A visit to Winton in the heart of the Queensland outback gives new meaning to 'getting away from it all'. But that doesn't mean you won't have plenty to do. From walking with dinosaurs to movie nights under the stars, here are ten fabulous things to do in and around town.
While they’re almost two hundred kilometres apart, the Central Queensland towns of Longreach and Winton are often done as a duo by visitors to the region.
Winton is the smaller of the two, and the mistake is to see it as an add-on to your Longreach trip and cut yourself too short of time. It may look fairly nondescript at first glance, but Winton is one of those destinations where the more you dig, the more you’ll find, and you’ll frequently find yourself muttering phrases like ‘Ooh, will you look at that’ and ‘Gosh, I didn’t know that was here’. Give yourself at least two or three full days to do it justice.
Digging and subsequent finding are what have raised Winton’s profile in recent years. The fascinating Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum of Natural History and its collection of fossilised dino-DNA is probably the region’s biggest attraction. But it’s just the beginning of what’s in store for intrepid visitors. Prepare to be amazed!
Here are ten of the best things to do in Winton.
1. Travel back to the age of the dinosaurs
It’s dry and dusty today, but some 100 million years ago Central Queensland was a vastly different place. The retreating inland sea resulted in a landscape of lakes and lush vegetation inhabited by some very large locals. While there have been various discoveries of dinosaur bones and tracks in Australia over the past century, a more complete picture of our once mighty megafauna is only now beginning to emerge. Much of it centres around the ‘Winton Formation’ of sedimentary rock, which is yielding incredible evidence of the prehistoric past. At the forefront of that research is the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, which sits on a rocky plateau known as a ‘jump-up’, a few kilometres east of Winton (if you’re coming from Longreach, you’ll encounter the turn-off before you reach town). Established by David and Judy Elliott following the discovery of a giant femur from a sauropod in one of their paddocks, this impressive not-for-profit facility now holds the largest collection of fossilised Australian dinosaur remains in the world.
The museum is split into three/soon-to-be-four sections, and having come all this way, it’s worth investing in the Ultimate Dinosaur Pass so you can see it all. You’ll tour the Fossil Preparation Laboratory where new discoveries are cleaned and categorised, see a selection of the museum’s holding of fossilised skeletal parts in the Collection Room, and immerse yourself in the surrounding landscape on a guided walk through ‘Dinosaur Canyon’. The whole process is hugely engaging and takes around three hours to complete. The canyon walk is hot work, so bring a big hat, sunscreen and a refillable water bottle.
2. Follow the tracks of a dinosaur stampede
The drama of daily life in the dinosaur world comes to life in the Collection Room as you hear theories about the final moments of large carnivorous theropod ‘Banjo’ and the much larger plant-eating sauropod ‘Matilda’, whose remains were found right next to each other. There’s more drama on display at the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument — a separate attraction situated 90 minutes’ drive south of Winton. Here, the footprints of 150 stampeding dinosaurs were preserved in mud following what is thought to have been a surprise lakeside theropod attack. It’s all intriguing stuff, especially for anyone who daydreamed of the days of the dinosaurs as a kid (which, let’s face it, was pretty much all of us). The Winton Dinosaur Capital of Australia VIP Pass covers both attractions and will save you a few dollars on entry costs.
3. Come a Waltzing Matilda
Banjo Paterson’s balladic tale of a jolly-but-ill-fated sheep-swiping swagman is one the entire nation has long held close to its heart, and Waltzing Matilda was penned in (well, just outside of) Winton. The town’s state-of-the-art Waltzing Matilda Centre celebrates that fact, and is an absolute joy. This museum/gallery/visitor centre features an exhibition space dedicated to the song (and the many times and ways it’s been covered by musicians over the years), and a much larger exhibition hall that weaves in other local narratives. There’s even more to see out the back in the Qantilda Museum Park.
The stunning centre you see today replaced one that was destroyed by fire in 2015. There’s a video presentation that plays in a theatrette behind the main building, and if hearing the song itself and seeing the role it has played in Australian life over the decades doesn’t get you, the vision of flames ripping through the old museum certainly will. Bring tissues.
