Born of massive volcanoes and continental tectonics, the ranges straddling the border between south-east Queensland and northern New South Wales are places of outstanding beauty – a striking blend of extinct volcanic caldera, primeval forests and sparkling mountain streams. The region embraces large sections of the World Heritage-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia, 3600 sq km of spectacular national parks and reserves stretching along the Great Divide from Barrington Tops, NSW, to Boonah, Qld.
A network of scenic drives, known collectively as the ‘Rainforest Way’, penetrates these subtropical landscapes to reveal our continent’s living link to prehistoric Gondwana.
Approaching from the north-west, the ascent into the ranges begins near Killarney, Qld, along the Falls Drive, through an area noted for its many waterfalls and panoramic scenery. The first cascade is Dagg’s Falls, accessed by a short track from a roadside pullout that ends abruptly at a viewing platform perched 50m above a narrow defile. This mini-spectacle is a modest prelude to the main event further along the drive.
Queen Mary Falls is located in a small scenic outlier of the Main Range National Park (NP), on the western slopes of what was once an active volcano. Erosion by water and landslides over 25 million years has carved large sections of the cliff around the falls into a mass of boulders and debris in the gorge. From the picnic reserve, a 2km circuit descends through a forest of immensely tall gums. In the valley below the falls, the track winds through rainforest to a jumble of car-sized boulders into which Spring Creek cascades over a 40m precipice. The views from lookouts on both sides of the gorge are stunning. An added treat is the opportunity to hand-feed gaudy king parrots and crimson rosellas at the cafe opposite the falls carpark.
Leaving Queen Mary Falls, the road (signposted as unsuitable for caravans and trailers) climbs to Carr’s Lookout and continues along the McPherson Range towards Boonah. Part way along the range, a side road diverges on a scenic route through the pastoral valley of Old Koreelah to Tooloom NP. Travellers towing vans or trailers must backtrack from Queen Mary Falls to the Summerland Way and head south through the picturesque rural hamlets of Urbenville and Bonalbo to access the Richmond Range via Peacock Creek Road. Just outside the Tooloom NP, another short detour leads to Tooloom Falls, a natural feature of mythological importance to the local Gidabal people.
RICHMOND RANGE NP
The Richmond Range NP is one of the most biodiverse regions in Australia. About 40 per cent of it is covered by pristine rainforest, containing over 400 species of flowering plants and more than 100 species of birds. The species diversity of mammals here is said to be the richest in any area of comparable size in Australia. Within the park, delightful Peacock Creek Campground is a grassy clearing encircled by a forest of hoop pines, from which issues the constant tinkling of bellbirds.
This fertile hinterland is irrigated by the Northern Rivers – the Richmond, the Clarence and the Tweed – and a host of smaller tributaries that all have their headwaters in the Border Ranges. Through it, ‘Gondwanaland’ may be approached by a series of narrow, grass-edged lanes along ridges between macadamia and coffee plantations that connect the small villages.
This picturesque meandering delivers travellers to the foothills of the Nightcap NP, a dramatically beautiful reserve of ancient forests, sparkling streams and Mount Warning – the remnants of the 20-million-year-old Wollumbin shield volcano. On its south-eastern perimeter, Minyon Falls presents a good opportunity to stretch the legs and enjoy breathtaking views from the lookout beside the falls’ sheer precipice. The park is within the traditional lands of the Widjabul people and Minyon Falls is part of their cultural landscape, which also includes Mount Warning (Wollumbin) and the Pinnacles.
Lured by the chance of employment in difficult times, timber-getters began logging in the Nightcap Range in the 1830s. The giant red cedar was particularly sought after for its beautiful red timber. Logging in these ranges continued well into the 20th century. However, concerted action by the Terania Native Forests Action Group in the 1970s catalysed the NSW Government’s ‘Rainforest Decision’ in 1982 to halt logging in the majority of NSW rainforests.
Beyond Minyon Falls, the unsealed, all-weather Whian Whian Scenic Drive loops 14km through forests of blackbutt and scribbly gum to Rocky Creek Dam and the Rous Water Rainforest Reserve. The ‘Cedar Walk’ exits the picnic area here and rolls down a grassy meadow to the shores of the reservoir, edged by several metres of blue water lilies; crossing the dam wall, it returns through forested hills that are the proud product of a regeneration program on a former dairy farm.
BORDER RANGES NP
Quiet back roads cross verdant hills and valleys around Nimbin to enter the Border Ranges NP via Lillian Rock and the Tweed Range Scenic Drive. This track is quite steep and signs declare it unsuitable for caravans and trailers. A less arduous, but no less scenic, route takes you through Kyogle and Wiangaree to Sheepstation Creek Campground on the park’s western side. This makes an excellent base for exploring the rainforests of this beguiling national park, which includes some of the world’s oldest ferns and conifers.
