I decided to spend the October long weekend visiting my sister and her husband in Emerald, which is about 3 hours west of Rockhampton. I haven’t been to visit them in over 2 years (as they are regularly on the coast to visit me) so, as any good resident of a town should do, they took me to see some of the “touristy” things.
One of the biggest tourist attractions in the Emerald area is the Sapphire gemfields. Sapphire, Anakie and Rubyvale are townships about 40 minutes drive west of Emerald, and are home to the largest sapphire fields in the Southern Hemisphere. They are also one of the main tourist attractions in the area.
Because the shops are often attached to mines (current or retired) the gemfields are quite sprawled out. However, the roads are excellent (good job Central Highlands Council) so driving is easy.
Every town has its traditions, and I found out on this trip that the residents of the gemfields (or “gemmies” to the locals) are generally looked down upon as being a bit bogan. You can see why – many live in caravans or variants of caravans, and this certainly makes driving around interesting. I’m told many residents have been there since the boom days of the 70s and 80s, staying because of the easy going life and cheap living.
I find that all of this actually contributes to a place that reminds me a little of Route 66 in the USA. The kitschiness and quirkiness is along the same lines, which makes for, if nothing else, interesting photos! Rather ironic, given that it is just off the Capricorn Highway which used to be officially called Route 66 until it was rather boringly renamed the A3 Highway in the early 2000s.
To go with Australia’s love of BIG THINGS, there is the big ring, the big spanner and the big pick and sieve. All great photo opportunities!
We started at Miners Heritage Walk in Mine, which is actually in Rubyvale, just west of Sapphire. Here you can actually go down into an old underground mine for $20. I was a bad travel blogger here and chickened out, as I am not a big fan of going underground. The tour guide informed us it was 48 steps down, which is just enough to activate my claustrophobia. She also informed us it was 48 steps back up again – thanks for that.
At many of the stores, including Miners Heritage, you can also purchase a bag of wash and have a go and fossicking for gems. At most places you are guaranteed to get not only a gem in your bag, but a cut one at that. Nothing like an authentic pioneer experience! Again, I didn’t partake in this particular activity, as I have turned my hand to this before, and it is much more fun when you are a child who doesn’t realise that stones have been intentionally placed there for you to find. If you do find a stone, you can purchase a setting to place it in at the shop. Or you could just purchase one of the beautiful pieces already made up, and trust me, there were plenty to choose from.
We stopped for lunch at the Rubyvale Pub “The New Royal Hotel”. The food was pretty good, and most people would be very happy to learn it was air conditioned. Being away from the coast, it is a hot and dry climate. This September has already made it to 40 degrees several times, so summer out here would be a scorcher.
We visited several other jewellery shops along the way. You can buy everything from about $10 (usually only sterling silver with semi-precious stones like peridot or amethyst) up to thousands of dollars. If you aren’t in the market for jewellery, it is still very interesting. For example, did you know that sapphires come in a range of colours, not just blue? They can also be yellow, green, red (which is called a ruby, but is actually just a red sapphire) or a mix of colours called parti coloured? Or that the only substance harder than a sapphire is a diamond?
There are also many options for accommodation at the gemfields. I have heard good things about the caravan parks. The tourist brochure boasts everything from “1 to 4 stars”. As I have family so conveniently close I cannot really comment on this, although I did see some guest cottages (which looked quite nice from the outside) with an observatory (the kind with a really big telescope) attached. I’m not sure if this is open to tourists, but given that the western skies are a long way from interfering lights, this would likely be quite a sight. The night sky to the naked eye is spectacular on its own!
The gemfields may be a bit out of the way, but they are certainly worth a visit. They are, at the very least, unique!