Waking up to icy windows, surrounded by red-necked wallabies munching on crunchy frosty grass, before hiking through a majestic bunya pine forest is not the first image that comes to mind when you think of “Queensland”. But the Bunya Mountains is not any ordinary part of the Sunshine state.
In a stunning isolated section of the Great Dividing Range, the Bunya Mountains are home to the world’s largest forest of bunya pines, 121 species of birds, red-necked wallabies, swamp wallabies and red-necked pademelons, not to mention over 40km of walking trails.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
About 3 hours from Brisbane, in the middle of Dalby and Kingaroy, the Bunya Mountains reach 1100m above sea level – an elevation that we felt every single inch of as we heaved our 43-year-old kombi up the hill in third, then second, then first gear. Having completely rejected the straightforward route from Toowoomba because it was too steep, windy and narrow, the Old Girl groaned her way up the mountains to a final resting place in Dandabah campground.
Here, for the princely sum of $6.15 each per night, we indulged in hot showers, washing-up facilities, a covered BBQ area and the anticipation of being just metres from a trailhead promising more than 40km of trails. We couldn’t wait.
Dandabah Village is small but perfectly formed. There are hundreds of holiday houses and cabins available for rent. In fact, the village itself has very few permanent residents. There are two cafes to choose from, Poppies on the hill and Elz Bistro, a well-stocked (but pricey) general store, and a somewhat fancy restaurant, Lyrics. The general store has a bottle shop, which isn’t too exorbitant – we happily parted with $12 for a bottle of good red wine. Next-door in Elz Bistro, we splurged on coffees at Melbourne prices.
Hitting the trails
Did we mention that there are more than 40km of trails in the park? Somehow they all loop and connect to each other. After a couple of days on the road, we were itching to hit the trails. We studied the map from the national parks office, we packed our running bags with Clif Bars and water, we prepared our peanut-butter breakfast wraps, and jumped into bed early so the morning would arrive faster.
And then the rain came.
We awoke to thunderous rain on the kombi roof at 2am. “It’ll pass”, we promised each other, and rolled over trying in vain to get back to sleep. It didn’t pass. Instead, it hung around in clouds so thick that, when morning finally arrived, we could only hear the rock wallabies munching on grass around us. And it wasn’t just the rain; the wind was so strong our marquee broke free from its tethers and dangled lopsidedly, failing miserably at its job of keeping our gear dry.
Refusing to be disheartened, we pulled our rain jackets over shorts and t-shirts, dug out our damp shoes from underneath the battered marquee and started running.
Our decision couldn’t have been better. We ran all morning, following the Scenic Circuit Track deep into the rainforest where trees soared high above us and the clouds seemed a world away. We stopped to marvel at the steps cut into tree trunks by Aboriginal men to climb and gather bunya nuts. Bunya trees can grow up to 40 metres tall and a cone can hold up to 80 nuts, weighing up to 8 kilos! But it wasn’t nut season for us, so we ran under the prehistoric trees without a care.
We dodged the strangular fig and giant stinging tree, hopped over slippery logs, counted greens in every imaginable shade, and stopped to listen in silence to the rain hitting the canopy high above us.
After about 6km, we came to Little Falls, then Big Falls, and finally Paradise Falls, suddenly feeling blessed that it was raining.
From Paradise Falls, we crossed the road and began the Westcliff Track to Westcott Camping Area. After a couple of kilometres, the forest opened into a small viewing area – something we only knew because there was sign pointing to the “Lookout”. Everything around us was clouds and mist. We made a mental note to return tomorrow and see what we missed.
Continuing along, the forest gave way to grassy flats and suddenly, the campsite was in view. A quick stop at the toilet and we turned to enjoy the run back, our thoughts already with hot soup, hot tea and hot showers.
Rain only tormented us for a day. But the clear skies brought us another surprise the following morning – ice. The wallabies crunched in surprise at the frosty grass, as we scraped ice from the Old Girl and scolded ourselves for forgetting to bring Mat’s clothes in.
We swapped our rain jackets for running gloves, and practically skipped to the trail head. This time, we ran straight to Paradise Falls and then Westcott Camping Area, taking in the views across the range as we sailed past the lookout. From Westcott, we turned off onto the Cherry Plain track, a more rugged and rocky trail that clutched onto the cliff face. It was mostly downhill on the way out, so we glided on air like sprinters. And then we turned around to face a steady up.
Returning to camp after 24km, we treated ourselves to a bottle of red wine, Mat made pancakes and we watched the rock wallabies follow the sun-kissed grass.
The Bunya Mountains might not be Queensland as you know it, but it’s still “Beautiful one day, perfect the next.”
The road up to the Bunya Mountains from Dalby side is very steep and winding. About 400m up, the kombi called it a day and we had to reverse back down, drive 150km around the other side and take the less steep, windy route up. Most normal cars could handle this easily, but if you have a camper trailer or caravan, do yourself a favour and take the route from Kingaroy.
If you’ve timed it right and happen to be in Dandabah on the last Sunday of the month, you can browse locally made goodies at the Bunya Mountains Market. Be sure to pop into Poppies on the hill for Bunya Nut cake too!
Inspired? So you should be! Visit the Bunya Mountains website for lots of information on how to get there, where to stay and what to do.