Find out why it’s so satisfying to stay awhile and listen to the stories that Longreach – the ‘heart of the Outback’ – is telling.
The name alone conveys adventure and exploration. Longreach is that intriguing dot on the map, smack-bang in the centre of the giant state of Queensland. It is indeed a long reach from anywhere, though it’s named after the ‘long reach’ of the Thomson River, on which the town is set.
History of Longreach, Queensland
As you can imagine with such an extreme place, holding its own on the plains of the Central West, 700 kilometres from the coast and almost the same to Mount Isa in the other direction, this town has a surplus of stories to tell. From the families that have worked the land for 100 years and more, to the seasonal workers bumping up the population each year, the yarns that people tell about life in this stunning, mind-bending location, weave together to make a strong and fascinating town fabric that makes any visit to Longreach unforgettable, if you take a little time to talk.
This is not the place to keep your head down at the pub. The locals have too much to tell you.
Fly to Longreach, Queensland
Flying into Longreach, the town beneath you is an orderly island, floating amongst the seemingly endless expanse of red earth below and blue sky above. Big-sky country reaches right up to the edge of its grid of streets, butting up to the fences and backyards of suburban residents and available to any visitor who takes a five-minute walk from their hotel. Pause at sunset on that edge, where desert meets town, and you may be rewarded with mobs of musclebound kangaroos passing you by, or flocks of chattering birds heading to the river for their end-of-day social.
The river itself is a surprise; Thomson River is not only the lifeblood of the town and its wildlife, but of the region’s thriving tourism industry. “People come out and don’t realise, the river is long enough and deep enough to have three different boats on it,” says Joyce Rogers, the owner of Toobrack Station whom I mistake for a local when we chat. But she quickly corrects me. “No, no,” she says. “I’m not a local. You’ve got to be born here to be a local. I only came out here in ’56.”
Exploring Thomson River in Longreach, Queensland
Those three different boats do a great job taking visitors to the region through the Longreach landscape, packaged up with other must-do Outback experiences so that even the most casual tourist can come away with an enjoyable taste of bush life.
MV Explorer boasts a 360-degree top deck – ideal for birdwatching or simply basking – with a bar, nibbles, plenty of stories told by the captain as you glide through the water and a stop at Sunset Bend to toast another spectacular outback dusk.
Meanwhile the Thomson Belle claims its stake as the only paddlewheeler west of the Great Divide, and is run by Outback Pioneers along with its sister, the Thomson Princess Riverboat, for a slick cruising experience either way. Storytelling wears a professional face these days in Longreach, and all cruisers include a feed and plenty of entertainment. The MV Explorer stops at Smithy’s Outback Dinner & Show for a two-course camp-oven dinner, plus plenty of music and storytelling on stage; Outback Pioneers’ two cruisers similarly include some onshore fun in the shape of a campfire dinner and barefoot bush poetry, then a big-screen presentation called Starlight’s Spectacular Sound & Light Picture Show.
Outback Heritage Centre in Longreach, Queensland
One of the main attractions in Longreach is undoubtably the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre: a long name for an equally comprehensive place. Capturing the spirit of Longreach – the tenacity of its pioneers, the impressive bushcraft of its stockmen and women, its love of a good story – can’t have been easy. Yet they’ve beautifully turned the intangible into the tangible, accessible with all five senses.
The museum and heritage centre breaks the town’s history into five separate galleries, but it is the Outback Stockman’s Show that really brings station life into focus for visitors, with local stockmen and women (and their trusty farm dogs) showing off their best herding and animal handling skills. The experience includes a filling bush-style meal, storytelling and musical entertainment, and makes the sometimes extreme stories of bush life feel so much more appreciable, even for city slickers or suburban kids.
Noonbah Station and Cobb & Co in Longreach, Queensland
Of course, nothing can give you a true appreciation of station life like actually staying on a property yourself, and there are opportunities to do just that around Longreach. It’s particularly satisfying to know your tourist dollars are going directly to those working the hardest out here, too. A special and inspiring stay awaits at Noonbah Station, a working cattle station owned by the fourth-generation Emmott family. Those who live on the land can be tough, but Noonbah has a soft side, too.
Angus Emmott is a passionate natural historian, registered wildlife carer and nature photographer, and he loves to take visitors on his natural history tours around the property. Combine that with waterside camping spots (amongst other accommodation options on the station) and you will never look at the outback the same way again. Once you take the time to look, the place is teeming with wildlife, from frogs to birdlife to Australian native animals. All funds raised go toward Angus and Karen’s caring for orphaned or injured wildlife, too.
If you want a different taste of Longreach history, Outback Pioneers recreate the original Cobb & Co Longreach to Windorah mail route by stagecoach, drawn by five stock horses and definitely an adventure. It’s not a luxury tour, but it’s a fantastic experience for those who don’t mind a bump or three on the journey – especially if your idea of luxury is scones with jam and cream, a movie, some entertainment and a billy-can lunch at the end.
Sleep under the stars at Longreach Tourist Park, Queensland
Far from the bright lights on the coast, the town’s orange streetlights may colour the occasional scudding cloud, but the glory of the Milky Way is still visible most nights just a few minutes’ walk away from the main street. Longreach Tourist Park, on the outskirts of town, is flat, and red-earthed, and simple, but the stars stretching above it make for a luxury canopy if you want to camp close to town.
Where to stay and eat in Longreach, Queensland
Within town itself, six motels make up the sum total of more conventional accommodations, and they are often booked out – so be sure to book ahead. It’s a similar message for the town’s best-known fine-dining option, Harry’s Restaurant at the Longreach Motor Inn, where they often turn around between 70 and 100 plates a night, and that includes weeknights. Whether you’re staying at the Motor Inn or not, it’s where you head for good beef Wellington or the best fish dinner in town. “It’s buzzing here every single night,” says Sarah Kennedy as we chat. “And a lot of nights, we are turning people away.”
A surprising option in Longreach is Indian food, with both Curry Across the Street and Little Star Indian Restaurant producing delicious, authentic offerings. Breakfasts are getting mighty fancy in Longreach, too, with detox smoothies available at the Secret Garden Café, and coffee to write home about at Casey’s in the main street. Meanwhile, Outback Pics does double duty, with a photography gallery and shop combining rather perfectly with coffee and cakes in the shady courtyard.
Places to visit in Longreach, Queensland
- Longreach School of Distance Education – take a daily tour, see a ‘remote’ lesson in action and smile at the fact your tour cost goes toward assisting this essential service for outback kids.
- Camden Park Station – just a 10 minutes’ drive out of town, this is reputedly the English Royal Family’s favourite spot in town; a working cattle and sheep station and a fascinating visit.
- Welcome Home Café, Tearoom & Stonegrill – grab some outback tucker here in the form of biscuits and slices for ‘smoko’, through to lamb shanks and hot-stone steaks for the serious eaters.
Lead image: Tourism and Events Queensland