The Matilda Way is one road that most definitely leads to adventure, and a different one each day!
The fully sealed 1812 kilometre highway stretches from the New South Wales border all the way to the Gulf of Carpentaria, from Cunnamulla to Karumba. Traversing the ‘real outback’, this route is filled with friendly local characters, unique attractions and unspoiled natural sites.
Eight days is a comfortable drive, depending on how long you spend discovering the unique charms of each township. Along the Matilda Way you will discover little known secrets, experience the raw history of the region and natural wonders of the vast and ancient landscapes. As you’re travelling, check the byways along the route; there are plenty of side-trips that add to the overall outback experience.
Start your Matilda adventure in Cunnamulla, just 119 kilometres north of the New South Wales border. Just below Cunnamulla check out the dwarf-like red sand dunes adorned with pines. If the winter rainfalls are sufficient, have the camera at the ready for a landscape ablaze with wildflowers.
Another couple 100 clicks up the track and you’ll get to Charleville. Now, Charleville is a town that is worth some serious attention. It has a history featuring early cameleers, Cobb & Co., and Qantas. Visit the World War II Experience and spend the night stargazing at the Cosmos Centre.
Head north to Augathella or detour through to Quilpie and the Natural Sciences Loop. The Augathella pub is the central social hub and a good place to hear about the exploits of the infamous local bushrangers, the Kenniffs. A side trip recommended for four-wheel-drive enthusiasts loops out via the Wilderness Way to Salvator Rosa National Park. Or settle for a stroll along the banks of the Barcoo and do the Coolabah Walk.
Continue along to Blackall – the ‘home of the original black stump’. A major attraction, the Historic Blackall Woolscour is living history and a direct physical link to Australia’s pioneering era. Open all year, the massive steam engine is operated between May and September.
Arrive in Longreach and board a Thomson River sunset cruise – most include dinner and entrainment. Next morning get up with the sparrows and fuel-up at the Merino Bakery (a local hot spot) with a brekkie burger – you’ll need your sustenance today. The 180km trip takes you to Winton, a town once celebrated for its boulder opals but is now considered Australia’s Dinosaur Capital.
Next is a 348km trip to Cloncurry, but turnoff just south of Kynuna at Combo Waterhole (lookout for signs). A 2.6km round-trip walk from the car park takes you to the waterhole Banjo Paterson drew inspiration from for Waltzing Matilda!
As you approach Normanton birds swoop, crocodile signs emerge, and the faint smell of salt water is in the air – long gone are the Mulga trees of the state’s south. Head straight to the life-size replica of ‘Krys’ an 8.63m crocodile killed in the Norman River by Krystina Pawlowski in July 1957. It remains the world’s largest known crocodile! Mix with the locals for dinner at the unmissable Purple Pub – you won’t miss it.
Just 72kms further north is the seaside village of Karumba, and gateway to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Renowned for its abundance of fish, you’re sure to catch a big one here. Take a fishing charter or hire a boat for a few hours. Barramundi, Salmon, Grunter, Jew swim here – or try your luck nabbing a mud crab. Watch the sun dip into the waters of Gulf from the Sunset Tavern. What a way to finish your journey!
Just remember throughout this trip you will be sharing the road with huge road trains, livestock and native animals, so take care and give way. You’ll protect your vehicle and the truckies will thank you for it.