BEV MALZARD reveals the top places to delight dinosaur-obsessed youngsters around Australia
Australia is fertile ground for finding fossils. Many species of dinosaurs and other huge and fierce animals (on land and from the sea) roamed the land millions of years ago, so trying to wrap your head around the timeline while gazing upon a big, flat dinosaur footprint can spin you out. Interest in the extinct creatures is not confined to kids – adults are often just as intrigued and curious about their history. The best ways to quell the dinosaur desire are to see curated exhibitions with detailed information, or go to the source and walk in the footprints (walk around please) of the fossils. These are some of the best museums and sites around Australia for a prehistoric encounter.
1. Australian Dinosaur Trail, Outback Queensland
For fossil finders and dinosaur devotees, follow in the footsteps of giants on Queensland’s trail. The Outback triangle links the historic towns of Hughenden, Richmond and Winton, which are home to some of the world’s best preserved dinosaur fossils. In Winton, smack bang in the middle of Queensland, head to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum, a 30-minute drive from town along the Landsborough Highway. Enjoy the guided tours of the fossil preparation laboratory, collection room and Dinosaur Canyon with life-sized replicas. Kids aged 12 or older can also join in, becoming amateur fossil hunters in the three-day prep-a-dino program.
Lark Quarry Conservation Park (220km return from Winton) is the site of 4000 dinosaur footprints and home of the only known record of a dinosaur stampede that occurred 90 million years ago. Time your trip to join one of the guided tours which depart at 10am, 12pm, and 2pm, and make sure you take cash, or pay ahead of time, at the Winton Visitor Information Centre.
From Winton to Hughenden is 215km. On arrival, drop by the dino-focused Flinders Discovery Centre. Hughie, a 7m statue cast from the bones of a Muttaburrasaurus, is the star attraction here, joined by a handful of other family-friendly dinosaur-focused activities. But your day needn’t be spent completely indoors — you can also choose to get better acquainted with the rugged region with a trip out to its neighbour, the 500-million-year-old Porcupine Gorge National Park. Stay at the Hughenden Allen Terry Caravan Park, which has an adjoining pool and skate park.
2. Broome and the Kimberley, Western Australia
The Kimberley is one of the few places in the world where there is a strong link between dinosaur tracks and Indigenous creation stories and is the only place in Australia that has sauropod tracks. These creatures had long necks and tails, small heads and four thick pillar-like legs, and includes the largest animals ever to live on land.
The tracks of up to seven different dinosaur species from the Cretaceous period, including sauropods, ornithopods and stegosaurus, have been verified from Gantheaume Point in Broome to James Price Point on the Dampier Peninsula. At low tide, footprints can be seen around Cable Beach, Gantheaume Point and Reddell Beach in Broome.
The tracks are integral to a ‘song cycle’ that extends along the coast from Bunginygun (Swan Point) in Cape Leveque to Wabana (Cape Bossut, near La Grange), then inland to the south-east, over a distance of almost 450km, tracing the journey of a Dreamtime creature known as Marala or ‘Emu Man’.
3. Australian Museum, Sydney, NSW
Walk amongst real dinosaur skeletons and life-size models, and see the fossil teeth, skulls, and claws of dinosaurs at the Australian Museum in Sydney. With its interactive displays you can smell the Mesozoic world, make dinosaur calls, and even see the world from a dinosaur’s perspective. Don’t miss the world’s first anatomically correct model of a T-Rex – a dissected 11m-long replica created for the documentary, T-Rex Autopsy, donated to the Museum by National Geographic.
4. National Dinosaur Museum, Canberra, ACT
Located at Gold Creek Village, the National Dinosaur Museum houses life-like dinosaur models, full skeletons, skulls, and robotic dinosaurs. The museum’s experienced and enthusiastic staff host guided tours of the exhibitions, which run for 30 minutes and are tailored to suit children and adults of all ages. The interactive area is a great space for kids to make fossil rubbings, complete colouring-in activities and touch real minerals. The museum and gift shop also houses Canberra’s largest display of crystals and minerals.
5. Bunurong Coastal Drive, Victoria
The Bunurong Coastal Drive stretches from the town of Cape Paterson to Inverloch. The first dinosaur bone to be discovered in Australia, the ‘Cape Paterson Claw’, was found in this area in 1903. Enthusiastic paleontologists can go fossicking at the Dinosaur Dreaming site near Flat Rocks at low tide, where thousands of bones, teeth and footprints from small dinosaurs have since been found. The Bunurong Environment Centre also offers dinosaur dig tours.
6. Dinosaur Valley, Scenic World, NSW Blue Mountains
Discover dozens of life-sized dinosaurs as you meander along the rainforest, below the soaring cliffs of the Jamison Valley, at Scenic World in the NSW Blue Mountains while a ‘dinosaur ranger’ shares fascinating facts about the prehistoric creatures during this event, on until February 27, 2022.
7. Eromanga Natural History Museum, Queensland
See the bones of titanosaur sauropods Cooper and George, the largest dinosaurs ever to be found in Australia, at the Eromanga Natural History Museum. Around 1000km west of Brisbane in south-west Queensland, the museum’s guides have an in-depth knowledge of fossil hunting and will demonstrate how archaeologists expose fossilised bone using specialised tools. You can stay onsite at Cooper’s Country Lodge.
8. Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum, Bathurst, NSW
The collection at this museum contains more than 5,000 objects, with the centrepiece being a Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton, a large collection of fossils in amber and unique Australian opalised fossils. It is the permanent home of the Somerville Collection, with some of the rarest specimens of mineral crystals and fossils from around the world.