The Australian Dinosaur Trail from Cairns takes you from this coastal township, way out west into Outback Queensland. To a place that was once an inland sea, with rivers and streams, bordered by tropical vegetation including palms and cycads; a place not unlike Cairns, but a place where over 100 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the land and cruised the sea. Let’s follow their footsteps. With our Australia’s Dinosaur Trail Pass, we’ll head from Cairns to Porcupine Gorge, Hughenden, Lark Quarry, Winton and Richmond, where we will see, engage, touch and explore all the wonders of the Australian Dinosaur Trail. There’ll be walks, talks and digging for fossils, and along the way, we’ll see and visit some remote and beautiful Australian landscapes. So, let’s get this 7-day adventure started.
Day 1. Cairns to Porcupine Gorge. Let’s get this party started with a big road trip, taking us from the coast into Outback Queensland. Cairns to Porcupine Gorge is 528km which took us around 6.5 hours.
Porcupine Gorge National Park is around 65km north of Hughenden and is a fitting place for us to start our Australian Dinosaur Trail adventure. This is the first significant landmark we encounter on our journey; it’s an ancient landscape, whose coloured walls reveal over 200 million years of geological history. There are several lookouts at the top, but the best way to explore and experience Porcupine Gorge is to lace up the shoes and hit the trails. The Pyramid Walking Track starts not far from the Pyramid Camping Area, it’s a 2.4km return trail that takes you to the bottom of the gorge and back again. As you walk and admire the views, you can see the changing sediment layers on the walls in front of you, and on the ground beneath your feet – an ever-changing array of rich earthy colours. At the bottom, it’s like a lunar landscape with purple-white Warang Sandstone and awesome views of the pyramid monolith that towers above you.
“We spent the first 2 nights of our trip staying at the Pyramid Camping Area, which is the only place you can stay at Porcupine Gorge National Park. It has many unpowered sites, which cater to tents and swags, camper trailers and caravans. By doing this, we had a full day to explore Porcupine Gorge and enjoy the surroundings. The walk down the Pyramid Walking Track to the bottom of the gorge wasn’t that strenuous, but the return journey was tiring with lots of steps. We recommend doing the trail either early in the morning or late in the afternoon and make sure you take drinking water, a hat and sun protection. For more information, images and video regarding this destination, please see our Camping at Porcupine Gorge story.” – Julie Johnston
Day 3 of our Australian Dinosaur Trail from Cairns adventure took us from Porcupine Gorge National Park, through Hughenden and over to Winton. It’s a short trip compared to day 1, covering just 280km which takes just over 3 hours, not accounting for any long stops. Note: We had planned – and paid – to see the Flinders Discovery Centre in Hughenden, it’s a part of the Australia’s Dinosaur Trail Pass – but unfortunately, it was closed for maintenance at the time we visited. However, we did enjoy seeing some of Hughenden’s beautiful water tower art and the very impressive Comet Windmill. Hughenden had several windmills around the town, all are worth a look, but we thought the Comet was the most impressive. It’s 10.6 metres tall, has 35-inch blades and is 1 of only 15 35-foot mills ever manufactured. On an average day, with average wind, it could pump over 1 million litres of water! That’s impressive. This windmill was donated to Flinders Shire Council and is located on the southern side of the Flinders River – great photo opportunity.
Anyways, on the road again – we drove from Hughenden to Winton on the Kennedy Development Road – it was sealed, but a bit lumpy and bumpy in various places. It was also slightly elevated with ‘high’ shoulders, which made stopping if you are towing a caravan – which we were – quite tricky. We did stop at a designated rest stop at Corfield, which is about halfway between the two towns, to use the facilities. We also took the opportunity to send up the drone, which revealed the vast ‘empty’ plains that surrounded us – that in itself was a sight to see – as was the chance to see the horizon on either side of the road. We truly are a great – big – southern land.
We arrived at Winton later that day and had lunch at the Australian Hotel, which had a free sheep dog mustering demonstration in the beer garden out the back. That’s a first us! We stayed at the Winton Wanderers Caravan Park, which is slightly out of town. They have drive-through powered sites, amenity blocks and a laundry, it was well presented and maintained. We were at the end of one of the ‘rows’, closest to Winton, and had an old Ford ‘wreck’ which made the perfect leaning ‘post’ to enjoy the million star view at night.
