With a few weeks to spare, we decided to do the ‘family thing’ and head to Queensland to catch up with the folks. It was but a pleasant coincidence, of course, that this placed us in such good stead for a trip heading west through Queensland’s Channel Country. Its wide open country and big blue skies had been beckoning us for a while now.
The so named ‘Channel Country’ is made up of a complex spider web of waterways that eventually drain into Lake Eyre in South Australia. The beautiful Barcoo River, written about by famous Australian Poets including Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson, was to be our focal point for this trip.
Waving goodbye to relatives in Brisbane, we motor west, arriving at Lake Broadwater Conservation Park just outside of Dalby for our first night’s camp. There are two camping areas here; we opt for the more secluded Wilga Bush Camp, nestled among native bushland just prior to the lake. This turns out to be a wonderful night’s rest. We even manage to take a short stroll to the lake’s shores to do some bird spotting around dusk.
Next day after a rather slow start — we’re still winding down — we venture a little further west to the picturesque Caliguel Lagoon Camping Area near Condamine. We’ve stopped here previously but never spent the night. As it turns out, we’ve definitely been missing out, as we are treated to an absolutely amazing sunset over the lagoon – a taste of things to come. Our trip is starting off on a high; we just have to keep the momentum up!
Day three, we are on the road early to make up some time, and after a long day in the saddle, we pull into Blackall for the night, camping behind the Blackall Hotel. A pub meal is in order, before we head into more remote areas with no pubs, let alone meals, to speak of.
From Blackall we head further west to the small town of Isisford nestled on the banks of the Barcoo River. Heading out from Isisford we take the River Road, a rough dirt road complete with bulldust patches and corrugations that closely follows the Barcoo River for its journey south. A little over 12km down the road is Oma Waterhole, a picturesque albeit very popular spot by a waterhole in the river, and a great place to set up camp for a night or two. They even have hot showers here — sheer bliss!
We pull in here for the night and although it is quite busy with other campers we have enough room to spread out and retain our privacy. This would be the perfect spot to throw a line and maybe catch a yellow-belly, for which the Barcoo is renowned; but fishing is not our strong suit, so dinner is relinquished to food from the fridge.
From Oma Waterhole it’s time to get some more of those bulldust patches, corrugations and red dust under the tyres, as the vastness of the Channel Country unfolds before reaching the tiny settlement of Yaraka some 90km away. This town once had a population of 100 after being established as a rail head in 1917. But with only 500km of track built, Yaraka became the ‘end of the line’, closing for good in 2005. Today this tiny outback town has a population of just 12.
First off we head a little east of town and climb the hill to Mount Slocombe Lookout. This is the perfect place to get the lay of the land; the views from up here are simply breathtaking. We decide this is a good lunch spot, as we have it to ourselves and there are picnic tables and an electric barbecue provided. However, we’re greeted with that curse of the outback: pesky little flies!
After checking out the quirky town, including the historic Railway Station, we take the road further west. It alternates between sealed and rough corrugated dirt across vast floodplains. Keep an eye out for the signposted turn to Magee’s Shanty; about 45km from Yaraka there’s an unassuming sign to it, and Magoffin’s Grave. Heading a short distance cross country here we discover the isolated site that was reportedly the setting for Banjo Patterson’s poem from 1893, A Bush Christening. The grave of Richard Magoffin is also located nearby, a sombre reminder of the harshness and isolation of the Australian outback.
On from Magee’s Shanty turnoff and a further 50km down the road is the 124,000 hectare Welford National Park. Although not as well-known as its nearby cousin Diamantina, Welford is a park of stunning outback beauty and rich diversity.
We enter the national park from the south and take the River Drive tracing the beautiful Barcoo to the only campground, Little Boomerang. This is one of several driving routes in the park and is an easy run through open river floodplains and past majestic river red gums. The main feature is ‘The Jetty’, a natural rocky outcrop on the Barcoo River, a nice spot to unwind at the end of the day or throw a line in. We’d planned several nights here, so we could properly soak up the stunning outback beauty. But the as yet unexplored parts of the Channel Country beckon us forth.
After having the campground to ourselves and enjoying yet another stunning outback sunset, it’s time to head off and explore this vast, rugged and diverse park. We head along the Desert Drive that covers 22km one way, traversing spinifex and ochre red sand dunes set against a deep azure backdrop; the contrasting colours are simply stunning.
Welford is home to some of the most easterly red sand dunes in the country. We stop along the drive at one, where a climb to the top makes for a great break; the stunning scenery just gets better and better. We also discover remnants of the park’s agricultural past scattered beside the track, making us wonder what life would have been like out here in this vast, arid land, all those years ago.
Back at camp for the night we’re joined by a couple of campers, but there is still plenty of room for all. After another relaxing evening under the carpet of stars blanketing the sky, we head off on the third, and last, big drive, the scenic Mulga Drive. At 54.5km long it is the longest in the park but also gives diversity to this outstanding landscape. Passing by the original homestead made of ‘pise’ or rammed earth, we unfortunately are unable to get any closer, as the homestead is no longer open to the public and is now used as national park staff quarters. We traverse open floodplains and delve into mulga country where eroded rocky ridges and gullies dominate the landscape. We stop at several delightful waterholes along the Barcoo and take the 1.2km return walk to Sawyers Lookout atop a rocky outcrop. This proves to be a steep and rough climb; it certainly gets the heart pumping after many days in the cruiser.
Following our final star-clad night it is all too soon time to head back to civilisation to restock before continuing our journey through this awe-inspiring Channel Country. It’s good timing in a way, because rain is forecast for the coming days, and if it comes the roads will turn to mush and perhaps be closed as a result.
Leaving the park early next morning we have mobs of kangaroos darting in all directions; not a bad way to end our time in Welford. We actually make it back out to Blackall before the heavens open up and send down their torrents. It rains so much we have to alter our plans for the next part of our journey, that was to be into Diamantina National Park and beyond. But that is half the fun of these trips!
Be aware that this is remote country and you must be fully self-sufficient. Make sure you allow enough fuel to not only get to and fro, but also to cover the drives within the park. Similarly make sure you have enough food and water in case you find yourself stuck out here for a few days. Black soil in and around Welford make it a dry weather only trip; the slightest bit of rain could mean you end up stranded until the roads dry up.
Camping Fees apply in Welford National Park and with most Queensland National Parks you will need to pre-book your campsite. A small camping fee is also asked for Oma Waterhole, payable at Isisford Council Office.
Queensland Parks and Forests
Call 137 468 or visit parks.des.qld.gov.au