Outback Queensland is the birthplace of Australian legends (Waltzing Matilda was first performed in Winton); it’s a place that shaped a ‘fair go’ attitude (Australia’s first workers strike was in Barcaldine); and it launched some of the nation’s most impressive events (cue Birdsville Races and Winton Vision Splendid). It’s also home to the best station stays in the land. To help celebrate Year of the Outback, we asked Shelley Winkel to list her favourite outback station stays, both inland and on the coast.
1. Noonbah Station, via Longreach
Fiery sunsets, dazzling stars, and breathtaking peace is how owners Angus and Karen Emmott describe the 52,000ha beef cattle station that’s been in their family for four generations and is now a popular station getaway. Guests can camp at a secluded waterhole, or sleep peacefully at the Old Schoolhouse, a renovated corrugated iron cottage where Angus and his siblings were schooled by Air.
Event Tip: Stop here on the way to Winton’s Way out West Fest (25-28 April). Just ask Angus and Karen about the secret back road to get there faster.
2. Bonus Downs Farmstay, Maranoa
Get a true taste of station life, hear first-hand about farming practices from the owners, Lyle and Madonna Connolly. A tour of the quintessential grand homestead is a must-do before hitting a swag, the shearer’s shed, or the Jackaroo’s cottage for the night.
Event tip: You may still get there in time for Roma’s Easter in the Country from 18-22 April and can easily make the Cobb & Co Festival in Surat in August (150km).
3. Shandonvale Station, via Barcaldine
Dust off your stereotypes (and your city clothes). This century-old station gets the gong as the fun capital of the farm scene, thanks to the chance to go heli-mustering, catch a freshwater yabby, and a little bit of old-fashioned butchering. The four bedrooms in the 100-year-old Shearer’s Quarters offer queen beds, 1000-thread count sheets, a fully-functioning kitchen and a classic claw-foot bath. Fly to Longreach and take the farm limo (aka the ute) to the property.
Event Tip: Close to Barcaldine and the Tree of Knowledge Festival, held 3-6 May. Make sure you hit the traditional May Day parade.
4. Moble Homestead, Quilpie
Join proud wool producers, the Rutledge family, at their home in Quilpie and get a true-blue outback experience. The property, which has been passed down through five generations, has been renovated to include two huts, a homestead garden room, and a Governess’ quarters-come-cottage that literally floats above the waterhole. Sit around the campfire with the family as you get to know the locals of the outback. Huts and rooms start from $150 per person, including dinner and breakfast.
Event Tip: Spend a day at the Quilpie Diggers Races (May and September).
Image: Jurgen Freun
A pimped-up tin shed on a property that’s almost the size of Laos is what you’ll find at Gilberton Outback Retreat, an 88,000sqkm station that is home to 1200 head of cattle and one incredible guest cabin. This station was started in 1869 and has been passed down through seven generations. Guests can relax, get involved in station life, fossick for gold (hello, good fortune!) or explore indigenous rock art located around the property. Gilberton Outback Retreat is four hours’ drive south west of Cairns.
6. Wallaroo Outback Retreat, near Carnarvon
It’s a huge 71,000-acre cattle farm but that’s where the farm experience stops. At Wallaroo Outback Retreat, guests trade shearers’ sheds for eight tepee tents (with real crisp linen and posturepedic beds) six bathrooms, two rustic firepits and an incredible timber lodge built from wood milled straight from the land. The retreat is the brainchild of farmers Pauline and Justin MacDonnell, a couple who grew up in the region and fell in love with cattle country dotted with cycad-filled gorges and Aboriginal Rock Art. Tents start from $120 per night, minimum two-night stay, and the retreat can only be booked by one group at a time.
Trade the horse for Shank’s Pony and follow station owner Shelley Hawkins as she leads a five-day, 66km trek across the north western pocket of Outback Queensland – on foot – and mostly on her Herbertvale Station. Small group tours depart from Mt Isa and continue on the limestone gorges of the Boodjamulla National Park. Hikers enjoy guided trekking, sunset refreshments, chef-prepared meals and an already-pitched tent and sleeping mat for $3150 per person.
Event tip: Herbertvale Station is just a few ‘klicks’ driving distance from Mt Isa Mines Rodeo (8-11 August) and the Drover’s Camp Festival, Camouweal (23-25 August).
Fifty-four kilometres from Cunnamulla is a sheep station so large that it once pushed 60,000 animals through its huge shearing shed every year. While the number of sheep has decreased since then, the farm is still a true working property (take the three-hour tour and find out more), is loved for its artesian bores and mineral rich baths. Stay in self-catering shearers quarters, the shearing shed (open air) or powered sites for campers and caravans.
