Waiting for you way out west at Winton, is a Jurassic experience like no other. At Lark Quarry, over 3,000 dinosaur footprints are immortalised in rock. It’s the world’s only known dinosaur stampede, which has captured a moment in time from 95 million years ago. While at the Age of Dinosaurs Museum, located on the Jump Up, you’ll find the largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils, some of which you’re allowed to touch and feel. Explore the fossil preparation laboratory, where volunteers are hard at work, visit the Collection Room and shuttle over to see the March of the Titanosaurs and explore Dinosaur Canyon, with its very cool replica dinosaur statues. All of this is set in a dramatic and beautiful landscape of rich red soil and spinifex grass, presented by passionate people, and driving distance from the wonderful outback town of Winton. Drive. See. Explore. It’s awesome.
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.
Winton, the Age of Dinosaurs and Lark Quarry are all in outback Queensland and we’re talking, way out west. Winton is over 800km from Cairns, 1,500km from Brisbane and around 1,000km from the closest coastal township, being Yeppoon. Winton is a small town with a big heart and it’s the place to stay, when you want to explore Lark Quarry and the Australian Age of Dinosaurs. It’s home to a permanent population of around 1,100 very friendly folk, who put out the welcome mat and deliver service with a smile. Other than the Jurassic factor, Winton is very well known as being the home of Waltzing Matilda, which was written by Banjo Patterson in 1895, during a visit to nearby Dagworth Station, and for the most prized of Australian gemstones, the opal. There’s plenty of places to stay, but we do recommend planning your trip and booking ahead, because it does get busy at peak periods.
“We loved Winton! It’s the first place I have ever been where there was a sheep show in the beer garden of the local pub, at lunchtime. It was free. Also the first place I have seen brolgas walking down the street. The people were super friendly and the township itself had all the amenities of a larger regional centre. The night sky – amazing! Which is perhaps one of the reasons why the nearby Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum, is also home to Australia’s first International Dark Sky Sanctuary, which we also visited. Mind you, our spot in the Winton Wanderers Caravan Park delivered its own million star views, from right outside our caravan. For a small place, Winton lays claim to a lot of ‘firsts’, ‘biggest’ and ‘onlys’ and actually, all very deserved. So make a plan and head west to Winton.” – Julie Johnston
At first light, we headed out to see the world’s only known dinosaur stampede at Lark Quarry Conservation Park. We had booked the 9.30am tour, and with Lark Quarry being a 90-minute drive from Winton, the landscape woke up with us as we drove and what we discovered was fascinating. The terrain looked more western American than western Queensland. Jump Ups, which are mesa plateaus rising from the landscape, red soil and spinifex; but millions of years ago, this place looked very different. Where now there is dust, there was once a thriving, tropical environment. An inland sea. A landscape of creeks and rivers, bordered by lush ferns and conifers (a place, not unlike Cairns). It was in this place that a group of dinosaurs, including the chicken-sized Coelurosaurs and emu-sized Ornithopods, were interrupted during their morning drink by Australia’s largest carnivorous dinosaur the Australovenator wintonensis (that’s right, the very same ‘Banjo’ referenced earlier in my story). What resulted was a stampede.
Moving as a group, the smaller dinosaurs ran away from ‘Banjo’ and in a quirk of fate, geography and happenstance, their tracks – or least over 3,300 of them – were captured in that moment of time, and are now etched in the rock. This stampede is believed to have taken place over 95 million years ago and was first ‘discovered’ in the early 1960s. Today these footprints from the past are protected inside a solar-powered shelter. You can see them on a guided tour which combines audio-visual material, commentary from a local guide and of course, seeing the stampede. You can also explore this stunning landscape on your own and there’s a number of marked walking tracks and trails. We highly recommend the tour and the trails.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs punches above its weight in regard to presentation, engagement and education – and that’s not withstanding its very remote location – and not to mention its collection of Australian dinosaur fossils, which is the largest in the world. We booked the Ultimate Dinosaur Tour, which included a guided tour of the Fossil Preparation Laboratory, Collection Room and the March of Titanosaurs exhibition and self-guided walk of Dinosaur Canyon with its awesome array of dinosaur statues. The location is picturesque, a 30-minute drive from Winton, positioned high on a Jump Up overlooking a deep gully and surrounding countryside.
Our Ultimate Dinosaur Tour started with the Fossil Preparation Laboratory, which was a short and scenic walk from the Reception Centre. Here we got to touch and feel a real dinosaur fossil, which was amazing, and learned the process from fossil discovery, to retrieval and transport, cleaning and presentation. Fun fact – dinosaurs and crocodiles did exist at the same time and they have fossilised remains of a crocodile, which had dinosaur remains in its tummy, and we got to see it!
The Collection Room was next and it’s here we got to ‘meet’ Banjo – the most complete fossil find of Australia’s largest carnivorous dinosaur, Australovenator wintonensis – one of which is thought have started the stampede we saw at Lark Quarry Conservation Park. There were many other fossilised bones here, which were explained by a very informative guide, and we also enjoyed seeing parts of a documentary relevant to the region called ‘Monsters in the Outback’. From here, we jumped on a shuttle bus and went to the nearby Dinosaur Canyon and the March of the Titanosaurs exhibition. Having already seen Lark Quarry and its Trackways, we were very keen to explore the Canyon before the day got too hot (when we visited at the end of June 2023, they reached a new record top temp for winter which was 34.2 degrees – the day we visited the Australian Age of Dinosaurs).
