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There’s more than meets the eye for travellers exploring Central Queensland Highlands.

Whether you’re a regular visitor or exploring for the very first time, the lesson you’re about to learn is that bigger = better in this part of the world.

Uncover otherworld beauty in our prehistoric national parks, relax with charming country hospitality or chance it and strike it rich in the gemfields when you Explore More of the Central Queensland Highlands.

Read on to discover the ‘big’ surprises that await.

Big Nature

If strapping on your hiking boots and heading off to the wilderness is your idea of a good time, Central Queensland Highlands delivers by the backpack full.

Carnarvon Gorge, Carnarvon National Park

3 hours, 243 kilometre drive from Emerald

Welcome to our kind of jungle. You’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to when dinosaurs roamed the earth as you explore Carnarvon Gorge’s towering sandstone escarpments, fern-lined gullies, native wildlife and creekside sanctuaries.

In contrast to the usually dry environment of Central Queensland, Carnarvon National Park allows a remnant rainforest to thrive year-round thanks to permanent springwaters, cool temperatures and low levels of direct sunlight.

The unforgettable journey into the deep bush will awaken your senses, inspire your spirit of adventure, and allow you to discover natural and cultural treasures, including ancient Aboriginal rock art sites.

Head out on one of many day hikes along the rugged trails, or go full-out with a week-long adventure, tackling the 87-kilometre Carnarvon Great Walk.

For accommodation, there is camping and caravanning available at BIG4 Breeze Holiday Parks Carnarvon Gorge or Sandstone Park, while high-end luxury retreats such as Wallaroo Outback Retreat and Carnarvon Gorge Wilderness Lodge will allow you to explore the natural environment without sacrificing creature comforts.

Man standing in gorge between two towering sandstone walls.

Carnarvon Gorge, Central Queensland Highlands

Blackdown Tableland

2 hours, 152 kilometre drive from Emerald

Rising high above the Central Queensland plains, Blackdown Tableland National Park is a tropical oasis of emerald-hued rockpools, deep gorges and waterfalls.

There are four walking tracks to choose from, each with their own offering from eucalypt forests to Aboriginal rock art.

The jewel in the crown is on the Gudda Gumoo (Rainbow Falls) trail, which takes you to the heart of the gorge and on to the Instagram famous rock pools.

Pitch your tent at the Munall campgrounds set in a quiet bush surrounding and use this base to explore a new walk each day.

Rock wall with waterfall trickling into pool below.

Blackdown Tableland National Park, Central Queensland Highlands

Minerva Hills National Park

1 hour, 80 kilometre drive from Emerald

Formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago, Minerva Hills National Park is made up of a series of jagged peaks dominating the skyline.

In the sheltered gorges and base of sheer cliffs surrounding the mountains are diverse habitats of grassland, open forests and hidden dry rainforest.

After a day of hiking, be sure to head back to ground level and look back towards the Virgin Rock on Mount Zamia, which is illuminated in golden hues making it appear 'like Virgin Mary cradling baby Jesus' - or at least that's the general visitor consensus.

Big Opportunities

If you love precious gems, or are hoping to strike it rich with your own fossicking find, The Gemfields is one of the world’s largest sapphire fields. See what your pan unearths as you explore the townships of Rubyvale, Sapphire and Willows Gemfields.


35 minutes, 53 kilometre drive from Emerald

With a name like Sapphire, it’s fairly easy to guess what gemstones have been found in this tiny town. Since the late 1800’s the region has been home to one of the richest sapphire fields in the southern hemisphere, and now you can try you luck at finding one too!

Search for treasure at 'Graves Hill' or 'Big Bessie', join a tour to learn about the history of the lucrative industry. If your fossicking escapades leave you empty-handed, you can always visit the gift stores in town to pick up a gem to fool your friends.

Handing holding a sapphire up towards the sky.


43 minutes, 60 kilometre drive from Emerald

In Rubyvale, it’s time to head underground for a mine tour for a lesson in sapphire mining. Meander the tunnels with your guide before trying your luck at one of several fossicking parks.

Striking it rich is hard and thirsty work. For reprieve, the Rubyvale Hotel is a log-style cabin pub that serves up classic pub meals and crisp beers.

Tour guide and couple in an underground mine tunnel.

Miners Heritage underground mine tour, Rubyvale, Central Queensland Highlands

Willows Gemfields

54 minutes, 81 kilometre drive from Emerald

Willows Gemfields is a quiet bush location that may promise your biggest find in the region, as it has had limited machinery and no corporate mining performed in the past.

Who knows, you may stumble across a gem that would be added to the league of some world's most famous sapphires all found here, including a 332 carat rough yellow, aptly named the 'Golden Willow'.

Wherever you choose to fossick, be sure to obtain a fossicking license available from many Visitor Centres, caravan parks and shops in the area. Hire equipment is available too.

Big Skies

Hang out the ‘Gone Fishing’ sign because it’s time to throw a line (or crab pot) in at these aquatic hotspots. Feel the moment of reeling in a whopper with plenty of fish species swimming in our waterways.

Lake Maraboon – Big Red Claw

21 minutes, 22 kilometre drive from Emerald

Lake Maraboon is Queensland’s second largest lake and promises two big things: wide open skies and big red claws.

