Fossicking (or searching) for gems and rocks has to be one of the best travel activities to do with kids in Australia – and Mt Hay, located in central QLD about 30 minutes from Rockhampton, is definitely one of our favourite places to do it.
The reasons that we love fossicking are simple – we’re all outdoors in the fresh air and sunshine, the kids get to dig through rocks and make as much mess as they want, and there is the excitement of finding treasure along the way!
Another huge advantage for our family is that the fossicking destinations that we have visited have all been dog-friendly – meaning that our dog Bobby has been able to tag along and help us dig!
So far we have fossicked for sapphires, petrified wood, opals, dinosaur fossils, gold (watch out for our Family Fossicking Guide to QLD coming soon) and last but not least – thundereggs – definitely one of the most exciting of the lot!
Thundereggs are Go!
Before we go any further let me explain what a thunder egg is – if you’ve not heard of them (as I hadn’t before arriving in Mt Hay) you could be forgiven for thinking that they were the unhatched offspring of prehistoric chickens, or balls of granite created by super storms in the distant past.
Although delightful theories neither one is correct, a Thunderegg is, in fact, a remnant of old volcanic activity. The scientific part of my brain has never fully developed (the right side of my brain is in constant control – explaining why I have such a vivid imagination and why I still can’t understand how aeroplanes stay in the air) so I’ll let the experts at Mt Hay explain it for you –
“Mt. Hay is the remains of an extinct ancient volcano, which was last active about 120 million years ago. When it was a rumbling volcano millions of gas bubbles were present in the molten rhyolite lava …. it is these gas ‘pockets’ that became thundereggs. Thundereggs or volcanic birthstones are the result of these “pockets” filling with siliceous liquids containing impurities and trace elements, which crystallize as they cool, and when cut in half, reveal many different colours and patterns.” Don, Owner, MT Hay Gemstone Tourist Park
The team at Mt Hay excavate giant heaps of thunderegg bearing material from their mine and transport it up to the all-ages fossicking area – which is a safe section of the park where you can dig for your own thundereggs. There is always fresh earth being brought up to the site from the mine so there are always new treasures to find.
Fossicking Family Fun
When we arrived we were given a brief introduction to the geological formations and what we were looking for, and given picks and buckets (they boys were SO excited to be given their own child-size picks to use!) Then it was straight out to the fossicking site where, under the expert guidance of Don, we were shown what to look for and how to recognise a thunderegg.
The fossicking site was great for the whole family – us parents got to have a dig in the stones as the kids worked away in their own areas – it’s a large open site with hills of rocks for the kids to climb and stunning views over the surrounding bushland – with the kids always in view. We were even lucky enough to be there when Don was bringing up fresh material from the mine so the boys got to watch the digger in action!
At first, we weren’t sure what we were finding but once we’d got the hang of it we found loads of thundereggs. We spent hours digging, playing and exploring the whole site – there is also a rock garden to walk around and hundreds of beautiful gems, creations and minerals to admire in the gift shop. They also sell cold drinks and ice creams to cool down, and there is an awesome retro swing set for the kids to enjoy at the entrance!
The Beauty Within
After you’ve collected as many thundereggs as you can carry you now bring them back to the shop for the really exciting bit! As if finding the eggs themselves isn’t thrilling enough – you now get to choose 2 of your treasures and the staff will open them on their industrial cutting wheel for you – revealing the beauty inside! We had some amazing finds – one of our eggs had amethyst inside as well as a pocket of sparkling crystal deposits!
Camping at Mt Hay
We are so glad that we decided to stay at Mt Hay – not only are the campsites large with beautiful views over the surrounding bushland, staying the night also gives you the opportunity to fossick throughout the whole day. We took frequent breaks back to the bus for snacks, lunch or just a break – and they also have hot showers to wash away the dust at the end of the day. There are lots of campfire spots and firewood too so we had a lovely evening toasting marshmallows and admiring our treasures.
Mt Hay Gemstone Tours
To fossick at Mt Hay – including all tools, safety glasses and 2 eggs cut – costs $25 per adult, $15 per child (aged 5-17) and $5 for under 5s. They also offer family rates.
There is also a full guided tour which includes the fossicking as above, viewing of the gemstone cutting and polishing operations as well as a tour of the pewter workshop following the journey from raw materials to finished product.
Rates for the guided tour are $35 for adults, $20 for children (5-17), and $5 for under 5s – allow 1-2 hours for this experience.
Enclosed shoes must be worn.
Watch our video below for all the highlights!