Exploring Queensland's Sandstone Wilderness

    February 1, 2021Rosalind Miles

    8 min read

    Spring was nearly over and the busy Christmas season was fast approaching, so we decided to get away from Brisbane for a couple of weeks before it became too hot. Our daughter had recently visited a few of the parks in the group known as the Sandstone Wilderness Parks, situated south- west of Rockhampton. Her beautiful photos persuaded us that those parks would be a great destination.

    Lake Nuga Nuga National Park

    Lake Nuga Nuga is the largest natural water body within the dry highlands of the Central Queensland Sandstone Belt. It is about an eight-hour drive from Brisbane, not including any stops. Setting off early, we were able to comfortably drive the distance and be set up well before dark. Access to Lake Nuga Nuga is via Arcadia Valley road, which is not suited to wet weather travel and a 4WD is recommended for the last 7km. Plenty of water and a shovel are essential as there are no facilities at all at the lake. We stayed for two nights and were the only visitors there for most of the time. We relished the peace and quiet, camping beside the lake and enjoying a fire at night.

    The many dead trees in the lake are due to the gradual expansion of the lake over time, although it has dried out completely two or three times. The area was highly significant to the First Nations Karingbal people but unfortunately burial cylinders were unlawfully taken from the area decades ago. Living on and around the lake are many, many species of birds, including black swans, spoonbills, pelicans, ducks, magpie geese and cormorants. Wallabies can frequently be seen drinking at the water’s edge at dusk and dawn. The area is home to other native creatures and unfortunately cows from neighbouring farms also wander through.

    The lake is shallow and not enticing for swimming in, but it is unusual and beautiful to look at and it is very pleasant to walk along the dirt road around the shoreline of part of the lake. Sunsets are often quite spectacular with changing colours across the lake, and when we were there a bushfire some kilometres away further heightened the sunset colours.

    Lake Nuga Nuga

    Blackdown Tableland National Park

    Blackdown Tableland National Park is an approximately three-hour drive north of Lake Nuga Nuga. The road up the tableland into the national park is quite steep and not recommended for heavy caravans. Stop at the lookout at the top of the range for an expansive view over surrounding hills and plains.

    The shady camping area has very well-spaced sites, some of which are large enough to accommodate groups. Bring your own wood as there is a good sturdy fireplace at every site. Due to its proximity to Rockhampton, it can sometimes become quite busy but it was very quiet when we were there in late November.

    We enjoyed walking in the cool of the early morning with hardly anyone around and the bush alive with birdlife. Drive to the beginning of the Gudda Gumoo Falls (Rainbow Falls) track and take your swimming gear down to the rock pool at the base of the falls for a cooling dip. Make sure you also follow the track next to the creek above the falls. It will take you to a lovely area of flat rocks and perfectly round rock pools, which not as many people visit. There are two scenic walks that start from the camping area itself that only take an hour or so, and are well worth doing. Admire sandstone outcrops, sweeping views, an old cattle yard and a Ghungalu art site on these walks.

    Salvator Rosa National Park

    After quite a long drive from Blackdown to Salvator Rosa, we were delighted to arrive at a completely empty camping area with a peaceful outlook onto riverside bushland, tall reeds and grasses. Apparently, the place can get a bit busy during winter but we had the area to ourselves for the two nights that we camped at the Nogoa River Camping area. Trees provided some shade during the day and the nights were a comfortable temperature. There are two toilets but bring your own water.

    Salvator Rosa

    To reach the main area of the park by vehicle, a 4WD is necessary to cross the creek. Alternatively, you can cross by foot and walk the track that winds several kilometres through the park. The cool, flowing spring at Louisa Creek junction day area was a delightful place to cool off after walking the Spyglass Circuit and Hadrian’s Wall loop. Don’t miss the short climb up Homoranthus Hill, where the fabulous 360-degree views of the spires and bluffs in the park provide unusual subject matter for photography. The road follows Louisa Creek to Mitchell Springs where unique, extensive areas of lush vegetation grow permanently.

    Mt Moffatt section of Carnarvon National Park

    We broke up the driving times between the various national parks by spending a couple of hours exploring the few towns along the way. As well as providing a break in the driving, we were able to stock up on water, food and fuel.

    There are a few camping areas in the Mt Moffatt region and all were deserted when we visited. They have some shady trees and a toilet in each. What a bonus it was to find totally unexpected water taps! We were able to wash as often as we wished.

    While we were camping at the Dargonelly camping area, a heatwave struck Queensland and temperatures reached the very high thirties. That didn’t prevent us from exploring the park by walking early in the mornings. The walks are short, the longest being a 4km circuit to a site known as The Tombs, which is highly significant to the area’s First Nations peoples.

    The holes in the huge sandstone cliff face were used as burial chambers and the bodies were wrapped in bark and animal skins. The burial site was desecrated in the early 1900s, but at least the hundreds of stencilled images on the wall of a shallow cave nearby still remain and are protected.

    Aboriginal wall stencils in Mt Moffat

    On the way to the Tombs the track winds past dramatic sandstone pillars known as The Chimneys. Other features well worth seeing in the park are Marlong Plain, Kookaburra Cave, Marlong Arch and Lots Wife. They can all be reached via very short walks from the Mount Moffatt circuit drive. Several rangers live within the park, in houses that used to belong to cattle property owners. The circuit drive takes visitors past the park rangers’ settlement and a visitor hut in what was once a school room provides interesting information about the area.

    The beautiful smooth-barked apple trees are an outstanding feature of the park, particularly in spring when the old pinky grey bark flakes off and reveals the bright orange or pink bark beneath.

    The Chimneys

    Carnarvon Gorge National Park

    Carnarvon Gorge is a very popular destination and tends to be busy in the cooler months of the year. Arriving in the middle of a heatwave at the beginning of December would not be considered a prime time to visit but we enjoyed it very much. The national park campsite is only open in school holidays, so we camped at the privately owned Takarakka. Most of the campsites at Takarakka were closed and only a small area was open for campers.

    Walking in the gorge was most definitely the highlight of our stay in Carnarvon. A large proportion of the main track through the gorge to Big Bend (a pool nestled beneath towering sandstone cliffs where bush camping is available all year) is shaded and the numerous creek crossings requiring rock-hopping give a cool feel to a 20km walk on a hot day. We began both days of walking soon after sunrise so that we could be finished by midday.

    Needless to say, other walkers were few and far between and we mostly had the pleasure of viewing the outstanding features of the gorge alone. You will certainly need your camera as you visit the marvellous scenic spots within the gorge. Several stand-out places for us included The Amphitheatre (climb a metal ladder to enter The Amphitheatre, a deep chamber gouged from the rock by running water and surrounded by looming cliffs), the beautiful Art Gallery, Wards Canyon and Cathedral Cave.

    Carnarvon Gorge

    Standing or sitting quietly in these places with no one else around was a magical experience. We weren’t lucky enough to spot a platypus anywhere in the creek but we met some people who had just glimpsed a couple. A perfect way to end a walk during summer is a dip in the Rock Pool, just 20 minutes walk from the Rock Pool car park.

    Our two weeks camping was most definitely memorable. For us, watching the full or nearly full moon rise up clear and bright on many of the nights added to the sense of remoteness and peacefulness of Queensland’s sandstone wilderness parks.

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