A short detour on the Rosewood Loop leads through dense rainforest regrowth to a creek with waters that run icy cold even in the summer months. The hilly terrain around the creek is cloaked in stands of strangler figs and old growth eucalypts, interspersed with giant rosewoods and white beech with imposing buttress roots. Several walking trails explore Brindle Creek, one of which, the Red Cedar Loop, features a 1000-year-old red cedar measuring 48m in height and 133cm in diameter.
From Brindle Creek, the Tweed Range Scenic Drive tracks northward in a clockwise loop connecting a series of lookouts that hint at the scale and magnitude of the forces that forged this amazing landscape. After separating from Gondwana, Australia’s northward drift carried the continent over a ‘hot spot’ that ignited a series of volcanoes along the east coast, including the twin shield volcanoes of Mount Warning (Wollumbin) and Focal Peak. Mount Warning once stood at twice its present-day height, trapping moisture-laden sea air and generating high rainfall. Over time, this weathering carved out a basin surrounded by near-vertical cliffs along its perimeter, resulting in one of the largest calderas in the world.
The first lookout from this ‘Scenic Rim’ is at the Antarctic Beech Picnic Area with a sweeping northerly vista to the Lamington NP across the border. Subsequent lookouts afford spectacular views across the caldera to the distant spire of Mount Warning and the coast north of Tweed Heads.
MAIN RANGE NP
From the town of Wiangaree, the Summerland Way (B91) tracks west, almost to Woodenbong, before branching northward to cross the Queensland border at Richmond Gap. The Gondwanan landscape straddles the Gap with Mount Lindesay State Forest to the east and Mount Barney NP to the west. Beyond the Gap, back roads traverse hilly country around Rathdowney, Maroon Dam and Lake Moogerah, and eventually connect with a steep unsealed road to the Spicers Gap camping area in the Main Range NP.
Beginning just 85km south-west of Brisbane, this 30,000ha national park protects the western extension of the Scenic Rim, a dramatic landscape of more than 40 peaks higher than 1000m, including south-east Queensland’s highest peak, Mount Superbus (1375m). The secluded Spicers Gap camping area is nestled in a forest clearing on the eastern side of the range and provides ready access to the Mount Matheson walking trail and an old pioneer road that was once the only route across the range.
Adjacent to the camping area is a small cemetery, known simply as the ‘Pioneer Graves’, that reveals much about the lives of early travellers and settlers. Among them, Mrs Collins and her infant child, both killed in a dray accident while descending the range in 1854; Frederick Weymouth (sawyer) who drowned in 1860; and Alfred Hudson (drover) who died ‘stricken with fever’ on a date unspecified.
The old road leads to Governors Chair Lookout at the top of Spicers Gap. Originally known as Governors Rock, the ‘chair’ on the cliff edge overlooking the Fassifern Valley was named after Governor-General Sir Charles Fitzroy in 1854.
The modern-day Cunningham Highway (A15) bisects the Rim at Cunningham’s Gap. At ‘The Crest’, a pullout and picnic area is the hub of several walking tracks that radiate into the surrounding ranges. The Gondwana experience can be rounded off with more forest walks and camping in the Goomburra section of the national park to the north of Cunningham’s Gap.
Explore our Gondwana heritage on foot or by car, enjoy its many primordial charms, and remember, as Henry Thoreau wrote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world”.
The Main Range NP is 116km south-west of Brisbane. The Cunningham Hwy provides access to the Spicers Gap section in the south and the New England Hwy to Goomburra section in the north.
The Border Ranges NP is 150km south of Brisbane and is accessed via Murwillumbah, Kyogle and Wiangaree in NSW or via Beaudesert and Rathdowney in Queensland.
The Richmond Range NP is 115km west of Lismore, NSW, via the Bruxner Hwy.
The Nightcap NP is 27km north of Lismore via the Lismore-Mullumbimby Rd and Whian Whian Forest Drive.
- Birdwatching, wildlife encounters, bushwalking, scenic driving, photography, sightseeing, camping, waterfalls, Aboriginal culture.
- All the national parks in the Border Ranges are year round destinations, with dry mild winters and hot humid summers.
- Most access roads are suitable for conventional vehicles but some roads are steep and not suitable for caravans and trailers. Check local conditions.
- Camping fees apply at all designated campgrounds.
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The full feature appeared in Caravan World #551 June 2016. Subscribe today for the latest caravan reviews and news every month!