All posts by Glenn Burns

Dingo Days . Hiking K’gari’s Southern Lakes Circuit.

K’gari or Fraser Island, is the world’s largest sand island; a huge sandmass of 166 000 hectares in area and 123 kilometres long by 25 kilometres wide. It is a World Heritage listed landscape of high dunes, pristine freshwater lakes, wallum heathlands, extensive active sandblows, reedy swamps, sandy ocean beaches and towering forests. K’gari attracts nearly 300 000 visitors annually. For the bushwalker it offers an unbeatable combination of relative solitude, brilliant scenery, a great interlocking track network and excellent hikers camps tucked away from the hordes of 4X4 campers and tour buses. Our walk would take us on an 70 km circuit through a landscape of forested high dunes and perched lakes loosely known as the Southern Lakes District.

The traditional owners of K’gari are the Butchulla people who have occupied the island for at least 5000 years. Evidence of their occupation is found in middens, scar trees , lithic scatters and placenames of K’gari’s natural features.

Examples of Lithic Scatters on K’gari

Please leave all artefacts where you find them. Do not remove. Quote from Yolngu elder: ‘It ( sliver of quartz ) must be put back in the earth and left to grow… as all things do, men, animals, everything.’

What’s in the name: K’gari or Fraser Island ?
Repatriation of a name.

K’gari is said to mean ‘paradise’ in the local Butchella language. It is pronounced ‘gurri‘. Fraser Island is named after a Scottish woman , Eliza Fraser, who was shipwrecked on K’gari in 1836. After her rescue she spread damaging and increasingly lurid accounts of her treatment by the Butchella people. Her accounts were syndicated as far as the Americas and reinforced the idea that Indigenous people were savages.

Portrait of Eliza Fraser
Source SLQ: Portrait of Eliza Fraser.
The rescue of Eliza Fraser.
Source SLQ: The rescue of Eliza Fraser.

The reversion to K’gari began in 2011 when the Queensland Labor government added K’gari as an alternative name in the Queensland Place Names Register. In 2017 Fraser Island was renamed to K’gari (Fraser Island) National Park. In 2021 , the World Heritage Committee adopted the name K’gari (Fraser Island) World Heritage Area. I believe that it is the intention to give Aboriginal names to K’gari’s natural features, while man-made features may keep current names.

Historical Photos of Butchella on K’gari.
Man holding boomerang, K'gari
Source SLQ: Man holding boomerang K’gari. ca 1900.
Decorated men with shields & spears 1870.
Source SLQ: Group of decorated men with shields and spears. 1870s. Pierson’s Camp. K’gari.
Man showing scarification.
Source SLQ: Man showing scarification.
Shelters at Bogimbah.
Source SLQ: Shelters at Bogimbah.
Source SLQ: Portrait of three women removed from K’gari. Note the Aboriginal tracker in the background.

Brilliant reference material on Aboriginal K’gari / Fraser Island if you can still find a copy or can download the PDF version from UQ eSpace.

Fraser Island: Occasional Papers in Anthropology. No. 8.
Lauer, P. ( ed ) 1977: Fraser Island: Occasional Papers in Anthropology. No. 8. Available as a PDF version from UQ eSpace.
Qld Parks and Wildlife Brochure on K’gari / Fraser Island
K'gari ( Fraser Island ) section Great Sandy National Park. Qld Parks and Wildlife Service.
K’gari ( Fraser Island ) section Great Sandy National Park. Qld Parks and Wildlife Service.
Other great sources of information about K’gari.
Australia's Wilderness Heritage.
P. Figgis & G. Mosley: Australia’s Wilderness Heritage. Vol 1. ACF and Weldon Publishing. 1988.
App developed by Uni Sunshine Coast.
App developed by University of Sunshine Coast,
Website : FIDO
Website of Fraser Island Defenders Organisation ( FIDO ). This is easily the best and most comprehensive source of information on K’gari.

Location of K’gari, Fraser Island.
Location map ak'gari
Thursday: Kingfisher Bay Resort to Lake McKenzies Walkers Camp: 8 kms.
Soon after 2.15 pm on a steamy Queensland October afternoon, the Fraser Venture decanted its cargo of 4WDs , resort guests and three ancient bushwalkers onto the wooden jetty of the eco-friendly Kingfisher Bay Resort. Our six day K’gari adventure was under way. My two companions were John and Joe.
Lake Boomanjin
Southern Lakes landscape. Lake Boomanjin.
Map of Southern Lakes Circuit: K’gari.
Map of Stn Lakes Circuit
Southern Lakes Circuit: Kingfisher Resort> Boorangoora> Lake Benaroon> Markwells Break> Central Stn> Boorangoora> McKenzies Jetty> Kingfisher Resort

The escape from the resort compound wasn’t all that obvious. But after we had wandered aimlessly through the resort, we swallowed our pride and asked a guest for exit instructions. He pointed us in the right direction: up a sandy track and through the electrified dingo-proof fence. This was a foretaste of the soupy and sandy conditions for the next six days: hot steamy weather, biggish hills and sandy tracks. We quickly manoeuvered into walking formation. Joe in the lead, trundling along at his steady four kilometres per hour. John sauntering along in the rear, allowing him to indulge his obsession with birdwatching. Your scribe somewhere in the middle.

” Slow Travel is always the Best Travel “.
Fellow travellers
Fellow travellers, ever curious.
Drosera sp. Shores of L. Boomanjin
The object of our attention: Drosera sp. (Sundew). Carnivorous plants which capture and digest insects using sticky leaf surfaces. Often grow in soils with poor mineral content. This specimen found growing on sandy beach of Lake Boomanjin.

Our track headed generally south east, roughly parallelling Dundonga Creek. For much of its way the track snaked through scrubby low woodland, finally arriving at the crest of a high forested dune at 100 metres. Here we were greeted by a distant clap of thunder. From this vantage point we looked down onto the blue waters and the wide sandy beaches of Boorangoora aka Lake McKenzie. Unusually, for a hot afternoon, the beaches were deserted. In pre-Covid times the beach would have been crawling with sunbathers touching up their tans.

Lake McKenzie, K'gari.
Boorangoora / Lake McKenzie, K’gari.
Great Walk Map for K’gari / Fraser Island
Great Walk Fraser Island Topographic Map. Qld Parks and Wildlife Service.
Great Walk Fraser Island Topographic Map. Qld Parks and Wildlife Service.

Click here for link to Parks and Wildlife map of K’gari / Fraser Island.

Aust Geog Map of K’gari / Fraser Island.
Aust Geog Map: Fraser Is. Scale 1 cm to 5 km
Aust Geog Map: Fraser Island: Scale 1 cm to 5 km
Boorangoora / Lake McKenzie: late afternoon and no day trippers !

With the threat of an impending storm we picked up the pace and arrived at the Lake McKenzie Walkers Camp a mere two and a half hours after leaving Kingfisher Resort. The campground was currently home to a clutch of high schoolers, surprisingly very well behaved.

The walkers camp at Lake McKenzie is all you could wish for if hiking luxury is your thing: toilets, water, tent pads that can double up as swimming pools after a shower of rain , wooden tables , metal food/gear lockers to keep out the local fauna and the cool fresh waters of Boorangoora only a stone’s throw away. And, as a bonus, the whole campground comes without 4WDers and has its own dingo-proof fence.

Dingo proof fence at lake McKenzie walkers camp.
Dingo proof fence at Lake McKenzie walkers camp.
Wongari: Fraser Island Dingoes: Canis dingo.

K’gari is rightly famous for its population of pure bred dingoes and visitors are always thrilled with the sighting of a dingo in the wild. More problematic though are the direct interactions between human and dingo. More than 20 years after the disappearance of Azaria Chamberlain from a Central Australian campground, dingoes would again hit the headlines with the death of a nine year old boy, Clinton Gage, on K’gari. Bradley Smith’s book The Dingo Debate’ has an excellent chapter written by Rob Appleby which summarises the research on Fraser Island dingoes.

The Dingo Debate. Bradley Smith ( ed ). CSIRO. 2015.
The Dingo Debate. Bradley Smith ( ed ). CSIRO. 2015.
Wongari. K'gari dingo.
The Dingo on K’gari. Wongari

K’gari has a dingo population of approximately 104 to 200 pure bred dingoes. Small mammals and marsuipals as well as fish form an important constitutent of their diets, not, thankfully, Homo sapiens. The dingoes are naturally sleek animals, but they are not, as many visitors assume, hungry. The temptation to feed them, or play with them should be resisted at all costs. It is on K’gari that the most visible efforts have been made to manage the dingo-human interface. Unfortuately, it is the dingo that comes off second best. Since 1992 the Queensland Parks Service (QPS) has culled 135 dingoes, of which only eight were sick or injured. To be fair, ‘ lethal control’ is the measure of last resort.

The QPS has developed a dingo management strategy of the ‘Three Es’: education, engineering and enforcement. TheirBe Dingo Safe’ campaign is considered by international experts as very innovative and world’s best practice. The main engineering solution is the widespread use of high dingo-proof fencing around sources of food such as campgrounds and resorts: Kingfisher Bay, Eurong and Happy Valley. Enforcement usually involves the issuing of Penalty Infringement Notices (PINs). Very few of these go to court. But in one very highly publicised case, a wildlife photographer cum dingo campaigner was fined $ 40 000 for multiple breaches. The general principle is one of visitor education.

Animal proof locker. K'gari.
Animal proof locker in campsite.

With numerous such dingo warning signs everywhere, I deemed it politic to unearth my copy of the Queensland Parks Service brochure: Be Dingo Safe! Did you know that dingoes can open tent zips and failing that, rip open tents, mesh screens, and tarpaulins. They have been known to break into iceboxes ( eskies ) and those ubiquitous cheap plastic bins. I was further warned that dingoes will eat anything: lollies, soap, tents, toothpaste and even hikers boots. Thus, in this era of duty of care bushwalking, the Queensland Parks Service had thoughtfully provided a two metre high dingo-proof fence as well as metal doggy and native mice proof bins to store overnight gear.

Dingo Safety Guide
Safety and Information Guide: Qld Govt.

Meanwhile, back in the walkers camp, hysterical screaming about snakes came from a nearby tent site. This prompted me to check that I had fully closed my tent’s mesh entrance. I’ve never had a guest snake in my tent… marsuipial mice, mosquitoes, leeches, ticks, March flies even a quoll, but never, thankfully, a snake. Further enquiries revealed that it was just a modestly sized carpet python. In due course it slithered off and transferred it’s unwanted affections to the table immediately adjacent to my tent. My reptilian mate hung around most of the night, finally scoffing down a squealing Antichineus in the early hours of Friday morning. Come daybreak it had vanished into the undergrowth.

Carpet Snake. Walkers Camp K'gari
Carpet snake wandering through Lake McKenzie’s Walkers Camp.
Friday: Boorangoora / Lake McKenzie to Lake Benaroon via Tawhan / Basin Lake : 15 kms.

Our early morning routine was immutable. A bit of preliminary in-tent packing, change back into the already putrid hiking gear and finally emerge into the crepuscular dawn. A quick brew, a bowl of porridge, a final pack and we were on our way. Usually by 6.30 am. All the better to beat the humidity.

From Boorangoora a bit of down and up brought us to Tawhan, Basin Lake, a small nearly circular lake nestled into an amphitheatre of heavily vegetated high dunes. We waddled down to check out the lake but given the early hour we passed on the swim bit. And so, a longish downhill canter delivered us to the relative civilisation of Central Station.

Tahwan. Basin Lake K'gari
Tahwan, Basin Lake.
Central Station Day Use Area
Central Station Day Use Area.

Central Station is now the main camping area for southern Fraser Island, so expect heaps of tourists . Elderly hikers and campers be warned: it has a well earned reputation as backpacker party central. That aside, walkers and 4WDers have been spoilt by the Queensland Parks Service with treated water, flushing toilets, hot showers ( $2.00 ), decent tent pads with picnic tables and a day use area with picnic shelters, information boards, phone (old style), and BBQ’s. And, you are safely coralled behind a dingo-proof fence.

Central Stn Walkers Camp. Kgari.
Central Station Walkers Camp on a very damp day in September 2006. A sneaky low pressure cell developed over K’gari making life on the open road a tad wet. These lows are frequent enough to deserve a specific name: a Fraser Island Low.

We sprawled out for our morning tea break on the shady boardwalk of Wanggoolba Creek, flowing crystal clear under a rainforest canopy of palms, tree ferns and huge trees festooned with epiphytes, vines and orchids. A tourist magnet judging by the number of day-trippers who waddled past. Many stopped for a chat, curious about the old fellows lurking on the boardwalk with their voluminous rucksacks propped beside them.

K'gari. Wanggoolba Creek
Littoral rainforest on Wanggoolba Creek, Central Station.

Interlude over, we shouldered our monkeys and headed south, back into the high dunes. Much of K’gari is a maze of vegetated razorback high dunes. When viewed from above many have a characteristic U or V shape. These are parabolic dunes, having long trailing arms aligned parallel to the prevailing south – eastly winds; a real pain in the neck for those of us walking on a north-south trajectory. There were six episodes of parabolic dune building, with the oldest in the west ( 700,000 years old ) and the youngest in the east ( 40,000 years ago ). They reach their highest point at Mt Boowarrady at 214 metres.

Satellite image Central Lakes K'gari. Parabolic Dunes.
Satellite image of heavily vegetated high dunes K’gari. Central Lakes district.

Parabolics are relicts of ancient sandblows, which, in the Great Sandy Region have been stabilised by old growth rainforests and eucalypt forests. K’gari also has a large number of non-vegetated, active sandblows: the significent ones in the Southern Lakes District include Dulingbara, Hammerstone and Wongi sandblows.

Wongi Sandblow.
Wongi Sandblow

Often, more frequently than I would like, a day’s walk on K’gari degenerates into long, steep slogs to a dune crest then a brief respite along the dune top, followed by the eagerly anticipated descent into the next swale. Oddly, John preferred these uphill trudges while Joe and I cussed along in his wake.

A Landscape of High Dunes and Lakes: The Bogimbah Dune Land System.

Our route for the remainder of the day took us past more perched lakes: Lake Jennings, Lake Birrabeen, finally coming to roost in the Benaroon Walkers Camp. This high dune and lake landscape is part of the Bogimbah Dune Land System which occupies a considerable part of central K’gari from Lake Bowarrady in the north southwards to the Sandy Strait. It contains the best of the lake scenery as well as the successive waves of huge Pleistocene parabolic dunes which now form the highest part of the island.

The vegetation cover is almost entirely tall forest dominated by Blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis), Red Mahogany (E. resinifera), Satinay (Syncarpia hillii), Tallowwood ( E. microcorys) and Brushbox (Lophostemon confertus). The Bogimbah system also encompasses virtually all of K’gari’s rainforest.

Photo: JB. One of the many ‘giant’ trees on K’gari. Tallowwood ( Eucalyptus microcorys ).
Eucalypt  Forest on K'gari. Great Walk
Eucalypt forest on K’gari’s high dune system. Great Walk Track .

The sub-tropical rainforests occupy the swales between dunes and are characterised by tall closed forests with a diversity of species and structural elements. The canopy trees are Satinay (Syncarpia hillii), Brushbox (Lophostemon confertus), Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii), Kauri Pine ( Agathis robusta ), Strangler Figs ( Ficus sp. ) and Piccabeen Palms ( Archhontophoenix cunninghamiana).

Strangler Fig
Strangler Fig.
Kauri Pine
Kauri Pine, Agathis robusta
Piccabeen Palm.
Piccabeen Palm : Archontophoenix cunninghamiana

Understorey plants include Tree ferns ( Cyathea sp. ), Climbing Pandanus ( Freycinetia arborea ), King Ferns ( Todea barbara ) and a variety of epiphytes. One understorey plant which I was pleased to find was Giant Fern ( Angiopteris evecta ), which grows to five metres tall and although uncommon in South East Queensland, it is also found in moist side gorges of Carnarvon Gorge in Central Queensland.

K'gari rainforesAngiopteris evecta
K’gari rainforest: Angiopteris evecta, an ancient fern with a history dating back 300 million years.
Lake Benaroon.

Benaroon Walkers Camp was deserted. No fellow walkers , no dingoes, and alarmingly no dingo fencing. But I did find snarling dingo warning signs on the toilet door. Pretty unkind to dingoes I always think.

Dingo signage

Tent up, I drifted off in search of my well-earned refreshing dip. The shallow tannin-stained waters of Benaroon didn’t oblige. I managed a half-hearted semi-submerged wash down but a decent swim wasn’t on offer.

Lake Benaroon Campsite
Great Walk campsite at Lake Benaroon.
K'gari: Lake Benaroon
Lake Benaroon

With a hazy sun setting in a blood red western sky, our thoughts turned the plumes of smoke we had seen over the north of K’gari on our first day. The bush fire was obviously still burning, hopefully still well to our north. It would burn uncontrolled for several more weeks.

K'gari : Lake Benaroon on sunset.
Clouds building over Lake Benaroon on sunset.
The 2020 summer bushfire on K’gari.

A major bushfire started on the 14th of October, 2020 , when an illegal campfire torched bushland in the island’s north. It was still burning and spreading when we left K’gari .

It went on to incinerate 82,00 hectares, nearly half the island. Add to that another 13,500 hectares of bushfire damage in 2019 and these wildfires have had a major impact on this World Heritage listed estate.

K'gari bushfire Tues 22 Dec 2020
Source: Dept. Ag, Water & Environ, Aust. K’gari bushfires, Tuesday 22/12/2020.

The 2020 fire came close to damaging major infrastructure at Cathedral Beach Campground, the village of Happy Valley and Kingfisher Bay Resort. So serious was the situation that K’gari was placed off-limits to tourists. At its peak a massive response of 87 firefighters, 9 supporting aircraft, a large aerial tanker and 36 vehicles still were unable to get it under control. Given the dangerous cocktail inaccessible terrain, hot, dry northerlies, this was hardly surprising . The fire was finally brought under control by an intense rain event associated with an upper air trough on the 13th of December 2020. Sixty two days after it had ignited.

Aftermath of bushfires in 2021.
Aftermath of 2020 bushfires on K’gari.
Regrowth after 2020 bushfires.
Dense regrowth after 2020 bushfire season.
Saturday: Lake Benaroon to Markwell’s Break via Lake Boomanjin: 8 kms.

Today’s walk would see us exit the Great! Walk system at the northern end of Lake Boomanjin and turn onto a fire trail known as Markwell’s Break, following it north towards Lake Wabby. We planned to collect water at Bridge Creek on Markwells allowing us to camp several more kilometres along the break. Placing us closer to Wabby for tomorrow’s walk. But more of that plan later.

Meanwhile, the seven kilometre track to Boomanjin climbs gradually up a high dune to top out at 150 metres. From here it gently winds down the trailing arms through tall forest to reach the wide sandy beach of Lake Boomanjin.

Lake Boomanjin: the world’s largest ‘perched’ lake.

Most of the freshwater lakes south of Lake Bowarrady are examples of perched lakes. That is, the water in the lakes is held at an elevation in the dune well above the island’s general water table, often 100 metres or more above the water table. Over time, the normally highly permeable sand has been cemented by organic material washed in by feeder creeks and swamps. Eventually the cemented sand becomes an impervious humate rock which captures any inflowing water. There are very few perched dune lakes elsewhere in the world outside Queensland’s Great Sandy Region, so it was a privilege to see them.

Lake Boomanjin
Lake Boomanjin. Storms building by mid morning.

At 200 hectares Boomanjin is reputed to be the largest perched lake in the world. Its deep brown colour comes from the organic tannins leached from the swamps on its northern and western shores. With its Melaleuca-lined shores and white sandy beaches it is easily one of the most photogenic lakes on K’gari.

Other types of lakes on K’gari are water window lakes ( most of the lakes in northern K’gari ) and barrage lakes ( Lake Wabby ).

Lake Wabby. Barrage Lake.
Barrage lake : Lake Wabby. An active sandblow is forming a barrier that backs up any regional water flowing into the lake. The barrage sandblow in this photo is called Dulingbara.
Lake Garawongera. Water Window Lake
Lake Garawongera: a Water Window Lake. Water Window lakes form when the land surface dips below the local water table, creating a window the water table.

But to return to the sands of Boomanjin. We spent a very pleasant hour rattling around on its northern shores; John chasing birds while Joe and I found a shady nook to enjoy morning tea and the cooling breeze wafting off the lake. John reappeared in due course and here we peeled off the Great!Walk track system and lumbered up the 100 metre altitude gain onto the high dunes of Markwells Break. Our destination was Bridge Creek , two kilometres hence, where, in theory, we would collect water for the afternoon and drag it to our overnight camp several more kilometres along Markwell Break.

Bridge Ck on Markwells Break K'gari
Bridge Creek on Markwells Break. Alas, no water.

Naturally there was no water. John volunteered to thrash off into the manky vegetation downstream looking for the precious water. To no avail. Slow learners…Never trust depictions of perennial and non-perennial streams on Australian maps. There was no choice but to return several kilometres to Boomanjin, collect water and climb back up onto the high dunes of Markwells Break. But not before lodging our rucksacks high up in some Allocasuarinas, safe from the predations of any passing dingoes.

K'gari. Stream feeding Lake Boomanjin
Collecting water from stream feeding northern end of Lake Boomanjin.

We carted our watery cargo back up Markwells and set about pitching tents under a threatening sky. This was a great campsite; while lacking the mod cons of the walkers camps it was, by far, my favouite campsite of the trip. High in the dunes set in a Banksia and Scribbly Gum woodland.

The Scribbly Gum: An Australian Icon.

For many years the scribbles on the smoothbark Eucalypts intrigued field naturalists, writers and bushwalkers. It was thought that the scribbles were caused by the larvae of a beetle.

Scribbly Gum, K’gari.

In the 1930’s , Tom Greaves, a CSIRO entomologist, discovered the larvae of a small moth were responsible for the scribbles on Eucalypts in the Brindabella Ranges near Canberra.

Specimen moths were sent to the UK for identification and a new genus was established, Ogmograptis, and the moth was named Ogmograpthis scribula. CSIRO scientists discovered that there are more than one moth responsible for scribbles; currently the number is 14, with many more to come.

Ogmographtis scribula
Source: CSIRO. Photo: Natalie Barnett. Ogmographtis scribula

The larvae bore tunnels in the outside tissue of the tree’s trunk. The caterpillar then eats its way back along the tunnel, leaving the tree to spin a cocoon at its base where it pupates.

Scribbly Gum
Bark of Scribbly Gum: Eucalyptus racemosa.
Closeup of scribble on Scribbly Gum Bark
Close up of scribble made by larvae of Scribbly Gum moth: Ogmograptis sp.

John disappeared on one of his avian missions while Joe and I made short work of our ever dwindling rations. I treated myself to a Back Country pouch of roast beef, mashed potato and veg while Joe savoured one of his delectable home-made dried concoctions: risotto, mushroom, garnished in white wine. Joe is a handy chef, both in the home kitchen and out in the bush.

On dusk a light sprinkle of rain drove us into our tents for the duration.

K'gari. Markwells Break
Overnight camp on Markwells Break
Sunday: Markwells Break to Central Station: 16 kms.

Twelve sweaty hours entombed in small tents encourged us out soon after 4.15 am . We were trackside by 6.15 am. All the better to beat the predicted heat and humidity. A very pleasant stroll follows the shaded tops of the high dunes. There are many special moments in bushwalking when lugging our monkeys around is all made worthwhile.

In this case a trackside scatter of chewed she-oak cones called orts. A good find, as orts signify the presence of Glossy black-cockatoos, listed as a Vulnerable species under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act, 1992. Scientists regard orts as a reliable indicator of the presence of the Glossies.

They feed almost exclusively on the seeds of nine she-oak species, often restricting their diet to two species within their range. They display strong fidelity to specific feed trees, returning to these trees year after year. They are quiet and unobtrusive birds and call infrequently. Hence the fresh orts were an indication that Glossies had been feeding in this tree.

So next time you are out walking in the bush keep an eye open for orts. You never know, there might be a pair of Glossies feeding quietly in the foliage of a she-oak nearby.

Glossy Black Cockatoo
Photo: CSIRO: By Aviceda -CC-BY-SA 3.0

A few kilometres on we popped out of the woodland to the unremarkable Markwells Lookout.

