Matilda Highway

StartClick to Reverse the Dynamic Map and Driving NotesKarumba
FinishBarringun
DifficultyDifficulty 0.5/5
Suitable for4WD AWD 2WD Caravan Camper Motorhome Bike 
Distance1822.57 km
Minimum Days4
Average Speed74.41 km/hr
Driving Time1 day 29 mins
Page Updated: 30 Oct 2009

Description

The ‘Matilda Highway’ is a tourist route; the name given for a connection of highways; in this case, from Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria to Barringun near the QLD/NSW border. The route passes through famous outback Queensland country towns - not to forget, some great outback pubs!! From north to south, you can stop in at towns like: Normanton, Cloncurry, Winton, Longreach, Barcaldine, Blackall, Tambo, Augathella, Charleville, and Cunnamulla, where you can then pick up the Kidman Way through central NSW. It's a region where dinosaurs once roamed; the inspiration for our unofficial national anthem ‘Waltzing Matilda’ was first played; and was the birthplace of Qantas. There are a number of highlights along this all-bitumen 1822km route making it one of the most popular highway treks in Australia.

There are tourist information centres in most towns along the route and each will be able to provide detailed information on bookings, and times for local events, shows and attractions. The journey passes through an ever-changing landscape - from gulf plains in the north; Mitchell grass plains and desert uplands in the central west; to undulating Mulga plains in the south. There are picturesque billabongs and vast inland river systems, rugged gorges, escarpments and many scenic National Parks to explore. The Matilda Highway is custom-made for travellers keen for a taste of the ‘outback’ with its unique heritage and good ol’ pubs, all served with some legendary hospitality and friendliness.

How to Use this Trek Note

Click the "Map" tab below to see the route we've provided. Icons on the map are the POIs you'll need for navigation purposes. Be sure to check the list of Nearby Places on each POI page.

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  • You can print a paper copy of the text using the print icon button shown above, near the social media buttons. For the best output it is advised to open each tab/section to load all images and artwork. You will still need to click open each Place page (listed in Where to Stay, What to See) to print off all available information.
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  • If you're not a Member, or you'd like to batch download the entire Treks database you can obtain this by buying a product called EOTreks Route Files from our online shop.

Environment

The climate from Karumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria, to one of the hottest places in Australia - Cloncurry, is distinctly monsoonal with a winter dry season and a summer wet season. This bioregion is known as the Gulf Plains, and primarily consists of open woodlands and grasslands; as well as coastal estuaries consisting of mangroves and saline herbfields, which do not occur elsewhere. The most extensive grasslands and open woodlands occur on clay plains and associated major rivers. The grasslands in the north are predominantly blue grasses (Dichanthium spp.) with Mitchell grass (Astrebla spp.) growing in the drier southern areas. The dominant land use is for cattle grazing on native pastures.

Mitchell grass dominates the region from McKinlay, to Winton, Longreach, Blackall and Tambo. The bioregion is dominated by Mitchell grass (Astrebla spp.) tussock grasslands on rolling plains with some low tree over-storey of gidgee and other species. Around Winton and Longreach the terrain is predominantly Mitchell grass plains punctuated by stony ranges and mesas known locally as jump-up country. During the summer months the temperatures may reach 45 to 50 degrees C. Travel in the region between October and March is not recommended due to high temperatures and possible flooding. Much of the region is dependent on the underlying Great Artesian Basin for water. Land within the bioregion is almost entirely dedicated to cattle grazing, due to the extensive occurrence of palatable grasses.

From Augathella to Charleville, Cunnamulla and Barringun, the terrain is predominantly Mulga country. These lands are located within the heart of the Murray-Darling Basin, and feature flat to undulating plains. The region is dominated by Mulga (Acacia aneura) shrublands and low woodlands. The river systems and associated lakes, creeks, swamps and wetlands are significant to waterbirds including large populations of brolgas and freckled duck. The climate is semi-arid with variable and unreliable rainfall, and the pastoral properties in the region are primarily used for sheep and cattle grazing.

History

The Matilda Highway is a collection of highways merged as one tourist route, coined around the year 2000 as part of the Corridor Management Plan (CMP). The role of the CMP is to provide a basis for on-going development of tourist routes, with the intention of: increasing visitor numbers and expenditure along the way; to maximise driver confidence in regard to alternative route, road safety, and road efficiency; and lastly to raise heritage and cultural understanding. The highways that make up the Matilda Highway include: Mitchell Highway, Landsborough Highway, and the Burke Development Road.

Waltzing Matilda

The Matilda Highway was named after the bush ballad Waltzing Matilda written by Banjo Patterson in 1895, with the music written by Christina Macpherson. Waltzing Matilda is Australia’s most widely known tune, often referred as ‘the unofficial national anthem of Australia’. The song’s title is Australian slang for travelling by foot with goods in a ‘Matilda’ bag.

The song is about a swagman (itinerant worker) making a drink of tea at a bush camp near a billabong (waterhole on the bend of a river), who ends up capturing a jumbuck to eat. A jumbuck is usually a large un-tamed and difficult-to-sheer wild sheep. When the jumbuck’s ‘apparent’ owner arrives with three police officers to arrest the worker for the alleged theft (a crime punishable by hanging), the swagman drowns himself in the billabong and goes on to haunt the site. Interestingly enough about the story (and of the political issues of the times), the jumbuck was never ‘owned’ by the squatter or regularly shorn, and thus, was not able to be ‘stolen’ by the swagman.