I loved Dinosaur Canyon and its range of sculptures and installations. Some of them you could interact with – touch, feel and pose – others you could just enjoy, set as they were in the outdoor environment. The installations extend over a 300m distance, alongside an elevated walkway which also offered views to the gorge below and surrounding countryside. I definitely recommend the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, which is not for profit, but for knowledge and learning – everyone we encountered there was super passionate about the dinosaurs and very friendly.
Winton was wonderful and the perfect base, for our awesome Jurassic adventures and discoveries. We stayed slightly out of town at the Winton Wanderers Caravan Park, which had clean amenities and tidy, well-presented powered sites. The nighttime views were just amazing, and each day ends with a fireside chat, where guests are invited to come together and watch the sun slide down in a glorious, golden blaze. Winton has not one, but three silhouette signs for that perfect souvenir photo (we did them all) a couple of bakeries, and some great pubs – one of which gave a free sheep herding demonstration in the beer garden, during lunchtime service. There’s a quirky musical fence, heritage listed buildings and the Royal Open Air Theatre, which is one of only two of its kind still operating in Australia. We also snapped some Brolgas walking around outside the Winton Outback Surf Club, now that’s not something you see every day!
There’s the Waltzing Matilda Centre, which we ran out of time to visit, and the opportunity to go opal fossicking at the nearby Opalton – we skipped that one too, just because of the heat wave conditions at the time of our visit. Can not finish the story without a little mention of the Winton water, which is drawn from the world’s largest and deepest artesian basin – they say it’s the sweetest water you’ll ever taste – I say you’d have to be a local to think that. All in all, we give Winton a 5-star Outback Queensland rating. Great place, great people, great things to see.
Winton is in Outback Queensland. It’s over 800km from Cairns, 1,500km from Brisbane and around 1,000km from the closest coastal township, being Yeppoon. It’s on the Landsborough Highway and the closest townships are Longreach and Boulia.
Yes, Winton was a highlight of our Dinosaur Trail experience. Great town. Awesome people. Lots of amenities and it was open 7 days a week. Enjoyed every moment of our stay.
Lark Quarry Conservation Park is 110km from Winton, which is about 1 hour and 20 minutes driving time on a combination of sealed and graded dirt roads. It’s a National Park with a number of walking tracks, but entry to see the Stampede and Trackways is ticketed and accessible on guided tour only.
There is no on-site accommodation. We – like everyone else on our tour – stayed in Winton and travelled to and from there to Lark Quarry Conservation Park.
Yes you need a ticket to participate in the guided tour of the Dinosaur Stampede Trackways, which are protected inside an environmentally-friendly structure. These should be pre-booked to avoid disappointment.
Lark Quarry and the Stampede are about 110km from Winton – It’s about an 80-minute drive.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs is a large not for profit organisation and attraction. It includes a Reception Centre and Collection Room, Fossil Preparation Laboratory, March of the Titanosaurs exhibition and Dinosaur Canyon with its statues and installations.
Yes – highly recommend pre-booking your Age of Dinosaurs tickets to avoid disappointment.
Yes – we definitely recommend visiting the Age of Dinosaurs near Winton – it was so well presented and very well priced for the depth of experience.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs is about 25km from Winton, which is roughly a 25 minute drive.
It is definitely worth seeing them both as they provide very different experiences. Lark Quarry Conservation Park is ‘out of town’ and apart from seeing the stampede footprints in the very place they were made – which is mind blowing – you also get to explore the surrounding country which is stunning (and very different from Winton). While the Australian Age of Dinosaurs showcases fossils. You see a wide array of bones – indeed, this is home to the world’s largest collection of Australian dinosaur fossils – and shows you how they are collected, ‘cleaned’ and then presented. You can also ‘walk with dinosaurs’ – or their statues at least – at Dinosaur Canyon, which provides a real perspective on size!
Based on our experience, it would be better to visit the Australian Age of Dinosaurs before Lark Quarry Conservation Park. Which is not what we did. We saw Lark Quarry before Age of Dinosaurs and while it was amazing – and we loved it – it made more ‘sense’ when we went to the Age of Dinosaurs the next day. That’s mainly because the Age of Dinosaurs has the fossils and have re-created the carnivorous dinosaur that started the stampede (yes, Banjo again). So if you had seen that prior to the stampede, you would have maybe had a better understanding of the story.
The Australian Age of Dinosaurs, Lark Quarry Conservation Park, Gondwana Stars Observatory, Waltzing Matilda Centre, the Musical Fence, visit Heritage Buildings on the main street and the Royal Open Air Theatre and Opal Walk.
Winton is over 800km from Cairns, in Outback Queensland.
There are 3 Silhouette Photo Spots in Winton. Winton Way Out West was our favourite, but there’s also WINTON the sign and then Winton Birthplace of QANTAS. They are all really cool and if you haven’t done them all, have you even visited Winton.
Winton is an outback town in central Queensland, and the Age of Dinosaurs and Lark Quarry Conservation Park are undoubtedly the big-ticket items you don’t want to miss. As such, we recommend pre-booking your accommodation and tickets to avoid disappointment. We visited at the end of June 2023 and Winton was busy with lots of caravans and travellers. This is a friendly country town and has everything you need to stock up, or re-stock during your travels.
© I Love Cairns 2023