Markwells Break
Markwells Lookout on Markwells Break.

To the east were the sands of Eurong beach with the blue Pacific Ocean stretching off to the horizon. Northwards , our direction of travel, is the lower country of the Markwell Land System. It is demarced from the high dunes where we were standing by an escarpment, sand not rock. Here the Bogimbah high dunes have been eroded into sharply delineated sand cliffs by past higher sea levels. Later erosion has obscured the steep cliffline so that our descent was quite gradual.

The Markwell Dune System is composed of more recent sand deposits forming relatively gentle topography clothed in open forest and some swampy country.

Meanwhile, back at the lookout Joe’s Bureau of Meterology ( known in Australia as the BOM ) app informed us that severe thunderstorms promising heavy rain, hail and lightning were heading our way, encouraging us to divert for the Central Station where we could bunker down. Lake Wabby abandoned.

We followed Markwells northwards for another six kilometres across hot, flat , sandy country. By late morning the humidity was pretty unpleasant so we were happy campers when we swung back into the shady high dunes and re-connected with the Great! Walk track system.

Great Walks Signage
Great Walks Signage.

The final four kilometres of our day edged gently downhill passing through Pile Valley featuring some of the best rainforest on K’gari. It is in Pile Valley that you are guaranteed to see the best specimens of K’gari’s rightly famous Satinay trees.

Vines in the scrubs on K'gari.
Vines on the edge of scrubs , Pile Valley, K’gari.
Satinay or Fraser Island Turpentine

Satinay ( Syncarpia hillii ) was a much prized timber extracted from K’gari’s forests in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The name satinay derives from the satine wood of French Guiana. It had multiple uses : furniture, flooring, heavy construction beams, telegraph poles and most famously as borer resistant marine jetty piles. Its timber graces Australia’s Old Parliament house while the piles were used extensively for the wharves of London and the Suez Canal. Satinay grows to well over 40 metres in height with girths of four metres. It is easily identified by its deeply furrowed bark and fused capsules.

Satinay K'gari
Satinay. K’gari
Fused capsule of Satinay; Syncarpia hilli.
Fused capsule of Satinay; Syncarpia hilli.
Stand of Satinays. K'gari.
A stand of Satinay with deeply furrowed bark.

With rain threatening we hastened through Pile Valley and made a bee-line for a shelter shed in the Central Station Day Use Area. And there we perched for the night only issuing forth for a refreshing cold shower in the campground. PS: bring $ 2.00 coins if you want a hot shower. We had avoided getting wet but the humid, still air in the backblocks of the shelter shed did seem to attact a robust population of mosquitoes and March flies, intent on driving us back out into the rain. Deet took care of the mosquitoes but the March flies are totally oblivious to layers of thick clothing and Deet. If you want a March Fly free experience, go in winter or September at the latest.

Central Station Day Use Shelter Shed
Central Station Day Use Shelter Shed
A History of Central Station.

In its heyday, Central Station was a bustling forestry station. In 1952 it boasted a school, plant nursery, machinery sheds, vegetable gardens, fruit trees, stables, fernery as well as houses, huts, barracks and tents for its considerable workforce.

Steam locos puffed through, carting logs to K’gari’s west coast for transport to Maryborough. Water was pumped from nearby Woongoolba Creek, even now probably the clearest and cleanest water in Australia. On the northern side of the station were extensive plantations of Kauri and Hoop pines. All that remains now are the barracks built in the 1930s , two huge mango trees and the pine plantations. Rangers are currently working on a small museum to showcase the history of Central Station.

Map of Central Station 1952.
Map of Central Station. 1952.
A gallery of historical photos of timber industry on K’gari
Bogimbah Log Dump.
Source SLQ: Bogimbah Log Dump and tramway. These light rail networks worked from 1905 to 1935 and were eventually replaced by logging trucks. There were three main lines built. This one was 13 kilometres long with two spur lines.
Timber Jinker on K'gari
Timber jinker, K’gari.
Timber Cutters, K'gari.
Timber Cutters on springboards, K’gari
Steam Engine pulling logs, K'gari.
Source: SLQ: Steam engine hauling logs in Bogimbah Scrub, K’gari.
Log punt in Bogimbah Ck
Source: SLQ: Log punt in Bogimbah Creek. K’gari. Ca 1911.
Log loading wharf on Great Sandy Strait. K'gari.
Log loading wharf on Great Sandy Strait. K’gari.
Monday: Central Station to McKenzies Jetty: 18 kms.

Out disgustingly early again, hoping to dodge any stray rangers doing their rounds. Our revised plan was to walk through to McKenzies Jetty ( ruins ) where we hoped to prop for the night, leaving only four kilometres to knock off tomorrow morning. Our map showed a perennial stream flowing out into the Sandy Strait, a potential source of water for our overnight camp. Had we learnt our lesson from the Bridge Creek debarcle.

An initial long climb took us up to Tarwan / Basin Lake . John drifted down to the lake again in the vain hope of seeing something avian. Joe and I lurked around in the shade.

And so onto Boonangoora / Lake McKenzie to retreive a sweet treat food stash planted last Friday in a log in the campground. But first came the refreshing dip in the lake and given that it was barely 9.00 am it was, pleasantly, a tourist free zone. Though we could have done without the drone fly-over.

The stash of tinned peaches, rice cream and cream disappeared in a thrice. Fuel for the next ten kilometre stretch to McKenzies. Ten kilometres through low open woodland and health on a stifling humid day. Not much fun. Come midday we were keen to flop down in anything that passed as a patch of shade. Joe produced a trial batch of hommus to spread on our biscuits. This was dried stuff that he reconstituted with water. The trick is get the mixture to a thickish paste for spreading. Pretty damm scrumptious actually. Thanks Joe.

A solitary walker drifted past with a brief nod followed by a small party of day walkers who studiously ignored the old blokes flaked out on the track’s edge. Lunch over we headed west following the easement of the old timber tramway which terminated at the old McKenzies sawmill site and jetty.

Old train line easement.
The present day track follows this old forestrytram ine easement .

With the sky darkening and the wind picking up it was time to find water and an overnight campsite. After a quick scoot around the Mill Circuit ( don’t bother, if you want my honest opinion ), we popped out onto the beach at McKenzies.

Opposite us, on the Fraser Coast storm cells raced northwards. Out on the exposed beach it was windy and wet but no lightning and no hail. Our water resupply came from a small creek trickling across the beach. Once known as Foulmouth Creek, its aboriginal name is the melodious Yeenyargoor Creek, for which I can find no translation.

McKenzies Jetty during timber cutting days
Source: SLQ: McKenzies Jetty, K’gari. The curve in the jetty is thought to be a response to location of harder rock for driving in the jetty piles.
Old timber jetty, McKenzies Beach. K'gari
Present day view of McKenzies Beach and old jetty. Storm cell passing over Great Sandy Strait.

Any thoughts of dossing down in the nearby day use area were torpedoed by unfriendly ‘No Camping‘ signs and a remote security camera peering down from a tree high above us. Possibly planted by the Butchellas. Thwarted, we wandered back to an adjacent headland and found a level section of track where we fussed around setting up for the night.

Campsite near McKenzies Beach, K'gari
Campsite above McKenzies Beach.

An inspired choice for a campsite: views over the Great Sandy Strait, lightning dancing over the mainland in the distance and two dingoes padding towards us. A mother ( lime green tag in right ear ) and a very rotund and furry pup. Once aware of our presence they propped, posed for a photo opportunity, then ambled off. Not a care in their doggy world. My leather boots spent a night in the tent lest some passing dingo fancied a Dubbin flavoured boot to chew on.

Tuesday: McKenzies to Kingfisher Bay Resort: 4 kms.

The final four kilometre leg today was into Kingfisher Bay Resort to catch the ferry back to the mainland. Apart from views across the Great Sandy Strait to Woody Island and Little Woody Island this section is littered with artefacts from the World War Two training camp of Z Force. This secretive commando group trained to attack a variety of Japanese targets in South East Asia including Singapore Harbour.

Z Force, The Fraser Island Commando School.

The WW2 Fraser Island Commando School operated from this site from late 1943 to war’s end in 1945. It provided specialised training for commandos being sent behind Japanese lines in locations as diverse as Vietnam, Timor, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Singapore .

Commandos from Z Force. K'gari
Commandos from Z Force, K’gari.

Fraser Island was considered a good choice as a commando base with its comparative remoteness, extensive and varied shoreline and patches of jungle. Not much is left today: a few concrete slabs, old stumps and a relief map of the local area rendered in concrete. Surprisingly few artefacts to be seen, given that at the end of the war the the camp was a village with cinema, gym, post office, workshops, ammo magazines, and a tent-bed hospital.

Artefacts left at Z Force base , K’gari.

Of particular interest to me was their training in the use of Folboats, 2- person kayaks that could be assembled and disassembled as needed. In the 1970s I built a rigid canvas covered 2- person kayak modelled on the Folboat design which we used for many years.

For training, the commandoes would paddle their Folboats to nearby Woody Island where they would attack the fake enemy Comunications Centre that had been set up . Unsuspecting friendly vessels had dummy limpet mines attached before the commandos silently glided away into the night. As a final exercise they paddled over to the mainland, up the Mary River to Maryborough where their ‘ targets ‘ included Walkers Shipyard and the rail yards . All undetected, of course.

Z Force commandos training in Folboats . Great Sandy Strait.

The most well known of the operations was Operation Jaywick, which struck at Japanese shipping in Singapore harbour in September 1943. A former Japanese fishing supply vessel, renamed the Krait, set out from Western Australia in early September and set up a canoe base at Panjang Island, from where six operatives in three Folboats set out and attached limpet mines to six Japanese freighters and one tanker, sinking between 37,000–39,000 tons of shipping.

The men rendezvoused with the Krait in early October, and returned safely to Western Australia. However, another attempted attack on Singapore Harbour a year later, codenamed Operation Rimau, failed with the loss of the whole party of 23 men (10 being captured and executed by the Japanese).

Soon after 8.00 am we too glided in, dropping anchor at Kingfisher Resort’s Sand Bar, dismayed to find the bar and swimming pool closed. No matter, we unearthed the resort guests’ hot showers , had a good soapy scrub down and climbed into whatever we had in the way of clean clothes.

Sand Bar. Kingfisher Island Resort. Closed !

Meanwhile, Joe, being Joe, did, as he so often does for us. He managed to scout out the only open kiosk and came back bearing gifts of fruit juice and apples. Our five day adventure was over. With grateful thanks to my two hiking mates, John and Joe.

Map of one of our previous hikes on the northern section of the K’gari / Fraser Island Great Walk.
Map of one of our hikes on northern section of K'gari / Fraser Island Great Walk.
Map of one of our hikes on northern section of K’gari / Fraser Island Great Walk.

Wallangarra Ridge: Girraween National Park

Wallangarra Ridge  is a little visited section of Girraween National Park in Queensland’s Granite Belt.  It is a spectacular landscape of   granite domes,  extensive rock slabs  and  giant balancing tors.  The dominant vegetation is a low Eucalypt woodland still showing the fire scars from 2019 bushfire season.  As the bulk of the walk is off-track , some navigation skills are needed.

Location of Girraween National Park. Source: Geoscience Aust.

Girraween means ‘ Place of Wildflowers ‘

The Wallangarra Ridge  sits at 1100 metres, while predictably cold in winter it was still quite warm during the day. Late March, 29 degrees centigrade. The  scrubby vegetation made long-sleeved shirts and  trousers a wise satorial option. 

The Parks website  provides this irresistible description of the Wallangarra Ridge : “…  breathtaking views sweep over to the Wallangarra township and distant rolling hills.  Soak up the vistas of nearby Mallee Ridge,  the giant monolith known as The Turtle  and Girraween’s  highest peak, the majestic  Mt Norman…On a hot afternoon,  cool breezes waft through the lush gullies between Mallee Ridge and Wallangara  Ridge .  Listen out for the rustling of bell-fruited mallee…You’ll soon forget the gruelling climb!

View across to our campsite on Wallangarra Ridge. Girraween NP.
View across to our campsite on Wallangarra Ridge.


The geology of Girraween  is not particularly  complex.  The area is the remnant of a pluton of Stanthorpe Adamellite ( a quartz monzonite ), which is a major unit of the New England Batholith,  intruded  as a  molten  mass in the Early Triassic,  some 225 mya.

Stanthorpe Granite
Stanthorpe Granite

As the overlying rock was eroded the granite  mass expanded setting up stress fractures forming regular rectangular  joint patterns.   These rectangular  erosional jointlines had a strong influence  on the development of  Girraween’s  landforms.  Girraween’s domes, tors,  rock slabs and rectilinear drainage  pattern  are typical of granitic landform assemblages throughout the world.

Granite Landscape of Girraween NP
Panaoramic view of Granite Landscapes of Girraween National Park.


After a long five hour drive from the coast we pulled into the Park HQ on a pretty warmish afternoon. A hurried lunch and we were heading south on the Castle Rock-Mt Norman track, more uphill than I wanted. Neither my fellow hiker, John, nor I were keen to haul in water supplies for two days of walking and camping so the plan was collect some on the way to Wallangarra Ridge. Finding said water supply proved elusive as most gulleys and creek beds were dry,. Surprising given recent rains in a strong La Nina season . But a little bit of detective work and some scrub bashing unearthed a trickle hidden in a glade of ferns. Enough to provide an initial five litres each. Tomorrow we would have to replenish the supply. But our 1:25000 topo map showed nothing in the way of perennial streams in our intended camping zone. All we had to do now was to haul the additional five kilograms on the 250 m climb to the The Sphinx and then to the track terminus at The Turtle. From here it was all off-track.

The Turtle and The Sphinx. Girraween NP>
L. The Turtle at track head and R. The Sphinx.

Navigationally,  it was simply a matter of following our noses around the eastern cliff line of The Turtle and heading  SSW along the 1100 m contour line.  This involved a fair bit of bush-bashing and picking the easiest route between and around the large outcrops of granite.  To avoid too much bush-bashing, we took to open rock slabs whenever the opportunity arose.

Fire ground after summer bushfires. Girraween NP.
Regrowth after summer bushfires.
Granite Tors: Wallangarra Ridge
Easy walking on open granite slabs.

By late afternoon, our enthusiasm waning, we propped at a rare flattish patch of sand nestled between rock slabs and boulders and relatively clear of burnt out scrub.  It was too late to go galivanting around looking for the Wallangarra Ridge Remote Campzone still some one and a half kilometres to our South-West and 100 metres down in a decidedly scrubby looking valley. I’m not sure why camping down there would offer any positives.

Our camp  nestled on  a rare patch of level sand.

After several cups of black tea to rehydrate,  we ferretted out all our warm gear, donning  trousers, thermals, fleece coats and beanies and wandered  out to take in a spectacular a  red sunset .

Sunset from Wallangarra Ridge. Girraween NP.
Sunset from our camp on Wallangarra Ridge

Our rocky  eyrie looked  out  over the Queensland /New South Wales township  of Wallangarra, some six kilometres to the  south.  In the far distance  was the Roberts Range, marking  the  boundary of Girraween’s  sister park, Sundown.

The Roberts  Range

The Roberts Range is a 1000 metre divide that separates the Severn River to the north from its southern neighbour, Tenterfield Creek.  Both are tributaries of the Dumaresq River.  It is named after Francis Edwards Roberts, the Queensland Government Surveyor who was involved in the 1863 border survey together with his New South Wales counterpart , Isaiah Rowland.   There are plans afoot to expand the Protected  Area Estate in the Granite Belt to include the Roberts Range area and help link Girraween and Sundown National Parks. Another concept under consideration is a Border Walking Trail along the easement of the Qld – NSW border.

Border Track. Roberts Range.
NSW – Qld Border Track on Roberts Range. Sundown NP.

This easement is a well maintained 4WD track that parallels the border fence, technically a Dog Check Fence.  The walk along the fenceline easement is a classic high range roller-coaster, up and down…up and down. A winter walk without parallel.  Believe me when I tell you that it is best avoided  over summer.  Read more about the Roberts Range walk at the end of this post.

Back on the Wallangara Ridge we had no campfire.   A cold WSW wind sent us scuttling off to our tents, lulled to sleep by forgettable podcasts and the occasional hooting of Boobook owls.


5.30 am . Rolled out to another crispy Granite Belt morning.  John was already up, cranking up the stove for our coffee followed by a substantial bowl of thick creamy porridge.  In my case, a tried and tested mixture of rolled oats, raw muesli, sultanas, plump dried apricots, shredded coconut and lashings of powdered milk. Fuelled up, we were up and running ( walking ) by 8.00 am.

Today was off-track to reach the high point of Wallangarra Ridge SSW of our campsite, as the crow flies.  If only we were crows.  We had read somewhere that the summit  is marked by a small rock cairn, from which we were promised extensive views across the park and down to Wallangarra township.

But first… find some water.  Our thought bubble of siphoning and filtering stagnant water from shallow pits and pans ( sometimes referred to as gnammas )  in the granite didn’t appeal.

Unappealing stagnant water in a shallow pan near our campsite.

But the gods smiled.   Several La Nina seasons meant that we should stumble across a trickle in nearby swales. Which we did.   In a swale no more than 500 metres downhill from our camp. Pretty unusual.

Surface water in swale. Wallangarra Ridge.
Surface running water in a swale downhill from our campsite.

The swales are clothed in ‘Gully’ open woodland which develops in sheltered run-off situations I identified a few of the scorched dominants: Banksia spinulosa, a Callistemon , Eucalyptus brunnea and a dense regenerating understorey.

From the scrubby swale our line of travel took us out and up onto our morning tea vantage point where we propped in the shade at the top of a series of rock slabs stairs.  A short distance to the west  we could make out the highest part of Wallangarra Ridge .   John scanned along its skyline with his telephoto lens until he located a mini summit cairn.  Behind us and off to the north were easily the best views of The Sphinx and Turtle in the whole park.  

Twenty minutes later we stood on the summit boulder at about 1140 metres.  To our south was Bald Mountain ( 952 m ) and six kilometres in the distance was the border town of Wallangarra.

Summit cairn. Wallangarra Ridge. Girraween NP.
A windy morning on the summit of Wallangarra Ridge. Mini rock cairn. Roberts Range on horizon.


Wallangarra is a small town of 500  0n the border of Qld and NSW.  It grew up close to the site a 1859 border survey marked tree, indicating the border between Qld and NSW. 

It is on Ngarabal country with Wallangarra  said to mean ‘ lagoon’.  I have read that wallan means water and guran means long. Long water as in billabong or lagoon.

Meanwhile, back on Wallangarra Ridge, we  drifted off northwards down the toe of the ridge in search of the mythical official  Wallangarra Ridge Remote Bush Camping Zone.  Unsucessfully.  After an hour of thrashing around in the dense regrowth in the vicinity of the GPS coordinates provided, we gave up. Anyway, there was no chance a slotting a tent in this stuff.  Bit of a navigational  mystery actually.  According to the Parks website … ” there is no defined camp site and access is via difficult cross country walking “.  We turned for home, intent on  finding enough water to see us through another day.

Water supply. Wallangarra Ridge. Girraween NP.
Lucky to find a supply of fresh water.

Back at the ranch we settled in for a decidedly leisurely and late lunch, several brews of hot black sweet tea and a nanna nap in the shade.  Though the latter was moveable feast as we searched for the deepest  shade.

Come late afternoon, John sloped off, camera on alert.  No doubt off to hunt down any unsuspecting Lyrebirds and Button Quail which he was convinced were scratching through the heaps of leaf litter.  Meanwhile I wandered around checking out all the nearby rock slabs hoping for anything of  geologic or botanic interest .

The Superb Lyrebird

( Menura novaehollandiae )

Lyrebird. Artwork by Sydenham Edwards ,1802. NLA.
Lyrebird. Artwork by Sydenham Edwards ( 1802 ). NLA.

On a previous trip to Girraween we had been fortunate to see and hear Lyrebirds at nearby Mt Norman, so weren’t surprised to hear them again close to our campsite.

The Lyrebird is one of nature’s best mimics.  It can imitate a variety other bird species such as cockatoos, butcherbirds and whipbirds.  But it doesn’t draw the line at bird calls.  It can reproduce the sound of saws, guns and engines.

One Lyrebird story I read happened at a Victorian timber mill.  The mill used three blasts of a whistle to signify an accident and six blasts to notify a fatality.  One day the local Lyrebird blasted out six whistles, no doubt creating considerable workplace disruption. 

I have been tricked by  a Lyrebird mimicing the sound of a ‘reversing’ truck.   Our hikers’ camp in Sundown National Patk was hidden in  scrub with a small 4WD campround nearby.   The sound of a ‘reversing’ vehicle  at the 4WD campground attracted our attention as it had persisted for well over fifteen minutes.   I waddled up to check things out, thinking perhaps a 4WD had bogged or some such problem.  No vehicle in sight but the ‘reversing’ sound continued from the undergrowth.   The mystery of the phantom 4WD camper was solved.  Lyrebird.

Interestingly, scientists know that some mimicry is of now extinct species, passed on from parent to chick over the generations.

Another sunset worthy of the ABC TV weather report , a decent feed, a chin wag and it was all over for today. My Macpac micro green tent beckoned.


5.30 am.  Time to roll out into the pre-dawn twilight.  My pocket thermometer hovering on 10o C with a cool Southwester riffling across our campsite.  A bite to eat then we struck camp, packing our gear and leaving tents out to dry.

Our walk today was off to our east onto an unnamed adjacent ridge, aligned in the same NE/SW configuration as the Wallangarra Ridge. At 1220 metres it is nearly 100 metres higher than Wallangarra Ridge and more densely vegetated.   The attraction  was that from its summit we should be able to see across to the complex that makes up Mt Norman ( 1266 m ) and the Mallee Ridge ( 1230m ).  Maybe our Girraween sojourn for next year.

Summit of Wallaroo Ridge. Girraween NP
Summit of Wallaroo Ridge

Our line of travel took us initially over lower rock slabs then climbed into mature stringybark forest, habitat for a  Wallaroo, a large furry macropod,  which took off when we disturbed it.  We wound in and out of huge granite boulders before fetching up on a narrow summit plateau at 1200 metres.  Perched on the plateau were jumbles of huge tors topping out at over 1220 metres.  Naming rights… Wallaroo Ridge.

Wallaroo aka Euro

Our Wallaroo ( Osphranter robustus ) was, as the specific name implies ,  sturdy ( and shaggy-coated ) .  They are generally solitary and nocturnal.  The Eastern Wallaroo is not on the threatened species list and has an extensive territorial range in Australia’s Great Dividing Range.

Wallaroo. Osphranter robustus
Eastern Wallaroo. Osphranter robustus

We scrambled to  the top of the highest tor for morning tea.  Now we had impressive clear easterly views to the domes of Mallee Ridge and Mt Norman.   Mt Norman was named after Sir Henry Norman, Governor of Queensland from 1889 to 1895.   Getting to the Mallee Ridge and thence to Mt Norman from here looked like a hard slog.  Maybe one for the future.   Fortunately, there is an easier way,  from the Mt Norman track.   Although the twin domes ( 1230 m ) at the SW end of the ridge looked a tad formidable.  My Hema Girraween  map describes the walk as… ” easy rock slopes “.  I live in hope .

Mallee Ridge in sunlight taken from Mt Norman

Bell-fruited Mallee & the Mallee Ridge

While  traversing the lower rock slabs, we had spotted a line of Bell-fruited Mallees growing in a jointline which had retained a bare minimum of mulch that was enough to sustain a viable pocket of Mallees.  These were the mallee Eucalyptus codoncarpa ,  that also grows on the nearby Mallee Ridge, and after which it was named.  In Girraween, the Bell-fruited Mallee is only found on Mt Norman and rocky outcrops to its west and south- west.  Despite its somewhat restricted distribution in Girraween it is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as being of ‘least concern.’

Bell-fruited Malee. Eucalyptus codoncarpa.
Bell-fruited Mallee. Eucalyptus codoncarpa

Morning tea rest over, we backtracked to our campsite where we polished off our lunch leftovers and the inevitable mug of tea.  With a final check of the campsite, we hoisted up the monkeys and waddled  off for a leisurely afternoon’s walk back to our overnight camp at Bald Rock Creek campground.

