Fossicking in the Gemfields Qld | Travel Guide

Last updated on 15 March, 2021

Fossicking in the Gemfields Queensland is an experience like none other. Digging in the dirt, shifting out the rocks, looking out for that the shiny glint with the promise of a fortune can be dusty hard work and also somehow satisfying and even fun.

Driving Distances to the Gemfields

  • Emerald to the Gemfields: 60km or 45 minutes
  • Rockhampton to the Gemfields: 330km or 3 hours 35 minutes
  • Brisbane to the Gemfields: 890km or 9 hours 45 minutes

Fossicking in the Gemfields

What Is Fossicking And Where Are The Gemfields Queensland

Fossicking is the search for precious gems, gold, fossils and the like. A recreational activity carried out, usually at old mines, by hand and without motorised machinery. It is the process of digging up dirt and rocks, washing away the dirt and sorting through the rocks to find precious gems. The Gemfields Qld is one of a number of places in Australia fossicking can be done.

The Gemsfields Queensland are located on the Capricorn Highway 45 minutes west of Emerald. The Gemfields cover over 900 square kilometres and include the towns of Anakie, Rubyvale, Sapphire and The Willows.

What Gems Can Be Found On The Gemfields Queensland

Sapphires are the gems fossickers are hoping to find with rare colours like green being highly prized. Zircons are the other gemstone found and this is what we found, four very small yellow stones.

Where Fossicking Is Permitted On The Gemfields Queensland

Fossicking is permitted:

  • Willows designated fossicking land
  • Glenalva fossicking area
  • Middle ridge fossicking area
  • Big Bessie fossicking area
  • Graves Hill fossicking area
  • Tomahawk Creek fossicking area
  • Sapphire/Rubyvale designated fossicking land

Links to information about each of the fossicking areas can be found here – The Central Queensland Gemfields

When To Fossick On The Gemfields Queensland

Fossicking is hard work. Hard dirty work out on rocky exposed ground with few trees. Fossicking should be done in cool and colder months of winter, late autumn or early spring. It be would be insane to try fossicking in the summer months.

Gemfields Qld | Licence Information

In Queensland a licence is required to do fossicking. Fossicking licences (and camping permits) can be purchased online through the Queensland Government website.

Gemfields Queensland

Sapphire Fossicking Equipment

Fossicking equipment used varies depending on the method used. Some common equipment seen on the Gemfields are:

  • Buckets
  • Spades and picks
  • Fossicking sieves (one course, one fine)
  • Trommel
  • Willoughby
  • Spray bottle of water
  • Tweezers
  • Magnifying glass

Fossicking Methods

Dry Sieve Method

Dry sieve method is done using the two grades of sieves. After collecting a bucket of dirt it is then bit by bit shaken through the coarse grade sieve first and then the finer sieve. The purpose of the sieves is to get rid of the big rocks and fine dirt. It is also to use a circular motion to move the iron stone into the centre. The iron stone is where the gems (if any) will be.

Once sifting is done, the contents is turned out onto a cloth on a table. It is then a process of searching through the iron stone looking for the sparkle of a gemstone. This is when the spray bottle of water can help. Look for something similar to a small shard of glass shining in the right light.

Fossicking Gemfields Qld

Trommel and Willoughby (Wet) Method

The benefit of using a trommel over the course grade sieve and a willoughby instead of a fine grade sieve is that it is easier and quicker to get through a lot more dirt. The trommel is operated by tipping in dirt at one end and then turning a handle making the main barrel spin as it does it expels large rocks and dirt. Out the bottom down a shoot a bucket is used to collect the material that is then washed in the willoughby.

The willoughby is filled with water and the two sieves places in it with rocks (from the trommel) to be washed. Then it is the same process of turning out what is in the sieve onto a piece of cloth and looking for the glint of a gemstone.


Specking is intently scanning the ground by eye to try and spot sapphires lying on the surface. It is best done after rain and is widely accepted as worthwhile method of fossicking.

Fossicking for Sapphires Gemfields Queensland
Ironstone But No Sapphires, Gemfields Queensland

Buying Buckets of Wash

For those without the equipment or desire to go off into the fossicking fields there is the option of buying buckets of wash in the towns of Rubyvale and Sapphire. Buckets are about around $10 – 15 each and all equipment you need to ‘fossick’ through your bucket is provided. The wash is often “salted” meaning small gemstones are put in the wash for tourists to find. This makes it popular with children.

You can this at:

  • Bobby Dazzler Sapphire Mine Tours
  • Pats Gems Tourist Fossicking Park

Our Fossicking Experience

Camping and fossicking licence in hand (more accurately in our email) for our first couple of days we stayed and tried our luck at the Big Bessie fossicking area. We had a bucket, a spade, a sieve, a spray bottle of water and hope of finding our riches or at least finding enough to fund another year of travelling. After sifting through a couple of buckets of wash only to find a few tiny fragments of yellow zircons our enthusiasm waned.

