A SPECIAL TOUR TO COINCIDE WITH THE BILBY FESTIVAL IN SEPTEMBER, AND ALSO TO SEE RED SAND DUNES

THIS WILL ONLY RUN IF WE GET ENOUGH DEMAND EARLY IN THE YEAR, SO PLEASE LET US KNOW IF INTERESTED

outback pics
Back to our regular outback tours page


Safety


We travel with hand sanitiser and keep the vehicle interior clean
We always travel with plenty of water and other provisions, spare parts for the vehicle and a good first aid kit just in case of any mis-haps,
but so far have never faced anything more serious than a flat tyre.

DAY 1 (EARLY SEPTEMBER)

Leave Brisbane around 7.30am.

We don't wait till we reach the outback to view wildlife. We usually take a quick look at a small wildlife park on our way through Ipswich Not far out o
f Brisbane we stop at the small town of Gatton for morning tea and for birding at the hides at two small lakes on the university campus. There's usually a remarkable variety of waterbirds for such a small water body, often including both species of whistling duck (plumed and wandering), pink-eared duck, stilts, spoonbills, pelicans and others. While enjoying our morning tea we'll also give you your copy of information sheets about the ecosystems and wildlife we expect to see along the way. as we head out west.

Then it's up and over the mountains of the Great Dividing Range, passing much typical Australian bushland dominated by Eucalyptus trees as we travel. Take a good look, as the vegetation we travel through later today and during the next few days will be progressively different. The Main Range volcano (active about 25 million years ago) shaped the high country here, which catches much rain from clouds blowing in from the coast, the fertile volcanic soil and good rainfall allowing tall eucalypt forest and rainforest to grow, although most of the latter has now been cleared for agriculture. We get some great views from this high country.

Great
            Artesian Basin mapRiver DrainageOnce we pass through Toowoomba and descend from the Great Dividing Range, we will be traveling over the incredibly important Great Artesian Basin, a layer of porous rocks beneath the ground surface, mainly sandstone, holding very slow-moving water, stretching across about 1/5 of our continent. Much of this flat, low-lying area was part of a great inland sea in the Cretaceous, known as the Eromanga Sea.

There is of course water above ground as well, and over the next few days we'll also be crossing through a couple of major river drainage basins which have important influences on our ecosystems and human endeavours. Before we reach Toowoomba,  any river or creek empties out eventually into the sea. We then travel through the Murray-Darling Catchment which empties in the sea southeast of Adelaide and into the Lake Eyre Catchment which accumulates into Lake Eyre in north South Australia

We'll now be traveling one of the routes taken by the Cobb and Co. coaches that provided the main transport in the late 1800's, on much rougher roads than exist nowadays. The countryside will be getting progressively flatter and drier, and the soils generally less rich, although there are still some regions of relative fertility, and even the driest of areas experience floods now and then.

Eucalyptus trees, the main trees (several hundred species) of Australian bushland, are well-adapted to droughts, but they have their limits.  As we head west they are progressively shorter and scarcer, and various Acacia species become increasingly common. There are some Eucalyptus species that persist well into the dry western areas, including the picturesque river red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) along many of the outback watercourses, and the
famous coolibah tree (Eucalyptus coolabah) of Waltzing Matilda fame, which manage to survive, sometimes for centuries, in areas too dry for the river red gums.

We'll soon be heading through the "Brigalow Belt", with woodlands dominated by the brigalow trees (Acacia harpophylla) and stretching from central Queensland to central NSW, although much of it has been now cleared for agriculture and the brigalow woodland is regarded as an endangered ecosystem. We'll stop to investigate these famous Australian trees,  which will very probably be in flower in early September, and a few other species associated with them. Like most Australia acacias ("wattles") brigalow has true leaves only in the first few weeks of it life, the leafstalk (petiole) then taking over the job of photosynthesis, and known as a phyllode ("leaf-like"). Brigalow are tall and long-lived compared to many other Acacia species, with dark bark and silvery phyllodes adapted to deflecting much of the sun's heat.

apostlebirdGood hearty meals are on offer at Moonie, so we'll be stopping there for lunch.  Growing amongst the eucalypts and acacias as we approach Moonie are Callitris trees (a true native conifer, related to cypresses, and much harvested for its termite-resistant timber). Callitris woodlands used to be far more extensive but have been diminished through clearing, grazing of livestock and feral animals on young trees, and severe fires.  There are also the conifer-like bull-oaks (Allocasuarina luehmannii), which, like their relatives the sheoaks, are actually flowering plants but have woody fruits superfically somewhat similar to cypress cones, and which the red-tailed black cockatoo often feeds on, although unlike their cousins the glossy black cockatoos they mostly depend on eucalypt seeds. Bull-oaks produce the hardest commercially-available timber of all our native trees. By now we may also start seeing a few birds and lizards we don't find near the coast, such as apostlebirds (pictured to the right), so called because they often travel around in flocks of about twelve. They belong to a family of birds unique to Australia, with only two species, themselves and the white-winged chough (not related to the northern hemisphere birds also know as choughs). We may be lucky enough to see choughs as well.

