Get up close and personal with Australian Dinosaurs
Winton is a small country town in the Queensland Outback with some world-class facilities, and in May 2018, my partner and I drove around 1,400 kilometres North West of Brisbane to check these out. For me, a highlight of this journey was being given the opportunity to touch a dinosaur bone that was around 95 million years old. I am still trying to wrap my head around just how long ago that actually is. In many ways, it was a perspective altering experience.
The Dinosaur Stampede National Monument is located inside a building at Lark Quarry Conservation Park, 110 kilometres South West of Winton (access is via the Winton Jundah Road). Sixty-five kilometres of the road is unsealed, so it was slow going in places, but our city car completed the journey with no problems. We allowed ourselves 2 hours to get there and arrived with 15 minutes to spare. The black kites that soared so effortlessly above us along the way, were a wonderful sight to behold, uplifting me with a sense of freedom that lasted for days (a feeling that suddenly vanished when I had to get up early for work the following Monday).
Part of the unsealed road on the way to the Dinosaur Stampede. The clouds of dust we raised behind us were immense, and when cars going in the other direction passed us, the ensuing dust storm made it difficult to see anything at all.
A 45 minute guided tour ($25 per person) included a movie that showed many small dinosaurs running for their lives when a larger dinosaur appeared. What makes this site so special is that no known dinosaur stampedes have been found anywhere else in world. This is not surprising given that conditions need to be 'just right' for anything to be preserved so perfectly over such a long period of time. Having travelled through this vast landscape, I was amazed that the footprints had been discovered at all, and hearing the story of how they were found, identified, and then preserved in this purpose-built building was fascinating.
The Dinosaur Stampede. It is believed that many more footprints are under the unexcavated rock shown here. However, leaving the surface intact is a good way to preserve these tracks.
The museum has 3 guided tours ($55 per person). The 30 minute Collection Room Tour at the Reception Centre involved a guide talking about the various dinosaur bones on display, plus a movie which really brought the dinosaurs to life (this was my second favourite part of the experience).
An incomplete dinosaur skeleton. Finding all the pieces requires a great deal of patience.
The 90 minute Dinosaur Canyon Tour involved boarding a shuttle and travelling 2 kilometres to a canyon where there were great views over the landscape below, and life-sized models of dinosaurs going about their business.
The 30 minute Fossil Laboratory Tour was conducted in a separate building. Staff used magnifying glasses and what looked like dentists' drills to carefully separate bones from what they were encased in. It was here we enjoyed the rare privilege of touching a dinosaur bone from the ancient world.
More detailed information on the Monument and Museum can be found by clicking on the links above. Tickets can be booked online and picked up at either venue. For the tours outlined above, we purchased the WDCOA VIP PASS ($75 per person) which was valid for 2 days.
Flies: We weren't prepared for the flies that descended on us searching for moisture as soon as we got out of the car. Fortunately, we were able to buy nets to wear on our heads (available for $7.50 each at the Museum and the Monument) which made going outside a lot more comfortable. These came in handy when we went on the easy self-guided 700 metre Spinifex Circuit walk at the Dinosaur Stampede National Monument, and the more challenging 1 kilometre Deep Gully Trail near the Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum.
Experienced bushies know how to protect themselves from flies.
Flights: If you are short on time, flights are available between Townsville and Winton via REX (Regional Express) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. QANTAS, Jetstar, and Virgin all have direct flights between Brisbane and Townsville.
Tours: There are number of companies offering guided tours to the places we visited (click on the link above).
The best time of year to visit Winton is in the cooler months between April and September. The highest rainfall is generally during January and February, and roads sometimes close due to flooding.