When the call of wide open country and big blue skies beckon it is hard to go past Queensland’s Channel Country. The so named ‘Channel Country’ is made up of a complex ‘latticework’ of waterways that eventually drain into Lake Eyre in South Australia. One of the main waterways in this region, the beautiful Barcoo River has been written about by famous Australian Poets including Banjo Patterson and Henry Lawson and for good reason. It is not only vast and unforgiving country out here it is visually stunning and diverse. The Barcoo is the focus of this journey through this stunning part of Outback Queensland.
We start off from the small town of Isisford nestled on the banks of the Barcoo River. Heading out from Isisford we take the River Road which is a rough dirt road complete with the infamous bulldust patches and 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 at a waterhole in the river and a great place to set up camp for a night or two.
Facilities here include toilets, hot showers and firepits. This would also be the perfect spot to throw a line in and maybe catch a yellow-belly for which the Barcoo is renowned although fishing is not our strong suit.
From Oma Waterhole it is time to get more red dirt under the tyres as the vastness of the Channel Country unfolds before reaching Yaraka 90km away. The 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.
Just to the east of town Mount Slocombe Lookout is the perfect place to get the lay of the land and the views from up here are just simply breathtaking. A sealed road leads to the summit with its expansive views over the Yang Yang Ranges and Mount Brooks. If you are after a top spot to take in a beautiful outback sunset then this is the place. Picnic tables and an electric barbecue are provided at the lookout although beware the flys can be vicious.
From Yaraka we take the road further west alternating between sealed and rough corrugated dirt and across vast floodplains. Keep an eye out for the signposted turn to Magee’s Shanty, about 45km from Yaraka.
This isolated site was reportedly the setting for Banjo Patterson’s ‘A Bush Christening’ written in 1893, well worth a read.
The grave of Richard Magoffin is also located nearby and worth a visit, 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 the nearby Diamantina National Park Welford is a park of stunning outback beauty and rich diversity.
Once in the park head for Little Boomerang Waterhole, the only camping area in the park. Facilities here include pit toilets and firepits.
Once you have your campsite sorted for your stay the best way to explore this immense and diverse park is by 4wd. There are 3 designated drives that explore the various landscapes and features. The River Drive is 12.3km one way. This drive also can lead to the camping area. It 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 to throw a line in.
The Desert Drive covers 22km one way as it traverses spinifex and ochre red sand dunes against a deep azure blue backdrop, the contrasting colours are simply stunning. Welford is home to some of the most easterly red sand dunes in the country. There is a sand dune stop along the way where a climb to the top is a great break from the drive.
Agricultural remnants also feature along this drive.
The last but by no means the least is the 54.5km long Mulga Drive, the longest of the 3 scenic drives.
Passing by the original homestead made of pise’ or rammed earth (the homestead is no longer open to the public as it is now used as staff quarters) this drive traverses open floodplains and into mulga country where eroded rocky ridges and gullies dominate. Several delightful waterholes along the Barcoo and a 1.2km return walk to Sawyers Lookout atop a rocky outcrop are worthwhile stops.
All drives are unique and interesting in their own way and well worth doing them all. We found none of the drives to be difficult although 4wd is recommended, the roughest but by no means challenging being the Mulga Drive. Wildlife can be spotted on any of the drives with kangaroos, emus and birdlife in abundance. Funnily enough the most wildlife we spotted was along the River Drive the day we left the park. There were mobs of kangaroos darting in all directions. You could easily spend several days here relaxing and soaking up the solitude and amazing outback scenery. If you are pushed for time we comfortably explored the park over a day and a half spending two nights in the park.
Be aware that this is remote country and you must be fully self-sufficient. Make sure you allow enough fuel ( fuel is available at Isisford and Jundah with limited supplies at Yaraka) to not only get to and from but also to cover the drives within the park and enough food and water if you get stuck out here for a few days. Black soil in and around Welford make it a dry weather only trip with only the slightest bit of rain meaning you would be stuck out here until the roads dried up. The closest town for limited supplies is Jundah about 50km west of the park.