48 caravans. 2100 kilometres. Over $100,000 back into Queensland’s Outback economy.
On Friday 13 March 2020, 48 caravans departed the Sunshine Coast in Southern Queensland on a 2100 kilometre tour of the Queensland Outback. The brainchild of Bruce and Jenny Beausang and Adam and Letitia Twist from Suncoast Caravan Service, the objective of the “Grass Roots” Tour was to raise awareness on how caravanners can support drought and fire-affected communities by travelling, visiting and staying in a number of Outback Queensland’s most iconic towns. Along the way, dollars spent in these towns would go to support local community groups – schools, clubs and charities. The Tour, sponsored by many of the leading companies in the caravan industry, was supported by the Australian Caravan Club.
For Dinah and I this was the ideal way to visit many of Queensland’s most famous inland towns and to give something back to these communities, while at the same time enjoy the collegiality of travelling in a large group of like-minded caravanners. The 9 day itinerary from 13 to 22 March was organised and all caravan park bookings undertaken by Sunshine Coast Caravan Service. So all there was for us to do was hitch up and turn up.
We left the Sunshine Coast early on Friday morning for the 325 kilometre drive to our first stop, Stanthorpe. This is a really pleasant drive, freeway to just outside Ipswich (great for towing a van), then a picturesque drive through the countryside of the Scenic Rim, over Cunningham’s Gap to the major country centre of Warwick before tackling the remaining 60 kilometres to Stanthorpe. Dinah and I had visited Stanthorpe previously some years ago and really loved it. The Granite Belt is a ruggedly beautiful area and Stanthorpe is famous for its apples and cool-climate wines. The town is surrounded by a huge natural landscape park called Girraween which in local Kambuwal language, means ‘place of flowers’. Here you’ll see massive natural granite outcrops and precariously balanced boulders, many the size of houses.
Our destination was the Country Style Caravan Park about 10 kilometres south of Stanthorpe. This is a really great park right on the banks of the Severn River. Ours was a peaceful bushland site overlooking the river and providing us with a superb natural vista by day and amazing sunsets in the evening. Due to the severe water restrictions Stanthorpe was experiencing at the time, we were advised to bring our own water, so an unpowered site suited us. If you are planning to visit Stanthorpe, contact park hosts Jamaine and Kim at: www.countrystylecaravanpark.com.au
Our first Happy Hour for the tour on Friday evening was sponsored by Leisure-tec with the Stanthorpe Rotary Club preparing a fabulous roast dinner. Prizes and give-aways as well as a Welcome Pack for all Tour participants.
There’s lots happening in and around Stanthorpe. Meandering the town streets on a Saturday is fun, with an eclectic mix of traditional and funky shops to visit. The Brinx Deli & Café in the main street is one of the best country deli’s we have ever visited while Kent Saddlery on the northern approach to Stanthorpe (adjacent to Maccas) is a must visit if you are into leather. And then there’s the wineries and micro-breweries. Lots to choose from to either drop in at the cellar door or visit as part of an organised half or full day wine tour. You can make your selection at: www.granitebeltwinecountry.com.au
Sunday 15 March. Time to hitch up and move on. Next stop, the historic town of St George around 400 kilometres due west along the Bruxner Highway. On the way we called in at the famous Nindigully Pub 45 kilometres east of St George for a bite to eat and a cold (non-alcoholic) beverage. In its heyday, Nindigully’s main street and adjoining streets hosted a hall, school, an accommodation house, post office and telephone exchange. “The Gully” as it is locally known was established in 1864 and served as a Cobb & Co changeover station. It is the longest continually licensed pub in Queensland. This is a great place for a quick stop or an extended visit, with free caravan sites adjacent on the banks of Moonie River at the Nindigully Tourist and Visitor Area.
