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There are several possible cross-country routes to Adelaide from Cairns. The quickest, according to Google Maps, is 2600kms and takes about 30 hours, so if you went really hard you could get there in 2-3 days.

However, if you took that approach you’d miss the opportunity to experience the Australian outback because there’s more to it than stark landscapes and enormous stretches of road.

We decided to take the Matilda Way down through the middle of Queensland because there are several places to stop to break up your journey, including taking in a few attractions along the way including the the Dinosaur Trail.

If you’re heading out into the outback we would normally recommend camping because accommodation is limited. However, since we were travelling in the summer (not usually recommended!), we decided to hire a motorhome in case it was so hot that we needed aircon. This turned out to be a blessing since we drive through a 45 degree heatwave!

Here’s our journey in a nutshell:


Day 1: cairns to charters towers (5-6 hours)

There’s a ton of places to stop along the way between Cairns and Townsville but since we’ve driven this stretch more times than we care to remember, we decided to head straight through to Charters Towers apart from a few pitstops for toilet facilities and ice creams (at the Frosty Mango of course).

Inland about an hour and a half west of Townsville, Charters Towers is a quaint old gold rush town that was once the second largest town in Queensland and even had a stock exchange.

Besides the strolling around admiring the old heritage buildings there are a couple of good museums to keep the history buffs entertained and also a goof ghost walking tour.


day 2: charters towers to winton (5 hours)

The next town along the road west is Hughenden – a great little country town about 2.5 hours from Charters Towers and the start of the ‘Dinosaur Trail’.

The Flinders Discovery Centre is the worth popping into to learn a bit about the area.

We stopped for lunch at FJ Holden’s Cafe for a delicious burger and then headed south to Winton.

The road from Hughenden to Winton is stark. Miles and miles of dry, flat savannah landscapes and almost no trees.

Winton is the heart of dinosaur territory and the only place in the world with recorded evidence of a dinosaur stampede.

The town of Winton itself has little to commend it but the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum about 24kms south east of Winton on the road to Longreach is definitely worth a visit.

Allow half a day to have a good look around and remember your flyscreen hat for the walk around the grounds of the museum.

day 3: winton to longreach (2 hours)

Calling itself the ‘capital of the outback’, Longreach is a great pitstop on a long road trip through the outback.

We’d recommend planning to stay at least a couple of days in Longreach. There’s plenty to do including the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Museum as well as trips along the river and a tour in an old pioneer stagecoach.



day 4: longreach to Charleville (6 hours)

The next main town south is Charleville but there are a couple of great little towns along the way of you want to break your journey up a little more.

Barcaldine, is the first stop about an hour or from Longreach, sand you won’t be able to resist stopping for a while because it’s so surprisingly green! We actually ended up staying for the night.

Another short journey and you’ll come to Blackall, which is also like a pretty little green spot to stop for a break.

Our next stop was Charleville where we were itching to do a night tour at the Cosmos Centre and Observatory.

It didn’t disappoint. The tour lasts about an hour and is a really great way to learn about the stars and look through ginormous telescopes into parts of the Universe that you haven’t seen before.

day 5: Charleville to bourke (5 hours)

day 6: Bourke to Adelaide via Broken Hill (13 hours)

travel nq fast facts:

  • Make sure you are well prepared before venturing on long journeys through the Australian outback. Read our tips for more information.
  • Timing: The best time of year to travel in outback Australia is in the winter months (May-Sept). Temperatures in the summer can exceed 40 degrees.