Sunshine Coast hinterland, Qld
Explore the wilderness of the Sunshine Coast hinterland and beyond through a network of easily-accessible national parks.
From the balcony of the fire tower atop Mount Beerburrum, it seemed the whole of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland was laid out before me. To the south, a patchwork of pine plantations and farmland stretched away towards Caboolture.
Bribie Island could be seen faintly to the east and, in the north, the volcanic peaks of the Glass House Mountains stood like sentinels in the early morning haze. Overhead, a near-cloudless blue sky augured well for my planned safari through several national parks in the coastal plain, the Blackall Range and beyond.
GLASS HOUSE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
The climb to the summit of Mount Beerburrum (280m) was a real slog – it took me half-an-hour to climb the steep 700m paved track through open forest – but the panoramic views from the top were ample reward and a great introduction to the region. The Glass House Mountains National Park (NP) is not a single tract of land but a collection of discreet reserves, each protecting its own peak. The park stretches between the towns of Beerburrum and Beerwah, with separate access routes off the Steve Irwin Way and Old Gympie Road to each of the recreation nodes.
The distinctive and spectacular mountains were formed by volcanic activity about 26 million years ago and subsequent weathering has revealed them in a medley of domes, cones and spires. Numerous sites within the park indicate long and intensive occupation by Indigenous people. The peaks lie within the traditional lands of the Jinibara and Kabi Kabi people and hold great spiritual significance in their culture. In Aboriginal legend the mountains are members of a family: the father being Mount Tibrogargan, Mount Beerwah the pregnant mother, and the others being their sons and daughters.
The mountains are easily accessible from Brisbane and major centres on the Sunshine Coast, and offer boundless opportunities for recreation in a magnificent natural environment. Well-equipped day-use areas at Mount Tibrogargan and Mount Beerwah are the starting points for a variety of walking tracks to lookouts with spectacular views. It is also possible to access the summits of these two peaks for 360° panoramas – not by walking tracks, but by steep routes over exposed, rocky terrain that require high levels of fitness and climbing skills. Well-prepared enthusiasts will enjoy the rock-climbing and abseiling challenges posed by these dramatic peaks.
Lacking the stamina and metal for such extreme pastimes, I was more than content to explore the countryside along the 3.2km Tibrogargan Walking Track around the base of the mountain, linking up with the 6km Trachyte Circuit through casuarina groves, open eucalypt and melaleuca forests.
After lunch, I took the scenic back roads past Mount Coonowrin to Mount Beerwah and added a couple of kilometres to the day’s walking tally on a track through eucalypt forest to the ‘no waiting zone’ at the foot of the exposed, near-vertical climb to the summit. On my way back, I passed a trio of young, lycra-clad climbers intent on seeing sunset from the summit. I wished them good luck and God speed.
There are no camping areas within the Glass House Mountains NP, although camping is permitted at Coochin Creek in the nearby Beerwah State Forest. I spent my first night at the Beerwah Hotel, which had a good bistro, but the rather spartan room was directly above the main bar where off-key karaoke pounded away until midnight – not recommended for those craving sleep after a hard day in the mountains.
KONDALILLA NATIONAL PARK
An early start next morning was rewarded by a glowing sunrise that lit up the ridge-top Maleny-Montville Road on the way to Kondalilla NP in the Blackall Range. The park is named after Kondalilla Falls, where Skene Creek drops into a rainforest valley in a rushing cascade during the summer wet season, reducing to a gentle trickle in the drier winter months. Perched on the western edge of the escarpment, the 1591ha park is a cool mountain refuge protecting many relict species of plants and animals.
From the carpark, a 50m walk descends to an excellent picnic area laid out in a large, grassy clearing in the rainforest. At the bottom of the clearing, a track leads to a couple of splendid walks, beginning with an easy 1.7km loop through tall, wet sclerophyll forest around Picnic Creek to a lookout on the edge of the escarpment.
From here, the track diverges on the Falls Circuit, descending steeply by 100 steps to ‘The Rockpools’ overlooking the valley, and again through dense stands of piccabeen palms to the base of the falls. What goes down must come back up, and my stamina was tested by the return leg.
Vehicle-accessible camping is not available within Kondalilla NP but there is a range of accommodation in and around the nearby townships of Montville, Mapleton and Maleny.
MAPLETON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
A short distance beyond the town of Flaxton is Mapleton Falls, where Pencil Creek plunges 120m over a sheer cliff. This small but significant national park protects a 26ha remnant of forest that once covered the Sunshine Coast hinterland. From the carpark, a 50m wheelchair-friendly pathway leads to a lookout with spectacular views of the waterfall and the rainforested chasm below.
Another short walk from the carpark leads to an open, grassy picnic area and the trailhead for the 1.3km Wompoo Circuit and the Peregrine Lookout with fine views west along the Obi Obi Valley.
