Eungella National Park: exploring Mackay's highlands
October 24, 2018 • Hannah Murphy
7 min read
Our stay at Yarrawonga Reserve Notch Point in North Queensland began about six weeks into our trip around Australia. The reserve was the first place we’d stayed in which the reality of “croc country” hit home. The track in was lined with mysterious muddy mangroves, the type my suspicious mind imagined to be the perfect home for the predators.
It made me think how strange a thing it was, when you’ve spent your whole life being able to swim just about anywhere without a second thought, to now consider rivers, lakes and oceans with a note of caution, knowing crocodiles could very well be found within them. So I was glad to reach the campsite, finding it open and inviting, lined with grass and just a stone’s throw from the beach.
The campground was incredibly picturesque with the water displaying a beautiful bright blue – like you see in ads for tropical holidays – and the beach stretching far and wide when the tide is out. You can hear the calming sound of lapping water and every now and then, the moo of the cattle that roam freely. There were people fishing and crabbing. My husband, Sean, and I explored the nearby rock pools made by the tide is out. On the other side of the beach, in the mud by the mangroves, we spied scuttling crabs, tiny jumping fish and shy hermit crabs. And best of all, this place was free to stay at!
Our next stop was Eungella Dam, one of my favourite campgrounds so far. The area near Eungella required a steep, twisty journey up a rainforest-lined road. If you’re not a fan of heights, I’d suggest you close your eyes for this one. There were plenty of sheer drops beside the road, so driver Sean was taking extra care (for that I was very thankful). We found Eungella Dam easily enough and set up camp by the dam.
It was a perfect spot. Shady trees, nature all around. The dam was huge and home to a range of birdlife: ibises, pelicans, ducks, magpies and shags. One shag had claimed a certain rock, sunning himself there with surprising frequency, as though he was on the cusp of attaining the perfect bronze hue. The dam obviously held special appeal as we even saw free-roaming cattle taking a dip.
Our second night there, I was woken at 2:55am by what sounded like someone – or rather something – attempting to pry open our ute door. Our bed is in the part of the camper that sits above the ute cab, so the noise below was hard to miss. I jumped to the worst case scenario, thinking we were being robbed by some lawless, cruel individuals, intent on inspiring fear, relieving us of as many possessions as possible and maybe even getting inside the camper to harm us.
So I gingerly woke Sean, beckoning him to silence. It took Sean, as rational and level-headed as ever, a few moments to realise we were in fact not under siege by some land-bound pirates, but instead, one or more curious critters had taken particular interest in our home-away-from-home and decided prompt investigation was required.
Needless to say, it took a fair amount of convincing for me to decide anything less than DEFCON 1 was appropriate and I woke the next morning intent on confirming Sean’s conclusion. Thankfully, we’d parked the camper on a grassy/sandy area, so footprints could be examined.
I’d seen enough crime shows to know the importance of preventing crime scene contamination, so I implored Sean to avoid stepping on the sand. Resisting the urge to channel Horatio from CSI: Miami and lower my invisible sunglasses, furrow my brow in contemplation and utter something intelligent in a low, raspy voice, I inspected the scene.
No unaccounted-for footprints – no pirates. That was a relief! And as we looked a little closer, we saw bird prints (our hungry magpie friend had visited the day before) and plenty of paw prints. Dingoes? Wild dogs? Angry puppies? Why these pawed pets thought it essential to explore our ute at such an ungodly hour, I’ll never know. But next time I hear noises in the night, I’m going to try and avoid assuming the worst.
The following day was our first-day exploring Eungella National Park. It had been highly recommended to us, so we made sure to visit. Something I’m learning is that if you want to see something, you have to grab it with both hands. Because the reality is, you’re not going to see something unless you set your mind to it. Like the other day, we were driving through Bowen and I spied a random huge snake statue in the back of a local park. I told Sean and we kept driving, thinking we’d go back and look at it later. Reality check: we wouldn’t! So we turned around and checked it out. Without that, I wouldn’t be able to say I’ve stared down a ten-metre-long giant snake. Awesome.
We did the Sky Window Circuit in Eungella National Park first. It was a short walk to a stunning view of the surrounding hills and sprawling farming land below. Next, we walked the Wishing Pool Circuit and some of the Crediton Creek track. The quiet track sliced through the rainforest, often running parallel to the trickling creek. We were glad to have the track almost entirely to ourselves; it felt like we were explorers, traversing the mysterious rainforest on our own. That night we paid to stay in The Diggings campsite in the national park, which was a nice spot by a creek. The road in was steep and bumpy – a bit of fun in our four-wheel drive.
The following day was our chance to spot platypuses at Broken River. We waited patiently by the river, eyes eagerly darting to any movement. Sub-tropical trees cast a gentle shadow on the murky water below, which was dotted with rocks and fallen branches. It took a few minutes before we saw a platypus break the calm of the water’s surface, swimming to the top to pose for photos for a while before diving down out of sight.
Platypuses were smaller (and therefore, cuter) than I’d imagined. I expected otter-sized creatures, but in reality, male platypuses are only 50cm long and females are shorter still. I imagine their cuteness was behind the “No Swimming” signs because if it were allowed, I’d be jumping in to swim with the platypuses in an instant!
Our last stop was Finch Hatton Gorge, which meant a trip back down that twisting road. The gorge did not disappoint. My favourite spot was Araleun Cascades, about 1.6km walk from the car park. As we neared the waterfall, I breathed in and smelled the freshwater. The sound of a crashing waterfall grew louder and louder and then I was met with a beautiful view of the cascades.
Lush trees and shrubs surrounded the top of the waterfall, with water gushing over rocks as it fell into the deep rock pool below. The scene was just too perfect. I looked at the water, glistening in the sun, and told Sean we must get in! We knew it would be cold but assured ourselves that since we’d just been walking, we’d be fine. I took a few steps into the water and with nowhere to stay standing, I hurled myself into it. Freezing! Freezing! Freezing! was all I could think. My heart was beating at record speed and I could hardly breathe in the cold, paddling desperately to get warm.
At that moment, I felt so alive! I couldn’t stand the cold for much longer, so willed my arms and legs to swim to the nearest ledge and get out. So much adrenaline was pumping through my body. Yes, it was freezing, but absolutely worth it!
Our visit to the picturesque Yarrawonga and the Eungella areas were highlights of our trip. We met interesting characters, played detectives with some furry visitors, spied wild platypuses, explored a natural rainforest and took a plunge by a sparkling waterfall. If you get the chance, a trip to these areas is not to be missed. They are truly quite special.