A re­lax­ing 4x4 get­away that’s only two hours’ drive from Bris­bane.

4 x 4 Australia - - Contents - WORDS AND PHO­TOS KEVIN SMITH

SEVEN kilo­me­tres south of Ke­nil­worth in the hin­ter­land of Queens­land’s Sun­shine Coast is a na­tional park that’s been set up for lovers of the out­doors. There are a host of bush­walk­ing trails where you can ex­plore an old gold mine, dis­cover pris­tine rain­forests, climb an ac­tive fire tower or just walk loops within the park.

The Maleny-ke­nil­worth road runs right be­side Conondale NP, and it’s a great place to start ex­plor­ing this hid­den gem by 4x4. Lit­tle Yabba Park is a per­fect spot to stop be­fore head­ing bush, as there are toi­lets and plenty of grassed ar­eas be­side the Mary River. You can also stretch your legs with a walk around the Fig Tree Loop trail.

There are two main camp­sites in the park: Char­lie More­land camp­ing area and Booloumba Creek camp­ground. Char­lie More­land is suit­able for 2WD ve­hi­cles, while Booloumba Creek, which has four camp­grounds, is only ac­ces­si­ble to high-clear­ance 4WDS thanks to sev­eral river cross­ings along the way.

The turnoff to the Booloumba Creek camp­ground is 500 me­tres past Lit­tle Yabba Park and then it’s a 5km drive to the en­try of Conondale along this nar­row sealed road. The first of three river cross­ings comes up as soon as the tar ends, and most of the year they shouldn’t pose a prob­lem. The base sur­faces of the cross­ings are firm and

After heavy rain the rivers can get ex­tremely wide and de­bris can reach the trees

there’s lit­tle flow, but it can be a vastly dif­fer­ent sce­nario after heavy rain; the rivers can get ex­tremely wide and de­bris can reach the trees.

Where you pre-booked your camp­site de­ter­mines how far you need to travel to camp. Camps 1 and 2 are suit­able for be­side-the-car camp­ing, while at Camp 3 you need to cross the river three times and it’s suit­able for tents and walk-in campers. Di­rectly across the road from Camp 3 is Camp 4, which is suit­able for camper trail­ers and off-road car­a­vans. The road to 3 and 4 has steep sec­tions as you climb in and out of the creeks, so slow-go­ing is the ticket. When en­ter­ing the camps, you’ll need to fill out an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion tag.

Most of the camp­sites are gen­er­ously sized and have plenty of fire rings, wa­ter taps and, im­por­tantly, toi­lets that are sim­ple yet clean. Col­lect­ing fire­wood is not en­cour­aged in the park. Not only is it il­le­gal but the sur­round­ings are lush rain­for­est, so the wood is al­ways damp. The best op­tion is to stop at one of the many stalls on the way and pur­chase a bag of wood for $10.

Once set­tled in camp there are a few op­tions avail­able, de­pend­ing on your level of en­ergy. Stretch­ing out from any of the camp­ing ar­eas are a num­ber of walk­ing trails that range from treks of just a few hun­dred me­tres, to the Conondale Range Great Walk, which is an amaz­ing 56km loop around the park. You can walk to some unique fea­tures in­clud­ing the aban­doned gold mine that’s (ap­par­ently) full of lit­tle bats; a strange rock cairn with a fig tree grow­ing out of the top; and a 5.5km walk to Mount Al­lan fire tower, where you can climb to the top for 360-de­gree views of the area. The fire tower walk can be hit-and-miss ac­cord­ing to weather con­di­tions – some days

Dur­ing the warmer months vis­i­tors can take a dip in the re­fresh­ing wa­ters of the Mary River

it’s clear, but on our day it was misty and foggy.

The fan­tas­tic walks wind around gnarly old gums, 40-foot Ban­ga­low Palms and stran­gler figs that have sucked the life out of their host trees. Bracken ferns line the tracks in the cool rain­for­est pock­ets, while Sclero­phyll for­est dom­i­nates the drier sec­tions.

For those who want to hop in the car and go for a drive, it’s 9km from Camp 4 to the Booloumba Falls day area. The road is very steep and nar­row in places, and it’s oc­ca­sion­ally closed due to trees falling across the road. Keep an eye out for the look­out on the right – about half­way up – where you have a di­rect view of Pin­na­cle Moun­tain and the gorges be­low. There is phone re­cep­tion both here and at the fire tower if help is needed.

The road is shad­owed by huge gums, stran­gler figs, palms and tree ferns all searching for a lit­tle sun­light. There are a few 4WD tracks that shoot off into the for­est, but you need lo­cal in­for­ma­tion as some of these tracks zigzag through­out the val­ley.

Dur­ing the warmer months vis­i­tors can take a dip in the re­fresh­ing wa­ters of the Mary River, but tread care­fully as the crys­tal-clear wa­ter is home to fresh­wa­ter cod and platy­pus.

When out on the walks also keep an eye out for yel­low-footed wal­la­bies, black cock­a­toos, pe­tite lit­tle wrens, par­rots, and the odd car­pet python soak­ing up the sun. Around camp, bush tur­keys fre­quently roam, look­ing for scraps, while whip birds call out to each other. It’s a truly mag­i­cal place.

Be well pre­pared if at­tempt­ing any of the big walks, as you may not see any other walk­ers

Camp 2 has fa­cil­i­ties for tent camp­ing and day use, and it’s a ma­jor hub for the start of the Great Walk.

In­for­ma­tion boards, shel­ters, gas bar­be­cues that over­look the Mary River, and plenty of park­ing means this area fills up fast dur­ing peak times.

An ideal time to visit the NP would be dur­ing spring or au­tumn. Be well pre­pared if at­tempt­ing any of the big­ger walks, as there is poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion along the tracks and you may not see any other walk­ers. Fuel and sup­plies can be found at Ke­nil­worth, but ex­pect to pay a lit­tle more than it costs in larger towns.

With Bris­bane about two hours’ drive away, Conondale is very busy through­out sum­mer and over hol­i­day pe­ri­ods. Queens­land NPWS has gone to great lengths to high­light the fea­tures in this park, mak­ing it a very spe­cial place for ev­ery­one to en­joy.

A de­cent down­pour will make the trails as slick as clay can get.

Whether you’re hik­ing or camp­ing, Conondale is rest­ful. Once a gold mine, now a bat colony.

Walk­ing tracks vary from slow and se­date to steep and hard.

3.7m Stran­gler Cairn will one day be cov­ered by a stran­gler fig. Pay and dis­play gets you clean dun­nies and tap wa­ter. Nei­ther of you want to meet each other ac­ci­den­tally!

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