Just below the Isaac Region is the Central Highlands of Queensland. It’s a new region that was created in 2008 and encompasses Capella in the north, Duaringa in the east, Rolleston in the south and the Gemfields to the west.
We entered the Central Highlands from the north after spending the night at Lake Elphinstone. We breezed through Capella, Rubyvale and Sapphire before arriving in Emerald to set up camp for the night.
The capital of the Central Highlands, Emerald is a friendly town that was named after the lush green pastures that used to surround the town. Established in 1879 as a base for the building of the western railway, it’s a clean and tidy town that services the surrounding coal mines and is also involved in agricultural activities such as growing cotton and sorghum.
The Visitor Information Centre is the best place to stop when you get to town – they will tell you what to see, where to stay the night, and even give you vouchers for a free coffee at the local bakery! Near the info centre is The Big Easel – one of the most impressive Big Things we have come across.
We stayed in the free overnight area next to the botanic gardens. There were picnic benches, a BBQ, power points and even a tap, but what were really special were the rainbow lorikeets. Hundreds of them flocked around the gardens, chatting noisily, wrestling each other, and picking at scraps that were left behind by a mysterious old man with a long white beard that visits the park at night. The overnight area was relatively quiet during the night, until about 5:30am when trains cross the overhead bridge. This is good because then you don’t need to set your alarm to wake you up in the morning.
Egerton Street is the main strip through town. There are various art installations down the street, as well as pubs, cafes and at the eastern end, there’s a shopping centre with a major supermarket. Nearby on the Capricorn Highway is the Old Railway Station that was built in 1900. It has a beautiful façade with wrought iron lacework and is worth a look.
Rubyvale & Sapphire
Rubyvale is a small country town with a scant population of around 500 people. Fossicking is big in the area, but the biggest thing is the Big Miner outside Bobby Dazzler’s Sapphire Mine Tours.
Down the road is Sapphire, which is about the same size as Rubyvale, and as the name suggestions, you can find sapphires in the area. Outside the roadhouse on the main road is the Big Pick, Shovel and Sieve, and we also passed a Big Sapphire and a Big Spanner.
A small town that services the surrounding coal mines, it’s a great place to stop, have a picnic and walk through the war memorial park that runs alongside the railway line. It touches on the story of the Australian Light Horse Emu Plume, which became a tradition amongst troopers in the area.
Considered to be the coal mining capital of Australia, Blackwater is a small town with a few fast food outlets and a Lions Park with a martini glass shaped water tower and tired-looking display of 30-something tattered, international flags – we think we saw Italy, Hungary, Ireland, India or Mexico. The coal mining museum is the main attraction in town, with a café, cinema, and an adjacent Japanese garden.
Nearby is the Bedford Weir, a great place for people who like to fish. Free camping for 7 days is available, with hot showers in the toilet cubicle, but it’s not recommended to swim in the water.
The turnoff for Blackdown Tableland is about 30 minutes east of Blackwater and if you enjoy camping, 4WDing and great views, then we recommended ducking in for the night. To book a campsite, call 13 QGOV.