15 things to do in Emerald (Australia)

This rural town sits in the Central Highlands of Queensland, just on the eastern edge of the vast sapphire-producing region.

Many names around Emerald are derived from gemstones, such as Rubyvale and Sapphire Central, while to the east is Queensland’s coal mining capital, Blackwater.

Indulge in gem hunting and coal mining by visiting the Sapphire Gem Mine and Blackwater.

As for Emerald, the town’s 19th century development was fueled by the arrival of the railroad and has always been associated with crops such as cotton, various grains and citrus.

The town has an extraordinary botanical garden on the banks of the Nogoya River, and there are two not-to-be-missed national parks in the Minerva Mountains and Blackdown Plateau.

1. Emerald Botanical Garden

Emerald Botanical Garden

Emerald is 10 kilometers from the tropics of Capricornus, so if you’re from a more temperate part of the world, it’s well worth seeing the variety of plants and trees in your home at this latitude.

Emerald Botanic Gardens underwent new landscaping and infrastructural improvements in 2017, giving you a beautifully tabbed overview of the various biomes surrounding the Central Highlands region.

There are 12 different themed plant communities, as well as well-preserved historic windmills and various public art pieces.

Stroll the 42 acres of gravel and poured concrete trails and stop by the Nogoa River that flows through the park.

On top of that, there are also exercise equipment, BBQs and free camping areas near the entrance.

2. Minerva Mountains National Park

Minerva Mountains National Park

South of Emerald, outside Springsure, are the remains of an Oligocene hotspot volcano, set in a rugged landscape of volcanic peaks, sheer cliffs and canyons.

Mount Minerva National Park rises sharply above Springsure, with four lookouts overlooking the town in this weather-beaten basalt mountain.

A prominent peak in the park is Mount Zamia, and on the side facing the town is a rock formation known as the “Virgin Rock” because of its resemblance to the Virgin Mary and the Child.

The figures are illuminated at night and can be seen via the 1.6km Skyline Lookout trail, which also gives you a clear view of the fertile agricultural area between Springsure and Emerald.

3. Fairbairn Dam (Lake Malabu)

Fairbairn Dam and Lake Malabu

Immediately south-west of Emerald is a reservoir with a capacity three times the size of Sydney Harbour.

The dam to store the Nogoa River was started in 1968 and completed four years later, mainly for agricultural irrigation, but also as a drinking water supply.

Fairbairn Dam is well known in the fishing community for bass, silver bass, Mary River cod, barramundi, and South Saratoga, as well as many other species that are not stocked.

For non-anglers, there are no boating restrictions and a variety of water sports are available, while on shore you can take advantage of designated swimming areas, picnic/barbecue spaces, and stunning views overlooking the lake and the dam spillway.

4. Van Gogh’s Sunflower Painting

Van Gogh's Sunflower Painting

Australia is a country of ‘big things’, with huge novelty sculptures erected as attractions for small tourists to celebrate local pride.

The most important thing about Emerald is a huge easel, 25 meters high and made of 13.6 tons of steel.

The image on the “Canvas” is a vivid reproduction of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (1889), the original of which hangs by Van Gogh.

This relates to the expansive sunflower fields in the Central Highlands, made in 1999 by Canadian artist Cameron Cross. This is part of an international project to erect seven sunflower sculptures in seven countries, each sculpture representing a sunflower still life made by van Gogh 1888-89. Emerald’s painting of sunflowers is the second of three to date.

5. Sapphire Gem Field

Sapphire Gem Field, Ruby Valley

One of the largest sapphire producing areas on earth, spread over approximately 900 square kilometers, just a few steps west of the Emerald City.

Sapphire Gemfields encompasses multiple towns including Rubyvale, Anakie Siding, Sapphire Central and Willows Gemfields, with plenty to do.

On top of course are the many gem shops and galleries, some of which have skilled gem cutters and jewelers who can help you create one-of-a-kind pieces.

If you want to try mining and sifting your own gems, there are also 9 spaces in Gemfields designated for gold panning (license required).

For more expert advice, you can take a guided gold panning tour, or head to a gold panning park where the excavation has been done for you, and you can start sifting for sapphires and zircon right away.

6. Emerald Historic Railway Station

Emerald Historical Railway Station

The railway was responsible for Emerald’s development in the late 19th century, and the palatial National Trust station is one of the town’s finest heritage sites.

When the Midwest Railroad passed Rockhampton in 1879, Emerald was identified as the junction of spur lines that continued to run to Clermont and Springsoul.

The neoclassical station building (1900) is not to be missed on the central portico on Clermont Street, complete with intricate ironwork and two winged pavilions with elegant awnings.

7. Jade Art Museum

art gallery

To experience the Central Heights art scene, the Emerald Art Gallery is an impressive space that hosts high-quality exhibitions, workshops, lectures and competitions.

