north of Byron Bay, NSW and south of Brisbane, Queensland). In addition to the fact that the coastline there is said to be lovely, there also are some national parks a little way into the interior, and they too are said to be great. That is another area that I have not been to personally, and that I have read about at Fodors.

Yet another area that you might want to consider is the Northern Territory (Darwin and Kakadu National Park). Sorry, I haven't been there either. There are posts about it here at Fodors, though.

Hope that helps.

lizF Jan 12th, 2005 12:59 PM

From Sydney you can take the train up the Blue Mountains and hike to your heart's content but that is not the outback and I should say here that the only place that has anything remotely like the outback within 4 hours of it is Adelaide and/or Cairns - the latter has the Savanna land train ( not sure that is what it is called though ) but again this is a particular type of outback and not what I think you mean.
Most of the places where you can dig for saphires, rubies and opals are quite a bit further inland and not reachable by train with the exception of Emerald in Queensland which would be an option. That area would require a car and would most certainly be an interesting option giving you the chance also to see Carnarvon Gorge with its Aboriginal paintings, outback surrounding that area, wildlife in abundance and of course the chance to get some really beautiful saphires. This would require you to probably go west from Rockhampton in south central coastal Queensland out to Emerald ( by car or train but you would need a car in Emerald ) and then around that area for gems at Rubyvale, Saphire and Emerald of course - head south to Carnarvon Gorge as it really is a wonderful and beautiful area. You could do that trip en route to the GBR with a stop off at Rockhampton.

Conny Jan 12th, 2005 04:07 PM

Thanks Liz & Judy. Is there anything but hiking to do in the Blue Mountains for a family - just hanging out is great as well.

Also, Liz, do you have any first-hand experience with fossiking (such a funny word I think I half-giggle everytime I see it)? Do you know if there are any relatively easy finds for children or is it usually several hours of finding nothing but dirt? We're not really keen on too many long hours in the car - are there a few lay-overs you would recommend in the Emerald/Carnavon route? (I also have to ask how the spider/snake/crocodile situation is around here - I swear that I'm not afraid of any creepy crawlies here in Canada, but I'm a little freaked out about Australia.)

More ideas, comments and suggestions always welcome.

Thanks again,


Paul_S Jan 12th, 2005 05:17 PM

Hi Conny,

Well if you do not mind a 2.5 hour flight then you could fly to Alice Springs from Sydney or Cairns and experience the Northern Territory outback. You will also be able to fossick for gems at a place here called Gemtree. You will find gems reasonably easily and when you are finished you could explore the Alice Springs/Ayres Rock region.



lizF Jan 12th, 2005 05:39 PM

Firstly Connie, I went to Canada for 2 years when I was about 29 so I had had that many years experience near snakes in Australia and I had never seen one. One sunny afternoon on the banks of Lake Kooteney (sp??) B.C. I saw a snake and neally fell off my rock. Then low and behold I saw another about an hour later. The next day I saw yet another and the third day another one. I am convinced that there are more snakes in Canada OR they are more friendly.
Yes I have been up that route to Carnarvon and Emerald and done some furking about in the dirt. For children a bucket which will most certainly have saphires in it will cost you $5 ( could have gone up by now ) or you can go through the discarded heaps of dirt or you can stake a claim and dig yourself OR and this is my preference, you can go down one of the mines and get a lovely saphire that has just been polished. There are many ways of getting at them.
One of the most fabulous things about that area is that at night the sky is so close, clear and bright and it is really worth taking a map of the heavens if you go.
Aside from that then, the trip from Rockhampton is not really a long one and there are some interesting things on the way, not least of which is the old gold mining town of Mount Morgan to the west of Rockhampton. It is a cross between some wild west town in the USA and something reborn from 1901. They still mine gold there but not as much as they used to.
The distance from Rockhampton to Emerald is 279 Klms and there are a couple of National Parks along the way but I have not been to those. There are also some small towns. Anankie, Rubyvale etc are not far out of Emerald and Emerald itself is a close to a cow town as you could get.
Carnarvon Gorge is south from Emerald and its turn off is about 130Klm south and it is through this area that you would see most of the wildlife and it is wise only to drive after 9am and before 4PM because after those times the kangaroos are everywhere and you are likely to hit one.
There is a Guesthouse at Carnarvon Gorge or you can camp. I have only ever camped or stayed at Injune which is south of there. However you 'could' stay in Springsure to the north and drive in and out for the day but it is much better to stay overnight and go on a night tour with a flashlight to see the nocturnal animals.
My English relatives who I took out there en route to the GBR thought that that was the highlight of their trip but that could have been because we stopped in the Old Aussie Pubs en route and spent a lot of time playing darts with the locals and having a great time.
Anyway there are no crocs there, perhaps spiders and snakes but they are far more afraid of you than you could ever be of them.

marg Jan 12th, 2005 09:56 PM

If you are going to the GBR, I assume you will be staying in Cairns or Port Douglas. Therefore you could consider driving north to Cooktown - small town on the coast. Cooktown has been isolated from tourism as the road has been dirt until recently - still about 30 km of dirt.
On the return journey take the road through Mareeba to Atherton and then onto to the Undara lava tubes. This will take you through some of Queensland's outback, the Atherton Tablelands (rainforest, waterfalls, lakes etc). Near Undara are the Innot hot springs - also worth visiting.
This would give you a fairly good sample of our outback without being too far from civilization. You could fill in a week easily.
Incidentally the roads will be reasonable but DO NOT take the Bloomfield track to Cooktown - take the inland road.
And by the way, if you choose to visit Carnarvon Gorge, you may need a 4WD as the road into the gorge can be pretty bad for a family sedan.

