Our Experience On A Hard Times Mount Isa Mine Tour, Queensland

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Mount Isa is a remote and enchanting town located in the heart of Outback Queensland.

It’s most famous for its rich history of mining, which you can learn all about on a unique Hard Times Mine Tour, which takes you deep into Mount Isa’s mining heritage.

It’s also famous for having the biggest rodeo in the Southern Hemisphere, but it’s more famous for the mine.

If you’re thinking of visiting Mount Isa and going on one of the Mt Isa mine tours, but not sure what to expect, then this guide is for you.

We’ve shared our experience visiting the mines and what you can expect.

Disclaimer: We visited Mount Isa in partnership with Tourism Queensland as part of our Outback Queensland drive, though all ideas, thoughts and opinions in this guide are our own.

About Hard Times Underground Mt Isa Mine Tours

group of people in underground mine
Credit: Tourism Australia

This unique underground experience takes you through the depths of the Hard Times Mine in Outback Queensland.

Led by knowledgeable guides, you’ll get to explore the tunnels and witness the mining machinery that once operated in this purpose-built mine.

The guides will share stories of the challenges faced by miners and the importance of mining in Australia’s history.

The experience has a hands-on nature and allows visitors to truly engage with the experience, making it informative, interactive, and unforgettable all at the same time.

You get to descend into the mine in an Alimak Cage, before entering the tunnels. You learn how tunnels are formed using boom drills and mucking units, see the machinery such as the jackhammer and even get to use the air-leg drill.

You even get to be kitting-out in orange overalls, gumboots and hard hat.

You must book your tour online in advance. Get tickets here!

History of Mining in Mount Isa

Group experiencing the Hard Times Underground Mine Tou
credit: Tourism and Events Queensland

Mining has played a pivotal role in shaping the history of Mount Isa.

The discovery of silver-lead ore deposits in 1923 by John Campbell Miles led to the establishment of Mount Isa Mines in January 1924.

Over the years, the mining operations expanded, and by the 1950s and 1960s, exploration activities significantly increased the ore reserves in Mount Isa.

The city’s growth and prosperity have been closely tied to the success of the mining industry.

Today, Mount Isa still has mining operations underway. The Glencore mine, which extracts metals such as copper, zinc and lead, continue to mine in the region.

Our Hard Times Mine Underground Tour Experience

Family on the Underground Tour
credit: Tourism and Events Queensland

“Here you go. Can you carry this for me? Now don’t drop it. You’re in charge okay?”

Kalyra looked from me to Steve, unsure whether she should take the walkie-talkie from this bearded stranger.

“C’mon, let’s go.” After an encouraging “it’s safe” nod from me, she followed tour guide, Steve, to join the rest of the group, walkie-talkie in hand.

She was the only child on the Hard Times Underground Mine Tour, but Steve quickly made her feel important by announcing her as his little helper.

On cue, a voice cut through the walkie talkie static, “Kalyra, can you let Steve know he forget the camera?”

Steve sent her back to pick it up for him. She was hooked from then on, following him around helping to hand out hard hat helmets and belts to the rest of us as we suited up to go underground.

girl and man in orange jumpsuit standing at entrance to Mount Isa underground mine tour
Kalyra and Steve

We weren’t going down 1.9 kilometres like the real miners do just across town at the real Mount Isa mine. We were just going down a small portion of that in the fake mine.

The fake mine is an exact replica of what the working mines look like and was created specifically for tours to keep them out of the real mines and a little safer!

Steve has worked in the mines for over 40 years extracting copper, lead and zinc; he was the perfect guide to share with us what the mining experience is like.

Mount Isa has the biggest underground mine in Australia and is the world’s biggest producer of copper.

I must admit I wasn’t sure about doing the mine tour. I’m not that interested in the tearing up of the earth.

But, Kalyra wanted me to go with her, and not one to pass up an educational opportunity for her, I agreed.

Let’s face it she looks far too cute in an orange miner’s suit to say no.

mother and child standing at entrance to Mount Isa mine tour in orange jumpsuits
mummy & daughter date (with a difference)

From the minute we put on those orange suits, Steve’s classic Aussie dry humour came out with a story of a group of Swedish travelers who taught him a little about new tour rules and procedures.

Steve returned after a three year break from guiding the tours, completely oblivious to the fact they had changed the hot orange overalls to light, see-through disposable ones.

He gave his usual spiel about taking off your undergarments before putting on the orange overalls to avoid overheating.

