Things To Do


Food & Wine

What's On

The clue is in the name of this destination; it’s central and you’ll find it accessibly placed at the crossroads of the Great Inland Way and Capricorn Way in Queensland.

From fossicking for Sapphires to exploring Queensland’s green canyon or frying up an iconic outback redclaw on the BBQ, you’ll want to ear mark at least three days for exploration if you want to scratch the surface of the Central Queensland Highland’s 60,000 square kilometres (aka a land mass roughly the size of Tasmania).

With landscapes that vary as wildly as the people you’ll meet, stretching from Blackdown Tableland to Carnarvon Gorge, the Sapphire Gemfields to downtown Emerald, a trip to the Central Queensland Highlands promises plenty of supersized-surprises.

Whether you find yourself in Emerald via road, rail or region air, start by ticking off these 10 things to do.

1. Carnarvon Gorge, Carnarvon National Park

Lush rainforest may not be the first thing that springs to mind when people think of Central Queensland, and for that very reason, Carnarvon Gorge is at the top of this list.

Australia’s ‘green canyon’ is no mirage; Carnavon National Park has been inspiring visitors for thousands of years.

This inland oasis thrives in its own ecosystem thanks to permanent spring waters, cool temperatures and low levels of direct sunlight.

The culturally significant landmark is home to fern-lined gullies, native wildlife and bubbling brooks all accessible by a connected network of hiking trails, from day walks to week-long adventures.

Plan to stay and explore for multiple days and, depending on your budget, there’s everything from budget campsites to luxury eco-stays.

Man standing in gorge between two towering sandstone walls.

Carnarvon Gorge, Central Queensland Highlands

2. The Gemfields

Whether you’re an admirer of fine jewels or hoping to strike it rich with your own fossicking find, a visit to The Gemfields will add some sparkle to your adventures.

Remnants of Australia’s rich gem mining industry are abundant in the townships of Sapphire, Rubyvale, Anakie and Willows Gemfields, which now thrive on sharing the stories and history of yesteryear with tourists.

Take a tour of underground mining operations, hear about the characters who struck it rich and see examples of some of the supersized gems that were found in the surrounding earth.

And who knows? With your own fossicking pan in hand, you may be the next lucky person to uncover your own precious gem.

No joke - in 2022, a Queensland man found an 834-carat sapphire the size of a small child’s fist here, making a fossicking licence in the Central Queensland Highlands as good an investment as a Powerball ticket! Book yourself plenty of time to win big with this four-day itinerary exploring the Gemfields.

Tour guide and couple in an underground mine tunnel.

Miners Heritage underground mine tour, Rubyvale, Central Queensland Highlands

3. Blackdown Tableland National Park

Home to the famous Gudda Gumoo (Rainbow Falls) Instagram-worthy rock pools, Blackdown Tablelands is another must-explore national park in the Central Queensland Highlands.

Rising high above the plains, the sandstone plateau covering over 47,000 hectares boasts scenic outlooks, waterfalls, colourful native wildlife and ancient Aboriginal art of the Ghungalu people.

Leave the car and tents at the campsites and head off on foot on one of the short walking tracks, each with its own offering from eucalypt forest to deep gorges.

Hikers can expect a display of flora found nowhere else in the highlands thanks to Blackdown Tableland’s cooler, elevated climate.

If you’re travelling in peak periods (school holidays), be sure to book a campsite in advance as word has gotten out about this natural playground.

Looking for more parks like this? Check out these other Central Queensland Highlands national parks for more nature-based holiday ideas.

Rock wall with waterfall trickling into pool below.

Blackdown Tableland National Park, Central Queensland Highlands

4. Lake Maraboon

Life is simple, just add water.

Sometimes, the only thing you need for a relaxing holiday is to sit back, watch the water and cast a fishing line.

At Queensland’s second largest lake, Lake Maraboon, you can choose your own adventure from paddling and kayaking to fishing for Murray Cod, Yellowbelly, Saratoga, Barramundi and the most coveted catch – Red Claw (think: the country’s answer to lobster or bugs).

For those who want to add an adrenaline rush, the lake is also a popular place for jet skiing, waterskiing and paddleboarding, as well as swimming in designated swim zones.

A permit is required for fishing and can be obtained from the Emerald Post Office or online. No permit is required to catch Red Claw – just BYO crab pots.

Lake with a pink sunset and trees on distance bank.

Lake Maraboon, Central Queensland Highlands

5. Emerald Botanic Gardens

The Emerald Botanic Gardens is a fitting name for the 42-hectare tropical oasis sitting on the banks of the Nogoa River in Emerald. Visitors can expect a palette of greens ranging from lime to olive, primed for your picnic rug.

