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Which Thomson River sunset cruise to choose?

Most people who come to Longreach want to do the photogenic Thomson River sunset cruise. What many travellers don’t realise is that there are two different companies doing cruises and that the two cruises are very different. We know some visitors (and travel agents) are confused and some people have been disappointed that they didn’t get the cruise they thought they were getting – so here’s a quick overview to help you choose the one that suits you best.

The names

Outback Pioneers’ cruise is called the ‘Starlight’s Cruise Experience’ (after local legend Captain Starlight). It’s run by the Kinnon family. Outback Aussie Tours cruise is called the ‘Drover’s Sunset Cruise’ (cruise only) or ‘Drover’s Sunset Cruise with Smithy’s Outback Dinner & Show’ (‘Smithy’ is company-head, Alan Smith).

The boats

The first big difference is the boats themselves. Outback Pioneers runs the historic Thomson Belle paddlewheeler and the Thomson Princess river boat. Outback Aussie Tours has the Longreach Explorer, a modern catamaran.

Which of these you prefer is a matter of taste and each boat has different seating configurations and potential advantages.

At Outback Pioneers, we believe in doing things in the spirit of Australian outback cultural heritage, so we’ve chosen traditional boats, but we understand some people prefer a more modern style even in the bush!

The food and drinks on board

Both cruise companies supply some ‘nibbles’ to enjoy while you glide along the river. Outback Pioneers is BYO alcohol with soft drinks for sale on board. Outback Aussie Tours has a cash bar for alcohol and soft drinks.

Along the river

Both cruises have commentary. Both will give you a chance to see the amazing bird and animal life, and to take spectacular outback sunset photos.

Dinner on the riverbank

The biggest difference between the cruises is the dinner and entertainment on the riverbank.

With Outback Pioneers, guests sits around the campfire on rustic seating (quite comfortable) and enjoy a traditional stockman’s campfire stew, followed by dessert, tea and damper. Food and drink is served in enamel tableware, the way it used to be. Vegetarian and other dietary needs are catered for.

With Outback Aussie Tours the setting is more ‘restaurant in the bush’ with tables, chairs, china and a camp-oven-themed modern cuisine. They also have two courses followed by tea and damper.


At Outback Pioneers, your Kinnon family host will entertain you and give you insights into bush life and culture. It’s hilarious as well as educational.

This is followed by the ‘Starlight’s Spectacular Sound & Light Picture Show’ – in a tiered, outdoor, riverbank amphitheatre with cushions and blankets, you’ll see an exclusive short movie, commissioned by the Kinnon family, to celebrate the life and bushmanship of Captain Starlight, the cattle duffer (thief) who roamed these parts.

Finally your host will point out the Southern Cross in the night sky and share what it means to live here in the harsh but beautiful Australian outback.

The Outback Aussie Tours dinner includes entertainment by guest musicians on a rustic stage.

The price?

2024 pricing is $135 per person (Outback Pioneers), and $149 per person (Outback Aussie Tours), each offering child and concession pricing. Both include coach pick-up and drop-off at your accommodation. You can get a 10% discount with Outback Pioneers by purchasing a Live-It Saver Pass.

The original?

Outback Pioneers cruise was the original Thomson sunset river cruise and has been running since 2009 (then known as Kinnon & Co’s Sunset Cruise). In 2019 Outback Pioneers was voted Outback Queensland’s Visitors’ Choice for BEST EXPERIENCE!

Still not sure?

Why not do both cruises? The river and sky are different every day and are always stunning, while the dinner and entertainment of the two cruises gives you a different experience.