The town of St George is the hub of the Balonne Shire , straddling the intersection of five major outback highways. Our base in St George was the Pelican Rest Tourist Park on the Carnarvon Highway on the outskirts of town. Set on 9 acres of flat, grassed land, the park boasts easy-access van sites and cabins as well as a 12m heated therapeutic pool, camp kitchen and camp fireplace. Our caravan parked and camp chairs set up, we settled in for a casual happy hour with new friends on the lawn. Contact hosts Phil and Sheryn, Des and Jenny at: www.pelicanrest.com.au or [email protected]
Lots to see and do. We’d definitely recommend the St George Heritage Trail. It’s a great walk past some of the most historically significant buildings in the Queensland Outback. Sunday morning Dinah and I booked a half day cotton farm and winery tour with other tour caravanners. The Balonne District offers a diverse range of agricultural industries including cotton, grapes, onions and other crops. However, cotton is king in the district with one of the largest cotton properties in the world, Cubby Station just outside of town. We visited a local cotton grower and learnt, first-hand how in today’s technology-driven world cotton is grown, harvested and marketed. Really fascinating. Then on to Riversands Wines for a tour of the winery, lunch and wine tasting. Visit the winery online at: www.riversandswines.com
The district had recently received significant rain and St George had experienced minor flooding. Hence there was a lot of water lying around which attracted a gazillion flies. First stop after lunch, Golders. Established in 1927 and located centrally on Victoria Street, Golders sells just about everything – including fly nets! The best $11.95 we spent all day, if you don’t include the excellent ‘Ellen Meacle’ Merlot from Riversands! And right opposite Golders is the Unique Egg, the world’s only exhibition of hand-carved and illuminated Emu eggs. The craftsmanship displayed in these eggs has to be seen to believed. Entry is just $5.
Sunday evening’s Happy Hour was sponsored by Caravanning Queensland. Honey glazed ham, garlic and rosemary seasoned lamb, roast beef. Yep, roughing it! Raffle proceeds went to St George Rotary Club.
On the road again
Tuesday 17 March we were on the road again, travelling the 294 kilometres to Cunnamulla along the Balonne Highway. This really is the outback, as the ‘Welcome to Queensland’s Outback’ sign 140 kilometres this side of Charleville proclaims. Hundreds of kilometres of straight, open highway bordered by red dirt and mulga trees. Along the way we stopped for lunch in Charleville and to see if we could spot a bilby. Great lunch but no bilby. Next time.
Our destination in Cunnamulla was the Warrego Riverside Tourist Park, a 5-star rated park on the banks of the Warrego River just 3 kilometres from the centre of town. What a magnificent caravan park. Created from barren flat river-side scrub land by park owner and manager Judy, today the Warrego Riverside Tourist Park is an oasis of beautiful natives, flower beds, fruit trees, rose and herb gardens. Caravans nestle amongst the rows of trees and scrubs. The amenities block, like everything else here, is immaculate with the biggest shower and dressing cubicles I have every seen in any caravan park, anywhere. Simply, if you are visiting Cunnamulla by van, this is the only place to stay. Go to: www.warregoriversidetouristpark.com.au
As luck would have it, Tuesday was St Patrick’s Day so we were encouraged to come to Happy Hour wearing something green. The event was sponsored by Suncoast Caravan Service with the Eulo Polo Cross Club taking on the responsibility of preparing a camp oven-style country feast of Irish Stew with Soda Bread and desert. The Cunnamulla Jockey Club hosted the bar and local musicians serenaded us with Irish folksongs as the sun set on the Warrego River. Raffles and prizes a-plenty, donated by tour sponsors – a great evening.
Wednesday 18 March, time to explore Cunnamulla and the best place to start your Cunnamulla adventure and get an appreciation for what has and is happening here is the Visitor Information Centre and Cunnamulla Fella Centre. This is a fascinating place with a huge display of exhibits that take you back to the glory days. There is also an excellent theatrette showing documentaries on the Artesian Basin, the largest underground water system in the world. And standing proudly outside, a monument to the famous ‘Cunnamulla Fella’ – the song written by Stan Coster and immortalised by Slim Dusty. And to wash down the dust (and the odd unfortunate fly!), barefoot bowls and ice cold beer from the bar at the local Bowls Club that evening was a fitting end to a memorable two days in Cunnamulla.