The next destination on our dinosaur adventure was Lark Quarry Conservation Park, where you can see the world’s only known dinosaur stampede. The park is about 110km from Winton, which is about a 1.5 hour drive on sealed and unsealed roads. The closer we got to the park, the more the landscape that surrounded us changed – turning into something which resembled Western America more than Western Queensland – with its red dirt, spinifex and mesa plateaus. It is here the dinosaur stampede took place over 95 million years ago, a moment in time that was captured in the earth, that turned to rock, which you can visit today. The stampede – also known as the trackways – consists of over 3,000 dinosaur footprints which are protected in a solar-powered shelter. Access is by guided tour only; the tour includes an audio-visual presentation and informative commentary. For more information, images and video please see our Lark Quarry Conservation Park story.
The following day [day 5 of our trip] we visited the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, which is about 25km from Winton. Located on one of the Jump Ups, this place was very impressive! – and big – incorporating the Fossil Preparation Laboratory, Collection Room and Dinosaur Canyon. Our Australia’s Dinosaur Trail Pass provided entry and guided tours at each of these places, which collectively represented a 4-hour tour. Every element was different and all of them were very engaging. Highlights including learning that crocodiles did eat dinosaurs (don’t ask me why, but I have often wondered about this), being able to touch an actual fossil and visiting Dinosaur Canyon with its collection of very cool dinosaur statues. We really enjoyed the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, where the quality of presentation and information was all first class – made even more impressive for its remote location. For your comfort and convenience, there is an on-site café and gift shop. For more information and images, see our Australian Age of Dinosaurs story. Side note – we loved Winton – great people, lots of amenities, epic sunsets and some awesome photo opportunities. It’s way out west, but it’s worth the drive.
Say hello to ‘Banjo’, one of the only known specimens and most complete fossil find of Australia’s largest carnivorous dinosaur, Australovenator wintonensis. Banjo is in the Collection Room at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, and you can ‘meet him’ on a 30-minute tour.
On the road again, our journey continued as we departed Winton and made our way to Julia Creek. This 274km trip was on sealed roads, mostly single lanes, using the Landsborough Highway before turning right and taking the Julia Creek Kynuna Road. The roads were pretty good, and we travelled through some more epic countryside which again, really reminded me of Arizona in the USA. We drove along under a big blue sky, pulled over for a roadside picnic lunch, took some photos and quickly flew the drone before bringing it back down again, thanks to the presence of some large wedge-tailed eagles. The trip took around 3 hours and we checked into the Julia Creek Caravan Park mid-afternoon. Side note on this – we booked our trip and accommodation about 3 months prior to travel (we travelled in the Semester 1 school holidays, late June and early July) – and were thankful for this. The Dinosaur Trail includes small towns with limited accommodation options. In Julia Creek they have the Julia Creek Caravan Park – which was fully booked – and some free camps, which had no facilities. The Julia Creek Caravan Park was well laid out with good amenities, and we were glad we pre-booked.
As our thoughts turned to sunset, we decided to head out of town and into the open spaces to enjoy the moment. It was amazing! We watched the sky turn from blue to gold, then pink and purple and finally a slow burn red before disappearing over the horizon. Just breathtaking. Then it was back to the caravan park for an early night, because on the final day of our Dinosaur Trail adventure, we were ‘Digging At Dawn’ at Richmond, which was a 1-hour 40-minute drive away. We were on the road by 5.45am and followed a road train most of the way to Richmond, which was a blessing because there were so many wedge-tailed eagles all over the road. Pretty scary stuff when you are driving – we’ve seen them take out windscreens, so are very wary of the ‘wedgies’.
Day 7. The Digging At Dawn guided tour started at the Kronosaurus Korner Museum in Richmond. The Museum Curator met us here, lead the vehicle convoy of tour participants to the fossil fields, provided the materials needed and some fact sheets showing various fossils. It’s a 2-hour tour, but you can stay at the fossil fields longer if you like. When we were finished, we went to explore the Kronosaurus Korner Museum, which is home to the world’s largest collection of Australia’s marine dinosaur fossils. This was another excellent facility. During our visit we learned a lot about Australia’s ancient inland sea and the creatures that cruised its waters, including a mighty predator – the Kronosaurus queenslandicus – which gives the museum its name. There’s over 1,000 fossil specimens at the museum, including sharks, fish, turtles and cephalopods (the forefathers of today’s nautilus), statues and an audio-visual presentation. It was the only place on Australia’s Dinosaur Trail dedicated to the marine dinosaurs.