One of the attractions of poking around offtrack is that little surprises form part of the experience.   This time we chanced on a high  ledge festooned  with a mass of rock orchids  and then futher on, an unusual find, a Bootlace Orchid.

Rock Orchid. Dendrobium sp
Rock Orchid. Dendrobium sp.

The Black Bootlace Orchid

The Black Bootlace Orchid ( Erythrorchis cassythoides ) is a leafless climbing orchid. It has thin, dark brown to black stems that climb up to five metres up tree trunks.   It has displays of 10 to 30 yellow to green flowers.  Surprisingly, a Bootlace popped up in my suburban native garden in SEQ, lasted several years, then died back for no reason that I could figure out.

Flowers of Bootlace Orchid. Girraween NP
Flowers of Bootlace Orchid

The Bootlace was first described by Richard Cunningham who sent his specimen and descriptive notes to his brother, the explorer Alan Cunningham.  Alan Cunningham forwarded the description on to the the English orchidologist, John Lindley.  Richard Cunningham had originally named it Dendrobium cassythoides but it was later renamed as E. cassythoides.

By 4.00 pm we were setting up for our final night in the civilised surrounds of Bald Rock Creek Campground. Although this had been a short visit to Girraween, we had explored a littled visited section of this outstanding granite park which I had always been keen to investigate. Coming up next year … the Mallee Ridge.

A description of one of my walks on the Roberts Range

The walk is the classic high range roller-coaster starting at 1067 metres, dipping and rising: 973 m, 1039 m, 1030m, 1015m, 1087m and reaching 1120m at our final climb before turning off and descending to the Sundown Road.

Roberts Range. Sundown NP
4WD track on crest of Roberts Range on a hot day. Sundown NP

Climbing up to our first high point, Hill 1067 we passed into a special habitat, a high altitude forest, restricted to the very highest parts of Sundown and the Granite Belt. This is open forest, dominated by Silvertop Stringybark (Eucalyptus laevopinia), Yellow Box (E. melliodora) and the best name of all, Tenterfield Woollybutt (E. banksii). Silvertop Stringybark and Tenterfield Woollybutt are interesting in that they are disjunct populations of the same species growing further east at Lamington and Mt Barney. It is likely that they survive here on traprock because of the cooler, misty micro-climate on the highest points of the Roberts Range. Further along the range, on the summits of the highest hills at 1087 metres and 1120 metres, we passed through more small patches of high altitude forest.

As we climbed to the final high point at 1120 metres we entered a designated ‘essential’ habitat. These are areas meant for the protection of a species that is endangered or vulnerable. In this particular case the species was the Superb Lyrebird (Menura novaehollandiae) neither seen nor heard by our party. The Superb is the King of Karaoke and is such a good mimic that the bird being copied cannot tell the difference. The male Lyrebird has a repertoire of 20-25 other bird songs as well as mimicking car engines, chain saws and even barking dogs.

When Queensland was proclaimed a separate colony on 6th June 1859, Surveyors Roberts from Queensland and Rowland from New South Wales were sent to define the boundary between Queensland and New South Wales from Point Danger to the Dumaresq River. They started work in 1865 and worked separately using their own instruments. As their traverse lines were different the defined border appeared in different positions. Ultimately the Roberts survey was accepted and this was the line depicted on our map and that we were following today. I was keen to find any relics of their traverses such as rock cairns or horse-shoe blazes on trees. I found one old blaze, indecipherable, so there is no evidence that it was part of the border survey. It would be interesting to do the entire Roberts Range traverse with data from Robert’s original field book.

Old Survey Blaze on Qld – NSW Border.

Roberts, an Irishman, trained as an engineer and in 1856 he became surveyor of roads for the Moreton Bay District later gaining a post as a surveyor with Queensland’s Surveyor-General’s Department in 1862. Colonial surveyors were tough, capable bushmen able to endure considerable hardship: life under canvas, poor food, heat, flies, arduous travel and isolation. Unsurprisingly, it was a constant struggle to stay healthy. Queensland colonial surveyors could be struck down by any number of health hazards: Barcoo Rot, Bung Blight, Sandy Blight, Dengue Fever, Malaria, snakes and crocs. Francis Roberts escaped all these only to die prematurely of sunstroke in 1867, aged 41.

Today, the border is marked by a Dog Check Fence; an outlier of the mighty 5,412 kilometre Dog Fence that runs from Jimbour in Queensland to the Great Australian Bight in South Australia. The Dog Fence is said to be two and a half times the length of the Great Wall of China and is easily visible from space. Our 1.8 metre high Dog Check Fence or Dingo Fence is a relic of an intricate maze of some 48,000 kilometres of interconnecting vermin fences built to keep dingoes and bunnies at bay. Unsuccessfully.

Mt Moffatt National Park Circuit Drive

The Mount Moffatt section of Carnarvon National Park is a remote and relatively pristine landscape occupying the headwaters of the Maranoa River.  It features broad sandy valleys, basalt tablelands and outcrops of sculpted sandstone rising abruptly from the plains. I first visited Mt Moffatt National Park on a 10 day natural history campout in 1988 and have returned a number of times , drawn back for exploratory hikes to Mt Moffatt’s high country on Consuelo Tableland , the upper Carnarvon Creek gorge and more recently the Carnarvon Great Walk. The report that follows is the first of the many accounts that I have written covering Mt Moffatt National Park.

The Chimneys. Mt Moffatt.
The Chimneys, Mt Moffatt.

Location of Mt Moffatt Section

Mount Moffatt has a rich human history.  Aboriginal art is abundant as the Bidjara and Nuri occupation of the Carnarvon Ranges stretches back at least 19,000 years. Excavations were carried out in the 1960s by Professor John Mulvaney at Kenniffs Cave and the Tombs. At Kenniffs he found the remains of campfires extending three metres below the floor of the cave. Mulvaney used the new technology of radiocarbon dating to dial back the story of Aboriginal occupation of Australia 19,500 years. The Bidjara and Nuri had lived through the Pleistocene Ice Age.

Aboriginal Stencil Art: Mt Moffatt.

  • The Tombs: Kangaroo foot stencil
  • The Tombs: Digging stick or shaft of spear stencil
  • The Tombs: Shell pendant. Che-ka-ra. Collect by Cape York people and traded 1300 kilometres to Carnarvons.
  • The Tombs: Boomerang stencil.
  • The Tombs Art Site.
  • The Tombs: Full human figure stencil.
Mulvaney, J. and Kamminga, J: Prehistory of Australia. ( Allen & Unwin, 1999).

European Occupation of the Upper Maranoa District. The Mountain Cattle Runs.

The first European to pass through the area was the explorer Thomas Mitchell who, in June 1846, travelled along the Chesterton Range, Mt Moffatt’s western boundary, looking to extend the colony’s pastoral frontier northwards. The ever optimistic Mitchell wrote glowingly of ‘ excellent open forest land’ and a landscape that ‘was park-like and most inviting’. Land hungry squatters soon followed his tracks and studied his sketch maps , with pastoralism in the Carnarvon Ranges commencing in the 1860s .

1896 Cadastral Map of Upper Maranoa River.
1896 Cadastral Map of Upper Maranoa River

The Mt Moffatt run was originally made up of five blocks cut from the Mt Ogilvie run, blocks three through to seven. These were first taken up under licence by George Fullerton in 1867. Fullerton visited the upper Maranoa when he went out on an exploratory expedition in 1861 ( towards the Wombebank andTooloombilla runs ) with his brother-in-law , a Mr Moffatt. Moffatt was the nephew of Mr Thomas De Lacy Moffatt, later to become Queensland’s Colonial Treasurer.

The Queensland Lands Department described the run as‘ rough and mountainous but generally well-grassed…fairly good pastoral country and very suitable for breeding cattle ‘. The rough country made it difficult country to work and its ownership changed hands a number of times. The Waldron family took up the run in 1939 and built a family homestead that is now used by park rangers. In 1979 Mt Moffatt was purchased from the Vincent family and converted to national park status. Reminders of the area’s life as a cattle property are to be found in the homestead, old stockyards and fencing.

The De Lacy Moffatts

The name Mt Moffatt is likely connected to the De Lacy Moffatt family (or Moffat ). Queensland’s Geographic Placenames Board can shed no light on the matter, but I think it is named after the De Lacy Moffatt family . Thomas De Lacy Moffatt ( 1824-1864) was a Queensland politician and Queensland’s second Colonial Treasurer, serving from 1862 to 1864. He was a squatter and established the run Callandoon on the Darling Downs. He was elected to the first Legislative Assembly of Queensland in April 1860 for the District of the Western Downs. My guess is that the Mt Moffatt run was probably named for Thomas de Lacy Moffatt by his son or his nephew.

Thomas De Lacy Moffatt: Colonial Treasurer !862-1864.

The Mt Moffatt Circuit Drive.

Our little 4WD convoy piloted by my friends Frank and Julie left the Dargonelly Rock Holes Campsite just shy of an unusually tardy 8.45am.  Come the following morning, our leader Frank had whipped us into shape and earlier departures ruled.  Today we would traverse sandplains at 700-800 metres, derived predominantly from Jurassic Precipice sandstones.  These sandstones are the bottom stratum of the Surat Basin, deposited 200 – 186 million years ago. 

Map of Mt Moffatt National Park: Circuit Drive

Mt Moffatt. Circuit Drive
Dargonelly Rock Hole , Mt Moffatt NP
Dargonelly Rock Hole on Marlong Creek
Campground at Dargonelly Rock Holes
Campground at Dargonelly Rock Holes

The Surat Basin sediments had their origins in a depositional phase after the momentous tectonic activity of the Triassic Period (250 – 201 million years ago).  Sedimentation in the ensuing Jurassic Period was restricted to the Great Artesian Basin and its component basins: Surat, Nambour, Clarence-Moreton, Laura and Carpentaria.   The landscapes of many of Central Queensland’s highly scenic National Parks, including Mount Moffatt, date from this period.

The component layers of the Surat Basin from oldest to youngest are:  Precipice sandstone, Evergreen sandstones, its distinctive Boxvale and Westgrove Members , and Hutton sandstones.

Precipice Sandstone
Crossbedding in Precipice Sandstone.
Crumbling boulders of Hutton Sandstone
Boulders of soft Hutton Sandstone at the base of The Mansions.

Some three kilometres north along the Circuit Drive was our first stop, Marlong Arch.  As we glided into the car park, two Eastern Grey roos and a joey took flight, one adult collecting a barrier post in its haste to decamp.  But no harm done.

Marlong Arch, Mt Moffatt NP
Marlong Arch

Marlong Arch is an arch of Precipice sandstone standing 50 metres or so above the surrounding plain.  It is probably the most photographed feature in Mount Moffatt.  Even the famous Australian Antarctic photographer Frank Hurley came to Mount Moffatt (in October 1949) and photographed Marlong Arch.  The photo, which shows Brenda Vincent on her pony Cupie under the arch, appears in his book Queensland, a Camera Study.  Brenda Vincent had lived and worked on Mount Moffatt when it was a remote highland cattle property.

Brenda Vincent under Marlong Arch. Circa 1950.
Photo: Frank Hurley. Brenda Vincent on Cupie. Circa 1950.

Frank Hurley, famous Australian Photographer visits Mt Moffatt

The photograph above was one of many taken by one of Australia’s most well known photographers, Frank Hurley ( b. 1885 ). Hurley was the photographer for Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Antarctic expedition. He recorded the demise of their ship Endurance as it was slowly destroyed by pack – ice. All the crew survived the ordeal and Hurley returned home to then become an Official War photographer for the AIF serving in the trenches with another famous Australian, Hubert Wilkins.

Frank Hurley’s classic book: Shackleton’s Argonauts. Published in 1948 by Angus and Robertson Ltd.

An excellent write – up of Hurley’s visit to the Carnarvons ( Tracks in the Sand – Frank Hurley and the Carnarvon Ranges ) can be found on Robert Ashdown’s blogsite.

Galley of images taken by Frank Hurley on his visit to Mt Moffatt Station in 1949.
  • The Tombs, Aboriginal rock art site, Mt Moffatt, qld, 1949.
  • Racecourse Campsite, Consuelo Tableland, Mt Moffatt, Qld 1949.
  • Mountains and Cliff faces, Consuelo Tableland, Qld,1949
  • Trees in a valley, Consuelo Tableland, Qld , !949.
  • Booringa Shire Clerk, Arthur Donnelly leading a pack of horses, Mt Moffatt Station, Qld,
  • The Tombs, Aboriginal rock art site, Mt Moffatt, Qld, 1949.
  • Four men sitting at the head of a canyon, Consuelo Tableland, Mt Moffatt Station, qld.
  • Booringa Shire employees in their Blitz wagon on a log bridge, Mt Moffatt Station, Qld 1949.
  • Five men riding with pack horses, Carnarvon Range, Qld, 1949.
  • Frank Hurley: Pack Horses, Consuelo Tableland, Mt Moffatt
  • Men and Horses at a logoon, Jimmy's Shelf above Carnarvon Gorge, Mt Moffatt, Qld, 1949.

Marlong Arch formed in a narrow, elongated outcrop of Precipice sandstone.  A capping of harder sandstone remains intact while softer layers below have been eroded away, leaving the arch of rock.  Around the base of the outcrop are caves, overhangs and tunnels, a number of which we investigated, finding stencil art, and roo and bat scats. 

Open grassy woodlands clothe the surrounding plains, part of a diverse flora of more than 750 species in the national park.  The dominant canopy species here are smooth-barked apple (Angophera leiocarpa), white cypress pine (Callitris glaucophylla), bull oak (Allocasuarina luehmannii), and budgeroo (Lysicarpus angustifolius).  The shrub layer was more diverse but getting past its prime wildflower display.  That said, Calytrix longiflora still provided brilliant massed displays of its pink star flowers.  This was the case over much of the park. 

Open grassy woodlands. Mt Moffatt
Open grassy woodlands on sandy plains.
Calytrix longiflora
Massed flowering of Calytrix longiflora on the sandy plains.
Angophera leiocarpa
Angophera leiocarpa
Fibrous bark of Budgeroo.  Aborigines used cylinders of Budgeroo to wrap dead bodies.
Fibrous bark of Budgeroo (Lysicarpus angustifolius). Aborigines used cylinders of Budgeroo bark to wrap dead bodies. Items such as necklaces, nets and plants were placed with the bodies. The cylinders were then bound with twine made from animal fur and sinew and placed in sandstone tunnels high up on cliff-faces. The Tombs is just one of many mortuary sites in the Carnarvon Ranges.

Other components of the shrub layer that we identified (thanks Frank) included Xanthorrea johnsonii, Boronia bipinnata, thread-leafed hopbush (Dodonea filifolia), wild rosemary (Cassinia sp.), slender rice flower (Pimelea linifolia) and beard heath (Leucopogon biflorus).

Xanthorrea johnsonii
Grasstree: Xanthorrea johnsonii

The ground cover was dominated by swathes of buck spinifex (Triodia mitchelli), but there was still a significant assemblage of other ground covers:  kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra), fake sarsaparilla (Hardenbergia violacea), Chloanthes parviflora and Lomandras.

Buck Spinifex. Triodia mitchelli
Buck Spinifex. Triodia mitchelli

After morning tea at the arch, we drove on to Kookaburra cave.   In a couple of the trees at the car park we saw babbler nests, and on cue two grey-crowned babblers appeared.  Kookaburra cave is a shallow elongated overhang at the southern base of a bluff of Precipice sandstone.   The cave takes its name from a hand stencil which resembles a kookaburra with its beak open.  As an art gallery it is nowhere near as spectacular as the Tombs, but it does have art work which includes stencils, abrasions and peckings.

Stencil art. Kookaburra Cave. Mt Moffatt.
The ‘ Kookaburra ‘ stencil at Kookaburra Cave.

On checking my reference book Visions of the Past by Michael Morwood, it would seem that this assemblage of Aboriginal art is typical of what he classifies as Central Queensland Phase 2 artwork dating from 5,000 to 36 years BP.  Some of the other information from his Central Queensland Highlands research includes:

  • Hand stencils in Central Queensland sites are frequently associated with rocky outcrops which served as mortuaries, as found at The Tombs in Mt Moffatt.
  • Many of the varied hand stencils at Central Queensland correspond to hand signals reported by Walter Roth for the Mt Isa area of NW Queensland.  It is thought that some of these were used when hunting and on other occasions of enforced silence.  Kookaburra cave has several examples of distorted hand stencils.
  • Stencils are very useful to archaeologists as they provide evidence of Aboriginal material culture before the time of European contact: boomerangs, axes, spears, clubs, nets and pendants. 
Morwood, M. J. Visions from the Past. The Archeology of Aust. Aboriginal Art. Smithsonian , 2012. The book contains a very comprehensive chapter on Queensland’s Central Highland sites.

The open woodland around Kookaburra cave was slightly different from what we had seen at Marlong Arch.  Here we found a dense stand of budgeroo, as well as mature woody pears (Xylomelum cunninghamianum).  Also in the canopy mix were a grey gum and a stringybark.

Under the canopy we identified (and photographed!) bush iris (Patersonia sericea), sandstone boronia (Boronia glabra), box-leaf wattle (Acacia buxifolia), spreading flax-lily (Dianella revoluta) and the alien-looking hair plant (Astrotricha cordata).

Patersonia sericea
Bush Iris: Patersonia sericea
Boronia glabra

Always on the hunt for things geological, I spied on the steps leading up to the cave some trace fossils.  These were probably the grazing trails of molluscs and worms.  They were on a slab of the reddish-brown Boxvale Sandstone (an upper member of the Evergreen Formation). 

Trace Fossils In Boxvale Member of Evergreen Sandstones.
Trace Fossils in Boxvale Member .

Next stop, Lot’s Wife, is a pillar of white Precipice sandstone, the solitary remnant of a bluff that extended across the area.  Warwick Wilmot, in his book Rocks and Landscapes of the National Parks of Central Queensland, mentions the localised anomalous geology of Lot’s Wife.  Sixty metres to the east is the parent bluff.  But this is an outcropping of Boxvales at the same elevation as Lot’s Wife.  The Boxvale sequence should be higher altitudinally, suggesting a minor localised fault between the two outcrops: with the Boxvale layer down to the east and the Precipice sandstones raised to the west.

Lots Wife
Lots Wife
Book: Rocks and landscapes of Central Qld.
Willmott, Warwick : Rocks and Landscapes of National Parks of Central Qld. ( Geological Soc. of Aust., Qld Div. 2006 ).

On our walk back to the cars, Judy pointed out stands of kurrajong (Brachychiton populnea) on a high ridge to the west of Lot’s Wife.  Kurrajongs, frequently associated with Vine Scrub/Thicket were also found in a soft-wood scrub south west of Gee Gee Gap that we visited on the next day.   On our 1988 Mount Moffatt trip when we visited Gee Gee Gap, Rodney Tait, a keen botanist and fungi expert reported bottle trees and many seemingly “out of place plants, including a valley of many rainforest or softwood scrub species”.  These are growing in soils derived from the basalt that caps the highest parts of the tableland.

On track to Dooloogarah  Station near Gee Gee Gap
Near Gee Gee Gap on track to Dooloogarah Station

Departing Lot’s Wife and its apostrophe-deficient signpost, we headed for Marlong Plain for lunch.  The side track to the plain winds through a woodland of silver-leafed ironbark (Eucalyptus melanophloia) before fetching up at the southern edge of Marlong Plain.  This is a vast, near-flat expanse composed of shallow Holocene alluviums derived from nearby basalts and sandstones.

Woodland of silver-leafed ironbark. E. melanophloia.
Woodland of silver-leafed ironbark: Eucalyptus melanophlioa.

Ecologically, Marlong Plain is a very special place.   It is a treeless plain dominated by a bluegrass (Dicanthium sericeum).  This is an endangered regional ecosystem (11.3.21) with less than 10% remaining in this province (Brigalow Belt 24: Carnarvon) and only 10 – 30% remaining in all of Queensland.

Marlong Plain
Marlong Plain: an endangered regional ecosystem: RE11.3.21.
Qld Blue Grass. Dicanthium sericeum
Bluegrass: Dicanthium sericeum.
Marlong Ck traversing Marlong Plain
Marlong Creek

Overall Marlong Plain protects rare and threatened flora which is why the stand of willows in the lower end of the plain is somewhat puzzling.  I saw these willows on our 1988 trip and they are still flourishing in 2021.  The weedy wheels of the Queensland Parks Service move ever so slowly.

Our lunch break was enlivened by a passing nankeen kestrel checking out the plain for its own lunch.

Leaving our shady lunch spot on the edge of the plain, we continued on round the circuit drive and took the side track to West Branch camping area.  A far quieter area than caravan central at Dargonelly Rock Holes.

West Branch Camping Area
West Branch Camping Area

West Branch is also a pleasant overnight campsite for hikers walking the 87 kilometre Carnarvon Great Walk – a circuit walk starting and finishing at the Carnarvon Gorge section of the park.  The walk’s West Branch ‘entrance statement’ is an excellent information board and a rather expensive suspension bridge over the usually dry bed of the west branch of the Maranoa river.

Frank and I were aware that an old map of Mount Moffatt showed an ochre mine and dance ring at the southern end of the campsite.  We poked around and did find an outcrop of soft white clay in a small cliff face on the eastern bank of the river, but whether this was the ochre mine I cannot be sure.

Ochre Mine
Ochre Mine

Onward through woodlands of poplar box (E. populnea) and narrow-leafed ironbark (E. crebra) to the Mount Moffatt Park HQ and its first-rate information centre next to the old cattle yards.  Hours could be spent looking at the display boards which cover Aboriginal occupation, grazing history, natural history and the unsavoury saga of the Kenniff brothers.  A stop not to be missed. 

Photos from Booringa Shire Heritage Library: Waldron Family Collection.

Life on Mt Moffatt Station 1930s to 1950s.

  • Mt Moffatt Homestead. 1950s.
  • 'Grizzlin Annie'. Bush shed houses old station truck called 'Grizzlin Annie'. Note camp stretcher.
  • Written on the back of the photo: " Stockmen at Mt Moffatt before leaving for mustering camp,1940s.
  • Aboriginal stockman. Fred Stockman at Kenniffs Lookout.
  • Mail Truck from Mitchell.
  • Ringers in cattle yard . Mt Moffatt Station.
  • Incineration Rock. 1920. Rock slab where the bones of Albert Dahlke and Constable George Doyle were burnt after they were shot by cattle duffers, the Kenniff Brothers.
  • Waldron girls on wash day. Mt Moffatt Station.

But the pre-dinner nibblies clock was ticking and so we turned to our home at Dargonelly Rock Holes.  But not before the squatter pigeons obliged by squatting by the side of the track.  Probably not the best survival strategy.  These birds respond to disturbance by either ‘freezing’ or by darting erratically through grass tussocks.  Occasionally if pursued too closely they will burst into flight, heading for trees or nearby ground cover.

A black snake added to the excitement of our return journey.  This fellow was propped mid-track and made it obvious that he/she was not in the mood to move on.  Denise’s efforts to take a photograph produced a head-up pose and then thankfully both Denise and the reptile retreated.

After the obligatory showers, bucket baths and clean clothes, we gathered around Julie’s nifty EZYQ collapsible firepit to enjoy drinks, nibbles and companionable chit chat.  Just on dusk, our expected ‘Boobookians’ arrived: Craig, Michael and Eamon.   Boobook is an ecological consultancy based in Roma and established by Craig and Meryl Eddie in 2000.  They have since branched out and offer small group tours and adventure trips in SW Queensland.   Craig is the author of several field guides; his ‘Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs of Eastern Queensland Oil and Gas Fields’ is a widely used reference book.  And he has discovered 50 new species of land snails and 6 new plants. 

Eddie, C: Field Guide to Trees & Shrubs of Eastern Qld Oil & Gas Fields. ( Santos 2012 ).

We would have the benefit of the expertise of Craig, Michael (also an ecologist) and Eamon (scorpion expert) for tomorrow’s field outings and evening excursion.

While our three ecologists headed out to do some night field work down at the rock holes (finding cane toads but no frogs), the rest of us headed for bed, signing off on a very satisfactory day on the sand plains of Mount Moffatt National Park.