The Tour is coming to an end
Thursday 19 March. Day seven on the road and Mitchell our next stop. With a population of just 1031, Mitchell was the smallest of the towns we visited, but I believe, one of the most interesting. This truly is a classic small country town. One ultra-wide main street that sees dozens of road trains each day travelling through on their way to destinations such as the Roma Cattle Yards, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere and 90 kilometres east on the Warrego Highway. Like most country towns, Mitchell is doing it tough with this main street lined with closed shops and businesses. Of the four pubs in town, three are closed and the fourth is for sale. Home for us in Mitchell was the aptly named Major Mitchell Caravan Park on the edge of town. Managers Craig and Caroline welcomed us to a spacious caravan park that offered large drive-through caravan sites, including some with ensuite facilities. You can book your stay at: www.majormitchellcaravanpark.com.au
Happy Hour this evening was sponsored by Brisbane Camperland, Queensland’s largest Jayco Caravan Dealership. St Patrick’s Catholic School cooked dinner and were the beneficiaries of all funds raised throughout the evening.
Friday and time to explore Mitchell. The Great Artesian Spa was the first stop just 300 metres across the bridge from the park. What an amazing facility. Therapeutic hot spa water and refreshing cool pool. One store that hasn’t closed is Samios Trading Post. Billed as the “Myer of Mitchell”, the store sells everything from socks to saddles. Great country gear and good, honest prices. Definitely worth a visit. Up the road, Lawson Butchery. If you’re a regular country visitor then you know you can’t beat the local town butcher for the best meats – steaks the way they used to be before they came in shrink-wrapped plastic trays!
Dinner on Friday evening was at the only remaining pub in town, the Hotel Richards. Cold beer for me and white wine for Dinah at the bar, then a pub dinner with friends in the dining room. Really great steak. Really fresh vegetables. Really good prices.
The last day
Saturday 21 March. Our final destination was to be an overnighter in Miles, about 220 kilometres east of Mitchell and then home. Unfortunately, due to an unprecedented health crisis engulfing Australia and the world, Dinah and I opted to head straight home from Mitchell, a 630 kilometre journey and for us, the end of the Tour.
The highs and lows
It’s unanimous. Even though the increasing threat of the Coronavirus pandemic did cast a shadow over the event, the Grass Roots 2020 tour was a huge success. Collectively we added over $100,000 to the economies of the towns and districts we visited and to the organisations we supported throughout the tour. A huge thanks to Suncoast Caravan Service and in particular, Adam and Letitia for this initiative and for the incredibly amount of time, effort and just plain hard work they put into organising the tour and making it such a success. Not only do they offer an outstanding service to we caravanners, they organise a bloody good tour! Check them out at: www.suncoastcaravanservice.com.au
Bring on Grass Roots 2021!
Main picture: “The Gully”, Queensland’s longest continual licensed pub.
- Mapping out the tour
- Riverbank camping in Stanthorpe
- Adam and Letitia Twist and family at our first Happy Hour in Stanthorpe
- Handing out the Welcome packs
- Brinx Deli & Cafe. The best country deli ever
- Sunset from our campsite on the Severn River
- Arriving at the Nindygully Hotel – hot and thirsty
- Giant cotton harvester in St George
- Wine tasting at Riversands Wines in St George
- The Cunnamulla Fella (he’s the big one!)
- Historic shearing display at the Cunnamulla Fella Centre
- Throwing my hat in at the Cunnamulla Bowls Club
- St Patrick’s Day dinner at Warrego Riverside Tourist Park
- A truely beautiful caravan park
- Sunset over the Warrego River