Spectacular National Parks Trail
Whether it’s end of year burnout blues, the pressure of school holiday plans or a New Year’s resolution to travel more that’s nagging you, a Summer road trip around some of South East Queensland’s most spectacular National Parks will iron out the creases, relax and refresh you.
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Brisbane to Girraween National Park
Via M5 and the Cunningham Highway – approximately 3 hours’ drive direct, 4-hours with a lunch stop.
If you’re looking for a complete change of scene – almost like another planet – you’ll find it amid the bushland, clear streams and boulder landscapes of Girraween National Park near Stanthorpe.
Pack the car with the essentials – an esky chocko-block with delicious supplies, picnic basket, walking shoes, binoculars , water – and hook up the van or throw in the tent if you’re keen to camp. Set off early and stop for bite and a really good coffee at Jamworks Cafe at Glen Aplin or if you’ve packed lunch, head directly to the National Park and relax under the gums at the day use area.
Local Tip: On your way to Girraween, call in to Hidden Creek Wines, Granite Ridge Wines or Balancing Rock Wines for a wine tasting and a couple of bottles to have with dinner; Stanthorpe Cheese for hand-made farmhouse cheese and local relishes, olives and small goods; Suttons Farm for apple juice, cider and the best apple pie you’ve ever tasted.
Girraween is the indigenous word meaning 'place of flowers’ – you’ll see wildflowers all year round, but especially in Spring when pretty clusters bloom in open bushland and even pop out from granite crevices. Keep your eyes peeled for echidnas in the undergrowth, turtles in the creeks, more than 150 bird species – everything from kookaburras to superb lyrebirds and rare turquoise parrots; and furry friends including kangaroos, possums and spotted-tailed quolls.
Walks (Follow the Top 5 trails in Girraween National Park)
Beginners or families with younger kids should start with an easy 30 minute 1.6km circuit along the granite track beside Bald Rock Creek to a natural rock archway, the Granite Arch.
To really stretch your legs, the 7.4km return track to The Sphinx and Turtle Rock is a manageable 3–4 hours of fairly easy terrain with views of some dramatic rock formations as your prize.
Serious walkers with a good level of fitness can tackle the 3.5km Pyramid circuit trail – a 2-hour journey featuring views across the park to Balancing Rock and Second Pyramid. You have to make like a mountain goat to climb exposed rock faces in places - guaranteed to get your heart pumping!
Image credit: @_thelittleadventurer
If the idea of being woken by birdsong and lulled to sleep by crickets sounds good to you, then pitch your tent in the Park’s Bald Rock camp ground – bookings essential as campsites close in times of water shortage.
Or for the bush soundtrack plus all of the creature comforts, opt for a spacious self-contained chalet at Girraween Environmental Lodge, about two minutes’ drive from the National Park. Set in natural bushland the Lodge’s two plunge pools and soothing heated spa are the only place to be after a day of rock-hopping and scaling granite boulders.
Girraween to Bunya Mountains National Park
Via New England Highway, Warrego Way & Bunya Mountains Maclagan Rd - approximately 3.5 hours’ drive.
Formed about 30 million years ago, the Bunya Mountains wilderness area is home to the world’s largest stand of ancient Bunya Pines and an abundance of wildlife. It’s the perfect low-key getaway offering holiday houses, camping and picnic areas and 35km of walking trails. You can’t miss the red-necked wallabies, especially at dawn and dusk; keep an eye out for colourful crimson rosellas, king parrots, satin bowerbirds and green catbirds, and an ear out for owls and the ‘wark’ wark’ call of great barred-frogs.
Accessed from Dandabah, the 4km Scenic Circuit is an easy 1.5 hour walk through the towering Bunyas to Festoon Falls and Tim Shea Falls with just a few undulations – nothing too strenuous, just enough to get your lungs working.
For a longer walk of a similar grade, the 4 hour, 10km Barker Creek Circuit Trail from Dandabah will take you through rainforest, grassland and eucalypt forest, with the option of a 750m side track out to Big Falls lookout to see the falls and spectacular valley views.
Serious hill walkers may like to tackle the steep slopes of the 2.5km return Koondaii circuit from the Westcott picnic area. It’s boot-camp for the real world – a fairly quick zig-zag down the mountainside to the valley lookout and then a decent huff ‘n’ puff climb back to the top – an hour all up.
Local Tip: Due to an average elevation of 975m with some peaks reaching over 1100m, The Bunyas are often 5-7 degrees cooler than the coast, so always bring some warm clothing with you – even in Summer.
For the best sunrise and sunset views, head to Fishers Lookout, either by car or on foot – it’s the highest vantage point in the Bunyas, 2kms from Dandabah Village.
Pitch your tent or park your camper in Dandabah Camping Area, or opt for the comforts of a fully self-contained mountain house. There’s everything from studios perfect for two to multi-bedroom mansions for large groups, all rentable through Bunya Mountains Accommodation Centre.
Bunya Mountains to Brisbane via Ravensbourne National Park
Via Warrego Way & New England Highway - approximately 3.5 hours direct or 4.5 hours with a stop at Ravensbourne National Park.
At least 110 bird species, including the threatened black-breasted button-quail, can be found in Ravensbourne National Park – a small tract on the edge of the Great Dividing Range. You will also find towering trees, palm groves, trickling streams and the best remaining example of the rainforest that originally covered this part of the Range.
Ravensbourne’s 500m Cedar Block Circuit offers easy walking and an interpretive trail. There are soaring views over the Great Dividing Range from the adjacent Gus Beutel Lookout and you can cook a barbecue (BYO wood) or set up a picnic under one of the towering fig trees - the perfect spot for cool breezes and a snooze.
A little more challenging, the 2.6km, 2-hour return Buaraba Creek trail takes you through rainforest and eucalypt forest, to a short downhill section before reaching the cool palm-fringed creek.
Local Tip: Add on a walk and swim in Bottlebrush Pool at nearby Crows Nest National Park, just north of Ravensbourne or reserve an outside table and settle in for a long lunch featuring local produce at Emeraude Bistro Hampton.
If you just can’t bear to turn the car in the direction of home, book a night or two at the beautiful self-catering Stonehouse Retreat, a room at Anduramba Homestead B&B or a house with Ravensbourne Escape. After just a few days unwinding in spectacular natural places you’ll have collected on the road trip promise: fresh air, big blue sky days and starry nights, recharging your batteries, reconnecting with nature and spending precious time together.
For more inspiration on where to explore across Southern Queensland Country, check out our handy guide or head to our blog.