I love being surprised. It doesn't happen nearly enough; a lot of things in life are pretty predictable. But when I'm surprised and blown away by a new knockout destination, then I do start doing my happy dance. A recent visit to Shandonvale Station got those feet of mine moving something hectic.
Shandonvale lies 65nm north-east of Longreach in central Queensland.This is big sky country with its own share of challenges that come with the territory in the outback, but am I ever glad we found it.
The way the owners describe their property puts you in the picture: "15,000 acres. 4000-6000 sheep, hoards of kangaroos, 140 camels, 20 guardian donkeys, horses, dogs, emus, chickens, pigs, goats, deer and two humans."
Well, I reckon we met all of those, including a bunch of those donkeys who were very definitely on guard duty when we approached a mob of sheep up the yard.
Now let's get on to the two humans. Deon & Lane Stent-Smith are your hosts at Shandonvale, and are the reason you'll want to hang around their property long enough to soak up one of the best experiences on offer in the outback.
Six of us flew in to their airstrip, tidily crafted out of the big old clay pan adjacent the homestead, and hung up the headsets for a couple of days. When you've finished going through my gallery here, you can check out their website here:
Deon and his visiting Dad, Alan, were at the strip to meet us and show us where to tie down, throw our bags in the back of the utes and drive us the two minutes to their homestead. Gathered in the cool of their leafy big breezeway, Lane plied us with cold drinks and from that moment, they set about sharing their lifestyle with us, as much or as little as wanted, for our entire stay.
Between them, Deon and Lane gave us the most hands-on, interactive experience of a typical day in their working life. They are justifiably proud of showcasing their paddock to plate experience, including how to humanely harvest an animal and prepare it for the table. That was absolutely awesome to see.
We tried our luck with some redclaw pots in the nearby waterhole, went target and clay pigeon shooting on their rifle range, mustering in the buggies, helped Lane feed about a dozen different gangs of "pet" creatures in the paddock near the homestead (she knew most of them by name, even the pigs, and most certainly the young emu). There were baby lambs, ducks, goats, chooks ... you name it. I keep thinking what a ball little kids would have out here helping Lane with her daily chore.
Deon put a Polaris buggy at our disposal to get ourselves around the property if we felt like going it alone for a while, and told us where to find good scenic viewing and fishing spots.
I'd tell you about how we had to supervise the sunset with champagne and nibbles in the treetop artesian spa overhanging the river, but I don't want you to all race to the booking sheet and leave no room for us when we go back next year. Actually, I'm serious. We've already planned our 2019 winter safari around a mid-way stay at Shandonvale.
I haven't even mentioned the accommodation yet. THIS will bowl you over!! Deon has renovated the hundred-year-old Shearers' Quarters into the most stylish, luxurious, spacious, comfortable accommodation you could imagine. (Is there ANYTHING this bloke can't do? You should have seen him at the trigger with the clay pigeons. Talk about dead eye dick.) Four queen bedrooms, full kitchen, dining and lounge room with fireplace ... beautiful. They'll take between one and eight guests at a time, and only one group at a time so you have the run of the place.
Each night we joined the family in their homestead for a stunning gourmet meal, cooked by Deon (see what I mean?). The volume of animated conversation didn't falter all evening, both sides of the divide (city & bush) tripping over each other to hear stories and opinions from a totally different lifestyle.
I don't think I need to rave on about it any more. Just hop on out here and experience it for yourself. Meeting people like this on their home soil, is absolutely why I fly.