I am always looking out for new experiences, wherever I may find myself.
Published March 4th 2016
The small town of Yowah is located between Thargomindah and Cunnumulla along the Opal Way in south west Queensland. It has a permanent population of around 60 people, but it can get into the hundreds during winter when tourists arrive to try their luck at finding some of the precious gemstone.
For this reason, Yowah reminded me a bit of the old goldrushes; the idea that people used to flock there, set up temporary lives, and try to find their fortune, or at least eke out a living. But fortunately, Yowah is much more modern, though some of its facilities are only recent, like the TV reception.
The opal fossicking here is particularly popular for holidayers, because amateurs can have a go in an easily accessible, free public fossicking site where there is still untouched ground and money can be made (general Queensland fossicking permits still need to be bought online however, but they're very cheap).
For the best results in these places, you need to do some digging. Machinery isn't required, but you'll need some kind of pick and the patience to keep going until you get down to the particular layer where the Yowah nuts have formed. These are a type of opal specific to this area and consist of opal found inside ironstone nodules.
There are still untouched spots in the fossicking area
People who don't want to dig (like me) can still find opal by noodling (looking through the rubble on the surface leftover from previous digs). This isn't just done out in the fossicking areas, but in town too, where the serious fossickers and miners have taken their most promising finds home to look at and then discarded what they don't want. You can find piles to look through by going for a drive and looking for signs or just asking the locals.
One of best spots I found was outside Yowah's artesian spa, which is another main attraction here. The spa uses water from the Great Artesian Basin (the underground river beneath a quarter of the continent) which is full of minerals and quite good for you when you sit around in it. It's open for only a few hours a day, from 2.00pm.
Yowah feels like the middle of nowhere, but it's close enough to nearby (larger) towns that you can visit them while you stay here. Cunnamulla is the largest neighbour and offers a few things to do, like the Fella Centre and Walk along the Warrego. It also has a supermarket and petrol station (Yowah does have petrol, but it's only for people staying at the caravan park). The smaller Eulo, between the two towns, offers mud baths.
In the other direction, to the west, is Lake Bindegolly (unfortunately dry and barren when I was out here) and then Thargomingah, another place to get petrol and groceries (you can get the basics in Yowah though).
In terms of accommodation, most people who visit Yowah are caravaners, who have two sites to choose from. There's the Artesian Waters Caravan Park, where you've got showers, toilets and a laundry or a free caravan park, where a gold coin donation can get you toilets and showers. I definitely recommend Artesian Waters though. It even has a series of cabins.
This place really is unlike anywhere else; you can open your door and find cattle wandering the street (Yowah is interestingly located within a huge working station). Goats, kangaroos and emus are seen frequently too.
Getting to Yowah is easier than you expect. Though it takes a while, since the town is far from where most people call home, the road from Cunnamulla has recently been sealed (so it doesn't actually take as long as things like Google Maps suggest).