Friday, 13 March 2015

Adventure: Longreach

In June 2013, Warrior Kid and I took our first "Educational Adventure".  

Destination: Longreach, QLD

We decided to take the "Spirit of the Outback" train out to Longreach and back rather than driving.  Due to the train timetables and the fact they don't run daily, it worked out we'd have 5 days in Longreach.  I started to research what to do in those 5 days and boy oh boy did we fully fill those 5 days! 

My first piece of advice if you are planning this same trip = Book with Kinnon & Co tourism operators. Such a great company, great tours and itinerary planning and the accommodation was great too (and even better now with new themed cabins etc). Even if you are driving out there and staying elsewhere, they are a MUST to contact to book their tours. 

My second piece of advice if you are getting the train = book a sleeper cabin. We had economy seats on the trip up and when travelling with a child, well neither of us got any sleep in the reclining chairs and a bed for the night would have made a world of difference.  Needless to say on our journey home we upgraded to a sleeper cabin ;) 

Now because I have SO many photos and we saw SO much, I am pre warning you that this is a LONG blog post.  I will try and sort it based on our itinerary to give you an idea of what we were able to fit into each day. 

Day 1 - Depart Roma Street Station in Brisbane City approx 6pm (Tuesday)

When we got to Roma Street, we checked in our bags (yes there are a lot, due to ASD needs we had one suitcase just for bedding, one with sensory stuff and foods etc then all the clothes!) and got some dinner from a nearby food court.  The train was slightly delayed and when it arrived it was noisy (so sensory issues kids will need ear muffs). Found out that due to us telling staff at booking that we had an ASD child, we got given our own train car! It was rather eery LOL.  But relaxing for my son. Tip for techy fans, power points for charging devices are found in the centre seats/middle of the carriage. We found seats and put our bags down and went to wave goodbye to Dad who was staying home to work, look after the pets and unfortunately end up stuck in the city with a broken down car that night! 

Once the train left, we went exploring and in the dining car they had snacks for sale and had put a kids movie on the little TV's for the kids. Once it was bed time, we found it hard to sleep in the reclining chairs. Even a child has no leg room and the armrests do not lift up so they can't lay across seats either. It was a difficult night. Photos show the limited space and how dark it will get with all the lights off.

Day 2 - Full day on the "Spirit of the Outback" train, arrival in Longreach 7pm (Wednesday)

In the morning, the dining car is open and serves basics like toasted sandwiches, ham and cheese croissants, tea, coffee, fruit, juice etc.  We were not due to arrive in Longreach till 6pm that night so spent the day looking at scenery, reading, playing on the iPad, watching movies in the dining car.  There is basically no mobile phone reception the entire trip and no wi-fi.  So for kids that rely on idevices, it may be challenging.  For mums who love to upload photos to social media it also provides some withdrawal challenges! Lunches available included toasted sandwiches, chicken caesar salad, wraps etc. Not the cheapest but you get that. 

We stopped for about 20 minutes in Barcaldine, just short of Longreach so that everyone can quickly hop off the train and have a look at the Tree of Knowledge if they wish.  It was nice to get some fresh air and once back on the train we had about half an hour before we'd depart at Longreach so it was a good chance to get packed up and ready.

When we arrived, the Kinnon & Co bus was there to pick us up and take us to our accommodation.  On arrival (which was in the dark) we were escorted to our direct cabin so no stumbling around in the dark. They had lights on ready for us on the porch and inside. They also had signs letting us know that Eagle Boys Pizza delivered straight to your cabin for dinner.  PERFECT for a mum who has travelled 24 hours on a train with no sleep and with a grumpy hungry child in tow. Called for pizza and they deliver right to your cabin, nice and quick, lovely staff :)

Day 3 - Longreach (Thursday)

  1. Kinnon & Co: The Cobb & Co Experience.
    45-minute stagecoach ride (Longreach tour and gallop), Smoko (morning tea which for us was tea and scones), Australian classic movie, Harry Redford Old Time Tent Show.

    This was such a great thing to do with my son. He loved the horses, the copious amount of dust that cover you in the carriage (and getting de-dusted afterwards with the lawn blower LOL), the fact we all got given headphones to hear the commentary on the tour so my son was able to hear it clearly. You are taken out of town, onto 'The Common' and that's where the gallop takes place. Once back at the Station Store area, you go into the old theatre to watch the movie which was great and the Old Time Tent show was very funny.  PS if you want the least amount of dust in the carriage ride, sit with your back towards the front of the carriage ;) 

    It's all located behind their Station Store so you can also get your souvenir shopping done afterwards. My son got his 'outback' hat as he called it, in an adult size, for only $25 and it's fantastic quality. By the time we had done everything (we had the first morning tour booked)
    , it was around 1.30pm.

