It would be difficult to top Queensland in the national parks stakes. From desert country to rugged mountains, natural springs and stunning flora and fauna, to Aboriginal art, pastoralists and chequered histories full of intrigue. They are unique in what they offer, and it would certainly be a challenge to visit them all. Now, I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few, and here are my favourites.
Please note: Camping fees for Queensland National Parks can only be paid online, whether it's before, during or after your visit.
Carnarvon National Park: Mount Moffat
Mount Moffatt is part of the Carnarvon National Park and unlike the gorge, you can easily find a camp here that isn’t surrounded by other travellers. A visitor orientation site welcomes you once you have entered the park, and directly opposite sits Cathedral Rock, a mottled sandstone bluff. A 5.8km circuit walk also begins here with three exceptional highlights:
The Chimneys, columns of basalt rock worn away from the sandstone bluff, standing separated and weathered orange, yellow and grey.
The Tombs rock art site. Once a burial site for the Bidjara people, it has more than 400 stencilled motifs along the sandstone wall.
The Looking Glass, a sandstone pillar weathered bare to form holes.
There’s also an information shed at the ranger station. This building was once the homestead for the Waldron family who took up the Mount Moffatt lease in 1939.
The stockyards, with original sections from 1902, are a reminder that cattle used to roam the highlands.
Mystery surrounds the 1902 murder of Constable George Doyle and station manager Christian Dahlke. They were searching for cattle duffers Patrick and James Kenniff with the aid of Sam Johnson, an Aboriginal tracker. James was captured and when Sam went to get handcuffs, he heard gunshots.
He went for help and upon returning, the party discovered the cremated remains of Doyle and Dahlke. Once captured, James was sentenced to life imprisonment and Patrick hanged, pleading innocence to the murders. There’s a memorial to the slain constable at the incineration site.
The 4WD track up the tableland is a challenging climb. You’ll discover beautiful views across the Great Dividing Range from the Rotary Shelter Shed and higher up at the Top Shelter Shed.
The drive continues through the mahogany forest, flanked by silver top stringybarks and ends at the headwaters of Carnarvon Creek.
Back on the valley floor, continue to Lot’s Wife, a pillar of sandstone that stands tall and proud. Kookaburra Cave is home to several Aboriginal stencils and engravings. Can you spot the hand stencil that looks like a kookaburra?
Marlong Arch’s soft precipice sandstone has been eroded by the wind and rain to create this spectacular natural arch. At Dargonelly Rock Hole, eroded rocks store water long after the rains have gone.
Camping: Top Moffatt is 4WD only, limited sites, drop toilet, fire pits
Dargonelly Rock Hole offers open camping, drop toilet, fire pits
West Branch offers open camping, drop toilet, fire pits
Rotary Shelter Shed is 4WD only, small area, drop toilet, fire pits
Mobile coverage: No
Nearest town facilities: Injune 160km, caravan park, fuel, store, dump point, hotel
Bladensburg National Park
Bladensburg was once a thriving sheep station but is now a beautiful national park, accessible for all of us to explore. The old homestead acts as the information centre and ranger station, and you can access the display boards that show the history of the property and explore most of the outbuildings. The nearby shearing shed still smells of the lanolin from freshly-shorn wool long-gone. The yards are off limits though due to the risk of arsenic poisoning.
The Route of the River Gum will take you to Engine Hole, a great place to have a picnic or take a dip. It also takes you to Skull Hole, reputed to be the site of an Aboriginal massacre in the late 1800s.
With a high clearance 4WD you can explore the property further on Scrammy Drive. Scrammy was a roustabout on the property who sadly drowned while camped on the jump up.
This circuit track takes you across the flood plains, past the old racecourse and the lonely grave of a young child, before you climb up the jump up to see the waterhole where Scrammy lost his life, the gorge named after him, and finally a lookout across the plains that will leave you breathless.
