Written by; Jessica Palmer - Travel With Jess
Who knew gem fossicking in Queensland would be a whole heap of fun? I mean, what kid doesn’t like a treasure hunt? What adult doesn’t secretly like the idea of stumbling over their very own gemstone?
Fossicking for gems in the outback towns of Sapphire and Rubyvale in Queensland is a great way to spent a few days of the school holidays. Better yet, combine your visit with a road trip to the beautiful Carnarvon Gorge like we did!
At the ages of five and three years, my kids often collect ‘special rocks’. I haven’t yet worked out their criteria for ‘special’. They often pick up what looks to be common pieces of road gravel and ask to take it home. It really wasn’t hard to convince them that a holiday fossicking for ‘special sparkly rocks’ would be fun.
The outback sky in Sapphire is a bit of a show off
We had passed by the Central Queensland Gemfields on the way through to Central Australia 18 months earlier. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to stop
and I was really disappointed. Well, I wasn’t disappointed this time! Gem fossicking in Queensland turned out to be a great family activity and as
an added bonus, we were able to do it on a budget (road trip and camper). We even scored 11 tiny gems out of it!
Of course, we didn’t have a clue how to fossick for gems when we first arrived. A morning spent with Fascination Gems on a Tag-A-Long fossicking tour soon had us up to speed.
There are plenty of places that can show you the ropes in Rubyvale or Sapphire, but we went with this particular Tag-A-Long tour as you stay as long as you like, and you get to keep everything you find. There were no extra costs, and all equipment and expert tuition was supplied. All we needed to bring was our own sandwiches and drinks.
Mr Five happily doing some manual hard labour. There were kiddy sized picks but he insisted on using the one his dad used.
I loved that this was a casual tour where you just leave when you’ve had enough. Miss Three is at an age where she is still fairly spirited (cough…awful)
when she gets tired, so I didn’t want to be tied to a schedule in case it all went pear shaped. She loved it so much that she happily shoveled dirt
for 2.5 hours before she started picking fights with her older brother.
Around mid-day it starting going something like this, “Muuuuum, Ripley is looooooking at me!” and, “Muuuum, Ripley went fiiiiiiiirst”. Imagine this in a loud whiny tone with a fair amount of foot stomping. This is why I try to avoid being tied to a schedule.
Mr Five and Miss Three sharing the workload
Not long after, we called it quits and were the proud owners of a handful of tiny gems and the knowledge of how to do it ourselves!
A nap and an ice-cream sorted out our youngest member’s mood. We checked out the town, watched amused as a herd of cows wondered down the main street, and even fit in a leisurely stroll along the dry river bed behind our caravan park.
From the elderly couple in the huge bus beside us who stay here three months out of every year, to the lady we met buying ice-creams who purchased a mining
lease to retire on. Everyone here has a story, and it’s worth taking the time to strike up a conversation with both the local residents and visitors
to hear of their gemstone discoveries.
If you do strike it lucky in the gemfields, there are a few options in town for having your gem cut and made into a unique piece of jewelry.
Our reward for a morning spent gem fossicking in Queensland
Now that we were officially experts, we took a small sieve and bucket of water down to the currently dry Retreat Creek. One tiny green gem was discovered
on the first bucket, and then a whole lot of nice round river rocks and small quartz chunks for the next hour. At least now we can swap the gravel
in the special rock bucket under Mr Five’s bed with some nicer specimens!
There is more to do here than just digging around in the dirt or the dry sandy creek. You can tour an underground sapphire mine, check out one of the many local gems shops, observe the night sky at the observatory (or even from the dry creek bed like we did), or enjoy the local hospitality at one of the cafes.
You are more than welcome to visit any time of course! However, It gets pretty hot in outback Queensland so it’s worth considering visiting in Winter.
Even though Winter is technically peak season in Rubyvale and Sapphire, it’s really not crowded. Peak season in outback Queensland is nothing like peak season on the coast. The roads are far from busy and there is no waiting in line….anywhere. Unless you count one or two people in front of you at the convenience store. The days are sunny and pleasant, and the nights are cool but not freezing.
The June school holidays is really a lovely time to visit and the kids are guaranteed to find a few other kids to play with! I would suggest booking accommodation before you leave just in case though.
You need a license to do gem fossicking in Queensland. Don’t worry though, it’s really cheap. Information on how to get one can be found here on the QLD Government Website.
If you join the tag-a-long tour with fascination gems, they take care of it for you for the day.
We stayed at the Blue Gem Tourist Park in Sapphire as we were travelling with our Jayco Swan Camper. This
park is a caravan park but has a couple of cabins, a small shop with the lot, and clean facilities. It’s located on the banks of Retreat Creek in which
you can also try your luck at finding gems. We found one!
If we were to stay in hotel/motel type accommodation, I would stay at the Rubyvale Motel and Holiday Units as it has a cool observatory (the outback night sky is magnificent), a pool, and is within walking distance of fossicking sites.