Mackay Highlands, QLD
Just an hour inland from Mackay exists a world of ancient rainforest, where platypus play and clouds graze the mountains.
Australia’s oldest area of sub-tropical rainforest is found in the Mackay Highlands, at the top of the Clarke Range. Eungella National Park, which adjoins the Crediton State Forest and Homevale National Park, is 732m (2400ft) above sea level and is famous for its ecological diversity.
From Mackay, the 80km scenic road trip takes around an hour. You drive up the Pioneer River Valley, passing through cane fields and the small towns of Marian (with the large Marian sugar mill), Mirani, Gargett, Pinnacle and Finch Hatton. Each town has its pub and general store, while Marian now has a Woolworths supermarket. Check out Dame Nellie Melba’s home, dating back to 1882, situated beside the Pioneer River as you enter Marian. Caravan parking and toilets are available beside the house.
The Mirani museum contains a large display of heritage items and the history of the area. The Pinnacle pub is famous for its homemade pies and is just past the turn-off to Teemburra Dam. It is only a 9km detour on a sealed road to the dam, one of the hottest fishing spots for huge barramundi and sooty grunter in Queensland. There are toilets and a picnic area here as well as a sealed boat ramp, but no camping facilities, as yet. A steep 1km climb leads to the dam wall. You do require a fishing licence to fish in stocked impoundments in Queensland and this includes both Teemburra and Eungella dams.
The road to Eungella is sealed and double lane, and starts to climb after leaving Finch Hatton. The steep 4.5km climb should be okay for a caravan as long as you have a suitable tow vehicle. We have pulled our van up with our Ford Territory without any issues. At the top of the range, the Explorers’ Haven van park has magnificent views down the range from most sites. They also have a camping area and a couple of cabins.
Explorers’ Haven has recently been taken over by Bernadette and Ray Green, and they told us they have plans for major improvements in thefuture, including a new amenities block. When we visited, we saw a large variety of birds there, including beautiful crimson rosellas.
Also at the top of the Clarke Range is the historic Eungella Chalet, built in 1933 as a guest house and health resort. There are similar great views down the Pioneer Valley, and self-contained accommodation, rooms and meals available. You will find a post office, small general store and a few more eateries in the Eungella township. If you are in Eungella on the first Sunday of each month, don’t miss the interesting markets.
For another magnificent view down the valley from a different perspective, drive about 4.5km north of Eungella to Pease’s Lookout, which is only a short walk from the car park.
Before going to Eungella, grab a copy of the Mackay Highlands and Eungella National Park visitor guide. These are available from tourist outlets and national park offices.
The Birri Gubba Aboriginal people were the first inhabitants, followed much later by gold prospectors in the late 1800s. There is a campground called the Diggings in one of the old gold areas, where some mining relics can still be found. Timber harvesters came next, followed by the dairy and beef cattle industries. Nowadays, the dairy industry in the area has collapsed, although you will still see beef cattle in some places.
Eungella National Park has several species of animals which are endemic (confined to this area), including the Eungella day frog and northern gastric-brooding frog. The Eungella honeyeater is also found only here, and over 230 bird varieties call the highlands home. At night you may see the greater gliders and ringtail possums.
Continue through Eungella township for 2km and look for the Sky Window sign and parking area on the left. There are toilets, a barbecue and picnic tables, and wheelchair access for the short walk to two spectacular lookouts and a loop walk back to your vehicle.
The Broken River facilities are another 3km along the rainforest drive. Here, you will find the ranger offices and information centre. There is also a small kiosk (not always open, though), plus toilets, picnic areas, free barbecues and several walking tracks.
The most popular are the two main platypus viewing areas, one on each side of the road, as well as under the road bridge. Both are wheelchair-friendly and a short walk. The day we were there, it was cloudy and we saw three platypus from the new boardwalk beside the pool on the kiosk side of the road. This pool used to be the main swimming hole, but is now closed to swimming. The kids will love spotting he many turtles as they come to the surface. Platypus are seen mainly in the early morning and at dusk but you may be lucky, as we were, and see them on a cloudy day.
If you continue on the sealed road past Broken River you will come to the Crediton Loop Road (good graded dirt), which takes you through the Crediton State Forest to the historic Crediton Hall camping area. There are toilets and water available as well as a shelter shed and barbecues. The camping area is on the banks of the Crediton Creek, and a couple of walks start from there. The old Crediton Hall is 18km from Broken River, and the Crediton Loop Road continues on past the hall and rejoins the Eungella Dam Road. It is slightly shorter to do the loop than retrace your steps from the hall, although it doesn’t look like that on the mud map in the brochure.
If you want to visit Eungella Dam, it is about 20km of graded dirt road further on. The dam is another top fishing area for massive barramundi and sooty grunter. The campground at the dam has toilets, cold showers, barbecues and dogs are allowed.
Along the way you will come to Cockies Creek Road on your left. Exactly 1.5km from Cockies Creek Road, look for a 4WD track on your left. Drive about 1km to a creek crossing. You can leave your vehicle there if the crossing is washed out, and walk about another kilometre in to the truly spectacular Hazelwood Gorge. Unfortunately we were unable to reach the gorge this trip due to water in the creek. Hazelwood Gorge is not widely known or publicised, but is one of the scenic wonders of the area. You can climb to the bottom of the gorge, but remember you have to climb back up again!
Eungella township is 80km west of Mackay in northern Queensland
- Enjoy the magnificent views on the many bushwalks
- Look for platypus in the rivers and water holes
- Fish for barramundi in the dams
- Explore the stunning Hazelwood Gorge
- Wander the Eungella markets for locally-made goods and produce
The full feature appeared in Caravan World #543 November 2015. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!