Other posts on the Mt Moffatt Section:

A Remote Australian Wilderness: the Mawson Plateau : S.A

Mawson Plateau lies at at the northern extremity of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. It is a very remote , inaccessible and arid wilderness. The plateau lies between 600 and 750 metres, reaching its highest point at Freeling Heights at 944 metres. A four day hike was to take us across this granite batholith by way of the gorges, waterfalls and pools of Granite Plateau Creek which drains an otherwise dry landscape. It is said to be one of Australia’s most pristine wilderness areas.

by Glenn Burns

The Mawson Plateau looking back to Freeling Heights. Mawson Plateau.
Mawson Plateau: looking back to Freeling Heights which we had descended hours earlier.

The genesis of this hike was in 2016 when I was part of a group on a camel trek from Mt Hopeless in the far north of South Australia to Umbaratana Station to the west of the tourist resort of Arkaroola in the northern Flinders Ranges.

Camel String heading south from Mt Hopeless. SA
Camel string heading south from Mt Hopeless. Far north of South Australia.

On the seventh day of our trek, as we travelled across desert plains, ahead of us rose a wall of mountains which I was told were called Freeling Heights, but also known as the Mawson Plateau. One of our fellow walkers, Peter, mentioned that he had been up onto the Mawson Plateau and generously offered to use his contacts to organise a future hike.

Silhouette of Mawson Plateau in background.
Rugged up for a bitterly cold winter’s day on our 2016 camel expedition. Silhouette of Mawson Plateau in background.

Many years ago I came across Warren Bonython’s book Walking the Flinders Ranges, the report of his epic 1967-1968, 1011 kilometre trek along the Flinders Ranges from Crystal Brook in the south to Mt Hopeless in the far north. My 2016 camel trek and the later Freeling Heights/Mawson Plateau walk would cover much of the territory covered by Bonython in his final and most northerly stage (Stage 9). This section is sometimes referred to by South Australians as the Heysen Trail Extension Section 2.

Sir Douglas Mawson

Mawson Plateau is named after Sir Douglas Mawson, Australian geologist and Antarctic explorer. In his later academic career he researched the geology of the northern Flinders Ranges. The Mawson Trail, a mountain bike trail through the Flinders and Mt Lofty Ranges is also named after him.

Photo of Douglas Mawson by Frank Hurley. The photo is titled Leaning into the Wind. It shows Douglas Mawson collecting ice for cooking. The winds were blowing at a constant 160 kph.

Source: Frank Hurley. Aust. Antarctic Exped. 1911-1914.

The Geography of Mawson Plateau

There is scant information on the Mawson Plateau so here is some of its basic geography based on my personal observations and a trawl of documents available in assorted books and journals. A notation on the Australian Geographic map The Flinders Ranges (2007) describes it thus: ‘Perched behind its rugged eastern escarpment, this little-known stronghold is a maze of weather-hewn granite crags and boulders. After rainstorms the deep trough-like waterholes along its creeks form the largest natural body of water in the Flinders – a priceless ecological haven for native fish and water plants.’


Mawson Plateau, 300 6′ 38″ S and 1390 25’19” E, is part of the northern Flinders Ranges complex on the Mt Freeling pastoral lease in South Australia. It lies adjacent to the north eastern boundary of the famous Arkaroola Sanctuary.

Location of Mawson Plateau. SA.
Source: Geoscience Australia.
Geology and Landforms

Mawson Plateau is a 70 square kilometre granitic batholith with an average elevation between 600 and 700 metres. Its southern boundary is delineated by the higher Freeling Heights which rise to 944 metres. The eastern boundary is a spectacular 250 metre fall called the Granite Escarpment, while the northern and western boundaries are bounded by Hamilton Creek. From its headwaters high up in Mawson Plateau, Hamilton Creek (intermittent) drains initially north east to Moolawatana Station then swings south east from which it finally decants (rarely) into Lake Callabonna, a dry salt lake. Interestingly, Callabonna is an important site for late Pleistocene fossils.

Satellite View of Mawson Plateau.
Satellite view of Mawson Plateau.

The plateau is a tangled landscape of sandy creek beds, sand plains, rocky ridges and vast expanses of granite, covered by a mantle of loose, shattered rock and huge granite tors. Its surface has been intricately dissected by Granite Plateau Creek and Saucepan Creek, both non-perennial tributaries of Hamilton Creek. Granite Plateau Creek has cut deeply into its bedrock to form an extensive gorge featuring dry waterfalls, pools, deep potholes and sandy beaches. It was this feature that we would use to traverse the plateau which is otherwise totally waterless.

The Mawson Plateau.
Photo by John B. The Mawson Plateau: a landscape of rocky ridges, vast expanses of granite pavement, dry creek beds and deep gorges.

The highest part of the plateau, Freeling Heights, is composed of Freeling Heights Quartzite, of Mesoproterozoic origin dating back 1590 to 1580 ma. These metasediments are part of the Radium Creek Group, some of the oldest rocks in the Flinders Ranges.

The main plateau surface is a granite of Late Ordovician – Silurian age, 442 ma, intruded into the older rocks. The plateau is a major leucogranitic intrusion called British Empire Granite (BEG). BEG leucogranite is light coloured with almost no dark minerals. It is medium to coarse-grained and highly radioactive. Its radioactivity is another interesting story; too long to be recounted here. BEG also contains numerous pegmatites. Pegmatites form in the final stage of a magma’s crystallisation. Thus they contain exceptionally large crystals and minerals that are rarely found in other types of rocks. Spodumene (an ore of lithium), tourmaline, topaz and beryllium are all found with pegmatites.

Granite terrain of the upper Granite Plateau Creek. Mawson Plateau.
British Empire Granite exposed in Granite Plateau Creek. Mawson Plateau.

The Mawson Plateau lies in one of Australia’s major arid bioclimatic regions, the Eyrean Region. The Bureau of Meteorology classifies its climate as a Desert climate characterised by hot and persistently dry seasons. For the climate afficionados among you, its Koppen climate classification is BSh, a hot semi-arid climate. The plateau nestles between the 200 and 250 mm isohyets and its rainfall displays high variability. Being caught in Granite Plateau Creek during a very rare flood event would be best avoided. That said, winter walking weather is outstanding. Expect mild sunny days, deep blue cloudless skies and cool nights all of which make for an unforgettable experience.

Temperature and Rainfall Statistics for Arkaroola SA. 318 m
Mean Max Temp oCMean Min Temp oCMean Rainfall mmMean Rain Days
Observations on fauna and plant communities

Reptiles form a significant and the most observable part of the faunal assemblage.

Shingleback (Trachydosaurus rugosus).
Shingleback (Trahydosaurus rugosus) basking in weak winter sun.

Skinks, geckoes , and dragons were all seen, but no snakespossibly they were in hibernation.

Some rockholes hold water permanently even in extended droughts. These are refuge sites for tadpoles, fish and frogs including an undescribed species (Crinea sp). Mammalian fauna includes Euros and if you get very lucky, the endangered Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby. These spectacular macropods are easily identified by their yellow feet and tiger banded tails.

Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies in northern Flinders Ranges
Yellow-footed Rock Wallabies sunning themselves on a rock shelf in northern Flinders Ranges.
Yellow - footed Rock Wallaby
By Peripitus – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby.

Bird species recorded were Wedge-tailed Eagle (many and obvious), Australian Raven, White-faced Heron, White-browed Babbler, Singing Honeyeater, Wood Swallow and Australian Magpie-lark. A dismal effort if truth be told, but I can always claim that my eyes were always focused on the next foot-fall.

Plant communities

Freeling Heights: a hill-top heath community of Porcupine Grass (Triodia irritans), Broombush (Melaleuca uncinata), Fringe Myrtle (Calytrix tetragona), Wax Flower (Eriostemon sp) and Spidery Wattle (Acacia araneosa).

Spinifex. Mawson Plateau.
Triodia irritans.

Granite Plateau Creek: A woodland of River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and White Cypress Pine (Callitris glaucophylla). The shrub layer was an association of Wild Rosemary (Cassinia laevis), Hopbush (Dodonaea viscosa ssp angustissima), Cassia (Senna artemisioides) and Yucca ( Xanthorrea quadrangulata).

Xanthorrea quadrangulata : Mawson Plateau.
Xanthorrea quadrangulata.
River Red Gums in Granite Plateau Creek. Mawson Plateau.
Gallery forest of River Red Gums: Eucalyptus camaldulensis.

Gorge tops and open granite terrain: The few plants I could identify: Mulga (Acacia aneura), Corkbark (Hakea ednieana), White Cypress Pine (Callitris glaucophylla), Native Orange (Capparis mitchellii) and Bell Fruit Tree or Camel Poison (Codonocarpus pyramidalis).

Aboriginal Occupation

The northern Flinders Ranges were occupied at least from some 49,000 years ago. This date was obtained from a site known as the Warratyi rock shelter, south of Mawson Plateau. Evidence from Warratyi shows the use of key technologies such as stone axes and ochre. The site also had evidence that humans existed alongside of, and hunted megafauna. Excavations to a depth of one metre produced 4,000 artefacts and 200 bone fragments including some from Diprotodon optatum , a giant wombat-like creature.

Diprotodon optatum
Diprotodon optatum

It is likely that aborigines would have camped in the Granite Plateau Creek catchment as there are a number of permanent waterholes. As the climate of inland Australia dried these waterholes would have been vital refuge sites for inland aborigines.

At the time of first European contact the tribal groups occupying the northern Flinders Ranges were the Yardliyawara and the Wailpi. European settlement fragmented their social and economic structures so that today these tribes are known collectively as the Adnyamathanha ( hills people ). Fortunately, the Adnyamathanha have been able to maintain their cultural identity and links to the northern Flinders.

Further reading:

Map: Yudnamutana: 1:50 000.

Map: Frome: 1:250 000.

Map: Flinders Ranges: 1:550 000 (Aust. Geog.).

Bonython, W.C: Walking the Flinders Ranges (Rigby, 1971).

Barker, S eds: Explore the Flinders Ranges (RGSSA, 2014).

Mincham, H: The Story of the Flinders Ranges (Rigby,1974).

Pledge, N: Fossils of the Flinders and Mt Lofty Ranges (SA Museum, 1985).

Cawood, M. and Langford, M: The Flinders Ranges (Aust. Geog., 2000).

Saturday : Arkaroola to Edward Springs: 50 kms

And so, on an annoyingly aberrant cool, overcast August day we were lurching and grinding over old 4WD station and mining tracks heading for our base camp at somewhere called Edward Springs (springless and definitely waterless as far as I could tell). The South Australians had very kindly organised to squeeze us into one of their off-road vehicles for the trip in. The tracks, in places, were little better than wheel ruts cutting across a landscape that varied between rock, sand, sandy creek beds and clumps of spinifex. The drive in was meant to take only a few hours from Arkaroola giving a walking party time to climb Freeling Heights (944 m) and set up camp that same afternoon. The best laid plans of mice and men”.

The ‘tracks’ took their toll on a Subaru’s tires, leaving a Landrover Defender and a Toyota Prado to ferry in seven walkers and five base campers. Suffice to say we couldn’t all fit into the two remaining cars. The overflow took to hoofing the rest of the way in to our base camp (wherever that was). But I was happy enough to be out walking, even under a dark, threatening sky. The view ahead was spectacular. Across the undulating plains rose the long, flat profile of the Mawson Plateau. Later in the afternoon, at the end of a vague track, under the shadow of Freeling Heights we found the earlier arrivals. Tents were up and a camp fire going.

Base camp at Edward Springs on a tributary of Mac Donnell Ck. Mawson Plateau.
Base camp in Mac Donnell Ck.

Our campsite was in the dry bed of MacDonnell Creek, a major feeder of the Hamilton River ( GR: 416657 Yudnamutana 1: 50,000 AGD 84 ). Tomorrow’s access to Freeling Heights was, initially, via a small unnamed tributary of MacDonnell Creek which flowed north west off Freeling Heights and into MacDonnell Creek about 500 metres north of our base camp.

The sight of a welcoming blaze somewhat improved my mood as I surveyed our setting which could, at best, be described as desolate. A far cry from my favourite haunts in the rolling alpine meadows of Kosciusko National Park. Here we were tucked up into a dry creek bed with a maze of dark glowering hills to our backs, and a thickening bank of clouds gathering overhead. Creating a level tent pad in these fields of shattered rock and clumps of spinifex proved a bit of a mission.

Darkness closed in quickly but a small community gathered around the fire to prepare dinner and work our way through trivia questions while we cooked a meal. For some, dinner was an exotic feed prepared by Jack. My options were pretty limited, a reconstituted dried meal. But here’s the thing. Our South Australian friends catered for a cast of thousands so there were invariably seconds for everyone, myself included. No danger of impending starvation on this trip.

Some of us sported comfortable folding chairs while the hardier South Australian types constructed Fred Flintstone lounge chairs from the abundant sheets of quartzite living on the creek bed (pretty uncomfortable actually, but nobody was going to admit to that). Our campfire reveries were cut short by an unwelcome visitor, very light drizzle. Not predicted and certainly unexpected in this arid environment. By 8.00 pm the group had dispersed to their respective camping arrangements in preparation for our 8.00 am departure on the morrow.

Sunday: MacDonnell Ck/ Edward Springs Base camp to second overnight camp at Tee Junction Waterhole: 10 kms.
Mawson Plateau Hike: annotated map of first section.
My annotations of the route marked on my Yudnamutana 1: 50,000 map sheet.

Being creatures of habit, John and I emerged into the chill darkness soon after 5.30am. While Susan caught another twenty winks John tizzied up the fire and a billy was put on to boil for our tea and coffee. By 8.00 am our hiking party of Paul , Rob , Mike and Jack (from South Australia) and Susan, John and I (Queenslanders) mustered at the start of a mining track leading south east out of the campsite; leaving the base campers to climb Freeling Heights at their leisure. The sky had cleared to a brilliant cloudless blue as only a desert sky can.

Our climb to Freeling Heights would take several hours even though the altitude gain was only 300 metres. It was a landscape of loose rocks, thick scrub and tangled hills dissected by numerous dry gullies. As well, we were dragging along litres of water to see us through the day until we reached Tee Junction Waterhole late in the afternoon.

Foothills on the climb to Freeling Heights at 944 metres. Mawson Plateau.
Foothills on the morning’s climb to Freeling Heights: 944 metres. Freeling Heights hidden from view.

The route, which didn’t seem at all obvious to myself or our South Australian friends, involved following up the mining track which soon petered out. As our original leader had opted out of the hike, I never quite figured out who the substitute leader was or who was doing the navigation. But everyone chipped in and things seemed tickety boo. From here it was down into a dry creek bed, scrub bashing and scrabbling over boulders until the creek became impassable and we were forced out onto a ridge leading to the stony western rim of Freeling Heights at about 900 metres.

On the quartzite ridge heading for the summit of Freeling Heights. Mawson Plateau.
The stony quartzite ridge leading to the summit cairn of Freeling Heights at 944 metres.

It was clear to me by now that the group’s modus operandi was pretty laissez-faire. Walkers scattered across the landscape with the fastest walkers meeting up with whoever was leading at the time ( a moveable feast). Then followed a chat about navigating to the next landmark. Not really a problem up here on the Freeling Heights high tops, but later on, by mid afternoon, a niggling issue for those lagging behind when we descended onto the sandplains and dense Ti-tree thickets below Freeling Heights.

The Navigators : Mawson Plateau.

A brief stop on the western rim of Freeling Heights and we tore off again to find the impressive drystone cairn marking the summit at 944 metres.

The summit cairn of Freeling Heights at 944 metres. Mawson Plateau.
The summit cairn of Freeling Heights at 944 metres.

We propped here for morning tea and to take in the very impressive views out over the tangled ‘all slopes’ topography and out onto the waterless and featureless plains beyond. In 1840, the explorer Edward John Eyre climbed a low ‘haycock- like’ peak on the plains just to our north and described the scene as ‘cheerless and hopeless’. He turned away and beat a hasty retreat to the south.

Mt Hopeless. SA.
Mt Hopeless SA.
Plains north of Mt Hopeless. SA.
View out over plains from Mt Hopeless.
View from the summit of Freeling Heights out towards the Hamilton River and plains beyond.
View from Freeling Heights over a tangled foothill terrain of ridges, gullies and hills. Looking towards the dry bed of the Hamilton River and featureless plains beyond.

From Freeling Heights we dropped 250 metres down a steep escarpment covered in shattered quartzite onto a sandplain forming the headwaters of the Granite Plateau Creek system. For the next three days we would follow the gorges and sandy bed of Granite Plateau Creek out to its junction with Hamilton Creek near where, hopefully, the exit base camp had been established. Our base campers later reported that the drive from MacDonnell Creek/Edward Springs to Hamilton Creek had been long and tortuous, occupying most of the day. Apparently not something they were keen to repeat.

Mawson Plateau landscape.
Mawson Plateau landscape.

As the creek bed and its fringing flood plain were choked with dense thickets of White Tea-tree (Melaleuca glomerata), we edged uphill and took to the lower hills and ridges, all the while trying to maintain a line of travel to intersect with Tee Junction Waterhole five kilometres hence. But with fellow walkers spread over the landscape it was a toss up as to who was leading and who to follow . The low ridges and scrub made it difficult to see other walkers. But as we were not leading the walk and the terrain was unfamiliar, I kept stumm about any thoughts I harboured that we should be keeping together. Anyway, our leaders seemed to have the navigation under control.

View across sand plain to Freeling Heights. Mawson Plateau.
Photo: John B. View across sand plain to Freeling Heights.

I have done quite a bit of walking with John and Susan and I became aware that they were travelling much slower than they usually do and not keeping up with the rest of the group.

By mid-afternoon it dawned on me that Susan was hobbling along nursing a dodgy ankle or foot; apparently damaged several hours ago on Freeling Heights. When we finally dropped into Granite Plateau Creek late in the afternoon, John, Susan and I decided to take an early mark and propped at the first decent waterhole. It was agreed that the rest of the party would head downstream to Tee Junction Waterhole for the first night’s camp.

While Susan soaked the injured ankle/foot in the waterhole , John and I set up tents, collected firewood (too easy) and got the campfire going. This was a campsite par excellence: sandy tent platforms, abundant firewood and heaps of water (once purified). We would be very comfy here for the night ( GR: 475678 Yudnamutana 1: 50,000 AGD 84 ).

Campsite on Granite Plateau Creek. Mawson Plateau
Photo: John B. Dismounting & getting ready to set up camp two in Granite Plateau Creek. Sandy tent pad, heaps of firewood and water.
Monday: Tee Junction to third overnight camp: Granite Plateau Creek: 6.5 kms.
Map of Mawson Plateau
My annotations on the route marked on my Yudnamutana 1:50,000 mapsheet.

A very early start as we had promised the others that we would catch up with them at Tee Junction Waterhole as soon as possible. It is called Tee Junction because Saucepan Creek joins Granite Plateau Creek at an angle of 900. With Susan’s foot strapped and booted we nipped off downstream. After one and half kilometres of creek hopping and thrice longer time wise than expected, we found Team SA about 8.30 am, waiting patiently. In a previous life and in a far away continent, Jack had worked as a paramedic and he set to and re-strapped my bodgy job on Susan’s ankle.

Near Tee Junction waterhole, Mawson Plateau.
Near Tee Junction waterhole.

This done, we cooked up a plan to get Susan through the walk as there was no possibility of turning back. The base birds at our Edwards Springs HQ had already flown the coop. The Landrover and Pajero would, by now, have started the long drive around to Hamilton Creek via Greenhill Hut and Valley Bore. The plan was to ease Susan through the rest of the walk. Back at Tee Junction Waterhole we split into two groups. The South Australians would continue downstream at their own pace leaving John to assist Susan while I scouted ahead to find the easiest route. They would wait for us to catch up at lunchtime and we would meet again for the evening camp GR: 475678 Yudnamutana 1:50,000 AGD 84)

Today’s walk was through a spectacular part of the Mawson Plateau, Granite Plateau Creek. We inched down its deeply incised gorge with numerous dry waterfalls, deep cold pools lined with River Red Gums and picturesque sandy beaches. Our Yudnamutana 1:50,000 map sheet notated this section of the creek as having: ‘Numerous Rockholes‘.

Typical waterhole. Mawson Plateau.
Typical waterhole in Granite Plateau Creek

An understatement. Our downstream progress dropped to a mere five kilometres for a full day’s walking as we negotiated the innumerable waterfalls, deep waterholes, slippery rocks and gorge walls. By my calculations we were averaging about half a kilometre an hour. One of the few trip reports I later unearthed on Granite Plateau Gorge also recounted excruciatingly slow progress.

But it was well worth the effort. The gorge was superb. One never tired of the waterfalls and rock pools even though they were more often than not an obstruction. At the top of each waterfall we would survey the the route ahead and conclude it wasn’t possible to scramble down safely. Frustrating. Instead we would scrabble up onto the open ridges of granite sheets above us and then work our way around and back down into Granite Plateau Creek. This process added hours to our travel time and heavy rucksacks didn’t help. Where was my length of climbing tape when we needed it?

The rock pools were etched deeply into a pink granite bedrock, the water retained by its impermeable granite base. Each pool guarded by jumbles of huge boulders and dry waterfalls. The granite, glass-like, highly polished, smoothed by eons of grit and running water. The polished surfaces were objects of great beauty but it was wise to be attentive when scrabbling near the lip of any waterfalls. The granite surfaces were covered by loose grus – small angular fragments of disintegrated granite common in arid and semi-arid environments. These had a disconcerting tendency to skid underfoot when crossing the granite pavements. We were a long, long way from any help. I was told that the nearest rescue helicopter was 500 kilometres away in Adelaide.

John wending his way over the granite pavement in Granite Plateau Creek. Mawson Plateau.
John wending his way over granite pavements in Granite Plateau Creek: Mawson Plateau.

At the downstream end of the plunge pools were massive banks of sand, idyllic and beach-like. Often shaded by the bleached, white trunks of gnarly River Red Gums. Ideal locations for a lunch stops and camp sites. In retrospect, I would have gratefully spent a few extra few nights coming through this gorge section and spending the afternoons exploring the plateau above the cliff lines.

It was at one of these pools that we finally caught up with our friends. They had already eaten and had a refreshing (read: freezing) dip; but the water was far too cold for three sub-tropical Queenslanders. During the break concern was expressed at our slow progress and that we may not reach our exit point for another two to two and a half days. Then followed more discussion about our situation and the suggestion of setting off the PLB and having Susan extracted by helicopter. A big over-reaction I thought, as did Susan and John. Susan was coping, albeit slowly and cautiously. The decision was left to Susan who said that she was able make it out as long as she took things carefully.

We parted company again with our friends, who promised to wait for us at a suitable downstream campsite. Good as their word, they were bunkered down in a beautiful sandy and level campsite. (GR: 512696 Yudnamutana 1:50,000 AGD 84). We scampered in a tad before darkness closed over the deep gorge. An excellent choice. Heaps of room, plenty of firewood and a water supply just a short walk away. How good is this hiking life? For a third night we settled around a campfire and chewed the fat until weary bones finally sent us to our tents.

Wednesday: Camp Three in Granite Plateau Creek to final base camp near The John Waterhole: 15 kms.
Map of section of Granite Plateau Creek on Mawson Plateau.
My annotations of our route on my Yudnamutana 1:50,000 map sheet

Out again in pre-dawn light to jig up the campfire and boil the billy. My breakfast pickings were pretty meagre as I decided to eke out the rations just in case our exit took two more days. Our threesome were underway by 7.30 am but progress was promptly blocked some 100 metres downstream.

A difficult, long bypass, up and around, taking well over an hour. Not an encouraging start to the day. A bit deflating, in fact. John suggested that we could speed up our progress by climbing up onto the open granite plateau to our east (marked on the map as Numerous Exposed Rocks) and walking to the north east to avoid the worst of the creek’s obstructions. The plan was shelved when we had a good look at the terrain above the gorge and decided that the lack of obvious landmarks on this dry, featureless surface would make for difficult navigation. Far safer to continue plugging our way downstream, come what may.

Although we didn’t realise it at the time, we had just bypassed our last major obstruction. We had unknowingly scored a ‘get out of jail free’ pass. The going got easier with fewer and less complex obstructions. As the gradient eased Susan found the walking much easier and so the pace picked up.

Large chockstones and potholes on Granite Plateau Creek: Mawson Plateau.
Large chockstones and potholes on Granite Plateau Creek. Mawson Plateau.

