Aussies flock to the Queensland town of Longreach to encounter some of the greatest legends of the outback.
Located in the vast heart of the state (13 hours’ drive from Brisbane or seven hours from Rockhampton) and smack bang on the Tropic of Capricorn (where the temperate southern and torrid tropical climate zones meet) — the town has forged a place for itself in Australian folklore, thanks largely to the presence of the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum. There’s a swag of historical attractions to enjoy, all of which evoke a sense of the pioneering spirit that opened up the outback to European settlement.
Cobb & Co coaches paved the way, but today most visitors arrive in Longreach by train or air. Flying time from the Queensland capital is a little over two hours. The Spirit of the Outback train service from Brisbane is also a popular way to travel to and from the region.
Here are ten of the best things to do in Longreach.
The Qantas Founders Museum is Longreach’s top attraction and has just undergone a $14 million upgrade. The museum has a great mix of historical memorabilia displayed in a state-of-the-art exhibition hall and heritage-listed hangar (built in 1922). Learn how Qantas grew from a handful of Longreach-based pilots carrying the outback mail, to arguably Australia’s greatest company.
Watch our video of ten top things to do in Longreach and Winton:
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The adjacent Airpark houses a number of aircraft under a sweeping new roof, designed to ensure a comfortable visitor experience whatever the weather. The Airpark tour will take you on board a Lockheed Super Constellation, a Boeing 707 (that at one time served as a luxury private jet), and a Boeing 747. The flight deck of the 747, at three storeys, is the tallest ‘building’ in Longreach. The aircraft becomes a giant screen for the new nightly Luminescent Longreach light and sound experience, which brings the 100-year history of Qantas to life.
Long before outback Queensland had Qantas, Cobb & Co stagecoaches were the mode of transport. Outback Pioneers’ fabulous Cobb & Co Stagecoach Experience is a chance to relive the magic of those decidedly dusty and bumpy days. But wow, talk about fun! The restored horse-drawn stagecoach clip-clops sedately through the streets of Longreach, before getting up to full speed on a section of the old Longreach-Windorah mail route. The ride — the only one of its kind in Australia — is followed by a ‘smoko’ of fluffy scones with jam and cream, and a generous dollop of cornball humor in the Harry Redford Old Time Tent Show (included in the cost of your Cobb & Co ticket).
Longreach was established alongside the Thomson River in the late 1800s, and the town got its name from the river’s ‘long reach’. Visitors can soak up the beauty of this tranquil waterway on a sunset cruise on board the characterful Thomson Belle paddle wheeler — operated by Outback Pioneers. The cruise chugs along at a relaxed pace as the sun slowly sinks and the sky becomes bathed in reds, oranges and yellows. Bring your camera.
Following the cruise, you’ll enjoy a campfire dinner while listening to hilarious bush poetry. No one leaves hungry thanks to a freshly-baked damper starter smeared with ‘Cocky’s Joy’ (golden syrup to us city slickers), a hearty stew for main course, and a sweet treat for dessert. After dinner, an outdoor cinema presentation brings the story of infamous cattle thief Harry Redford — better known as Captain Starlight — to life.
Having marked its 30th anniversary in 2018 (it was opened by the Queen in 1988), the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame is another of Longreach’s most popular attractions. It celebrates the achievements of those who spearheaded European settlement of the country’s vast interior and made a go of life there, including explorers, cameleers, graziers, and stockmen and women. There’s a gallery dedicated to Indigenous stockmen, and another that highlights the work of the legendary Royal Flying Doctor Service. The Hall of Fame has just launched a fabulous new immersive audio experience, which gives you a choice of beautifully produced narratives to listen to, relevant to where you are in the museum. If you’re visiting between April and October, consider upgrading your entry ticket to include the live stockman show — a demonstration of horsemanship and the role of man’s best friend in keeping the flock in line.
Now that you’ve learned the history of droving, complete the circle by visiting a working sheep and cattle station. The Walker family has been farming at Camden Park Station for three generations, and Outback Aussie Tours operates a station tour from Longreach twice a week from May to October. See the 100-year-old shearing shed and family homestead, and hear how Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip once dropped by.
Longreach’s CBD runs along Eagle Street and is delightfully spick and span. It’s retained much of its original feel — complete with the heritage-listed railway station at the northern end, and various other well maintained period buildings. There are informative interpretive boards to peruse, and a number of monuments and statues — including The Drovers (which were originally part of The Human Factor sculptures created by John Underwood for World Expo 88 in Brisbane). A marker at the Council Chambers designates where the Tropic of Capricorn lies, and is a popular spot for a selfie.
The retail mix on Eagle Street reflects that this is first and foremost a working agricultural town, and country and western-style clothing stores, saddleries and the like are plentiful. When it’s time for a snack, drop by the uber popular Merino Bakery and try their specialty known as a peach blossom — a delectable cross between a pink lamington and a cupcake.
Just a short walk from the main drag, the old Longreach power station — which opened in 1921 and was decommissioned in 1988 — has been repurposed as a museum. It still houses its eight massive power generators in situ, along with a growing collection of objects and artefacts relating to the history of the town. There’s a locomotive, a 1960s-era fire engine, a recreated classroom and an array of vintage typewriters and the like. A number of rooms, complete with furniture, were taken from the 1918 homestead at Nogo cattle station and relocated to the museum to document the lives of pioneering families in outback Queensland. The museum is open from April to October.
The best way to appreciate the vastness of the region around Longreach is on a scenic flight. Treat yourself to a River and Heartland Scenic Flight with Queensland Helicopters, which provides a bird’s eye view of the town before scooting off to follow a section of the Thomson River. Flights of 10, 20 or 90 minutes are available.
Operated by Outback Aussie Tours, Smithy’s Outback Dinner and Show guarantees an evening of heartfelt hilarity. Smithy’s ‘camp’ is situated by the Thomson River and framed by coolabah trees festooned with fairy lights. The compound features a rustic shed-style stage area, table seating, a cookhouse and well stocked bar. Guests enjoy a delicious two-course dinner, followed by freshly baked damper with tea and coffee. However, the real highlight is the show itself, which on the evening we attended, was performed by John Hawkes (Hawkesy). He neatly avoided cliches completely and delivered a thoroughly entertaining insight into the life of a stockman. With great yarns, tunes and tucker, you’re guaranteed of a great night out at Smithy’s. Consider pairing it with Outback Aussie Tours’ sublime Drover’s Sunset Cruise beforehand.
The fare in Longreach is always hearty and satisfying. Harry’s Restaurant and Bar at the Longreach Motor Inn is regarded as the finest dining establishment in town, and offers an extensive menu of outback classics. If you’re game to try something a bit different, order the salt and pepper crocodile (it doesn’t taste anything like chicken!). There’s a good selection of wines, and the attentive staff will see to your every whim.
Pubs are generally the hungry traveller’s best and most cost effective friend, and that’s certainly the case in Longreach. Try The Birdcage Hotel, which is bright and airy, and offers bistro, bar or al fresco seating. The Longreach RSL on Duck Street looks a bit like a former service station on the outside, but don’t be put off. The interior is contemporary, the menu is seriously well-priced, and the beer is icy cold. There’s a small exhibition of service memorabilia as you walk in.
For further information, visit www.longreachtourism.com.au.
The writers travelled as a guest of Outback Pioneers, Outback Aussie Tours, Camden Park Station, Qantas Founders Museum, Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, and Harry’s.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do in Longreach? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image: Outback Pioneers
Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world — and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, she has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Louise’s favourite way to see the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. She also has a passion for her home state of Victoria and loves exploring its diverse regions.
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.