Note – we had planned to track back to Cairns from here – and visit the Flinders Discovery Centre in Hughenden on the way, but were advised it was still closed – so we returned to the Julia Creek Caravan Park, where we had a super relaxing, sunset Artesian Bath House experience, with cheese platter. So much goodness! Warm waters. Sunset views. Cheese platter with BYO bubbles or wine. Yes please. So – this concludes our Australian Dinosaur Trail from Cairns story – but our road trip continued, taking in Normanton, Cobbold Gorge and Undara Lava Tubes before heading home. Stories of these places are to follow in future posts.
Super relaxing, sunset Artesian Bath House experience at Julia Creek Caravan Park, with cheese platter. So much goodness!
Yes, we definitely recommend the Australian Dinosaur Trail – despite not being able to see the Flinders Discovery Centre in Hughenden (which was closed for maintenance) – we were very impressed by Lark Quarry and Australian Age of Dinosaurs in Winton and Richmond’s Kronosaurus Korner Museum. Excellent displays and interpretive material. Passionate local residents bringing those stories to life on guided tours.
Realistically I don’t think you could do the Australian Dinosaur Trail from Cairns any quicker than we did and still have a relaxed time. We were on the move most days. Our story covers 7-days, but didn’t get us back to Cairns as we changed plans and routes. If you were to go onwards from Richmond to Cairns, you could make it a comfortable 9-day itinerary. That being said, Cobbold Gorge and Undara are so worth the time – so if you have it – add it on to your itinerary.
The Australian Dinosaur Trail includes three Outback Queensland towns – Hughenden, Winton and Richmond – which make a bit of a ‘triangle’ shape. Richmond is where there was once an inland sea, which is why they have the marine dinosaurs. Hughenden was on the shores of the inland sea, so it has marine and land-based dinosaurs. Winton and Lark Quarry were once a tropical landscape, of rivers and streams, tropical forests of ferns and cycads, which is why they have land-based dinosaurs and the unique dinosaur stampede.
The Australian Dinosaur Trail includes the Flinders Discovery Centre in Hughenden, Kronosaurus Korner Museum in Richmond, Australian Age of Dinosaurs in Winton and the nearby Lark Quarry Conservation Park with its Dinosaur Stampede.
Lots of fossils! Collectively speaking, the Australian Dinosaur Trail represents the most marine dinosaur fossils, the most active Australian fossil fields, the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils the world’s only dinosaur stampede. All presented by passionate people, with excellent commentary and audio-visual shows. You can see, touch, dig and engage. It’s pretty impressive, we really enjoyed it.
This all depends where you live – if like us you are in Cairns – then it starts at Porcupine Gorge and Hughenden, from there you can either choose Richmond or Winton as your next stop, the final destination which will be one of those too.
We pre-purchased an Australia’s Dinosaur Pass which included the below. At the time of our booking (April 2023) tickets cost: $115 per adult, $65 for children aged 5-16 years (infants aged 4 and under were free) and a family pass (2 adults and up to 4 children) cost $300.
Australia’s Dinosaur Trail Pass Includes
There is so much to see and do on the Australian Dinosaur Trail from Cairns and the fossils are just the beginning. The scenery, the country, the people and places, all make this an awesome family adventure.
The Australian Dinosaur Trail from Cairns involves quite a bit of driving. While you don’t necessarily need to have your own accommodation (in the form of tent, swag, camper trailer or caravan), it does provide you with more flexibility (you can hire our caravan for the trip), as a lot of the towns you visit are small with limited accommodation options. Each of the towns on the Australian Dinosaur Trail provide different experiences and amenities. Winton is definitely the most visitor friendly – friendly locals, great range and variety of shops providing the opportunity to re-stock and supply. Hughenden and Richmond are much smaller and their shops are open Monday to Friday and Saturday until noon. We strongly recommend pre-booking your tickets to the Australian Dinosaur Trail and your accommodation. To wrap it up, we liked the Australian Dinosaur Trail and give it 8/10, so add it to your list and make a plan to head way out west to follow the footsteps of dinosaurs in Outback Queensland.
© I Love Cairns 2023