If you’re looking for a totally unique experience for kids and adults alike, embark on a Rubyvale sapphire fossicking adventure in The Gemfields – you won’t be disappointed! You will find this little pocket located about four hours west of Rockhampton, nestled in Central Queensland.
There are many ways to experience Rubyvale fossicking, from going to a Gemfields fossicking park, to taking a tag-along tour out into the dedicated fossicking lands. Either way, you’re guaranteed to walk away with a bag of sapphires to take home and might even find the big one for a piece of jewellery.
Before you even turn off the Capricorn Highway and head in towards the towns of Rubyvale and Sapphire, you will be inundated with signs for all sorts of shops and experiences.
“Visit Bobby Dazzler,” “Take the Underground Mine Tour” and “Come and see Pats Gems!”
Where do you even begin?
This full guide to Sapphire and Rubyvale fossicking within The Gemfields will take you through everything you need to know.
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Where to Find Sapphires in The Gemfields, QLD
There are a range of ways to obtain Sapphires in The Gemfields, with fossicking being just one avenue. In fact, it would be pretty difficult to leave The Gemfields without a Sapphire in your pocket!
To search for gold or gemstones typically by picking them over abandoned workings.
Here are all the different ways to find Sapphires in The Gemfields, Central QLD.
Gemfields Fossicking Parks
The easiest way to find sapphires in Rubyvale is at one of The Gemfields Fossicking Parks. Every fifth property has a spot out the front where you can do this – you won’t have any trouble finding one!
Inside any of The Gemfields Fossicking Parks, you can buy a bucket of wash for $10 – $20. From there, the friendly staff will walk you through the entire fossicking process.
Pretty well everyone guarantees that you will find gems in their bags/ buckets, in fact, they make sure of it. There’s no need to worry about walking away empty-handed.
Some of the caravan parks also have on-site fossicking, which makes it super convenient for travellers.
If the bucket of wash you’re going through has clay in it, then you know it’s genuine wash from a mine that hasn’t been previously sorted or tampered with – that’s the stuff you want!
Gemfields Fossicking Parks:
- Pat’s Gems
- Miner’s Cottage
- Gemfields Fossicking Park
- Miner’s Heritage
The first place we went to for Rubyvale fossicking was the Miners Cottage, purely because we’d heard that you get free scones and coffee while you fossick. You had me at scones!
The Miners Cottage is where we initially learnt all about Sapphires and fossicking.
How to fossick for sapphires with buckets of wash (dirt):
- Pour some of the dirt from the bucket into a special double sieve so you can shake the excess dust out
- Put the sieve into the dunking contraption called a Willoughby
- Spend some time washing the dirt and mud off your rocks
- Take your sieve full of rocks to the table and flip it over like a pancake
- Grab your tweezers and start pulling out the Sapphires
Sounds easy right? Nope! To the untrained eye, Sapphires in the rough can very easily pass for a bunch of gravel. No joke!
Anything shiny and see-through, when you hold it up to the light, is probably a Sapphire.
So, we got to work and spent the best part of the next few hours pulling out a couple of sapphires and every piece of quartz in the bucket. To the well-trained eye, those two rocks are worlds apart!
Luckily, they go through your rocks afterwards and pull out all of those gems that you’ve missed (and ditch the quartz). It can be hot, dirty, sweaty work considering that you need to be in the full sunlight to really see the ‘glint’ of the Sapphire.
If you want a more authentic fossicking experience, head out on a Tag-along Tour. You will be taken out into the designated fossicking lands with an expert who will show you exactly what to do.
What’s included in a Tag-Along-Tour:
- Dig your own dirt
- Clean & sort the dirt
- Find sapphires
- Expert guidance
- Fossicking equipment
- Fossicking licence
Most locals and business owners in the area can point you in the direction of a good Tag-along Tour.
Designated Fossicking Lands
You can head out into the Designated Fossicking Lands yourself and try your hand at finding sapphires if you wish. I’d recommend doing a tag-along tour or going to a fossicking park first, just to learn the ropes.
You’ll need to buy a Fossicking Licence online, see the pricing table below.
Fossicking Licence Fees
|Never mine within someone else’s claim!
The perimeter of each Claim will be marked out with four white pegs – so always survey your surroundings before fossicking.
What you’ll need for DIY sapphire fossicking:
The main things you’ll need for Sapphire fossicking are a sieve, tweezers and some water. You can use your own sieve if you like, but having the proper one will make your job easier and ensure that you don’t miss any sapphires.
Alongside the sieves, you’ll need a bucket or drum of water to dunk the sieves in and out of so that you can wash the rocks.
The two sieves below are the proper ones specifically designed for fossicking. There is one with larger holes and one with smaller holes – you’ll need both.