4. Do a town tour by horse and carriage
Many of those arriving in Winton will have had the pleasure of riding in a restored Cobb & Co-era stagecoach in Longreach. If you’re up for another taste of 19th century horse-drawn conveyance, Winton Adventure Tours offers a 30-minute town tour in a delightful one-hundred-year-old landau carriage. The tour departs from outside the Waltzing Matilda Centre and includes commentary on points of interest around the trim and tidy town centre.
5. See where the Spirit of Australia was born
Spending time in Longreach and Winton, you soon work out that there’s quite the spirit of competition between the two towns (and as one local put it, Winton, while smaller, ‘gives just as good as it gets!’). The story of the birth of Qantas is one battlefront, and actually involves not two, but three different towns. A grudging truce has been reached, which states that the company ‘was conceived in Cloncurry, born in Winton, and grew up in Longreach’. Plane spotters can check out a few sites around Winton relating to the airline’s origins, including the Qantilda Museum Park, a commemorative cairn in the main street, The Winton Club building on Oondooroo Street (where the first official Q.A.N.T.A.S. Ltd board meeting was held in 1921), and a brand new monument north of town (near the popular Musical Fence). It was unveiled by Qantas CEO Alan Joyce in April 2021 for the airline’s delayed centenary celebration.
6. Catch a flick under the stars
Many Aussie travellers know of the iconic Sun Pictures outdoor movie theatre in Broome, but less well-known is The Royal Theatre Winton — believed to be the other of only two such venues in the country. A theatre has stood on this site in Elderslie Street since 1918. It was purchased by the Evert family in 1937, but destroyed by a fire that broke out in the projection room (mid-film!) in 1938. The theatre was rebuilt and has remained in the family’s hands ever since. Not-for-profit Winton Movies Inc was established in 2018 and charged with the task of restoring the ageing facility. It’s well on its way to achieving that goal. Check the Facebook page for screening dates and times, and settle in to enjoy a flick beneath the star-filled outback sky. Get there early to peruse the wonderful display of movie memorabilia uncovered during the restoration process.
7. Enjoy a coldie in a classic outback pub
Every outback town needs a watering hole and Winton has four classic pubs in which to wet your parched whistle — the North Gregory, the Australian and the Tattersall’s on the main street, and The Winton Hotel across town on Werner Street. Each of them is a characterful link with yesteryear. Known fondly as the ‘Queen of the Outback’, the North Gregory was established in 1879 and has burnt down and been rebuilt no less than three times since. It was here that the first known public performance of Waltzing Matilda took place in 1895. Enjoy a coldie or counter meal in the venue(s) of your choosing.
8. Fly high over an ancient landscape
Huge kites (of the feathered variety) are a familiar sight in the region’s endless blue skies. Join them on a scenic helicopter flight with Elite Aviation Services which has a base at Winton Airport (just ten minutes’ drive from the centre of town). We all know the outback is big, but from up here you gain a new appreciation for just how remote towns like Winton are. Dry waterways snake across the ancient arid landscape like strokes on a painting and ravine-creased jump-ups promise future prehistoric discoveries. This is an experience well worth splashing out on during your stay.
9. Noodle for your fortune
So why did the pioneers of the past choose to take on the outback and settle in remote outposts like this? For many, it was the promise of riches held within the grasp of the landscape itself. Queensland’s boulder opal fields stretch from Winton in the north to Yowah in the south. The Opalton opal field lies 120 kilometres south of Winton, and has been mined on and off since the late 1880s. Designated fossicking land was established at Opalton in the 1990s to give tourists the opportunity to ‘noodle’ (fossick for opals in surface rock). If you’re interested in giving it a go, there are some basic camping facilities available. A permit is required, which you can pick up from the Tourist Information Centre at the Waltzing Matilda Centre. However, if that sounds way too much like hard work, there are opal stores dotted along Winton’s Elderslie Street that will sort you out with souvenir bling.
10. Grab a selfie at sunset
The sight of the sun setting over the outback is truly something else, and on the approach into town, the local authorities have wisely erected a ‘Winton’ sign that’s perfectly positioned and proportioned for sunset snaps. As a marketing exercise, it’s a beaut. Grab a selfie as the sinking sun’s rays stream through the lettering, and pop it on Instagram (#winton). It will also make a fine pictorial memento of your visit to one of regional Queensland’s most fascinating towns.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Winton? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.