The region’s premier award, the Central Highlands Regional Council Annual Arts Awards, is held here every August.

Since the early 1970s, this winning award has also helped to form the basis for a growing collection of oil or acrylic art on canvas.

Check out the calendar for solo exhibitions by leading Queensland artists, tours to major Australian institutions, and showcase talent from and around the Emerald District in a variety of media.

8. Ruby Valley Observatory

Ruby Valley Observatory

The remote setting of Sapphire Gemfields has zero light pollution, making it a great place to view the night sky.

Even with the naked eye, you can make out stars, nebulae, planets and moons with rare clarity.

So imagine what it would be like to study Gemfields’ skies through powerful telescopes.

You can do just that at Rubyvale Motel & Holiday Units, which features a professional-quality observatory.

At the observatory session, you’ll start with a naked-eye overview, then go inside to see the universe through the 14-inch Meadschmidt Cassegrain Telescope from Mick, the man who built the facility from scratch.

9. Emerald Aquatic Centre

water slide

Open from September to March, Emerald has a public outdoor pool that is the envy of most towns.

The Emerald Aquatic Centre is equipped with a variety of facilities, including a 50m international standard swimming pool, a 25m heated swimming pool, a shaded splash pad for the little ones and a slide complex that includes three state-of-the-art waterslides at different speeds .

The entire center was overhauled in the 2010s and features shady grass for a picnic, making for a superb day out for families.

10. Central Highlands Visitor Information Centre

Visitor Information

Needless to say, Emerald is in a remote location, so if you’re heading to national parks, remote towns and mining areas, you need to be prepared.

Licenses and permits are also required for many activities, such as fishing and gold panning, making the visitor information center an essential stop.

Get tailored itineraries, brochures, maps and first-hand advice from people familiar with the Central Highlands.

Grab a hot drink or ice cream and use free Wi-Fi as you chart your next move.

11. Blackdown Plateau National Park

blackdown plateau national park

East of Emerald, about a third of the way to Rockhampton, is a national park that protects a large landscape in the Central Highlands.

The sandstone plateau here rises 900 meters above the surrounding plains.

At this altitude, the climate is more temperate, and in this fern-lined canyon, heathland, and forest grow some flora and fauna that you won’t find anywhere else.

Streams that cross the plateau plunge into canyons at places like the wondrous Rainbow Falls.

This is the traditional home of the Ghungalu people, whose rock art decorates the walls of the entire park.

Trails pass through those rare flora to interesting rock art sites and wonderful lookouts, where you can spend an evening or two in the bush at the Munal camping area.

12. Blackwater International Coal Center

Blackwater International Coal Center

To the east of Emerald, at the gateway to the Central Highlands, lies the town of Blackwater, which became Queensland’s coal capital in the 20th century.

Coal mining peaked in the 1970s but remains a major employer with 6 huge open pit mines and 1 underground mine.

If industrial heritage piques your interest, the Blackwater International Coal Centre is a showcase for the entire Australian coal industry.

The museum has a variety of interactive exhibits and models explaining the past and present of the coal mine, combined with a highly detailed timeline up to 50 meters long.

There’s also some huge mining equipment to inspect, and you can book a tour of a functioning open pit mine to see this oversized machine in action.

Back at the center is a Japanese garden where you can enjoy a moment of tranquility.

13. Old Rainworth Fort

Old Rainforth Fort Worth

Drive along the Gregory Highway and you’ll arrive at this charming settlement heritage just outside the town of Springsur.

Old Fort Rainworth, built in 1862, is surviving evidence of violent clashes between pastoralists and the local Kari who attacked a pastoral area in nearby Coolingo in 1861, killing 19 people. Designed to provide a safe, fire-resistant haven from raids, the solid blockhouse is made of basalt, brick and mortar, with a corrugated iron roof.

Equipped with period items, the property is managed by two older women, Coleen and Lorna, who have extensive knowledge of the nomadic history of central Queensland.

14. Emerald Golf Club


Nestled on a long parcel of land hugging the Nogoa River, Emerald Golf Club is a well-regarded public course with beautiful scenery.

The 18 holes are surrounded by natural forests, lush with rhododendrons, ferns and rhododendrons, while abundant water sources offer a variety of interesting hazards.

Confident players can enter two different tournaments, one on weekdays and one on weekends, for a chance to win prizes.

You can rent all the necessary equipment from the pro shop, and there is also a bistro serving cold drinks and satisfying sips.

15. Vicky Peters Park


Parents of energetic kids in town need only check out this revamped park in the Emerald South.

Fully fenced and equipped with shade sails, the playground at Vicki Peters Park was upgraded in 2019 after extensive community input.

The equipment includes slides, swings and climbing frames for all abilities, clad in soft fall tiles and set in grassy spaces with trees and seating.

Where to Stay: Australia’s Emerald Best Hotel
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