Preparation

The Matilda Highway is over 1820kms long, and although there are many fuel outlets along this route for filling up your vehicle, ensure you carry enough fuel, water and supplies between stops. The trip can be completed in around 24 hours (obviously alternating between drivers), but then why would you!!! Doing so would mean missing out on the ‘real Outback’… that is, the heritage, the natural attractions, and the cheery outback characters. Four days is a comfortable drive, depending on how long you stay in each town.

It’s a good idea to carry sun protection, sunscreen, insect repellent, first aid kit, and sufficient clothing for the time of the year. Staying in contact in the outback is vital, and while mobile phones will work in many towns, it may be beneficial to carry another communication device such as a HF radio, UHF radio, or even satellite phone.

Since there are a number of sections that may be subject to flooding, it is important to take heed of the road conditions. So before you depart, you may want to check with local shires or RACQ Road Conditions.

Be wary of certain sections along the way, which may be unfenced, and avoid travelling around sunset or at night, as kangaroos and cattle occasionally like to share your side of the road (sometimes both sides).

Permits

No permits are required for this trek note, since the route is on public roads and highways.

Fuel Supplies & Usage

Fuel Symbol
DieselULPLPG
4cyl 256 litres4cyl 295 litres4cyl 365 litres
6cyl 280 litres6cyl 330 litres6cyl 321 litres
8cyl 280 litres8cyl 247 litres *
Usage is averaged from recorded data (* specific to this trek) and calculated based on trek distance.

Best Time To Visit

Since it can get very hot during the summer months, travelling in winter and spring is recommended.

Closest Climatic Station

Winton Post Office
Distance from Trek Mid Point 98.58km N
 JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Mean Max. °C37.536.235.032.127.824.624.426.931.034.737.038.2
Mean Min. °C23.522.921.017.212.99.48.29.513.417.820.922.8
Mean Rain mm83.287.053.822.320.218.214.76.59.018.131.849.9
    Best time to travel      Ok time to travel      Travel NOT recommended

Services & Supplies

The following locations have various services And supplies:Barringun

Map

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What to See

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This is just a selection. We recommend also browsing the map for other Places nearby.
Historic Gulflander train, Stockman's Hall of Fame, Waltzing Matilda Centre, Carnarvon Gorge National Park,  Lark Quarry, Blue Heeler Hotel, Walkabout Creek Hotel, Burke & Wills Roadhouse, Lawn Hill National Park and lots more!

Showing 5 Places

Where to Stay

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This is just a selection. We recommend also browsing the map for other Places nearby.

Showing 2 Places

Directions

LocationsDistanceDirection Time
Karumba to Karumba Dev Rd & Karumba Point Rd4.62 kmNE33° 8 min
Karumba Dev Rd & Karumba Point Rd to Brannigan Creek, Karumba Dev Rd27.55 kmE90° 22 min
Brannigan Creek, Karumba Dev Rd to Maggieville7.02 kmE85° 5 min
Maggieville to Norman River, Burke Dev Road30.31 kmS200° 22 min
Norman River, Burke Dev Road to Normanton1.51 kmSW239° 4 min
Normanton to Two Mile Swamp19.18 kmSW203° 15 min
Two Mile Swamp to Walkers Bend42.63 kmSW203° 28 min
Walkers Bend to Bang Bang Jump Up48.78 kmSW209° 32 min
Bang Bang Jump Up to The Three Ways Intersection89.01 kmS202° 59 min
The Three Ways Intersection to Terry Smith Lookout101.69 kmS187° 1 hr 7 min
Terry Smith Lookout to Quamby34.5 kmS170° 23 min
Quamby to Cloncurry47.05 kmSE147° 33 min
Cloncurry to McKinlay106.47 kmSE128° 1 hr 12 min
McKinlay to Kynuna Roadhouse76.17 kmSE118° 51 min
Kynuna Roadhouse to Winton Jundah Rd & Landsborough Hwy164.96 kmSE128° 1 hr 52 min
Winton Jundah Rd & Landsborough Hwy to Winton1.01 kmN2 min
Winton to Landsborough Hwy & Thomas Dev Rd177.01 kmSE134° 2 hr
Landsborough Hwy & Thomas Dev Rd to Longreach1.26 kmSE137° 2 min
Longreach to Qantas Outback Museum2.5 kmE84° 5 min
Qantas Outback Museum to Ilfracombe27.1 kmE103° 21 min
Ilfracombe to Barcaldine80.38 kmE95° 55 min
Barcaldine to Blackall106.66 kmS169° 1 hr 13 min
Blackall to Tambo101.84 kmSE123° 1 hr 11 min
Tambo to Landsborough Hwy & Mount Playfield Rd8.59 kmE102° 6 min
Landsborough Hwy & Mount Playfield Rd to Augathella109.15 kmS166° 1 hr 15 min
Augathella to Charleville84.92 kmSW207° 1 hr 1 min
Charleville to Cunnamulla198.96 kmS196° 2 hr 18 min
Cunnamulla to Barringun121.74 kmS178° 1 hr 26 min
Karumba to Barringun1822.57 km  1 day 29 min
Distance is GPS recorded driving distance (not straight line), Direction is straight line from start to end, Time is calculated from actual GPS driving data.

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Travel Journals

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