    We walked around town and had a late lunch and headed to the small grocery store (Foodstore/IGA type).  Got some food for the next few days and then as we had no car, called a cab and headed back to the cabin for a few hours rest before our next tour (see point 2)

    On a side note: the taxi company that we used out at Longreach had a maximum rate for their trips around town and that was $10. So it did NOT cost us much at all to get around. They never took longer than 5-10 minutes to come and pick you up, happily stopped at an ATM for me and then we continued our trip. From Kinnon & Co lodges to the main street (and Kinnon & Co office and Station Store) is only 5 minutes.
  2. Kinnon & Co: Thomson River Cruise. Sunset Cruise experience includes:Sunset Cruise on a historic Paddlewheeler or Riverboat, Traditional Stockman’s dinner & dessert with bush poetry, Starlight’s Spectacular Sound & Light Show as well as transfers to and from accommodation.

    This was by far the best thing we did on the entire trip! The bus picked us up from our accommodation about 4pm that afternoon, we had a very funny commentary to entertain us on the way to the river which started the afternoon off well. The cruise was lovely, my son got to steer the paddlewheeler, one benefit to being the only child on a tour full of over 50's LOL. Watching the sun set over the river was beautiful. We then get off the boat and went up to the seating and camp fire area for dinner.

    The food was top quality and very yummy. Keep in mind (and unless it's changed since we went) this is NOT a sit down at tables with fancy dinner wear type of dinner.  This is a tin plate and tin mug on your lap while sitting around a campfire listening to a fabulous story teller and having a great laugh. Kids might find it a little tricky but we managed and it was all part of the experience. They were also wonderful with the fact my son has ASD and has food issues and gave us one of each (of the two options) so he could pick and choose. Made life that little bit easier!

    After dinner everyone heads to the riverside stage and seating that has been set up and watches an amazing sound and light show. Very well done and professional.  The bus takes you straight back to your accommodation too.

Day 4 - Longreach (Friday)
Another busy day! All planned out though by the lovely staff at the Kinnon & Co booking office. Three places to visit today. Each one is a 'get to the location yourself' thing but that was easy with the help of the taxi and the maximum $10 fare cost. I actually only got charged $5 on two of the trips. 

  1. Longreach School of Distance Education: This may not be on everyone's 'must see' list but because we were doing Distance Education at the time, it was on our list.  It was 'just up the road' so one lady told us.  It just happened to be a LONG road.  For anyone with health problems - get a taxi ;)  It was a long walk for my boy, he has leg problems and this was too much for him and made him tired for the rest of the day. The actual tour was informative and gave my son a great insight into learning when you lived in the outback on remote properties. He loved it.

  2. The Powerhouse Museum: This was also not something that you hear about and think to put it on your list. But when our itinerary was done up by Kinnon & Co, it was on the list so we figured why not.  Again, loved it!  You need to wear a hard hat but other than bad hair that's not an issue.  We were allowed to walk around on our own and explore and there is SO much stuff to see and touch. Huge buildings and grounds. What I thought would be a quick half hour turned into much longer.

    We headed back to our cabin for lunch but you can easily walk back into town from the Powerhouse museum and have lunch there.

  3. The Qantas Founders Museum & Jet Tour: AMAZING. We had a tour through the planes (747 & 707) and my son was allowed to sit in the pilots seat, ask a million questions and we weren't rushed. Unless you book a 'wing walk' you can't go out on the wing but you can see it up close from an open door in the plane. You can even stand in the front of the engines! We learnt a lot and then headed inside to explore.

    In the Museum there was a lot to see and do, unlike some museums that are just pictures on a wall. It was enough to hold an 8 year olds interest, but not as much as outside where it was all hands on.

    We only had a few hours in total that afternoon so were a little rushed, could have easily spent a few more hours I think.

Day 5 - Winton (Saturday)
Today we had booked a full day bus tour out to Winton. Again organised through Kinnon & Co.  We were picked up from our accommodation at 6am (in the dark LOL). The drive to Winton from Longreach is just over 2 hours from memory.  
  1. Age of Dinosaurs: It was worth going on this tour JUST for this. Even if you are not into dinosaurs, the view is worth it ten times over. Stunning. You drive out on flat ground for what feels like ages, then a hill appears and the bus makes it's way up. They call it a 'Jump Up' and when you get to the top can walk over to clearings on the edges, well WOW, just WOW.  You don't see views like that anywhere else. The actual Age of Dinosaurs centre and museum was fascinating to see and my son could have spent all day there.

