Australia’s Dinosaur Trail
Australia’s Dinosaur Trail is a unique family road trip rich in hands on learning, adventure, imagination and tangible historical experiences. Set amongst our state’s spectacular outback landscape and country towns full of character and characters, it offers a wonderfully different perspective for many of our Brisbane city Kids and is one of the best family holidays we have ever done.
The three destinations that make up the Dinosaur Trail are the towns of Winton, Richmond and Hughendon. You can start the tour at any of these, but I feel that Winton with the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum and Lark Quarry is a great place to begin.
Dinosaur trail passes
You can buy entry to each attraction individually at each site or save money by purchasing one of their passes either online or at the first destination.
Lark Quarry Dinosaur Stampede – Australian Age of Dinosaurs
How to get to Winton
REX flies twice a week to Winton via Townsville or Qantas Link fly daily into Longreach (2 hours south of Winton). Trains depart Brisbane to Longreach twice a week, from there you can hire a car or take a connecting bus onto Winton. The Greyhound bus to Mt Isa also stops in Winton. Or you can do as we did and as most travellers in this region do and make this an epic family road trip. Leaving Brisbane, we drove to the 1400kms to Winton via Charleville and Longreach. Both of these towns are wonderful with lots to do and experience and are well worth a day or two at each place.
The iconic town of Winton has a population of around 900 people and around 1 billion flies (hot tip: save yourself from hours of whining and buy your kids a fly net, you can purchase them at all attractions and tourist offices).
Places to Stay at Winton
There are a free camping spots just outside of town, 3 caravan parks and a handful of hotel and motel options. Phone range is limited, Telstra 4GX is the only service available but to be honest it was incredibly refreshing to be fully present with our kids on our holiday and not distracted by emails and social media. Please remember if you are travelling extensively throughout outback Queensland, satellite or UHF radio should be part of your setup. The other thing that must be noted is that Winton’s water, it comes straight up from the artesian basin and it pongs! Once the gas hits the air the smell dissipates and the taste is fine, according to locals “it’s the best water you’ll ever drink” ……I was happy to shower in it.
The Dinosaur Trail
From Winton your first stop will be either the Dinosaur Stampede at Lark Quarry or the Australian Age of Dinosaur Centre. We chose the former and bought our family pass here which cost us $215 and covered entry into all four exhibits on the Dinosaur Trail.
Lark Quarry Dinosaur Stampede Conservation Park is 110 kms South West of Winton along a half bitumen, half sealed dirt road and is the only known Dinosaur Stampede on the planet. (Please note there is no fuel so make sure you have enough for the round trip. While there are walks you can do yourself, to be able to see the 3000 dinosaur footprints which are preserved and protected inside, you have to do a tour.
The Ranger led tour begins with the story of the discovery and conservation of the footprints plus an animated recreation of the Stampede. Around 100 million years ago, Outback Queensland, as we know it, was a very different place. The landscape was one of lush rainforests set beside waterholes, rivers and a huge inland sea. It was beside one of these waterholes that a group of small Coelurosaur dinosaurs were having a drink when they had to flee for their lives after being disturbed by a large Theropod predator. Left behind in the mud were over 3000 footprints frozen in time.
The footprints are enclosed in a huge building to protect them from the harshness of the climate. Walkways and lighting allow you to get up close and view the scene from various angles.
The dinosaur stampede
The Stampede is an incredible thing to witness and the kids’ interest was really piqued, you could see their imagination’s running wild and they had lots of questions. In a world where there are so many reproduced replicas or even computer animated fantasy, you have to remind yourself that this is the real deal! I found the whole experience quite thrilling and our guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about the finds and the work still being done in the area.
After the tour we decided to do the circuit walk (there are two, we did the longest which was 3km and took us around an hour). The scenery is amazing, there is such a sense of quiet and expansive space. I highly recommend doing the walks, with your fly nets!) The modern centre sits beautifully into the landscape on top of a “jump up” (a local word for escarpment) It is open from 8.30am to 5pm and has clean toilet facilities and picnic tables and a small café inside.
The tour and walk will take a couple of hours, but with lunch and the round trip you really need to set aside a full day. Tours begin at: 9.30am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm and run for 45 minutes. *Tour times differ in Summer so please check the website for updated information.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum
The next morning, the trail led us to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum which houses Australia’s biggest display of Dinosaur fossils. The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is 24 kms South East of Winton, those coming from Longreach will pass the turnoff as they come into town. The road is accessible for all vehicles and there is an unhitching area for caravans if you don’t want to take your van up the Jump-up. Like Lark Quarry, the site is set respectfully into the landscape on the edge of an escarpment providing amazing views over the country, there are toilets, a café and gift shop onsite.
The tour is split into three locations, you will be allocated the order in which to visit each one at the ticket office. We started at the Fossil Preparation Laboratory. In this fascinating tour visitors are taken through a huge warehouse containing all the significant fossil finds from the area. Our guide explained the steps from when a fossil is found through recovery and preservation, to where they are stored on the shelves right in front of you. Incredibly there is a backlog of nearly 10 years’ worth of fossils to examine!
Moving through the warehouse there are viewing cabinets of locally found fossils and you even get to touch an actual fossilised dinosaur bone. The tour is not just for show, this is an operational site and as visitors you get to see technicians working on current projects as they prepare them for further research by the palaeontologists.
All of the research done by the museum is people funded so there are some great programs on offer to come and do digs and hopefully find the next big discovery! Information about the Prep-A-Dino and Dig-A-Dino experiences are on their website. Next stop was the Collection Room. This small air-conditioned theatre style room shows a short documentary “Monsters in the Outback” before introducing you to the only known specimens of Australia’s largest, and most complete carnivorous dinosaur – Australovenator Wintonensis, nicknamed “Banjo”, as well as Australia’s most complete sauropod Diamantinasaurus Matildae, nicknamed “Matilda” and Savannasaurus Elliottorum “Wade. No plaster fakes here, these are the actual fossilised bones and it really is quite mind-blowing.
The Dinosaur Canyon
The Dinosaur Canyon was the last part of our tour. We boarded the shuttle train and headed off Jurassic Park style on the 2-kilometre drive to the Escarpment. Once there you are able to take the self-guided walk along a purpose-built walkway. There is information about the local natural history and amazing bronze dinosaur sculptures line the walkway. There is even a recreation of the Lark Quarry stampede. The Dinosaur Canyon has toilets, water bubblers, strollers and umbrellas supplied for shade. There are big exciting plans for this site including a Natural History Museum that should be completed in around 5 years.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum is a real credit to the community and the people who have created it. It is a beautiful site and an entertaining and fascinating tour which our whole family absolutely loved. Tours depart on the hour: 9am, 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm and 2pm and run for 3 hours. I suggest the earlier you get there the better because even in winter the days get quite hot. *Please see the website for hours of operation which differ in Summer and Winter and for prices and passes to suit your family. www.dinosaurtrackways.com.au www.australianageofdinosaurs.com
Other things to do in Winton
For such a small town there is a lot of things to do and see including Opals, a Pioneer Cemetery and local eccentricities such as Arno’s Wall and the Musical Fence. The North Gregory Hotel is reportedly the first place Banjo Patterson’s Waltzing Matilda was ever performed, it was also the place where Qantas was launched. The Pub has been burnt down and reinvented over the years and now has a fantastic art deco façade, great meals and live entertainment. The Tattersalls Hotel has a more traditional country pub vibe and also does great food. The Waltzing Matilda Centre in the main street has recently reopened and tells the story of the song and the people that live in and are the heart and soul of Winton and Outback Queensland.
The Royal Open-Air Theatre and Museum is one of the few remaining “deckchair theatres” still operating in Australia. During the Winter months Nostalgia nights are held and if you plan your trip to coincide with the Winton Film Festival you will be able to sit and watch award winning movies under the stars. www.experiencewinton.com.au
Getting here: Our next destination on the Dinosaur Trail is Richmond. Richmond is around 350kms from Winton via the Highway and a good unsealed dirt road. (you can take the bitumen the whole way but it will take a bit longer). Smaller than Winton, Richmond has a population of around 650, but it has everything you need with two pubs that do meals and two supermarkets. Places to Stay: There is a well-situated caravan park on the main road and right beside Lake Fred Tritton and a couple of Motels. The Dinosaur Trail: 100 million years ago, part of outback Queensland was covered by a huge inland sea called the Eromanga Sea, Fossils from the creatures that lived in this sea can be found all over the region and you get to discover them!
Kronosaurus Korner Museum is on the main street of town and has an extensive and impressive collection of marine fossils on display. It is open 7 days a week (except Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day and Good Friday). There is a café, toilets and gift shop onsite and the Museum operates tours to the fossil digging sites.
A short movie in the theatrette as you enter gives a great insight into what the area may have looked like and introduces you to the many marine reptiles, dinosaurs, pterosaurs, birds, fishes, crustaceans, cephalopods, gastropods, bivalves, echinoderms, plants species that lived there in the Early Cretaceous, 100-115 million-year-old period. Many of the 1000 plus fossils were donated by local graziers and station owners who discovered them as they moved stock or built fences and some were found by families like yours who struck it lucky at the digging sites.
You can choose to take the free audio guide or read the information at each display as you make your way through 3 rooms full of amazing fossils. There is “Penny” the Polycotylid, one of the most complete vertebrate fossils in the world. “Wandah” Australia’s largest fossilised fish and the impressive 10-metre predatory Pliosaur, Kronosaurus.