Camping: Bough Shed Hole, Surprise Creek, limited sites, drop toilet, fire pits
Mobile coverage: Limited Telstra coverage on the jump up
Nearest town and facilities: Winton 17km, caravan parks, fuel, shops, free camping nearby, dump point
Welford National Park
Welford National Park is one for the landscape photographers. Bordered by the Barcoo River, when it floods, the park can be cut off for months. However, when open, it provides a useful place to set up camp and explore the self-drive tracks over a couple of days. Or just throw in a line, a yabby net or cruise the river in a canoe.
With three drives to experience, you’ll see a lot of the park. The 12km River Drive takes you upstream following the Thomson River in some sections.
The Mulga Drive is 71km return and 4WD only as you venture past the old homestead (no public access) and stockyards.
You can visit Frances and Trafalgar waterholes, with the latter being the best spot to launch a canoe or perhaps catch a fish for dinner. Across Mitchell Grass Plains and into the rugged Mulga Country, you are led to Sawyers Lookout and then Sawyers Creek before returning to the homestead via a dusty loop track.
Tackling the 22km loop Desert Circuit Drive is best left until the late afternoon so that you can capture the desert colours from atop a sand dune, the most photographed feature within Welford.
Camping: Little Boomerang campground, Barcoo River, limited sites, drop toilet, fire pits
Mobile coverage: No
Nearest town and facilities: Jundah 50km, caravan park, fuel, shop, hotel, free camping nearby, dump point
Lochern National Park
Lochern National Park is a favourite of the birdwatcher, and I can understand why. The scenic drive provides an extensive look at the property, with the focus being flora and the river channels. You should also look out for some fauna including the resident red kangaroo, western grey kangaroo and the common wallaroo.
The old Lochern Homestead site is best described as unusual. All that remains is the water tower that housed the bathroom on the ground floor, generator on the second floor and water tank on the roof. The second structure is the two-storey chook shed, so when the river was in flood, the chickens were moved upstairs.
From the campsites, there is good access to the river for canoeing, fishing or just relaxing. If you are part of a large group, the shearer’s quarters are an option, and include flushing toilets, showers and a kitchen along with several bedrooms.
Peter Scott is the ranger at Lochern and is a great bloke to have a yarn to, that’s when he’s not grading a track, fixing the boundary fences or chasing rogue cattle from the Park. He visits the campsites often, so don’t be shy about saying g’day, he’s a wealth of knowledge on the Park and mighty proud of his Mitchell Grass plains. I must agree, they are the nicest I have seen.
Camping: Broadwater Waterhole, limited sites, shower and toilet at ranger station
Mobile coverage: No
Nearest town and facilities: Stonehenge 85km, caravan park, fuel, hotel, dump point
Diamantina Lakes National Park
Diamantina National Park is the most remote. Located in the south-west of the state, you’ll be closer to Birdsville than Brisbane. The roads that lead to the Park are through cattle properties, so expect to be held up during mustering season.
The Diamantina River Road led me to the park, via Old Cork Station. This is an important historical site, but also a great free campsite alongside a permanent waterhole.
The Hunters Gorge is on the banks of the Diamantina River and offers great views of the jump up towards Janets Leap and the Diamantina Gates. This is the shortest distance between the Hamilton and Goyder ranges, about 1km, and squeezes the Diamantina Channels into one, before the water spreads into five main channels again. During a flood, it is an incredible phenomenon to witness as the water plunges through the gates.
The old homestead has an information centre that explains the history of the place from the first interaction between Aboriginals and the Europeans in the early 1800s. The traditional owners still consider areas of the Diamantina National Park to be important places relating to the Dreamtime.
The self-drive tour is close to 90km, so allow at least four hours to take in the experience. Mitchell Grass Plains, old Rodeo yards, ruins, desert red sand dunes, gibbers, waterholes and boggy holes, it has it all.
It is a challenge to get here, so take the time to relax and enjoy what this national park has to offer.
Camping: Hunters Gorge, waterhole, open camping, drop toilet
Gum Hole, waterhole, separate sites, drop toilet
Mobile coverage: No
Nearest town and facilities: Boulia 183km, caravan park, fuel, store, hotel, dump point