Girraween National Park, Qld
The “place of flowers”, Girraween NP is a must-see natural nirvana.
Girraween National Park, abutting the New South Wales border 260km southwest of Brisbane, is renowned for its striking and distinctive landscape – massive granite outcrops, expansive rock pavements and huge tors balanced in gravity-defying clusters. The park’s astounding geology is swathed in eucalypt forest, animated by clear running streams and painted by spectacular wildflowers in spring. This natural wonderland had long been on our bucket list and it was a must-see destination on our road trip down the Country Way.
It’s possible to access Girraween NP from the New England Highway, 30km south of Stanthorpe, but we eschewed the blacktop in favour of scenic back roads that skirted Storm King Dam, southeast of the town. These linked to the park’s northern entrance and an immediate introduction to a couple of its natural attractions – Dr Roberts Waterhole and the Underground Creek.
A gently sloping 600m track leads through heath and open forest to the waterhole that bears the doctor’s name, where walkers can gaze upon reflections in the tranquil waters of Bald Rock Creek and listen to the symphony of birdsong in surrounding bush. Another short track diverts through swamp hollows and shrub land bedecked in wildflowers to Underground Creek. This curious name describes a rock formation that was created millions of years ago in the shape of a cresting wave. Over time, weathering has relentlessly opened cracks and crevices in the rock face, causing it to shatter and collapse into Bald Rock Creek below. Undeterred, the creek flows on beneath the jumbled boulders, hence its name.
Girraween NP straddles the northern end of the 2500sq km New England ‘Granite Belt’ to a height of about 900m above sea level. This geological phenomenon was created by volcanic activity about 240 million years ago and subsequently sculpted by weathering and erosion into dramatic features with names like The Pyramid, Granite Arch, Castle Rock and The Sphinx. Girraween shares broadly similar characteristics with Bald Rock and Boonoo Boonoo national parks in New South Wales, and jointly they conserve almost 24,000ha of the Granite Belt.
The Kambuwal Aboriginal people prospered here for countless generations before European settlement. Although their culture is largely lost to us, evidence of their life and land use remains in the form of rock markings, grinding stones and scar trees, and many tools and other artefacts have been found within the park. Girraween was also a corridor from northern New South Wales to the Bunya Mountains where tribes gathered for the triennial bunya nut festival.
From its northern entrance, the unsealed access road continues through the park to the tourist hub – a Queensland National Parks information centre, manicured picnic ground and two camping areas all clustered between Castle Rock and Bald Rock Creek. We were pre-booked into the Bald Rock Creek camping area, which proved an absolute delight with generous sites dedicated to tents, caravans or camper trailers dotted throughout an open shady forest. Campers are well-served by fireplaces, water (boil before drinking) and an amenities block that featured flushing toilets and hot showers – just the thing after a long day’s bushwalking.
After setting up in glorious sunshine, we set out on the Bald Rock Creek walking track to The Junction. Technically, this is a circuit, accessed from the campground by a rocky ford. However, swollen by recent rains, the creek was coursing so strongly around the stepping-stones as to make the crossing a risky business. As discretion is the better part of valour, we backtracked to the day-use area and the trailhead for the 5.5km (return) walk along the creek’s northern bank.
It began at a broad granite pavement riven by channels edged with tea-tree, and shadowed the creek by an easy gravel path through thickets of flowering shrubs. This was a botanical paradise, showcasing many of the park’s 700 floral species that earned Girraween its Aboriginal name of "place of flowers". In our days in the park, we found them colourful and prolific – a magnificent display of golden wattles, delicate white heath myrtle and hot pink kunzia, multi-hued peas and glowing orange banksia, dainty purple orchids and assorted daisies.
All the while, honeyeaters, thornbills, fairy-wrens and firetails flitted about seeking insects and nectar among the blossoms – a mere fraction of the park’s avian population that covers 57 of Australia’s 91 families of birds, some of them endangered or endemic only to the Granite Belt.
Beside the trail, the creek surged down a wide bare-rock channel, occasionally punctuated by swirling cascades, to its confluence with Ramsay Creek at The Junction. Bald Rock Creek is a central feature of the Girraween landscape, draining westward into the Murray-Darling catchment through a chain of waterholes and swamps that nurture aquatic habitats for crayfish, turtles and an array of frogs with exotic names like the scarlet-sided pobblebonk. Girraween’s substantial size (11,800ha) and diverse ecosystems also support permanent populations of fauna across 317 species.
One of the park’s most iconic landforms is The Pyramid – an immense hump of granite that towers above the surrounding forests – accessed by a 3.6km (return) walk from the picnic area. This trail undulates through a forest of blackbutt and stringybark, detouring at one point to weave steadily up to Granite Arch, another pink granite marvel sculpted by the forces of nature over millions of years. Ascending the steep, exposed slope of The Pyramid is strenuous, requiring a good level of fitness, but the panoramic view over the Girraween Valley from the top is worth every drop of sweat.
Girraween is a magical place, with so much to offer nature lovers of all ages and interests, and it is easily accessible from the New England Highway. So, next time you cross the border on the Country Way, do yourself a favour and visit Girraween, the place of flowers.
- Giraween NP is located on the Queensland-New South Wales border, 260km southwest of Brisbane, halfway between Stanthorpe and Tenterfield. Turn off the New England Highway 26km south of Stanthorpe or 30km north of Tenterfield and follow the bitumen road 9km east through the Wyberba Valley to the park information centre.
- This is a year-round destination with mild-to-warm summers and cool-to-cold winters, but spring brings abundant wildflowers.
- Castle Rock and Bald Rock Creek camping areas both cater for tent camping and camper trailers, Castle Rock more suitable for caravans and motorhomes. Facilities include hot showers, toilets, picnic tables, water and communal wood barbecues. Permits are required and fees apply.
- A range of holiday accommodation is available in and around Stanthorpe and Tenterfield.
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