    First you go into the workshop and have a tour in there. We found this much more interesting than the later museum as work is actually being done while you watch. You can touch the giant plaster wrapped bones, see them arranging bones, cleaning them. Then you go for a bush walk between the workshop and the new museum. It's beautiful scenery and you get to a lookout for more photo ops before getting to the museum building.

    The building is made to blend in with the natural rock surrounding and photos don't do it justice, it's a stunning building. Inside they are displaying the bones and piecing together the dinosaurs. There is a cafe and shop as well.

  2. Waltzing Matilda Museum: A great place to see, and all the adults on our tour raved over it. My son was not as impressed. The Waltzing Matilda Centre wasn't his kind of museum, not as hands on, a lot more reading and paintings. We watched a sound and light show which was very good, but didn't last too long in the rest of the centre. So while everyone else spent hours in there, we went outside and explored the Opal shops. One next door to the museum had a wheelbarrow full of rocks and a bucket of water .... for the kids to wet the rocks and discover the opal in them. THIS is what my son loved and spent an hour doing. We got a lovely bag full of rocks to cart around for the day and fit in our suitcases LOL. Lunch was at the Museum cafe and included in the tour.

    ** Edited 2016 - Sadly The Waltzing Matilda Museum was destroyed by fire in 2015 but hopefully the Town of Winton can rebuild it.
  3. Tour of Winton town: including stopping at the Musical Fence, Arno's Park (a recycled junkyard fence and artworks), The Winton Club and visiting the Pub for a drink. The musical fence is GREAT for kids. Everything there is made of recycled junk and all musical. A good way to get them to let off some pent up energy before the long drive back to Longreach.  The Pub aka The North Gregory Hotel, has been refurbished and when you walk in you realise why it's on the list of places to stop at. We even had to check out the town's rubbish bins which just happen to look like giant dinosaur feet!

Day 6 - Longreach (Sunday) Our last day in Longreach. 

  1. Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame:  The Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame is one of the best museums I have been to. There is so much hands on stuff for the kids to do, Warrior Kid was entertained (and learning!) for hours. We also saw the Outback Stockman's Show which was great. Once the show had finished (and we'd already spent a few hours in the centre) it was time to head to the restaurant for some late lunch. It's located on the grounds but quite a walk from the centre.  If you are staying at the Kinnon & Co Lodges (next door), the restaurant is half way between the Lodges and the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame centre.

  2. The restaurant was our last 'outing' for the trip as it was our last afternoon and we had packing to do. Just as well because the enormous size of the servings meant we wouldn't have been able to walk around sight seeing anyway!  Best steak I have ever eaten. I am not a 'food' photo person but I took photos which of course don't do it justice. But 4 large scoops of ice cream is a children's serve, you need a seperate large dinner plate JUST for your veges because they don't fit on the same large dinner plate with the steak and mash. Insane LOL. The gardens are full of statues and also visiting kangaroos.  Beautiful to sit and eat lunch watching them wandering around. After lunch we walked back to our cabin and along the walk are lots of memorials, plaques and of course a great view of the Qantas Museum and airport across the road.

Day 7 - Depart Longreach 7am (Monday)
Early start as we leave Longreach today. The bus picked us up at 6am to get us to the train station and checked in. The train was due to leave at 7am. We got to watch the sunrise from the station and in the train which just added to the experience. For the return journey we had booked a sleeper cabin. This was the best decision ever LOL.  Not only is there room to stretch out, you get privacy (important to an ASD child) and all meals were included. I was very impressed and the food and service in the dining car was fantastic! Again I am not someone who usually takes food photos but even I had to get in on the fad! Having a bed to sleep on was great too of course!

The trip home was filled with lots of scenery, more reading and iPad time, checking out the 'upper class' areas this time like the lounge car, and chatting to everyone in the dining car at meal times.

Day 8 - Arrive Brisbane 8.30am (Tuesday)
Due to some delays between stations coming home, we were about an hour and a half late.  We had no dramas at Roma Street station and thankfully the car had been fixed while we were away so we have transport home. Our suitcases gathered a LOT of dust on the trip home too! I think we both slept for a full day once home. You don't realise how much you do when away. I'd go again though, it was such a good experience and if it didn't get so hot there in summer I'd move there! 

To summarise - loved it, would go again in a heart beat if we could, highly recommend it and as a bonus, I got some 'family favourite' photos for the lounge room wall so have a daily reminder of this wonderful adventure :)

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