CONONDALE NATIONAL PARK, QLD
A relaxing 4x4 getaway that’s only two hours’ drive from Brisbane.
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!