Re­mote ac­cess

ONLY A FEW HOURS FROM BRIS­BANE, EN­JOY A RE­MOTE WILDER­NESS GET­AWAY IN THE WILD AND RUGGED SUN­DOWN NA­TIONAL PARK.

Camper Trailer Australia - - CONTENTS - WORDS AND PICS KEVIN SMITH

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.

PI­O­NEER COUN­TRY

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.

FENCED OFF

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.

SET­TLING IN

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.

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