He soon realized the change in protocol when they emerged from the change rooms in the new see through gear!

Whether it was an embellished story or not, it got a roar of giggle from all of us that did not stop throughout the tour as Steve shared with us stories of tour mishaps and miner’s pranks in their attempt to make an incredibly difficult job have pockets of light, mate-ship and humour.

Because there is no light underground, and unlike the opal mines we visited in Coober Pedy, there is no bloody relief from the heat either.

In fact, the further down you go, the hotter it gets thanks to the heating elements of copper.

At the greatest depths of the real mine it can reach up to 70 degrees celcius.

view of Mount Isa town Queensland, Australia
Mount Isa

The mines have an amazing network of floors and tunnels that can hold large machines and tractors that clear the rubble after the daily blasts that happen at 8am and 8pm.

Sometimes they’re large enough for the local Irish Club to start rumbling.

You can pick the locals from the tourists as they continue eating their food and talking while the tourists start trembling with white faces.

The fake mine is not as extensive with about 2km of tunnels and we walked around seeing the different equipment that was used and getting the opportunity to use some of the drills ourselves.

Kalyra continued to be Steve’s little mate. He let her have first try of everything and climb up onto the tractors to get special driver’s seating as he regaled us with tales.

She giggled hysterically, which surprised me as I thought they’d go over her head.

She especially loved having a few biscuits in the mess, the place the miners stop to have their break between shifts with a game of cards and a coffee.

She could not wait to race out and tell her father all the stories after it.

statue of man mining
Credit: Tourism Australia

I felt a deep sense of gratitude during the tour, which really surprised me.

I’ve kind of had a disregard for miners before, not really a personal thing, but just not liking mining for it’s waste of resources – and that hasn’t changed at all.

I’m hoping that we can wake up to ourselves and become world leaders within the renewable energy industry soon. We’ve got enough bloody sun and wind for it.

But, this tour allowed me to have an appreciation for the intense and dangerous work miners do.

It’s the mining industry that has held up our economy through the global financial crisis, which has ultimately given me a lot of opportunity.

So I appreciate these men and women for all their hard work. It made me appreciate being a travel blogger and how easy I have it.

I appreciate Steve for being a wonderful tour guide. He still works in the mines and chooses to volunteer as a tour guide on his days off. Isn’t that just amazing?!

He was a decent, funny guy and made the tour. I was so grateful for the way he welcomed Kalyra in and made her feel a special part of the tour.

As a result, she came out beaming about how good it was and she learned a lot.

The tour went for three hours and she was engrossed the entire time, which is not an easy thing for a seven year old.

We had a fantastic afternoon exploring the mines together on our Kalyra and Mummy date.

If you’re passing through Mount Isa, I highly recommend you do the mining tour and ask for Steve as your guide, although I’m sure they are all terrific.

FAQs About Mt Isa Mining Tours

miners sitting at table underground
credit: Tourism and Events Queensland

Here’s some useful information about the Hard Times mining tour in Mount Isa…

What are the opening hours of Hard Times Mining Tours in Mount Isa?

The Hard Times Mining Tour is open every day from 8:30am – 4.30pm (Closed Christmas Day, New Years Day, Good Friday and Boxing Day).

What should you bring with you to the mining tour?

Wear light clothing as it gets surprisingly hot in the mine. You will wear protective overalls to protect your clothes. I also recommend you bring a pair of socks with you to wear in the gumboots as it will make it more comfortable. Leave your camera at home, as they are not permited inside the mine.

What is the minimum age for the Hard Times Mining Tour?

Participants of the Hard Times Mining Tour should be at least 7 years of age or over. Kalyra was just old enough to do this tour when we visited.

Do you need to sign a waiver of liability?

Yes, you need to sign a waiver of liability before embarking on the mining tour.

Other Things to Do in Mount Isa

I actually didn’t mind Mount Isa as a place. It’s a mining town, so it’s not going to be pretty, but it’s not as ugly as some others.

I’m looking at you, Port Headland!

I found the people to be so warm and friendly. It was a great start to our Outback Queensland adventure.

Here are some other things to do in the township…

1. Catch a Mt Isa Sunset

stunning orange Sunset sky with tower and mountain silhouette

If you head up to City Lookout at sunset, you’ll catch quite a pretty one.

You might even like the smoke stack silhouette looking like a passing ship in the night.