MAPLETON NATIONAL PARK
Beyond the town of Mapleton lies the national park of the same name. The roads in Mapleton NP are unsealed and can be steep and winding; they vary in condition depending on weather and maintenance, and can be slippery in wet conditions. Noted for its diverse forests, numerous creeks and rocky outcrops with expansive views, the national park offers many opportunities for bushwalking, horse riding and mountain bike riding.
I headed for Point Glorious and, as its name implies, the lookout here offers spectacular views of the coast and hinterland from a rocky outcrop 400m above sea level. Scribbly gums and grass trees surround the day-use area, which is supplied with picnic tables and an incomparable view.
Gheerulla camping area is the only place to camp within Mapleton NP. Although occupying a pretty location beside Gheerulla Creek, the camping area only has three sites and these are suitable only for tent camping. Caravans are not recommended because of the limited turn-around area.
Finding them too small for my taste, I opted for alternative accommodation at the Cambroon Caravan Park and Camping Ground, just south of Kenilworth, on a very pleasant (and very quiet) property – no phone, no internet and no karaoke.
CONONDALE NATIONAL PARK
A short run back up the Kenilworth Road next morning brought me to the eastern entrance of Conondale NP. Several creek crossings make this unsealed road suitable only for high-clearance 4WDs.
The rugged 35,500ha park in the Conondale Range embraces a network of mountain streams and cascades that carve deep gorges through luxuriant rainforests and stands of towering eucalypts.
This spectacular landscape may be explored by several walking tracks that range from short strolls to the challenging 56km Conondale Range Great Walk. On arrival, I trekked off on a trail that reached several major attractions. Beginning with a cobblestone crossing of Booloumba Creek, the trail skirted riparian rainforest before branching off towards an old gold mine. The mine was worked in the early 1900s and is now inhabited by a colony of common bent-wing and eastern horseshoe bats.
Further on, another side-track led to a clearing in which stands the impressive 3.7m-high Strangler Cairn sculpture by internationally renowned artist Andy Goldsworthy. It’s made from hundreds of hand-cut granite blocks with a strangler fig sapling growing from the top.
After about 5km, the trail descends a steep hillside to emerge from the rainforest at the Artists Cascades, where the creek flows into a tree-lined grotto before tumbling through a series of pools among smooth grey boulders.
The morning was well advanced by the time I returned to the car for a 9km drive on a steep forest track to Booloumba Falls. From the falls carpark, a fern-lined trail led to a sinuous cascade into a deep pool, where several families had gathered for a swim – a welcome, if somewhat chilly, treat on a balmy autumn day.
The abundance of good camping makes Conondale NP popular. There are three large camping areas close to Booloumba Creek; however, only camping area 4 is suitable for high-clearance caravans and camper-trailers.
The closure of the Bundaroo Creek bridge on Funnels Hut Road (which may remain closed for some time), obliged me to continue my safari via Sunday Creek Road through the Imbil State Forest. This unsealed road is suitable for conventional vehicles and provides access to the Charlie Moreland camping area – an open, grassy clearing surrounded by forest on the banks of Little Yabba Creek.
Beyond the camping area, Sunday Creek Road climbs along a ridge with a panoramic view over pine plantations to the mountainous landscape of Conondale NP.
The scenic drive continued through tall eucalypt forest to the intersection with Funnels Hut Road, where I diverted to Peters Creek. From the carpark, a 500m walking trail descended to the creek and followed it along a picturesque, boulder-strewn watercourse interspersed with pools and cascades before looping back through rainforest to the carpark – a very pleasant walk in the dappled morning light.
JIMNA STATE FOREST
Sunday Creek Road emerged from the western side of Conondale NP and I turned north towards the Jimna State Forest, about 45km north of Kilcoy. Once a vibrant centre for goldmining and timber milling, the current Jimna landscape is a rich green mosaic of pine plantations and pockets of native forest. The quaintly-named Peach Trees camping area is reached by an unsealed road, suitable for conventional vehicles. There is plenty of room for tents, caravans and camper trailers, and campers are well catered for with recently upgraded facilities.
Three walks leave the campground to explore the surrounding landscape: Yabba Creek Circuit (700m) links both sides of the creek by way of a suspension bridge; Eugenia Circuit (2.5km) meanders along both banks and includes a lookout over dense Lilly Pilly groves; and the Araucaria Circuit (4.5km) is an extended tour of open ironbark and grey gum forests and a dry rainforest of bunya and hoop pines. When you’re done walking, you can hang out with the grey kangaroos basking on the grassy flats or sit by the creek to watch out for platypus.
My safari came to an end at Jimna – a fantastic journey that covered about 250km through six magnificent parks in as many days, and all within a few hours’ drive from Brisbane.
The national parks in the Sunshine Coast hinterland and the Blackall Range are located between 70km and 120km north of Brisbane.
The main day-use areas in all of them are accessible by conventional vehicles but 4WDs are recommended within Mapleton NP.
Conondale NP is about 130km north of Brisbane and is accessible only by high-clearance 4WD. Jimna State Forest is 140km north of Brisbane and is accessible by conventional vehicles.
The full article appears in Caravan World #554 August 2016. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!