We pulled up for morning tea under a massive free-standing granite tor, a photo of which I had seen in one of the few trip reports on the Mawson Plateau that I have been able to ferret out. While we lolled in the shade I dragged out our map which showed another belt of ‘Numerous Rockholes‘ ahead, which was a bit disconcerting. Perhaps the estimation of another two days to our collection point was, indeed, close to the mark? Our navigation made problematic by the fact of our collection point being off the current map sheet. The next map sheet over was a 1:250,000, which we didn’t have. As a precaution, I had annotated my ‘Yudnamutana‘ map margin with the vague instructions from one of the SA bushwalkers: ‘campsite at least 3 kms further downstream‘, look for Mt Shanahan near junction with Hamilton R’, ‘ ruins of stone hut on W bank‘. None of this was very reassuring.

Granite tor in Granite Plateau Creek. Mawson Plateau.
Large granite tor on the bed of Granite Plateau Creek : Mawson Plateau.

Our final belt of ‘Numerous Rockholes’ proved a fizzer. Instead we were treated to some of the best arid landscape gorge walking that I have ever done. A sandy creek bed, pools shaded by arching River red gums and red rocky cliffs lifting to the deep blue outback sky. Much more satisfying than creeping down the dark, dank creek lines of coastal Queensland. By our lunch break at 1.00pm we knew the worst of the obstructions were now behind us. It was tempting to take an early mark at one of these magnificent campsites: sandy beaches, abundant water, large shady Eucalypts: no litter and no evidence of the imprint of man. But we were conscious that our slow progress would be a considerable worry to the rest of the party and so we decided to plug on until 4.30 pm . Another long day of nine hours on the hoof.

Campsites in Granite Plateau Creek. Mawson Plateau.
Excellent campsites on sandy beaches in Granite Plateau Creek: Mawson Plateau.

From here the gorge walls dropped away, the sandy creek bed meandered in long loops, allowing us to save time by cutting corners, traversing over low stony ridge lines instead of humping our rucksacks up and down steep rock faces.

By mid afternoon we had lost our position on the map, foxed by the numerous unmarked tributaries, the tortuous meandering of the creek and the sameness of the elevated points above us. No particular landmarks stood out and while our average speed was faster than previous days, any estimate of distance travelled downstream was a rough guess at best. We were reasonably certain that we had moved off the ‘Yudnamatana’ mapsheet and were now effectively mapless. Also GPSless . .

Soon after 4.00 pm we popped out onto a large braided creek junction. For a while we had been expecting to see Mt Shanahan as a guide to our position relative to the Hamilton River junction. But Mt Shanahan had completely evaded us. Unbelieveable. Was this the Hamilton River junction? We took a punt and decided that it was large enough. A quick check of the direction of flood debris suggested that we turn north. It was now a matter of ploughing on in the main river bed until we found a suitable waterhole to camp at. Alas, no more water, just a dry river bed.

Waterhole on Hamilton River
Waterhole on Hamilton River after a good rainfall season.

A little while later John remarked that he could smell smoke. We wandered on, still getting the occasional whiff of Eucalyptus scented smoke. Then I heard the distant purring of a diesel engine. Station owners?

Our walk was over. Ahead was a bluff and waterhole ( now dry) that we recognised as campsite 5 from our 2016 Camel Expedition. Our friends had arrived mid-afternoon and had set up their tents, got the fire going and the billy boiling.

Hamilton River.
Hamilton River ( now dry) at our exit camp.

Above the Hamilton River are the ruins of an old hut. The only remains were crumbling dry-stone walls with the brush roof long gone. It may have been built by a shepherd or an old-time miner. Whoever occupied it the decades that followed would have been treated to one of the most picturesque views in the northern Flinders Ranges. Come mid- summer, though, it would have been a hell on earth.

Ruins of shepherd's or miner's hut on Hamilton River. SA.
Ruins of old shepherd’s or miner’s hut on the Hamilton River. Waterhole nearby.

My thanks to John and Susan for the road trip into Arkaroola via Camerons Corner and the Strzelecki Track. A big thanks also to our very generous South Australian bushwalking hosts, especially Cathy and Peter for the trip back to Adelaide and for putting me up overnight in their very comfortable home.

Other gorge walks that may interest you:

Mt Moffatt Section , Carnarvon National Park.

Mt Moffatt is a remote and relatively pristine section of Carnarvon National Park in Central Queensland. It occupies the headwaters of the western flowing Maranoa River; a diverse landscape of broad valleys, basalt tablelands and isolated outcrops of Precipice sandstone .

This former beef grazing property, was purchased by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service in 1979 to add to their extensive Central Queensland Sandstone park estate.

The Looking Glass.Spire of Precipice Sandstone, Mt Moffatt NP
The Looking Glass. Mt Moffatt.

Mt Moffatt is an elevated sandstone and basalt park averaging about 700 – 800 metres in elevation, rising to 1232 metres on the basalt-capped Consuelo Tableland in the park’s north-east. The park was named after a solitary basalt peak, Mt Moffatt (1097 metres), standing hundreds of metres above the East Branch of the Maranoa River.

Mt Moffatt,.
Mt Moffatt 1097 metres. Basalt overlying Hutton sandstone.

The Consuelo Plateau is known as ‘The Roof of Queensland’ as it forms the headwaters of many Queensland rivers. Carnarvon Creek flows eastwards into the Comet and Dawson thence to the Fitzroy River. Draining westwards across Mt Moffatt is the Maranoa River, ultimately feeding the Murray-Darling system.

Marlong Creek, Mt Moffatt.
Marlong Creek, a tributary of the Maranoa River, West Branch.

Mt Moffatt has a diverse plant community of open woodlands, tall Eucalypt forests and vast open grassy plains.

Open Angophera woodland, Mt Moffatt
Open woodland dominated by Angophera sp. on sandy plains.

Unlike its near neighbour, Carnarvon Gorge, this is an open terrain of sandstone spires, arches and extensive clifflines of Precipice Sandstone.

The Mansions, Mt Moffatt.
The Mansions: an outcrop of coloured, soft Hutton sandstone.

It has a rich human history. Aboriginal stencil art is abundant and their occupation stretches back at least 19,000 years. Reminders of the area’s life as a cattle property are seen in relict stockyards and fencing. For those of you fascinated by bushrangers, Mt Moffatt was site of the grisly murders of Constable George Doyle and station manager Christian Dahlke by the notorious Kenniff brothers.

Old cattle yards, Mt Moffatt.
Old cattle yards, Mt Moffatt.

I have been visiting Mt Moffatt since 1988 and since then have hiked with family and friends many times across Mt Moffatt and the Consuelo; and more latterly have walked the six day Carnarvon Great Walk which incorporates Carnarvon Gorge and Mt Moffatt.

Carnarvon Great Walk soon after its opening. Looking into Carnarvon Gorge from Police Peak.

Mt Jagungal: Kosciuszko National Park

My walking companion, youngest son, had just swanned in from months of pounding the mountain trails of the Swiss Alps and Nepal.  Lean and fit, he was keen for one final fling before returning to work in early November.  We tossed around the possibilities. Frenchman’s Cap, The Labyrinth, the Western Arthurs were his hot choices while Moreton Island or Fraser Island looked like cushy numbers for me. The art of compromise, a 80 kilometre outing to Mt Jagungal in northern Kosciuszko National Park.  The iconic Jagungal Wilderness Area is part of The Australian Alps Bioregion, the only truly alpine environment in New South Wales as well as the only part of mainland Australia to have been affected by Pleistocene glaciation.

Over the Alps: To Jagungal on Foot and Fire Trail.

Our timing was impeccable. The Bureau of Meteorology’s Snowy Mountains Regional Forecast promised us: Wednesday: ‘snow showers’ and ‘fresh to strong southerly winds’.  The clincher was the ‘minimum of -2ºC, and a maximum of 0ºC’.  More of the same for Thursday with relief coming on Friday: ‘fine sunny weather, minimum -3ºC, maximum 9ºC’.  We somehow misplaced the fine sunny bit.  Youngest son, outfitted with cosy thermals and multiple polapluses, seemed relaxed about all this snow stuff, so I wasn’t overly concerned but wondered if my warm Queensland blood was up to the task.

A cold morning at Whites River Hut in Kosciuszko National Park.
A cold morning at Whites River Hut
The Provedore

Once in Canberra I was despatched to Manuka to source the all important hiking rations.  Too easy: a big bag of beer nuts, no-brand cups of soup, two-serve pastas, mountain bread, ten yoghurt coated muesli bars, tang, eight Laughing Cow soft cheese wedges, twelve mini Mars bars and two knobs of pepperoni salami to placate youngest son’s carnivorous tendencies.  But, when it was too late, at the isolated Whites River hut, he discovered that his confidence in the largesse of this provedore was sadly misplaced.  There is an old saying about living on the smell of an oily rag that seems apposite. But I will return to this well chewed bone of contention later.

More Information:

Map: Geehi Dam: 1:25000.

Map: Jagungal: 1:25000.

Map: Tim Lamble: Mt Jagungal and the Brassy Mountains: 1:31680.

Map: Wyborn, D., Owen, M., Wyborn, L: Geology of Kosciuszko National Park: 1;250000. ( BMR Canberra 1990 ).

Hueneke, K: Huts of the High Country (ANU Press 1982).

Johnson, D, The Geology of Australia ( Cambridge University Press 2009 ).

Flood, J : Moth Hunters of the ACT: ( 1984 ).

Kosciuszko Huts Association:

Some recent Kosciuszko trip reports.
Map of  walk to Mt Jagungal. Kosciuszko National Park.
Tuesday: Guthega Power Station to Whites River Hut: 10 kms.

With a 5.00pm departure we left the bluebell coloured Camry orphaned at the Guthega Power Station, the Australian Alpine Walking Track entrance. The track zig- zagged steeply uphill.  With fine cool weather and a window of three hours to cover the ten kilometres to White’s River, there was no particular hurry and apart from a 240 metre altitude gain it was a most agreeable evening’s ramble, as we beetled along in a companionable silence.

Heading for Whites River Hut late afternoon on Australian Alps Walking Track
Australian Alps Walking Track: heading for Whites River Hut late afternoon.
Australia’s Subalpine Landscapes

We followed the winding track across a typical subalpine landscape of snow gum woodland interspersed with open grasslands. The subalpine zone in Australia is that in which snow gums are the only tree species, lying between approximately 1400 m and 1700 m. Above 1700 m to about 2000 m, on the Australian mainland, is the treeless alpine zone.

Vistas of extensive treeless grasslands unfolded along the valley floor. These grasslands are said to be the result of cold air pooling in valleys forming frost hollows, producing a microclimate inimical to the survival of trees and shrubs. In the dampest parts where the water table is close to the surface, spongy bogs and fens dominate. The higher ridges are covered in snow gum woodland, the lower edge of the community terminating sharply, forming a definite tree line on a contour around each plain.

Horse Camp Hut in subalpine zone dominated by snow gum woodland
Horse Camp Hut set in the subalpine zone. Dominated by snow gum woodland.

It was sobering to find huge swathes of the snow gum woodland burnt out, their dead branches arching over our heads.  Lines of fire-ravaged hills retreated to the far horizon, but, on an optimistic note, the dominant snow gums were now suckering vigorously from their lignotubers.  In 2003 massive fires burnt much of the park and sections of the plateau were still closed until mid 2006. Fire is, of course, part of the natural regime of Kosciuszko, with an average of 100 days annually of high to extreme fire danger. It has the dubious distinction of being one of the most fire prone areas in the world.  Fortunately, this area from Guthega to Jagungal was untouched by the massive fires of the summer of 2019-2020.

Fire damaged snow gums: Kosciuszko National Park
Fire damaged snow gums on Munyang Schlink Trail: Kosciuszko National Park.

We reached White’s on dusk. I wussed out, keen for a comfy bunk in the hut. Surprisingly, I met little resistance … for a change. The plummeting temperature, barely holding at 3ºC, dampened our enthusiasm for things outdoorsy: like sleeping in freezing tents, no camp fire, and fourteen hours incarcerated in a hike tent.

Whites River Hut

White’s River Hut, typical of many high country huts, was built in1935 by sheep farmers who engaged in the transhumance of their flocks, grazing them on the high alpine meadows of the Rolling Grounds in summer, retreating to the protected Snowy River stations for winter.  Summer grazing on high pastures ceased in the 1970’s.

Whites River Hut in Kosciuszko National Park.
Whites River Hut

Constructed of sheet iron, White’s is a basic, dingy hut, appreciated in cold, wet weather, but rarely used on hot summer days. Like most Kosciuszko huts it has sleeping bunks, a fireplace or woodstove, wood store, tatty table and bench seats and an outdoor dunny.  Whites is unusual in that it had an additional, stand-alone four person bunkhouse (since burnt down accidentally), known as ‘The Kelvinator’, for obvious reasons. If it is not obvious to the reader then Kelvinators were a famous brand of Australian refrigerators. This was the last refuge for desperate winter skiers, no doubt thankful to escape from the malevolent Rolling Grounds but usually arriving frozen to the core only to discover there was no room left in the inn.

Image of Whites River Hut before The Kelvinator was removed.
Whites River Hut with “The Kelvinator” in the background.

The main hut is also the refuge of the notorious Bubbles and Bubbles Jnr, bush rats extraordinaire: legends of High Country Huts as walkers and skiers record their exploits of marsupial derring-do and innate native rat cunning at avoiding all manner of water traps and flying footwear.  On a visit in 2005, Bubbles made off with our leader’s head torch, dragging it towards his bolt hole stopping occasionally to dine on its hard plastic coating.  Tonight, these pint sized bush banditos were content with keeping son in a state of high alert as they tip-ratted through hut rubbish and skittered along the wooden beam highways above our beds. For my part I slept as well as can be expected for a Queenslander. Cold air seeped through my down sleeping bag, thermal liner bag, two thermal shirts, a polar plus jacket, beanie, gloves, woollen socks x2, thermal long johns and over trousers. How cold could it be?

Wednesday: Whites River Hut, Schlink Hilton Hut, Valentines Hut and Grey Mare Hut: 19 kms.

We found out in the morning.  All was quiet.  No birds, no Bubbles, no sound of running water.  Just the muffled fall of light snowflakes susurrating against the hut. Nature called and I emerged at six o’clock and applied my final layer, a thick Gore-Tex rain jacket, which seemed to do the trick. Youngest son surfaced soon after, although I have observed that he normally lies doggo until Jeeves has a fire blazing and breakfast is on the way.

A cold morning in Whites River Hut
Whites River Hut. Snowing outside. Toasty inside.

There is nothing like walking in a light snowfall. Cold it may be, but to be out walking on a high country trail in crisp alpine air, is an experience to be remembered. Our bodies quickly warmed up as we ascended towards Schlink Pass at 1800 metres. In any case our warm gear and wind proofs kept us snug and dry.  All too soon we topped the pass and descended to The Schlink Hilton. This twenty bunk ex-SMA hut was named after Herbert ‘Bertie’ Schlink, who was one of a party of four who were the first to complete the Kiandra to Charlottes Pass trip in three days in July 1927.

Climbing up to Schlink Pass. Kosciuszko National Park.
Climbing up to Schlink Pass.

We ducked in, out of the drifting snowflakes, deposited plops of melting snow, removed several thermal layers, and then squelched off again to the start of the Valentine Fire Trail. Valentine’s marks the start of The Jagungal Wilderness Area.  Centred on Mt Jagungal (2060m), this isolated area is a bushwalking paradise: mountain peaks, snowgrass plains, high alpine passes, the massive Bogong Swamp and a derelict gold mine. The area is closed to vehicles but numerous fire trails provide sheltered walking when bad weather closes in over The Kerries and Gungartan.

Valentines Hut

By 10.30, the snow showers clearing, we sighted Valentine’s Hut, its fire truck red livery standing out against a grey skeletal forest of dead snow gums.  Valentine’s is my all time favourite high country hut.  Another ex-SMA hut, this natty little four person weatherboard hut has a clean airy feel, with table, bench seats and a wood stove in its kitchen.  A home away from home. Other huts are usually dark, sooty, plastered with candle grease and graffiti and generally described as dirty and dingy. Valentine’s has been painted inside and out, has ample windows and, for added creature comfort, a newish corrugated iron dunny close by.

Valentines Hut
Valentines Hut

Youngest son, ever hungry, was keen for an early lunch in the snug comfort of Valentine’s, out of the clutches of the blustering southerlies.  Two mountain bread roll-ups filled with peanut paste, salami and cheese, a mini Mars and a few handfuls of beer nuts vanished in a flash. He: “What’s next?”  Well nothing.  Some grumbling about catering arrangements and we were on our way to the Grey Mare, but not before I deemed it politic to requisition a packet of cous cous and pasta from the ‘please help yourself food pile’.  The final leg would take us across Valentine’s Creek, over the Geehi (boots off for me), then up and over a 1700 metre alpine moor to Back Flat Creek with a final unwelcome crawl 60 metres up to the Grey Mare Hut for an early mark.

Grey Mare Hut

Grey Mare was a miner’s hut. Gold was discovered in the vicinity in 1894 at the Bogong Lead, later called Grey Mare Reef. Initially it was worked as a pit but flooding of shafts ended the first sequence of occupance in 1903.  An output of 28.3 kgs of gold in 1902 made it one of the highest yielding gold fields in New South Wales. A second phase of mining started in 1934 with an adit blasted to get to the reef.  The ruins of a hut on the creek flats below dates from this period.  A final attempt to get at the gold came in 1949 when the present hut was built.  The bush around the hut is littered with all kinds of mining knick-knacks: a crusher, a steam engine, a huge flywheel weighing more than two tonnes and a shambolic tin dunny teetering over the abyss of an old mine shaft ( since replaced with something safer).

Mining equipment: Grey Mare Hut.
Old flywheel and boiler at Grey Mare Hut.
Frosty morning at Grey Mare Mine site.
Frosty morning at Grey Mare Mine site

The six berth hut is standard dingy but large and comfortable with a huge fireplace and the best hut views in the park.  From our doorstep we had views northwards up the grassy valley of Straight Creek and peeking above Strumbo Hill, the crouching lion, Mt Jagungal, tomorrow’s destination. Looking to the east I could see Tarn Bluff, Mailbox Hill and the Cup and Saucer which I visited in 2017. Behind us was the Grey Mare Bogong topping out at 1870 metres.

 By three o’clock, the worms were biting and son was already scruffling through the rations looking hopefully for cups of soup and pasta with Nescafe caramel lattes and chocolate chasers to appease his now constantly rumbling tum.  Meanwhile, I set to with bush saw to lay in our wood supply for what was shaping up to be a windy, cold night.  No problems with collecting bush timber here, the hut is set in a stand of dead snowgums.  By five o’clock it was cold enough to rev up the fire.  Come dark we banked the fire and drifted to our bunks, snuggling down into warm bags.  The predicted ‘windy’ conditions made for a restless night with a banging door and overhanging branches raking the corrugated iron chimney.

Grey Mare Hut
Grey Mare Hut.
Thursday: Grey Mare to Jagungal and return: 22 kms.

Up at six o’clock in anticipation of the long walk to Jagungal and back.  Snow showers again, a gusting tail wind catching our rucksacks and driving us sidewards off the Grey Mare Trail as we headed north.  With Phar Lap out in front and Dobbin coming at a steady gallop behind, we burned up the kilometres, hayburners from hell, past Smith’s Lookout (1748m), across the Bogong Swamp (dry), rock hopped over the Tooma River, and thence to our Jagungal access at the Tumut River campsite.  And not a single grey mare in sight.  A heap of beer nuts and a yoghurt bar each and we were off again, a 220 metres climb onto the mist shrouded south west ridge, a sharp turn left and an easier 160 metre ridge walk to Jagungal Summit at 2062 metres. The Roof of Australia, or near enough. The mist cleared…. how lucky was that?

On the Grey Mare Trail heading for Jagungal
On the Grey Mare Trail heading for Jagungal.
Mt Jagungal 2061 m.

Jagungal is instantly recognisable from over much of Kosciuszko. A reassuring landmark for bushwalkers and skiers alike, a beacon… an isolated black rocky peak standing above the surrounding alpine plains.  It is at the headwaters of several major rivers: the Tumut, the Tooma and the Geehi.  It was known to cattlemen as The Big Bogong or Jagunal. The later spelling, Jagungal, is considered by the old timers a latter day perversion. Jagungal appears on Strzelecki’s map as Mt Coruncal, which he describes as “crowning the spur which separates the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers”.  The aborigines often called mountains in the alpine zone Bogong, indicating a food source, the Bogong moth.  Europeans applied their own nomenclature to differentiate the Bogongs: Paddy Rushs Bogong, Dicky Cooper Bogong and Grey Mare Bogong.

Mt Jagungal: Kosciuszko National Park.
Mt Jagungal: 2061 m.

Unlike most of the other Bogongs whose granitic origins are revealed by their characteristic whaleback profiles, Jagungal’s summit is distinctively peaky. It sports a lizard like frill of vertical rock towers, some intact, other lying in jumbled heaps. Jagungal is different because it is capped by amphibolite, a black igneous rock more dense than granite, formed by the metamorphosis of basalts, the Jagungal Volcanics. Its origins date back to 470 to 458 Ma, to the Middle Ordovician. It is surrounded by the Kiandra Volcanic Field, part of a belt of volcanoes called the Molong Volcanic Arc.

During the The Ordovician ( 485 to 444 Ma), Australia was part of a single super-continent and much of Eastern Australia was covered by the sea. Chains of active volcanoes occupied parts of central New South Wales. These were mainly submarine volcanoes but some emerged to form small islands with fringing limestone reefs. The Ordovician saw the first appearance of corals and land plants.

Jagungal was ascended by Europeans in the winter of 1898 when a party from the Grey Mare Mine climbed it using primitive skis called ‘Kiandra snowshoes’.  Ours was a much less adventurous walk, but we still savoured our time on the summit.  Especially magnificent were the views south to the snow capped Main Range, four days away.  It was so clear that we could even discern Victoria’s Mt Bogong on the far southern horizon.  But the cold wind soon drove us into a protected sunny nook just under the summit.  We hunkered down, lunched, son eased into one of his regular catnaps…. no doubt dreaming of Nepal and wolfing down a huge bowl of Nepali boiled potatoes and rice; or perhaps a large slice of pizza; or even, given our now parlous food situation, a plate of succulent fried Bogong Moths.

Bogong Moth
CSIRO: Bogong Moth
Bogong Moths

I had noticed on a previous trip and again on our ascent today, huge raucous flocks of crows cawing around the steep summit cliffs. I had seen the same phenomenon on Mt Alice Rawson near Kosciuszko.  Inexplicable at the time. Recently, I came across an explanation.  The ‘crows’, actually Little Ravens (Corvus mellori), were gathering to feed on Agrotis infusa, the drab little Bogong moth, found only in Australia and New Zealand. To escape the summer heat, these moths migrate altitudinally and set up summer holiday camps in the coolest places in Australia, the rock crevices of the alpine summits.  They come in millions from western New South Wales and Southern Queensland, distances in excess of 1500 kilometres, often winging in on high altitude jet streams, and settle in crevices and caves, stacked in multiple layers, 17,000 of them in a square metre, where they undergo aestivation or summer hibernation.  The migrations seem to be a mechanism to escape the heat of the inland plains and they gather in the coolest and darkest crevices on western, windward rock faces. A tasty morsel for our corvid buddies.

Aborigines and the Bogong Moths

With the ravens came the aborigines, from Yass and Braidwood, from Eden on the coast and from Omeo and Mitta Mitta in Victoria. All intent on having a good feed and a good time.  Large camps formed with as many as 500 aborigines gathering for initiation, corroborees, marriage arrangements and the exchange of goods.  It is thought that advance parties would climb up to the tops, and if the moths had arrived they would send up a smoke signal to the camps below. The arrival of the moths is not a foregone conclusion. Migration numbers vary from year to year. Some years they are blown off course and out into the Tasman Sea.  1987 was a vintage year, but in 1988 the bright lights of New Parliament House in Australia’s bush capital, acted as a moth magnet, and they camped in Canberra for their summer recess, unlike our political masters.

