The town of Emerald in Queensland’s Central Highlands region is probably best known as the gateway to the area’s gemfields.
Lying on the Nogoa River, Emerald itself is attractive enough with good services and a number of top attractions, but it is gem fever which draws most grey nomads to this dream-filled neck of the woods.
The gemfields are a 45-minute drive to the west and smaller towns like Rubyvale, Sapphire, and Anakie are set up to stir up the fossicker within us all. Anakie also hosts the annual ‘Gemfest – Festival of Gems’ every August.
There is an abundance of gemshops, galleries and
jewellers throughout the area but, sooner or later, most nomads want to get down and dirty by either taking a guided tour of a walk-in underground mine or by hitting the fossicking fields. There’s free camping out on the fields and you’ll normally find a bunch of real characters out there searching for the ‘big one’.
If you’re heading out to the likes of ‘Graves Hill’, ‘Big Bessie’ and ‘Middle Ridge’ in search of your fortune in sapphires, you’ll need a sieve, a pick, plenty of water and a stack of determination … because many novices find the novelty can wear off after the first few fruitless hours!
If you’re one of the unlucky ones you might just have to be content with a photo of yourself next to the ‘Big Pick and Shovel’. If, on the other hand, you do strike it rich and want a place to celebrate, it’s the bright lights of Emerald that beckon.
With a population of around 10,000, Emerald was established in 1879 as a base for the building of the railway. It’s conveniently situated on the junction of the Capricorn and Gregory highways, and lies just below the Tropic of Capricorn.
Among its leading attractions is Fairbairn Dam, just to the south. Opened in 1972, the dam allowed for the significant expansion of agriculture across the region, and large-scale coal mining within the Bowen Basin started soon afterward. The associated Lake Maraboon, which covers an area of up to 150 km², is stocked with eight different kinds of fish including barramundi, but is most famed for the Red Claw Crayfish.
Emerald was once a major sunflower producer and is now home to the world’s biggest Van Gogh sunflower painting on an easel. The 25-metre structure is made of 13.6 tonnes of steel.
After sunflowers, Red Claw and gemstones, many grey nomads just enjoy a stroll through the town’s impressive botanic gardens, the Japanese Gardens or a look at the historic railway station.
With camping available on the gemfields, and in caravan parks around the smaller towns, as well as Emerald itself, there’s plenty besides the promise of instant riches to keep grey nomads in this fascinating area.