Digging for Fossils
Once you have explored the museum its time to try your luck at finding your own fossil at one of the two designated digging areas about 12kms out of town. There are options to do guided tours every Tuesday and Thursday. The cost is $30 for adults and $15 per child and start in the foyer of Kronosaurus Korner at 3:00 PM (Dusk) during 3rd April – 31st July and at 8:30 AM (Dawn) during 2nd August – 11thOctober. Tours take around 2 hours with the option to stay on at your leisure if you like. If you’d prefer to go out on your own digging permits are available from the museum for $25 and the road to the sites are bitumen and sealed dirt. We didn’t do one of these tours because we were there on a Sunday, but I think in retrospect it would have been good to have been given a good idea about what you were looking for and looking at when digging for fossils.
SITE 1 is on the right of Woolgar Road and is easily accessible for vehicles. There is a toilet, shelter and picnic tables located on a ridge between two large pits. Quarrying activity regularly uncovers new fossils. SITE 2 is on the left side of Woolgar Road. It is less accessible but offers more shade from small trees and needs more tools. We chose site 1 and settled into a spot, we had a dustpan and brush, a hammer and a small trowel that was really helpful in digging and clearing away the dust.
This is an exercise in patience and persistence. There are literally fossils of shells and “fish mash” everywhere and here is where it would have been handy to know what we were looking at, (we did have a handout from the museum). But low and behold after only about half an hour I turned over some shale and it had a tooth in it! We also found a tiny ancient squid, a fish jaw and some fish poo! On return we took our findings back to the museum and were thrilled to find out the tooth we found belonged to an Ichthyosaur, which was a dolphin like reptile and was quite a rare find.
There is a wall of Kronosauraus Korner lined with photos of families just like yours and mine who are lucky enough to find not only teeth but sometimes entire vertebrae’s, it really is luck and that’s what makes it so addictive! We had a ball at the mining site and I wish we had more time because I could have spent a lot more time digging for treasure…not sure if the kids could have though.
Remember it is hot all year round, so bring your hats, long sleeves and lots of water and don’t forget your mobile phone to call the museum in case you find something exciting!
School Holiday Programs
The Museum offers School holiday programs including night at the museum tours, mini palaeo adventures and sunset digs. Please check their website as holiday programs change due to summer and winter seasons. Kronosaurus Korner has an excellent educational resource suitable for school excursions, home schoolers or anyone who would like to add an extra element to their tour. Please see their website for free downloadable lessons. www.kronosauruskorner.com.au
Other things to do in Richmond
Lake Fred Tritton is a manmade lake providing a lovely oasis amongst the outback landscape. It is situated right near the caravan park and has a walking path around It, at only 1.2kms is a great way to stretch the legs after a day of driving. There are free BBQ’s and a small water park which is a welcome way for the family to spend the afternoon cooling off. The lake is also stocked with 18 species of fish so if you have a rod handy it’s a great spot to fish.
Cambridge Heritage Display Centre is a free historical homestead built in the 1860’s. Step inside to see old Cob and Co wagons and a small display of farming and gold mining relics. https://www.richmond.qld.gov.au
Getting here: The last destination on our Dinosaur trail was the Flinders discovery museum in Hughendon. A short hour’s drive from Richmond this town has a population of just over 1000 residents and has a couple of pubs, cafes and supermarkets. We found this town to be the most expensive we had come across and as we were heading to the nearby Pyramid Gorge NP it was quite costly to stock up. Places to Stay: In town there is a caravan park and a selection of Motels. We chose to stay at the nearby Pyramid Gorge NP which I highly recommend. The town is friendly and quirky with lots of great dinosaur sculptures around the streets.
Hughendon Dinosaur Trail
The Dinosaur Trail: The Flinders Discovery centre is much smaller than the Age of Dinosaurs in Winton and Kronosaurus Korner. It houses a life-size skeleton replica of the Muttabuttasaurus which was found nearby and a large collection of fossils and gems. There is a short film about the formation of Porcupine gorge and information about the local area. We found we were in and out within half an hour. Although it was less impressive it was still a good way to finish the Dinosaur Trail. www.visithughenden.com.au
Other things to do in Hughendon
I highly recommend a night or two or three out at Porcupine Gorge National Park. There are tent or caravan sites to choose from and good clean drop toilets. Many of the sites have fire rings available but you will have to check on the booking website to make sure your site has one. Walk down to the spectacular gorge and swim in cool clear water, watch fish swim and birds swoop and marvel at the layers of sandstone. At night sit by the fire and look up to the star lit sky. This NP was a highlight for us in the region and bookings are essential. https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/porcupine-gorge/camping.html
A visit to Outback Queensland should be on every Australian’s bucket list. Let yourself be captivated by the vast open spaces, enjoy the sights and smells as you sit amongst a cow traffic jam. Be mesmerised by the flight of the giant wedgetail eagles and the force of the rattling road trains. Step outside at night and let the billions of stars make you dizzy. The Dinosaur Trail is the perfect blend of education and imagination and offers Brisbane kids something very different from their every day lives. I highly recommend it.
Thanks to Brisbane Kids Writer, Explorer and Mum of 3, Kristin Bland for sharing her adventures.