ONLY A FEW HOURS FROM BRISBANE, ENJOY A REMOTE WILDERNESS GETAWAY IN THE WILD AND RUGGED SUNDOWN NATIONAL PARK.
Some say you need to travel thousands of kilometres to experience true wilderness, but all this and more can be found within a few hours of Brisbane, Qld. The rugged Sundown National Park (NP) is a relatively small area of just over 11,000ha, located on a huge granite belt stretching for several hundred kilometres. The park’s jagged ridges and gorges have formed over millions of years from erosion, intense heat and pressure from past volcanic activity.
There are a variety of ways into Sundown. On the western side, the Broadwater camping area is accessible by conventional car and is a great base if you want to explore Sundown by foot. But to truly go deep into this natural wonder, you need to travel to the small town of Ballandean on the eastern side for 4WD access into the park.
Ballandean, 250km south-west of
Brisbane, is where you can gather some last-minute supplies and fuel. Heading west from Ballandean along Sundown Road, you meander past boutique wineries that thrive out here in the cool winters and warm summers, and it is not long before you head into Ballandean Station.
Ballandean Station was settled in 1840, when pioneers travelled the tablelands looking for a better life. This is a private, working station, so you’ll need to stay on the main road and adhere to any signs that are in place. One interesting place to stop lies just 2km past the main house, where a large granite monument sits beside the road, engraved with the names of the early pioneers in homage to their hard work and life.
The station road leads you 5km towards Sundown, where you enter via a compound gate. This gate needs to be kept shut, as it defines the shared boundary of Ballandean Station and Sundown NP. Grab a park leaflet from the information shelter at the gate, to learn of any warnings and read more about the area.
This is also the perfect spot to lower your tyre pressures. The rocks in the park are unforgiving, with a high concentration of traprock, a hard sedimentary rock that is sharp on all edges, created by deposits of marine life.
The information board here will show you that it is around 20km down into the main campsites; you’ll need to allow a good two hours to get there, though, as the roads are rough and narrow.
The original Sundown homestead lies 500m down the road. It has had a checkered past, from extensive clearing for sheep grazing to when it was mined for mineral deposits over many years.
A good break along the way is to head into Red Rock Falls, where a short 200m walk will give you breathtaking views of Red Rock Gorge. These extremely eroded rock walls are the result of intensive weathering. Interestingly,
the hills above the gorge were pasture land and clear 100 years ago, to cater for the fine wool that the station produced, and there was mining activity deep below for various types of minerals.
Returning back to the main trail for another 7km, it is hard to miss the huge fence that runs alongside for hundreds of metres and encloses Sundown Mine deep in the valley.
This mine area is closed off due to the amount of unstable shafts and the presence of dangerous materials including arsenic and molybdenum. There is an opportunity to stop and check out the old Beecroft mine that sits trackside, where a safety fence and grate have been placed over the top of the main shaft.
What’s amazing here is that on both sides of the road the drop-offs are hundreds of feet to the valley below. Old diggings can be seen throughout this area and all the way down to the Severn River. From 1880, mineral deposits such as tin, copper, gold and ore were dug here, with up to 100 men working at any one time, but financially these mines never paid off due to the harsh conditions.
The vegetation changes as you wander along, from tough old eucalypt forests to groves of cypress pine, yet occasionally you may spot the odd orchid, wattle tree or even a bottlebrush to give some colour to this harsh environment. Throughout the journey down
to the campgrounds there are numerous unmaintained tracks that loop back onto the main trail. These tracks are extremely rough, very rocky and unforgiving, and should only be attempted by experienced 4WDers.
The track opens out on several ridgetops giving unobstructed views into this remote region; in some of these cleared areas there are the remains of old sheepyards and structures. Sundown Station produced some of the country’s finest wool in its time, and is the home of the 14-strand wire fence – a bit of overkill by today’s standards.
Here at the top yards, you have a couple of camping options: Burrows Waterhole to your left or Reedy Waterhole to your right. The tracks to both campgrounds are steep, but shouldn’t cause any drama if you stay in low 4WD. Burrows Waterhole campground lies beside the Severn River, with flat informal camping spots dotted along the river’s edge. Swimming and fishing is allowed, but check levels and any debris in the water first. During the day look out for the wildlife around the campgrounds – kangaroos and wallabies, wild deer, a host of birdlife, even goannas that pass through camp looking for scraps.
Just across the river at the rapids is the lone grave of Fred Burrows. Born in 1888, he eventually found his way here to work in the
“Throughout the park there are unmaintained tracks that will definitely let you enhance your 4WDing skills”
local mines, but in 1924 he was found dead, having apparently shot himself with his own gun, which was found beside him. He now watches over the waterhole that takes his name, which he lived beside for many years. It is claimed that when you camp here you need to pay your respects to him; otherwise he may visit you during the night!
Throughout the park there are unmaintained tracks that will definitely let you enhance your
4WDing skills and lead to interesting side trails like Rats Castle or the Hell Hole. These are trails where you need good ground clearance, aggressive tyres and plenty of time to explore; allow around an hour to travel 5km on these unmaintained trails. As well as being rough, the trails are narrow, and at times they are only one car width wide, so be vigilant.
Sundown National Park is a place where you need to be totally self-sufficient, confident of your 4WD and camping skills and be aware that it is a very remote location. Sometimes such remote places are closer to the big smoke than you think.
Uninterrupted views on clear day.
CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: The best 4WDing is accessed from the east; Breathtaking views as you press on north; Two 4WD options: easy or hard; Close the gate as you enter Sundown NP.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: The vibrant ridges that earn Red Rock Range its name; Admiring views from the Red Rock Gorge lookout; Minerals were found but costly extraction failed to deliver deposits of sufficient quality.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: Narrow tracks to keep you on your toes; The Severn River dissects the park; Warming up at the Burrows Waterhole campground; The old mines are now closed to tourists.