Author: Mark Lambert
3rd September 2020
Much like most of Outback Queensland and Outback Australia for that matter, Hughenden has a rich past and plenty to see for those wanting to look for that something a little different and prepared to put in the effort.
It is located along the Overlander’s Way, being one of the main towns you will come across once you head West of Townsville and out past Charters Towers. It’s 376km West of Townsville and 519km East of Mount Isa. The main highway into Hughenden is well maintained and frequently used as the main thoroughfare across the state for travellers of all types from caravanners, road trains and small passenger cars alike so troubles getting here in the tourist season are very unlikely.
It’s a quirky town with it’s own personality as most of the places are out in these parts and it has two main tourist drawcards up it’s sleeve. One being the natural beauty of Porcupine Gorge National Park and the other being it’s history as one of Australia’s premier prehistoric and dinosaur discovery areas with it’s position well earned on what is commonly referred to as ‘Australia’s Dinosaur Trail’.
Image: Mutt the Muttaburrasaurus in Hughenden.
Hughenden is located on the edge of what was once a vast inland sea that houses some of the most complete and significant prehistoric creatures found to date in Australia and even globally in some cases. It is reported that the first Ichthyosaur fossil in the region was discovered way back in 1865 on a property to the West of Hughenden on the Flinders River. In more recent years it has continued to grow into the prominent hotspot on the Australian dinosaur scene that it is today.
Fossickers can still to this day be delighted by the remnants of years gone in trying their hand at uncovering fossilized sea creatures only a short drive from town. Around 16.7km from town in a couple of modern creek beds on the way to the Porcupine Gorge National Park, a known and well publicized public fossicking site can be found immediately adjacent to the road. After a short while here with the kids we were fortunate enough ourselves to uncover a sample of the history at play here with these pieces of Belemnite (prehistoric squid).
Image: Fossilised Belemite shield pieces from just outside Hughenden.
In town, the hub of the dinosaur activity and your source of all things information on the local area is the Flinder’s Discovery Centre which is the Information Centre and also hosts an exhibition of fossils and gems from the local area along with some pieces from further afield. It just so happens that this is actually a notable souvenir shop too with the gear available here being better than most by a pretty decent margin. There is a small charge to gain access into the display area of the centre with the prize attraction here being a life-size skeletal replica of a Muttaburrasaurus affectionately known as ‘Hughie’, a prehistoric local in these parts.
Image: Hughie the Muttaburrusaurus in the Flinder's Discovery Centre. Photo:VisitHughenden.com
The town itself and the main street in particular has plenty of character with a mix of artistic flair and sculptures to keep the inner artist or eclectic engaged while checking the place out. The Wirila Mill 35’ Comet windmill has pride of place when heading through town and the life size, full bodied fiberglass Muttaburrasaurus welcoming visitors on the highway are a couple of the more prominent pieces on offer. An inviting rest space in the middle of town is around the architencturally inspired Federation Rotunda on Brodie Street.
Image: Federation Rotunda on Brodie Street. Photo:VisitHughenden.com
Right on the edge of town is a newly opened, recreational lake precinct that was only opened at the back end of 2019. The large dam and parklands area is over 22Ha. There is a walking and running track around the lake along with nicely landscaped lawn areas, play areas and a kids playground. The lake has vehicle access right the way around, and evenhas it's own jetty and a boatramp with recreational boating and skiing allowed. A demarcated, designated swimming area is included at one end of the lake and preventing boating access into this area. If you have a boat, paddle board or kayak, are keen for a swim or just keen to get outdoors around town this is a nice place to do it.
Image: Hughenden Recreational Lake. Photo: Michael McCormack Twitter
A little further afield and located to the North of town is Porcupine Gorge, referred by some as Australia’s ‘Little Grand Canyon’. The gorge is accessed along the Kennedy Development road which is fully sealed through to Porcupine Gorge, the main carpark and access area which includes the Pyramid lookout, camping area, rim walk and gorge walk is around 74km from town. There are number of lookouts, points of interest and marked attractions on the way to the gorge campground and carpark that are worth checking out too. Handouts are available with these points of interest clearly spelled out along with distances to each along the way with a starting point at the Flinder’s Discovery Centre in town.
Arguably the best lookout is the Gorge Lookout located around 63km North of Hughenden. This is about 11km South of the Pyramid camping and Pyramid lookout area. To get to this one you need to take the signposted turnoff, off the main road and short drive along an access road to a park up area and short walk to the lookout itself. The views from this area are up with the best gorges around and well worth the look.
Image: View of Porcupine gorge from the gorge lookout.
To get into the gorge itself, there’s a walking trail from the Pyramid camping area down to the base of the gorge. The walk from top to bottom down into the gorge is 1.2km each way. It’s not an easy walk with some steep rocky sections, sloping and slippery terrain in parts and plenty of stone stairs to negotiate but comfortable if you’re not in a hurry. With three kids under 5 in tow it took us a good 1.5 hours to get into the base of the gorge with the kids walking most of the way themselves (albeit the youngest had a fair bit of a hand) and a couple of the mandatory kids’ drink breaks. On the way back out was a different story though with all of the kids getting carried out for the vast majority of the way. If you’re doing this one and want the young kids to get in and out themselves it’s probably worth making the trek in the morning when they’re at their freshest rather than late afternoon after a full day of exploring the place. They will need plenty of water in the climate out here though so stock up pretty well before heading in.
Image: Walking trail into Porcupine Gorge
Once you’re in the rest is up to you as far as how far you’re keen to wander, it’s easy, comfortable walking and there’s plenty to see with some nice swimming holes depending on the seasonal water levels. To get from the base of the gorge to the base of Pyramid formation and swimming hole is around another 300m or so across the Sandstone floor. There are some pretty impressive holes and formations in the floor to check out along the way too but use a little caution as some of these holes are far deeper than you would expect and getting back out could be a real challenge if you were to manage to find yourself in them.
Image: The Pyramid in Porcupine Gorge
As far as camping at the gorge goes, there are 22 sites at the Pyramid camping area that can be booked in advance via purchasing a camping permit. 8 of these sites are suitable for caravans and motorhomes whereas the remaining 14 are tent camping sites only. You can organise these camping permits online at https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/ and follow the prompts for ‘book a camping permit’, via phone at 13 QGOV (13 7468) or at the Flinder’s Discovery Centre in town at Hughenden. Make sure you do book well in advance in tourist season though, otherwise you will be almost guaranteed to leave disappointed. You will need to be fully self-contained and although there are some water outlets in the area, supply is known to be unreliable so it’s advised to bring your own.
For those athletically inclined, each year since 2002, the gorge has also been the location of the Porcupine Gorge Challenge where the gorge becomes a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and runners keen to test themselves and enjoy the pristine surrounds through their choice of race or social distance. Distances for the running events are available from 1.1km for children under 8 years old through to 8km for the open mens and womens or 5km for the social walk.
If you’re heading through Outback Queensland and keen to check out some of Australia’s natural beauty and prehistoric history, Hughenden is well worth a stopover.
To find out more about Australia’s Dinosaur Trail and how to get the most out of your time here, Keep an eye out for ‘Australia’s Dinosaur Trail’ overview on Seikka.com.
For more general information about Hughenden, Porcupine Gorge and the Porcupine Gorge Challenge, check out the official sites below: