There is much for travellers to enjoy in Queensland’s Southern Downs – picturesque rolling plains, historic towns, heritage homesteads, premium wineries, farm-fresh produce, a year-round calendar of festivals and events – but for sheer nature-loving outdoor adventure, the prime attraction has to be the magnificent Main Range National Park. Nestled in the western foothills of the Great Dividing Range, barely 175km southwest of Brisbane, the Goomburra section of the park was a major destination on our springtime road trip along the Country Way.
After exploring the forests around Blackbutt and Crows Nest, we descended from the Ravensbourne uplands by scenic Seventeen Mile Road and entered the Downs along winding back roads through the Lockyer Valley. Emerging on the New England Highway south of Toowoomba, a short drive brought us to the small rural town of Allora, where we took a break.
Allora is known as “the best little town on the Downs”, with a surprisingly big history and many points of interest that make the stop worthwhile. The area was part of the Goomburra pastoral run (1841) occupied under licence by Ernest Dalrymple. In 1859, the town was surveyed at a shepherds’ crossing on Dalrymple Creek and called ‘Allora’, derived from an Aboriginal word meaning ‘swampy place’. The rich black soil around Allora was ideal for agriculture and the town developed rapidly on the back of wheat growing, with a steam flour mill, a school of arts, a court house, three churches and five hotels (three of which remain) before the end of the 19th century.
Tourism has become an important part of the town’s culture and a walking trail lists over 30 sites, including heritage-listed St David’s Anglican Church (1888), the old shire hall, and a Boer War memorial and park. The town hosts annual garden and heritage weekends, the Allora Show and the Allora Country Music Festival.
Beyond Allora, the New England Highway continues south to a junction where we turned east on Goomburra Road, tracing Dalrymple Creek to its headwaters in the national park. As we penetrated deeper into the valley the fertile pastures flanking the road gave way to forested ridges, and another phenomenon revealed itself: thousands of campers bivouacked on the grassy flats beside the creek. We were passing through “Gordon Country”, private land that has been developed to accommodate campers, such as these hordes of holidaymakers taking advantage of the October long weekend – reputedly, a drop in the ocean compared to Christmas and Easter.
Although we had pre-booked our permits for Manna Gum camping area in the national park, there are no allocated sites there and we began to fear that we might not find a decent space to park our Kimberley Karavan (“Tikay”). As it happened, there were indeed many campers randomly scattered around the grassy clearing, but we managed to squeeze into a nice spot next to the forest at the edge of the camping area. (We later learned from the ranger that, although busy, the camp was far from full capacity, with only 90 of a potential 140 bookings.)
SCENIC RIM WILDLIFE
We were delighted to find that Manna Gum camp also contained vast numbers of birds – cockies, corellas, rosellas, magpies, currawongs, bellbirds and iridescent satin bowerbirds, to name a few – all chirruping, squawking, warbling, trilling and ‘dinging’ in a ceaseless avian cacophony from dawn ‘til dusk. It was truly wonderful to sit back in the camp chairs, listening to it all and watching a passing parade of denizens flitting through the trees about the campsite.
Today, the park (comprising the Goomburra, Cunninghams Gap, Spicers Gap and Queen Mary Falls sections) protects 30,170ha of the ‘Scenic Rim’ escarpment, a spectacular arc of valleys, peaks and ridges created by volcanic activity about 24 million years ago. Differences in the mountains’ eroded topography, altitude and soils have nurtured a mosaic of plant communities, ranging from subtropical and cool temperate rainforest to wet and dry sclerophyll forest, montane heath and rock pavement vegetation. These diverse habitats shelter a stunning array of wildlife – more frog, reptile, bird and marsupial species than anywhere else in Australia, and many that remain relatively unchanged from their ancestors in the fossil record.
In 1994, in recognition of their intrinsic ecological value and vital importance to global conservation, UNESCO declared the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area (GRA) over the Main Range and other national parks in South East Queensland and northern and central New South Wales. In 2007, the GRA was added to the Australian National Heritage List.
Unsurprisingly, Goomburra is a popular destination for bushwalking, ranging from short easy strolls to long physically demanding hikes. To gain a true appreciation of this world heritage environment, and for the pure pleasure of being in it on a sunny spring day, we took to some of the trails in the surrounding forest.
The Dalrymple Circuit meandered along the creek, crossing it several times at rocky fords, and linked up with the Cascades Circuit that penetrated deep into lush rainforest along a series of rocky pools connected by clear, slightly opalescent streams. When we weren’t stepping gingerly over slippery rocks, we were craning our necks upward to ogle the native orchids sprouting in profusion in the canopy towering overhead. Climbing steeply out of the rainforest, the trail followed a ridge overlooking the valley before descending even more steeply to the trail head at the edge of the camp.
All the way up the mountain, a heavy overcast leaked a steady drizzle, which degenerated into persistent rain for the duration of the walk. Undeterred, we donned our raincoats and squelched off into the rainforest along a red-loam track that was quickly becoming an aqueous slurry among the tentacle-roots and lianas. It was an oddly invigorating experience to be bathed (literally) by cool, scented mountain air swirling among the glossy green foliage that swayed in a hissing wind and danced under falling raindrops. The track emerged from the jungle at the end of North Branch Creek as it disappeared over the precipice into the verdant valley below. Upstream, the creek pooled in a reservoir among the ferns, its surface popping and bubbling with fat droplets falling from the overhanging canopy.
Climbing into bed that night, we discovered that a sneaky leak had soaked into the mattress. Too tired to care, we lined the soggy linen with towels and turned out the light, thinking only of our next leg south to the Granite Belt, where the Girraween National Park awaited us near the border.
- Main Range NP is located about 175km southwest of Brisbane via Gatton and Allora. Turn off the New England Highway 3km south of Allora and follow Inverramsay Road and Forestry Reserve Road east about 35km to the park boundary. The last 6km are unsealed and may be impassable after heavy rain.
- This is a year round destination with warm to very hot summers and dry cold winters. Weather and temperatures can change rapidly in these ranges.
- Attractions include impressive mountain scenery, breathtaking views, unique wildlife and bushwalking.
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