Dorothy may have followed the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, but all you need to do is board a Qantas or Virgin Australia flight from Brisbane Airport and in one-and-a-half hours you can be touching down in Emerald, Outback Queensland.
Don’t let the name fool you, Emerald may be the gateway to one of the largest Gemfields in the Southern Hemisphere, but it’s sapphires that glitter in this region.
Put Emerald, Rubyvale and Sapphire on your travel itinerary, and discover how to have a gem of a time in the Central Highlands with this guide.
11:30AM: Arrive in Emerald
With multiple flights departing each day from Brisbane Airport to Emerald, enjoy a leisurely start to your day with a mid-morning or early-afternoon arrival into Emerald.
You’ll need wheels to have a sapphire encounter, so make sure you book a hire car to collect after touching down.
2PM: Check into your motel
Prepare to be spoilt for accommodation choice, with 20 three and four-star listed properties, including bed and breakfasts, motor inns, hotels or apartments in Emerald.
For a central location, overnight at Nightcap at Emerald Star Hotel, where you’ll sleep within a fork’s reach (one kilometre) of the local pub or 150 metres from the burger bar.
If you prefer quieter surroundings, catch your zzz’s at Villas on Rivergum. A short six kilometres from the city centre, swap the main street for garden views from your own private courtyard.
3PM: Visit Van Gogh’s Sunflower
What do Altona, Kansas and Emerald have in common?
They are three of the seven towns selected by Canadian artist Cameron Cross to display a 25-metre high Van Gogh reproduction of his ‘Sunflowers’ collection.
Located at Morton Park, the painting is a nod to the town’s history as a major Australian sunflower producer, and the painting has been drawing visitors to this outback town since its completion in 1999.
5PM: Learn about the native fauna and flora
Swap Van Gogh’s sunflower replica for native plants, walking one kilometre to the 42-hectare Emerald Botanic Gardens.
Stroll through the lush tropical oasis along the banks of the Nogoa River and follow the interpretive signs to learn about the native species that grow in the gardens.
7PM: Dine with the locals
Is there anything more quintessentially Queensland than heading to the pub to chew the fat with the locals? We think not.
Head to the Maraboon Tavern – Emerald’s local favourite watering hole – and grab a pub meal and down a coldie.
The tavern has plenty to keep the kids entertained while you wait for your meal too with an outdoor playground and activities room.
8AM: Breakfast time
Prepare for a big day on the tools with a good cup of coffee (or two).
Serving Brisbane-local Fonzie Abbott beans, stop by Roses & Beans for breakfast and a caffeine fix before you hit the road.
Fuel up with an eggs benny, French toast with caramelised peaches, homestyle pancakes or a big breakfast.
9AM: Hit the road
Enter 4702 into your GPS and drive 62 kilometres to the town of Rubyvale - home to the Central Highland’s gem action.
Fast-track your sapphire adventure and visit the Miners Heritage underground museum. After learning about the different sapphires that have been discovered throughout the years, grab a bucket of rocks to wash and search for your own gems.
Prefer to try your hand at digging, too? Book a self-drive tag-along tour with Fascination Gems and learn how to fossick – all tools, tips and directions provided.
1PM: Lunch in Rubyvale
Fossicking can be thirsty work, so once you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the New Royal Hotel for a pub lunch and a cold brew.
Join the locals at the bar and listen to tales of the past while you wet your whistle – like the one of the 100-carat honey-coloured sapphire found in a lizard hole or the world’s largest 1,400-carat black sapphire that was used as a doorstop for 13 years – all found here.
3PM: See all the BIG things
Fill your Instagram feed with all the ‘big things’ in the region.
In front of the Bobby Dazzler mine in Rubyvale you’ll find the Big Miner and in neighbouring Sapphire, the Big Pick, Big Shovel and Big Sieve.
Tired from a long day? Think Edison’s Burger Bar.
Step foot into this burger joint and you’ll have to remind yourself you’re in Central Queensland rather than a Melbourne laneway – designed with upcycled timber, copper light fittings and wrought iron swivel chairs.
It’s easy to see why it was the 2019 winner of the Australian Good Food Guide Readers’ Choice in the burger category, with over 16 burger choices on the menu, including their house favourite ‘Big Tom’ with a beef patty, salad, bacon, egg, aioli and ketchup.
Did we mention they’re fully licensed, too? Grab a craft beer or glass of wine to celebrate a successful day of fossicking.
8AM: Breakfast and lunch to go
When you need breakfast, coffee and lunch to go, stop by Blah Blah Café.
Sit down to a plate of homemade pancakes, waffles or avocado on toast and grab a wrap, sandwich or fresh fruit salad to go, to enjoy on the water’s edge of Lake Maraboon later in the day.
9AM: Head to the lake
With Queensland’s second-largest lake, Lake Maraboon on your doorstep (read: 60 kilometres down the road), spend the morning walking, birding or kayaking.
Stop by Lake Maraboon Holiday Village and hire a kayak or boat to relax and explore the lake from beyond the shoreline.
Make sure you book the afternoon or evening flight back to #BNE to ensure a full day of lake action before returning to Emerald Airport for your return flight home.