Event Tip: On 30 August, cowboys, bull riders, shearers and stockmen will descend on the Cunnamulla for the Cunnamulla Fella Festival.
Halfway between Thargomindah and Hungerford is Kilcowera, a 49,000-hectare working cattle station with a pretty Shearer’s Quarters campground with BBQs, fireplaces stocked with wood, picnic tables and a basic camp kitchen set amongst green lawns and shady trees. Take the 60km self-drive tour around the station past lagoons, creeks, waterholes, then stay in the comfortable Shearers’ Quarters or one of three separate campgrounds, one on the edge of Cardenyabba Lagoon.
Event Tip: Join the cowboys, bull riders, shearers and stockmen at the Cunnamulla Fella Festival on 30 August.
10. Myella Station
The first owners of Myella Station hit the jackpot, literally, when they purchased their farm as part of a 1935 land lottery. Today, their descendants’ main job is to fatten cattle into prime beef exports, by buying males at two years old and feeding them quality grass. Their other job is sharing their home with guests from all around the world, setting up informal 4WD farm tours and teaching visitors about wildlife, bush tucker, conservation and farming practices. A two-day package at $270 per person includes bus transfers from Rockhampton (125km north east of Myella), all meals, two horse rides and farm tours.
Event Tip: Continue the horse theme and check out Paradise Lagoons Campdraft on May 2-5 or the Rockhampton River Festival from 12-14 July.
Need a station stay a bit closer to the coast? Here are some other station stays in Queensland worth thinking about.
1. Spicers Hidden Vale, near Ipswich
Situated on a 12,000-acre farm in South East Queensland just an hour’s drive from Brisbane, Spicers Hidden Vale is centred around a 1920s grand old homestead with Homage Restaurant, a dining experience that proudly shows off the best in local produce. All 31 rooms and suites have private or shared verandas and breathtaking views of the picturesque Lockyer Valley and are a great base for 4WD tours, horse-riding, bushwalking, cycling, archery, swimming, tennis, croquet and a spa.
Event Tip: Driving distance from CMC Rocks, held at Willowbank each March.
2. Mount Mulligan Lodge, Tropical North Queensland
Around 170km west of Cairns in the shadow of Mount Mulligan’s spectacular 18km sandstone ridge (incidentally, ten times larger than Uluru) lies Mount Mulligan Station, a 28,000ha outback cattle property. Revamped by the hospitality kings behind Daintree Eco Lodge and Orpheus Island Lodge, the station’s eight villas come with majestic views and a personal ATV to explore the land. If the 1500 head of cattle don’t ignite an affection for the outback, then tours to the Tyrconnel goldmine and the abandoned Mt Mulligan township will.
Event tip: Take a 35-minute scenic helicopter flight from the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair (12-14 July) to the cattle station.
3. Mount Louis Station, Bloomfield, Tropical North Queensland
Time your holiday to join Mount Louis Station’s stockmen as they muster some 1500 head of Brahmin cattle over a 3000-acre lush landscape or meet the owners and learn secret spots for crabbing, fishing and bird watching. Located in pretty Bloomfield just north of the world’s oldest (Daintree) Rainforest near Cooktown, this station has quick access to stunning waterfalls, a rich indigenous community and remote and secluded sections of the Great Barrier Reef. A self-contained holiday house accommodates between two and eight guests.
Event Tip: Close to the bi-annual Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival at Laura and the annual Captain Cook Discovery Festival at Cooktown, held 16 June.
4. Merluna Station, Cape York
At 1.5 times the size of Hong Kong and a (human) population that maxes out at around 100 guests, vast is the one word to describe Cameron and Michelle MacLean’s 416,000-acre cattle station on Cape York Peninsula. Accommodation is set in cool, shady surrounds and ranges from camping grounds and single donga rooms (starting at $90 per person) to a spacious family unit. Aside from the typical farm activities, brave souls raring to step into the boots of a real farmer can sign up for multi-day bowhunting safaris to help cull wild boars and feral cats.
Event Tip: Drive your pride and joy round mountainous roads on the Targa Great Barrier Reef Tour (30 August) and rub shoulders with legends.
5. Henderson Park Farm Retreat, Capricorn
When Ben Barrett landed at Rockhampton Wharf in 1865 following what was likely a torturously long boat trip from England, little did he know that more than 150 years later, the dairy farm he first established would become a commercial beef cattle property owned by his descendants. Today, Henderson Park is one of the most popular farm stays in the state, with accommodation for up to 33 people and educational property tours for city slickers.
Event Tip: Continue the horse theme and check out Paradise Lagoons Campdraft on 2-5 May or the Rockhampton River Festival from 12-14 July.