  Men caught the moths in bark nets or smoked them out of their crevices. They were generally cooked in hot ashes but it is thought that women sometimes pounded them into a paste to bake as a cake. Those keen enough to taste the Bogong moth mention a nutty taste. Scientists say they are very rich in fat and protein; this diet sustained aborigines for months and the smoke from their fires was so thick that surveyors complained that they were unable to take bearings because the main peaks were always shrouded in smoke.  Europeans often commented on how sleek and well fed the aborigines looked after their moth diet. Edward Eyre who explored the Monaro in the 1830’s wrote: “The Blacks never looked so fat or shiny as they do during the Bougan season, and even their dogs get into condition then.” At summer’s end, with the arrival of the southerlies the moths, aborigines and ravens all decamped and headed for the warmer lowlands.  As did my travelling companion and I.

Descending Mt Jagungal
Descending Mt Jagungal. View south.
Friday: Grey Mare Hut to Horse Camp Hut: 24 kms

Of necessity, a long day’s walk ahead to put us close to our Guthega exit.  Windy and cool again, and no sign of the fine sunny weather promised by our BOM friends. Which was just as well as my radiator was boiling on our way up the steep 200 metre climb out of Back Creek en route to Valentine’s.  Today we would be walking south, towards the Main Range.  Here was an excellent opportunity to identify from our map the classics of Kosciuszko walking that had been shrouded in mist on our outward walk: The Kerries, Gungartan, Dicky Cooper Bogong, the Rolling Grounds, Mt Tate, Twynam and the biggest Bogong of all, Targan-gil or Mt Kosciuszko.

View southwards towards the Main Range and Mt Kosciuszko.
View south towards the Main Range and Mt Kosciuszko.
Horse Camp Hut

Late in the afternoon we turned off the Schlink and found our way to Horse Camp Hut, tucked in snow gum woodland 300 metres below the Rolling Grounds, a high altitude granite plateau above the tree line at 1900+ metres, cold, windy and exposed but spectacular. It is said to be very difficult to navigate in bad weather.  I noted in the hut log book that a number of winter skiers had ‘GPSed’ their way to Horse Camp from the Rolling Grounds.  It is claimed that the Rolling Grounds are so named because during the summer grazing, stock horses would enjoy a good old dust bath and roll in the many depressions that dot this high altitude plateau.

Horse Camp Hut
Horse Camp Hut

Horse Camp Hut, of Lilliputian dimensions, still manages a serviceable fireplace, kitchen cum lounge cum wood storage, table, a few decrepit chairs and a separate room with a wood stove and two bunks. Apparently nine girls from SGGS Redlands and their gear were crammed into the room on a wild wet night earlier this year. With temperatures hovering at 2ºC I lit the fire and we polished off whatever meagre rations were left: soup, pasta, noodles and Nescafe Latte laced with Milo lifted from the hut ‘left overs’.

Interior of Horse Camp Hut
Interior of Horse Camp Hut.
Horse Camp Hut in the evening. Rolling Grounds in the background.
Horse Camp Hut in the evening. Rolling Grounds in the background.
Saturday: Horse Hut Camp to Guthega Power Station. 4 kms.

Up at 6.00.  Freezing and no fire or breakfast genie this morning.  We set out ASAP, fully rugged up, as the sun lifted over Disappointment Ridge for our final four kilometres into Guthega, downhill.  Hopefully Bluebell would be still where we left her. She was, and despite her coat of frost, she fired up and we were away.  Off to Sawpit Creek for breakfast, a coffee in Cooma then a slap-up feed and a cold goldie back in Canberra.  A fitting end to an outstanding alpine sojourn.

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Bluff Tarn: A hike in Kosciuszko National Park

Exploring Australia’s High Country.

by Glenn Burns

Nestled high up in Kosciuszko National Park’s Jagungal Wilderness Area at about 1850 metres is Bluff Tarn. It is a small alpine lake set in an extensive landscape of alpine ridges, swiftly flowing rivers and the vast swamps that make up the area loosely called Australia’s High Country. Robert Green in his book ‘Exploring the Jagungal Wilderness’ describes Bluff Tarn as “…one of the prettiest spots in the mountains”.

On an early November afternoon I set off with five bushwalking friends, Sam, David, Joe, Richard and Brian on a seven day, 60 kilometre cross country circuit from Guthega to Bluff Tarn on the upper Geehi, then to Tin Hut on the headwaters of the Finn River. Our route started at Guthega Power Station and took in Whites River Hut, Gungartan (2068 m), The Kerries Ridge (2000 + m), Mawsons Hut, the Cup and Saucer (1934 m), Bluff Tarn, the Mailbox (1900 + m), the Brassy Mountains (1972 m), Tin Hut, the Porcupine (1960 m), and Horse Camp Hut via the Aqueduct Track.

Bushwalkers Kosciuszko National Park
Left to Right: Brian, Joe, Richard, David, Sam. On snow patch under Gungartan

The alpine forecast wasn’t quite what this leader was hoping for. Showers most days, starting with a possible thunderstorm for our first day on the track. Temperatures would be pretty friendly though: 7°C to 18° C . Apparently, our luck really would desert us on Friday, 6 days hence. A 90 % chance of 20 to 40 millimetres. Upgraded later in the week to 100 millimetres. I was disinclined to hang around to test out that old saying that ” there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”.

November is my preferred alpine hiking month. The weather is starting to settle; night temperatures are bearable, day temperatures are just perfect; and even light snowfall makes for magical walking. Water is abundant and easy to find. Wildflowers are blooming but best of all, those nuisance bush flies and their high country cousins, the biting Horse/ March/ Vampire flies have yet to descend on the unsuspecting walker.

March Fly CSIRO

Horse or March flies appear as adults almost unvarying in the second week of December and hang around all the way through to February. Although they are called March flies they are rare in alpine areas in March.

These are large members of the Family TABANIDAE (genus Scaptia). March flies, at 25 mm, are the largest of our biting dipterans. The female does the blood sucking bit, while the benign male is content to feed on nectar and pollen.

On one mid-December Kiandra to Kosciuszko trip in 2006 with my friend Brian, March fly numbers were truly appalling. There was no escape from these pests. They operated on a sunrise to sunset roster and were so bad that it was unpleasant to stop for the vitals like meal breaks, water stops and even navigation checks. They attacked with persistence and determination, and could bite through clothing with impunity. We often tried to find huts for meal breaks, but failing that, donned fly veils, rain jackets and long trousers or rain pants to keep the blighters at bay while we ate. As Queenslanders, our preferred hiking apparel is usually shorts and short sleeved shirts, not thick rain jackets and long trousers. On the warmish December days the rain jacket/rain pants garb was not for the faint hearted.

Whites River Hut
The heavens about to open. Early morning at Whites River Hut
Alpine Wildflowers: Photos by Sam
More Information:

Map: Geehi Dam: 1:25000.

Map: Jagungal: 1:25000.

Map: Tim Lamble: Mt Jagungal and The Brassy Mountains: 1:31680.

Green, K and Osborne, W: Field Guide to Wildlife of Australian Snow-Country. (New Holland 2012).

Hueneke, K : Huts of the High Country (ANU Press 1982).

Codd, P , Payne, B, Woolcock, C : The Plant Life of Kosciuszko. (Kangaroo Press 1998).

McCann, I: The Alps in Flower. (Victorian National Parks Assn 2001).

Slattery, D : Australian Alps. (CSIRO 2015).

Kosciuszko Huts Association: Website

Bluff Tarn: Jagungal Wilderness : Kosciuszko National Park.
Map of Bluff Tarn & Jagungal Wilderness

Sunday:  Guthega Power Station to Whites River Hut: 8 kms.

With cars stabled at the Guthega Power Station we wandered off, ever upward. Sam, David and Richard setting a pretty lively pace under a low leaden sky.  There were just enough irritating spots of rain to encourage the old laggards creaking along in the rear to lift our pace. Mid- climb, a squadron of two-wheeling weekend warriors swooped around a blind corner. Braking furiously, some nifty controlled slides, a spray of gravel, and they were off again, pedalling downhill at speed. Eat my dust, Boomer. Our mountain biking friends also anxious to reach cover before the heavens opened. Given my weighty rucksack, I too, could be sucked into this mountain biking game. Though I’m pretty sure that I would end up pushing said mountain bike up the current 250 metre ascent.

I may curse my heavy rucksack but mostly I am grateful for the good things its contents make possible: a snug downy sleeping bag, the protective cover of my little Macpac one-man tent, a comfy sleeping mat and a generous supply of crystallised ginger and chocolate licorice bullets.

By 3.30 pm we landed at Whites River Hut, disconcerted to find four tents moored on the creek flats below the hut. The tents belonged to a bunch of hikers from the Newcastle Ramblers Bushwalking Club, apparently intent on doing much the same circuit as we had planned. No sweat. Plan B. They were no shirkers, these Novocastrian types. Instead of lolling around the hut for the afternoon (as I would have happily done), they struck out on a somewhat damp stroll across the tops from the Rolling Grounds to nearby Dicky Cooper Bogong (SMA 0113: 2003 m). The place name ‘Dicky Cooper Bogong’ recognises the the traditional Aboriginal custodian of this mountain, one Dicky Cooper.

Aborigines inhabited these highlands as far back as 21,000 years ago with evidence of their occupation coming from Birrigal Rock Shelter in Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and many sites in the upper Snowy River. Small stone scatters can be found in the alpine landscapes with the highest being a collection found near the saddle of Perisher Gap (1800m).

It is well known that aborigines travelled to these highlands in the summer months to collect and eat the abundant Bogong Moths which were found sheltering in the rocky crevices of all the major outcrops in the Snowy Mountains. I have written extensively about this in my trip report Kiandra to Kosciuszko.

Aboriginal stencils Yankee Hat site Namadgi National Park
Aboriginal stencil art. Yankee Hat site. Namadgi National Park

Many place names in the Alps have been derived from local Aboriginal languages: Jagungal, Jindabyne, Talbingo, Yarrangobilly, Suggan Buggan, Mitta Mitta and Tumut. It is not hard to find many other examples from your maps. Apparently the Geographical Place Names Board of NSW is considering giving Mt Kosciuszko a traditional Aboriginal name (Kunama) which would sit alongside its current name.

Whites River Hut Kosciuszko National Park
White River Hut in fine weather.

On dusk the predicted showers finally arrived, as did a damp and dishevelled clutch of boys and their teachers from Bathurst. No hanging out in comfortable huts for this lot: they pitched their tents in the rain, had a quick feed then quietly settled down for the night. Meanwhile back at the ranch, Brian’s traditional first night treat of bangers and mash seemed to have  spread like some medieval contagion. Most of my fellow hikers had succumbed to this dubious culinary delight and were enthusiastically whipping up dollops of instant mash leavened with green peas, sun-dried tomatoes, and heating neatly folded alfoil cylinders containing pre-fried bangers: beef for preference but maybe lamb & rosemary for those with more delicate taste buds.

Monday: Whites River to Mawsons Hut via Gungarten and The Kerries: 11.5 kms.

Showers overnight but with the mist lifting from The Rolling Grounds and Gungartan, things were on the up and up, weather wise. As were Brian and Joe, clanking about in the dark, soon after 5.30 am. Disturbing my slumber. Our crafty Newcastle Bushwalkers friends still got the jump on us and had drifted off by 7.30 am. A comprehensive report of their walk can be found in the KHA Newsletter: No 178 Autumn 2018. But we were soon hot on their heels desperate not to be pegged as a bunch of idle slackers. Today’s walk would take us to Schlink Pass thence to Gungartan, down into Gungartan Pass, up along The Kerries to Mawsons Hut, tucked in a thicket of snow gums at the northern end of The Kerries. But first, the 300 metre climb from Schlink Pass to the Main Divide through snowgum forest.

David in Schlink Pass
David in Schlink Pass

The Kerries Ridge (2000 m), a spur of the Great Dividing Range, offers open alpine walking at its very best… in fine weather. This trackless ridge is a landscape of huge granite outcrops and vast alpine meadows. Suffice to say by the time we were well into The Kerries  traverse, we watched a succession of storm cells sliding along the high peaks to our north and west, heading our way. Come lunchtime we hunkered down in the lee of a granite boulder, sheltering from the rain that Hughie dropped over us . I’m always a bit disconcerted to be caught out in the open alpine zone with distant lightning and thunder rolling around. But my fellow travellers didn’t seem all that concerned as they disappeared into their rain jackets and munched contentedly on muesli bars, dry biscuits and slabs of cheese. The rain eased to light drizzle, and we moved out, heading north, following the crest.

The Kerries Ridge Kosciuszko National Park
The Kerries Ridge (2000 m) . Storms heading our way.

A further four kilometres of alpine tramping dropped us down to Mawsons Hut. Joe and Richard navigated us off the heights and down to our destination. Pretty much spot on. Being tucked into a grove of snowgums, the hut can be a bit difficult to find. Mawsons was deserted. A Novocastrian-free zone. When we last saw them ambling across Gungartan Pass, they were heading for Tin Hut on the Finn River. Another afternoon thunderstorm and hail swept through, driving us into the hut to finish drying our gear and have a feed. No fry up tonight. It was strictly dry rations for the rest of the week for this lot.

Mawsons Hut Kosciuszko National Park.
Mawsons Hut
Mt Jagungal from Mawsons Hut
Photo: Sam: View to Mt Jagungal from our front yard at Mawsons Hut.
Tuesday: Day Walk to Cup and Saucer, Bluff Tarn and The Mailbox: 7 kms.

Fine weather and an easy day walk called us to the hills on our third day. From Mawsons we would cross the Valentine River; scamper up the Cup and Saucer; cut across the grasslands of the upper Geehi to Bluff Tarn; returning to Mawsons via The Mailbox. That was the plan and for once I stuck to it.

We left Mawsons in brilliant  weather. A superb day of walking beckoned. We dropped down to the Valentine which still flowing strongly from the spring thaw but we sussed out a partly exposed gravel bed. Richard, Brian and Joe volunteered to check it out. Sacrificial lambs. I am told that there is nothing so grumpy as a leader with wet boots this early in the day.

Valentine River: Kosciuszko National Park
Valentine River with Cup and Saucer in background

The Cup is a granitic dome ( Happy Jacks Monzogranite: < 20 % quartz) sitting on its saucer, a shelf of nearly horizontal granitic rock. This Silurian granite is 444 to 419 my old and dates from a time when the Earth entered a long warm phase which continued for another 130 million years. Oceanic life flourished and vascular plants increased in size and complexity. The supercontinent Gondwana drifted south and extended from the Equator to the South Pole. Australia was located in the Equatorial zone.

From a distance the Cup and Saucer are well named and form an unmistakable landmark for kilometres in all directions. Topping the Cup is an old Snowy Mountains Authority Trig 133 standing at 1904 metres. This was our first objective. From the top of the Cup we should be able to see a line of travel across to Bluff Tarn.

Crossing swampy ground enroute to the Cup and Saucer

It was only one and a half kilometres to the Cup but swampy ground made our approach more circuitous than I anticipated. My original plan was to clamber up the long south western ridge to reach the Trig. But the final steep and damp and moss encrusted granite slabs thwarted all but Brian. Unsurprising really. His friends call him “Straight Line Brian”. Contouring or backing off isn’t part of Brian’s bushwalking lexicon. But the rest of us were content to retreat and scarpered up the more accessible northern facewithout any further difficulties. Where upon we settled on the rock outcrops to take in the landscape and enjoy a leisurely morning tea.

Summit of the Cup and Saucer
Sam atop the Cup and Saucer

From the summit of the Cup and Saucer unfolded a vast alpine panorama. To the east rose up the high range of the The Brassy Mountains, part of Australia’s Great Dividing Range system. To our east was the valley of the Geehi River and its tributary, the Valentine River. Directly to our east and just below our vantage point is the Big Bend. Here the Valentine swings off its northerly course to flow south-west another six kilometres to its junction with the Geehi. No doubt the granitic dome of the Cup and Saucer forms a structural control over the direction of flow of the Valentine.

Photo: Sam: View south from the Cup and Saucer ( 1900 m ) .

To our north , less than a kilometre across the swampy headwaters of the upper Geehi valley was Tarn Bluff (1900 m) with Bluff Tarn tucked somewhere still out of sight.

Bluff Tarn
Bluff Tarn Kosciuszko National Park

Bluff Tarn certainly met our all our expectations. It is, indeed, “one of the prettiest spots in the mountains”. But is is not, strictly speaking, a tarn. Merely a lake. My inner pedant would tell you that a tarn is “a small mountain – rimmed lake, specifically one on the floor of a cirque”. No cirque here. But quibbles over geographical precision couldn’t detract from the beauty of our surroundings.

While Bluff Tarn is a small lake, it is fed by a major headwater tributary of the Geehi, with the stream cascading through and over large rounded boulders. The lower reaches of the cascades were still covered by a thick snowbank, even though we were only a few days short of the start of summer. I’m not sure of the origins of Bluff Tarn, but it appears to be formed as a shallow pool fed by the cascades dropping over a shelf of harder rock. Its outlet was restricted by a prominent bank of coarse, unsorted gravels. It would have been interesting to spend more time checking out Bluff Tarn but the worms were biting and my fellow walkers had lost interest in playing in the snow. They were itching to move on for their lunch break.

Our lunch spot was Mailbox Hill about a kilometre due east of Bluff Tarn … first though, one of Brian infamous uphill flat bits to raise a sweat and develop a healthy appetite for lunch. The Mailbox or Mailbox Hill, your choice, is a series of rounded outcrops standing at about 1910 metres. It was named The Mailbox because, I guess, mail was collected there by the cattlemen in the days of summer grazing.

The Kosciuszko Huts Association, my alpine bible, have researched the origin of the placename: Post was delivered to the men on the lease by a Mrs Bolton. She was engaged to deliver the mail on horseback to the Grey Mare Mine, travelling the old dray route from Snowy Plain across to Strumbo Hill. Ernie Bale recalled that on Mailbox Hill “there was a clump of rocks and they had shelves in them and she used to leave the mail for Mawsons Hut – it was always known as the Post Office – she used to leave the mail and put a rock on top of it“.

After a leisurely lunch spent sprawled on slabs of rock well out of the reach of those pestilent little black alpine ants, we wandered off towards Mawsons keeping a weather eye on the clouds building over The Kerries. But not before some male argy bargy about its location.

Later in the afternoon our Newcastle friends arrived from Tin Hut while the males were down at the creek having sponge-downs. We spent a very congenial evening around the campfire trading tall tales, listening to their hiking stories from far flung parts of the globe and getting some very handy gear tips from Shayne.

Mawsons Hut at dusk.
Photo: Sam: Mawsons Hut on dusk.
Wednesday: Mawsons Hut to Tin Hut: 8.5 kms.

A pleasantly cool and clear high country morning. By 8.00 am we were packed and on the road. Our route would take us across to the western bank of the Valentine then a gentle 80 metre climb following an old fence line that is marked on my old Tim Lamble map. Tim’s maps, if you can get hold of one, provide a plethora of details useful to the bushwalker and skier: rock cairns, old fence lines, posts, old yards and even magnetic bearings. Anyone interested in maps will appreciate the quality of Tim’s cartography.

An extract from Tim Lamble’s Jagungal & Brassy Mts map

We followed the fence line up to a low rocky knoll overlooking the north-south trending Brassy Mountains (1900m), directly in front of us. Klaus Hueneke in his well researched Huts of the High Country (ANU Press 1982) gives an explanation of the naming of Brassy Mountains .. “named in the early days on account of the reflection from running water over rocks. At certain times this resembles polished brass and can be seen from up to 16 kms away.”

A navigation huddle soon sorted out our next moves. The Brassy Peak (1900 m) was directly in front of us while The Big Brassy (SMA Trig 1972 m) was off to our south east, directly behind The Brassy Peak. But between our eyrie and The Brassy Mountains were the swampy headwaters of Valentine River. I had originally planned to follow the main divide of the Brassy Mountains south to Tin Hut. But an easier option was simply to cross the swamp and then contour along the western base of the Brassies keeping the thick heath just to our left but staying above the fens and bogs of the Upper Valentine to our right ... sound strategy in theory.

Brassy Mountains Kosciuszko National Park
Crossing the upper Valentine, heading towards the Brassy Mountains

But before we trundled off towards Tin Hut there was plenty of time to clamber up to the rock cairn sitting atop The Brassy Peak. From here we looked westward over the vast network of fens and bogs of the upper Valentine to the craggy outline of the Kerries Ridge which we had traversed three days ago.

Bogs and Fens

The upper Valentine is a wide alpine valley of impeded drainage: a fluvial landscape of bogs and fens. A fen is a specific geomorphic and botanical entity: namely still clear, pools of standing water with ground-hugging matted plants and the easily recognisable Tufted Sedge, Carex gaudichaudiana. A number of small but showy flowering plants manage to thrive in these waterlogged conditions: the pale purple Mud Pratia (Pratia surrepens), the pale cream or white Dwarf Buttercup (Ranunculus millanii) and the white Rayless Starwort (Stellania multiflora).

Bogs and Fens in upper Valentine River
Photo: Sam: Bogs and Fens of the upper Valentine River.

Bogs are areas of wet, spongy ground also found in areas of impeded drainage. Floristically bogs are dominated by Spagnum Moss (Spagnum cristatum) and associated with a variety of rushes and sedges, especially the Tufted Sedge. Bogs are associated with the decomposition of organic matter which will ultimately form peat.

These high alpine valleys are commonly underlain by peats formed by the decomposition of plant material after the last glacial period (15000 years ago). The peats are important for absorbing and regulating waterflows in alpine Australia, thus are listed as protected communities under both State and Federal legislation. (PS: tell that to the brumbies).

So with sodden boots and a sense of achievement we pulled into Tin Hut after a full morning’s hiking; just in time for another well deserved bite to eat. Always looking for the next feed. Tin has a bit of reputation for being difficult to locate in bad weather and is hidden in a belt of snowgums. But with fine , clear skies this was no issue for us.

Tin Hut

Tin is the oldest hut in the High Country built specifically for ski touring. Its origins go back to Dr Herbert Schlink’s attempt at the first winter crossing from Kiandra to Kosciuszko. Schlink needed a staging post for his final push along The Great Divide. In the summer of 1925/1926 a bespoke hut was built on the site of an old stockmans’ camp at the head of the Finn River. As 2017 was the 90th anniversary of its construction, our visit was timely.

Tin Hut on the headwaters of the Finn River

It is called Tin Hut because the roof and walls are constructed of corrugated iron. Some of the timber and iron for its construction was packed in by horseback across The Snowy Plain and The Brassy Mountains. It had a wooden floor and was lined with tongue and groove with the door opening to the east. Initially it was stocked with a horse rug, 24 blankets, a stove, tools and firewood. When Schlink’s party arrived from the south, a blizzard trapped them in the hut for three days, forcing them to give up the 1926 attempt.

On 28 July 1927 Dr Schlink, Dr Eric Fisher, Dr John Laidley, Bill Gordon and Bill Hughes skied out of Kiandra to reach Farm Ridge Homestead on the first night. Excellent snow cover allowed them to reach Tin Hut by 1.00 pm on the second day. They pressed on to the Pound Creek Hut (now Illawong Hut) on the second night. They completed the first winter traverse finishing at Hotel Kosciusko on the third day.

In 1928 Tin Hut served as the base for two winter attempts to Mt Jagungal. The party led by Dr John Laidley skiing to the summit…. for just the second time in history.

In 2017 restoration work on Tin commenced with a partnership between the Parks Service and the Kosciuszko Huts Association. Men, gear and materials were helicoptered in for the major facelift. One KHA member, Pat Edmondson, eschewed the helicopter ride and walked in from and out to Schlink Pass. Pat was over 80 years old. I can only hope that I can still climb from Schlink Pass to Gungartan when I turn 80.

Afternoon stroll: Tin Hut to The Porcupine & Return: 5.5 kms.

Brian, ever keen on filling in his (and our) afternoons, decided that we shouldn’t waste time hanging around the hut. A more productive use of our time would be a quick jaunt over to The Porcupine, a nondescript alpine ridge (SMA 0109 :1960 m) which separates the Finn River from the Burrungubugge River. From the hut we climbed the long ridge behind the hut to a knoll from which we could look across to the Trig on The Porcupine. Unfortunately, a very steep drop into a saddle then a climb back up to the Trig separated us from our quarry on this decidedly warmish afternoon. Brian and his co-conspirators Richard and Joe were still keen as mustard, happy to descend and climb up again onto The Porcupine ridge. David and Sam seeing the lie of the land, sensibly returned to Tin Hut for an afternoon of leisure. The walk to Porcupine is a scenic enough walk, but on reaching The Porcupine ridge I observed that the heat was getting to them and so the lads weren’t pushing me to go any further. Bless their little hot socks.

