Where is the Sandstone Wilderness I hear you ask?
It’s a region in Central Queensland encompassing gem fields, lush rainforests and sandstone gorges, significant Aboriginal art sites and tropical islands. We finished our Australian road trip in the Sandstone Wilderness region travelling through the Capricorn section from Carnarvon Gorge to Great Keppel Island and Yeppoon. The Sandstone Wilderness also includes Banana Shire and North Burnett.
The Sandstone Wilderness is the size of Tasmania, yet has more National Parks and has as many visitors as the Kimberly region in Western Australia – statistics I find fascinating!
We’ve had great feedback from you as to the itineraries we create for you for destinations within Australia. We’ve partnered with Tourism Queensland to give you a five-day itinerary of the Sandstone Wilderness region. To be honest, it’s a challenge to give you this in five days, but we understand many of you have only a short time to explore.
If you can stay longer, than absolutely extend your stay in each place you love. We’re starting the Sandstone Wilderness itinerary for you in Carnarvon Gorge, but feel free to switch it around. Although I think ending it on the islands is the best way to do it!
Carnarvon Gorge – two nights
It’s rare to meet someone who’s done a lot of travel within Australia who does not recommend Carnarvon Gorge as a must-see wonder.
It’s one of our favourite National Parks in Australia and possibly one of the best places in Australia to see wild kangaroos. You can see them in many places, but we saw more kangaroos and pretty face wallabies here than in any other place.
Carnarvon is a tropical oasis in the middle of the Outback with gorges, boulder-strewn creeks, lush green grass, moss gardens, and waterfalls. There are plenty of hiking trails of different lengths and abilities.
Stay at Takarakka Bush Resort (best name ever!) The Takarakka campground is in a tranquil setting surrounded by green jungle, beside Carnarvon Creek and just minutes away from the National Park.
Takarakka has many fun activities and programs during the season, like Sunday roast dinners, guided tours and heli-flights. The helicopter takes you over Carnarvon and Moolayember Gorge, which cannot be accessed by land.
Things to do in Carnarvon Gorge:
We recommend the following things to do whilst at Carnarvon Gorge
- Arrive as early as you can and taking a shorter walk through the steep narrow gorge of Mickeys Cave. 1.5km return and easy for kids!
- Cool off afterwards with a swim in the creek. It’s shallow and was perfect for the girls to swim and kick around on their boogie boards. It’s likely some roos will join you and drink from the water.
- In the afternoon, head down to the creek at Takkarakka for platypus spotting. You have a good chance of seeing this shy, elusive Australian animal, but do be quiet. Our girls were a little too restless I think and scared them away.
- In the evening, have dinner at your campsite and see if you can spot some little rufous bettong, or rat-kangaroo, jumping around. The size of a rabbit, the bettong is the smallest of the kangaroo species in Australia.
- Takkarakka also offer evening star gazing tours well worth attending.
- Head off early the next morning for the 7km return Moss Garden walk. A small waterfall tumbles over a rocky ledge in the garden and you can cool off beside the waterhole in the shade surrounded by towering dripping sandstone cliffs, and a lush covering of ferns, liverworts and mosses. If you have more energy, and older children, you might like to do the 18 km return walk to Cathedral Cave, and encompassing The Art Gallery, which have been recognised around the world as some of the finest examples of Aboriginal stencil and engraving techniques.
You can read more about Carnarvon Gorge here.
Rubyvale/ Emerald – one night
Depart in the morning for a four-hour drive to Rubyvale in the Queensland gemfields. We recommend stopping in Emerald for a break.
Emerald, which is the largest town on the Capricorn Highway and 61km east of Rubyvale, actually took its name from the green pastures that once surrounded the town, not the gemstone.
Have a look at the 25-metres high copy of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, billed as “the largest painting in the world on an easel.” You might like to stop for a picnic lunch or eat at Theo’s Cafe, which is where we ate after a recommendation from those in our community.
When you arrive in Rubyvale, take a drive around the town.
Fossickers have been coming to Rubyvale since a railway surveyor stumbled upon his first sapphire in 1875. Some of the world’s largest sapphires have been found here with values well into the millions.
