Experience Mount Isa – where everyday is extraordinary
Driving towards the City of Mount Isa in North West Queensland, the sky is tinged with hues of pink and gold. On either side of the highway the spinifex covered hills glow deep ochre in the warmth of the outback sunset. One minute you are overwhelmed by the magnificence of this seemingly never ending ancient landscape. The next, the tranquil horizon is punctuated by the icons of industry – the Xstrata Mount Isa Mines lead and copper stacks.
Once visible, these imposing towers appear to guide you into the city – an ever present reminder of Mount Isa’s reason for being – and the economic vitality the mining industry has brought to the city. Yet while they may dominate the skyline, they are no longer the dominating urban myth which defined Mount Isa for many years. As if in defiance of this ‘industrial’ tag, the spectacular natural wonders that surround the city are increasingly becoming the drawcard for those looking for a unique and exciting experience in the great outdoors.
The magnificent Lake Moondarra, approximately 20 minutes drive for the CBD is a must see. Once you get over the sheer astonishment at seeing such a vast expanse of water in the middle of the outback you are drawn into the tranquillity of the place. There are picnic areas at the water’s edge where you can just sit and relax, have a BBQ, stretch your legs along the walking path, or take a dip to cool off.
If pure relaxation is not what you are after, try your hand at catching a Moondarra Barra, the legendary metre long barramundi the lake is famous for. Once in the city, you shouldn’t go past the award winning Outback at Isa. Not only the local tourist information centre, but it is home to some fascinating and unique attractions of its own.
The Isa Experience Gallery captures the very essence of Mount Isa and its colourful history. Listen to the amazing stories of the pioneering men and women who faced the ongoing problems of heat, floods, distance and cultural difference to build Australia’s first company town.
Enter the prehistoric world in the Riversleigh Fossil Centre. Explore the rainforests and caves of yesteryear, learn about the amazing creatures that once inhabited our majestic country, or join a lab tour and be amazed at the millions of years of history being uncovered before your eyes.
If there is one thing you must do while you are in Mount Isa it is take a journey underground at Hard Times Mine. It is like entering a surreal fantasy world and you are there, not as a spectator, but as a participant.
Dressed in authentic miners gear, right down to the cap lamps, you enter the mine in a cage (miner’s term for something resembling an elevator), make your way further underground by mule (small train) and explore the world of underground mining with a tour guide who has worked in the real Mount Isa mine for most of his life.
It’s an amazing experience sitting in the crib (lunch) room while a replicated explosion penetrates through your earmuffs to the depths of your imagination, so much so that you can almost feel the walls around you trembling from the blast.
You’ll witness massive mining machinery in simulated action, vibrating every muscle in your body, and get to try your hand drilling into a stope (rockface) with an enormous pneumatic rock drill.
While pushing the machine, a Silver Three into a pre drilled hole, it’s not hard to imagine miners having to wrestle this cumbersome weight for an entire shift of eight to 12 hours. Fortunately innovation has meant that this technology has been superceded by gigantic drilling machines which can, in an hour, do what would have taken teams of men days, if not weeks.
If you feel you have spent enough time in the dark after your Hard Times Mines experience and are craving some time in the great outdoors, the Fossicking Way Scenic Drive between Cloncurry and Mount Isa, is an adventurers’ paradise offering an abundance of opportunities to explore the heart and soul of North West Queensland.
Take the time to get off the beaten track and experience a number of unique attractions and significant historical sites offering an insight into the history of the region, and the people who shaped it.
Explore ghost towns like Mary Kathleen, a once thriving mining township which is now a testament to nature’s quick reclamation of land, or try your hand at fossicking along the Malbon-Duchess drive.
Get in touch with the rich spiritual history of the region’s traditional owners, the Kalkadoon tribe, by visiting the Kalkadoon Memorial, and Sunrock Waterhole with its distinctive indigenous paintings.
A couple of days will never be enough to really get a feel for Mount Isa or visit and explore all the attractions the city, and the region, has to offer, so make sure you plan for at least a week based in the city, and extra time to travel into the gulf to visit Lawn Hill (Budjamulla) National Park and Karumba.
Take along your camera as there are photo opportunities everywhere. Spectacular landscapes, unique experiences, native animals and outback ambience, but it is the mesmerising sunsets that really take your breath away.
If anything, the experience of driving into Mount Isa at sunset is symbolic of the nature of the city itself – an enigmatic city of contrasts, where everyday really does have the potential to be extraordinary.
For more information on Mouut Isa's attractions visit www.mountisa.qld.gov.au.