Camping on Fossicking Lands
If you wish to camp on the designated fossicking lands, a camping permit is required. The maximum stay in any one area is 3 months.
|Fossicking Camping Permit Fees
|$4.31 per individual or family
|$27.16 per individual or family
The act of picking up any Sapphires that you find lying on the ground is called ‘specking.’ Yep, it’s a real thing!
You’ll often find people in The Gemfields walking along with heads down. Some amazing stones have been found literally laying on the ground – we found three this way!
Specking is best done right after a downpour of rain because that’s when you can easily see their little, shiny heads poking up.
Sapphire & Rubyvale Markets
If you haven’t had much luck with the digging, specking or fossicking while in Rubyvale, head to the local weekend markets where you can easily find affordable gems, already washed, cut and ready to go.
At both the Sapphire and Rubyvale markets, you’ll find a huge selection of cut, polished and set sapphires, ready for purchase. The great thing is that there are pieces to suit all styles and budgets.
The Gemfields Weekend Markets:
- Rubyvale Markets – every Saturday morning
- Sapphire Markets – every Sunday morning
Jewellery & Gem Stores
If you’re keen to walk away with a beautiful sapphire but didn’t find the ‘big one’ out in the field, don’t worry, there are plenty of jewellery stores in Sapphire and Rubyvale.
Many of the local businesses will have pre-cut and set stones ready for sale. The sheer range and quality available are absolutely stunning! You won’t have any trouble locating gem shops and jewellers as they are spotted everywhere throughout The Gemfields, just look for the signs.
What to Do with Your Sapphires
When you drive into The Gemfields, the prospect of fossicking for a whole bundle of glorious sapphires is alluring and exciting. By the time you leave, you’ll no doubt have a little baggy with bits and pieces. They’ll all be sapphires, but rarely will you find something big enough to retire off.
So, what exactly can you do with your bag of pretties, besides throw them in the back of a drawer and forget about them?
Sort your sapphires
Before you leave Sapphire and Rubyvale, make sure you get a professional to sort out your finds. If you fossick at a Gemfields Fossicking Park, the staff will go through your finds and make sure that you’ve sorted the quartz from the sapphires and will put all the ‘cutters’ (ones big enough to get cut) into a separate bag for you.
If you find Sapphires outside of a Fossicking Park (through specking or doing it yourself on the fossicking lands), take your finds into the Miners Heritage. The staff there are great and will happily help you sort the rubbish from the worthwhile.
Get the decent ones cut
Any sapphires that you find that are big enough and of a good enough quality, will be called “cutters.” Those cutters can be cut locally for $35 – $45 per carat.
|“Cutters” are sapphires that are big enough to be cut
You won’t have to look too far to find a Gem Cutter, they’re everywhere out there! Try the Gemfields Fossicking Parks, jewellery stores and other businesses.
The bonus of finding a nice “cutter” is that you get to have it set right into a piece of jewellery during your stay and take it home with you without having to send it off or wait.
Send the tiny ones to Lambert Gems
Some Sapphires are just too small to be cut by hand. They’re either too time-consuming for their size or they’re too fiddly.
All of The Gemfields’ locals send their tiny Sapphires overseas to a reputable company called Lambert Gems. They’re an American company who are based in Thailand.
At Lambert’s, the sapphires are cut with top-of-the-line cutting machines, making the process much more time and cost-effective. You can send your tiny sapphires to Lambert’s to be cut starting at just a few dollars each, as opposed to $35 – $45 each in Australia.
Be aware that there is the possibility that you won’t get your exact sapphires back from Lamberts though.
Every single one of the sapphires that you send over will be examined and categorised. Then they will be placed in with a bunch of other similar sapphires to be cut as a batch.
You can feel confident, however, that the sapphires you do get back will be of the same size, colour and quality as what you sent over.
I personally sent 75 small sapphires and a few zircons to Lambert’s for cutting and received them all back safely. I keep them displayed in a glass Pandora Locket Pendant (which you can find on eBay) and enjoy it as a beautiful everyday necklace.
You can check out the Lambert Gems website to find out how to send your sapphires to them. The process is pretty easy, but expect them to take about 3 – 6 months before having your sapphires back.
Display in Glass Jars & Bottles
When you’re fossicking in Rubyvale and Sapphire, you’ll inevitably end up with some sapphire “bombs.” These are the sapphires that are full of cracks and can’t be cut, however, they are still sapphires nonetheless.
|“Bombs” are cracked sapphires that can’t be cut
The best way to display your colourful “bombs” and other pieces that are too small to cut, is in a nice glass jar on a window sill that catches the sunlight.
Summary of what to do with your Sapphires
|What to do with your Sapphires
(big enough to cut & set in jewellery)
|• Get a local Gem Cutter to cut your sapphire (cost $35 – $45 per carat)
• Get your sapphire set into a piece of jewellery
(too small/ expensive to cut by hand)
|• Send to Lambert Gems to be cut by machine
(too small to cut)
|• Display all the bright ones in a glass jar
• Put the really pretty coloured ones into a glass locket
(have cracks & can’t be cut)
|• Display in a glass jar on a window sill that gets sunlight
Exploring The Gemfields
Setting up camp first, then exploring second, helped us to get our bearings around The Gemfields.