Then it's on to St George, at the edge of what we consider the true outback, past all the big sorghum crops and other such agriculture. By now we'll be in mulga (Acacia aneura) country which stretches across much of Australia's outback.  The tough wood has been much used by humans not just for the last couple of centuries but for many thousands of years. Tiny glands at the base of the phyllodes (the leaf-like structures) secrete a sweet substance that attracts ants. It is thought that the presence of ants coming for the sweet meal may protect the bush from grazing by herbivores, although some think it is for satiating the ants so they don't eat the valuable pollen . The mulga will most likely have finished flowering by September but we may see the developing pods.

After checking in at our motel we'll take a gentle stroll along the banks of the Balonne River, looking for birds and admiring the river red gums before dinner. The Balonne, like most rivers we will cross on this excursion, flows southwards and joins the Murray-Darling system, by far the most extensive catchment system of southeastern Australia.

DAY 2

Into the real outback!


Major Mitchell
          cockatooAfter leaving the motel soon after dawn we'll stop at the western end of town, just before the bridge over the Balonne River,  looking for parrots, honeyeaters, waterbirds and raptors. One of the guides will drive the tour bus across the long, wide bridge while the rest of us walk across it, watching for birds before setting foot at the other end of the bridge in true outback country, with its wide open spaces, red sands, wooded pastoral areas for free-range cattle, and wilderness areas (we acknowledge that Indigenous people have been using this land for millennia: by "wilderness" we mean no major sign of impacts by more recent colonists over the past 200 years).  

Emus may casually stroll across the road in the little town of Bollon, where we'll stop for morning tea, and more often than not we see brolgas (Australia's endemic crane) near the river. The beautiful Major Mitchell cockatoos may make an appearance from here on as well - big pink cockatoos with red and yellow crests. Koalas may sometimes be seen in the eucalypts by Wallam Creek.

We move on then to Cunnamulla to head through the Time Tunnel, learning about the Great Artesian Basin so important to Australian ecosystems and its human inhabitants. Just outside is the enormous statue of the Cunnamulla Fella, commemorating a song by Sam Coster, and sung originally by the very popular country-western Australian singer Slim Dusty. You can see a more recent performance of the Cunnamulla Fella song here

Bowra: a birding hotspot


We'll pick up a take-away lunch then so we can maximize our time at Bowra, and outback cattle station long known as a hotspot for birds, including many rare species and now owned by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.  We usually spend a couple of nights in the shearers' quarters, but these have now been closed, so we will explore what we can, and watch for birds coming to drink at the dam towards sunset, including em
us and flocks of budgerigars and Major Mitchell cockatoos.

Some further information about Bowra:

We will hope for a sighting also of the echidnas that are quite common here, plus red kangaroos and various reptiles, before heading back to Cunnamulla to enjoy a good hearty dinner and a night of rest at the Billabong Hotel.





DAY 3

We'll take a packed breakfast with us so we can reach a small waterhole near the town of Eulo by dawn or not long after, red-winged parrotas many species of birds often come here to drink in the early morning.

The small township of Eulo is nearby, with its welcoming sign informing us its population is 50 people and 1500 lizards.

We'll see the life-size model of a diprotodon, probably the most famous of the megafauna that used to roam this area: a bit like an over-grown wombat. One of the specimens found near Eulo was the size of a hippo, nicknamed Kenny, and the model for the statue.  We'll also visit a small shop which includes a museum with various fossils and locally-collected opals.

After morning tea we'll cross the Paroo River and explore a nearby lagoon where we usually see waterbirds, parrots (like the red-winged parrot pictured here), bee-eaters, woodswallows and a variety of other birds, returning to Eulo for lunch at the Eulo Queen Hotel (if you like, you can try their enormous award-winning sausage, read about the history of the "Queen" the hotel was named after, and browse the outback paintings on the walls). The famous Cobb n Co. coaches used to stop at this hotel before heading south to the NSW border.