There’s quite a lot of money to be made in gem fossicking. You wouldn’t think so driving through the town of Rubyvale past the ramshackle tin sheds and makeshift homes made out of caravans and bits of scrap metal and boulders.
“Don’t be fooled by outside appearances”, our guide told us as he drove us to the sapphire fossicking fields. There’s a lot of wealth living in many of these homes. It doesn’t look like it because of old mining laws established in the 1890s, making Rubyvale and nearby Sapphire, part of the miner’s common. It allows any person to peg out a 30-square-metre mining lease and build whatever they wish on that ground, so long as it is not a permanent structure.
Anybody, for a small mining permit fee of $7.50 for a month, can rock up and start fossicking. Start by looking for the “billy boulders” – large river stones – that typically betray the presence of sapphires. It’s probably one of the few mining regions in Australia not controlled by the big mining conglomerates who claim rights over the rich rewards.
There are a couple of larger operations owned by a few locals who have the machinery to sift a lot of dirt each day. John invited us out to his plant to look at his operation and explain more about the art of sapphire mining. We had a go at washing down the dirt and had a peak at a few sparklers worth a few thousand dollars.
Don’t be surprised by the cows you see wandering around town. They are not renegades but have the rights to roam freely. Another benefit to the miner’s common law, which says it’s free land to run your own livestock on. Apparently the locals know whose cow is whose and not much rustling goes on.
Dinner at the Rubyvale Pub
It’s not just sapphires and gemstones you can find in Rubyvale, but a gem of a pub. Rubyvale is home to Queensland’s best bush pub, the New Royal Hotel, a title recently won in 2014. We recommend a pizza!
The pub is where we met colourful John, who took us around his mines, and didn’t mind sharing a few stories about mining and the region and giving us a look-see at his gem finds!
Stay at the Rubyvale Caravan Park for one night.
Bobby Dazzler Mine
In the morning, head to the Bobby Dazzler Mine in town.
There’s a lot of back-breaking work that goes into fossicking and requires patience and attention to detail. I was over it after 20 minutes of sifting through the gravelly sapphire wash at Bobby Dazzler Mine – and that’s without having to dig out any of the hard earth.
Bobby Dazzler Mine is the place to go if you’re short on time and stamina. You’re given the bag of wash and are taught how to sieve, rinse and find the sparkling gems of all hues – blue, green, yellow and black star.
Kalyra’s keen eye spotted a few trying to glint in the disappearing sunlight. If you’re not sure, hold it up to the sunlight to check for the sparkle! Conditions have to be good otherwise these precious gems look dull like the other stones and can end up getting tossed aside.
I reckon I did that for a few.
We took a small bag of sapphires home – an amount much lower than the average, Ruby said, thanks to the overcast day.
It was still a fun experience and the girls loved it. Kalyra took charge of the fossicking operation and worked us hard.
Fran, the new owner of Bobby Dazzler also offers tours of her private underground mine site complete with hard hats! She shares the history of mining in the area and the realities of a new hobby she discovered on her lap around Australia.
She loved it so much she moved from Melbourne to take over the mine and dig out her riches. It was cool underground and the tour was so informative that it hooked Kalyra in.
If you have extra time in Rubyvale
- Go for a drive to see the small conical hills peep above the horizon. They are the stubs of the ancient volcanoes that formed the gems in what is now the largest sapphire field in the southern hemisphere.
- While in town, drive up to Pat’s Gems for a great feed and coffee at Sapphire. The burgers are the biggest you’ve ever seen!
Yeppoon – one night
Depart Rubyvale for Yeppoon on the Capricorn Coast (373km about a 4-hour drive)
100km east of Emerald is the Blackwater Tableland. Rising high above the surrounding plains the park protects deep gorges, spectacular lookouts, and scenic waterfalls. Rock faces display traditional Ghungalu artwork. Take a break here and go for a short walk to Rainbow Falls (Gudda Gumoo).
Stop here for a picnic lunch and enjoy the region on one of the walks that range from 5 mins – 2 hours, easy to difficult.
