March 6, 2019 • Kevin Smith
8 min read
Often I’ll travel for several days to find a remote national park or somewhere to explore, because to me, sometimes it’s more about the journey. Just recently I found one such national park in an area full of history, but this time it was only a day’s drive west of Brisbane.
Culgoa Floodplain National Park, located 800km west of Brisbane, is where you can totally switch off from the world and enjoy the remoteness and serenity of the area. Exploring Culgoa is all about the flora, fauna and getting back to nature, where you can walk your heart out discovering all the region has to offer.
Seasonal colour at Culgoa
Getting to Culgoa from Brisbane is a bit of a zig-zag along several highways and backroads – but that’s Australia sometimes. Hebel, close to the NSW/QLD border, is a great stop along the way, where you'll get a taste of the surrounding area’s rich history.
There’s not much at Hebel anymore; the typical country general store which operates as a shop, tourist information centre, post office and cafe where you can get great coffee and homemade cakes, the quirky Hebel pub decorated with colourful graphics by a local artist, and a park where you can spend an hour reading up on the area’s history along the Hebel historical circle.
The historic Hebel pub
There is free camping right on the town’s limits at Judd’s Lagoon. Located on the banks of the Bokhara river, the campground has town water, flushing toilets and barbecue shelters. From the free camp you can walk to town or along the river to the old and new weir. Back in 1846 Sir Major Thomas Mitchell passed by on his way north towards the Gulf from Sydney, making the Bokhara river a significant history spot, too.
Along the historical circle in town there are ten tall timber posts that are worth checking out while the kids play in the playground nearby. The posts represent significant historical events, starting when explorer Mitchell passed through and saw evidence of local Aboriginal habitation, including small fires near huts, piles of harvested grass, scars on trees and well worn paths.
When NSW and QLD separated in 1859, nearby Currawillinghi Station became home to the customs office and police station. With this came a lot of customs duties – apparently back in the day stealing sheep and cattle, smuggling booze and evading taxes were running rife.
Inspectors were appointed, and in one year alone it was recorded that taxes were paid on nearly 50,000 sheep entering Queensland but only 12,000 leaving. At Currawillinghi’s peak in 1900, there were nearly 90,000 sheep shorn with hand shears on 60 stands.
Meanwhile, a hotel was built for the passing Cobb and Co coaches to provide a stopping station for passengers on their way to the goldfields, and hearing this, bushrangers soon roamed the area.
Hebel was known as Kelly’s point prior to 1889. As legend has it, Ned Kelly’s brother Dan and another gang member lived here after escaping from Glenrowan. But being a bushranger rumour, the story may have its flaws.
The origin of Hebel’s name is a bit of a mystery, too. Some say it came from a German settler yet others say the local Aboriginal meaning is ‘hot place’, so in 1899 it was declared Hebel by the nation’s government.
If you need last minute bread, milk or fuel, Hebel is the most reliable stop as you head towards Culgoa, and if you’re continuing out the other side, be aware it’s a further 200-300km before another fuel stop.
Leaving Hebel, it’s 45km to Goodooga – a small town with only 300 people and no facilities. The landscape is barren and flat; part of an ancient landscape that, 200 million years ago, was covered with water. After millions of years of weathering, the only thing left are hard flat topped rocks that rise only ever so slightly above the ground.
Heading out of Goodooga along the Brenda Road towards the park, it’s not long before you cross the Culgoa River and, on the boundary of huge wheat farms, enter the Culgoa park.
The entry is well-signposted and it’s mandatory to stop at the ranger’s office just to let him know that you've arrived. Fees can’t be paid directly here (as I found out the hard way), and must be paid online. Due to no phone service in the park, it’s impossible to do this at the ranger’s station.
With an intro at the office you’ll be given current advice, a walking map for the four walks in the park and a map of where the camping areas are. Close by, there’s camping beside the lagoon which is a bird-watcher’s paradise; an estimated 170 species of birds that include parrots, spoonbills, all the species of the Australian wood-swallows, emus, and falcons can be seen here.
Along with the birdlife there are other animals that frequent the lagoons, and if you’re lucky you can spot several different kinds of kangaroos, wallabies, skinks and planigales; small creatures that hunt at night in search of insects. From here there are several walks ranging from 1km up to 8km that explore wetlands, the Culgoa river and through Coolabah woodlands.
If you’re like me and after more remote camping, the ranger can lead you out to Redbank Hut camping area. This is bush camping at its best. Getting to Redbank is as easy as following the map for another 12km west along the park trails. A 4wd is necessary due to the soft sand and sometimes high brush that you need to drive over that grows between the wheel tracks.
The landscape is barren and harsh as you head towards the hut and open camping area. Stands of Mulga and Gidgee trees line the road with desert Mitchell grasses underneath, all looking for nutrients in the red sand. The camping area at Redbank is quite open with little shade, but you can camp near the dam at the hut.
Back at the turn of the century there were several large stations that ran sheep and cattle on the land that Culgoa occupies today. Over the years these stations have been acquired to increase the park’s size.
Redbank Hut was a pastoral homestead which has an artesian bore nearby. The hut and surrounding relics have been preserved by the current ranger, Andy Coward, who has been stationed at Culgoa for the past 13 years.
Scouting around the hut it’s pretty easy to find old relics like the outhouse, bottles, marked fence posts, old implements and more. Showing respect here by leaving things as you find them is always a good feeling because when the next lot of visitors come along they get the chance to experience the surrounds. If you’re lucky, at night you might get to hear and see brush tail possums and the little Pied bats as they chirp in the night sky.
Continuing out through Culgoa to the west, a well-beaten road heads towards Jobs Gate and towards Cunnamulla. If there has been no rain the roads are generally in good condition, with the usual red gibber rock strewn across the sandy roads.
You need to be aware of the dangers and risk involved when exploring out here. The summers are extremely hot, you may see few or no other travellers, you’ll have no phone signal or facilities. Trip planning is essential and you’ll need to carry a first aid kit, plenty of food and water, map or GPS, and have a reliable vehicle with spares.
Even though it’s a remote destination, the area is known for having an ecologically-rich floodplain that supports a diverse array of wildlife within the Coolibah woodland pockets. Planning is best in the cooler months and a great stopover when exploring western Queensland. Get out there!