Looking around we could see big piles of dirt everywhere along the roadside, accompanied by dug-out holes, so it seemed wise not to go wandering off the track. Clearly, those were old mining claims – didn’t they have to refill the mines once they were done? Obviously not!
The Gemfields Suburbs
The Gemfields in Central Queensland is made up of four suburbs, however, most of the tourist attractions are in Rubyvale and Sapphire.
📍 The Willows
Getting to The Gemfields from Emerald:
- Drive west along the Capricorn Highway for 43 km
- Turn right onto Anakie Sapphire Road (which becomes Rubyvale Road)
- Follow the road for 11 km until you reach Sapphire
- Continue another 8 km along Rubyvale Road to get to Rubyvale
The gorgeous little Rubyvale serves as the main hub for The Gemfields. We went for a wander and had a chat with a local who told us about some of the Tag-Along tours we’d be able to find during our stay.
- Jewellery stores
- Post Office
- Service Station
- Food Store
The township of Sapphire is a bit more spread out than Rubyvale. The two towns are only about 10 minutes drive away from each other, making everything nice and close.
- Post Office/ Chemist
- Service Station
- Op Shop
- Jewellery stores
- Take-away shops
This small Anakie township is a bit further away, being on the other side of the Capricorn Highway. The pub there has closed down, which really only leaves a caravan park there now.
Take a wander to the Anakie Train Station and look at the tree next to the platform. On that tree is where troops used to place their mark as they went off to war. It’s obviously grown a lot taller since those days!
An annual attraction for Anakie is Gemfest, which is the biggest festival in the region, dedicated to gemstones. Gemfest is held in Anakie every August.
The final part of The Gemfields is The Willows. It’s fairly removed from the other three townships and is the least convenient place to stay as a tourist. There is a caravan park with a fossicking park on-site, plus a service station nearby.
The Mining Claims
While visiting The Gemfields, I highly recommend going for a drive around the local streets including the Mining Claims. You will get to see first-hand, how the miners actually live – it really is an entirely different world!
Spotted around are plenty of ‘DO NOT ENTER,’ ‘DANGER’ and ‘MINING CLAIM’ signs at every turn, so be sure to stick to the road.
How the Mining Claims Work
Anyone can lease a plot of land (called a ‘claim’) from the Mines Department for a set amount of time, such as 10 years. During that time you are free to mine your claim as much as you like, as long as you stick within the current mining laws.
At the end of the lease, if the claim isn’t renewed, then the tenant has just 48 hours to vacate the site and put a large percentage of dirt back into the mine to get their bond money back.
In other words, the less stuff you’ve got (in the way of housing and machinery), the easier it is to strip the block back. This is the reason that you’ll see a whole spectrum of temporary dwellings, such as caravans, sheds, containers, lean-to’s and make-shift ‘houses’ put together using scrap materials.
Accommodation in The Gemfields
To be honest, we felt really overwhelmed when we first pulled into The Gemfields, with no clue about sapphire fossicking. We decided to head straight to the Sapphire Reserve Free Camp, where we set up ‘home’ and were able to take stock.
The vibes were good and we felt comfortable enough to unhitch the van, so we did just that. Our first afternoon was spent going for a drive to have a look around the local area of Rubyvale and Sapphire in order to get our bearings.
Below is a list of accommodation options available throughout The Gemfields.
|THE GEMFIELDS ACCOMMODATION
|• Sapphire Reserve Free Camp
|Low Cost Camping
|• Designated Fossicking Lands
|• Blue Gem Caravan Park
• The Gemfields RSL (for veterans)
• Sapphire Caravan & Cabin Park
• Gemini Caravan Park (over 50’s)
• Rubyvale Caravan Park
• Gemseekers Caravan Park
• Anakie Gemfields Caravan Park
• Willows Gemfields Caravan Park
• Gem Air Village Caravan Park
|Motels & Cabins
|• Gemseekers Caravan Park
• Rubyvale Motel & Holiday Units
• Sapphire Caravan & Cabin Park
• Blue Gem Tourist Park
• Anakie Gemfields Caravan Park
• Willows Gemfields Caravan Park
• Gem Air Village Caravan Park
More to Do in The Gemfields
From mining tours to climbing an extinct volcano, there are plenty of other things to do in The Gemfields beyond sapphire fossicking.
Things to do in The Gemfields:
- Australia’s Largest Underground Sapphire Mine
- The Thong Tree
- Anakie Bottle Tree
- Wild camel spotting
- 6 Big Things in The Gemfields
- Explore Mining Claims
- Wander the Wetlands and more…
Here are 20 top things to check out in The Gemfields while you’re having your Rubyvale fossicking experience in Central Queensland.