View from The Porcupine towards the Kerries and Gungartan.
View from The Porcupine (1960 m ) west to Kerries Ridge and Gungartan

We waddled back, avoiding the dreaded climb back up the knoll and reached Tin about 4.00 pm and set about a major rehydration, downing multiple cups of tea, soups and choc-au-laits. An evening perched around the campfire finished off a very satisfying day.

Thursday: Tin Hut to Whites River Hut : 7.5 kms
The troops about to leave Tin Hut for Whites River Hut.

The easiest route to Whites was to climb the long ridge which separates the Valentine and Finn Rivers, keeping Gungartan to our west. An ascent of a mere 200 metres vertical, but with dense knee-high heath and the odd snake or ten lurking underneath, it seemed endless. One snake had decorously draped its ectothermic body across the top of a heath bush, obviously hoping to warm up in the feeble sunlight and frighten the bejesus out of a passing bushwalker.

Once on top of the Great Dividing Range we bypassed Gungartan, skirting around its rocky spine until we had a view of Guthega Village.

Richard and Joe looking south down the Munyang River Valley

Time for a snack stop, perched atop huge boulders. A well tested strategy to keep out of the clutches of the maurading hordes of those little black alpine ants that swarm over any rucksack carelessly tossed on the ground. More disconcerting is their ability to overrun boots, climb up gaiters and finally ascend the thighs of any alpine rambler. Trying summer camping in Wilkinsons Valley and tell me how it goes.

Alpine Ants: Iridomyrmex sp.

The ants are probably Iridomyrmex sp, which my copy of Green and Osborne’s Field Guide to Wildlife of the Australian Snow-Country tells me are ” a conspicious part of the fauna in a few habitats, such as herbfield and grassland…. this omnivorous ant is the only common ant species in the alpine zone. It nests in waterlogged areas such as bogs, fens and wet heaths, and raise their nests above the water surface by constructing a mound of plant fragments in low vegetation. They are also found in tall alpine herbfield and dry heath.”

From our rocky eyrie we were treated to superb views across this small patch of Australia’s alpine wilderness. Time also for a weather update from duelling smartphones. Tomorrow: (Friday): 90 % chance of 20 to 40 mm. Maybe 100 mm. No arguments about pulling out a day early.

After a good laze around we skirted Gungartan and commenced the long descent to Schlink Pass (1800 m). Landing in the pass, a mutiny of the “are you stopping for lunch ? ” type broke out. Ever the considerate leader (probably not) , I caved in and we propped for lunch. Whites River Hut only one tantalising kilometre downhill.

Schlink Pass (1800 m)

We reached Whites River Hut soon after 2.00 pm. No interlopers on the radar so we had the place to ourselves. Despite tomorrow’s unfriendly weather report everything here was pretty relaxed. The usual suspects weren’t badgering for an afternoon walk (unusual), the weather was warm and sunny so a lazy afternoon beckoned.

The Wash Down

We enjoyed a quick cat lick in the nearby icy snow-fed creek…. very quick, did any washing then spread clothes out to dry. The rest of the afternoon was filled with consuming cups of tea/coffee/soup; horse trading of leftover goodies, cutting wood, firing up the stove and reading whatever came to hand. Inside the hut were recycled Kosciuszko Hut Magazines and the hut log book.

Over the years the Whites River Hut log has provided us with many hours of very entertaining reading: the adventures of Bubbles the Bush Rat; the trolling of some trip leader called Robin and heaps of very well executed drawings and cartoons. Mr Klaus Hueneke should write a book about this stuff.

Friday: Whites River Hut to Guthega Power Station via Aqueduct Track and Horse Camp Hut: 10 kms.

I peeked out. Heavy roiling clouds were brewing over Gungartan and heading our way.

Early morning view from Whites River Hut

By 8.00 am we had beetled off along the Munyang Geehi road before swinging off onto the Aquaduct track which crosses the Munyang River via a weir. Nearby is an old SMA hut…locked to keep that mountain biking, sking and bushwalking riff-raff out. Especially those dastardly Mountain Bikers.

The Snowy Mountains Authority Hut: Munyang Hut.

The Aquaduct track is a gem of a walk. It winds above and parallel to the Munyang River, weaving around the hills on the 1800 metre contour. My kind of walking.

Resting on the Aquaduct Track

Mid morning we lobbed into the refurbished Horse Camp Hut for a final feed. I had been to Horse Camp before, returning from an early spring walk to Mt Jagungal with my youngest son. We got to Horse Camp just on dark. I remember how bitterly cold it was, how daggy the hut was and how our evening meal was pretty sparse, even by my standards.

Horse Camp Hut

Since then the Kosciuszko Huts Association and the Parks Service had been very busy and the hut was looking very spruce indeed. Unlike the young guy who had taken up residence in the hut. He was obviously there for the long haul or maybe the end of the world and had somehow dragged in all manner of heavy duty camping gear.

Horse Camp Hut

Horse Camp is a two room, iron clad hut set in a belt of snow gums under The Rolling Grounds. Its construction history is a bit fuzzy but was built initially in the 1930s as a shelter for stockmen working the snow lease owned by the Clarke brothers. It has the main elements of a traditional grazing era mountain hut with a bush pole frame, steeply pitched gabled roof, clad with short sheets of corrugated iron that could be packed in on horses.

At some stage over the decades it was partitioned into two rooms – a northern bunk room with a pot belly stove and the main kitchen room. A ceiling loft was added as well as a wooden floor and nifty three panel narrow windows. Several of the modifications were done by the Snowy Mountains Authority in the early 1950s. The SMA used Horse Camp as a base for their horseback survey teams working on the first Snowy Mountains Project, the Guthega Dam and associated infrastructure.

Esteemed leader: Burnsie lurking in the warmth of the kitchen of Horse Camp Hut

Leaving our young prepper friend to his preparations for the Covid19 lockdown, we drifted off. A quick descent to the Guthega Power Station to find our vehicles waiting patiently in the car park, wheels and windscreen wipers still attached, and ready to transport us back to Canberra. But not before we detoured into the Parks Visitors Centre Parc cafe in Jindabyne for a selection of their satisfyingly greasy offerings, all washed down with a decent coffee.

As always, a big thank you to my band of merry bushwalking companions: Sam, David, Joe, Richard and Brian. May we enjoy many more rambles in the back blocks of Australia’s magnificent High Country.

Kiandra to Canberra on the Australian Alps Walking Track

A Late Autumn Hike from Kiandra to Canberra on the Australian Alps Walking Track

by Glenn Burns

I decided to publish my old journal of our Kiandra to Canberra hike on this website after the 2019/2020 summer fires damaged parts of the northern section of the Australian Alps Walking Track ( AAWT) . I have visited the Northern Plains many times and was fortunate to walk from Kiandra to Canberra several years ago with some friends; before the devastating fires. Much of the landscape we hiked through then was relatively intact . However in the summer of 2019/2020 this all changed. The summer fires burnt out the New South Wales trail head at Kiandra including the old Kiandra Court House, Wolgal Lodge and Matthews Cottage. The last three days of the AAWT traverses Namadgi National Park in the Australian Capital Territory. In this section the Orroral Valley and Mt Tennant were burnt. Amazingly, the old Orroral Homestead was saved.

Through the years since the early 1970s I have wandered many a kilometre over Australia’s High Country and more than once have I peered through the grimy window of a high country hut into the pre-dawn gloom… often sleet or rain or mist swirling around outside. Excellent… back to the sack for another forty winks. But then I hear my fellow hikers. Pesky eager beavers all. Busy rustling around, pulling on boots, donning warm stuff and getting ready their rain gear. Champing at the bit , ever keen to hit the trail.

Map of northern section of Aust Alpine Walking Track

Photo Gallery:

And so it was for five walkers on a late autumn, eight day traverse of the final northern section of Australian Alpine Walking Track (AAWT), stretching 105 kilometres from Kiandra on the Snowy Mountain Highway to Namadgi Park HQ on the outskirts of Canberra. The complete 659.6 kilometre AAWT crosses some of Australia’s remotest and highest alpine mountains and snowgrass plains with a weather regime that can be very hot on occasions but is more often than not cold, wet and highly unpredictable. As Alfred Wainwright, a famous English fell walker, wrote: ” There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”

Signage on Aust Alps Walking Track

Useful Information:

NSW Dept of Lands: 1: 25000 maps : Ravine, Tantangara, Rules Point, Peppercorn, Rendezous Creek, Corin Dam, Williamsdale.

NSW Rural Fire Service Brochure: Bushfire Safety for Bushwalkers.

Chapman, J Chapman, M & Siseman J: Australian Alps Walking Track (2009)

ACT Dept of Environment: 1:20000: Namadgi Guide & Map

Day One: Saturday 11 May: Outward Bound: Kiandra to Witzes Hut: 12 kms.

Just after midday, youngest son Alex taxied our hire van to a halt outside the old Kiandra Courthouse since destroyed in the 2019/2020 summer fire season. The Old Court House was the only remaining building of the old gold mining town of Kiandra: population in 1859, 10,000; now.. zero population. A sudden population explosion as five walkers plunged out of the warm van and into a blast of cool air:  Ross , Leanda , Peter, John and last but not least, their esteemed and worthy leader, yours truly. The race was on for the few sunny spots out of the cool blustery wind. We wolfed down our Cooma take-aways, bade Alex a fond farewell, then hit the track, the Nungar Hill Trail. Our afternoon on the AAWT took us northward over rolling snowgrass plains at about 1450 metres, broken only by occasional alpine streams, which we forded with dry boots and socks intact: the Eucumbene River, Chance Creek, Kiandra Creek and just before Witzes Hut, Tantangara Creek. After Chance Creek we climbed to the crest of the Great Dividing Range, known locally as the Monaro Range. A minor blip on this undulating high plains landscape.

Start of Nungar Hill Fire Trail near Kiandra
Leaving Kiandra on the Nungar Hill Fire trail.

The seven day BOM forecast looked agreeably benign: early frosts (a mere -1° C) followed by sunny days (14° C). Perfect timing. But meteorology has a way of biting bushwalkers on the bum. In May this year maximum temperatures averaged 8.2°C while minimums hovered around a miserable 2.8°C. With a record low of minus 20°C, Kiandra is one of the coldest places on the Australian mainland. Fortunately for this leader, my walking companions, all experienced bushwalkers, were kitted out for all eventualities. But most impressive of all was that they remained unfailingly positive and obliging under some pretty trying conditions.

Australian Alps Walking Track near Pockets Hut
A cold day on High Plains of Kosciuszko.

The huge grassy plains are an ancient peneplaned surface. They are the almost level remains of a long eroded mountain range system that was later uplifted in a major tectonic movement of the earth’s crust known as the Kosciuszko Uplift thus forming the Kosciuszko Plateau. The combination of cold air and flat topography created ideal conditions for natural high plain grasslands, technically referred to as the Northern Cold Air Drainage Plains. These were highly prized for summer grazing.

View across High Plains of Kosciuszko National Park from Mt Gingera.
View across High Plains of Kosciuszko from Mt Gingera ACT.

Witzes Hut, possibly a corruption of Whites Hut, like many Kosciuszko huts is set in a picturesque shelter belt of snow gums. Built in 1882 it is a vertical slab wooden hut, single room (about 6m x 3m) with a wooden floor and open fireplace. It is just one of many huts in Kosciuszko: cultural relics from the days of summer cattle and sheep grazing on the high plains. They are invariably basic: shelters of last resort according to the NPWS signs tacked to the doors. Our late season crossing of the AAWT became hut dependant as the weather closed in. Although we had tents, it was a irresistable temptation for these warm-blooded Queenslanders to sidle into a snug dry hut at day’s end.

Witzes Hut Kosciuszko National Park
“Is there room at the inn ?” Witzes Hut on Nungar Hill Fire Trail.
Witzes Hut. Kosciuszko National Park.
Witzes Hut on Nungar Hill Fire Trail.

Day Two: Sunday 12 May: Hayburners of the High Plains:  Witzes to Hainsworth Hut: 23 kms.

At 23 kilometres, a longish day beckoned. As a graduate of the Brian Manuel School of Bushwalking I had slyly insinuated to my friends that there was “No hurry” to pack up in the mornings. For those who have not been on the receiving end of this daily regime, expect a rousting out of your downy nest well before sunrise, about 5.00am is Brian’s preferred time. Unsurprisingly, a heavy frost carpeted the grass outside. Meanwhile, inside, my scouting friends Peter and John had worked their magic with two sticks, or whatever they use these days, and had succeeded in cranking up a fire of sorts, which we kept going until the last possible moment. Hut etiquette : Always make sure to thoroughly extinguish any fire before leaving the hut.

On schedule at 7.30 we scrunched off along the Bullock Hill Trail. Ghosts in the freezing mist, frost nipping at any gloveless paws. Before long the mist dispersed, revealing a brilliant blue sky and vast frosted grassy plains. Sunny with the max creeping up to a sizzling 13°C. Even the brumbies were out picnicking in the glorious autumn sunshine.

Cold morning on Bullock Hill Trail
Frosty morning on Bullock Hill trail.

Brumbies aka Wild Horses aka Feral Horses

A brumby sighting is always exciting for those misguided equinophiles we were harbouring in our midst. But brumbies are feral horses, much the same status as foxes, cats, goats, deer and pigs. And as such they have no place in these fragile alpine ecosystems. In the ACT they are regularly culled, but in NSW herds of these hayburners cavort over the snowgrass plains with impunity: brunching on the juiciest alpine wildflowers, carving out innumerable tracks through the scrub and trashing alpine streams and swamps with their hooves.

The Parks service does allow horse riding in Northern Kosciuszko and provides horse camps with yards , water troughs, loading ramps, hitching rails and full camping facilities. From my observations recreational horse riders act responsibly in the alpine environment by keeping to designated management tracks and horse trails . Feral horses are a different matter entirely.

Brumby damage. Kosciuszko National Park
Pugging at a creek crossing in the High Country.

In an attempt to manage brumbies, a 2016 draft Wild Horse Management Plan recommended reducing numbers in Kosciuszko by 90% over 20 years, primarily through culling. That would have left about 600 horses in the park. Naturally the NSW parliament ignored the advice of its own scientific panel so there was no cull. Instead, the NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro hatched his own plan: The Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Heritage Bill 2018. The bill would prohibit lethal culling because of the heritage significance of brumbies. I, too, can understand the cultural imperative of maintaining a small sustainable herd of brumbies but there are still serious questions to be answered about the environmental impacts of large numbers of brumbies. The NSW Threatened Species Scientific Committee has described the damage done by brumbies as a ‘key threatening process’.

Brumbies. Kosciuszko National Park
Small herd of grazing brumbies.

Stop Press: 2020 Update on the Brumbies

” About 4000 feral horses will be removed from Kosciuszko national park in New South Wales as part of an emergency response to protect the alpine ecosystem after large areas were devastated by bushfires. ” Graham Readfearn. The Guardian . 20 Feb 2020

In February 2020 the NSW Environment Minister Matt Kern announced ” the largest removal of horses in the park’s history”. He had an agreement between ” horse lovers and National Park lovers” to remove wild horses after the unprecedented bushfire damage over the Nungar, Boggy, Kiandra and Cooleman Plains of Northern Kosciuszko.

Recent surveys estimated wild horse numbers increasing from 6000 in 2014 to 19000 in 2019. Clearly environmentally unsustainable in these burnt out landscapes. Minister Kern was reporting on the outcome of a meeting of the Kosciuszko National Park Wild Horse Community Advisory Panel. It is to be hoped that the promised action is taken quickly to reduce horse numbers in the fragile High Plains.

Our first obstacle was the mighty Murrumbidgee. We deployed a tried and tested technique, fanning out until someone discovered a likely looking rock or gravel bar. Okay for the four males, each outfitted with long spindly shanks but a big leap of faith for the resident shorty. Then came one of our few cross-country sections, a mere eight kilometres out to the Port Phillip Trail. For this geographically tricky bit I pressed into service my navigators. Using Peter’s trusty GPS as insurance they tracked to a line of old telegraph poles, which marched across the hills ahead, leading us inexorably towards the dusty Port Phillip Trail on Long Plain. Navigators extraordinaire.

Murrumbidgee River. Kosciuszko National Park.
The climb out of the Murrumbidgee River.

More pleasing was John’s distant sighting of the alpine dingo near the Murrumbidgee River crossing. In all my walks in the high country I have had only one previous encounter with this splendid canine, a subspecies of the grey wolf. Today this solitary light coloured dingo stalked us from afar, surreptitiously tracking our movements from behind clumps of snowgrass. My dingo bible, Laurie Corbett’s The Dingo in Australia and Asia, says that the alpines are a distinctive subspecies, one of three in Australia. They feast on rabbit, wallaby, wombat with the occasional brumby foal thrown in as a special treat. They are actually quite lazy hounds, rarely travelling more than two kilometres a day and their territories are comparatively small .

By now it was it was late in the day and with ugly dark clouds brewing we wasted no time, bypassing Millers Hut and Ghost Gully Campsite to reach Hainsworth Hut, on Dip Creek.

Millers Hut. Kosciuszko National Park.
Millers Hut near the Port Phillip Trail.

Just in time for a quick refreshing dip before sunset. Not. Hainsworth Hut, built in 1952, is the archetypal high country hut: a windowless coffin of corrugated iron, two rooms and a large open fireplace at one end. But hugely welcome for these weary walkers. A long 23 kilometre day of up hill and down dale.

Hainsworth Hut. Kosciuszko National Park.
Hainsworth Hut.

Day Three: Monday 13 May: Aquabatics: Hainsworth to Pockets Hut via Bill Jones Hut: 24 kms.

7.30. We beetled off into light drifting rain, eastwards along the Mosquito Creek Trail, up and over the Gurrangorambla Range (Gurrangorambla granophyre – a hard, fine- grained granite) and then descended onto the Silurian limestones of Cooleman Plain. The Cooleman is similar in appearance to the other high plains we had traversed, but as it is underlain by limestone it displays the distinctive landforms of a karst landscape: subterranean creeks, caves, sink holes, stalactites, stalagmites, gorges and occasional brachiopod fossils. When T.A. Murray first saw Cooleman in 1839 he described it as “almost treeless with grasses growing to stirrup height.”

Gurrangorambla Range. Kosciuszko National Park
Climbing over the Gurrangorambla Range at about 1600 metres.

With the cool, wet and windy conditions persisting we ducked into to Bill Jones hut for our morning tea. The hut is standard daggy and sports a dirt floor, but it was a haven for these five bedraggled walkers. Peter set to and soon had a cheery fire underway then we stood around drinking our piping hot mugs of tea and coffee. Wonderful.

Bill Jones Hut. Kosciuszko National Park.
Bill Jones Hut on the edge of the Cooleman Plain.

My fellow aquabots and I seemed less than enthusiastic about doing the tent thing at Bluewater Holes limestone area so it was onward to Pockets Hut, a very comfortable wet weather bolt hole. Pockets is a large four-roomer weatherboard built in the 1930’s, originally hooked up with hot water and electricity. We settled in: a comforting fire, clothes drying in front of the fireplace, hot brews and long nana- naps snug in our warm sleeping bags. Life couldn’t be better.

Pockets Hut.

Day Four: Tuesday 14 May: Pockets Hut to Bluewater Holes via Black Mountain: 14 kms.

A tad cool this morning, -2°C. I had naively promised an easy day walk along 4WD trails back to the Bluewater Holes limestone area on Cave Creek. But as is often the way when associating with these deviant bushwalking types some genius suggested a cross-country “short cut”, contouring around the 1497 metre Black Mountain then dropping into Cave Creek. With a clearing sky, an easy day walk ahead, things were definitely on the up and up. Or so I thought. We quickly abandoned this contouring lurk, pushed ever uphill towards the summit by massively dense stands of alpine undergrowth. This was bush-bashing on steroids. In the good old days the handy machete would have swung into action to clear the way ahead. Luckily, John, who is an excellent navigator, as well as scrub-basher, and the ‘genius’ who got us into this predicament, found the rocky summit and then led us down the long northern ridge to land precisely where we needed to be in Cave Creek.

After lunch we poked our way downstream, criss-crossing Cave Creek, checking out Clarke Gorge, Barbers Cave, the Bluewater Hole and Coolaman Cave, a cursory survey at best. Cave Creek is worthy of several days of exploration but with the sky clouding over (think: it’s going to dump snow now) and the wind rising we hoofed off on the Bluewater Holes Trail toward Pockets. But not before considerable geographical angst as the four males bickered about the location of the trail head. Attn all male leaders: when in doubt always listen carefully to the female of the species who actually bother to read the maps on the Parks information boards.

Blue Waterholes on Cave Creek. Kosciuszko National Park.
Blue Waterholes limestone area: Cave Creek.

Day Five: Wednesday 15 May: An Antipodean Christmas: Pockets to Oldfields Hut: 7 kms.

I peeked out. A white mantle of snow covered all. Sleet floated down from a sullen sky. We could freeze our butts off in this stuff but the wild weather gave an exciting edge to the walk. Today’s maximum temperature barely made 3°C.

Pockets Hut. Kosciuszko National Park.
A cold morning at Pockets Hut.

The walk across the snowy plains towards Murray Gap Trail was just magic, snow carpetting the vast Tantangara Plain.  After a Snowy Mountains Hydro valve house (the Goodradigbee Aqueduct) the AAWT climbs over a forested ridge before descending to fetch up at on the river flats of the Goodradigbee River. Tucked away in a stand of gnarled black sallees is Oldfields Hut.

Tantangara Plain. Kosciuszko National Park.
Tantangara Plain enroute to Oldfields Hut.

Oldfields, with slab walls and a long verandah, was constructed in 1925 and is said to have excellent views to Bimberi Peak (1913 m) and Mt Murray (1845 m) on the ACT/NSW border. Not today; mist and dumps of sleet obscured any views to the east. Our immediate priority as always was to scrounge up a supply of firewood. Then John and Co cut the wood into useable billets. The golden rule of the huts is to always replace any timber burnt and leave a supply of dry kindling. Which we did in spades.

Oldfields Hut. Kosciuszko National Park.
Oldfields Hut.

Day Six: Thursday 16 May: Border Hoppers: Oldfields Hut to Sawpit Ck camp: 18.7 kms.

Today we would bid farewell to the high grasslands of Kosciuszko and traverse into the forested ranges of the Bimberi Wilderness and Namadgi National Park for our final three days. We rugged up for the perverse conditions; at Oldfields my pack thermometer read 0°C while maximum temperatures barely held at 2°C all day. Westerly winds gusted to 70 km/h. The morning’s walk would climb 245 metres into Murrays Gap and at 1600 metres we copped the full force of the bad weather coming from the west. Sleet blanketed the mountain slopes and the wind drove rain and sleet horizontally onto our backs.

But soon we descended, over the Cotter Fault line and into the Cotter River System. The weather backed off and a watery sun finally leaked a few rays through a clearing sky. Apart from cool windy conditions the wet weather was behind us. Relieved at this change of fortunes our little party trotted on, jaunty like: past Cotter Hut (locked to keep those dodgy bushwalkers at bay), and past our turn-off to the Cotter Gap track. The site of another male navigational misadventure and bailed out again by Leanda who had taken the time to peruse a rat-eared A4 map tacked to a post. For the rest of the day we climbed steadily 350 metres up to Cotter Gap and then descended steeply to our cramped bush campsite on Sawpit Creek. No more days of lurking in comfortable bush huts for this lot. Beyond Cotter Gap a significant change in vegetation occurs; gone are the alpine species, replaced by a drier Eucalypt forest growing on the granites of the vast Murrumbidgee Batholith.

Day Seven: Friday 17 May: One small step for Man: Sawpit Ck to Honeysuckle Ck: 15.6 kms.