When full, the lake is three times the size of Sydney Harbour, covering 15,000 hectares, and is home to Murray Cod, Yellowbelly, Saratoga, Barramundi and the most popular catch, Red Claw.

Red Claws are a cross between lobster and yabbie, and while the trick to baiting them varies from angler to angler, fruit, partially-cooked vegetables and pet food are popular choices.

A permit is required for fishing and can be obtained from the Emerald Post Office or online. No permit is required for catching Red Claw.

Rocky shore bordering lake.

Lake Maraboon, Central Queensland Highlands

Bedford Weir – Big Saratoga

1 hour, 99 kilometre drive from Emerald

The Bedford Weir is a man-made lake, popular for boating, skiing and fishing all year round.

If you like a fishing challenge, the highly intelligent and aggressive sport fish Saratoga are plentiful, so this is the spot to tick this species off your bucket list.

The peace and tranquillity of the water’s edge is home to a range of wildlife from wallabies, echidnas and even a beautiful pride of peacocks.

Back of boat motoring along river at sunset with trees along the riverbank.

Bedford Weir, Blackwater, Central Queensland Highlands

Big Art

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

Emerald CBD

If you like your art supersized and set in beautiful gardens, then a trip to the world’s biggest Van Gogh ‘Sunflowers’ painting in Emerald is a must-see.

The superstructure is 25 metres high with approximately 13.6 tonnes of steel involved in its construction.

The painting is located in Morton Park and celebrates the Central Highland's history as a major sunflower producer.

Lay out a picnic rug, pop into the nearby Visitor Centre and marvel at the al fresco replica in the beautiful sunshine.

The art installation is part of a concept by Cameron Cross to erect seven Sunflower sculptures in seven different countries, reproducing Van Gogh's seven different Sunflowers paintings.

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

The Big Easel, Emerald, Central Queensland Highlands

Big City


Like Dorothy and Toto, you too can go on your own journey to ‘The Emerald City’, however instead of a fictional castle, you’ll find magical country hospitality and charm in Emerald.

Surprisingly the town wasn’t named after the gems found in the region, but rather a lush green hill located just north of the town called ‘Emerald Downs Hill’.

While in town, visit the National Trust-listed railway station that is decorated with wrought iron lacework remnant of the early 1900s or enjoy a leisurely stroll of the well-maintained Botanic Gardens.

Enjoy a coffee and bite to eat at one of the great cafes in town, and you’ll be fuelled up for your onward adventures to the surrounding gemfields.

Big Machines


53 minutes, 77 kilometre drive from Emerald

Queensland’s coal mining industry is on full display in Blackwater, and fans of monster machines can spend hours exploring the displays at the Blackwater International Coal Centre (BICC).

Wonder at the size and scale of the massive mining equipment and learn about the history of Australia’s pioneering days.

You can watch the open-cut mine process on screen or try an interactive simulator test drive of a dragline, tugboat or coal train. This is Queensland’s coal capital after all.

Big History

Discover the stories behind our region by spending time in our historical hot spots. Our land’s cultural connections encompass a fascinating past, from ancient Aboriginal presence to early pioneers, modern agriculture and the discoveries made in our region’s gemfields.


1 hour, 139 kilometre drive from Emerald

Rolleston is the closest town to Carnarvon Gorge, and gateway to Arcadia Valley, once home to the indigenous ‘Karinal’ tribe.

A journey along this route takes you past Lake Nuga Nuga, believed to be the home of the mythological male and female Rainbow Serpents (Mundagarri) living under the two peaks dominating the lake's northern shoreline.

Located in Beazley Park is a historic boundary rider's hut (a slab hut) from the Purbook property, a remnant of the region’s early pioneers.

Rolleston was also home to Queensland’s last bush rangers, the notorious horse stealing and cattle rustling brothers Patrick and James Kenniff.


35 minutes, 52 kilometre drive from Emerald

The small town of Capella is home to the Capella Pioneer Village - a significant repository of pastoral and agricultural history and must-do for history buffs.

The restored Peak Downs Homestead is the largest restored drop-plan homestead in Australia and there are more than 5,000 historical artifacts on display.

Curated in eras and topics of interest, it’s easy to navigate your way through the history of the wool industry, railway lifeline, wartime and grain farming of the region – getting up close to memorabilia from yesterday, rather than seeing it locked away behind glass.

Man and woman looking at piano in wooden museum.

Capella Pioneer Village, Central Queensland Highlands


47 minutes, 68 kilometre drive from Emerald

Situated in the valley at the foot of Mount Zamia, Springsure has a number of historical sites worthy of exploring more.

The Federation Woolshed is a replica of the sheds that Britain sent to the colonies at the beginning of the 20th century, and today houses photos, antiques and artefacts of the time.

Staircase Range Lookout is a nearby sandstone escarpment that was built by Chinese immigrants in 1905 to accommodate the wagon teams stopping overnight from Rockhampton to the Gulf and Barcoo country.

Just south of town is the Old Rainworth Fort, built in 1862 as a way of defending settlers against attacks from local Aboriginal tribes.

The Cairdbeign Homestead and School, as well as the Visitor Centre, are also great spots to brush up on local history.

For ideas on how to Explore More of the Central Queensland Highlands, click here.

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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.