pat_woolford Jan 12th, 2005 10:28 PM

Conny - another which may appeal is staying at working farmstays. These are usually pretty reasonable cost-wise and you get a first hand look at country life. There'd be quite a few in the areas you're interested in - do search for farmstays in Tasmania, New South Wales and Queensland. There's a very good one which caters to families, Iskanda Park near Malanda, in Atherton Tableland (definitely not outback) west of Cairns. West of there and across the Great Dividing Range the outback, or Gulf Savannah starts. Undara Lave tubes are spectacular, 300km south west of Cairns and there's overnighting in permanent tents or renovated railway carriages. 27km on is Mount Surprise Van Park and Motel which offers gem fossicking. Successfully, I believe.

Neil_Oz Jan 13th, 2005 12:27 AM

Conny, I guess that by now this is clear enough, but however you define the "Outback" you can't get anywhere near it in a 4-hour drive from Sydney. However, you've received some good advice here and I'd look carefully at the farmstay suggestions in particular. I agree that you could easily subtract a week from your Sydney stay to explore other areas.

PS, does "this fall" mean yours or ours? For the record, the term "fall" isn't used here - our native trees' leaves don't fall in the autumn.

alice13 Jan 13th, 2005 03:51 AM

No fossiking but in case it is of interest, and the idea of a road trip appeals. Here is a suggestion.

You can take a trip from Cairns to Alice on a tour bus - accommodation night 1 at an old country pub in Hughenden way out west in Queensland. Night 2 at a cattle station even further west, just short of the QLD/NT border.

Hands on as far as lunch in concerned. And stops to see all sorts of stuff.

The distances are huge but that is sort of the point. It takes 3 days to drive from Cairns to Alice. And you will see many facets of the "Outback".

I thought it was a great trip - and all sorts of interesting people to share it with. Then you could spend a few days in the centre if you like and fly back to Sydney (book early with Virgin.)

But u don't say how old your children are. The above is totally inappropriate if they are small. And some teenagers would think it death - some wouldn't - you know your own.

RalphR Jan 13th, 2005 10:44 AM

I wholeheartedly second recommendations for Undarra and Carnarvon Gorge. I've been Undarra once (two nights) and to Carnarvon on two occasions (2 and 5 nights). Both places are great for seeing wildlife. You can see platypuses at Carnarvon and it has some great walks, some quite easy. There is more to see at Carnarvon - but you do have to walk to see most of it. Undarra is the more accessible...maybe 3 hrs drive from Cairns. It is in Gulf Savannah country and the look and feel is a bit more "outbacky" than Carnarvon. While there are some interesting easy walks, the lava tubes themselves can only be seen by tours run by the park facility. We did a full day tour and it was GREAT!

Conny Jan 13th, 2005 01:01 PM

Thanks for all the info everyone. For the record, this part of the trip will be during mid-May. I don't know if that will change any of the suggestions at all. We would love to go to Alice Springs but don't think it's in the cards for this visit - we will be travelling around for six months so want to keep long days in transit to a relative minimum.

Both the Carnarvon route and the Undara lava tubes sound really interesting.

Thanks very much everyone - this has been really helpful for me. (And Liz, you made me hoot hearing about snakes in B.C.)

Thanks again and of course any more ideas are welcome.


lizF Jan 13th, 2005 01:11 PM

Now that we all have access to the Discovery Channel we "know" what a dangerous place Canada is. There was a programme about some snakes in Canada which come out in the hundred of thousands when the snow thaws - they were everywhere. So I know that wherever I am in Canada a crawley thing is going to come out and get me. On top of that there are Rampaging Moose, Grizzly Bears, other killer bears, butting Big-horned sheep, snow drifts, ice falls, avalanches, spitting stinking skunks,stealing chipmunks and millions of slithering snakes.
After Canada I am ready for any little Daddy Long legged spider.
Of course you will go to Cradle Mountain in Tassie and try out their "outback" too I hope. Its somewhat different from the mainland.

lizF Jan 22nd, 2005 01:29 PM

Conny, I hope you are still reading the forum because I just had to tell you that yesterday I saw a snake. I was looking out on the patio which needed to be swept and there was this little head sticking out of the grass and when I looked closely it had a 2 foot long body. I was about to go and have a closer look at the little critter when a bush turkey ( my place is crawling with the pests - bush turkeys that is ) came and it slithered up onto the patio and off again. It was a very pretty little tree snake. So they are here and I did get to see one. Whoopie!!

Conny Jan 30th, 2005 04:17 AM

I just saw your last post about the tree snake.

They must have heard that I was coming and are starting to come out of hiding! I hadn't heard about the dangers of the Australian bush turkey before - yet another worry as I walk gingerly down the sidewalk in Sydney! Ah well, if I can dodge ravenous polar bears in Toronto, I should be able to beat off the odd turkey in Oz...

I can't believe this but after months of planning, tomorrow we are off for our six month family vacation. I'm sure I will hang-out on Fodors every now and again while we're gone, but I'll be happy to leave the planning behind and have the fun begin. We start in Hawaii, then it's New Zealand, Australia, Fiji, Cook Islands and finally French Polynesia before returning home.

Bye for now, and thanks to everyone for your help.

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