Mount Isa

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Grey nomads head to the Mount Isa rodeo
Cowboy country ... the Mount Isa rodeo is a big drawcard

For grey nomads travelling the Barkly Highway through Queensland’s rugged interior, Mount Isa more than lives up to its tag as the Oasis of the Outback.

The city of 25,000 or so, nestled among the ochre-red Selwyn Ranges on the banks of the Leichhardt River, makes for quite a sight for road-weary travellers. The tall chimneys of the smelters soar­ing hundreds of metres into the Outback sky identify this as an industrial, mining city many kilometres before visi­tors arrive, but ‘The Isa’ has a beauty all of its own. And there is no shortage of things to do and things to learn for grey nomads eager to under­stand what makes the ‘real’ Australia tick.

When rich deposits of miner­als were discovered here back in 1923, the city quickly grew up around the mine, which still produce high volumes of copper, silver, lead and zinc. Given its geography, it is no surprise that the city has de­veloped a full range of shops and services to cater to the needs of people living on far-flung properties and travellers alike. Naturally, these include a good range of caravan parks.

A great place to get a real sense of ‘The Isa’ is the Hilary Street Lookout which offers 360-degree panoramic views of the city and mine areas.

A visit to the Hard Times Mine is high on the priority lists of most visitors and, al­though they are not cheap, the tours offered here are amaz­ing. After dressing in overalls and putting on cap lamps, visitors descend into the mine in an Alimak Cage. Once deep beneath the earth, guides tell of the challenges and rewards of the tough mining lifestyle, and explain how the minerals are mined.

A lot of thought has gone into how to give tourists a real glimpse into the history and diversity of Mount Isa, and other attractions such as the high-tech ‘Isa Experience’ and the ‘Outback Park’ also offer a unique insight into this amaz­ing part of the world.

Other fascinating places to visit include the Kalkadoon Tribal Council and Cultural Keeping Place to learn about the area’s indigenous heritage; the Underground Hospital which was dug out during WWII in case of bombing; The Royal Flying Doctor Base; and the Riversleigh Fossil Centre where you get a sense of the ancient creatures that roamed the area 25 million years ago.

A little to the north is the man-made Lake Moondarra which is great for swimming, boating, taking a picnic … and landing a barra!

In August, of course, the an­nual ‘Isa Rodeo’ – the biggest in Australia – is the only show in town. The city’s population can treble as a week of fes­tivities, including the Mardis Gras street parade, lead up to the big event.

It’s uniquely Australian, defi­nitely Outback, and packed to the rafters with characters … ‘The Isa’ is exactly what the Big Lap is all about.

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