The short track to Yaddamen Dhina, or Horseshoe Lookout, offers views of the distant ranges and plains below. The highlight of the park is the Gudda Gumoo (Rainbow Waters) walk. It’s a 1.8km walk to the lookout then you’re invited to take 240 steps down into a cool oasis.
You’ll discover a refreshing place to swim surrounded by bright green ferns , mosses, and bright red flowers and the rainbow falls tumbling down over the sandstone walls.
Arrive in Yeppoon and stay at Coolwaters Holiday Village located on Kinka Beach and the banks of Causeway Lake. Take some time to enjoy the drive along the coastline between Yeppoon and Kinka. It’s really pretty and pull over to take some photos where safe and appropriate.
If you’re travelling with kids, they are going to love this caravan park. There is a massive five slide water park, BMX tracks, tennis courts, jumping pillows, pool, and kayaks to explore the lake.
We had to drag the girls away when it was time to check out.
Take a sunset cruise with Sail Capricornia. Take your own drinks but snacks are provided. It’s a serene way to spend the evening cruising around and taking in the Keppel surrounds.
Grab a coffee at Lure Living, a cute hole in the wall of the Yeppoon Foreshore.
If you’re looking for a place to eat, we didn’t try many but we did enjoy a meal at The Strand in Yeppoon.
Either if you have time in the afternoon of your arrival, or when you arrive back from Keppel, here are two experiences we recommend fitting into your itinerary.
Cooberrie Park Wildlife Sanctuary
Cooberrie Park is fantastic for the kids. It’s small, yet interactive and engaging. Bring your swimmers as there’s also a swimming pool here and BBQ facilities. Check the schedule for the animal encounters because you can cuddle a koala, hold a crocodile, snake or lizard, play with birds, interact with playful monkeys and hand feed kangaroos.
Kalyra loved holding this snake!
It’s pretty awesome and they rely solely on donations and admissions. The park cares for many sick and injured wildlife, especially those displaced and injured as a result of the cyclone.
Nob Creek Pottery
We visited Nob Creek on the first reopening day after Cyclone Marcia. You could see how badly they were hammered when you walked out to the back of the property and looked out into the jumbled up forest.
I was so impressed by the resilience and determination of Steve to rebuild and get back up and running again They lost a lot of their pottery, but you couldn’t tell by what was on display.
Nob Creek Pottery is situated in the Byfield Forest and was started 23 years ago by Steve Bishopric and his beautiful, and colourful ceramic pieces are worth looking at and purchasing. Pieces range from mugs to vases, sculptures to hand crafted basins (I want one in my future house).
There are lovely gardens to walk around here as well and the drive in is beautiful.
Great Keppel Island – one night
Since you are finishing your Sandstone Wilderness itinerary on Great Keppel Island, if time allows, you can actually stay longer. Great Keppel Island, just a short 30-minute ferry ride from Yeppoon. The ferry departs in the morning so check the time for the day of your departure.
It’s at the Southern end of the Great Barrier Reef and where you’ll find pristine and healthy coral teeming with brightly coloured fish and marine life like starfish and turtles
Many people pop over for a day visit, but we recommend extending that and staying in a beach cabin with ocean views at the Great Keppel Island Hideaway.
Great Keppel Island has charm – no cars, no highrise buildings and beach bungalows that look like they belong on a chilled island beach. You know the type you can relax in and walk sand in through the front door – no fear of messing up the shiny, waxy exterior and sculptured interior.
The village has stand up paddle boards, kayaks, boogie boards and snorkels for hire. You can swim right off the beach, or a motorized canoe trip can take you out to snorkeling spots and hidden coves and beaches. The
The best snorkeling spots are Shelving Beach, Monkey Point, and Clam Bay.
While on Keppel you must jump aboard a sailboat with Great Keppel Cruises, owned and run by Terry. It’s a small business only recently started by Terry, who was a great host, especially to the girls, letting them become Skipper for most of the sailing journey.
We swapped travel tales over cheese, olives, and dip and a glass of wine (bring your own!)
Read more about our time on Great Keppel Island here.
Learn more about the Sandstone Wilderness
- Visit the Sandstone Wilderness website
- Watch some short videos featuring stories and characters from the region
This post is sponsored by Tourism Queensland