This trip was planned around seeing the dinosaurs at Winton. The real origins of that plan may be lost in the mists of time but when our kids gifted us with entrance to the dinosaur trail attractions for my birthday in June things were set. Winton is a long drive from Toowoomba so we planned a few things along the way but today we were down to the real business.
After a few days on the road we have our morning routine sorted. By 8:00 am we were out of the van park and after buying fuel were on the road to Winton with Majella driving.
A short way out of town we saw a sign announcing a turn to Starlights Lookout in 1 km. We wondered what there might be to see on the flat landscape and took the turn to find out. We turned back when we found the next sign at a turnoff to a dirt road indicating 43 km to the lookout. I searched and found it is a knoll with a view of the countryside but we did not think it was worth the drive.
There were few other distractions on the road to Winton. We saw a trio of brolgas and occasional groups of raptors circling. There was not a lot of traffic. We saw occasional trucks, road trains and cars coming from Winton, were passed by a few cars, and passed a road train. The road was mostly good and Majella made good time.
When I did my planning I found that the Australian Age of Dinosaurs is a short distance from Winton on the road from Longreach so it made most sense for us to see it on the way to Winton. We took the turn about 10 km before Winton and drove the 10 km to the museum which we were surprised to find perched on the Jump Up, a mesa formation that resulted from an area of hard cap rock bending left as the surrounding plane eroded over millions of years.
Our tour was booked for midday and we arrived around 10:00 am so we had time for coffee and cake in the van before walking to reception to pick up the tickets I had booked online for the full set of dinosaur trail attractions. The website had offered a suggested 9 day itinerary around Winton, Hughenden, and Richmond but I managed to compress that into 5 days with 2 nights in Winton and 3 nights in Hughenden. Our tour today was listed to last 3 hours but was actually a set of 3 activities covering the Fossil Laboratory, Collection Room, and Dinosaur Canyon.
We spent some time in the shop where Majella bought a couple of gifts and I acquired a dinosaur T-shirt. Those were dropped back to the van and we then waited near reception for our tour times. There was an expansive view from the cliff top over the surrounding plain so we enjoyed that while we waited.
Around 11:30 we decided to eat lunch since we expected not to have another chance to eat until our tour activities finished around 3:00 pm. The cafeteria offered a thin selection of food and we opted for ham and cheese toasties. Given the stunning setting and the crowds of tourists it should be possible to offer a more exciting menu with opportunities for evening dining to take advantage of the stunning sunsets from the clifftops and stargazing in a recognised dark sky sanctuary. Perhaps those are in future plans for what is clearly a developing attraction.
The laboratory was 500 metres away so we set off after eating to walk there. Our guide, Nathan, led us through the areas where dinosaur bones are stored after excavation and then carefully prepared by removing soil and other foreign material using compressed air tools. There were some completed pieces on display as well as work in progress. On the way back to reception we paused at the lookout for a view over the valley below.
There was a short wait for our next activity in the collection room where we were seated in a small theatre with fossils displayed at the front and a large wall used for video projection. Sarah, our guide in that area, provided a mix of descriptive presentation and video representation of the dinosaurs represented in the fossils. She told us that, unlike in most museums where the public see replicas or secondary specimens, they were showing the first and most significant actual specimens. When the presentation was finished she invited questions. Majella asked about the colouration presented in the video and was given a very thorough response after which Sarah thanked her for asking since she would not otherwise have given that spiel. As was the case for the other guides, she was obviously very well prepared and practised with the information.
The dinosaur canyon exhibit is further along the mesa near where a new observatory and museum area is being built. Victoria ushered us onto the small shuttle vehicle and drove us the few hundred metres down the road to that area. After a short briefing she led us down a ramp that runs along the face of the cliff and gives access to view a series of galleries of life size representations of fossils and dinosaurs. There were opportunities for using provided pencils and panels with images to produce rubbed images in the guide booklet. Majella had offered to help a woman (more elderly than us) with her husband in a wheel chair and I assisted on much of the uphill pushing on the way back.
By the time our shuttle got us back to reception it was almost 3:00 pm. We had another coffee in the van and then drove on to Winton.
I had booked us into the Matilda Country caravan park which is fine but if I had thought of it I might have selected the alternative nearer the centre of town. We checked in, found our spot, and then drove back into town for a look around. Majella picked up some supplies at a store and we walked the main street for a while. We checked out the crafts and the museum in the old Corfield and Fitzmaurice building and Majella struck up a long conversation with an elderly storekeeper before buying a souvenir tea towel.
It was still too early to eat so we drove the couple of km out of town to Pelican Waterhole, the site of the original settlement. A store had been built there and a township had begun but later arrivals decided that the present location of Winton was better suited and the settlement moved. There is a monument marking the spot of the original settlement and a few scattered ruins. An old utility we found is clearly from a later period but appears not to have moved for a long time.
We ate dinner – steak for me and lamb cutlets for Majella – at the North Gregory Hotel. It has an interesting history, including being burned down and rebuilt 3 times. The last rebuild was by the town council to preserve the historic location but it is now once again in private hands.
Back at our campsite we parked and set up for the night. At 7:00 pm we went to the ‘barn’ next door to our van to be entertained by Gregory North, bush poet and entertainer. He was Australian Bush Poetry Champion 2008, 2009, and 2010. His show was a mix of standup comedy with some of his own poetry and selections from others including Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson. He entertained us for an hour with a a mix of the corny and hilarious but was very good. He is on every night at the park and also performs earlier at the North Gregory Hotel. His deal at the park is essentially free accommodation and ‘busking’ so we made a contribution on the way out before heading back to our van for the night.