Outback Queensland, the vast area west of the state’s heavily touristed coast, is a dramatic change from the state’s lush, wet tropics. The population of tenacious farming communities is concentrated in the relatively fertile highlands along the Great Dividing Range; on the far side, expansive, empty plains slide over a hot horizon into the fringes of South Australia and the Northern Territory. The only places attracting travellers in any numbers are Longreach and the Central Highlands oasis of Carnarvon Gorge. But opportunities for exploration are immense, with precious stones, fossils, waterholes and Aboriginal art in abundance. The region has also produced two of Australia’s best-known icons: Qantas and Waltzing Matilda, first performed by Banjo Paterson in Winton.
Summers frequently hamper or prohibit travel in Outback Queensland, as searing temperatures and violent flash floods regularly isolate areas (especially in the Channel Country on the far side of the Great Dividing Range) for days or weeks on end. Even settlements on higher ground see little mercy from the rage of tropical storms; heavy rain in January 2011 lashed southeast Queensland, the floodwaters sweeping destructively through the city of Toowoomba and down into the Lockyer Valley on its way to Brisbane, resulting in devastation of property and a significant loss of life.
As a result of these tropical deluges, many tour companies, visitor centres and motels close completely between November and March, or at least during January and February. But it’s not all bad news – this water (scarce at other times of the year) revives dormant seeds and fast-growing desert flowers. During winter, expect hot days and cool, star-filled nights.