Being the only botanic gardens within the Central Western District of Queensland, the garden’s leafy spaces are a tranquil pitstop on a road trip through the west.

It’s here you can strut off the travel stiffness along the banks of the Nogoa River, take a jog along six kilometres of walking tracks, or spend time with the kids outdoors on the playgrounds or mazes peppered throughout the gardens.

Can’t get enough of the outback’s natural charm? Venture through 12 different themed plant communities showcasing native flora that show you the spectrum of inland Queensland’s nature all in one walk.

Couple walking along path surrounded by green grass and palm trees.

Emerald Botanic Gardens, Central Queensland Highlands

6. Blackwater Coal Centre

For the history buffs and lovers of monster machines, unearth the history of Queensland’s coal mining industry in Blackwater’s Coal Centre. It’s easy to spend hours in the Coal Mining Museum when there are 20 interactive exhibits on offer, each teaching you something new about Australia’s billion-dollar coal industry.

Feel small while standing beside colossal mining equipment, then try your hand operating a Dragline, Tugboat and Coal Train in the museum’s simulators.

As you wander the museum, you’ll journey through time to millions of years ago learning how coal deposits are formed, see the debut of the Blackwater Mine in 1967 and return to present day, where 3D models and videos explain the mining process and how coal is used to manufacture everyday objects.

7. Capella

Sitting halfway between Emerald and Clermont, you’ll find the quaint country charmer of Capella.

Its hero visitor attraction is one for history-lovers, Peak Downs Homestead, the largest restored homestead of its kind in Australia.

There’s 16 buildings in the experience, including the woolshed circa 1800s, which tells the tales of the 1891’s Great Shearers Strike.

For a $10-15 entry fee you can explore more of Capella stories and history, including wartime, rail, cinematic and mining history from this iconic museum.

Man and woman looking at piano in wooden museum.

Capella Pioneer Village, Central Queensland Highlands

8. Springsure

Found at the foot of Mount Zamia, Springsure is packed with historical sites that tell the story of Queensland’s early 1800s and 1900s history.

An essential itinerary item is a visit to the Federation Woolshed; a replica of the sheds that Britain sent to the colonies at the beginning of the 20th Century, which now holds photos, antiques and artefacts of the time.

Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at Staircase Range Lookout, where views over the lookout are just as memorable as the nearby Staircase Range Cutting. This sandstone escarpment was carved by the hands of Chinese immigrants in 1905 for wagon teams that stopped in Springsure overnight on their way from Rockhampton to the Gulf and Barcoo country.

For a sombre take on history, visit the headstone grave of Wills Massacre, where there was the killing of 19 Europeans by Aborigines; the largest recorded killing of Europeans in Australia’s history.

You’ll also find local history aplenty at the The Cairdbeign Homestead and School, the Visitor Centre, and these sites coined ‘history-buff-heaven’ around the Central Queensland Highlands.

Mountains with rocky peaks in background with road leading towards them and caravans parked at waiting area.

Minerva Hills National Park, Springsure, Central Queensland Highlands

9. The Capricorn Way

When you’re looking for an adventure with something for everyone, The Capricorn Way (Capricorn Highway) connects the Reef (Rockhampton) to the Outback (Barcaldine) like a showreel of the best of Australian landscapes into one highlight-reel-of-a-highway.

Whether you’re doing the whole drive, all 579 km of it, or part there of, be sure to add the following pitstops in the Central Queensland Highlands region to your itinerary: Duraringa, Dingo, Bluff, Blackdown Tableland National Park, Blackwater, Comet, The Gemfields and Bogantungan.

10. Big Sunflowers

The Central Queensland Highlands might be hemisphere’s apart from the Netherlands, aka the homeland of Vincent Van Gogh, but there’s a supersized example of his work to be found in Emerald.

Morton Park, behind the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) in Emerald, is home to the world’s biggest (replica) Van Gogh ‘Sunflowers’ painting.

Standing 25m high, sure you can see it from just about anywhere, but it’s worth hopping out of the car to grab a local’s only tip from the VIC, before following the pathway which is dotted with mosaics depicting the town’s 100-year history. There’s 21 designed tiles to view, created by 10 Emerald artists.

Just when you thought you’d seen it all, the Central Queensland Highlands proves there’s more to explore.

Explore More.

Big replica of Van Gough's Sunflowers painting on easel in park.

The Big Easel, Emerald, Central Queensland Highlands

You might also love

Make your next road trip memorable with Country Drive Bingo!

Subscribe now to receive a free downloadable Country Drive Bingo template, and let us share our specially curated holiday tips, news and deals.

Acknowledgement of Country

Southern Queensland Country Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the lands and waterways that run through these regions. We pay our respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past, present and emerging.