And just before sunset, I preferred to turn the other way and watch the hills turn a golden pinkish colour.

aerial view of Mount Isa town

Telstra Hill, just out of town, is meant to be another great spot for sunset and amazing 360-degree views into the sparse outback.

The gate can sometimes be closed so you’ll have a 1.2km walk to the top.

The Mt Isa sunset made our list of 28 best sunsets in Australia.

2. Attend Mount Isa Rodeo

woman on horse with zebra costume at rodeo in mt isa

We’ve heard the Mount Isa Rodeo at Buchanan Park is not to be missed. I’m keen to check this out one day. Our friends went and had a fantastic time.

It’s said to be the biggest rodeo in the Southern Hemisphere and features everything from cowboy competitions to live rock music.

3. Explore Outback at Isa

a sign on a building
museum exhibit
Isa Experience

Drop into Outback at Isa for a truly hands-on experience. Not only is this the place to do your underground mine tour but they’ve got other interactive exhibits.

And inside is the Isa visitors centre.

pond in Outback Park, Mount Isa, Queensland
Outback Park
two young girls in sandpit digging dinosaur bones
Kalyra & Savannah enjoying the Riversleigh Fossil Centre

What you’ll get at Outback at Isa:

  • Isa Experience – gives a fascinating insight into the mining industry development to the cultural diversity of Mount Isa shown in the theatrette movies.
  • Outback Park – is an extensive creative landscape that captures visitors attention, with a central lagoon surrounded by lush naive plantings and a Lawn Hill gorge inspired waterfall.
  • Riversleigh Fossil Centre – educates and interprets for visitors the fossils extracted from the nearby Riversleigh fossil fields. Your kids will get a kick out of uncovering their own fossils in the large sand pit.

4. Feed The Peacocks in Peacock Park

Lake Moondarra, Mount Isa, Queensland

We went for a drive out to Lake Moondarra which was pretty and BLUE.

There are plenty of peacocks walking around to feed and if you have a boat you can get out on the lake.

Go past Moondarra Lake and follow the road to “peacock park” for a chance to feed the peacocks. Take some bread and feed them.

If you have kids, they will love this!

5. Visit the Underground Hospital (The Beth Anderson Museum)

This hidden gem is Australia’s first and only underground hospital, which is now a museum that tells of resilience and courage.

Here you can delve into the lives of local miners who transformed this subterranean space into a vital medical facility during times of war.

As you explore the restored rooms and corridors, you’ll be transported back in time, gaining a unique insight into the challenges faced by both patients and medical staff.

Where To Eat In Mt Isa

exterior to Mount Isa Hotel, Queensland, Australia

The Isa Hotel in the heart of town has the best kid’s meal we’ve had in Australia.

They were gigantic and the kid’s lasagne was amazing.

The kids will appreciate the playground and we appreciated the hamburgers.

burger and fries at the Isa Hotel, Queensland

Coffee o’clock (The best coffee in Mt Isa)

A big ringing bell for Bambino Espresso, which is half cafe, half boutique, tucked away on Miles Street.

It was one of the best coffees we’ve had in Australia. Melbourne quality. Ding ding ding!

Thanks to our friend Alison and former resident for the recommendation!

woman drinking coffee at Bambino Espresso, Mount Isa, Queensland, Australia

Where to Stay in Mt Isa

caravan parked in a camping ground

We camped at the Discovery Holiday Park on the edge of town and an easy drive in.

They’ve got powered sites, a camp kitchen, cabins, villas, a quiet and relaxing location and friendly managers!

For more places to stay in Mt Isa, here are some highly recommended Mt Isa accommodations:

  • Offering stunning views of Mount Isa Mine, ibis Styles provides accommodations with private balconies in the heart of Mount Isa. It features a swimming pool and barbecue facilities. See rates and availability
  • Nightcap at Barkly Hotel: 3 star hotel with bar, BBQ area and outdoor swimming pool. See rates and availability
  • Redearth Boutique Hotel has a terrace, restaurant, bar, and a good location. See rates and availability

Final Thoughts

So there you go. Mount Isa is surprising!

I arrived with the attitude that I wouldn’t like it and not understand why all these people kept jumping out on Facebook saying how great it was. Old friends lived there for years too and loved it.

I drove out of there with a fairly favourable opinion of it. I couldn’t live there, but I’d be happy to return and experience the rodeo one day. It sounds like a fun Aussie experience.

Always travel with a mind open to surprises.

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