Heading north, we will reach Quilpie, on the banks of the Bulloo River. in time to relax a bit before dinner and maybe even indulge in an Artesian spa bath before dinner.

Fossil remains of the world's largest lizard (a giant monitor related to the Komodo "dragon"), diprotodons and other extinct fauna have been found nearby.

The Bulloo River is unusual in having a catchment all to itself, the waters not flowing south to the Murray-Darling like the other rivers we will have crossed by now, nor towards Lake Eyre. Low hills prevent the shallow flood waters from lapping over into other catchments, so the waters instead simply seep into the ground or evaporate over time.


DAY 4

A walk along the Bulloo River in the early morning, either before or after breakfast, may reveal more outback bird species as well as providing a pleasant stroll in the cool part of the day. Our main destination then, just a little further west, is Eromanga, the small town that gave its name to the ancient inland sea, to visit the Eromanga Natural History Museum, with the remains  of Australia‚Äôs largest dinosaur, which were found yet a little further to the west of this small town, as well as other dinosaur fossils, and more recent fossils ( mammals, birds, reptiles, plants etc.) From their website:  "The Eromanga Natural History Museum is committed to discovering, conserving and showcasing the fossil, natural and cultural heritage of the upper Murray/Darling and Lake Eyre/Cooper basins."

We then head back to Quilpie for the night, maybe first relaxing once more in a spa bath.


DAY 5

Today we head deeper into the Channel Country, to the town of Windorah, where we will spend the next two nights in the Cooper Cabins. 

Cooper Creek (formerly called Cooper's Creek) exists as a series of intertwined channels flowing (when there is any water for flowing) to the Lake Eyre Basin in South Australia, one of Australia's largest water catchments.


DAY 6

Today will largely be a day for relaxing and photography, but what a place for it!  Not only will we spend some time on the banks of the famous Cooper Creek, but we will visit some of the spectacular red sand dunes that Australia's outback is so famous for, returning to Windorah for the night. We might even enjoy sipping some "sundowners" in between taking photos as sunset approaches and the colours change on sand and sky.

DAY 7

  We now travel on to Charleville, where we will spend the next three nights.


DAYS 8 and 9

We will visit the Bilby Centre and join in the National Bilby Day celebrations and activities - more details later.
We will also watch the "Bilby Brothers" video which tells of the plight of the greater bilby and the efforts of Frank Manthey and Peter McCrae to save them from becoming extinct like the lesser bilby,

On one of the evenings we will visit the Cosmos Centre to view the Milky Way far away from any light pollution, and any planets that happen to be traveling through. We'll also visit during the day for the astronomy displays and a safe way of viewing the sun's details.


DAY 10

This will be the start of our homeward journey, stopping for the night at Roma, where we will also visit the Bush Garden, featuring a massive bottle tree as well as other brigalow species (yes, we are now entering the Brigalow Belt once more).


DAY 11

Today will be spent at a very special botanic park, Myall Park.  Started by David Gordon on his sheep station when he was in his 40's, he planted and protected many outback species.  When I first visited, he was in his 90's and the range of species was most impressive.  Botanists from around the world, including Kew Gardens, have made special visits here to see the diverse collection of outback pants.

Our overnight stay will be in Chinchilla


DAY 12

The only insect we are aware of to have a whole building dedicated to it is the Cactoblastis moth.  Prickly pear (Opuntia) was introduced from South America in the late 1700's, and more were introduced the following century for hedges and fodder in drought time.  As nothing in Australia would eat cactus stems (although some birds ate the fruits and dispersed the seeds) it soon got out of control, and was a major headache and economic nightmare for farmers and everyone else throughout much of the area we've traveled through on this tour.  A few moths were introduced from Argentina, where their caterpillars feed on Opuntia, and despite some misgivings by many who doubted it would solve the problem, they soon had it under control, reduced to just a few plants here and there, the situation which we mostly still see today.  Those few plants harbour caterpillars that keep the moth populations going.  It is one of the world's most successful examples of biological control (in contrast to the disastrous introduction of cane toads for example).  Hence the Cactoblastis Memorial Hall, which we'll visit soon after leaving Chinchilla.

Finally we'll see mountains again, and ascend to Toowoomba once more.  This time we'll stop for lunch at Cobb's  Cafe, and explore the Cobb n Co Museum, which not only has a large and diverse array of horse-drawn vehicles, but displays of Indigenous History, and. once again, fossils of animals no longer roaming the Australian countryside.

From there it's a downhill journey via the water catchments of the east coast  back to Brisbane.