Enthusiam was soon reignited when we joined a fellow traveller we met in Tasmania with years of fossicking experience at the Glenalva fossicking site. Under his guidance and use of his equipment including a trommel and willoughby we were able to get through a lot more of the ground we dug up. Still no luck finding anything!

Our total find was four very small zircons found on day one at the Big Bessie fossicking area. We also fortunate to get the fossicking experience out on the actual sites or areas which to us was more authentic than buying a bucket of wash sold by a few businesses in the towns. Overall it was hard work and also a lot of fun.

Using A Trommel Gemfields Qld
Using A Trommel, Gemfields Queensland

Accessing Water on the Gemfields

Sapphire Water Facility is the best bet for getting water on the Gemfields. Cost was 20c for 20 litres of water when we were there in 2018.

Other Things To Do


On the Capricorn Hwy, 45 km west of Emerald is the quaint old mining town Anakie.

Anakie Railway Station ๐Ÿพ
Built in 1884 as part of the progression to the west.

Anakie Bottle Tree ๐Ÿพ
Located out the back of the railway station the significance of this tree is soldiers and their girlfriends would engraved their initial before he went off to war.

Gemfest | Festival of Gems
Held in August each year showcasing domestic and international gemstones including the biggest exhibition of sapphires in the world.


Rubyvale is located centrally on the Gemfields and has a few conveniences for travellers such a post office, cafe, hotel and accommodation.

Rubyvale Gem Gallery ๐Ÿพ
A gem shop (free to browse), cafe or buy buckets of wash to try your luck finding sapphires.

World’s Oldest Basalt Plug “Policemans Knob” ๐Ÿพ
Accessible by 4WD only and then it is a steep climb by foot. The 360 degree view and seeing a 56 million geological feature is worth the effort.


The oldest of the areas founded in 1870s. Sapphire has gemshops, underground mine tours, cafes, an op shop as well as accommodation.

Sapphire Markets ๐Ÿพ
Held on Sundays early to midday at the Sapphire Football ground. Sold good include fresh fruit, vegetables and seafood as well as bric a brac.

The Piano Tuners Grave ๐Ÿพ
Historical grave of F. W. Schlieffen who drowned in 1906.

Salvation Army Op Shop
Keen to do treasure hunting of a different kind? Check out the only op shop on the Gemfields (opposite the post office).


Known as “The Willows” the area is a popular mining spot for fossickers. There is a caravan park in town.


Emerald Queensland is a major rural centre with all the conveniences needed. It is located along the Capricorn Hwy about 270 kilometres from the cost. It is where we suggest stocking up on supplies such as food and gas before heading out to the Gemfields.

Emerald Botanical Gardens ๐Ÿพ
Gardens stretching over a large area with walking tracks, outdoor sculptures, bird life and other points of interest. A nice place to explore and have a picnic lunch.

Big Thing | Replica “Sunflowers” ๐Ÿพ
A replica of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers. It is the world’s largest painting on an easel.

Pioneer Village ๐Ÿพ
Next to the “Sunflower” and in behind the Information Centre, the Pioneer Village a collection of old buildings and historical items on display.

Emerald Historic Train Station
Operating still today as a train station it is a lovely well maintained (restored in 1986) example of a wooden building with wrought iron trimmings.

Fossilised Wood ๐Ÿพ
An example of 250 million year old fossilised wood outside the Emerald Town Hall.

Lake Maraboon ๐Ÿพ
A large lake with picnic grounds, it is popular for water sports. The lake is a 25 minute drive out of Emerald.

Rainbow Lorikeets
Rainbow Lorikeets, Gemfields Queensland

Free and Low Cost Camping

Where We Camped

Botanical Gardens, Emerald ๐Ÿพ
Cost: Free
Review: A overnight stop close to town and the supermarket. Botanical Gardens are a nice to wander through. Sure there is the highway and train line over head (1-2 trains a day) and the ground is dirt BUT who cares? There also clean toilets, bins and water. Dog friendly. Thanks Emerald.

Big Bessie Campground and Fossicking Area ๐Ÿพ
Cost: $37 (one week camping permit and required fossicking licence)
Review: Great spot to camp. Huge amount of space. No amenities. Dry but it gets under your skin in a good way. Bird life is amazing. Tried fossicking but no luck. Buy water 10c/20l and dump point in town. Camp fees apply and need fossicking licence; buy online.

Glenalva Fossicking Site ๐Ÿพ
Cost: Included in the one week camping permit
Review: No amenities. No water. Flat camping area near the fossicking area. Currently very dry due to drought conditions. Solitude can be found here.

Emerald RV Campground ๐Ÿพ
Cost: $15/night unpowered
Review: Stayed here a night after visiting the Gemfields. Unpowered sites on grass area is a good low cost camp option. Use of facilities. Showers incl. Laundry $4/load. Social campfire in the afternoons. Friendly staff. Water and dump point on site.

Other Free Campground

Sapphire Reserve ๐Ÿพ
Located in the centre of town with toilets it is a popular choice of for a free campground for those not wanting to stay on the fossicking fields. There is 48 hour limit.

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