Now’s the time to head for the Granite Belt for a real taste of winter, and what better place to start than the remote and rugged northern section of Sundown National Park?
Located not far from the wineries of Ballandean, south of Stanthorpe, Sundown offers a genuine wilderness experience for those prepared to endure the very rough tracks that lead to the Severn River and Red Rock Gorge. Access into this section of the park is only suitable for four-wheel-drives. The tracks are very rocky and the going extremely slow; the 20km drive from the front gate to Rat’s Castle Waterhole takes several hours. A few steep climbs and descents as well as some rocky riverbed crossings will see low range engaged more than once during the drive.
It’s worth the effort though, as the inspiring scenery is unlike anything else you’ll find in Southeast Queensland. At Sundown you’ll be greeted by knife-edged, red granite ridges, gorges and escarpments separated by cleared grassy hills and groves of hardy old cypress pines. This ‘traprock’ wilderness is home to over 130 species of birds, including bowerbirds, lyrebirds and the rare turquoise parrot, as well as wallaroos, kangaroos and feral deer and goats.
Experienced bushwalkers will revel in exploring untracked hills, valleys and river flats while anglers may cast a line into some of the larger waterholes that are also suitable for swimming and canoeing. Sundown’s absolute peace, quiet and solitude must be experienced to appreciate a significant part of the park’s appeal. There’s a fairly good chance you’ll have the place all to yourself.
Sundown, established as a sheep station in the 1930s, has many reminders of its past, with disintegrating fences and yards spread right throughout the park. Some small-scale mining also took place there, and you can still see the crumbling remains of the Sundown and Beacroft mines located beside the main track to the river. Camping is permitted at Red Rock Gorge, Burrows Waterhole and Reedy Waterhole, with the only facilities being pit toilets at the first two as well as a lookout at Red Rock. Burrows offers the best camping in the park on a grassy flat beside a long tranquil waterhole, while Red Rock is the most easily accessible campsite.
Winter is the best time to visit Sundown, with freezing nights (pack a good quality sleeping bag!) and clear blue-sky days. The sweltering conditions in summer make things very uncomfortable, with daytime temperatures easily reaching 40C.
Visitors are advised to give a copy of their itinerary to a reliable person before setting out. You should also be well prepared (take plenty of drinking water) and to travel in convoy if possible. The four-wheel-driving ranges from moderate to difficult, with most of the tracks composed of rocky rubble and suitable for high clearance, low-range equipped four-wheel-drive vehicles only.
Camping permits are available from the self-registration station at the park’s front gate, and you can get more information by calling Girraween National Park on (07) 4684 5157.
1) It takes several hours to drive from the park’s front gate to Rat’s Castle Waterhole, 20km away.
2) Camping is permitted near the quiet Reedy Waterhole.
3) Burrows Waterhole, site of the park’s best camping area.
4) A black stain on the sheer red cliffs of Red Rock Gorge mark the falls that flow briefly after rain.
5) Rolling hills, grassy clearings and groves of Cypress pines dominate the views along the track towards Burrows Waterhole.
6) Prickly pears mark the ruins of a shepherd’s hut on a hill above the Severn River.Reads: 2632