We first heard about Queensland’s Dinosaur Trail from other travellers in the Northern Territory and thought it’d be a cool thing to do.
We were worried that at two, Ruby might be a bit young to take it all in, but she was really interested in the big dinosaurs and enjoyed it more than we thought she would.
First stop on the Dinosaur Trail – Winton
Our first stop was Winton, where we stayed at a beautiful free camp called Long Waterhole. Located just on the outskirts of town, we camped right by the river and enjoyed watching the birdlife as we ate our meals outside.
The Jump Up
On our first day there, we headed out to the Jump Up 20 minutes out of town, which was possibly the best experience on the whole dinosaur trail. We opted to buy the Australian Dinosaur Trail (ADT) pass while we were there, which gets you in to all four attractions for a discounted rate. It’s $95 an adult, which is quite expensive, but it ends up being four days of activities, so we thought it was worth it. Ruby was free.
We nearly skipped the Jump Up altogether though, because it involves a three-hour tour and we thought Ruby wouldn’t be down for that.
However, the tour is split into three parts with breaks in between, so completely manageable with a toddler.
On the first part, you visit the largest fossil laboratory in the southern hemisphere. It was fascinating to watch the and volunteers working on the dinosaur bones. They were dusting the dirt away to reveal signs of prehistoric life – quite amazing!
Next, we had a short break before heading over to the collection room. There was a movie which explains how the first dinosaur bones were discovered in the area, which only happened a couple of decades ago. Before then, hardly any large dinosaurs were believed to have lived in Australia back in the land before time.
A local farmer literally stumbled across the bones in his paddock and to this day farmers are continually finding fossils in the area, and they get a good tax break if they donate them to the museum!
The final part of the three-hour tour involved driving out to the Dinosaur Canyon on a buggy train which Ruby loved. Our guide even allowed her to sit up front on the way back, which was a thrill.
The Dinosaur Canyon is a bit of a work in progress but at the moment it features a boardwalk which leads you through pre-historic gardens with dinosaur statues throughout. The guide explains about the different plants, wildlife and dinosaurs as you go.
Dinosaur Stampede National Monument
The next day we headed out to the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument, which is a 110km drive outside of Winton. It’s quite a trek for a 45-minute tour, especially as it’s mainly on dirt roads, but worthwhile to see the only recorded evidence of a dinosaur stampede in the world.
The tour begins with another short film. Ruby loved this one, as it had lots of dinosaur animation explaining theories of how the dinosaur stampede might have happened.
Then you are led into the room where the footprints have been preserved. There are a couple of large footprints and hundreds of small ones, so it’s thought the small dinosaurs were chased by the large ones. The mud was exactly the right consistency to record the footprints.
After travellling for so long to get there, we made a day of it. There are picnic tables so we brought along our little butane stove and cooked up some sausages before taking a hike around the property.
There are a couple of walking trails and we opted for the shorter one as it was getting quite hot. The trail led to a viewing point which gave us a sweeping vista over the valley surrounding us.
Winton is also famous for another reason aside from dinosaurs – Banjo Patterson wrote his famous Waltzing Matilda song here and the town has a musical past. There is a brand new multi-million dollar museum dedicated to Banjo Patterson, the Waltzing Matilda Centre, in the heart of town, but at $30 an adult, we couldn’t really justify the price along with the Dinosaur Trail tickets.
However, we did visit the billabong that was said to have inspired his song. Located two hours north-west outside of Winton, the Combo Waterhole is well set up for a short hike.
There are information boards that tell you the history of the area and Patterson’s role in it along the way. The hike is about 2.6km return and is easy enough to do. Mind you, we were there in the dry season – we noticed the flood marks in the trees from when a flood had come through earlier in the year. And the dead kangaroo and wild pig in the trees were a giveaway that the area can flood!
While we were in Winton, we also visited the Musical Fence. The fence is made from recycled scrap metals and other odds and ends found in farm sheds, building different instruments – including a complete drum kit.
One of our favourite musicians, Gotye, even recorded one of his tracks from sounds made along the fence.
It’s certainly worth a visit and it’s easily accessible on the outskirts of town. We also had lunch at the Musical Fence Café which had a great retro vibe.
All in all, Winton was a gorgeous country town and one I’d happily return to.
After spending a few days in Winton, we headed to the next stop on the trail – Hughenden.
Here we visited the Flinders Discovery Centre, which is a small museum featuring a ‘Hughie’ the Muttaburrasaurus. There is also a historical section about the wool shearing farms in the area. What a tough life they lived in the outback!
On Tuesdays and Thursdays they also have a live shearing demonstration for $5 a ticket which would’ve been great but unfortunately, we weren’t around to see it.
There is a kids play area in the museum and Ruby loved dressing up and playing with the dinosaur puzzles.
Porcupine Gorge National Park
The next day we drove 75km north of Hughenden to the Porcupine Gorge National Park where we hiked 1.2km down into the gorge.
The hike wasn’t too difficult, although Dave might say differently seeing as he carried Ruby all the way back up!
The views were spectacular at the top and at the bottom we splashed in the river and clambered over the boulders, exploring the little rock pools as we went.
Caravanning in Hughenden
In Hughenden, we decided to go to the caravan park and charge up the van for the night but we ended up staying three nights because it was only $28 a night. However, you can free camp right in the middle of town as long as you have a self-contained vehicle and register at the visitor’s centre which is attached to the museum.
We did Richmond on a day trip from Hughenden, and it was about an hour each way. The highlight in Richmond is the Kronosaurus Korner, which features an extensive marine fossil collection that has been gathered from the remains of the Great Inland Sea of 110 million years ago.
I almost found this more interesting than the land dinosaur exhibits and so many of the fossils are in really good condition so you can truly imagine what they would’ve been like. There’s a great animated film here too, and Ruby loved this one also, which explains the life of the dinosaurs all those years ago.
There’s an awesome play area for the kids, including an ‘excavation’ sand pit where they can dig up their own fossils. This is next to the lab where you can watch the scientists at work through the large windows.
Opposite the museum there is a park and playground so we bought burgers from the Kronosaurus Café (which were good value and delicious) and ate them there while Ruby played.
On the way back to Hughenden we stopped in at the Cambridge Downs Heritage Display Centre which is housed in an old house. We had fun exploring the old machinery of yesteryear before taking a quick drive around the lake.
This marked the end of all the stops on our ADT pass. Was it worth the money? For a week’s worth of entertainment, absolutely. We enjoyed it immensely and learned a lot. If you have older kids than Ruby, it’d be even better as they are given guides to fill out as they experience the whole journey.