With Ross now in full flight mode it was a quick hop down into the grasslands of the narrow Orroral Valley and its herds of Eastern Grey Kangaroos. We sprawled out in the grass, absorbing the warmth of the sun on our tummies for the first time in several days. Sheer bliss. Further down the Orroral Valley is the Orroral Homestead and shearing shed built in the 1860s. It has three rooms, chimney at each end and a full length verandah on the front. As tempting as this sounded to us, overnight stays by bushwalkers are strictly verboten.

Orroral Valley and Orroral Homestead. ACT.
Orroral Valley and Orroral Homestead

Onward and upward to the well appointed Honeysuckle Creek camping ground, with the small matter of a 420 metre ascent onto the Orroral Ridge at 1350 metres to get there. Honeysuckle is, like the Orroral Valley, the site of a former space tracking station. A series of excellent info boards informed us that it operated from 1966 to 1981 and was a vital part of communications for the Apollo moon missions, Skylab, Voyager and Pioneer deep space probes. This included The Apollo 11 mission and Neil Armstrong’s signature, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Day Eight: Saturday 18 May: Homeward Bound: Honeysuckle to Namadgi Park HQ: 15.4 kms.

After an all-night rolling stoush with an encampment of feral Rover Scouts we set off in another heavy frost (- 0.3°C) on our final leg of the AAWT via Booroomba Rocks. This granite outcrop at 1372 metres afforded us speccy views across the plains to Canberra. Several hot air balloons hung in the still air above the city. But the AAWT wasn’t quite finished with us yet. Just before lunch Ross whipped us up the 240 metres to our lunch spot near Mt Tennent (1384 m), about an hour from the trail exit. You can imagine that I was pretty taken-aback when I pulled my tent fly out for a drying in the sun, and discovered that after five hours in my pack it was still heavily encrusted with layers of ice.

Thus ended one of Australia’s best long distance walks: over high ranges, extensive snowgrass plains, swampy meadows and sinuous alpine streams. For my money the Kiandra to Canberra section was an unforgettable bushwalking experience. Brilliant high plains scenery, historic huts, caves, gorges, dingoes, brumbies and first-rate walking companions. Who could ask for more? And who among us will ever forget the wild and woolly weather?

Huts destroyed in the 2019/2020 summer fires

Sawyers Hut, Wolgol Lodge, Kiandra Court House, Pattersons Hut, Matthews Cottage, Round Mountain Hut, Linesmans No3 Fifteen Mile Spur (1950), Linesman No 3 Fifteen Mile Spur (1980),Vickerys Hut, Delaneys Hut, Happys Hut, Brooks Hut ( badly burnt), Bradley and O’Briens, Four Mile and Demandering.

Northern Sundown National Park.

By Glenn Burns

 With the Easter long weekend closing in, I wasn’t surprised when my bushwalking friend Brian appeared at the front door clutching one of his well-used topo maps and muttering about “getting away from the crowds over Easter.” Here’s a thing about Brian. He’s a map-man of the old school. There’s nothing much he likes better than to spread out a map, trace a finger along ridge and river and, hey presto a walk is born. Strangely though, I have rarely seen him brandishing a compass and never a GPS.

Photo Gallery

As more and more wilderness areas fall to incursions of the Great Walk track builders, ‘tell-all’ guidebooks and those viral GPS track logs, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a throughwalk that still has some tantalising unknowns. But I can always rely on Brian to trawl through his map cupboard and come up with something decent; in this case an “exploratory” into northern Sundown National Park, south-west of Stanthorpe. Some say that the name Sundown is said to come from the idea that its valleys are so deep that it’s always ‘Sundown’. Others claim that the name is in keeping with the tradition of using astronomical place names in the area, but I couldn’t find much evidence for this interpretation, apart from references to Comet Creek, Comet Mine, and Arcturus Mine.

Map of Northern Sundown National Park. Qld.
Map of Nth Sundown NP

Sundown offers a terrain of deeply incised creeks, gorges, waterfalls and steep stony ridges rising to over 1000 metres on the Roberts Range. As well, it has an interesting cultural heritage of aboriginal occupation, pastoralism and later on, mining. Brian had nutted out a 54 kilometre walk that had some navigational problems and, not unexpectedly, there was the obligatory physical challenge. It would also give us some respite from camping near raucous Easter 4WDers and was remote enough to be off the radar for most of the latter-day bushwalking fraternity.

Reedy Waterhole Campsite. Sundown National Park.
4WD campsite at the Reedy Waterhole

Although only thirty kilometres from the well known Girraween National Park as the crow flies, the 12910 hectare Sundown National Park has little in common with the benign rounded tor landscapes of the Stanthorpe Granites. Early settlers described Sundown’s rugged and rocky terrain as “traprock”, geologically incorrect, but a good descriptor all the same. Traprock is a term originally applied to basalt landscapes in the UK, while Sundown’s lithology is predominately sedimentary which has been partially altered by heat and pressure to form metasediments. What it does share with Girraween is its propensity for cold weather. This is Queensland’s coldest district; eight months have temperatures below o°C, with -10.6C° the lowest. Fortunately the average minimum for April is a comfortable 9.5C°.

The Severn River, named after the Severn River in England, has incised deeply into the traprock and its course is lined with numerous deep permanent waterholes, many bordered by vertical red clifflines. No danger of going thirsty here even though the park lies predominately on the western side of The Great Dividing Range. In fact, at the end of the wettest Queensland summer in 40 years the park ranger reported to Brian that the Severn was still in moderate spate and we could expect piles of flood debris.

Severn River. Sundown National Park.
One of many river crossings on the Severn River.
Friday : Sundown Homestead site to Severn River via Mt Lofty: 10 kms.

My fellow walkers assembled at the old Sundown Homestead site soon after 1.00 pm, in warm humid conditions.

Old Sundown Homestead. Sundown National Park. Qld.
Old Sundown Homestead.

Our party was eight in total: Brian (leader), Malcolm and Jenny, Bernard (an uber-fit septuagenarian), Russell (aka Starkie) Leanda, and my fellow ailurophile, Richard. Our immediate task was to sweat up the 260m, three kilometre climb to Mt Lofty, a long whaleback feature topping out at 1067 metres. Mt Lofty is said to have been named thus as it was the highest point on the road leading to the Sundown Mine, hence it was “Lofty”. Naturally the Law of Diminishing Returns always applies and our efforts ended in an obscure and thickly vegetated summit. View factor: pretty average, though a vast improvement on Brian’s infamous Kerries whiteout . But this didn’t stop Brian bagging it as one of his 1000 metre peaks, celebrating its capture with a wee dram of someone’s hootch.

View from Mt Lofty. Sundown National Park. Qld.
View from Mt Lofty. 1067 metres.

Then came the descent to the Severn River; a long, roller-coasting two kilometre fire trail that rode up and down over a series of hillocks, ever decreasing in height down to the river at 600m. In fading light a meandering 4WD track carted us off towards our picturesque overnight campsite at Lowe’s Waterhole: an open grassy clearing complete with its own melancholic collection of decrepit yards, a tottering corrugated iron shack and ancient barbed wire fencing. Lowe’s Waterhole was named for a local selector but it is also called Koinas Tanks, which doesn’t always appear on maps. Koina was a Stanthorpe plumber.

Corrugated iron shed at Lowes Waterhole.

These were relicts of bygone times when Sundown was a pastoral run. It was part of the much larger Mingoola, Nundubbermere and Ballandean Stations, all surviving as parish names on our topographic map, as well as Nundubbermere Falls and Mingoola Trig. These three holdings were subdivided into smaller leasehold blocks in the late 1800’s and some of the newly created Sundown Run was cleared for fine wool production; hence our grassy campsite glade.

Back in the 1840’s these holdings were at the far flung reaches of the Empire; conditions for the shepherds could be spartan, violent and unpredictable. On nearby Pikedale Station when Chinese shepherds struck for higher wages, the manager was one Mr H. B. Fitz… said to be called Murdering Fitz. Fitz punched the spokesman and killed him with one blow. Fitz surrendered to a magistrate but as there were no white witnesses he was soon released. He is also said to have fed poisoned flour to the Chinese when their annual payments were due.

Meanwhile back in the 21st century our seven tents soon scattered through a lightly forested grove of cypress pines. We were perched on a low bluff overlooking the Severn where it plunged through a rocky choke; occasional camp noises drifted over the roar of the water from the 4WD camp on the northern bank. Secure in our isolation we settled in around the campfire. Above, the clear sky showed the Milky Way to perfection and such was the clarity that I could easily pick out the dark patches of the Coal Sacks and the misty smudges of the Magellanic Clouds.

Campsite at Lowes Waterhole.
Campsite at Lowes Waterhole.
Saturday : Lowe’s Waterhole to Campsite 2: 11 kms.

Today we would track the river westerly past the junction to Nundubbermere Falls and then on a long six kilometre run to the south, stopping somewhere, as yet undetermined, but just short of Reedy Waterhole where quadzillions of 4WDers would be lurking; a veritable village of camper trailers and safari tents even though access to Reedy and Burrows Waterholes is little better than a glorified goat track. But locals call it the “Sundown Road”.

Perhaps our modern adventurers gliding along in their all-terrain wagons could spare a thought for Sydney Skertchly, a government geologist who visited Sundown in 1897. He wrote:

“ …we had horrible weather, fog, and rain, and though we stayed a day after we had eaten our last bit of food… we were obliged to return to Ballandean, as the rain showed no sign of abating. My horse drowned himself in a waterhole and one of our men had to be sent back ill…yet I never enjoyed myself more. I shall long remember our last night. Four of us had dined of less than half-a-loaf of bread and we sat around the camp fire sipping second-hand tea, while a stockman recited Gordon’s poems as a substitute for supper.”

As for our little band of wanderers, our river outing, although not as extreme, would turn out to be a tad damp, for, as the Ranger had predicted, the river was flowing strongly over a succession of rock bars, chokes and rapids. Nary a sandy beach in sight.

Speaking of survival, several shots from a .22 rifle rang out from the far bank; I glanced around at my companions; business as usual, not a whisker twitched. Men of Steel. Across the river our weekend warriors probably thought they could bag one of the wild deer that roam the park, but failing that, there are plenty of other ferals to choose from: goats, pigs, foxes, rabbits, hares and moggies. Good riddens many would say, although one of our fellow walkers had to be weaned off a lingering attachment to “cute little deers”. Still I didn’t have heart to mention that the Parks Service conducts regular culls of deer and such like; a recent tally being 190 deer, 580 goats, 8 pigs and 5 foxes.

8.00 am found us skirting along the bluffs that paralleled the river, just upstream of the Nundubbermere Creek Junction. But with steep ridgelines and cliffs dipping into the river ahead it was pretty obvious that we would need to cross; a pattern of travel that was repeated with monotonous regularity of most of the day. Distance elapsed: a fraction under one kilometre from camp. This was shaping up to be one excruciatingly slow walk.

But slow is good. A chance to potter along, immersed in the ever changing riverscape: long stretches of pool and riffle, interspersed with short runs of rock and rapids; the riverine forests of she-oak, river red gums, tea-tree and bottle brush; skinks basking; and pied cormorants perched on logs, wings outstretched.

Looking downstream from Lowes Waterhole. Sundown Natioal Park. Qld.
Looking downstream from near Lowes Waterhole.

Back on the Severn, we continued picking our way along the bluff scanning for a likely crossing point; a nice dry rocky bar would do me just fine. Brian, who gets impatient with this sort of “fraffing around,” finally blew a gasket, pulled over and announced: “We’re crossing here.” Here, was a line of rapids shooting over a waterfall; a particularly boisterous section of the river if I may say so. Bernard and I, wily old veterans of Brian’s many anti-fraffing campaigns, held back while our safe egress across to the other bank was secured. Safe being a relative term, but apparently a too-short length of climbing tape, no anchor points, slimy rocks, unwieldy packs, racing water and three burly blokes made it ok. And it was.

In the river bed far ahead I could make out a solitary female figure of ample frame draped decorously over a boulder; this could only be the generously proportioned Mma Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of the Number One Detective Agency. On closer inspection we revised this to merely a lady scoutmaster who had just released a gaggle of teenage girls, now straggling off into the wild. Grossly under prepared as it turned out, but it is difficult to be overly critical when the girls were out there having a go.

We caught up with the girls soon enough having retrieved one of their cast-offs… Dad’s favourite hike tent. These kids deserved better than to be let loose with ill-fitting day packs trailing an assortment of tents, tarps and those back-breaking blue sleeping mats, known by my sons as“portable concrete”.

Here is the conundrum for all youth leaders. That fine balance between risk aversion and engendering a sense of competence and adventure. The girls had no PLB and were relying on a UHF radio which was, as they soon discovered, pretty much useless in this rugged hilly terrain. But, still, we impressed to see them out there on a fairly challenging walk and, as it turned out, succeeding.

Back on the river we worked our way downstream clocking up a fraction over one kilometre an hour. With numerous crossings and water occasionally lapping at the sporrans of the resident short-arses we quickly got over trying to keep boots and socks dry and took to the water, just like the wood ducks we kept flushing up ahead of us. As for our three Kiwi tramping companions, all this river walking brought on a nostalgia for things they thought they had left behind in The Land of the Long Black Cloud: wet boots, soppy socks and grossed-up wrinkly feet. Late in the afternoon, much later than expected, we called it a day and set up our tents at campsite 2, a dank grove on the western bank located between Red Rock Waterhole and Rudders Waterhole, having travelled a paltry 11 kilometres for the day.

Pack lowering. Severn River.
Frequent pack lowering.
Sunday : Campsite 2 to Pump Waterhole 1.5 kms.

As the sky lightened I woke to a muted thumping outside my tent. Two chocolate eggs in terminal meltdown were stacked neatly outside my tent flap. Richard claimed that it was just Starkie pretending to be the Easter Bunny, but you and I know better. Fortified by a breakfast of porridge and two chocolate eggs sluiced down with lukewarm coffee, I took off on the short hop to Pump Waterhole, our campsite for the next two nights. Our first task was to find a largish, flat, grassy area.

Malcolm and Brian gamely tackled yet another river crossing, foxed up a campsite on the other bank and came back with sly grins and glowing reports of our new home. But truth will out; a poxy campsite at best… if I were feeling generous in my praise, which I wasn’t. This previously grassy river flat that had been flood-scoured leaving trails of rounded river boulders and debris piles of uprooted she-oaks. Tent sites were in short supply and so pitching our tents required some serious high order spatial sequencing. Docking first was Bernard’s Barnum and Bailey big-top sporting a quarter hectare footprint; next came Malcolm and Jenny’s canary yellow stately pleasure dome and finally the swarm of one-maners came to rest, wherever. In the cool of late afternoon and when seen in the lengthening shadows, our quiet little campsite grew on me, but more of that later. I believe the name Pump Waterhole may have derived from its use as a source of water for mining or for watering stock. There are precedents for this as the Beehive Mine, for example, used a steam pump to lift water 152 metres from a dam on Red Rock Creek.

Severn River. Sundown National Park. Qld.
More river crossings.

After a brief respite, Brian had determined that there would be no skiving off on his watch and directed this slack and idle crew to venture forth and use their R&R time in something productive; like, say, a three or four kilometre walk to the Rats Castle via Reedy Waterhole Campsite. Reedy was pretty much as expected: a good place to avoid over Easter. Nearby is the much larger Burrows Waterhole campsite which was named after Fredrick James Burrows, a WW1 veteran who suicided in 1934 and his grave is said to be on the northern side of the river, but I didn’t tell Brian that. He is overly fond of chasing down stuff like that.

And so it was onward to the Rats… or should have been, except for the dumb-cluck navigators. Both Brian and I had been to the Rats before but now we were approaching from a different direction. Our walk this time went awry when the combined efforts of Richard’s GPS, my map and compass skills and Brian’s usually intuitive bump of locality all conspired to direct us down a shady beckoning track and place us on the wrong ridgeline.

View from Rats Castle. Severn River. Sundown National Park. Qld.
View from Rats Castle looking upstream

Rats Castle was tantalizingly close, a mere kilometre as the crow flies but could have been on the Moon as it was now 1.00 pm our final turn-around time. So we propped where we were, savoured our lunch in a cool woodland of white cypress pines perched high above the Severn River valley. Rats is an interesting geological feature and major landmark on the Severn. It is a ridge of hard fine-grained granite which has intruded into the surrounding metasediments of the Texas Beds, weakened during a major fracturing in the Severn River Fracture Zone. Technically it is a dyke, a vertical intrusion. Early shepherds called it Rats Castle because when it was first seen it was home to small rock wallabies, then commonly called rats. Retracing footsteps we came to the cleared paddock we had walked through several hours previously but this time stopped to enjoy panoramic views across to Mt Lofty but more importantly Red Rock Falls, tomorrow’s objective. We could even see the ridgeline that we would follow up in the morning.

Sundown National Park. Qld.
Heading back to campsite at Pump waterhole

On our return to Pump Waterhole, things were on the up and up. A Sea World style slippery-dip swim, copious supplies of firewood, a now shaded campsite and a good feed and all was well in the circus. For me at least, but not for a forlorn clutch of teenage girls, weary and sunburnt, who limped through in the fading light; one in tears. Uncle Brian took pity, showed them where they were on the map; reassured them that they were getting close to civilisation and their pick-up point and gently packed them off downstream. As I watched their little dejected backs disappear over the promontory of rock near our tents it suddenly occurred to me that I was looking at a Rats Castle look-a-like. Closer inspection revealed it was indeed a granitic dyke intruded through the local traprock. Under our noses the whole time; how could that be? I, too, could have wept.

Monday : Pump Waterhole to Red Rock Falls: 7 kms.

An uphill sort of day; but the weather was kind, cool with light winds. Just as well for we faced a slow grind out of the Severn River Valley by way of a succession of high points: 731m, 828m, 995m, 1027m and finally reaching the high tops at 1032m, an altitude gain of 700 metres. No nav stuff-ups allowed; Richard and I were on the yellow card. But we weren’t taking any chances with today’s route and this time had fed a truck load of waypoints into the GPS just in case the old map and compass led us astray, again. Morning tea was on an open bald, reminiscent of the Bunya Mountains, but just an old cleared grazing paddock, but with superb views across to Mt Lofty and Red Rock Falls.

Roberts Range. Sundown National Park. Qld.
View back to the tops of Roberts Range

 Our morning’s walk would traverse the Sundown Resources Reserve, a reminder of Sundown’s mining past. The mineral deposits formed where the Ruby Creek Granites contacted the overlying traprock (Texas Beds) or are found in fractures above the granite intrusion. Here there are occurrences of molybdenite, tungsten, copper, arsenic and tin, in fact the first deposit of tin in Australia was found on the Nundubbermere Run in 1854.

The Sundown Tin Mine opened in 1893 and operated until 1923 when it closed only to re-open in 1953 until 1956. It was by far the biggest lode producer in the area but other mines were Carpenters Gully, The Orient, and Beehive. Copper sulphides were worked at The Sundown Copper Mine and nearby Comet Mine. Arsenic was extracted in the early 1900s at Beecroft, Sundown Copper and The Orient mines.

Beecroft Mine. Sundown Resources Reserve. Qld.
Beecroft Mine

 Arsenic was an important constituent in prickly pear poison, cattle dips and a hardener for the lead in bullets. Unfortunately arsenic oxide treatment has contaminated Little Sundown Creek and I have read that walkers are advised not to drink the water in Little Sundown below the mines. Fortunately small lodes, lack of water and poor access makes any further exploitation of the reserve unlikely.

After a climb of 700m over 5.5 kilometres we reached the high range country and were about to re-enter the national park. The Queensland-New South Wales border was a mere 1.5 kilometres to our south and with the lunch worms gnawing we steered to a small shady dam. Replete we shuffled off to set up camp on Red Rock Creek, one kilometre upstream from Red Rock Falls. We had left the drier woodlands and vine scrubs far behind and our small tent city now snuggled under a tall Eucalypt Forest of yellow box, brown box and Tenterfield woolybutt . The climatic conditions at 1000 metres being cooler and moister, are conducive to the growth of this taller forest.

Red Rock Falls are etched into the Ruby Creek Granites and drop vertically a massive 150 metres. Scary. But not to Bernard who teetered, camera in hand, along the rim banging off shot after shot. I decided it was better not to watch his impending demise.

Above Red Rock Falls. Sundown National Park. Qld.
The lip of Red Rock Falls

But look I did, elsewhere… scanning the precipitous clifflines for tell-tale white stains that would signal the presence of Peregine Falcons as promised in the Parks brochure. None, neither seen nor heard. So I turned my attention to the views down Red Rock Gorge to its junction with the Severn; in fact it meets the Severn very close to our campsite of Saturday night. In the far distance, at ten kilometres to our north west was Jibbinbar Mountain (975m), our sister outcrop of Ruby Creek Granite and also the site of a government arsenic plant in the 1920s. Ruby Creek, the location for the origin descriptor of the granite that bears its name is found on the New England Tableland, close to Gibraltar Range National Park.

Red Rock Falls. Sundown National Park. Qld.
Looking down on Red Rock Falls

After more goofing around, we took our leave and clambered up to the tourist lookout above, and did touristy things…. more photos, admired the views anew and read the park info board about Sundown’s mining past and then it was off for our final night out on the track and hopefully a decent feed consisting of more than half-a-loaf of bread and second hand tea.

Tuesday : Red Rock Creek Campsite to Sundown Homestead site: 5 kms:

An easy morning’s downhill canter took us into the old Sundown site, sooner than we thought. By 10.00 am it was all over but the shouting… at Richard’s rascally Land Rover Defender if it refused to start. But it did and within the hour we dismounted at the Stanthorpe Bakery for some substantial victuals:a pie or two, spinach and fetta rolls, vanilla slices, cream buns and such like, all washed down with mugs of delicious hot coffee. Eat your heart out Mr Sydney Skertchly.

Hiking the High Plains of Northern Kosciuszko

by Glenn Burns

Northern Kosciuszko is a subdued 1400 metre landscape of rolling sub-alpine grasslands separated by low snow gum clad hills and ranges rising to a maximum of about 1600 metres. This vast upland has a different feel to the rugged landscapes of southern Kosciuszko where 2000 metre whaleback mountains and ridges predominate. With its open vistas, network of mountain huts and more benign weather, northern Kosciuszko offers its own easier but distinctive walking opportunities.

A Hike in Australia’s High Country†

 Can I tempt you with a leisurely 50 kilometre, 6 day walk in the high country of northern Kosciuszko National Park? Nothing too taxing.  Imagine stepping out along grassy 4WD tracks as they wind up through snow gum woodlands to low alpine passes then gently descend to vast open plains of swaying tussock grasses. Maybe camping overnight near historic mountain huts? Throw in showy alpine wildflowers, perhaps a sighting of an elusive wombat, limestone caves, brilliantly coloured Flame Robins, or maybe the eerie nocturnal call of a Boobook as you lie snug in a warm sleeping bag.  With these promises in mind, on a balmy November evening, seven walkers left Ghost Gully Campground on Long Plain to enjoy six days of hiking across the high plains of northern Kosciuszko. Continue reading Hiking the High Plains of Northern Kosciuszko

Sunset at Sundown. Southern Sundown National Park. Qld.

By Glenn Burns

The following account is of a three day bushwalking circuit that I did with two friends in southern Sundown National Park in which we followed up McAllisters Ck, a deeply incised tributary of the Severn River. From McAllisters we ascended  onto the Roberts Range at about 900 metres. After a long hot walk along the high Roberts Range we turned  westwards pushing through dense undergrowth to overnight on Mt Donaldson at 1038 metres. The following day we descended back into the Severn River.

In early October, walking friends Frank Truscott, Don Bell and I completed a three day bushwalking circuit in Sundown National Park taking in some very interesting and challenging landscapes on the way. Although only thirty kilometres from Girraween as the crow flies, Sundown has little in common with the benign rounded tor  landscapes of the Stanthorpe Granites.

Rugged Sundown Landscape
Rugged Sundown Landscape

Sundown offers a terrain of deeply incised creeks, gorges, waterfalls and steep stony ridges rising to 1000 metres. It is an inhospitable environment, dry and rocky. To me, a landscape reminiscent of the MacDonnell Ranges of Central Australia. Early settlers described it as “traprock”, geologically incorrect but an apt descriptor all the same. Traprock is a term applied to basalt landscapes in the UK while Sundown’s surface geology is predominately sedimentary which has been  altered by heat and pressure (termed: metasedimentary).

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